Week 42 – Orlando (Disney World & Universal Studios)

Week 11 of our North America road trip and we’ve driven 17,977kms so far (totalling 1,225kms this week). Most of those kilometers were done in two days getting from New Orleans to Orlando and then we had six nights in the theme park capital of the world. On our arrival into Orlando the car ticked over 40,000kms so it was time for another service. The BRZ hasn’t missed a beat all trip and we’re very happy with it.

Map 11
Our drive this week (week 11)

Some of you might be wondering why two grown adults would dedicate 6 nights to Orlando, spending 2 days at Universal Studios and then 3 days at Disney World. I’ll put my hand up and confess that I was the driving force behind this one. Back in ’92 we went on a three week family vacation to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Hawaii. This was the first time my sisters and I had been overseas and it was a very exciting trip for us. I was only 7 years old at the time, but I remember so much of that trip and Disneyland was the absolute highlight. I’d say that trip was one of my fondest childhood memories, especially since we got my grandmother to come on all the rides with us. Fast forward to ’94 when we were living in Bendigo, Victoria and our next door neighbours had a promotional VHS (I know, showing my age) on Disney World in Florida and I must’ve watched it 10 times over that week they loaned it to us. Admittedly I was 10 years old, but I knew that one day I’d go to Disney World to see it for myself. When Anna and I started discussing the route for our road trip I subtly mentioned that a couple of nights in Orlando would be cool to check it out. Then when we got closer to the date I pushed it out to 6 nights. I know… I’m such a child.

Once we decided to spend five days at the theme parks my excitement grew tenfold. I booked the tickets and looked at the crowd calendar and worked out what days would be best to visit the different parks. I think Anna was a little blown away by my enthusiasm but considering there were 2 Universal parks and 4 Disney parks, some planning was required to make sure we spent more time on rides and less time in queues. Anna did disclose that she isn’t too fond of big scary rides so we started at Universal where the bigger thrill rides are and then stepped it down to Disney. I could probably write a 10,000 word blog post about the rides and what we enjoyed but I’ll refrain from doing that. I’ll just write a little about our movements and what we enjoyed.

Universal’s Island of Adventure is the secondary park that includes the larger thrill rides for Universal. Anna wasn’t overly convinced about visiting this park until I pointed out that Harry Potter world was there and two Harry Potter rides. Anna has read all the books, so I knew this was going to be a good selling point. We were both impressed with the commitment to the theme in Harry Potter world with all the stores, food and drinks tying in. It’s also a licence to print money because all the kids were having their parents buy them wands, robes and other accessories. I think Anna was a little sad that she didn’t have a wand of her own because there were little markers scattered around the park where you could wave your wand in a set motion and something magical would happen in a shop window or at a water fountain. The best rides were the Jurassic Park boat ride with its huge drop at the end and the Incredible Hulk rollercoaster where you go upside-down about 10 times. Anna was a little frazzled after that one but was pleased when I told her that would be the scariest ride of the trip. The funniest memory of the day was when we went on the floating raft ride and got absolutely soaked. We were so wet we decided to do it a second time because you couldn’t actually get any wetter. Even the warm Florida sun wasn’t enough and we were still wet walking home at the end of the day.

Universal Studios Orlando is based upon the Universal park in Los Angeles and does a good job of capturing the movie theme. The key areas we enjoyed were Springfield from The Simpsons and Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. Universal were very smart in spreading Harry Potter evenly across the two parks to ensure that both would be visited. The rides at Universal are very high tech with the latest trend being indoor rollercoasters that incorporate 3D movies into the action. The Harry Potter Escape from Gringotts was probably the best example of this latest technology. I still like the old fashioned ones though like The Mummy which is an intensive rollercoaster in a pitch black room with sudden turns and drops that takes you into the mummy’s tomb with treasure and fire. Anna’s favourite part of the day was the animal actors show, in particular the dogs. Another factor of this park we enjoyed were the live shows that tied in with the movie themes like the horror make-up demonstration and the fireworks spectacular that incorporated 100 years of movies into the show. My favourite memory of the day was watching Anna be envious of the little kids who were waving their wands and making magic happen in Diagon Alley.

Magic Kingdom is the original section of Disney World based on LA’s Disneyland. This is still the most popular Disney park so we went on a Friday to avoid weekend crowds. Overall we did a pretty good job of getting around the park with minimal queuing by using our three fastpasses (reserved times) on the most popular rides and then getting to the park at opening to do other popular attractions. The longest we queued for was 40 minutes and that was for the new Seven Dwarfs ride which regularly has lines over 100 minutes long. Magic Kingdom was definitely my favourite as it brought back all those memories of the ’92 trip. I’m sure Anna was sick of me saying “back in ’92 this… and we did this…”. We went on every main ride in the park, which includes Splash Mountain which Anna wasn’t looking forward to. What’s not to like about sitting in a log and going over a 15m drop? Well Anna was very tense until we went over the big drop and then she started to enjoy it. Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain are always favourites but Big Thunder Mountain Railway is still the pick for me. Our favourite memory was when we decided that if we were going to last until the 10pm fireworks we needed a sugar fix, so we bought a big Mickey Mouse chocolate cookie and devoured it in 3 minutes. We’re pleased we did because the fireworks over the top of the castle are iconic.

Epcot stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow and was Walt Disney’s dream for creating a community of 20,000 residents that would include schools and businesses with technology being the focal point. Unfortunately Walt Disney died before he was able to break ground, so the plan was abandoned. Now Epcot is a theme park which focuses on technology’s influence on the world, not just in an environmental capacity, but also in the benefits for the development for mankind. Some parts of the park are dedicated conservation and research with slow moving boat rides giving guided tours through the research laboratories. There is also a world showcase based around a large lake where as you make your way around you enter different countries with architecture, restaurants, stores and shows. Epcot does have a few “rides” but it was mostly informative about environmental issues and technology. Our favourite ride was the Spaceship Earth tour which is a slow moving rollercoaster that makes its way around the inside of the large sphere in the photos below. It was focussed on how humans share information starting back in the caveman era with rock paintings and moves through the Egyptian period to the development of the printing press. It was fun but informative at the same time.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the smallest park at the moment because they’re currently constructing the new Star Wars world section. Judging from the preview pictures I’m guessing this will be a tremendous hit with young and old alike. They have a few Star Wars attractions already which are quite popular with the gift shops packed with kids building their own custom lightsabers. My favourite ride of the day was the Tower of Terror where you ride in an elevator going haywire in a Hollywood hotel that gets struck by lightning. You’re strapped in with a seatbelt, but the elevator shoots up and then drops you down many stories in the dark. It definitely gets the blood pumping. From there we went straight to the Aerosmith Rock n Roller which is an indoor rollercoaster with some loops. Doing those two back to back was pretty intense so Anna needed a break. We went to the Indiana Jones stunt show which is probably the most elaborate and impressive stunt show I’ve seen. Collectively we’d say that was the best attraction at the park, but I’d say the Tower of Terror was the best!

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a zoo and theme park combined. There are animal enclosures to walk around with animals from all around the world, but the best part was the Africa safari where you’re loaded into trucks and driven around the grounds to see the animals. It definitely felt more like a safari than a ride, especially when we got stuck behind a giraffe walking along the track and we had to follow him at walking pace for a few minutes. Most of the attractions were based on education about the animals but they did have an awesome rollercoaster called Expedition Everest where you make your way around the mountain and try to avoid the mythic Abominable Snowman. It was a thrill ride that had a section where you go backwards and a large drop at one end. I hadn’t heard of the ride so I didn’t properly brief Anna on how intense it would be. Oops. You’ll see in the photo I’m holding her leg as we went down the big drop as I’m trying to stay in her good books.

So that’s about it. There are so many more rides that we went on but I can’t possibly list it all here. We were very busy over the five days but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anna isn’t big on theme parks but I think she likes them a little more than before.

Next week we’ll make our way to the Florida Keys and then start heading north towards Canada!

Oh and one last thing… Anna has published our monthly video for November. Click here to check it out.



Fail of the Week
Both Universal and Disney have apps for your phone that allow you to look up wait times, make time reservations for rides and hold your tickets on your phone. Well on our first day I lost my phone which had all of our bookings etc. Once I realised I went back to the last ride and reported it missing. They looked up the boat number using the photos that are taken on the ride but when they checked it wasn’t there. I thought we should check the previous ride just in case and on the 10 minute walk back to Jurassic Park we were discussing how we were going to get by without the phone not only for our theme park stuff but for data, google maps, hotel bookings etc.

Once we arrived at Jurassic Park the guy informed us that they found the phone and they retrieved it from the office. Crisis averted!

Meal of the Week
Red Lobster is a chain that we’ve seen everywhere but hadn’t been to yet. We saw they had a 4 course meal for $18pp (plus tip of course) so we gave it a go. For a chain restaurant we were really impressed with the meal especially the jumbo coconut shrimp and the shrimp pasta. Oh and the choc cookie brownie was the icing on the cake.

More photos


3 thoughts on “Week 42 – Orlando (Disney World & Universal Studios)

  1. Brownie says:

    The American Chopper was the highlight of my reading this post. Although the look on Anna’s face on the roller coaster rides was pretty special to. I am with Anna. I don’t like roller coaster rides that go upside down. Glad the Subaru BRZ has worked out to be a great car. When we bought our Subaru Liberty I kind of hoped it would turn into a BRZ. Although it might not have handled the rough dirt tracks at Lightning Ridge. Cheers, Brownie


    1. Ben says:

      Yep you’re right. There’s overlap between LA and Orlando with the rides for both Universal and Disney although the Orlando parks are bigger.
      We did 3 days in Disneyworld and we got around all 4 parks and went on all the main rides. 2 days would be pretty tight because the parks are spread out so you lose time leaving a park then driving to another section and parking again. One thing that saved us loads of time was booking some fast passes time slots once we knew the days we were going. Oh and going on the most popular attractions during the fireworks show.

      Liked by 1 person

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