North America Theme Parks / Zoos International
Universal Studios (Florida)
I have just returned from 2 magical weeks in Orlando, Florida. During our stay we visited many theme parks, including Universal Studios. There are 2 Universal Studios parks in Orlando - the original Universal Studios (which first opened in 1990) and the newer Universal Studios Islands Of Adventure (which first opened in 1999). ... This review will focus on the original Universal Studios park.
We caught a taxi from our hotel and back again. There is a taxi rank right outside the parks and we didn't have to wait for a taxi. Car parking is also available for $15.00 per vehicle, per day. Universal Studios is nearby all the other main theme parks in Orlando and is only roughly a 20 minute drive from Walt Disney World. When you arrive you have to pass through Universal Citywalk which is full of bars, clubs, shops, restaurants and general entertainment (mini golf, cinema etc). We didn't stop at Universal Citywalk (only for photos) but it did seem quite lively in the evening. You don't need a ticket to enter Universal Citywalk. This is where you decide what park to choose - right for Universal Studios and left for Universal Studios Islands Of Adventure. The entrance to Universal Studios has a big archway and huge iconic Universal Studios globe statue, which spins around and looks great lit up in the evening!
We bought our tickets at the gate, you can also buy them online. One day park tickets cost $88.00 for adults (these can be used in either Universal Parks but not both) and children cost $82.00. One day park tickets to BOTH parks cost $123.00 ($117.00 for children), although you will certainly need more than one day to cover both parks. We wanted to visit both Universal Parks, so we purchased the most sensible and cost effective tickets - 2 day park-to-park. These tickets cost a whopping $139.99 for adults ($129.99 for children) and allow you in to both parks, for 2 separate days. Tickets are very expensive but if you want to visit both Universal parks I would definitely advise paying an extra $16.99 for a 2 day park-to-park ticket. Park hours vary between 8am - 10pm. Park hours during our visit were 9pm - 8pm and we spent the whole day there.
As the name suggests Universal Studios is owned and run by the American movie production company Universal. Universal are behind some of the best and highest grossing films ever made (some of which include E.T, Jaws and Jurassic Park). The park is centred around movies. All of the rides, shows and characters have something to do with Universal movies. There is movie memorabilia scattered around the park (such as the car from Back To The Future) and parts of the park are set up to look like you're on a movie set. Anybody with a keen interest in films will really enjoy this park.
We had children in our group ranging from 4-8 years. The 4 year old got on most rides (except the roller coasters of course) but children any younger many struggle to meet some height requirements. Be sure to bring an autograph book because there are lots of characters to meet! We visited on a weekday and although the park was quite busy, we didn't have to queue very much for rides which was excellent and allowed us to cover most of the park. Avoid weekends and American holidays if possible!
We started our day with the E.T ride. There was absolutely no queue and we were given a 'space passport' (whilst also giving our names to a staff member) before entering the ride. The queue line is set up to look like you're in the forest that E.T visits in the film. It's really enjoyable. Each person sits on a bike with a safety bar over your lap and handle bars on top to hold on to. The bikes are all stuck to a platform so nobody actually has to pedal! You ride in groups of 12 (4 rows of 4) and each group has a basket on the front of their bikes with E.T inside! You start by riding through the forest to escape the 'bad guys' who are trying to catch E.T, you then begin to fly until you reach E.T's home planet where there are lots of funny looking aliens that are very pleased to see that E.T has returned home. The ride ends with E.T saying goodbye to each individual person on the ride (that's what you needed the space passport for) which is a nice touch. There is also an E.T gift shop at the exit, for all of your E.T needs! In my opinion this is a classic Universal ride, it's a little bit dated but it's still very enjoyable. It's nostalgic for adults and good fun for children.
Next to the E.T ride is an area called 'Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone' which is designed especially for little ones. There's a short but sweet roller coaster called Woody Woodpecker's Nuthouse Coaster which our kids enjoyed and 2 exciting play areas ('Fievel's Playland' and 'Curious George Goes To Town'). There are also 2 shows - Animal Actors on Location and A Day in The Park with Barney. Unfortunately we missed both of these shows but I think our kids would have been too old to enjoy Barney anyway. We met a number of characters around this area which included lots of Spongebob Squarepants characters, characters from Hop, Scooby Doo and friends, Curious George and Woody Woodpecker. There is also a Spongebob Squarepants store, which is situated inside a pineapple!
Next up was The Simpsons Ride. The ride looks great from the outside and even has a Kwik-E-Mart! You can also meet Bart and Lisa. This was the ride we queued the longest for but it only took about 20-25 minutes. The Back to the Future ride was (sadly) replaced with The Simpsons ride a few years ago, but the ride still has a similar set up. It is a simulator ride in which each group (of up to about 8) sit in individual carts and the ride takes place in front of a giant screen. You ride and crash around Krustyland theme park, whilst also trying to escape from a psychotic Sideshow Bob! It's a really fun and thrilling ride, and is maybe one of the best simulator rides that I've been on. Although there were other carts riding at the same time, you couldn't really see them so it felt as though you were the only people on the ride! Everybody in our group enjoyed it and I would say it's definitely worth doing if you're visiting Universal Studios. Visually it looked great (and somehow realistic!), even though it was a cartoon and wasn't in 3D.
Men In Black Alien Attack is the nearest ride to The Simpsons. You are required to put your bags and possessions in to a free locker. But be careful because these 'free' lockers are only free for half an hour. Anything over half an hour will result in you will be charged at least $6.00 to get your locker open! The lockers work on a unique fingerprint system. I liked the queue line for this ride as it looked like you were really in the MIB headquarters! You sit in cars of 6 (2 rows of 3) and each person has their own gun. It's set up like MIB agent training and as you ride (and spin, lots!) through the city you have to blast aliens. Each person has their own individual score, so everybody can get competitive! We all enjoyed this ride, although I don't think it was anybody's 'favourite' ride. It lacked something that could have made it great, but I still think it's definitely worth doing. Next to Men In Black Alien Attack is Fear Factor Live which sounded pretty good ('Put yourself to the test at the most extreme audience participation show ever') but unfortunately we never got round to doing it.
The centre of the park is simply called 'Hollywood'. Among the glitz and the glamour, you will walk the Hollywood Walk of Fame and may even see the odd celebrity - we met Marilyn Monroe! Here you will also find Universal Orlando Horror Make-Up Show which sounded good but we avoided as we didn't think it would be very suitable for children. 'Lucy - A Tribute' is an excellent attraction for fans of I love Lucy and Lucille Ball. It contains tons of Lucy memorabilia and has a lovely gift shop too. Terminator 2 3D is a mix of 3D show and live action. We were all rather stunned as 'Arnold Schwarzenegger' drove out of the 3D screen and on to the stage in front of us! I don't really know how the kids felt about this one (other than a bit stunned and confused!) and I thought the pre-show was a bit long, however the adults loved it. It was a bit dated but the film is a bit dated now too, so why not!
Next we moved on to 'Production Central' which is home to Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Shrek 4D. We all loved Despicable Me Minion Mayhem which is a new ride and which we managed to get complimentary Universal Express tickets for (long story). I was relieved we managed to jump the queue for this ride as it seemed to be the most popular ride in the park. It's a simulator ride, much like The Simpsons ride (but in 3D). Although slightly less intimate than The Simpsons, as you can clearly see that you are in a room full of people. Experience the thrills and spills of being a little yellow minion! Although this ride is probably aimed more at children I would recommend it to everybody (all ages), especially if you're a fan of the movie. At the exit is a dance floor (with big screen to see yourself) and a fantastic gift shop. You can also meet Despicable Me characters throughout the day outside of the ride. I found Shrek 4D a little disappointing. It had a long and drawn out pre-show and it wasn't a ride or show, it was a short 3D movie. The plot was that Shrek had to save Fiona from Lord Farquaad's ghost. The kids didn't seem too keen on the ghost aspect and I thought the movie was a little bit long. There few a few fun 4D aspects but nothing that we hadn't already experienced in other 4D attractions. It's not a terrible attraction but it just wasn't as good as I'd hoped. The last ride in Production Central is Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and it's not one for the faint hearted! This is one of the best roller coasters that I experienced in Orlando and it seemed to last longer than most roller coasters. At the start of the ride you are able to choose what music to listen to for the duration of the ride and you are secured in to your seat by a plastic bar which sits across your middle (it looked very insecure and dodgy!). It has all the makings of a great roller coaster - twists, turns and drops aplenty! For me the scariest part was going up the vertical drop at the beginning (coming down actually wasn't so bad!). You also get filmed on board this ride, so beware!
The next section of the park is 'New York' which includes Twister (Ride It Out) and The Revenge Of The Mummy. Twister had a really long pre-show, it set the scene nicely but it was just a little drawn out and Bill Paxton just made me cringe. No offence Bill but you are incredibly cheesy! You are then led through to a big room and in front of you is a live scene of part of a small town (with house, car, petrol pump, trees etc). A hurricane is simulated which involves lots of wind, rain (you don't get wet), fire and explosions. The roof that you're under rips away and the floor shakes beneath you, there's even a flying cow! Overall this was a good attraction but not amazing. It maybe needs a little bit of updating and it definitely needs more wind. It's a good idea and is enjoyable enough, not my favourite attraction but it's definitely one to do if there's no queue (which there wasn't during our visit). The Revenge Of The Mummy is a roller coaster. It isn't as extreme as Rip Ride Rockit (it doesn't go upside down) but still isn't one for the faint hearted! The ride is set in the dark and is full of surprises which include drops, riding backwards, scary ancient Egyptians and lots of fire! There is a surprisingly good gift shop at the exit. Something which I'm really disappointed about is that we missed The Blues Brothers Show. I've seen them before and they are brilliant! Jake and Elwood put on an entertaining outdoor show, full of great music that appears to appeal to everybody of all ages.
At the back of the park is 'San Francisco' which is home to BeetleJuice's Graveyard Revue. I wasn't sure if it would be suitable for children but it turns out it is, in fact they loved it! It's a fun, all singing, all dancing, rock 'n' roll show which lasts about 20 minutes. Beetlejuice is joined by Frankenstein, Wolf Man, Dracula and The Bride of Frankenstein. The guy who played Beetlejuice was very convincing - he had the same voice, mannerisms and looked similar. He had some great (or terrible) gags too! In my opinion this is one to do, especially if you're a fan of Beetlejuice, classic horrors and enjoy a good sing along! The other attraction in San Francisco is Disaster. Disaster had a very long pre-show (in fact there were 3 pre-shows!) but the attraction itself was a good idea. You are invited to take part in a major movie picture and the star is YOU! Members of the public volunteered to be part of the attraction whilst everybody else watched on. They were put in to different scenarios and filmed. Afterwards everybody went on a tram ride and we were thrown in to a disaster of our own as the underground station we arrive at experiences an earthquake which involves fire, water and a lot of tram rocking! There are cameras installed on every tram and you are instructed to do different things during the disaster ('scream, call for help, cover your ears, shield you eyes'). At the end you are shown your movie trailer on a overhead television. It combines edited footage from the earlier volunteers, along with snippets of everybody in their trams! The first half of this attraction is really quite boring but the second half (filming the volunteers and the tram) is really fun. Everybody was laughing at the movie trailer that we had made at the end and everybody seemed to really enjoy it.
During the middle of the day there was a parade. It was a children's parade which included all of the characters from Dispicable Me, Spongebob Squarepants, Hop, Dora and Diego. It was nice and great for the kids to see new characters (not Disney characters), but it was quite short and not quite as spectacular as the Disney parades. Still worth checking out if you have young kids though.
There is a lake in the middle of the park. In the evenings they put on a fireworks show, which I didn't see but some of my group did. They said it was good but again, not half as good at Disney! Universal Studios will also be unveiling their newest ride in the summer of 2013. It's a Transformers ride (which looks like it's going to be amazing) and you can meet the Transformers outside of the ride! In 2012 Universal Studios shut their Jaws ride. This was my favourite ride and I think it's a big loss to the park. However there's still a photo opportunity with the rather iconic Universal Studios Jaw shark (nearby Disaster). There are plenty of places to eat in Universal Studios. There are restaurants and kiosks dotted all over the park. We grabbed lunch at Mel's Drive In which is a fast food restaurant themed like a 50's diner. It has beautiful classic American cars outside (great photo opportunity) and the food wasn't bad either. The vegetarian burger was particularly enjoyable! Two veggie burgers and chips cost us $17.00 (no drinks as we already had some. Bottles of soft drinks cost $3.00 each and are larger than UK bottles, of course!). Shops and eating places are quite expensive but I suppose that's to be expected in these places. All of the staff were all really friendly and welcoming too.
Overall we had a great day out at Universal Studios. To summarise the negatives I would say that some of the attractions are slightly dated (although I don't think that's such a bad thing on rides such as E.T). If you're looking for bigger rides and better technology, then head over to Universal Studios Islands Of Adventures (the Harry Potter and Spiderman rides are excellent and use really advanced technology). Another slight negative is that they seem to focus quite heavily on 3D, which was ground breaking about 10+ years ago, but not so much nowadays. I also found that most of the rides had pre-shows, many of which I found to be too drawn out (especially when you can't sit down and you have children with you). To summarise the positives I would say that the park is a good size - it's quite large but not too large. Even though there are lots to see and do, we managed to do most of them. It was set out in a good way too, so you didn't have to keep going back on yourselves. I love movies so I enjoyed the theme of the park and thought it was really well done. Universal Studios can be enjoyed by all ages, there's plenty for both adults and children to enjoy. The things I enjoyed most were E.T, The Simpsons Ride, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Lucy - A Tribute, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, The Revenge Of The Mummy, Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue and seeing all the different characters.
I give Universal Studios 4.5 stars out of 5 - If you're in Orlando, I definitely recommend a visit.
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Typhoon Lagoon (Florida, USA)
I have just returned from 2 magical weeks at Walt Disney World in Florida. Walt Disney World is situated in Orlando and includes 4 theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot), 2 water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach) and a number of different resorts. We stayed in one of the Disney resorts ... and visited all of the Disney theme parks and water parks. The first (and my favourite) water park that we visited was Typhoon Lagoon. We reached Typhoon Lagoon by bus. If you are staying at a Disney resort, you are able to catch free buses to all of the Disney parks.
Our park tickets were included in our package, so we didn't have to worry about entry costs to any of the parks. We could come and go as we pleased. However park prices are generally very expensive at Disney. A one day adult pass at Typhoon Lagoon costs $52.00 and a one day child pass costs $44.00, on the gate. These prices are quite high (especially for a water park) but I still think it's definitely worth doing. You can park at Typhoon Lagoon at no extra cost. The park opening times are usually 9am - 5pm or 10am - 6pm. Orlando has all year round warm weather, so any time of year would be a good time to visit. We visited in April and it was very hot. The water is heated and the water temperature is 75-80 degrees all year round, so is suitable for everyone. It is best to get to Typhoon Lagoon as soon as it opens to secure yourself a seat/lounger. Seats and loungers are free to use and there are lots of them, however Typhoon Lagoon gets absolutely packed (from early and throughout the day) and finding somewhere to sit down is extremely hard. You should find somewhere that provides some shade (keep in mind that the sun will move!), like under a tree or next to a rock. Don't forget to put on your waterproof sun cream too, I got very burnt! Unfortunately there are usually wait times for most of the slides, which can be a bit of a downer. Wait times are updated throughout the park. You can leave your possessions on your loungers whilst your explore the park but if you have valuables it would probably be a good idea to rent out a locker. Lockers cost $13.00 - $15.00 to rent for the day and require an additional $5.00 deposit. You can bring your own towels or rent them for $2.00 each. The park also has plenty of toilets, showers and changing areas.
The theming of Typhoon Lagoon is excellent. The park is set up to look like a tropical island in the aftermath of a storm. Surfboards stuck in trees and stranded boats are a common sight here! The theming is fun but not over the top. I find Typhoon Lagoon to be very beautiful and relaxing. It's covered in white sand and palm trees, for a few moments you might forget you're in a Disney water park and actually think you're on a tropical island! The park is quite large and you may find yourself getting lost a few times, although there are plenty of signposts.
As you walk in to the park you will find children's flotation vests. These vests are absolutely free to use and come in different sizes. These were a god send to me as my daughter cannot yet swim and she hates wearing her arm bands. It fitted well and she felt confident in the water whilst wearing it. If you want to take advantage of the free flotation vests you need to get to the park early. The vests went very quickly during our visit. I never thought that the Disney water parks would have characters to meet, but they do. During our visit, we saw Lilo and Stitch (which was quite appropriate as they live on a Hawaiian island). The queues to meet them didn't seem bad either. So make sure you bring along your autograph books!
You can find a number of stalls and kiosks (food and general gifts) at the front of the park, around the entrance. There is also a fast food restaurant and large shop, which sells practically everything you could want. I needed to buy a pair of googles for my daughter, which I bought from the shop for around $13.00. The restaurant and kiosks accept the Disney Dining Plan (a dining plan which you purchase prior to your trip).
The first thing you will notice is the giant wave pool. There is a big boat in front of the wave pool, it sits on top of a giant rock as if it's been stranded there. Every so often (about every 20 minutes) the boat lets out a honking sound which signals that the waves are about to start. The wave pool can hold hundreds of people (most of which stay in there all day! I almost did) and creates 6 foot 'tsunami' waves. I believe Typhoon Lagoon has the biggest simulated waves in the world (well it used to anyway...), they even use the pool after hours to do surfing. The waves are huge and forceful, you should only swim in the deep end if you are a strong swimmer (the deep end is over 7 feet). Young children should be kept in the shallow end but you should still be careful as the waves are still quite forceful in the shallow end and the floor is made of concrete. I saw LOTS of scraping accidents. The wave pool is a definite highlight for me, it's quite an adrenaline rush seeing 6 foot waves flying towards you! I will never forget the collective screams of everybody as the first wave began. The wave pool is surrounded by white sand and sun loungers/seats.
My other highlight was Shark Reef. Here you are given the opportunity to swim with live sharks, rays and fish. I absolutely love sharks (not so much fish!) and I like rays too, so this was a 'must do' for me. I'm not sure I would have the guts to swim with sharks in the wild, so to be able to do this was amazing and something I wont forget in a hurry. The queue time was 45 minutes (although I did visit during spring break) but it did seem to go down fast. The experience is absolutely FREE. You are given a mask and snorkel, and given a quick demonstration on how to use it and what to do when you get in the water. I was a bit freaked out by the fact I had to put the snorkel in my mouth, knowing that hundreds of other people had done the same. However when we picked up our snorkels, the place absolutely stunk of disinfectant and the staff were quite strict ("use the first snorkel you pick up, don't touch more than one") which was reassuring. You could use a free life jacket if you didn't feel you were a strong swimmer. You enter the water in groups of about 10 and are advised not to kick your legs, just use your arms. The animals live in salt water so the water was very cold, however I didn't really find this a problem as I was full of adrenaline and didn't really feel anything as I plunged in to the water! The first thing I saw was a ray (just a couple of metres away from me), followed by a couple of big fish, then a hammerhead shark (right below me), followed by a number of tiger sharks (I think) at the bottom of the reef and some more fish towards the end. The animals didn't seem to be bothered by us being there and most of the sharks stayed at the bottom of the reef (we were told to stay on the surface). They weren't fully grown sharks but some of them certainly looked bigger than I expected! The only downside is that it didn't last very long, I swam across the reef in only a minute or two. It would be a nicer experience (and better living conditions for the animals) if the reef was slightly larger.
If you can drag the kids out of the wave pool, there is also a childrens area called Ketchakiddee Creek. This is a great area for little ones under 48 inches tall and somewhere where parents will feel relaxed to let their youngsters play. One for everybody is Castaway Creek which is a lazy river that runs a full circle around the entire outside of the park. It's a slow moving and relaxing river that you can catch a rubber dingy/tube on (there are lots of entry points and it didn't take us long to find a dingy). I absolutely loved sitting back on my dingy and soaking up the rays, really relaxing and tranquil. Gangplank Falls is a slide in which groups of up to 5 people can ride in a giant dingy. We queued about 15 minutes to get on the slide and had to push the giant dingy up a flight of stairs (so maybe not suitable if you're on your own!). It was enjoyable but nothing special, the kids enjoyed it and it was nice to find a slide that we could ride together. Other (and bigger) slides include Storm Slides, Mayday Falls, Crush n Gusher, Keel Haul Falls and Humunga Kowabunga. I only managed to do a couple of these slides on my most recent visit but I have done them all in previous years and they're all great fun. Humunga Kowabunga was one of my favourites.
Overall we had an excellent day out at Typhoon Lagoon. The wave machine is excellent, the theme and atmosphere is fantastic, the shark reef encounter was great, the slides are good fun, the adults loved it and the kids loved it. I would definitely visit again and would highly recommend it to others. We also visited Blizzard Beach (the other Disney water park) which I found enjoyable, but not as much as Typhoon Lagoon.
This review has turned out a lot longer than I intended but I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless!
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Disney World Orlando Florida - Magic Kingdom
There is a reason why it is called the Magic Kingdom and that is because it is the place where dreams come true and the magic of Disney comes to life. Even at the age of *cough* thirty something *cough*, I love Disney and even though I have been here before and to the Paris park umpteen times, I still loved visiting the Magic Kingdom. I ... can only imagine how exciting it must be for young children who still believe in fairy dust and princesses. The Magic Kingdom is split into several areas . . .
===Main Street USA and Adventureland===
Main Street USA is the backbone of the park and provides the grand entryway to the rest of the lands beyond. It is headed by Cinderella's Castle and is absolutely the best place to get the iconic picture of the grand fairy tale castle. There isn't much in the way of attractions in this street, but it is the theme and the carnival atmosphere that exudes from the area that provides the attraction. The street is lined with shops and eateries that are all themed around traditional American bakeries, hot dog stands and ice cream parlours. There are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat before you start your day or to grab your souvenirs at the end of the day. It is actually a great place to do your shopping at the end of the day because you have to go down this street to get out of the park, so you don't have to carry bags of things around with you. Be warned though, the shops get very busy just before park closing time.
Main Street USA also has, like I said, a carnival theme to it. That is down to the fact that many of the parades and shows take part here, so there is almost always something going on throughout the day and there are plenty of opportunities to spot your favourite characters around these parks. The main parades all go down the main road and they are worth watching, especially if you are with young children. The 'A Dream Come True' parade takes place every night and involves all the main characters on different well-made and fun floats, it is lovely to watch, even for older fans! Throughout the day there are also little one-off performances featuring popular characters and you can meet and greet Minnie, Mickey and everyone else in front of the castle. There is usually a queue for Mickey, but all the others are just milling about so it is fairly quick and easy to meet them.
Adventureland is a cute little area of the park and is the first land you get to if you walk in a clockwise direction from Main Street USA. There are a few rides in this area although none of them are for thrill seekers. The main ride is Pirates of the Caribbean, which is a boat ride through the Spanish Main and features Jack Sparrow. It is a very tame ride, although I have to say the Jack Sparrow animatronics look pleasingly like Johnny Depp! Fans of Tinkerbell can meet her in her little nook, whilst fans of Aladdin will enjoy The Magic Carpets of Aladdin. The Swiss Family Treehouse is quite fun especially for younger adventurers and, if you make it to the top over all the obstacles, you can see over the park which is nice. There are a couple of eateries in this area that feature predominantly Mexican food and ice creams.
===Frontierland and Liberty Square===
Frontierland is one of my favourite places in the park because I love the theme. It is sort of an old western theme and Disney pulls it off really well, even right down to the little details like having the food and drink stalls done up like old travelling carts.
There are a couple of good rides in this land and they are a bit more exciting for older guests too. Disney does really do high action thrill rides because obviously their target audience is younger but the two main rides here are the closest you are going to get. Big Thunder Mountain is a roller coaster that is a runaway train raging around the mines. It is fast and there are lots of turns and a couple of dips. It is fun. The other one is Splash Mountain, which is a log flume. It's quite a long ride and you go through Brer Rabbit's 'Laughin' Place' which is quite amusing, before plunging down a five storey drop. You don't get ridiculously soaked although you will obviously get a bit wet. Both rides have minimum height restrictions of 40 inches. The good thing about both of these rides is that they last a while so, even if you have queued for a while, you don't feel short changed.
Outside of the Splash Mountain ride, you'll find the meet and greet area for the characters from Toy Story. We saw Woody and Buzz Lightyear, and although there was a little queue, they seemed to be spending quite a while with each person, so it was worth the wait.
Liberty Square is a new area to me - it wasn't there last time I visited - but it is quite small. It is here that you can board the Liberty Square Riverboat which is a huge paddle boat that travels around the man-made lake. It is a pleasant little trip that takes about fifteen minutes. You can get departure times from the gate here.
There is an animatronics show called The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square but I can't tell you anything about it because we just didn't fancy it, even despite its proud claims that it has been re-imagined to include Barack Obama! I will however recommend the last ride here which is the Haunted Mansion. You queue through the graveyard which isn't actually that scary because the tombstones all have little comedic ditties on them although it is very well designed and quite atmospheric. The ride itself is very good; clever and chilling rather than being out and out scary and suitable for all ages.
There are quite a few American themed diners and cafes in this area which is pretty handy because this is about the half-way point in the park and is a good place to have a rest and a bite to eat. There is something for all tastes and budgets here, even a little picnic area if you've brought your own food.
This is the area of the park that Walt Disney is famous for and is absolutely fantastic for young visitors. It is where they will see all their favourite characters and where they will be able to go on every ride because there are no restrictions. Everything is very tame although the focus is on bright colours and appealing songs.
The Many adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a very popular ride and, being a fan, I had to queue up and have a go. The queuing area is very good and demonstrates just how much Disney value's its younger visitors because there are games and activities all the way round that went down an absolute storm with all the kids. It was loud though! The ride itself is like going through a story book that features Winnie and all his friends. You sit in a little car and go round a track watching animatronic characters. It is pleasant and fun and very bright and appealing for kids.
There is a cute carousel which is hosted by Prince Charming and has lovely carriages and multi coloured horses that you can choose from. Soar over Fantasyland on a Dumbo flying elephant or spin around at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, which is one of those spinning cup type rides and is great for everybody to enjoy.
There are a couple of good shows in this area as well, which make for some fun entertainment whilst having a nice sit down. The Mickey's PhilarMagic show is a lot of fun. It's a 3D movie and you get proper plastic glasses, not those rubbish card ones that don't stay on. There is also the Pete's Silly Sideshow which takes place under a big top at various times throughout the day.
If you want something to eat, there is plenty of that too. You can even have a character breakfast, lunch or dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table, which is located in the castle itself. It's not cheap though - you should expect to pay between $35 and $50 dollars per person for a meal, which does at least include drinks. If this is beyond your budget, you can have a much cheaper lunch of pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs or snacks at various cafes and stands.
As you might expect from the name, this land is all about the future and the rides and attractions have a spacy type theme to them. Everything in this area is shiny and silver and futuristic. There are some pretty fun rides here.
The best is the indoor roller coaster - Space Mountain. It has a minimum height restriction of 44 inches which is mainly thanks to the fact that it spins and turns and is pretty darn fast. I really enjoyed this one and it is the closest thing that Disney have to a white knuckle ride. It was perfect for me though! It is completely in the dark so you can't see what is going on, which I think really added to the thrill.
The other ride we really liked was the interactive Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. When you are queuing, you should listen to the instruction from Buzz himself because he gives you tips and hints for scoring the most points once you're inside. You side in a two person space buggy and pass through the ride taking aim and zapping all of the aliens. The photos at the end are pretty amusing too!
You can take control of a car on the Tomorrowland Speedway (it is on tracks obviously) and it is pretty quick.
There is also the Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor which is an interactive show. Unfortunately it wasn't open when we visited this time because there was some kind of technical problem. I am pretty sure I went on it last time I visited though and I remember it was pretty good. It was a shame it wasn't open though because I do like Monsters, Inc.
We had something to eat in Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café, which was just basic chicken burgers and fries type foods, but it was good and not that expensive to be honest. I think we paid about $10 for a burger, fries and a huge soda which was enough for both of us and we got free salad with that as well from the salad bar. There are a couple of other places to get snacks from as well.
There is a train that goes around the park, The Walt Disney Railroad, and stops in each of the lands. It is free to use and is a quick way to get around if you aren't up to walking. The first stop is at the entrance of the park. It is quite a good way to get a nice view of the whole place actually.
There are lots of places throughout the park where guests aged three to twelve years can be transformed into pirates and princesses. You need to book an appointment and it isn't included in the price of your park ticket, but they do a very good job and make little ones feel very special. Transform into a pirate at Adventureland or a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Fantasyland. Details for booking can be found on the park maps.
Make sure you mention when buying your ticket if you are celebrating something special like a birthday or you honeymoon or even if it is just your first visit. You'll get a special badge and throughout the park staff will make a point of wishing you a happy birthday or checking that you are having a good day.
If you can time your visit around a holiday season, it is extra special. We were there at Halloween and they go all out with the decorations. Nothing to scary obviously, but there were pumpkins and scarecrows all over the place and it looked fantastic. Christmas is something else though - the place really does become magically and it is hard not to get swept up in it.
The park operates a Fast Pass system, which is a free system where you can go to the most popular rides and pick up a ticket with a time slot on for when you should return to the ride and go to the front of the queue. It is a good idea especially in summer when the park gets very busy, but bear in mind that time slot you get can even be a few hours later so it may mess up your planning!
If you have only bought a ticket for a single day and a single park, you'll need to get your hand stamped for re-entry. The most flexible way of getting a ticket is to get a multi-park one, they are more expensive but you do get more for your money. We paid about £100 each for a one day ticket although the more days you buy, the cheaper it gets per day. For two week stays it can be as little as £15 per day for an adult and the cheapest prices can be found if you pre-book on line before you go.
Parking is $14 per day and allows you unlimited access to all car parks within the Walt Disney World resort, when you are travelling between them; just show your ticket for entry. The car park for the Magic Kingdom is a fair way from the park itself, but there is a monorail that runs between the two very regularly so it is pretty convenient - and it is free.
If you need any more information, you can go to www.disneyworld.disney.go.com
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