Day 7 – Universal’s Wizard World Part 2 and the Hulk

universal them park orlando florida hogswart school
Taking the Hogwart’s Express Train to the other side of the Universal Theme Park

With my tummy full of Butter Beer, my skin warmed by Dragon’s breath, and my nerdy gauge filled up with magic, we left Diagon Alley to take the Hogwarts Express Train to Hogsmead, AKA, the 2nd part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Theme Park.

The Hogwarts Express is a ride itself, and we boarded with little wait. Inside, we were locked in our cabins while the Potter gang wandered in the corridor and Dementors flew by our window, feeding on our happiness (which I think they do on a daily basis for me).

I could see why this could be terrifying to young kids (being locked in a small room and then have the spooky, ghost-like Dementors wail outside the window), but for us, it was just fun.

Hungry, the lines now HUGE for most rides, the weather blazing hot and stiflingly humid, we chose to eat. That took a good 40 min of sweating in the Leaky Cauldron’s line-up, but the food was delicious, (all very British with fish and chips, toad in the hole and cottage pie!) Set in a medieval setting, we sat at wooden picnic tables and ate our fill.

Recharged and re-energized, we strode back into the crowds as thick as Mrs. Dursley’s Pudding. The-Boyz went on Flight of the Hippogriff, while The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I tried to shop for something special.

However, the crowds inside the stores, and bumping against sweaty muggles made it hard to fondle things like a Gryffindor House scarf, a Howler pop-up card or a Sorting Hat, so we left to find what shade we could and wait.

See, the thing that both Disney World and Universal don’t seem to understand is that it’s hot outside and we muggles need shade. Or AC.

A Wizarding cloak!!! With a Hufflepuff scarf! OMG. I want. I want

Waiting for the young wizards to finish rides in the sweltering sun is not fun – It’s draining and uncomfortable and I’m pretty sure I end up smelling like a homeless hobo.

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, being Hermione-Granger-smarter than me believes this is on purpose, to drive us into the shops or restaurants which are air-conditioned.

She could be right.

With the line soooo long, we couldn’t do the newest ride, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, so we made our way out of the Wizarding World and into the rest of the park, jumping on the Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls ride, then lining up for the terrifying Hulk Coaster.

The Hulk was something to see (and probably ride, but there was no way I was going on that behemoth). As the coaster shot out of the loading area, it roared so loudly that you could hear it from the parking lot, then it flung the riders down a steep incline, then around and around, and somewhere along the lines, I would have thrown up or passed out. (Video HERE)

For The-Youngest, this was the reason for coming to Universal… that and getting a good wand, but the coaster, (like Volcano Bay), well, he had dreamed about it, researched it, and watched every youtube video on it (including how it was built!).

But, the truth be told, he too was terrified, and (as he explained) had worked his way through the rides in the park to build up his courage.

However, despite the fear that was making him bounce around like a drop of water on a hot pan, he wasn’t going to back down. To me, that’s brave – He did something he was scared to do.

For The-Oldest, he really didn’t get a HUGE kick out of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, (which is completely wrong to me) but he did enjoy the terrifying rides. Those things don’t scare him at all. Nor do heights. Jump scares. Or It-like clowns.

Hulk Coaster in the Universal theme park. Not the MOST terrifying, but close!

S0 that Hulk coaster certainly met his criteria for a good ride. Fast. Good drops. And a great start to the ride.

By the time The-Boyz came back, the line-ups were too long to do the MOST terrifying ride, the Rip Rocket, and, frankly, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I were done. Exhausted, sweaty, wet from a small rain shower, we slogged back to the car and drove back to the resort where we all passed out about 8pm.

It had been a great day, even if we missed about 2/3rds of the rides there, and even if we failed at sticking to our tried-and-true plan of getting there at rope drop, going back to the resort to recuperate, and then heading back to the theme park.

However, the toughest day was yet to come, the day that broke The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World.

Day 7 Universal Theme Park – The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter

Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Would The Wizarding World of Harry Potter live up to its hype?

As we approached the secret entrance to Diagon Alley, I became even more childlike than usual.

I won’t lie, I was super excited about wandering around Diagon Alley, going on the Gringott’s ride, and maybe even buying a wand. Both The-Youngest and I had done our research. We knew exactly where to look for the secret entrance so we weaved our way through the passage into Diagon Alley.

It wasn’t the best weather and here the crowds were as thick as Mandrakes in Professor Sprout’s greenhouse, but it didn’t matter. We had been transported to a different world.

Crooked buildings lined the street, strange signs swinging over colorfully painted doors. Arcane goods could be seen in foggy windows. Kids stood on brass plates, waving their wands, making a curtain move or a house-elf look up. Stands had been set up for multi-colored potions in antiquarian bottles.

But at the far end of the Alley, looming above it all, stood a dragon, waiting to breathe fire upon unsuspecting muggles.

At that moment, I realized I should have brought my wizard robes because this was the place to wear them (though, apparently, NOT at my wedding). Quite a few people, and not all of them kids, were decked out in Potter fashion. Wands. Robes. Wizard hat. House scarf. House-elf stuffie.

This was a zone of nerdishness, a zone of non-judgment.

The-Youngest and I bounded from shop to shop, looking around. We found Ollivanders Wand Shop soon enough, but it was far too crowded inside. However, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World found a girl in wizard robes who told us the actual wand show wasn’t busy at the moment.

OMG. We raced inside and soon stood in front of an old wizard behind a counter, books and wand boxes filled the walls around us. The old wizard would determine what wand would be the best fit for an aspiring magic-user.

Despite me waving my arms and saying “pick me, pick me, oooooh,  ME! Me-me mememememememe, meeeeeeeeeeee,” he chose The-Youngest.

The-Youngest marched up looking like he was about to be turned into a newt, took the wand offered and tested it out. Chaos ensued – Bookshelves fell, bells rang, wands failed to move as each wand he tried, failed. Then, finally, The-Youngest chose the right one, the best one for him, and all his spells worked. (see how he used them in Diagon Alley HERE.)

We left through a secret entrance back into the shop where The-Youngest bought his wand after much dithering.

See, the most powerful wand is Elder wand, perhaps created by death himself, so The-Youngest wanted that one, but wait, he also wanted the wand that had for chosen him since every wizard knows the wand chooses the wizard, not the other way around, but then, again, the Elder wand is made from “Elder wood” and has a “Thestraltail-hair core” and was owned by Dumbledoor, but then, hmmmm, the wand that had chosen him could be as powerful as….

It took about 20 min for him to decide, but in the end, he went with the Oak Wand with a Dragonheart String core, the wand that had chosen him. With crowds of muggles gathering like there was a Black Friday Sale at Walmart, we made our way to the Gringott’s Ride.

The amazing entrance into Gringott’s Goblin bank in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal

The line-up wasn’t that long and, like Disney World, there was so much to see along the way. It started out with a spectacular Goblin bank entrance, a diamond chandelier overhead, shining marble floors at our feet, and goblins grimly going about their banking tasks.

The ride itself was good, telling a decent story as we weaved our way down through the secret vaults, pursued by Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and to make the occasion, we bought an expensive photo of us at Gringott’s

As soon as we got outside, The-Youngest went about using his wand at all the wizarding stations. (see video here!)

Butter Beer! Not everyone liked it

I didn’t get a wand, since none had chosen me, so I went to get a Butter Beer, bought a potion, and tried to get a picture of the dragon breathing fire on all the muggles.

As The-Youngest gagged on the Butter Beer and The-Oldest announced it tasted like sweet vomit, the moving river of people slowed around us. Not because The-Boyz were complaining about Butter Beer, but because a man had knelt on one knee outside of one of the wizarding shops and asked his girl to marry him.

Like The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, she jumped up and down, happy, and like The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, she agreed to marry the nerdy guy. The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World teared up, fluttering her hands around her eyes as if she could evaporate the happy tears.

Our visit to Diagon Alley couldn’t have ended better, as the Dragon breathed fire above us all, bathing us in heat, and the happy couple looked up.

We left, having seen all we could see, done all we could do, and, at least for me, had the most magical of times.

Did Harry Potter’s Wizarding World live up to the hype? Gosh, yes! Because, at least for me, as Hagrid would say, “I am what I am an’ I’m not ashamed.”

Day 7 Universal Studios Begins

universal globe at universal studios theme park
universal globe at universal studios theme park
Time for Universal Studios!

At 10:40, the crowds at Universal Studios were beginning to grow, so we had to choose wisely.

So, we decided to do the important adventures, first. Not the Hulk ride. Not the Rip Ride Rocket. Not one of the water rides.

No. We were going to do something for me. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Expecto Patronum!

The lineups to get into Universal Theme Park were longish, but not bad, and we had the best attendant help us get through. I had booked tickets online and wasn’t sure how that would work, but it turned out all we had to do was use my phone to show them, then press our finger for the fingerprint scanner, and that was that.

The attendant was an older fella. Older than me, anyway, and he had the biggest smile on his face, and when he found out where we were from, he talked hockey. His team was, and always will be, the NY Islanders. Where he was from.

I can’t tell you how impressive it is to be greeted in a positive way when you start out in a park. Disney does this well, no, really, really, really well. So, too, it seems, does Universal.

We made our way out of the crowds into the Universal Studio streets. The-Youngest loved that he could walk in the middle of the road and no one yelled at him. The-Oldest saw ‘Doc’ from Back to the Future walking around, and waved at him. Marilyn Munro walked by in her iconic white dress and looked at The-Youngest, saying “I think that one’s giving me a look.”

The-Youngest is about to meet Marilyn Monroe

The-Youngest blushed so red, he looked like someone had lit a fire inside his head. Before she could say anything more, he rushed away from her like an energizer bunny suddenly hit by lightning.

Then we entered one of the BEST parts of Universal. Simpson’s land.

Now, it’s not the BEST place for rides, sure, but it ignited the nerd inside of me. There was the Springfield sign, and over there, the Kwik-E-Mart. Over there, look, there’s Krusty Burger, OMG, we HAVE to have a Krusty Burger, and there’s Duff Beer, OMG, I have to have some Duff beer, OMG, there’s Mo’s Tavern, we have to go in and burb with Barney, and there’s Lard Land Donuts, OMG, we have to get a Homer donut!

See, I guess at my core, I’m less of a Disney guy and more of a movie and TV guy.

As I hopped around pointing at everything in Simpson’s Land, the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World looking at me like I was having a seizure, The Boyz decided they’d go on a ride – The not-too-scary Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl. The-Youngest told me, “Joe, did you know, it’s a good plan to do easier rides before you do the Hulk ride. You have to work up to it.” (The highlight of his plan was going on the terrifying Hulk Coaster.)

Kang and Kodo didn’t disappoint. At least didn’t disappoint The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I. We watched the boys go around and around, and laughed out loud at the commentary. “You will know the ride has ended when your vehicle comes to a complete stop, or you have been eaten…I didn’t just say that.” “Thank you for betraying mankind. Go home and enjoy your shame.”

After The Boyz got off, The-Oldest, much to our surprise, decided he HAD to have a Homer t-shirt. No words on it, just a Homer face. All yellow.

Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone. This is the secret entrance to Harry Potters Wizarding World.

Since it was so very, very, very rare for The-Oldest to want anything that didn’t involve a piano, we got him the shirt. Could it be that he was going to have a good time here?

I looked over towards Diagon Alley. I knew I was.

Time for some magic!

Day 6 Universal’s Volcano Bay Waterpark in the Rain

volcano bay universal theme park waterpark orlando florida
universal volcano bay orlando florida rainstorm
Was it a dream? Did we really go back to Volcano Bay?

I won’t lie.

We were desperate to salvage the day. Maybe a movie? Maybe find an indoor race track? Maybe a gun range. Wait, what, no guns for The-Youngest? Ok. But something. Something…

After successfully bra shopping for The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, (The Boyz remaining in the car to avoid awkwardly looking at women trying on bras), we decided to give Volcano Bay one last look on the way back to our resort to reconsider possibilities.

With the rain still pouring down, our thinking was, yes, it was still raining in a way only a tropical location or movie shoot can rain, but we hadn’t heard or seen lightning for a while, so where was the harm in checking Volcano Bay?

So we drove past more churches than I’ve seen in my life, through lakes forming on the roads, beside rivers raging in what had been drainage ditches, past houses darkly stained by mildew, hoping against hope.

By now The-Youngest had come to terms with the idea his life was over and all that he had ever hope for, dreamed about, lay in ashen ruins. But when we drove near Volcano Bay, despite the rain still falling, we saw people climbing steps. To rides!

The-Youngest sat up so quickly that I think he popped a joint, but he’s young and joint popping isn’t that big a deal. Excitedly, he bounced up and down, as we took the turn into the parking lot.

Now, I won’t say this was my finest driving moment, but it was one of the oddest. The cones were all over the place and I had to stop in a parking lot so vast it can be seen from Mars to figure out where to go. As I did so, dozens of cars literally raced around me, like I was a frightened rabbit on Lightning McQueen’s race track (when in fact, I was just a confused old guy!)

It didn’t take long for us to get into the park as no one was there. It was a little spooky, but kind of cool as well. Maybe 200 people wandered around, (which I totally get is not ‘no one’, but in a park built for tens of thousands, it seemed to have more staff than customers.)

So, we made a plan, cuz, you know, that’s what we do.

Hit the most important rides first! We didn’t know how long they’d allow us to stay in the park.

We could still lose the park to lightning or a North Korean attack, so doing the rides in any other order made no sense.

The ride The-Youngest chose was the Krakatoa, a ride like a roller coaster where we sit in a canoe-like thingee and get shot through tubes, up hills and down, through waterfalls, all by magnets.

Without ANY lineup we got on and shot off like a rocket. Wow. Every hill we crested we got air. Every turn we made in the tunnel seemed one inch from being an exercise in physics to see if we could glide on the roof.

Volcano Bay. With the soft, tropical downpour, we had the park to ourselves, making this one of the best days ever!

It was amazing fun!

Then, because we were old and slow, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I went on the lazy rivers. Again, with no people, the faster river was a completely different ride, the waves much, much higher, the speed much, much faster, and there weren’t a thousand people constantly accidentally punching you in the face.

We had a blast, but man, was it ever a workout to try to keep together, to dodge the painfully, powerful waterfalls and avoid the few numbers of little kids who rocketed the rapids like insane otters.

The slower river was better for us, though if you saw me trying to get into an inner tube, you would have laughed. It was like trying to fit a polar bear into a lifesaver.

But, as we got our lazy river on, The-Oldest and The-Youngest went on ride after ride after ride, literally walking on to any ride they wanted. Their bare feet slapped on the wet concrete as they raced from the Krakatau Aqua Coaster to the Kala and Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides then to the Ohyah and Ohno Drop Slides.

No line ups. None.

With the most beautiful purple sky overhead, we joined them for the Krakatau Aqua Coaster (which was a powered by jets of water), and boy, was that fun, especially since all we had to do was climb a few steps and go right on it.

While the rain continued to fall, as the light began to fade, The-Boyz raced away from us to do their final rides before the park shut down. We floated in the lazy river one last time as I soaked up the experience.

The rain was soft and heavy, but warm, not pelting down like ice needles. I didn’t care about the rain, we were in a waterpark getting soaked, so getting extra soaked really made the experience even better. No, wait, more than better, it made the experience immortal.

We were in the rain in a waterpark that we basically had to ourselves. Like we were billionaires.

I wandered around a bit, taking pictures of the stunning sky, I but I knew, I just KNEW I would remember this magical night forever. Like when I first looked upon the green, rolling hills of England when I was 18, like when I first smelled a peat fire when I was 24, like when I saw The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World walk down the aisle to marry me, breathtakingly beautiful, me wondering how I managed to get so lucky.

What had started out as a disaster had ended up being an amazing day!

One of the best pictures I’ve even taken – of one of the best nights I’ve ever had traveling. No filter on this shot at all, but (to be honest), the light was even more spectacular in person.

Day 6 Universal’s Volcano Bay – The End of the World

universal volcano bay orlando florida
Universal’s Volcano Bay Waterpark. A great start. Good weather, few people, full tummies.

The-Youngest’s most anticipated theme park was Universal’s Volcano Bay.

He had watched hours and hours of videos. POV videos. Review videos. Park exploration videos. He knew how to use the Fastpasses, how to use the Taputapu wrist bands, where we should get our lockers, where the best food was, and, of course, what the best rides would be.

He’d even planned out a route, taking advantage of the fact we’d get there before a lot of the crowds, and had plotted how best to use the Taputapu bands (simply tap the wristband to the icon at the ride you want, it assigns a time for you to return for your ride. The clock on the wristband counts down and buzzes when it is time to return to your selection.)

In short, he was one super prepared little kid. Or to quote him, “I’ve been planning and dreaming about his park for 6 years!” Ok, maybe a bit overdramatic, but he was so excited, he was quivering.

And by the time we arrived, there were a few clouds drifting off in the distance, another warning of rain, thunder and lightning had been issued, but the sky was blue, the lines were light, and after applying so much sunscreen we would survive on the surface of the sun, we raced off to have us some fun.

Our tour guide, The-Youngest, took us to our first ride in Volcano Bay. Maku Puihi. Something everyone could do, even if they couldn’t pronounce it.

Our tour guide, The-Youngest, took us to his first choice, a good family ride, he said, knowing that his mom and I would not be super keen on the drop slides or super fast ones. He wanted us to share this experience with him as much as possible.

We had to climb a lot of stairs to reach the top of the ride, but I have to say, it was a blast going down. Then we did the lesser one, which was, for me, more fun since I didn’t risk flying off the side of the ride.

Excited, clouds beginning to form above us, The-Youngest raced off to do the ‘fun’ rides, the Krakatau Aquacoaster, the Kala & Tui Nui Serpentine Body Slides, the Ohyay  and Ohno drop slides, and the very, very terrifying Ko’kiri body plunge (“Featuring a 70-degree fall through a drop door and 125 feet of white-knuckle fun, this dizzying descent ends with a watery tribute from Vol himself.”) Here is a vid if you want to see what it’s like.

Even thinking about that last one made my stomach leap into my throat.

So, after securing chairs, while the-Boyz enacted The-Youngest’s masterplan, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I went on the Swift Flowing Lazy River, which is an oxymoron (like saying jumbo shrimp or Microsoft works), but it was relaxing, and little by little, the stress from the past few days melted away into the water,

But as we began our second lazy river run, the clouds overhead had thickened and blotted out the sun. Tiny raindrops began to fall. Not a big deal. We’re from Vancouver. We’re used to rain.

Then the clouds overhead became dark and menacing, like something looming over Mordor. Thunder cracked in the distance and the rain began to fall like it had on the first day we’d arrived. Heavy, wet drops, fell, the sound like a waterfall.

No problem, we’re used  … then came the announcement. The rides were being closed due to the storm. I mean, it kind of makes sense if the lightning came our way because the last thing the park would want is a whole pool of people being electrocuted, but for The-Youngest, it was the end of the world.

Dark clouds over Volcano Bay. Soon the rains came, followed by thunder and lightning and one sad little boy

At 11am, his plan of doing the entire park in one day, of sliding on all the cool slides of experiencing that terrifying Ko’kiri body plunge, fell to pieces.

He was, in a word, devastated.

We returned to our seats, under an umbrella, and tried to wait it out. By 12:30, it had only gotten worse.

So, we decided it was pointless to wait around. We had to declare the park a disaster and think of doing something else.

The-Youngest slumped back to the car, completely unexcited about going bra shopping for The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, but none of us had any idea how the day would really work out.

Disney World Vacation – Day 2 – Magic Kingdom Start

Joe and the boyz stand at the entrance to Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida
We had arrived at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom! I had to hold onto the backpack of The-Youngest to keep him from running off!

By the time we had arrived at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, everyone had forgotten that it was 6am our time and that we had slept maybe 8 hours in two days. We were here!

It took a bit of time to walk from the buses to the security check. It took a bit of time to line up, then have our bags checked and walk through a metal detector. It took a bit of time to line up, again, to get into the park.

But by 9:15, we were in!

But, as I looked over at The-Youngest, I realized we’d made a terrible error. No, not the sunscreen that made him look as shiny as an oily nickel… no… he didn’t have a hat or a siren or a sparkler on top of his head so we could find him in a crowd!

Good lord, he’d blend in with anything. Grass. Mike Wazowski . Thin air.

It would be hell keeping track of him. Like me, like Dug the Dog from Up, he tended to see something (“Squirrel!”) and runoff. I think between the The-Youngest and me, we’ve given The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World a permanent frown wrinkle on her forehead.

But standing inside the gates to the Magic Kingdom was, well, magical. In the distance, Cinderella’s castle, set against the bright sun and blue sky, looking like something out of faerie tale. (Wait, it IS out of a faerie tale!) Leading to the castle, Main Street, the buildings quaint with a New England theme. And in front of us, the entrance building, a garden full of flowers that make up a Mickey Mouse face, and, at our feet, ‘The Magic Kingdom’ in stones.

And, adding to the wonder, cast members wandering around in full costume or as Disney characters.

No question, Magic Kingdom was a sight, a proper introduction to Disney World.

We embraced the magic.

There were rides at Adventureland and Tomorrowland and Frontierland, and Fantasyland, there was Mainstreet and Liberty square to shop in, and there were donuts and Mickey cookies to eat and… and… and…. so much more!

Did we run off to see the sights? To ride the rides? To give Mickey a hug? No, we rushed to take a picture.

Now you can get a picture pass thingee, but at $250US, we decided to take our own pictures. But set up in all the BEST spots are the Disney photographers. Being Canadian, we didn’t jump into those spots, but shot as best we could, The-Youngest and I bouncing around like pinballs looking for neat shots.

The boys walking into a misting station at Magic Kingdom, Disney World, Orlando, FLorida
I love this picture of the boyz in the mist! Always keep cool in the summer at Disney World, let me tell you!

But we had a 9:15 Fastpass appointment to Space Mountain since I didn’t quite understand how they worked, we raced off to go on the ride, the boys slowing only to run through a water mister, again and again, and again. Space Mountain was the first part of our plan.

Now, being old, neither The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World or I needed to go on the ride, so the boys rode it together, but without us. They had a blast! That ride, in the dark, scary as hell, was the best way to start the adventure. While they rode, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World bought a purple Magic Band (we all had basic ones that allowed us to ride the rides, pay for stuff and look like we belonged.)

When the boyz got back, the line-ups were still light for nearly every ride! So, we raced off to the next ride, the MUST-DO ride, Buzz Lightyear’s Spin.

Now, this is pure, silly fun. While waiting in the line, we looked at all the Buzz paraphernalia. It’s something Disney does so well, making it interesting to be in a line! (though later there’s a blog on what they DON’T DO so well.) Then we boarded our ships and fought off evil aliens by blasting them with, you know, blasters.

The-Youngest, having watched every YouTube video ever made on Disney World, knew what to hit for the most points and he killed us all with 138,000 to the next best, mine, at 68,500. I think The-Oldest got a score of 1,500 due to the fact he spent most of his time shooting his brother. With a laser. In the face.

The only reason The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World didn’t get the high score (and these are her words) “Is because my partner kept hitting the spin button on the spinner just as I was about to shoot.” That partner was, The-Youngest and, yes, that was part of his strategy!

We all had awesome fun!

By the time we left, the lines had begun to form at the best rides. We chose the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. Not the most exciting ride, sure, but it took us through Tomorrowland and gave us time to discuss what to do next.

In hindsight, we could have done the whole ‘Fastpass thing’ better. (There’s a blog coming on that, too!) but there were still rides that had smaller lines, and it was only 10:30. Lots and lots and lots of time to do some amazing things.

But ‘wanting to do’ and ‘being able to do’ are two very different things.

The bad-asses with newly bought sunglasses at Future World in the Magic Kingdom, Disney World.

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Disney World Vacation – Day 2 – Magic Kingdom

eating mickey faced waffles in disney world, orlando, florida

No rain in the morning, but the forecast for Disney World was more thundershowers by 2. Would we be able to have a great day or would the bad weather kill our riding time???

And was the weather really the thing we should have worried about?

Our plan for the first day at Disney World, we’d decided upon the Magic Kingdom. We had booked Space Mountain for 9:05, Splash Mountain for 2:05 and the oddly, super busy Dwarf Mine for 3:45. We’d try to catch the parade at 2:45 and the fireworks at night. It would be touch and go for those last items. Thunder and Lightning could shut them down.

Dammit.

But we were all up at 7am, local time. That’s 4am our time. 4. AM!

That’s early!

The magical transport that I would call a bus would take 20-25 min to get us there, then maybe another 20 min in lineups so we needed to be on the bus by about 8. Or at least in the lineup.

Amazingly, we were all up, though ‘awake’ didn’t really describe it. The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World did heroic feats, getting everyone up, showering, making herself all pretty and stuff, and ready to go by 7:30. We packed raincoats, lots of sunscreen, lots of water. I took my laptop to do some writing on our downtimes (oh how foolish that was!) and phones to keep in touch or take pictures.

Then it was off to grab some food. We had the ‘quick service meal plan’ which allowed us 1 meal, 1 drink and sometimes, but not always, a snack, twice a day. (It was part of a great deal Alyssa helped us find.) Alyssa’s link is here, and meal plan link is here.

eating mickey faced waffles in disney world, orlando, florida
I don’t know why, but Mickey-faced waffles made my day. If anyone is thinking of what to buy me for Christmas, either another trip to Disney World or a Mickey-faced waffle machine.

I ate mickey faced waffles, which were so goooood, while The-Oldest ate about ½ a scrambled egg and had a few bites of bacon. That didn’t bode well. He needs his food or he gets a case of the grumpies as bad as an old man (like me) who just saw a neighbour’s dog poo in his yard.

Worse, The-Youngest complained his Mickey waffles were too doughy and he didn’t like the non-Canadian syrup.  So he didn’t eat them. Good lord. (Spoiler alert, I did!) However, both The-Prettiet-Girl-in-the-World and I had GIANT coffees so we’d be good to go.

No matter that the boys had a bout of picky, thought I, we’re going to the Magic Kingdom, a Disney World theme park where there was all kind of food. Right? We’d have plenty of time, right?

To our credit, we finished by 8 and made our way to the buses.

Sure enough, there was a massive lineup for the buses!

Seems everyone in the hotel, I mean ‘resort,’ had the same idea we had – Get to the parks by rope drop (which is Disneyese ‘for when the damn place opens’).  So, like all the others, we got in line. The sky was clear, the sun overhead as hot as if we were in an oven, and the humidity, being a tropical paradise and all, was about 4000%.

However, what could have been a true nightmare was not. This is Disney World after all. A ‘cast member’ came out and said more buses were coming right away. So we waited and applied sunscreen with the dexterity of Cirque du Soleil acrobats to avoid spraying the other people in line.

This is a vital step in any sunny vacation. Failure to properly apply sunscreen results in my head looking like a tomato and likely a case of heatstroke. Worse, if completely assed-up, we’d end up at the nearest clinic to be treated for third-degree stupid sunburn.

I speak from experience.

The shuttle that gets us to the Magic Kingdom in Disney World
The ride to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Oddly, everyone looks awake. It was 5am our time!

Just as we finished covering ourselves with sunscreen, the bus arrived and we were all packed-in like businessmen on the Tokyo subway.

20 min later, we had arrived at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom!

Little did we know that the seeds for how the day would play out had already been planted.

For good and bad.

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As always, thanks for reading the blog. Please follow or share or talk about me to your friends, but, ah, in a good way. Also, more pictures here on Instagram. Or here on Pinterest.

Disney World Vacation Day 1 – Arrival

Magical Express bus at Orlando airport, Florida, heading to our resort, Pop century, Disney World
Magical Express bus at Orlando airport, Florida, heading to our resort, Pop century, Disney World
Not a bus! The Magical Express. It’ll take us to our resort, Pop Century, in Disney World, Florida

One of the best, and sometimes worst, part of traveling is that you never really know what’s going to happen.

It could be a car breaking down on a deserted Italian road, which would most definitely fall into the category of bad, or it could be a whole different type of show at Disney World.

The Air Canada flight had movies so we weren’t bored, but the transfer in Toronto took a very long time as we seemed to have to go through about 20 security checks for traveling to the USA. I guess a lot of terrorists think about blowing up Splash Mountain in Disney World.

Everything went smoothly as we arrived at Orlando airport, 6pm local time, at least until the conveyer belt broke down. However, this was not something completely ‘unexpected’ as these things happen. To me. A lot. Not something planned for, but not something terrible.

By now, we were all very excited to get to Disney World and see EVERYTHING and waiting while the belt was fixed was excruciating. But when it worked, we got our bags quickly and raced to the Disney Magical Express.

See, in Disney World, nothing is called anything mundane. A bus is not called a bus.  It is a Magical Express. They don’t hang up the phone with a cheery, good-bye, no, they say “have a magical day.” The hotel is not called a hotel, it’s a RESORT. The workers here aren’t called expendable cogs in a corporate machine, no, they’re called ‘cast members.’

Now, this may seem cheesy, but I have a different opinion. I think it’s ‘branding’ at the highest level. They want this to be a magical experience and have worked hard to make sure it is just that.

As we loaded onto the bus, we got a taste of Florida’s weather – clouds filled the sky, and the air felt oppressively hot and humid. The Magic Express, though, was air-conditioned – a vital thing in these parts of the world.

The bus ride took 40 min or so but even that was ok as they’d set up screens to tell us more about Disney World. For The-Youngest and I, there was nothing new, but for The-Oldest and The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, there was a ton of stuff.

To quote The-Oldest, “Wait, they have a fast-pass?”

We arrived at Pop Century as the clouds overhead darkened like they weren’t glad to see us. By now, The-Youngest vibrated with excitement despite (or perhaps because of) the 10-hour flight. I was just glad to have so little go wrong and that a nice bed awaited me. I needed sleep.

Check-in itself was a total “Disney” experience. The staff from behind the counter CAME AND GOT YOU, introducing themselves, asking how they could help you, then TOOK you to the counter. All smiles. Behind them, behind us, dozens of pop culture pictures. Even some from my childhood.

I began to vibrate with excitement like The-Youngest. We were here! Really here.

We grabbed our bags and went outside.

In the distance, we heard thunder. A deep booooom. We knew where there was thunder, there’d be rain, so we raced towards our resort room, then as a few drops began to fall, we raced out of our room to get some food.

And the rains came!

Not Canadian rain, all cute and stuff. Movie-set rain, drops as big as beetles, a solid sound of water like a small waterfall. We stopped as thunder boomed so close it echoed in our chests. Lightning sheeted across the dark sky, again and again, flashes that lit up the entire resort.

We stood and watched in amazement. I’ve been in thunderstorms, sure, but this was so close, the lightning and thunder rolling over us so quickly that we barely had time to take a breath before another flash lit the sky.

Then, foolishly, we thought we could run from shelter to shelter and get to our food.

We got soaked. Not wet. SOAKED. Like we’d jumped in a pool.

We ran to the cafeteria, dripping on the floor, smelling like wet dogs. But The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, being all kinds of amazing, managed to find a Disney cast member who was handing out towels!

All in all, a great start to our adventure. That lightning and thunder show was simply spectacular and something none of us had expected.

See below for the videos.

When a storm comes, it really comes. Who knew Disney World had such shows?

Disney World Vacation Day 1 – Flight

Disney World Vacations 2019 theme parks
We packed like pros! We were ready for our trip to Disney World and Universal Theme Parks. Or were we?

The Beginning of the Start

We had to get up very early to catch our flight to Disney World and Universal Theme Parks.

Like 3 am early.

We wanted to have plenty of time in case things went wrong.

Things always go wrong on every vacation. Not always big things, like forgetting a passport or no place to buy coffee, but small things: Misspelled names on tickets. Luggage weighing too much. Kleenex forgotten. No charger cords for iphones (ok, that’s a HUGE thing!)

So it’s good to have some extra time to deal with any random events, and since our flight boarded at 5:45, leaving by 4 seemed about right.

To my utter amazement, the previous night, the boyz had showered, one of them shaved, and were both in bed before 10pm.

I’m pretty sure it’s one of the signs of the apocalypse.  

Being in bed that early would give them a solid 4 hours sleep. Not enough, but way better than getting just 1 or 2 hours sleep.

Then, again to my utter surprise, both boyz got up on time. No dragging them out of bed. No shouting. No use of water cannons. We did the final packing: Electronics. Chargers. CPAP machine. 40 bottles of meds, supplements, and vitamins. Some pharmacies are not as well-stocked as we were.

 By 3:45, we were all ready to go. Again, shocking. I was pretty sure I was dreaming.

We packed up, set the alarm, made sure the stove, iron and nuclear reactor were turned off, then stuffed all the luggage into the car. Vegas-the-dog had been dropped off at her spa, yesterday.

So far, so good,

We left just a little after 4.

Waiting for our flight to Orlando, Florida. We now have coffee. Life is good.

I won’t lie, I was a little anxious. Not about the drive, that was simple enough, but about all the things that could go wrong.

  • I had done online check-in for the first time and I had no idea if that would work, (though I think you could probably guess the answer to that one).
  • I had a delivery coming to the hotel that could go wrong.
  • There was the whole illogical panic of not having my wallet or cell phone or passport.

All stupid stuff, but at 4am, yeah, the panic is real.

In my other life, I honestly didn’t worry about any of this. It was just me and Margot. But with the boys and a very tight schedule, any major failure could mean a disastrous vacation. I’m not sure if it’s an old age thing, that you worry a lot more, or a parenting thing. Or both. Or lack of booze.

But we arrived at the parking lot without any problems, The-Youngest talking for the entire ride, excited and sleep-deprived, which caused one of The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World’s eyes to twitch, which was a bit of a concern.

The price to park cost an arm and a leg but it was efficient, secure and easy, except the pay machine wouldn’t recognize when The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World tried to use the touch-screen buttons. She said it was because she had no soul this early in the morning.

Inside the terminal, we hit our first hiccough.

Yes, the online check-in worked, but the kiosks where you needed to print up the tags did not work. Gack!

We had to get in line for an assistant like the other 200 people. It was too bad, too, because up to that point, Air Canada had been awesome. Awesome when I called them. Awesome with their online stuff, but at the last moment, that fleeting instant when they could have had a clean sweep of awesome, they failed with the kiosk.

But remember. We’d arrived early, so even that lineup, even the line-up at security and even the line up at the café on the other side of the check-point didn’t cause us to miss the flight or even panic about missing the flight.

We boarded the flight, ready for a great adventure in Disney World and Universal Theme Parks!

But in the back of my mind, I still wondered what would go wrong?

air canada flight to Orlando Florida disney world and universal theme parks
at 5am, I look slightly insane. Air Canada FLight to Disney World, Orlando Florida

Disney World Planning 2019

Planning for Disney World in Orlando Florida is vital to a successful vacation.
Disney World Planning is vital! See the previous post.

Together, Disney World and Universal Studios, have more rides, more cool restaurants and more exciting things to do than any place on the planet.

Want a donut the size of your head? Yup, they’ve got that. Want to ride up a mountain and come down with a splash? Yup, they’ve got that. Want to get a wizarding wand and wander around Diagon Alley and cast spells, oh yessireeeee, they have that! OMG! OMG! OMG!

Sorry Nerd attack there. Lemme take a moment.

Ok, doing Disney World and Universal in a week would be hard, if not impossible so we had to make a plan.

Me? I LOVE planning. Oh sure, I know most planning goes to hell as soon as you arrive, but part of the fun of going to Disney World is finding out what’s cool, thinking about it a lot, then going and doing it.

planning for disney world theme park planning
The family plans for the great Disney World Adventure

The-Youngest is with me on this. In fact, he’s far keener on the whole planning thing than me and ended up doing a ton of research on the rides.

He would become our official tour guide.

First I booked the flight. Holy hell, that was expensive, but I kept telling myself, trip of a lifetime, trip of a lifetime, trip of a lifetime.

Then, perhaps not surprisingly, I became overwhelmed with all the choices, the deals, the Fastpass system, the early openings, the meal plans and booking events.

So, I decided to find a good Disney World agent.

Being me, I did my research and found a great person. Her name is Alyssa and she works for Mouseketrips.com.

I can’t say enough about her. She’s been there a ton of times and knows the ins and outs. Plus, she LOVES Disney World so she’s genuinely excited for us to become Mouseketeers or whatever they’re called these days.

Then, we had to figure out what fast passes to book. Since we decided to stay at a Disney Resort, we could get our fast passes 60 days out! The fast pass allows us to bypass lines and feel super special. But we could only book 3 rides in each park, so we had to choose wisely. Plus, even at 60 days, some of the rides were already taken by annual pass holders or worshipers of Satan.

So we watched every Youtube video we could find, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World brought home books from the library, and I read blogs like Disneymoms.com and hotrussianbrides, the latter of which (perhaps not to anyone’s surprise) had a complete lack of information of Disneyworld.

Having gathered a ton of information (and a few requests from the Russian brides for marriage), we had a family meeting about what to do in Disneyworld, and did what all families do – We compromised so everyone was vaguely unhappy.

To find out what we chose, check out the next post.

The last thing we had to do was find out what HAD to be done in each park.

Booking the Fast Passes was not enough. We booked a restaurant. We looked up what quick-service places to visit. We figured out how long it takes to get from point Mickey to point Minny.

Now, we couldn’t plan every minute, (sadly) but we did have an idea what would be nice to do given the limited time. I mean, if we miss the tea-cups, not a big deal, If we miss the Haunted Mansion, (which we couldn’t book a Fastpass for), then that would be, you know, a thing.

With our plan made, we were good to go.

Oh, sure, there’d be clothes that needed buying (I wanted to do the Don-Johnson-Miami-Vice look), but we’d organized as best as we could!

Bring on that donut the size of my head!

Check out the links for more help. 🙂 And a neat checklist from Lil Luna below.

Planning a Disney Trip 2019

What to Pack (really an outstanding site for a whole bunch of plannin’.)

From Lil Luna – https://lilluna.com/disney-world-packing-list/

Disney World Planning

Disney Castle, Orlando Florida
Disney Castle, Orlando Florida
Disney World. A once-in-a-lifetime trip.

So, why go to Disneyworld? Why Walt’s Wonderland? Why the Magic Kingdom? Why not the equally exciting city of Calgary? Or camping in the mosquito-infested forests of BC? Why even go anywhere?

Simple. But maybe not what you think.

See? Time is running out. The-Oldest graduates next year, and The-Youngest will (all too soon) be a YouTube billionaire, software engineer, mountain bike professional or plumber (depending on the day he’s planning this out).

So, we wanted to take advantage of a week’s vacation and go someplace amazing.

Calgary and camping don’t quite fit the bill.

Sooooooo…Disney World. Florida.

And, although there are other amazing places to go (NY comes to mind, maybe the Amalfi Coast in Italy, maybe Mars), Disney World was one place we could all agree upon.

To be fair, it’s not just Disney World. It’s a trip to see Disney AND see Universal Studios AND, maybe, just maybe, take a ride out to see the Kennedy Space Museum.

All in 8 days, including a flight.

That’s no small task.

Seems there’s a lot to see and do in Disney World (and Universal). Seems there are, like, 4 theme parks in Disney World, and in Universal, 2 parks plus a waterpark. Doing the math, we’d need 7 days, plus 1 for looking at rockets, plus 2 days for travel. That’s ahhh, lemme do the math in my head, ah, carry the two, invert pi, and, yeah, that’s 10 days.

And we have 8.

So how would we do that? How could we design a vacation that wasn’t a stresscation where we ran around desperately trying to see everything, probably literally running from ride to ride?

We would have to compromise. The simple truth was, we couldn’t see or do everything. So we began to look at what was important.

It’s why Disney World and Universal were the go-to vacation locations. The boys had already been to Disneyworld and, long, long ago, Legoland. I wrote a ton about that vacation. There was so much to see and do.

I mean, just look at what Disney World has to offer.

Rides like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Avatar’s Flight of Passage, a Tower of Terror, a Haunted Mansion, a ride soaring above spectacular scenery, safaris, loads of Disney characters wandering around, parades, fireworks, shops that sell authentic Dug backpacks from Up.

Then there’s eating a donut the size of your head, tasting the oddly popular dole whip, or munching on a huge pretzel in the shape of Mickey’s head.

 So, we came up with a plan. A basic plan to be sure, (that’ll be the next post), but a plan nevertheless.

All we had to do was figure out what was important to us. What did we HAVE TO see and do?

The-Youngest had a LOT of opinions. Even The-Oldest, after trying his teenage best to pretend this wasn’t going to be fun, had a few ideas. Both The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I had ideas as well, but let’s face it, this was a trip for the boyz and we wanted to make sure they had the BEST time ever.

More to come!

As always, thanks for reading this. Below is a neat video on planning a Disney World Trip.

Some good suggestions here – for people who like their planning!