Hello! 🙂 I’m finally getting around to sharing vacation photos. I can’t believe it’s been almost a week since we got back. Time moves way too fast, and I’d gladly go right back on vacation again right now. Oh well.
We started out our weekend at Magic Kingdom, which was pretty packed but we never waited longer than 30 minutes or so in line due to a few smart uses of Disney’s Fast Pass system. It was a beautiful day (actually the whole weekend we had beautiful weather) which I was very grateful for. First we stopped to take a few pictures of Cinderella’s castle and some nearby shrubs that were shaped like Mickey and Minnie.
We headed over into Tomorrowland where we of course rode the Buzz Lightyear ride because we are overgrown children, as this whole trip is proof of. For the uninitiated, the Buzz Lightyear ride is a pretty low-key ride where you go through rooms full of toy aliens and other targets, and you try to shoot them with your laser gun for points. In retrospect, we should have bought the picture of us on this ride as it was hilarious how serious we were all taking the alien-killing. In Tomorrowland we also picked up a Fast Pass for Space Mountain which we returned later to ride (I found it a little disappointing as it is so dark on the coaster that it’s more disorienting than thrilling). Before leaving Tomorrowland we bumped into Stitch and the Chipmunks that were having a little dance-off. Stitch was getting down!
Next we headed over to the new section of the park – Fantasyland. This section is still under construction, but they’ve gotten a lot of it built. In the distance on the hill, you can see the Beast’s castle from Beauty and the Beast. They’ve also got a little town built that’s like Belle’s town from the movie, with lots of souvenirs and such – and the people all greet you with ‘Bonjour!’ – so cute! We had lunch at Pinocchio’s Village Haus (we all split some breadsticks and a caprese flatbread – delish!). The girls and I also snapped our first pictures together – that’s me with Jen and then me with Heather.
Also in Fantasyland is a section devoted to The Little Mermaid. We went on Ariel’s ride ‘Under the Sea’, which was so cute and totally worth checking out! You ride in a clamshell through different rooms that basically re-create the movie with animatronic creatures. The line for the ride is nicely done too, with a waterfall, a sunken ship, and lots of scattered treasure to check out while you wait.
After some walking around, we hit some classic attractions – Pirates of the Caribbean and the Tea Cups. We got stuck inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride for 10 minutes or so, so I snapped a picture of the pirates keeping us company from their jail cells. Hilariously, to get the ride unstuck we all had to rock back and forth in the boat simultaneously (which resulted in a nice chant of left, right, left, right, etc) to rock it back onto the track. Talk about team work! 🙂 And on the teacups, my friends and I were a little too talented at spinning our cup and ended up dizzying-ly staggering off the ride. I told you we were overgrown children!
Since we had park-hopper tickets, we headed over to Epcot at 7:30 or so (even though Epcot closes at 9) to eat dinner and watch the fireworks show at 9 o’clock. We had dinner in the German Fest Haus which was delicious as always (I literally eat there every time I go to Epcot). Our waiter was a charming German man named Sebastian who taught us many great things – like German for clown, is also clown (said with a German accent). And how to carry 5 empty beer mugs at the same time. One of the best things about Disney is how wonderfully friendly everyone is! [insert smiley] And all the wonderful accents floating around (Disney employs, and attracts, people from all around the world).
The next day we headed over to Animal Kingdom (another Disney park). As it was Sunday, it was a little more calm (and we also weren’t at Magic Kingdom which is arguably a more popular park). I think a little calm was just what we needed after an exhausting Saturday – and the chance to see lots of neat animals! We’re all big animal fans, and Animal Kingdom is a mix between a theme park and a zoo so we were overjoyed to walk around and learn about all the animals. In the center of the park there’s a huge carved Tree of Life – isn’t it beautiful?
And in one of the souvenir shops I found this super-cute Winnie the Pooh shirt. Hilarious! I can’t pass up Winnie the Pooh!
The girls are I met Rafiki – who was very friendly and put us all in a bear (er…monkey?) hug. He also blew us kisses when we left. What a fun life it must be to be one of these characters!
Next, we went on the Safari ride. I remember this ride from the last time I was at Animal Kingdom (10 plus years ago) and it’s so beautifully done! You ride through an animal reserve and the driver talks about the different animals. We saw elephants, lions, giraffes and lots of various deer-like creatures. I try not to take TOO many pictures on rides because I want to sit back and soak up the experience but here are a few I did snap.
Also at Animal Kingdom they have an Everest-themed roller coaster. Check out this mountain they built! I swear it looks so real (except for the roller-coaster running up the side – haha!) and the lake right across from it is absolutely beautiful. I got a great picture of the sky’s reflection in the water.
In Dinoland USA (yes, that’s the name of part of the park) we met Pluto and Goofy who were having a grand ‘ol time. Is it just me or does anyone else think it’s unfair and Pluto and Goofy are both dogs – but Goofy gets to wear clothes, and drive a car and poor Pluto is naked and lives in a dog house. Questions, questions…
After riding the ‘Dinosaurs!’ ride where you get “taken back in time” and almost eaten by dinosaurs, we headed back to our hotel to change for dinner with my uncle and headed over to Downtown Disney to meet him at my favorite restaurant there (and his too!) – Raglan Road. Raglan Road is an Irish pub and it is absolutely wonderful. It’s another place I go to every time I go to Disney. My friends and I frequent Irish pubs to begin with (when we’re home in DC) so it doesn’t really take a lot of convincing to get us to go to one in Florida. Our server/bartender Danny was amazing (if you happen to go there – ask for him!) and we all had absolutely fabulous dinners (Heather got a Portobello burger, Jen got shepherd’s pie and I got fish and chips) and then split a bread pudding for dessert which was probably the most absolutely delicious bread pudding I’ve ever tasted. This picture does not do it justice. It doesn’t help that we’d eaten 2/3rds of it before I thought to snap a picture (and it was a dimly lit bar).
After dinner we walked around Downtown Disney (with our beers! You gotta love no open container restrictions!) and listened to some musicians that were performing outdoors. We danced around and sang and truly enjoyed ourselves (as my old-lady-smoker-voice proved the next day). I’m so impressed with the talent and creativity that people have. One of the musicians did an English-language version of ‘Gangnam Style’ with his own lyrics that was so catchy!
But the next day, it was time for the big moment – what we had all been waiting for (what we had all come to FL for) – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! My nerdy happiness cannot be expressed in words. The Harry Potter part of Universal Studios – Islands of Adventure is probably only a 3-4 block section of the park and we literally spent 5 hours there. Just soaking up the goodness of it. First, a few photos of the entrance to this magical place, the street, and of course – the Hogwarts Express!
We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day – look at that sky! I’m only posting a few here, but I literally took 10-15 pictures of the shops/shops rooftops against the blue sky. I think I was just in such a state of nerd bliss that I didn’t realize what I was doing :-). We picked up a butter beer from the green cart and sat on the wall in the middle of the street and enjoyed it. It was all cold, butterscotch goodness. And sitting on that wall looking around at a fantasy world that I literally grew up with come to life, I couldn’t have been happier.
Next we went to visit Honeydukes. It was all candy-colored magically delight in this shop! I was tempted to buy so many things (even though I rarely eat candy) just because of how beautiful everything was. I settled for buying myself a chocolate frog and some peppermint toads for my mom. I knew I had to keep my souvenir spending until some semblance of control.
After visiting Ollivander’s wand shop (a very neat experience where one lucky visitor gets to try out wands and have one “choose them”), we went into the wand shop and souvenir shops and we all went a little nuts. I bought Hermione’s wand (beautifully carved with ivy), and so did Heather. And Jen bought Sirius Black’s wand (which is black and carved with runes – very cool). In addition, I bought a Ravenclaw t-shirt, a Gryffindor lanyard (for my badge at work – because I’m that cool), a deathly hallows key chain (which is now happily on my house keys), and a Hogwarts pint glass with the Hogwarts seal etched into it. I also had my souvenir Butterbeer mug (now empty) to wrap up and take home. We also saw some cool things like the ‘Monster Book of Monsters’ (of course growling and trying to escape its cage) and the Owl Post.
Next, we headed up the block to the Hogwart’s castle. So amazing! The ride inside was a very cool 4D ride where you ride through the castle like a roller-coaster, but there’s a bunch of screens throughout for 3D experiences where you feel like you’re flying with Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione. It was indescribably cool – except for the part of the ride filled with spiders (a’la the second book/film) – which no one had warned us about. Bah! that part was terrifying. Spiders skeeve me out. But, while in line for the ride you got to walk through the castle and see things such as the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, the herbology greenhouse, and the talking portraits. And that was cool stuff. I’d go on the ride again just to walk through the castle again – and this time with a camera!
After the ride, we went for some refreshment at the Three Broomsticks and the Hogs Head Pub. I had their house ale (Hogs Head Ale) and some snacks. It was good to relax and get off our feet!
We walked by an exotic plant shop on the way out (so sad to leave!) and I tried to take a picture of the very neat, animatronic mandrake. The glare prevented me from getting a good picture – but I had to try. All the little touches at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter truly make the experience.
We spent the rest of the day at the other sections of Universal Studios – Islands of Adventure and took some great pictures with Marvel superheroes and Dr. Seuss characters. At this point, I stopped taking pictures on my phone and we took pictures only on my friend Heather’s camera instead. I’m getting copies soon and will have many more pictures to explore! That night we hung out at Universal City Walk and listened to a guitarist at Margaritaville (I’m sensing a theme here of us drinking and listening to live music). The next day we unfortunately had to pack up and catch a plane back to DC. But what a wonderful trip it was! 🙂
I hope you enjoyed all the photos! Does anyone else have any Disney/Universal memories to share?