Time for Part 2 of my Florida Diaries. If you missed the first instalment you can catch Part 1 here. Packed with more Walt Disney World tips plus the lowdown on what we got up to on our final two days in the land of magic.
DAY TWO – LAZING BY THE POOL AND EPCOT
The epic 14 hours we spent in Magic Kingdom resulted in a lie-in on our second day and a well deserved relaxing morning by the hotel pool.
Top Tip 11: Try to build in chill out time into your trip – otherwise you will explode
If you get tired of the two pools at Waldorf then you can walk over to the adjoining Hilton hotel and make use of its pool, complete with a 3-acre lazy river lagoon.
For lunch we indulged at the casual lobby bar and restaurant at Peacock Alley. Named after the fashionable Peacock Alley of the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The name of the original was born from the colourful peacock feathers the ladies wore in their glamorous hats at the time.
It’s cool and comfortable and peacock feathers surround you even on the carpet! The views from the lounge are of the pool, golf course and Hollywood Studios in the distance.
A deliciously fresh tomato soup accompanied with a grilled cheese sandwich and Cape Canaveral shrimp in plantain tacos was the fuel for our next park.
Epcot – Have you wondered what it even means? The word stands for ‘Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow’ and Walt Disney once dreamed of a community living on-site.
It’s more than twice the size of Magic Kingdom, spanning a whooping 300 acres! Where Disney brings science and technology to life through rides and interactive games known as Future World, along with the culture and food of 11 different countries known as the World Showcase.
By the time we were dropped off at Epcot by our hilariously deadpan coach driver Carlos, the weather was scorching. We headed straight for one of the air-conditioned pavilions – Innoventions. It’s full of different hands-on science and technology activities. Colortopia was fun with three interactive zones where you experience the wonderful world of colour. Ending with painting murals on walls with magic paintbrushes.
Test Track was the first and by far the best Fastpass of the day. We walked into a state-of-the-art facility and designed a virtual concept car then tested it out on the track. Buckling up in a six passenger simulation car the ride took us through heat, cold, speed, braking and crash tests. Think Knightrider meets Tron and you’re halfway there.
Test Track’s circuit is 4,286 feet long, making it the longest ride at Walt Disney World. It is also the fastest, with the outdoor finale seeing the cars hit a top speed of 65 miles per hour. And the first words from my two speed demon ladies’ stepping out of their vehicle were ‘Can we go again?’.
Finally the time had arrived to enter the giant 180 foot tall golf ball for Spaceship Earth. It weighs in at a hefty 16 million pounds, with an outer shell made up of 11,324 aluminium and plastic-alloy triangles – impressive huh?
It has to be the most bizarre and quirkiest 15 minutes of my life. The slow moving ride depicts the history of communication from stone age to computer age. As dull as it sounds this heavily animatronic attraction has now become a cult classic and not having an opinion on it would be a shame.
Leaving Future World behind we headed for a stroll across one end of the World Showcase, which is centred around a large lagoon to another. Well, I say stroll. It’s actually 1.2 miles of a stereotypical vision of the world. Where we happened to bump into Donald Duck in Mexico.
And couldn’t resist the autograph and photo opportunity.
There was a dinner pit stop in China at the Nine Dragons Restaurant, where we tucked into Cantonese, Mongolian, Hunan and Szechuan-style specialties. This restaurant along with most of the other world restaurants can be booked 180 days in advance (very advisable).
We managed to fit in one more ride on our way out of the park – The Seas with Nemo and Friends. Where you go on a happy jaunt through the seas with Nemo of course – without getting your hair wet (bonus). At the end it leads you to a humongous saltwater aquarium filled with the real deal sea creatures. Trying to get out was fun as Radha was mesmerised by the giant manatee.
Epcot was low-key and exactly what we needed for our second day. We decided not to stay for the grand fireworks display in the evening and headed back to watch it from our bedroom window. My feet were eternally grateful for the Disney view room.
DAY THREE – ANIMAL KINGDOM & HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
The night before day three the weather reports were predicting thunderstorms and lighting. Being our last day and ambitiously wanting to cover two parks in one day – staying at the hotel was not an option.
Disposable rain ponchos packed, and dressed like it was a day out in Manchester we headed to our first park of the day Animal Kingdom. It opened its doors in 1988, and is by far the largest of the parks.
First Fastpass+ of the day was Kilimanjaro Safaris. The rain was holding off for now, but the foreboding clouds were telling a different story. Boarding a jeep, we set off on a 18 minute expedition through the African Savannah.
The impressive 110 acre Harambe Wildlife Reserve is a magnificent sanctuary to 34 species of exotic African wildlife and dedicated to their protection.
Driving through the bumpy terrain through open plains, rocky wetlands and shady forests it was no longer Disney auto animatronic creatures we were spotting but the real things!
From rhinos and elephants…
…to flamingos, lions and zebras and many more roaming around free. Leaving some highly impressed explorers by the end of the journey.
By the time we left the African plains the heavens well and truly opened up on us. It was bucketing it down.
And it only got worse. We headed to our second Fastpass+ ride: The Kali River Rapids. Current thoughts at this stage being, we were already wet anymore wasn’t going to make a difference. But oh no that bravado attitude didn’t get us very far either. When we arrived at the entrance dripping wet we were told the ride was closed. Not due to rain but the high chance of lightning.
Top Tip 12: Always come prepared for all weathers – Florida is the lightning capital of the USA
This could only mean one thing – silly pictures in the rain…
With the appalling weather many headed for indoor attractions. There were also hoards of people leaving the park, so Mr S had the brainwave of chancing our luck to get into our 1.45pm lunch reservation at the Rainforest Cafe early. This is another 180 days in advance reservation restaurant, or you could chance a thunderstorm and probably stroll right in.
Smart thinking had us very quickly ensconced in the largest Rainforest Cafe. The girls have eaten at the London location plenty of times, but were still bowled over when they stepped into the Amazonian eatery. Or perhaps they were just happy to be warm and dry.
Fake rainstorms and claps of thunder, chest pounding gorillas, trumpeting elephants and brightly coloured fish are all the rage in this restaurant.
Once suitably dried and bellies full of – let’s be honest – unhealthy American cliche eats, we were all ready to brave our final park.
By the time we hopped off the Disney bus at Hollywood Studios, the torrential downpour had dwindled to a light drizzle.
We headed straight for shelter to the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.
Top Tip 13: If the weather does turn, don’t despair – There are plenty of indoor and covered attractions
Where we watched stunt Indy and stunt Marion perform jaw-dropping stunts to demonstrate how movie magic is made.
By the end of the 30 minutes performance the rain finally stopped and the air had a distinct ‘sauna’ like feel as the sun started to make an appearance.
Every rainy cloud has a silver lining especially for the hardcore massive. With the thousands of people who had fled the park, Hollywood Studios was by its standards virtually empty. There were no need for fastpasses and we ended up going on Star Wars – The Adventure Continues not once, but twice back-to-back! Almost unheard of during the Easter holidays. There are more than 50 storylines, so you end up with a new ride each time.
Donning a pair of 3D glasses you’re blasted off in a Starspeeder 1000 for a simulated flight into the Star Wars galaxy.
It’s a fantastic immersive experience taking you on an unforgettable intergalactic adventure. So much so that its the one ride my 4 year old still talks about as being ‘A-MAZING’!
Once the negotiations of not riding the Starspeeder for the third time was over we headed to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
And no trip is complete without a quick look in the guide book…
Asha kept herself suitably amused in the queue which wound its way through a weed filled garden before we stepped into a dusty cob-web covered reception.
Once through the eerie hotel we boarded the elevator which hurtles up the floors, stopping randomly. Until suddenly it stops and free falls. In total darkness. And then goes again…and again. It resulted in one of our best family pictures of all time.
I give you Exhibit A: ‘The Thrill Seekers Vs The Scaredy Cats’ – cracks me up!
After the thrills and spills from one of the best rides and buzzing from the fact I clearly have two new ride partners in the form of my daughters. We meandered through the backlots of Hollywood Studios and ended up on the streets of New York and San Francisco – where we formed a 90s girl band:
Dinner was at Mama Melrose, where we were served up delicious home-style Italian fare. We booked the restaurant as part of the Fantasmic dining package which guarantees you VIP seating to the show.
Top Tip 14: The Fantasmic dining package is well worth it – Gain Fastpass + entry and seating at the front.
There are two other restaurants Hollywood & Vine and The Hollywood Brown Derby that offer the package for the dazzling musical firework and water spectacular with a host of Disney characters.
The 30 minute extravaganza was a fabulous way to end our three day whirlwind tour of Walt Disney World. It really is the happiest and dreamiest place on the planet.
I’m not going to deny, yes you will have days where you feel like you can’t walk another step (Don’t be surprised if you end up walking a good 10 miles a day). Yes, you will also feel like you can’t bear to hear another Disney theme tune in your ear. And yes, you will definitely get sick of hearing ‘Please, mummy can I buy this?’. Regardless of all these irritations the smiles, memories and joy you bring back is priceless.
Read part 3 of my Florida diaries here, it includes our mini road trip to Cape Canaveral where I finally lived out my childhood dream, and then on to stunning Palm Beach for pure relaxation in part 4 here.
If you’ve been to Disney, what did you love about it the most? If you’ve never been have I tempted you? Let me know in the comments box below.
Waldorf Astoria Orlando | 14200 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane | Orlando | Florida | 32821 | USA
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