Day 6 A Rental Car for Universal (Theme Park)

Our car, the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

To do the next part of our epic vacation, we needed a rental car for Universal (Theme Park). An easy task for most people, but for me, well, read on.

It all began well enough. I managed to get a good sleep at our Disney World Resort. Drugs for my sore feet, fam quiet, room cool. All good.

I woke up with a good attitude at 5:54am. Before the alarm went off. I could now get up without waking anyone. Assuming, that is, I didn’t stumble into anything, drop anything, or bang my shins on anything and start swearing like an 8yr old first discovering the word f*ck.

The plan was simple. Take the shuttle to Disney World’s Car Care Center, rent a car, use GPS to get home. Being prone to getting utterly lost, and without either of my legendary navigators, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World or The-Youngest, GPS would get me home for sure.

I’d done a check-in last night and arranged for a car to pick me up. That I’d gotten up even before the alarm boded well for the day. Yes, it was going to be a good day. A good day indeed.

I grabbed a coffee, waited outside until the shuttle found me and got the car pretty quickly. Everyone was outstandingly friendly, one of the lot attendants even standing outside listening to opera. The-Oldest would have been proud.

The car they gave me was a Ford Fusion Hybrid which was pretty cool. I’ve never had a hybrid so I would get a chance to see what they were all about.

I got into my car. Lots of new stuff. No key start, one of those press buttons. No parking brake on that I could find. Lots of things on my dashboard screen about green options, but I was too caffeinated to sort that out just yet. I’m sure when I used my GPS to get back, The-Youngest could figure out all the gadgets.

I turned on my phone to get a GPS. I activated cellular.

And didn’t have a signal.

No WiFi either.

No signal, no WiFi… no GPS.

Without GPS, I had no idea where to go or how to get back to the resort!

I went into complete panic mode. Full body sweat. Heart racing. Brain zipping around like a moth in a flame.

Ok. Ok. Take a deep breath. I had loaded up the route last night on GPS. It wouldn’t be able to track the car, but I could use signs, and the route had been mapped out.

But no. Because I’d set a personal waypoint, the 90’s parking lot, there was only the map, no route to get to the parking lot.

Ok. Ok. I could see where I was and where I had to go. I had to take a right, get on the highway, go a ways, then take an offramp. I’m sure there’d be signs.

It was the ‘a ways’ that really worried me. There were a lot of turn offs and I had no idea if it was a 15 minute ride or 12, or 22. I had to pray for signs.

I started up the car, and being in a panic mode, I made my first mistake. I didn’t check the time.

I drove off, onto the highway, still about as stressed as a new driver taking their driving test with a beautiful driving instructor while nearly blind from allergies.

I realized my 2nd mistake right away. I hadn’t reset the side mirrors on the car. They’d been set for a Peter Dinklage sized person. My 360 vision would be severely impaired, and I would have to resort to the full shoulder check.

I drove ‘a ways.’ It seemed like 15 min or so, about the same time that the driver had taken.

No sign for Pop Century.

Now, what to do? I had no idea how far this road would go. Would I end up in Miami, then take a wrong turn and end up on some bridge to the everglades, then pull over only to be eaten by an alligator?

Ok. Ok. Take a deep breath.

I was lost, but not hopeless lost, yet. I mean, I was still in the USA.

But I didn’t want to go too far, so I took the next turn. A left. The plan that I came up with in my panicky brain was to find another Disney resort or one of the theme parks, get wifi, and reorient myself. I may have to go from resort to resort like a frog hopping to lily pads, but I was sure I could find my way home eventually.

Like maybe by noon.

But was turning off the highway to be my third mistake? The one where my obituary read, He went off to pick up a car and was never seen, again?

Ok. Ok. Take a deep breath.

I went ‘a ways’. No resorts. No parks. Lots of signs. No ‘Pop Century This Way’.

Great.

I drove on and found a sign saying Epcot resorts. Well, any port in a panic storm, so I took that one. It seemed to take me in the totally wrong direction from my resort, as far as I can tell directions, but then I saw a sign for a resort. The Caribbean.

I pulled into that one.

At the gate, I had to stop. A smiling attendant came out to scan my Disney World Magic Band. I said, sorry, (cuz I’m Canadian and usually begin all social interactions with ‘sorry’), but I’m not a guest here.

“No, problem Mr. Cummings. You’re welcome here.”

“That’s awesome,” I said. “But I’m a bit lost. I was hoping to park near WiFi and see if I could get my GPS to work. I’m trying to get back to the Pop Century Resort.”

“You won’t need GPS, Mr. Cummings.” (Clearly, he had no idea how lost I can get.) He pointed behind him to the right. “It’s the next resort. Turn around here, take a left onto Victory Street, and it’s your first left.”

Somehow, I had nearly gotten home by sheer luck.

F*cking hell!

Holy f*cking hell!

There is no joy in the world quite like being lost and suddenly finding out where you are. Maybe nearly dying of thirst in a desert and finding a MacDonalds comes close, but somehow, without any real understanding of where I was, I had found my way home.

I think I had a guiding angel. I think Margot maybe.

Either way, I turned around, took the left, then another left, then found myself in the Pop Century Resort, vaguely traumatized, but ok. I literally have nightmares about this kind of thing, and I greatly fear I’m not that far away from a dementia home at the best of times.

However, I hoped the rest of the day would be better.

Disney World Top 10 Lists – From The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World

Fun with the family

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World made 2 Disney World Top 10 lists –  Her best moments and Mom advice. As well, at the bottom is a bonus list drawn from our brilliant Disney World travel agent, Alyssa.

Getting The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World to share her insights wasn’t easy. When I first asked her, here’s what she said. “I don’t know, stop bugging me.” Then, later, “I’m in the shower, can’t you wait until I get out?!” Then, much later. “You’re not going to stop asking me, are you? Ok, here it goes…”

Top 10 Disney World Best Moments

  1. Seeing Everyone Happy – Kay, I’m gonna cry, but the best moment was seeing Joe and Carter so happy. They’d done so much planning and preparation, then had the best time there.
  2. The Pop Century Resort room – because their amazing efficiency blew my mind. USB ports everywhere, many places to store things, and it didn’t feel crowded or messy even though it wasn’t a big room.
  3. The Disney business is a magnificent machine – if I had more time I’d want to pay attention to how it’s run, it’s like nothing else in the world.
  4. The Bus rides – I said one time that the buses were my favourite ride and I stand by that. No wait, when you get a seat, then they’re my favourite ride.
  5. Anywhere air-conditioned was the best.
  6. The Service – It was above and beyond, generally speaking. Every ‘cast member” took their character to heart. Even the waitresses and waiters. Even the guy in the 50’s diner who upset The-Youngest. He was just playing his part, but also probably digging up his past, going through therapy. I sensed there were some issues there.
  7. No Reservations Needed – I liked that we could get into the themed sit-down restaurants even though guides said we had to have reservations. The food didn’t blow me away, but it was the whole experience that was cool.
  8. The 3D Muppet Show – I’m gonna cry, again, but I loved it. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. Why? Ok therapist Joe, I guess a part of it was the music, I used to play it on the piano all the time when I was young. Plus, I grew up with Kermit and Miss Piggy and Gonzo and everyone in the show. They were my friends in childhood, though I hated the grumpy old guys cuz they were boring. Oddly enough, I find them hilarious, now.
  9. Safari Twice – I’m glad we took a friend’s advice to see the safari in the morning and at night. Different animals were out. The lighting was different.
  10. Unplanned Fun – Stop making me cry. Sometimes the most fun I had was not planned. Even just, you know, taking a break and relaxing on the bus, or listening to The-Youngest go on and on about a rollercoaster’s stats, or watching The-Oldest be goofy. Little things, but little FAMILY things. I don’t get enough family time.

Top 10 Mom Tips

It’s ok to have a lazy day on the lazy river. Blizzard Beach.
  1. Wear breathable fabrics, loose, breathable fabrics
  2. Be prepared to do laundry.
  3. Be prepared to abandon the plan if you’re not having fun, because I saw so many families with screaming babies and kids melting down because they were going to have fun, dammit
  4. Be prepared for a LOT of walking. You don’t really know how much there is until you’ve spent 12 hours walking or standing in a line.
  5. There is not a lot of shade or AC. Even though it’s Florida and you’d think they’d be prepared, they’re not. Unless you go into a souvenir shop or a restaurant or … wait, maybe this was all part of the plan, a clever scheme, I see it now. (See the Disney Business Model above.)
  6. Umh, if you have the time, take it. Try not to rush through stuff.
  7. I now believe in the Fastpass concept. Line-ups suck. Line-ups in the sweltering heat suck even more. When you only have a few days, it’s painful to waste time.
  8. As mentioned before, do the Safari twice, day and night. You won’t regret it.
  9. The meal plan was complicated but worth it. It takes a good 24 hours to figure it out, but it pays for itself (and allowed The-Oldest to eat without the guilt of how much that extra banana would cost.)
  10. Don’t buy the themed, free-refill mugs. You have to take them back to your resort room (which takes, like 30 min) or you have to carry them along with you, all dirty, and leaking sticky stuff everywhere. They’re a complete waste of money and time.
  11. OH, bonus, wear matching T-shirts! Next time, I want all of us to wear matching T-shirts, but they match to each theme park. Animal kingdom T-shirts for animal kingdom day. See, I’m buying into the Disney machine.

Alyssa’s List can be found HERE! It’s the perfect list from someone who’s a regular visitor to Disney World.

Our Disney World Specialist – Alyssa’s Top 10 List of Things to Think About.

disney world agent alyssa magi
My number one recommendation for Disney World is to get a good Disney Specialist (travel agent). Alyssa made our trip a billion times better.

Alyssa was an amazing resource, and (being our first family visit), I bugged the hell out of her.

Here is Alyssa’s Top 10 List of Things to Think About.

  1. Reserve the Magical Express Bus ahead of time so you (and your luggage) can go directly to Disney World. They will even pick up your luggage at the carousel and put it on the bus.
  2. You can get stuff delivered to your Disney Resort. If you buy something in a park, it can be delivered to your room. If you need cheap supplies of water, these too can be delivered to your room (from Walmart or Target.)
  3. The water is better than it’s been in the past, but it’s still not perfect. Getting bottled water may be the way to go if water taste is important.
  4. Book Fastpasses as far in advance as you can. If you’re staying at a Disney Resort, you can book them 60 days in advance. The best rides go quickly.
  5. Disney only ships their Magic Bands within the USA  However, speak directly with your Resort and they will be ready for you at the Check-in Desk when you arrive.
  6. Create a My Disney Experience account, and download the app for your phone. The app will have wait times that you can track. Here’s the thing though. You must be careful not to change or link anything to your account until your family members have accepted the invitation from you. Making changes before accepting your invitation could jeopardize your fast passes and reservations. The other option is to just let everyone log in under your account and share it that way with you as the primary account holder who manages others in your party.
  7. A ticket might include one ‘Extra Magic hours’ that may be in the morning or in the evening after the park closes.  Not every park offers it every day. Look at the park hours for the specific dates and times they offer the Extra Magic Hours.  Talk to guest services at your Resort as well.
  8. The summer rainstorms are definitely abundant and sometimes can be an outright downpour! But the nice thing is, they can last as little as 10 minutes and then it passes, and the sun is out again! It is a good idea to bring rain ponchos but I don’t think you’ll need anything more special than a dollar store find.
  9. As convenient as the complimentary transportation is, it is also slow at times so give yourselves plenty of a time cushion if you are trying to make a show or parade.
  10. You will likely have a Disney hangover when you come back. Oh yeah, it’s a thing. But you’ll be back to normal in a few days!

(She was amazing! She spent so much time making sure we had the BEST vacation ever!)

(Thanks, Alyssa. Her Links are HERE and HERE.)

For other top 10 lists, see HERE.

Top 10 List of Disney World Moments – By The-Youngest

Rockin’ Rollercoaster, probably the best ride in Disney World.

The-Youngest: “Wait, wait, what, I have to do a top ten list on rides? Really, Joe? Really?”

“Yes. No one knows more about rollercoasters.”

“So do you want the best rollercoasters?”

“No, my bad, not just rollercoasters. Rides. Tell me about your top 10 rides.”

“It may not be totally in order, but I do have the #1.”

Top 10 rides in Disney World – the Youngest

  1. Rockin’ Rollercoaster – Has to be the best for its speed. Its ‘launch’ at the start is very forceful. It has double vertical flips and is smooth for Vekoma (which is the make of the rollercoaster, not glaucoma as Joe heard it.)
  2. Expedition Everest – Could be #1, but it has a scary yeti. A very scary Yeti. Still, it’s got a huge drop and great speed.  It almost made me grey out at the bottom of the big drop, and going backward was cool, and being in the dark made it feel like a backward flip.
  3. Space Mountain – felt more forceful than the one at Disneyland. The restraints are better, but not enough space for feet. It’s a toboggan-style ride, which I don’t like, but it’s in the dark so you never know what’s going to happen, except that I did because I watched YouTube videos of what it’s like with the night-vision goggles on.
  4. Splash Mountain, better than Disneyland, because it had 2 per row and it was long and had a better ending song. That’s important. The drops were more intense. More wet, too.
  5. Seven Dwarves Mine Train – I thought it was cool to have a rollercoaster drop right at the start, and the trains moved side to side. Animatronics were well done, too, and didn’t scare me at all. Music was good, too.
  6. Avatar: Flight of Passage – A good ride, but Joe liked it way better than I did. Lots of close calls that feel like you were going to hit a tree, or bang into a cliff. Not intense, and I like intense, but riding in a weird position, like on a bike, that was kind of fun, too.
  7. Thunder Mountain Railroad – No Fastpass. A terrible wait, but cool things to do in the line, like blowing up things with dynamite as the rail cars passed, but even though it was not that intense, it was still fun. Good speed and quite smooth.
  8. Test Track –  Very fun! You designed the cars, and I made a car that looked like a terrible car but it beat my parents! It was the fastest ride in the park. My eyes dried out. Even big rollercoasters don’t do that. That was fun.
  9. Buzz Lightyear Ranger Spin – A shooting ride. Lots of fun. I’d seen the vids and knew where to shoot. It’s fun to do with family because you can spin around and control where you shoot. Or spin away just as your mom is lining up a shot. This ride has strategy!
  10. Slinky Dog Dash – A good ride if you like launches, but only really good if you’re really young or like my mom, because the launches are not forceful. Not much air-time, but a good ride, for someone just getting into rollercoasters.
Time to blow something up. Magic Kingdom’s Thunder Mountain Railroad. This is how you make a line-up fun!

It’s not that I didn’t like some of the other rides. Star Tours was ok. The Muppet Show was kind of fun. But I could only have 10 things, so those are my 10 recommendations. One that I’d avoid – the water ride in Animal Kingdom, Kali Rapids. You got super wet but it was super boring.

However, my most favourite ride will be the Tron coaster that’s coming in 2020. Epic ‘launches.’ Flips in a motorcycle riding position. Fast. Intense. There’s already one in Shanghai.

I wonder if my parents will take me back to Disney World to see it. I need to start a gofundme campaign or get some Patreons.

Top 10 List of Disney World Moments – By The-Oldest

Top 10 moments?

As always, The-Oldest gave a lot of thought to his answers.
  1. The rainstorm when we arrived! Oh yeah, yeah, the big rainstorm was amazing.

2) The architecture is amazing. The world-building, like how things looked, the time, you know, to get it right, that was incredible.

3) Favourite ride? Rocking rollercoaster had a lot of umph, but it wasn’t my favourite. In Epcot, the racecar ride one was one of the best, cause it’s got more story, but Splash Mountain’s still my favourite. It helped that we had a Fastpass but I’d wait in line for two hours for that ride.

4) Epcot had the best fireworks. I guess what made it the best was that it had a ton of room, even with huge crowds. We could see everything. Fireworks are best when you’re not being pushed around by crowds.

5) Is there a ride not worth the wait?  Sure.  Lots. For us, we waited about an hour for the Goofy plane ride, the Barnstormer, in The Magic Kingdom. Very short. Not worth even a 15 min wait.

6) It is really hot there, you know. Close to torture at some point. I would not want to go in summer, again. Too crowded, too.

7) Is there any park I’d wanted to spend more time at?  I would want to spend more time at Universal, but I think I had enough of Animal Kingdom, but I don’t think we spent enough time in Epcot or Hollywood Studios, but Magic Kingdom definitely needs more than 1 day, as we were very tired and not ready for the heat.

8) Favourite place to eat? 50s diner, chah, you know what I’m saying- it’s getting into the feel of the 50s, so yeah, I’d recommend it. But my favourite, the German restaurant with live music. It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. They played mountain horns and had a buffet of German food. Chah.

9) Was the Resort good? Pop century, yeah, big time. I was excited because I like the really old stuff, like the 60s and 70s stuff. And stuff from the dark ages, like the 50s and 40s. Wait, why are you scowling at me, Joe.

10) What was the most terrifying ride? Expedition Everest, yeah, that yeti, even knowing ahead of time didn’t help. That yeti was scary.

“We’re here to have fun.”

11) (Yes, 11, he’s giving one extra one for free) What’s the one thing I’d tell everyone? Manage stamina. No matter how fun the ride is, don’t wait for anything too long, it kills the fun, and you’re there to have fun.

My Top 10 Disney World Moments

There are way more top 10 Disney World moments than listed below, but I wanted to share a few of my experiences (and they may not be what you think.)

Having fun and being a little goofy is something that Disney World encourages. This is a no-judgment zone.
  1. Staff come and get you at the front desk. They walk up to you in line, with a smile, ask about your day, then about why you’re in line, and, then either take you to their station or direct you to someone who’s the most knowledgeable person. This is service at its best.
  2. We got to play for free in Pop Century’s arcade. See, in Disney World, when something breaks down, they try their best to make people happy. In this case, the coin machines for the arcade broke, but instead of shutting them down, they programmed them for free play. How cool is that???
  3. When it was raining that first night, they brought out towels for the guests. The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World found staff handing them out near the front door, and we were so soaked by then, we needed about 20 each.
  4. There was a real-life coffee angel in the cafeteria. She would come around and make sure everyone had a full cup of coffee early in the morning. On the first day, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World was so tired, this brought her to tears.
  5. So many kids (and more than a fair share of adults) came into the parks all dressed up as Disney characters. Princesses. Jedi. Pirates of the Caribbean. Mickey and Minnie ear-hats adorned countless heads, and there was even an entire family dressed up as The Incredibles. It was incredible. And adorable. And something you’ll only see in Disney World or on Halloween.
  6. The bathrooms are amazing. Sparkling clean. Great smelling. Always cool. Soap and towel dispensers always full. Ok, sure, one little girl ran into the boy’s washroom while we were peeing, and threw up all over the floor, but within moments, one of the cast members were there to clean it up. So impressive.
  7. Passing a 3-hour line with your Fastpass is awesome. Ok, I know this makes me a bit of a dink, but schadenfreude is strong in me sometimes, and having spent 2 hours sweating in a line-up, the ability to literally walk onto a ride is so awesome, it comes close to free coffee or finally figuring out a sudoku puzzle.
  8. Disney World’s attention to detail is simply spectacular. I know we spent a lot of time running from one ride to the next, but if I ever get back there, again, I would spend more time just looking around, soaking up more of the little things. From wandering around in awe in Animal Kingdom’s Pandora to eating in a Mongolian restaurant, we sometimes took in the surroundings, but man, there is sooooooo much more to see. My advice – slow down and see everything, including all the stuff in the line-ups!
  9. When our Fastpass was canceled, they gave us a Fastpass to any ride in that park. In the end, we were able to actually use that Fastpass for its intended purpose (the Test Track ride), but that no-hassle customer service is what makes Disney such a great vacation location.
  10. Jedi Rey smiled at me. At that moment, I wasn’t some middle-aged stepdad, I was a young goober getting smiled at by a pretty legend. That ability that Disney World has for transforming an adult into a kid for a while is unparalleled in the universe, and it’s incredible. Wear that Minnie bow in your hair. Have the entire family dress in matching Star Wars T-shirts. Sing Frozen songs with your daughter (or son) while walking towards the Karaoke theater. Watch a Muppet Show and giggle. It’s all ok in Disney World. Really. It’s. All. Ok.