Tag Archives: Disney World

Doing Disney at Fort Wilderness

021Since we wintered in Orlando last year, we sprung for Disney annual passes. We spent quite a bit of time “doing Disney”, visiting all of the parks and most of the resorts, and experiencing three of four Epcot Festivals (Festival of the Holidays, Arts Festival, and Flower and Garden Festival). As we completed this year’s travel circuit and headed back toward the big Mouse, it seemed fitting to round out our Annual Passholder year at the Disney campground: Fort Wilderness. We’ve stayed on Disney property a number of times, from budget to deluxe hotels. But, taking our actual home to Disney took the fun to a whole ‘nother level!

033Staying in Disney offers many wonderful perks, including the use of all of the transportation options. Depending on our route and destination, we could take a boat, bus, tram or monorail. We essentially parked our car for the entire stay. The campground itself is HUGE, more than a mile end-to-end, so our bicycles came in very handy for getting around. (Many campers rent a golf cart for their stay).

As I’ve described earlier, Disney is ALWAYS busy. However, staying IN the park offers one extremely fabulous perk — Extra Magic Hours. That means that Disney resort guests can gain entrance to one or more parks BEFORE the general public! With less crowds you can ride the popular rides without the crazy wait times. During our Halloween week stay, the new Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars land) section had just opened up. Due to the expected demand, Disney offered Extra Extra Magic hours every single day! We were able to enter Hollywood Studios at 6 am, a full 3 hours before everyone else!

In addition to this great perk, Disney resort guests can book FastPasses 60 days in advance, rather than 30 days for other ticket holders. You can bet that I was on my computer at 7 am on the 60th advance day to book all of the most popular rides. Between the early entry and Fast Passes we were able to do all of the cool rides — sometimes several times! Since we’re early birds anyway, we would typically arrive at early-hours rope drop and knock out all of the really good stuff by early afternoon. So efficient, and not nearly as exhausting as waiting in line for 2 hours for a ride. We hit the Hoop Dee Doo review dinner show at the Fort, snagged coveted lunch reservations at the ever-popular Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, and practically walked right into Star War’s Olgas Cantina.

One of the trip highlights was the “Keys to the Kingdom tour”, a 5 hour tour of the Magic Kingdom including a visit to the famed underground “utilidors”. Even though I had been going to Disney World for years, I learned a ton of new things about the design and function of the parks. We learned that the four Disney “Keys” is the shared code of conduct: Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency.  I won’t spill any secrets, but if you are interested in a “behind the scenes” look, this is an awesome tour! As an annual passholder, we got a 15% discount for the tour, and it included lunch.

Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival was going on during this time, and we tried quite a variety of food offerings. Each of the festivals have their unique features, but the emphasis for this one is quite clearly the food. There are easily twice the food offerings compared to any of the other festivals and the dishes are varied and creative. Marissa’s family joined us for one of our Epcot days, which was great fun! As a side note, virtually all of the parks are undergoing some level of renovation, with Epcot more than most. It seems like half the park is under construction! I’m sure it will be fantastic when finished.

Fort Wilderness itself was also fantastic as a campground. Our site was amply sized and the facility was beautifully kept. One unexpected benefit of staying in the Fort during Halloween was the incredible camper Halloween displays! Some of them were downright professional. I had no idea this went on. We spent several evenings just bicycling around the various camping loops, marveling.

We spent 6 days straight playing in the Parks. You might think we’d get Disney overload, but …. nope. I was sad to leave the happiest place on earth. Until next time!


Doing Disney: Hollywood Studios

I’ve been terribly remiss in my postings lately – we’ve been on the go and having fun! I didn’t even select a throwback Thursday post! Sorry.

After purchasing our shiny new annual passes, the first park we hit was Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme park. I’m old enough that I still slip and call it MGM studios! It’s hard to break old habits …..

Disney decorates beautifully for the holidays and it’s always a pleasure to visit during those special times. Each park has its own themed tree and unique décor. Hollywood Studios shows its holiday spirit with the decked-out Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and even the toy soldiers had decorative scarfs. Christmas music drifted from every speaker.

Although we had just visited last December, Hollywood Studios had a new attraction – Toy Story Land. We wandered through, but all of the rides (being new) were super-popular with super-long lines. We’ll wait until we can FastPass those on a return trip, and just focused on the old favorites: Rock N Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Star Tours, etc.

If you’re not familiar with FastPass, it’s a mechanism to “reserve” a time for a particular ride in advance, allowing you to skip the majority of the line. IF you have a ticket, you can reserve online 30 days in advance (60 days if you are staying at a Disney resort). Otherwise, you can visit a FastPass kiosk at the park when you arrive. It used to be that you could ONLY obtain a FastPass on the day at the park. Now with the advance booking, we find that the FastPasses for the uber-popular rides are booked up, all of the time. I have heard rumors that additional passes open up during the day, but I’ve never gotten lucky yet. Jeff hates the new system because popular rides are booked immediately by people who may never even use the passes.

We took a lunch detour over to the Boardwalk, a quick 15 minute cruise by boat from Hollywood Studios. The resorts also decorate for the holidays, with some of them really going all-out. The Beach Club Resort constructed a giant gingerbread carousel – impressive! It spins around and everything.

025Seeing all of the gingerbread made me want a cookie. Of course, one was conveniently available for sale. Yum! The price was exorbitant, but hey – it’s Disney!

After a late lunch at the Brewery, we sailed back to the theme park to catch “For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing Along Celebration”. It’s one of my favorite things! They added a special holiday ending, with songs from last year’s “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” short film. Very cute!

The best thing about having an annual pass is that you don’t HAVE to do a marathon day just to maximize your ticket value. I remember trips where we arrived at rope-drop and park-hopped until the last one closed down  at 11 pm! Since we can go back any time, we can take it all in measured doses. I like that. By dark, we wandered back to our car, tired but not exhausted.

Ready for the next time.



Full Circle

040We’re back in Orlando, Florida! Land of palm trees and balmy breezes. Home to Mickey Mouse, and our official mailing address. Also home for our son, Sean, his long-time girlfriend and her family, as well as several other good friends.

We are parked back at the Orlando SE KOA, where we’ve stayed a couple of times before. This time, we’ll be here more than 2 months – the longest we’ve stayed anywhere since we started this crazy adventure almost exactly a year ago.

It’s both comforting and odd to be back here. I’ve almost gotten accustomed to constantly having to find my way to new places. Here, the roads and surroundings are reasonably familiar. Although we’ve never actually lived in Orlando, we’ve spent quite a bit of time here. I look outside my window to see palm trees, as I did for 35 years outside my South Florida homes. It’s nice to unpack and know that we don’t have to re-pack up until the end of January. It’s also nice to get our mail every few days, instead of every few weeks!

So what are our plans for this extended stay?

This KOA offers some ongoing fun activities, like 8 am aerobics, Saturday breakfasts, movie night, craft fairs, and bingo night. Last time, we were so busy running around playing tourist, we didn’t take the time to enjoy the campground. I intend to participate as often as possible!

We also plan to visit Mickey Mouse as well as catch up on a variety of bus chores. Deep cleaning (inside and out) is needed after a dusty year on the road. I intend to sort and purge unneeded items. I brought some things because I had room, but have been surprised at just how many items haven’t been touched in a year. Purging and organizing can be very satisfying. Not to mention Christmas decorating and preparations!

The best part about being back here in Orlando is the ability to spend time with the family and friends who live here. In fact, the very first thing we did upon arrival was order pizza and head over to Sean’s place. We hugged and laughed and made plans for fun activities to come – starting with Thanksgiving dinner with the entire clan. We had way too much food, played games and laughed a lot. Big family gatherings are the BEST!

I’m looking forward to more great quality time with people we love.

Theme Park Mania!

IMG_3386What do you do when you’re in Orlando?  Why, go to the theme parks, of course!

In our two weeks in Orlando, we ended up buying passes for 8 days of theme parks, which was a bit more than we originally intended! Here’s how it happened — Disney has 4 parks, so we figured we needed a day each. We had a one-day park-hopper pass left over from a previous purchase, so bought a 3 day pass for me and 4 day pass for Jeff.  Universal Studios has 2 parks (well, 3 if you count the new water park) and the parks are smaller so using the same logic, 2 days of passes would do, right? BUT, Universal Studios had this super Florida resident special where you bought a 2 day pass and got 2 additional days for free! How can you say no to two free days?? So, there you go, 8 days of theme parks!

IMG_3418If you come to Orlando and want to play in the theme parks, definitely check out the pass options online before you arrive. There are always a variety of options and often special deals, especially if you are a Florida resident. Universal Studios passes are discounted if you purchase online and you can pick up your tickets easily at the will-call kiosks located outside the entrance to each park, however if you purchase a Florida resident ticket, you will have to show your ID at guest services.

It was great fun! All of the parks decorate and have special themes and shows for the holidays. We were here during the first two weeks of December, which is touted as being “less busy” than other times. We found that Universal Studios wasn’t too crowded, but Disney always got busy by mid-day. The rides at Universal rarely had lines exceeding 30 minutes or so, but the most popular Disney attractions (such as the newly-opened Avatar section) could quickly build to queues of two hours or more.

IMG_2994Universal Studios / Islands of Adventure highlights:  The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular, Harry Potter areas (Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade) and the Hogwart Express train that connects them, the holiday projection light show against Hogwart Castle, Universal’s Holiday Parade, and all of the usual fun rides (the Hulk, the Mummy, Men In Black Alien Attack, RipIt RockIt Roller Coaster) and shows. The regular shows, such as the Blues Brothers, offered a special holiday version. It was great fun, but 4 days was more than we needed to cover everything. 2 big days or 3 mellow days would do it. We ended up spending 2 long days and 2 half days there. On our last day, we were tapped to participate in market research: we simply watched 20 minutes of video, answered questions about one of the commercials and received a $20 Universal gift card each! Cool!

IMG_3436There are 4 Disney parks:  Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios (formerly, MGM) and Animal Kingdom. 4 days is simply not enough time to see everything! The parks are large and you have to rely on Disney transportation to get from one park to another (as opposed to Universal Studios where you can walk from park to park). There are so many highlights it’s difficult to single out just a few, but I’ll attempt: The new Avatar area of Animal Kingdom, Holiday around the World at Epcot’s World Showcase, Jingle Bell Jingle BAM! projection/fireworks show at Hollywood Studios, Happily Ever After projection/fireworks show at Magic Kingdom, and the Candlelight Processional at Epcot. We purchased a Candlelight Processional dining package for the four of us (Sean, Marissa,  Jeff and myself) which guaranteed seating at this hugely popular show. I absolutely loved it!

It was exhausting but, I have to say it … magical!

IMG_34298 days in less than 2 weeks was probably a bit too much, even for us. I averaged around 20,000 steps each theme park day! 8 days in three weeks would have been about right. We did have time to fit in some other activities. Sean and Marissa were able to join us for some fun at the Disney parks and we are going to see the new Star Wars movie later today in IMAX 3D! Jeff also cashed in a 15 year old coupon for a Richard Petty Driving experience at the Daytona Speedway. He was quite impressed! We also enjoyed a few activities here at the KOA including Bingo night and Friday night line dancing.


Hogwart’s castle at night

If you go – here are a few theme park tips:

  • Budget for parking – it’s $20/day which really adds up!
  • Snap a photo of your parking location – you’ll be thankful for that reminder at the end of a long, busy day!
  • Pack in your own snacks and save on food purchases. You can also take an empty water bottle and re-fill at drinking fountains.
  • The casual sit-down restaurants don’t cost much more than the fast “window” service, and the food is much better. However, you may need reservations during busy times.
  • Go early and head for the most popular rides first. It takes a little while for the lines to substantially back up. This is a place where the early bird definitely catches the worm!
  • Download the apps. Both Universal Studios and Disney have apps that provide maps, wait times, show times, and locations of dining and restrooms. If you don’t have a smart phone, printed guides are available just inside the entrance of every park.
  • At Disney, take advantage of FastPass. You can snag FastPasses through their app or at kiosks in the park using your admission ticket. If you stay at one of the Universal Studios resorts, your guest key acts as a fast pass for everything!
  • Here’s super secret time saver:  Getting out of a packed Magic Kingdom after the night time spectacular show means long lines for the monorail or ferry back to the Transportation Center. Instead, get on the “Resort” monorail. It stops at the Contemporary Resort, but the second stop is – the Transportation Center! There’s usually little or no wait for this monorail and you’ll get back to your car much quicker.

Next stop – Jacksonville! Maybe we’ll have a little down time, or, maybe not!