A Week in Orlando, Florida

It was a late morning kind of day for a change, usually we travel early in the morning or very late in the night making it a hectic pack up last minute items and run.  So it was a nice change and all smooth getting ready for this trip to Orlando, on what seems to be an easy no brainer of a trip with all the family friendly conveniences of anything else we do and far from the more exotic trips we usually take with the kids.  This is meant to be a birthday gift to our older guy – turning a nice 11 and into the teenage years we go.  As expected the flight was slow in taking off but they made up the time to Orlando. Just before that I bought me a travel charger for the phone, which I hope will come in handy at the amusement parks – stay tuned for the results of that.

We finally made it and first impressions of the airport was wow.  It had a great Floridian feel, whatever that may be – for me it was reminiscent of the golden Girls and 80’s beach style.  Passing the airport’s Hyatt Regency was impressive and unexpected.  We got our car rental and what was different is that you make your choice of which car from the designated car size row that you booked, on our case it was a mid-size.  I just missed a Nissan mid size SUV which would have been perfect but settled for a Toyota corolla – the GPS maps was not working and the USB only charged (i.e. no MP3 player which was a major bummer).  But you get what you pay for I guess.  Leaving the airport to get to the hotel was a bit of challenge, didn’t help we left during rush hour and apparently my google was avoiding toll roads which I forgot about so it made the trip that much longer.  I was a little off getting used to the road for some reason but I got into it soon after, maybe it was just going through the side roads and into industrial areas that threw me off.  Finally made it to our hotel apartment and it was impressive as hell.  Still the 80’s beach style that made it awesome, and the size was enormous.  The pool was tempting but it was a bit cool this late October evening so we opted to try the hammocks and then off to a nearby Indian restaurant for an early dinner. 

The service was slow but they were very apologetic and the food was amazing at the Divine Indian Cuisine Restaurant.  We walked to it and got to see the kitschy “gift shops” selling knock off Disney merchandise, but the restaurant selection was impressive.  Notwithstanding a homeless guy telling us off on the way there it was a very safe and active atmosphere.  On our way back we got some milk and bottles of water to start our day tomorrow at Universal from the nearby Circle K Gas station.  It was a long day already, our little one was well past her bedtime and our older one was hysterically tired which made for some nice fights between mom and the kids, emotional breakdowns, the odd temperaments and screams and of course the usual crying just before bedtime.

For me, I was busy doing my own thing.  Just after unpacking and charging the electronics, and just before sleeping I got a hold of air boat tours for the everglades which was a last idea; so hopefully we can confirm something tomorrow for the weekend.  I also did some last minute planning and downloaded the app and interactive map for the Universal Studios park – hopefully that’s another thing that will end up being helpful come tomorrow’s madness.

Off to sleep of what seems like an already long day and looking forward to a fun one tomorrow.

(Day 1, Orbit One Vacation Villas – 11:20 p.m.)

As expected we (as in the rest of the family except me) did not wake up as early as planned so we had a late start and headed to Denney’s fro breakfast.  By late I mean getting a breakfast at 8:00 instead of the planned 7:00, but with kids you just have to roll with the punches and to manage expectations. We made our way to Universal, and hit what seems to be an ongoing pattern here, the Orlando rush hour.  We will have to time our trips a bit better but for now we were very excited for our first full day and to spend it at Universal Island Adventure. 

I threw my entire plan of rides out the window but expected early on that roller coasters would not be on the agenda, at least not for today.  We quickly made our way to Spiderman and after enjoying the ride much more than expected, I made my wife go in and took my 3 year old around to Toon Lagoon.  Made our way back to meet up but apparently my wife tried to get in the express lane, which we obviously don’t have passes for and had to wait another line up to get in.  I took advantage and headed to the Olive Boat at Popeye’s nook of the park and made a sighting of none other than Popeye himself.  Then took her to walk around the Jurassic Camp before heading back. 

We quickly made our way to Kong Skull Island ride, another great 3D ride and then had a quick snack before going to Dr. Seuss land and enjoying a few ride for the little one.  The cat in the hat and the Trolley Train Ride were actually very entertaining and then we capped it off with the carousel and the one fish, two fish ride.  We found out the Harry Potter Forbidden Journey had a low wait time, relatively I mean 35min wasn’t ideal, so we made the decision to do it and use the family swap which we learned in King Skull Island saved us a good half hour – what a great idea!  It was the best ride we got in today and was a great last one for us to feel satisfied. 

Yes I would have loved to do the Velocicoaster, the Hulk ride and a few other ones, but in the end I convinced myself we have the tallest coaster in Canada’s Wonderland and I went into the fastest in Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari World, so my FOMO is not warranted.  We had some good grub at Cowfish Sushi and Bar, the Blackened Tuna nachos were amazing and the Nutella moose was excellent.  The bison such was so-so and the kids loved their bentos so no complaints. 

We finally called it a day after 6 hours.  After struggling through the Orlando rush hour AGAIN, I mean 30 min for 2km is just crazy! , we rested up and capped it off at the hotel pool.  It had a nice 80’s sunset Florida feel for it, whatever that feels like.  Everyone is satisfied on this “very long but surprisingly more fun than I thought” day. Keeping expectations managed and being as prepared as possible is a guarantee for giving up some control and enjoying this family trip to the fullest.

On another note I managed to book an airboat ride for Saturday so that one is covered as well, should be a nice add on to this itinerary.

(Day 2, Orbit One Vacation Villas – 9:15 p.m.)

A much more chilled out day today, although we still didn’t get up and ready as early as we had planned we managed to leave earlier than yesterday.  After a satisfying breakfast at Perkins, the Turkey patties were amazing, we headed to Universal Studios.  Headed straight to the Transformers 3D ride, apparently it broke down when my wife went, then the Fast and Furious wan which was in a word, lame!  Too short, not much excitement – maybe we were just spoilt for choice after we went through some pretty amazing rides the last couple of days.  Headed to the Hogwarts express both ways which was great, and in between tried some delicious cold and frozen butter beer – the frozen one for me was a better choice.

We then made our way to the Men In Black ride, but after waiting well over 30 to 35min (for an overall estimated wait time of 45min) but had to make our way back cause my son couldn’t hold it in and had to go to the bathroom.  Even our little one was more patient than him, oh well he felt bad we didn’t harp on it too much.  We then went to some of the younger ride areas in the Woody woodpecker Zone, but all the rides including the woodpecker roller coaster and the ET rides were at least a 40min wait.  The Minion Mayhem one was getting up to 70 min, crazy! Could be because some people were starting an early weekend this Friday.  We did do meet and greets with Home and Beetlejuice which was nice and capped it off with a DreamWorks show, but this time our little one through a fit and showed obvious signs of fatigue.  We made our way back to a bit of a less than productive day but overall saw the main few rides we could.  Had lunch at the Today Cafe which was slow service and not great food – a good disappointment.  Capped off with ice cream at Schwabs Pharmacy which was massive, my wife had to throw away half – but it was delicious albeit Hagen Dazs ice cream we could have bought form our local grocery store.

After having a quick rest at home we made good use of our hotel pool and spend over an hour and half, meeting a nice couple from St. John New Brunswick and witnessed an air message “Love Good, U + God” so an obvious agenda there, but we didn’t mind and our kids got to see their first air message.  Headed to an Arby’s for dinner, and got a well deserved fix with two roast beef sandwiches (one was double) and my son had a try of his first one which he loved.  The wife and little one got the same Indian we had two days ago.  Relaxing for the rest of the night before the air boat ride and Crayola experience//Florida mall visit tomorrow.  Not sure hoe they will take the boat ride, as far as they know it is an enclosed, sanitized boat ride – I didn’t lie, I just withheld facts.  Reactions to be determined!  Hopefully we get a good glimpse of the wildlife to make it worth it.

(Day 3, Orbit One Vacation Villas – 7:55 p.m.)

We decided today to have a light breakfast from Starbucks, none of that heavy diner meal for us today.  We had to make it to the airboat ride, which was booked as a last minute thing by 10:15a.m., a little stress was happening when I got lost not once but twice in the Floridian freeway system.  It was not straightforward and google was taking its time to update – so by the time I have to get on a ramp it was too late – but going through the toll system made it a little bit easier; hopefully there isn’t sticker shock when I return the rental and the send me all the charges.

The airboat ride was easy and the hour passed by quickly.  We got to see a couple of bald eagles, a whole bunch of different birds, a snail, a baby and two adult alligators.  It was definitely productive, and of course we got to hold a baby one, proud that my son got over his fear and was able to hold it as well.  It was really nice seeing some nature and wildlife.  It was amazing to see some unique Floridian swampy environment, well worth the drive and glad I made the last minute edition.

We then headed to the Florida Mall to check out the Crayola Experience, the ride was much shorted given this time I did not get lost.  It was a lot of fun, especially for my younger one, although the older “kids”, including us, were just as amused.  I especially liked making our own Crayola and naming them, it was actually fascinating to see some of the history and there were loads of interactive activities.  We ended up spending about 2 hours there easily!  We had our lunch at the Mall’s food court and it was sub par, we probably should have invested I some better food – but we were famished by then.

We decided to take it easy and rest in our hotel, with a late afternoon swim, and my soon played some video games to chill.  I had a craving for some more Arby’s and after having dinner with a roast beef sandwich I quickly realized this was not a good habit I am creating – but man that roast beef sandwich and fries were worth it.  I also decided to add a last minute visit to the nearby Cat Café for the kids tomorrow morning so we will see if it’s a hit.  It will be a nice change of breakfast venue.  So far a great trip and we haven’t even hit the big Disney yet!

(Day 4, Orbit One Vacation Villas – 9:40 p.m.)

After a nice long night sleep we woke up relatively early, so it was to early to just wait and go to the Cat Café, instead we tried the famous Waffle House.  The service was great, and it was a nice set up where it was narrow enough for staff to stay behind the counter and serve us directly from the counter area (i.e. no waiters).  Then we made our way to the Cat Café and after having a massive breakfast (the eggs and hash browns – which was tender not overly crisped up like Perkin’s – were amazing and the waffles were good, but nothing compared to our regular Belgian waffles fro Costco) we didn’t buy anything from the Cat coffee shop.  We did spend a good hour there and the kids had a great time, especially my cat obsessed son.  We had a nice chat with the volunteers about the cats and their rescue stories before seeing a couple actually adopt a pair.  The cats were actually very engaging and each one showed a very different personality than the others.

We then headed to Disney Springs for lunch, it was hot and crowded but it was a nice walk nonetheless with lots to do.  We wanted to go to Planet Hollywood but because we were impatient ended up going to Maria and Enzo’s for Italian.  The food was so-so and it wasn’t the best – but we were well full.  One cutlery set was dirty and they messed up our daughter’s order, but overall they were nice enough to try to fix it.  Should have gone to Planet Hollywood I think.  The vibe was nice with some art deco art and posters.  After going through a few other stores (we avoided Lego and M&M which were apparently anchors – but a bloodbath nonetheless) we did go to Pandora to get a symbolic gift for the wifey – a nice milky pink bracelet charm.  Then to the Disney store where the little one got water colours, the birthday boy got some Moana figurines and I got a humble ol’ magnet.

Off to the hotel where my son did the Wii thing for a good couple of hours and what could be our final swim.  Now we are heading to CVS to get a light breakfast to speed up the morning process for tomorrow as we head out to Epcot, and then I will go solo to the Disney Boardwalk to take some night pictures.

(Day 5, Orbit One Vacation Villas – 7:05 p.m.)

So we started the day off relatively well with an early wake up and a quick breakfast care of the nearby CVS.  The weather started of great with slightly overcast and a nice breeze – that wouldn’t last long!  The trip to Epcot, our first Disney Park was quick and short.  We quickly headed to Ratatouille which my wife as adamant about doing despite the 45min wait and it was a great one!  We tried our best to keep the kids preoccupied in the line up and since it was the first ride our tolerance level was way higher.  As the temperatures soared our patience began to slump.  We walked through the world pavilions which were impressive, stopped at the German one to pick up some long forgotten Werthers Original candy.  The off to the Three Caballeros ride, which was basically a skewed “Small World After All” ride to focus on Mexico with some video scenes, still a nice one and a short wait.  Then off to Frozen suing our Genie + add on which I got earlier this morning as a last minute decision.  It was worth it given that we saved over 2.5 hours in total in line ups during the day which made it tolerable.  Had some Mexican (Tacos) which tasted authentic nearby and then headed off to the Spaceship Earth ride, which had a nice retro feel to it and was surprisingly a highlight despite it’s slow pace and relatively educational themes.

We headed back hoe for a much needed rest and then off to the Hollywood Studio Park.  After a really confusing hour trying to figure out how to use Genie + with my park hop to the Hollywood Studio Park, we finally made it and headed to a couple of light rides such as the Mickey and Minnie Vacation Fun which were really tame and then to the Star Tours ride, which we had done previously but was still impressive.  This was capped off with a quick supper of Grilled Cheeses given that my wife had a headache and the kids were tired, so I missed out on all the big 3 I wanted to try including the Tower of Terror, Minnie and Mickey Runaway Rail, as well as the Star Wars Resistance rides.  I was not happy with how the latter part of the day went despite the fulfilling first half.  Hoping that tomorrow I get to do actual good rides – crossing fingers.  OF course the kids got their second wind once we got back to the hotel, oh the joys of expensive under utilized family trips!

(Day 6, Orbit One Vacation Villas – 8:17 p.m.)

We were on a mission for this day, on what we expected to be the most intense one of the trip.  Got my Genie + pass, and after yesterday wasn’t expecting to make much use of it.  But the fact it was half the price of yesterday made it more appealing (I only knew this after I signed up for it).  So it was another hot and humid day in Orlando, not sure how people and tourists survive the summer here.  Getting to the Magic Kingdom itself was a process that included a long walk through the parking (on the way back we took the shuttles), and then a monorail which was in and of itself a ride.  It passed through the retro looking park hotel and it was another bit of a walk before we got through the ticket counters.

The Genie + easily saved us about 4 hours of line stand by waits.  This made it possible to do a whole wack of rides, including (in order of riding – as much as I can remember of it anyway, where I did use the Genie + reservation I added a “+”):

  1. Space Mountain +
  2. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin +
  3. Mad Tea Party
  4. Haunted Mansion +
  5. Mickey’s Philharmagic
  6. Prince Charming Regal Carousel
  7. Dumbo the Elephant and The Barnstormer (we split up between the two and did them the same time)
  8. Under The Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
  9. The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
  10. Peter Pan Flight +
  11. It’s a Small World +
  12. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train + (My wife and son went on this one, since she didn’t go to Space Mountain)
  13. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad +
  14. The Many Adventures of Winne The Pooh +

Not bad at all and a much more productive day than I thought!  The Genie + was really worth it on this one and more than made up for yesterday, plus it was half the price!  Still wasn’t able to Jungle Cruise but that was about the only things we weren’t able to do that we really wanted to.  In between the rides we had lunch at “Be Our Guest” restaurant (reserved well ahead) and saw the beast.  The food was incredible and had a cake for our Son’s birthday, they did have a personalized card for him.  The food was really filling and the interior of the restaurant was amazing.  It was definitely a highlight.  Took lots of pictures, especially of the castle, got really up close and saw some of the amazing details on that structure, it was another highlight, for me anyway; the kids and wife didn’t appreciate me taking a million pictures, but they know me by now and know what to expect, am I right! 

It was an exhausting 9 hour + stay at the park and we were ready to head back, I was hoping to use the park hop option and book a ride using the Genie + for yesterday’s missed opportunities, but by the time Disney staff responded (they weren’t helpful) and the app didn’t really work out which was a bummer.  But rested instead and ordered Bento Sushi from Margaretaville – itself a site to see, it had some live music and a great food scene!  Lots more than amusement park this Orlando town.   

Did some much needed laundry and caught up on some emails; we have one more day before we head back and hoping tomorrow’s Animal Kingdom would be less intense, and we get a chance to catch-up on a few rides we missed yesterday (if the app works, so frustrating!).  Oh and we didn’t see the fireworks, at this point it was called Disney Enchantment because the closed the park early today at 6:00 for the Halloween event at night.  So again hoping the park hop option comes through tomorrow and we get to see it, at east we won’t need the app and we’ll just go for that one.  It will be a fitting send off for our final Disney park checked off (well for my and my son, my wife has already been and our little girl hasn’t been to the non-American parks).

(Day 7, Orbit One Vacation Villas – 11:25 p.m.)

We capped our Walt Disney World trip today with a visit to the Animal Kingdom.  We did all the main rides, starting off with the Dinosaur one which I wasn’t planning to do due to some reviews about it being “dated” especially with the animatronics.  But it was OK and it got our juices flowing for the rest of the day.  After a calm ride on the Triceratops for the little one, she went with my wife to take pictures with Donald and I took my son to the Everest expedition.  Man it was great, and I think it traumatized him a little.  Dark, loud and for a good while it went backwards, it was a great roller coaster.

After taking on the Lion King show which was also impressive we had lunch at Tuskers and did a lot of meet and greets with Donald, Daisy, Goofy and Mickey Mouse which was great!  The food was inspired by African, mainly Tanzanian cuisine which was delicious.  We braved the heat and headed to the Bug’s life ride which was actually scary for kids, but had a nice ending to it (won’t mention any spoilers).  Too on the Na’vi River ride in some nice enclosed air conditioned spaces – it was calming.  Then took on the Finding Nemo show which was, much like the Lion King one, reminiscent of Broadway.  Finally made it to the Avatar: flight of Passage Ride and the hype was well placed, the feel and technology were another level – by far.  In between we saw a nice parrot show – impromptu and some side “road” performances from music to dancers.  It was pretty much all the rides we could do in the park.  We headed back to the hotel, and after a quick shower and rest I was getting ready for my second wind on this last day.  Wanted to take advantage of the Genie + pass for today (which was only slightly higher than yesterday at about $80 instead of $65 but still less than the $120 on the Monday.  I also wanted to close the gap on the Hollywood Studios Park which I think I didn’t really enjoy as I wanted to.  Man did I get my money’s worth.  I quickly booked the Lighting Lane for the Tower of Terror (finally!) and then did the standby for the Star Wars Resistance ride, it was amazing with a nice mix of live action and multimedia.  Then the Mickey and Minnie Runaway Railroad – which was impressively fun.  After the Tower of terror I did the three rides I really wanted to do, and capped the night off with the Aerosmith Rock and roll roller coaster which was in and of itself an excellent ride.  A full on roller coaster in the dark to Aerosmith Roller Coaster – a much underrated ride I think!  Finally on the way out there was a nice show with some very minuscule fireworks, and then as I headed back to the hotel some grander fire works and nearby Epcot.  It wasn’t the full on experience I would find in the Magic Kingdom but the rides I got to do instead are all worth missing the fireworks this time.

Overall please I got my money’s worth saw all the rides I wanted (except Guardians of the Galaxy), and a thoroughly entertaining trip all around in Orlando – it was amazing!  Not cheap, but lots of great memories for me for sure, and hopefully some for the wife and kids.  Either way I don’t think it could have gone any better.  Tomorrow we check out and fly back to the routine of life – I think we are ready to go back but not for lack of excitement in this trip for sure.  Here’s to the next trip, whenever that might be!

(Day 8, Orbit One Vacation Villas – 11:15 p.m.)


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