Disney is a destination dreamt about by so many families around the world. Thousands flock to central Florida every year to spend the Holiday Season with Mickey and his friends. Lucky for us Orlando is home to my family and we are blessed to have friends that work in the theme parks. Making a dream trip to central Florida relatively inexpensive, which is not the case for most.
Our first week in O-town we spent three days visiting the house of the mouse. Our first stop Epcot and Disney’s Studios (formally MGM) these two parks are easy to see in one day if you are not set on riding every ride or making it to every show. Disney does offer each ticket holder three fast passes (app can be downloaded to your phone) so you can cut the line for three rides of your choice each day your there. We didn’t find out about this option until day two so we opted out on several ride because we didn’t want to wait an hour or more in line; long waits are not conducive to having a curious toddler and an impatient husband. We did enjoy Finding Nemo and Friends, animals of any kind are a hit with Francesca, one of the only rides in Epcot that small children can experience. Most of the day was spent strolling through the countries, gazing at Disney memorabilia and art, and chasing Francesca around. We were able to participate in the Chanukah celebration and the lighting of the first candle while at Epcot as well as see a few Christmas carols being preformed in Germany.
Our quick stroll through Disney Studios wasn’t very memorable, there wasn’t much for us to do since Francesca is to small to ride most things and a lot of it is under construction due to the new Star Wars area Disney is building. We went there so Daniel could see it and to pass the time as we waited for the arrival of some friends to view Epcot’s spectacular fireworks show. Disney spends a ton of money nightly to awe its guest with pyrotechnics and they do an amazing job lighting up the sky. The fireworks, in any park, are well worth seeing; some people even stake claim to their spot hours before the show begins to ensure they have a prime view and picture perfect surroundings. Caution: there are some people who will sneak in to stake claim to the area you so patiently have been saving and when they do they are entitled and looking to start a verbal war calling you names and speaking utter non-sense. It happened to us, so don’t walk way or turn to talk to your neighbor cause when you turn back around someone will have wiggled their way into your viewing spot.
Day two was a family outing with Grandma (Nora Dowdy) to Magic Kingdom, a park perfect for a child of any age. We arrived to the park in time to see Mickey and friends perform the magical opening ceremony. Then we were off to Fantasy Land to ride the Mad Hatter tea cups and Dumbo. The park was swarming with people and lines were long; we used our fast passes for Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain and Jungle Cruise. We were also able to hop on the Pirates of the Caribbean once it reopen after being closed for an hour or so because someone fell in the water, not sure how it happened but it did. Daniel heard about the rider’s mishap first hand from the unfortunate rider’s wife who disclosed the text about her husband’s swim in the Caribbean water; guess he was assisting Jack Sparrow in commandeering the Black Pearl! We ate delicious pineapple Dole whip ice-cream, one of my favorite things to eat at the Magic Kingdom. Did a couple loops around the park on Mickey’s steam engine. We were able to see part of the mid-afternoon parade and stayed to view the Happily Ever After light show on the castle and fireworks display. Francesca slept through most of the light show but woke up in time to see a few minutes of fireworks. The pyrotechnics display worth staying around to see!
We took day a off from theme parks and stayed home with the family. Our feet were exhausted from walking the several miles through the parks! We had a nice day in Ocoee, the town I grew up in. We walked to the little pond down the street where I and my childhood friends use to hangout and go paddle boating. We grabbed a few bags of stale bread to feed the family of ducks and geese. That evening my cousin Dan and his family came over for dinner and the children got to play and have fun running around with the grandparent’s dog Lacy. Just a typical day home in Ocoee.
For the third day of amusement park fun we headed back to Disney Parks, this time Animal Kingdom was our destination. The large animal reserve is filled with rides and villages to simulate visiting distant lands. Take a ride on a Safari that covers several continents in one fell swoop, take an expedition to the Himalayas, enjoy a carnival or discover Dinosaurs with the little one, or travel to another world as you discover Pandora and become an Avatar. Disney does an amazing job transforming a walk in the park into an unforgettable experience that stimulates all your senses and makes you feel as if you have traveled through time and space to find new and amazing discovery in our world and others. It is a truly amazing experience and one that everyone should see in their lifetime. We ended our day at Animal Kingdom in Asia as we viewed the River of Lights show; a beautiful performance of dancing lights as boats sailing around the river telling a story of nature.
After the three days at Disney we were exhausted and decided to take a few days off before seeing any more of central Florida’s theme parks. For the next several days we spent time with my childhood friends. A fabulous dinner with Stacey (one of Angela’s longtime friends and sister) her boyfriend Ian, and Stacey’s children: Gavin and Kiley. Had great conversation on the front porch with Mandie-bee and her eldest daughter Kira. A cookout with Jeremy, Sharon and Jacob accompanied by a surprise visit from Keith and his wife Kyra. Lunch out with Kim and short visit with her husband Dave. We also made a trip to Titusville to visit the aunties, Pam and Janice. It was a pretty amazing time to reminisce and tell everyone about our epic plans to travel and discovery the world with Francesca.
Having a few days off from the theme parks was just what we need to regroup before heading to Universal and Sea World. Thank you Ray for the hook up on these tickets without you we would have not been able to complete our theme park tour. Florida is home to several more theme parks, however, Disney, Universal and Sea World are the best in my opinion. Just the three of us made it to Universal where we started with Adventure Island; first stop in Dr. Seuss land so miss Francesca could enjoy herself on the Caro-Seuss-el and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish ride. She had a blast running around in If I Ran the Zoo water and activity area. And Me Ship, The Olive. Since our little lady is just that she was not allowed on most of the rides so we had arrange for Grandma to pick her up in the afternoon so the adults could ride the roller coasters. One thing Universal does that is awesome is there child swap area; the adults can take turn riding the rides without having to spend to much more time in line. One parent gets to stay with the child as the other rides and when your done you get to switch; we used this feature in Toon-Town to ride the water roller coaster Dudley DoRight’s Ripsaw Falls. Bonus point for Universal on this feature because Disney does not offer this service. Then we strolled through Marvel where Daniel took a ride on The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man.
Once Francesca was picked up by grandma and we finished our lunch at Margarita Ville Daniel and I headed for the Studios. Since my last visit to the parks so much has changed; we explored Krustyland and rode Hollywood Rip Ride Roller Coaster where you can select one of your favorite tunes from a list of different genres to create your own experience on the ride. Props to Universal, this roller coaster is awesome! Then we made our way back to Adventure Island to ride the Hulk and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Harry Potter land is posh, they did an amazing job transforming the area to look like Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. The area was packed due to the evening light show on the Hogwarts castle, it was quit difficult to make are way through to the ride but once through the crowd the line for the ride was short and quick. The inside of the castle was amazing just what you would imagine Hogwarts would look like. Although standing in lines are daunting you do not get the full effect of the experience if you fast pass this ride. Once out of the ride we wanted to make our way to Diagon Alley we had to ask where it was located. We where told it was in the Studios side of the park so we hopped on the Hogwarts Express and got dropped off at 9 3/4 platform. Daniel and I had missed it completely the first time we where at the Studios earlier that day. We walked right by it, the brick wall that is you has to walk through to get into Diagon Alley. It was jaw dropping, we were utterly impressed! We rode Harry Potter and the Escape from the Gringotts and explored the shops until the park closed.
Sea World was the last stop on our theme park adventure, perhaps Francesca’s favorite day of all. We got to pet the strings rays, see the manatees, gaze at fish and sea creatures of all kinds. We experienced the Dolphin Days show where Francesca danced in the stands and clapped with joy to see the bottlenose dolphins perform their stunts. Made our way to the Clyde and Seamore’s Sea Lion High show with a stop off at the penguin encounter. Then on to the One Ocean show where we were splashed by the killer whales. Francesca wasn’t to excited about getting soaked and promptly asked to have her clothes removed. We then made our way to the kids area where Francesca rode the carousel repeatedly with grandma as Daniel and I made our way to the roller coasters. We were able to ride all four of Sea Worlds roller coasters throughout the day, they are some of the best coasters in Orlando. Sea World is the least crowded of all the parks and therefore more enjoyable in my book. We did get to visit Santa Claus in the Arctic and see the polar bears. It was a great day all around and we would recommend this park to anyone with small children, there is so much to see the will mesmerize them.
The last few days in O-town we spent visiting more friends and family. We had a fabulous hangout session at Jen and Chris’s and were accompany by the Hungerford family and our Colorado friends Kelli, Tera, Charlie and Chloe that were coincidentally in Orlando for a theme park Christmas. Christmas day came quick and we didn’t get to spend as much time with our friends as we wanted to and failed to connect with some of our family we were looking forward to seeing, life sometimes gets in the way. We spent Christmas day with my mom and dad, enjoying watching Francesca opening her presents and playing with her zoo animals that Santa brought her. She could name each one and picked them up one at a time to examine them. These animals will be on a worldwide adventure with our little one. One last dinner with cousin Dan and family before we said good-bye and set off for the next chapter of our adventures.