The final two days of our vacation were as exciting and fun-filled as the rest. Here we go!
- Part One: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Part Two: Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios
- Part Three: Epcot and Magic Kingdom
Years ago, my dad had a work conference in Orlando that brought us to this hotel a few seasons in a row. As a result, we relived a lot of fun memories. For example, I am probably one of the world’s biggest fans of Winnie the Pooh…and Tigger, too!
I had a crazy collection of Winnie the Pooh t-shirts, hats and videos that are likely still hanging around at my parents house somewhere. Getting Pooh’s autograph and a picture taken at Disney World was an absolute must back then (as was the fanny pack that my autograph book was carried in), so it was fun to take a new picture 15 years later.
But I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed a “then and now” experience!
The picture on the left was taken when my brother was five and I was 11. The reason for the pure joy on his face is that Mary Poppins had just plopped a big red kiss on his forehead. I will never forget how happy he looked for the rest of the day. Every once in a while he would turn to look at me and just smile and blink like he was in a daze. It was love at first sight.
Today, Eric towers over Mary Poppins, but it made for a fun comparison. I want to know her anti-aging secret. After running into a few more characters – including Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter – we enjoyed our breakfast of Mickey Mouse waffles, omelettes and hash browns before heading out for the day.
On our agenda was Disney Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM). We had heard amazing things about the Toy Story Mania! ride and decided to check it out first. Even though we arrived a little after the park opened, there was already a 90-minute wait!
Fortunately there were plenty of toys to keep us busy while we waited.
I have to say, this was one of the coolest rides I’ve ever been on. You hop into a two-person car and go through a gallery of midway-style games (including breaking plates, popping balloons, etc.) that are all done virtually. Using your toy gun to shoot and accumulate as many points as possible, the ride features a lot of the Toy Story cast and takes it to 4D by actually having some of your actions on screen reverberate back at you. It’s hard to describe it in a way that will do it justice, but we all loved it. Several FASTPASSES were picked up throughout the day for it!
Up next on our to-do list: the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
My mom maintains that she had never been on the Tower of Terror before this trip. I don’t know if that’s true, but the last memories we had of it were of a young Eric being taken down the “exit” stairs with my dad, while I continued on alone! This time, we vowed that we would all make it into that fateful elevator. Mama Bender is equally afraid of heights. I think our picture says it all.
Bobby, me and Eric are in the very back row, while Mama and Papa Bender are the two at the front row right (white and orange shirts, respectively). Papa Bender claims he is laughing at Mama B. Moments before the picture was taken, she found the bar in front of her and held on for dear life.
Bobby and I enjoyed it, but nobody else was too quick to volunteer to ride again!
We had time for one more excursion before lunch. My family headed to The Great Movie Ride while Bobby and I decided to test our fears again with the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. This coaster launches you from zero to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds. I remember going on it with my dad way back when and being so nervous that when it finally accelerated, it took my breath away! I was happy to find out they had installed a countdown into the speaker system so that it wasn’t an unexpected jolt this time around. It made for much more excitement – rather than fear – on my end.
After our rock ‘n’ roll adventure, we headed over to The Hollywood Brown Derby for lunch.
We ate here primarily because it guaranteed us a spot at Fantasmic! later that night, but the food was also very good. I started out with the Blue Lump Crab Spring Rolls, served with a snow crab claw, Asian slaw and spicy miso aioli.
For my entrée, I chose the filet of beef glazed with a red wine reduction and topped with a Cabernet and roasted shallot butter. It was served over white truffle forest mushroom whipped potatoes. The presentation was as good as the dish itself!
For dessert, we went with double vanilla bean creme brulee with dark chocolate-dipped biscotti. I have to admit, I was a much bigger fan of the biscotti than the creme brulee.
We were feeling pretty full after our late lunch/dinner and decided to check out some of the shows to settle our stomachs. Muppet Vision 3D and Indiana Jones’ Stunt Spectacular were a lot of fun to watch. Then we went on Star Tours, a simulated ride through space. It did nothing to settle our stomachs but if you are a Star Wars fan (and proud), then it is a must-see!
Our Toy Story FASTPASS got us one more ride before nightfall. Then it was off to see Fantasmic!
Fantasmic! is a 25-minute nighttime fireworks and water show starring Mickey Mouse and many other Disney characters. It basically takes you through Mickey’s “dream” and all that would entail, which of course means a lot of Disney music and songs, clips from the movies and more.
I have to say, there weren’t too many fireworks. It was mainly just fire – still cool, though!
The show was a lot of fun to watch because it went through all my old favorite movies. At the end, the “real life” characters float by on a big boat and all live happily ever after, in true Disney style.
After the grand finale, we raced back into the park to have one more go on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Toy Story Mania! before we called it a night. Our experience at Hollywood Studios was great, and we quickly fell into an easy sleep.
On our last morning, we woke up a little purple under the eyes, but excited to make a few more memories at the Magic Kingdom. We made our way on the monorail and were one of the first groups in line when the park opened at 9:00 a.m.
The weather was truly perfect for us all trip. Hot but not too hot, humid but with occasional cloud cover that saved us from the burning sun. Our morning view of Cinderella castle was amazing.
We made our way to Tomorrowland first to ride Space Mountain (maybe I’m getting old, but it’s a lot jerkier than I remember…) and the Astro Orbiter. The lines were quick at this time in the morning, so we each got our own rocket.
I think Bobby was pretty excited about this ride once airborne…would you agree?
After returning from space, we made our way to Frontierland to ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It was great because this was one roller coaster that Eric LOVED. He had his arms in the air and was going crazy! The line was still short so we went on it three times in a row.
Then we made our way to the beloved Splash Mountain.
We picked up some FASTPASSES in advance because we knew the line would build up quickly. In the end, we rode this one three times, too. Can’t get enough of Br’er Rabbit!
We headed over to Adventureland to check out Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise before meeting up with my parents – who had graciously stayed behind to load our luggage into the car – for an early lunch at Tortuga Tavern.
I ended up with a chicken and black bean burrito. It was not the best ever, but hit the spot.
After lunch, we got our foot stompin’ on at the Country Bear Jamboree.
And an American history lesson at the Hall of Presidents. The most important thing I learned?
You don’t want to get into too much trouble in Liberty Square.
All too quickly, our time at the Magic Kingdom came to an end and it was time to head to the airport. We were able to get one last family shot in front of Cinderella castle before we had to say goodbye.
We left feeling grateful for all that we had been able to see and do in four short days. Being the
neurotic organized person that I am, I had created an ambitious schedule for us before we left just to make sure we didn’t forget anything.
Of course, we barely even looked at it once we arrived but were happy to find that the order we had laid out for the trip (from Harry Potter to Universal to Disney) served us well and ensured we truly experienced all of it, rather than rushing to complete something just to check it off our list.
Some other ways I’d recommend achieving that are:
- Universal Express Plus Passes – They cost extra but if you’re only going to be in the park for two days or less, are totally worth it. The longest line we waited in was 10 minutes at most.
- Disney FASTPASS – As I mentioned earlier, these are also great for skipping the lines. If you get to the ride at 11:00 a.m. and the FASTPASS is for 2:00-3:00 p.m., that means you can come back any time between that hour and go straight to the front.
- Extra Magic Hours – We decided to stay on property at Disney to take advantage of extra hours both in the morning and late at night. The park is less full and rides are again much shorter.
I am so thankful for Mama Bender and her thoughtful planning. She is a pro at finding the best deals and the greatest opportunities and made this trip extra special. Bobby and I spent a lot of time reflecting on the highlights of our time together. It truly was an unforgettable, magical weekend!
Hope you all have enjoyed these recaps! Thanks for giving me the chance to relive the fun.
And we all lived happily ever after…