Disney World & Universal Studios
26.08.2018 - 31.08.2018
Who: Mom, Dad & two 13 year olds
When: August 26 - 31, 2018
Where: Animal Kingdom Lodge & Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort
We are a tropical beach vacation family all the way, but every now and then we like to mix it up. With our daughter in middle school, taking her out for a week has become a thing of the past. So I figured that by late August many kids would already be back in school and crowds would be lower. The heat we can handle. Maryland summers can rival Florida in August. But the daily storms were another story. They were either an annoyance or ruined our afternoon plans. But overall we had a great and memorable trip.
We started out dark & early on Sunday morning to make the hour plus drive to Reagan National airport. After a couple wrong turns due to construction closures, a wallet left in the car, a backpack left on the shuttle bus, and a crushed toe due to a flight attendant dropping a heavy object on it, we managed to make it to MCO…ready for the magic to begin.
While waiting in line for the Magical Express, our daughter’s friend, who we nicknamed Calamity Chloe, let her suitcase tip over and it landed on a child in a stroller behind us. Loud wailing ensued. Thank god she appeared to be okay, but we never did see her walk. We profusely apologized and boarded our bus. Phew.
Our motto, and many of the sayings we repeated over and over were borrowed from the hilarious John Crist YouTube video about taking kids to Disney World. If you haven’t watched it…go. "We made it to the happiest place on Earth. It's 9 a.m., and I've gotta schedule every minute of our day until 9 p.m. Pay attention and stay close."
It was off to Animal Kingdom Lodge. We have previously stayed at Pop Century, All Star Music & Port Orleans French Quarter. We loved AKL. From the awesome soaring lobby to the incredible theming.
I had booked a standard room with a parking lot view but as we searched out our room, we noticed the odd numbers were all on the side facing the Savanna. Could it be?? It was! While not directly facing the main Savanna, we had a great view of the back Savanna where it meets the main one. So we were treated to two different habitats. And pretty sure we saw more animals than many did. Giraffes, Zebras, Wildebeests, Naylu, and many other species were always in view. My husband’s favorite activity was sipping his morning coffee as the sun rose, with a wildlife field identification guide close by. For anyone wondering whether or not to spend the extra money for a Savanna room...do it. It’s well worth it and was the highlight of our stay.
Once we dumped our luggage, it was off to the Mara for a quick, early lunch before heading over to Epcot. Only a few of our fast passes for the four days were useful. Either the line wasn’t long to begin with, or the ride was broken down and we had to return later with everyone else who was denied.
Our first ride was Nemo, then Spaceship Earth, and Test Track, which was a lot of fun. But too short, as were most of the rides. Then the new Soarin’ Around the World. This is one of my favorites. Just breathtaking.
Since it was a million degrees, we scooted over to Club Cool to sample sodas from around the world. Then we rode the intense version of Mission Space. This makes me want to puke. But I never do since I close my eyes when I start feeling nauseous.
Poor Chloe noticed new cracks on her already busted phone and started to fret. But that frown turned upside down when she spotted the iridescent mouse ears she had been looking for. Cue their favorite line from the YouTube video… “$45 for bedazzled mouse ears?? You want these, baby, or you want to go to college?”
We headed to World Showcase hoping the line for Frozen Ever After wasn’t as ridiculous as the app showed, but it was. So we rode The Three Caballeros in the Mexico pavilion…a cute, original ride. Since we didn’t have time to wander through all of the countries, we walked back to Future World so I could ride Figment. A silly ride but nostalgic for me. No one else appreciated it. Memories people…that is what Disney is all about.
Just as we got back to the room, it began to rain, so the timing was perfect. We all took turns rinsing our sweaty bodies, then Mark and I left for Kidani Village and our reservation at Sanaa. The girls got take out from the Mara and ate in bed.
Sanaa was just fabulous. Everything they say about AKL restaurants being superior is true. We had a wonderful and knowledgeable waiter whose recommendations were spot on. The Indian style bread service with nine accompaniments was fantastic. Several varieties of puffy, flavorful Naan breads with a large assortment of dipping sauces. Mixing them to create new flavors was the best part. Try Coriander and Tamarind together. You can thank me later. Even though we were stuffed after all that Naan, we tried the African meat sampler…sausage, pork & lamb. Again, top notch. Sadly we did not save room for dessert but rather savored the rest of our red wine before walking back to Jambo House and calling it a night.
Monday was Animal Kingdom Day...with morning extra magic hours. The anticipation for Flight of Passage was high so we tried to get there for rope drop, along with thousands of our closest friends. Fast Passes were impossible to get for this ride. But we were determined to ride no matter what. At that time of morning, the queue wound through Pandora, and while it was a very long line, it never stopped moving. We waited just under 1.5 hours but it seemed much quicker.
What can I say about Flight of Passage except that it lived up to the hype. Phenomenal “ride” which Ellie said she would wait in line 10 hours for. It’s like you are transported to another world with all of the sights, sounds, smells, and realism of another realm. Simply incredible. And very exhilarating. Then the girls got a Night Blossom frozen drink with lime, apple, and pear swirls topped off with passion fruit boba balls. On our way over to Expedition Everest, we stopped for It’s Tough to be a Bug. Always a cute show. Everest was fun, but at this age, the girls wanted more thrills. The plan was to go back and ride at night. Next up was lunch at Yak & Yeti. We have eaten there before and it's always a solid choice. Mark lugged around a back pack with rain gear, mouse ears, and water bottles etc. Thank goodness he did. With as hot as it was and with as much water as we went through, we would have gone broke buying small $4 bottles.
Ellie was dying to head back to Pandora to ride FOP again. This time we went through a different queue. More inside, and past the Avatar in the chamber. Total time to wait and ride…1.5 hours. It was just as amazing as the first time. And watching the look of pure joy on Ellie’s face as she rode was priceless. Note ~ All Pandora photos were taken outside of the ride. No way to take pictures as you are riding on the back of your banshee.
Even though it was “too early to get wet”, since we were all hotter than a jalapeno’s armpit, we decided to wait the “35” minutes for Kali River Rapids since our fast past wasn’t until later. 35 minutes my a$$. It had broken down earlier in the day so all the people with fast passes from the morning were given priority. 50 of them to 2 of us. It was ridiculous. Then they kept having to stop the ride for various reasons..one of which was some idiot decided to open an umbrella while riding in order to avoid getting wet. Once we finally made it on, we were stuck again for some unknown reason. Finally we get moving and of course get soaked. I was literally wringing out my denim shorts for hours afterward. But before we could get off, we came to a halt two rafts away from the dock. In the baking sun. Normally I love to bake in the sun…if I have a swimsuit on, cocktail in hand, and can jump in the pool. This was torture. On top of that, the cast member barking at us was the least friendly WDW worker I have ever encountered.
Next up was the Na’vi River Journey ride. I did have a FP for this. It is a slow, cool, dark boat ride though Pandora. Very pleasant and beautiful, but also underwhelming after FOP. Also very hard to get good photos.
Then the storms started. And outdoor rides were shutting down. We decided it was a good time to head back to the hotel since we were coming back later. And since we were already soaked from the rapids ride, no one bothered with ponchos. And it was raining hard. We looked like drowned rats once we got to the bus shelter.
After we watched the animals from our balcony, dried off and freshened up, it was back to AK.
Dinner was at Satu’li Canteen. Great quick service restaurant. The rare sliced beef bowls hit the spot. And the cheeseburger pods were a fun twist on a boring burger. And we had to try a traditional Na’vi dessert…Blueberry cream cheese mousse.
We all rode the Primeval Whirl while the sky was spitting some light rain…what a rough a bumpy ride that is. Then we made our way to Asia as a rainbow appeared and the the sun was setting. Animal Kingdom is a very pretty park. We got on Everest just after dusk...the views are great and the ride is scarier in semi-darkness.
Ellie begged us to ride Flight of Passage one more time. This makes three times in one day. We admired the lights in Pandora as we walked to get in line.
The wait was up to 2.5 hours but we had nothing better to do since the park was closing. So we got in line. We only ended up waiting 30 minutes. Score! Ellie had tears in her eyes as we departed the ride for the final time. And Chloe had tears of despair in her eyes as she exited the restroom where she informed us that she had dropped her phone in the toilet, and in an effort to save it, sucked the water out with her mouth. Public toilet water. Good lawd. We decided to withhold this tidbit of info from her mother/my friend who we talked with and facetimed on a daily basis until 24 hours had passed and we were certain she hadn’t contracted some terrible illness.
Everyone fell into bed and crashed hard while visions of Toy Story Land danced in our heads.
On Tuesday, were up before the sun as we were every morning. We had a schedule to keep.
This day was hotter than yesterday if that’s possible. The sky was blue, the sun was blazing, and after a photo op, we were standing in a long, hot line to ride Slinky Dog Dash. To be fair, the line moved pretty quickly. Disney is definitely getting better with making queues more enjoyable and quicker moving. This was a fun, yet tame, smooth new coaster. But this as well as the rest of TS Land is definitely geared toward younger kids. After shooting at aliens in Toy Story Mania we all said in unison “you know what I want to ride? A park bench in the shade” and so we did. Then it was on to Tower of Tower, which the app indicated had a relatively short wait time.
We tried to use our fast pass for Aerosmith’s Rockin Roller Coaster, which was shut down. Back to the other side of the park to ride Alien Swirling Saucers. This was our least favorite ride. The Teacups far surpass this snoozer. Then we walked right on to Star Tours. Then had our one and only character encounter…Goofy.
Next up, lunch…burgers and Mickey pretzels. Mark was so thankful that beer could be found with relative ease. The girls were dying for a good coaster ride so we stood in the ridiculously long fast pass lane for Aerosmith...the line looked worse than it was.
We wanted to do ToT again but the sky looked very threatening so we opted to watch the Indiana Jones Stunt show. Another nostalgic crowd pleaser. As soon as were seated in the open air auditorium, the heavens let loose. Torrential rain, booming thunder, and cracks of lightning so loud that it shook our seats. Of course the show was cancelled. So we waited for about a half hour for the storm to let up. It only did by a little, and we had to get back to the hotel, so we made a run for it. Our dollar store ponchos served their purpose.
Once back in our room, we let the girls take over the bathroom to shower and primp, and we enjoyed a drink on the balcony while watching the animals graze, roam, and nuzzle. Tonight we had reservations for the Boathouse in Disney Springs. This was a great meal, in a relaxing setting overlooking the water. And we had another stellar server. And Calamity Chloe entertained us by knocking her drink all over the table.
After dinner we wandered around and poked in and out of shops. I found an adorable Orange Bird shirt that I had to have. He was my absolute favorite as a kid when we visited Magic Kingdom in the 70s. Anyone else remember sipping juice from the cute little cups shaped like an orange? I need to get my hands on one of those too.
We fell into bed at midnight which had become our pattern for the whole trip. Asleep after midnight and up by 6 am after averaging 11 – 13 miles of walking each day.
Wednesday was Magic Kingdom day. But not before admiring the sunrise over the savanna.
First up, the obligatory entrance and castle photos...
Then we made our way to Tomorrowland Speedway. The speed of these cars seem to get slower each year we visit. Then we rode the tea cups where the girls main goal was to spin as fast as possible while I tried not to toss my cookies. Then we took another trip down memory lane on It’s a Small World. Then Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Aladdin’s Magic Carpet ride.
In an effort to amuse themselves, embarrass us, and entertain those in line around us, the girls beat up on each other and made inappropriate comments…all week. If anyone reading was witness to this, I apologize.
We needed a break, and a refreshment. The delicious, cold Dole Whip hit the spot. Then we met up my a former co-worker of mine who is now a cast member on Main Street. We were melting again so it was time to get wet on Splash Mountain (this was our best fast pass use). Ellie kept saying the bottom of her heels felt like stumps from all the miles we covered. “Hurry up, pretend your feet aren’t sore, this is Disney, use your imagination.” We barely made it before a storm shut down the ride so we decided it was a good time for lunch. “No you cannot have Goofy shaped nuggets, sit down, your mother brought ham sandwiches.” That is totally something I would do but alas we ate at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Tavern. I was quite impressed with their Mexican rice bowls.
Space Mountain…an original ride from my childhood that still gives me a thrill. And the Jungle Cruise. Always fun and entertaining. We had attempted the Astro Orbiter but lightning in the vicinity nixed that twice so decided it wasn’t meant to be. And Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was closed during our fast pass hour as well. We made our way back to Main Street so the girls could get their matching crown rings from Pandora.
Mad dash to shower and change before heading back out to the Polynesian Resort and our reservation at Kona Café. This was one of my favorite meals last trip but I found it to be just average this time. And the Kona Cone Ellie had been anticipating had changed and no longer had that wow factor.
The restaurant was running behind that night so we had to eat and run to the monorail in order to make it to the Kingdom for Happily Ever After. Holy Crowds. But it was a lovely display. Then we tried to untangle ourselves from the masses so we could enjoy a few rides before closing. Much to our chagrin we found that the our re-issued fast pass for 7DMT wasn’t valid during extra magic hours. Ugh! So we went back to Space Mountain then decided to suck it up and wait in line for the Mine Train. Another new, fun, smooth coaster with great views of MK. On par with Slinky Dog Dash as far as the thrill factor. We were struggling at this point as it was almost 11 but the girls did Space Mountain one last time before we dragged our weary bodies back to the bus.
One last sleep at AKL before departing bright and early for Universal in the morning. We slept like babies.
We called an Uber and 20 minutes later pulled into the Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort. Totally different vibe from AKL but we loved it as well. It reminded me of a newer, brighter version of Disney’s Polynesian Hotel. Shout out to my friend Kelly for the recommendation. After stowing our luggage, receiving our welcome leis, and taking photos in front of the frolicking elephants in the courtyard pool, we ate a quick breakfast in the open air lobby eatery, then followed the sidewalk along the canal for the short stroll to City Walk.
Since we were on day five of non-stop go-go-go, we did not want to attempt to do both Universal parks in one day so we made the final decision that morning to make Universal Studios our park for the day. Based partly on the fact that most rides were inside and well…you know our luck with storms and ride closures. We will be back to check out Islands of Adventure though.
Of course as soon as we arrived and I went to pay for our tickets, I realized my wallet was not in my bag. I knew rationally that it had to be in my tote which I left with the bell hop, but I am a worrier and if I didn’t know that it (and all my cash, credit card, and license) was safe, I would not be able to enjoy the day. So Mark and his sidekicks proceeded into the park while I power-walked back to the hotel. Of course I somehow managed to make a wrong turn and ended up by the highway vs the canal with no way to cross over except just do it. And of course the wallet was safe and sound so I tucked it into my crossbody and made my way to the dock to take the boat back to the parks. I wasn’t up for that hot walk a third time in a half hour.
By the time I re-joined the crew, they had only managed to do the Shrek 4D show. They didn’t realize our room key doubled as an express pass and that they could have walked right on. I much prefer Universal’s “fast pass” system as it allows you priority access to ALL attractions, unlimited times. And it’s a no-brainer to stay at one of the resorts on property because you get express passes for everyone for free. They sell for $100 per person if you do not stay in the park. It essentially pays for your room.
We immediately headed to Rip Ride RockIt, the biggest coaster in the park. And we basically walked right on with our express pass, as we did almost every ride. The ascent to the first drop puts you flat on your back as you climb to the top. And these newfangled coasters have cameras at each seat so it takes a video of you for the duration of the ride. Priceless. Everyone loved this ride though the drop isn’t as steep as you might think. Must try the Hulk next time!
Next up was Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York. This was another favorite ride…a 3D simulator (as were most of the rides in this park). This had an awesome queue as well. First watch a cappella singers, then videos of the Jimmy Fallon show, then he “talks” to you “personally” before finally boarding the ride.
The Revenge of Mummy was cool…I love that when you see fire, you feel heat. But it was too short!! These designers are going for quantity of people who can ride in a given time vs quality of the experience, in my opinion. Stupidest ride of the day was Fast & Furious. Minions was cute. Harry Potter World was amazing as far as theming but the ride broke down multiple times so we didn’t get the full effect.
Lunch was at Mel’s Diner...a very cool 50s diner themed with American Graffiti. Food choices were limited and overpriced but we had gotten used to that. After lunch we walked over to ride E.T. Just as we were getting on the ride, Chloe realized she had left her retainer on the table wadded up in a napkin. I was so looking forward to this ride but it was marred by the stress of her mother killing her if she lost that retainer. And let’s face it, chances were that it was tossed, along with the rest of our trash. I had visions of us spending our afternoon digging through bags of garbage. We hightailed it back to diner and low and behold that napkin, which she had pushed to edge of the table next to the wall, was still there. Thank god we chose a booth in the way back where it wasn’t as busy. Crisis averted.
Now it was time for Simpsons Land. This was great. A re-creation of Springfield. The ride was pretty awesome. Again, sights, sounds, smells and thrills thrust you into another dimension. Since Men in Black was right next to it, we decided to ride. This was okay. Not my favorite but better than F&F. Then Transformers. Not my cup of tea but a good ride I guess. Reminded me of Mission Space! The girls were dying to get back on the Rip Ride RockIt so we did that one more time before heading out. Another cool feature is that you get to pick which music you want played during your ride.
We hopped a boat back to the Loew’s and took much needed showers before heading back to City Walk for dinner at CowFish, the sushi/burger joint. They had some fun cocktails and the calamari and tuna nachos were great. They also had some fun and unique sushi offerings. Unfortunately we couldn’t linger since we wanted to get back to the park.
The girls rode the RockIt again then we went back for a re-do of Escape from Gringotts. I have never seen the movie. Blasphemy I know. But it was a neat ride which unfortunately took longer than expected, We had wanted to ride The Simpsons one last time but time was very tight. We sprinted from HP to Simpsons land and missed the cut off by ONE minute. No amount of pleading got us on. We dejectedly walked back to HP to claim our stuff from the locker. This is another Universal feature that I love. Free lockers for big rides so you don’t have to worry about your bag, sunglasses etc while riding. Just must remember the locker number!
As we meandered out of the park we stopped to watch the fireworks display, which was really nice. The girls were dying to get a hair wrap so we settled in for that. Thankfully Mark fetched us margaritas from Margaritaville to sip while we sat to people watch and wait for the hair wraps.
I really like City Walk (much like Disney Springs but more compact) and the whole Universal Complex. Everything is close to everything…easy walk or boat ride. My next trip will look something like this…stay at Loews, visit both Universal Parks plus Volcano Bay. The only thing I didn’t like about VB was that it sits right on the highway. I think I got splashed in the Uber as we rode by. Disney water parks are pretty awesome though so that could be a contender. Especially if we go back to Animal Kingdom for Avatar.
We hit the hay after midnight but were so excited not to have to wake at the crack. We had a 6 PM flight so tomorrow we would sleep in then enjoy a relaxing day at the pool. We clocked an impressive 13 plus miles today. I claim 14 since I had that extra trek back to the hotel.
I woke at 7 but had slept like a rock (maybe I need to start exercising at home so I can sleep better), and was sad not to see our wildlife family outside the window. I had sent Mark to claim chairs by the pool then we met for breakfast as the girls were rising. They had their own private breakfast as we grabbed another cup of coffee to sip poolside.
We had a nice day and ate lunch in our lounge chairs. Tip...order the $15 nachos. It was enough to feed all of us. Of course Mark had already ordered the tacos which were also huge. The pool bar food at this resort gets my vote for best bang for the buck. Drinks on the other hand were way overpriced. Lest you think Calamity Chloe has been forgotten…she managed to crack her retainer on this day...the one that was saved from garbage disposal doom. But I still loved her.
We showered in the gym locker room…so nice...with every toiletry you could need. We also found the zen-like whirlpool room. We are not hotel people, we rent villas or condos when on vacation so I was not even aware that this existed. Note to self for next time.
Bags are collected, Uber is called, and we are waiting at the curb. And Chloe realizes she doesn't have her retainer. She lost it somewhere between the pool, locker room, and lobby. She races back to look. The Uber arrives. We wait. We cannot miss our flight. She finally appears…sweaty and without the retainer.
I need a vacation.