That’s the beauty of music. They can’t take that away from you. — Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption
That’s the beauty of music. They can’t take that away from you.
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Thursday, February 2, 2012
Our 10th Wedding Anniversary
Once again we woke up with Mickey and Stitch at 6:00am. We showered and got ready for my cosmetology appointment in the room at 7:00am. Our in-room dining breakfast arrived just as the makeup artist did. She couldn’t believe the sheer size of the Yellowstone Suite. She had never been in there before either, but said that she thought it was nicer than the Presidential Suite at the Grand Floridian.
Portrait on Sunrise Terrace
I was able to eat a little bit of breakfast after the cosmetologist was done. We got dressed in our formal attire and went down to the lobby at 7:50am to meet up with our photographer, Mike Strickland. Mike told us how he had seen my email address and decided to go snooping to my website because he thought the names sounded familiar. Ironically I had scheduled a post before we left, detailing our wedding day and showcasing a bunch of photos he had taken. He mentioned specifically the photo of us at the Popcorn cart in front of the Hall of Presidents, and said he had never tried that location with any other couple in his career at Disney. He remembered us in front of that Popcorn cart.
Portrait at Silver Creek
Mike and his two assistants took us up to the 4th floor Sunrise Terrace balcony first to capture the place where we got married ten years prior. We then went outdoors to the resort pool area where we literally went traipsing through the pine trees to sit on a rock for some portraits. Then he had us climb down into the riverbed for another scene, stating we were “breaking 40 rules” along the way but he seemed excited at our willingness to climb around and get dirty for the right backdrop. Minutes after we finished the riverbed scene, the river water came on and we narrowly escaped being waterlogged.
Mike asked if we had any ideas on our next location, and I suggested coming up to the Yellowstone Suite. It had beautiful natural window light and a rich wood brown backdrop. He, nor his assistants, had ever been inside the Yellowstone Suite either. In fact, Mike didn’t even know it existed! He had worked for Disney for well over a decade. I’m telling you, this Suite is like a myth.
Andrew inside the Yellowstone Suite
We took portraits around several areas of the Suite together and separately. I offered up the idea to use the Xoom tablet to display a wedding portrait with us in the background, which Mike liked. It was creative and very timely in terms of technology, and I think it will be fun to look at for years to come. At the end of the session, we thanked Mike and his assistants for the wonderful portraits and for spending so much time with us.
Jessica inside the Yellowstone Suite
We had left the entire day open to do whatever we felt like doing. We went down to the boat dock to try to go visit the Polynesian but I was still feeling very sick. I decided after waiting for a few minutes that what I really needed was to lay down in bed for a while. We went back up to the room and I napped while Andrew surfed the web and went through his RSS feeds on the Xoom. Andrew had the forethought of loading our wedding video onto the Xoom so we could watch it. He went downstairs and got us lunch from Roaring Forks, and we laid in bed watching our wedding video.
After lunch, we took the water taxi to the Contemporary and switched to the Monorail over to the Polynesian Resort. We shopped around a little bit and I purchased a pink 2012 Disney t-shirt for myself. We treated ourselves to Dole Whip and Dole Whip mixed with Vanilla ice cream as snacks. We checked out the Polynesian’s arcade, and Andrew played Tron Legacy Pinball using our free 100-point cards included in our Platinum Plan. For those keeping score, 100 points equals a whopping $2.00. Yipee! The Monorail then took us back to the Contemporary where we played in their arcade for a bit At least we were able to play some air hockey (I beat Andrew 7 to 5) and a few other random games.
Portrait of us holding our Wedding Portrait
The water taxi took us back to the Wilderness Lodge where we changed back into formal clothes before checking in for dinner at Artist Point, the same restaurant we had our reception at after our wedding ten years prior. We had the cheese plate and mussels for appetizers, buffalo & beef tenderloin entrees and followed up with desserts of berry cobbler and apple upside down cake. The restaurant presented us with Mickey Ear loopy straws and light-up Tinkerbell and Buzz Lightyear figures as Anniversary gifts.
We went back up to the room and changed into more comfortable clothes and shoes before boarding a bus to Downtown Disney. We had fantastic seats for Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba at the 9:00pm show. Just as last time, it was an amazing show. The guy on the bouncy bike ended up scaring me by coming within half an inch of my chair at high speed as part of the show. We really enjoyed the performance!
The bus took us back to the Wilderness Lodge where we crashed from sheer exhaustion. It didn’t seem like we were able to take a break during the trip, and with me being sick the entire time I just didn’t have the stamina I expected.
Andrew’s Favorite Thing of the Day: La Nouba
Jessica’s Favorite Things of the Day: La Nouba and Portraits with Mike
Flight to Florida & Universal’s Royal Pacific Hotel
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter & Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios & Arriving at Walt Disney World
Visiting the Magic Kingdom & The Richard Petty Experience
Water Sports & The California Grille
Hollywood Studios, Star Tours & Toy Story Midway Mania
Epcot & Around the World Segway Tour at the World Showcase
Our 10th Wedding Anniversary
Animal Kingdom, Mini Golf & The Yachtsman Steakhouse
Our Final Day at Disney & our Private Illuminations Cruise
The Missing Towncar & Our Flight to Phoenix
Flickr Photo Collection of Our 10th Anniversary Trip to Florida
See the Wilderness Lodge Yellowstone Suite Video Walk Through
See my Richard Petty Ride Along Experience Video
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Epcot & Around the World Segway Tour at the World Showcase
We woke up again at 6:00am and I was very, very sick. I desperately needed medicine but nothing was open, and the front desk told us they couldn’t help. I felt trapped with no car and no way to get help or medicine. We waited for the concierge to open at 7:00am but they couldn’t help us either. The mercantile opened at 7:30am and we rushed in to buy medicine but they were out of stock. Apparently I was one of a million people at the park having allergy problems.
Epcot was our destination of the day and we waited for the bus to arrive. It finally showed up at 7:50am. We had expressed our concerns to the concierge and other cast members at getting to Epcot by 8:15am for our morning tour, none of whom told us it would be a problem to get there on time. The bus stopped at Fort Wilderness first and didn’t drop us off at Epcot until 8:20am, five minutes after our tour check-in time.
Epcot's Spaceship Earth
For the Around the World Segway Tour at Epcot World Showcase, they told us to check in at Guest Relations. We finally figured out how to get into the park early which was not evident, and ran to the Guest Relations at the park entry. They promptly informed us to go to the other Guest Relations, which was located under Spaceship Earth. By the time we ran to the other Guest Relations it was 8:30am. I was sick, tired, angry and sweating, and overall really not having a good time.
Of course, we were informed that our Segway tour had already left. When I commented that we had been trying to get to Epcot for more than an hour, the cast member asked where we were coming from. I told him we were staying at the Wilderness Lodge, to which he responded, “It’s not possible to get here on time from the Wilderness Lodge. Didn’t they tell you to take a taxi or drive here yourself?” No, of course not.
All of the lucky stars in the universe then aligned, because two people somehow managed to arrive early for their 9:00am tour and had taken our two spots on the 8:30am tour. We were then switched into their spots for the later tour. I don’t know who they were, but I am incredibly thankful for their earliness.
The cast member signed us in for the 9:00am tour and told us to come back in about 15 minutes. We wandered around the area under Spaceship Earth and found our Legacy Tile from our honeymoon in 2002 (West-2-C-15, lower right). We then made our way back over to the correct Guest Relations for the start of our tour.
Getting our Helmets for the Segway Tour
I’m not even kidding when I say that the Around the World Segway Tour at Epcot World Showcase was probably the most fun thing we did on our entire trip. Andrew and I both loved it. The tour started out at 9:00am inside the Segway Experience at Innoventions West. We watched a video about the Segway and listened to our guide explain the safety features and the functionality of the units. After about 20 minutes, we were ready to ride our Segways.
They took us outside the video room and to an open area where eight Segways were parked between small traffic cones. The guide taught us one by one how to get on and balance on the unit. Since I had been on a Segway once before, he had me go first. Once he got the entire group safely onto the units, he had us get off and back on again. Once we were all fairly comfortable with that process, the training began.
We ran several drills in our training area such as moving forward, turning circles in place, moving backwards and synchronizing our movements with those riders on either side of us. We went forward, turn around, forward, turn around, forward, backwards, turn the other way, etc etc until we were all comfortable not hitting the cones around us. Then we were split into two groups for the intermediate training.
One group of four moved over to the ramp training. We were taught how to go uphill, turn a corner and then come back down safely. We ran this drill multiple times in line going up, turning and coming back down the ramps. Then we were moved over to the second station which was a slalom course through small traffic cones. They were fairly close together, and we had to maneuver the Segways through the cones without knocking them over, falling off or running into any other Segway riders.
After a while he had us going faster and faster through the course until we were comfortable. Then he switched to high speed riding in circles around the cones. The goal was to go as fast as we could without running into the rider in front of us, yet still handing the corners well. At this point, he started jumping out in front of us and making us stop hard without falling over. He would yell things like “SQUIRREL!” or “SMALL CHILD!” to prepare us to stop very quickly.
After our intense training session was through which took about an hour, we were ready to go out Around the World at Epcot. They took us out through the main doors through the Epcot Park which was open. Our tour started out heading west past Imaginations towards the Showcase plaza. We were then let in past the ropes into the World Showcase which was still closed to the public until 11:00am.
We started the World Showcase tour going past Mexico and Norway, stopping first in China. We traversed some ramps in China and learned more about the area before moving on to Germany where we maneuvered through gardens with the miniature town. The tour guide talked about how we always celebrate Octoberfest in Germany with beer and fun. In Italy, we had an opportunity to slalom around the stone pillars which was a lot of fun.
Segway Tour Photo Opportunity
We then stopped for a photo opportunity outside of Italy. It was deemed a “free ride” area and we had a photo opportunity with a great shot of Spaceship Earth in the background. The tour guide used our camera to take pictures of us, and we had a chance to video each other on the Segways and take a short break.
We rode to the American Adventure into the rose garden for another treacherous path and some bridges. Then it was off to Japan where we traversed the bridges around the Temple and explored the area. In Morocco we actually got to take the Segways into the rooms and go through the shopping areas and streets. We learned about the doorways and the history of their size, as well as the fact that the Kingdom of Morocco actually wanted to be represented at Epcot. The people of Morocco built the whole area to their exact specifications.
We stopped in France to discuss the forced perspective of the Eiffel Tower, then moved through the United Kingdom and Canada to complete the tour. We made our way through Epcot back to the Segway Experience at Innoventions West where the tour had began, and said goodbye to our Segways. It was so much fun; I really wish we could have done it again the next day!
After our Segway tour, our moods were discernibly better than they had been in days. We sat down to enjoy lunch at Le Cellier in Canada. They sat us in the Alberta section of the restaurant, and explained that each area was named after a Province in Canada. On the menu were treats like crab spinach gratin, cheddar soup, filet mignon with mushroom risotto, New York strip with cream cheese mashed potatoes, chocolate Moose and whiskey chocolate cake. Andrew maintains that this was his favorite meal of the trip. For the grand price of $102 plus an $18 tip, this lunch was incredible.
Test Track had quite a queue so we grabbed a fast pass, and then went over to face my ultimate fear: Mission Space Orange. I had promised Andrew months before that I would ride it with him, but I had no way to know how sick I would be when I got there. When we approached the ride, the cast member asked “More intense or less intense?” to which Andrew quickly replied, “We want Orange.” As I longed for the Green card, we rushed into line and much to my dismay we discovered the wait was very short.
I was then inundated with warnings by multiple ride operators and signage to look straight ahead and keep my eyes open. We were loaded into the ride and I had my eyes on the barf bags just in case. I kept my eyes open, looked straight ahead the entire ride, and somehow managed not to throw up! Andrew said that he can’t tell when the ride is spinning, but it was plain and clear to me exactly when it started and stopped spinning each time.
After the ride, I found myself having to sit down on the bench outside to prevent myself from getting very sick. My ears were already plugged up from the allergy problems, and I’m prone to motion sickness anyway. As it turned out, Mission Space Orange pretty much did me in for the remainder of the trip. I was sick after every ride we tried from this point forward.
Coke Flavors Around the World
I finally got my bearings enough to walk again and we rode the Universe of Energy with Ellen DeGeneres. It’s a nice slow ride that moves through different areas on a large movable theater car with about a hundred people per car. Next we rode Test Track with our fast passes, and used our PhotoPass to get the only free ride photo. Afterwards, we then moseyed our way through the World of Coke tasting center and I had the distinct displeasure of trying battery acid, otherwise known as Beverly. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad. I did enjoy the Israel version with the lemon and honey flavors, and Andrew enjoyed the Mezzo Mix from Mexico with the orange flavor.
Disney Fine Art Photography called my cell phone to confirm our portrait session the following morning. I had booked an hour long session for our 10th Anniversary to have portraits done at the Wilderness Lodge. To my surprise, she told us our photographer would be Mike Strickland, the same gentleman who photographed our wedding 10 years prior! It was quite a coincidence, because I didn’t even think to ask if he still worked there.
We went down to The Land and got our fast passes for Soarin’. Then we rode The Land boat ride through the greenhouse, and sat down with a snack at the Summer Café. We were still trying to use up snack points, so we enjoyed some bottle water, tea, potato chips and Andrew indulged in strawberry shortcake. I have no idea where he put it though, because I was over stuffed and feeling very motion sick.
Behind the Seeds Tour
I decided to stay on level ground for a while and picked up a single ticket for the Behind the Seeds Tour inside The Land. It was a one-hour walking tour inside the greenhouse where they discussed how Epcot is contributing to sustainability and efforts to conserve the environment. I found it to be very interesting, although too long. My tour guide was new and very excited, so he talked for a very long time. The tour started at 3:45pm and got out at 5:20pm, about 35 minutes later than expected.
While I was on that tour, Andrew went off on his own to ride Mission Space again (twice) and also rode Spaceship Earth. He then used his phone to order the Transformers Club exclusives which had just been released a few minutes prior. Later, we would discover that due to credit card processing issues, he had tried using three different credit cards to buy them. Within three weeks of our trip, two of those three credit cards were compromised when the Transformers Club was hacked.
Spaceship Earth at Night
Dinner this evening was at Le Chefs de France at 6:00pm. We enjoyed the artisan cheese plate, French onion soup, duck & filet entrees, and pear sorbet and puff choux for dessert. The tab for this dinner would have been $118 plus a $22 tip. Afterwards we walked around World Showcase and did some shopping in various countries. I picked up green alabaster hearts as souvenirs for myself, Andrew’s Mom and Amy.
We finished up our day at Epcot by riding Spaceship Earth, before getting on the bus back to the Wilderness Lodge. I was exhausted, very motion sick and suffering from extreme allergies.
Jessica and Andrew agreed on their Favorite Thing of the Day: Around the World Segway Tour at Epcot
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Hollywood Studios, Star Tours & Toy Story Midway Mania
Remember when I said that people rarely get the opportunity to stay in the Yellowstone Suite? Not only do they not stay in the suite, but Florida is cold so infrequently that they never turn on the heater. NEVER. By 2:00am, my throat had swollen so badly I couldn’t swallow. We were covered in dust and pollen and awful odors from the heating ducts that caused such a major allergic reaction in my head that by the morning, it turned into a full blown illness that plagued me for the rest of the trip.
Meeting the Mad Hatter
As if I hadn’t been up most of the night trying to figure out how I was so sick so suddenly, Mickey and Stitch woke us up at 6:00am again. We sent our portrait clothing to the laundry for pressing and left just before 7:00am via water taxi to the Contemporary and then transferred to the Monorail to go to the Grand Floridian Resort. We were the first table seated at 1900 Park Fare for their Supercalifragalistic character breakfast, where we met Pooh, Tigger, Mary Poppins, Alice and the Mad Hatter. The staff presented us with a keepsake placemat and two Happy Anniversary chocolate cupcakes. We ate one, then promptly gave the other to the Bell Desk when they kindly shipped our souvenirs back to the room for us after breakfast.
The bus took us to Hollywood Studios where we rushed over to Rock ‘N Roller Coaster only to find it shut down for maintenance. We grabbed a fast pass for later and crossed the park to ride Star Tours twice in a row.
The first time we rode Star Tours at Hollywood Studios we got to see the following scenes: a confrontation with Darth Vader, scanned the vehicle for the Rebel Spy, flew through the forests of Kashyyyk with the Wookiees, received the holographic message from Princess Leia, and then traveled through the oceans of Naboo. Only the finale section was new for us, and was one of the better clips. In this one we not only saw Jar Jar Binks, but we were almost eaten by an undersea monster (with his tongue pressing against the view screen), and then we crash landed in a hanger where another ship’s nose broke through the class viewscreen. This Naboo scene did the best job of selling the 3D for the ride.
Rock 'N Roller Coaster
Due to the short waits, which were a far cry from the hour wait at Disneyland, we got back in line to ride it again which only took about 5 minutes. The second flight started off the same with Darth Vader and the spy. We then got caught up in a pod race that we won, which was followed by the message from Leia. One more light speed jump and we were part of the war above the planet Alderan.
After our adventures in Star Tours, we sat down for Muppets 3D and followed it up with some fun pin trading, then walked over to check on the times for the Lights, Motors, Action: Extreme Stunt Show. The Disney Mobile Magic app for Android on Verizon had mistakenly shown the stunt show wasn’t playing that day. The park attendant told us that the official Disney Mobile Magic app had nothing to do with Disney and that it was always wrong. At this point, I began wondering why Disney kept putting its official name on stuff that has no affiliation with Disney whatsoever.
We walked around for a little bit and grabbed fast passes for Toy Story Mania. We were shocked to see they weren’t until after 5:25pm which was about 7 hours from then!
Dessert at Hollywood Brown Derby
We decided to have lunch at the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant which was a real treat. We enjoyed dishes like lobster bisque, crab spring rolls, chicken ham dish, pork tenderloin, three way chocolate and grapefruit cake. It would have been $115 plus the $20 tip for that meal, and it was delicious.
I made the mistake of picking up some Benadryl at the advice of my sister due to my exploding allergies. She warned me that it might make me drowsy, but I didn’t expect it to literally knock me flat out. It was the only allergy medicine available in the park. At 1:20pm, we sat down for the Lights, Motors, Action: Extreme Stunt Show and I took the Benadryl. I loved the start of the show with the stunt driving and the close encounters. It was pure adrenaline!
After the show we used our fast passes to ride Rock ‘N Roller Coaster but to our dismay, the inner lights were out and the ride actually stalled while we were on it. A little bummed, we shopped around for a bit and picked up some Mickey head ice cream bars as a snack. I was able to check out the Pin Trading Station before we hopped on the Great Movie Ride. By the time we sat down for the Beauty and the Beast stage show, I was asleep at the wheel. I slept through the entire stage show. Andrew somehow managed to get me up the stairs and out of the theater. We sat down with a cookie and a snack, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
We decided to keep me sitting as much as possible. Andrew decided to ride Star Tours again but as a solo rider, leaving me to nap on a bench nearby. The third flight included Darth Vader, the spy, pod racing, Leia, and the journey in the oceans of Naboo. No new scenes on this trip.
On the final and fourth ride the story finally switched up a little bit. It began with a chase alongside the Millennium Falcon and TIE Fighters, a message about the spy, we joined the snowy battle on Hoth, received a holographic message from Yoda, and then finished up in the oceans of Naboo.
Toy Story Midway Mania Scores
By then it was 5:30, so we made our way over to Toy Story Midway Mania and I’m glad I was awake for it, because it was one of my favorite rides of the entire trip! You sit in pairs on either side of a four-person cart, two on each side. The cart swings and flips and stops you in front of shooting gallery 3D screens where you compete against your cart partner in mini games with a toy gun you fire by pulling a string. It is incredibly fun and competitive! Andrew kicked my butt of course, but I loved it. At the end of the ride, it displays your score on a large screen and shows you your prize. Andrew got a cat with his score of 197,400 while I nabbed a beaver with my 126,000 points.
Antipasto Plate at Mama Melrose
We walked over to our dinner reservations at Mama Melrose’ Italian Kitchen. We were a few minutes late past 6:00pm and didn’t realize the restaurant actually closes at 6:00pm. When we arrived, the staff celebrated because they were finally able to seat the last patrons of the day. We had the antipasto for two as an appetizer. I had the panna cotta and the sirloin while Andrew enjoyed the chicken parmesan and chocolate cake. The total bill would have been $90 plus the $15 tip.
We made our way back to the Wilderness Lodge by bus and found our laundry had been returned to the front closet in our room ($22). We ordered room service just to use up the dining points, snacked a little bit and crashed hard at 8:00pm. The long days and the allergy problems were really starting to drain us down.
We definitely agreed on our Favorite Thing of the Day: Toy Story Midway Mania
Monday, January 30, 2012
Water Sports & The California Grille
For the second day in a row, we arose to Mickey yelling at Stitch on the resort phone wake-up call. Concierge confirmed my cosmetology appointment for the coming Thursday morning. We hopped on the water taxi to the Contemporary Resort and had breakfast at Chef Mickey’s. It was another buffet style breakfast that generally lacked in good selection and taste. The desserts were good, but I may have been biased by the selection of rice crispy treats. We had the chance to meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto. It definitely wouldn’t be worth the $62 it would have cost, plus the $10 tip.
Parasailing Boat we never got ride on
We took the water taxi back to the Wilderness Lodge and Andrew took pictures of me on the balcony of the Yellowstone Suite. We were killing time before our 11:00am parasailing adventure at the Contemporary Lodge. Sammy Duvalls called us at 10:00am as we were on our way out to say that due to high winds, the parasailing was cancelled.
Bummed out, we asked the concierge to reschedule our parasailing for the following Saturday at 11am, which they said they did. (We found out later that they scheduled us for a watercraft rental, and we never got to go parasailing after all.) We asked the concierge to help us find a place for lunch but they didn’t know what to suggest, so we went back downstairs.
Wandering around the resort, we came across the Surrey Bike rentals and decided to take one out for a spin. The only place you can go is down the path to Fort Wilderness and back, which is a two mile round trip. The surrey bikes are difficult to pedal, difficult to steer and difficult to brake. It wasn’t much fun at all but we made it there and back, huffing and puffing the whole way.
For lunch, we decided to try Roaring Forks which is a self-service snack bar inside the Wilderness Lodge. Andrew got a bacon cheeseburger while I opted for the chicken nuggets and french fries. The meal would have been about $30, and it wasn’t anything to brag about.
Sea Raycer Boats
Trying to find something to do and still bummed out about missing the opportunity to parasail, we decided to rent two Sea Raycer boats from the launch at the Wilderness Lodge and adventure around Bay Lake. We had done this for our honeymoon and loved it, so I had high expectations for fun. As it turns out, Andrew’s boat had a maximum of less than half speed but we didn’t realize that until he waved me past him and I took off across the lake. I thought he was just being nice and going slow because he didn’t know if I wanted to go fast. Unfortunately, his boat was simply broken, but I didn’t know that until we docked back at the Lodge. It really put a damper on our day.
I had passed by the Disney Vacation Club sales desk multiple times in the lobby of the Lodge, and wanted to know more about it. A coworker of mine was a very satisfied member and had spoken highly of it. I persuaded Andrew to go to their open house tour to learn more about the program. They took us by shuttle to their models inside Saratoga Springs and explained how all the points worked. We just weren’t interested, and I could tell Andrew felt the whole thing was a waste of time.
The Vacation Club dropped us off at the Contemporary Resort where I had a manicure and pedicure at the “spa” on the third floor. It was more like a closet with some nail polish. The cost of that mani/pedi was $200 with an $80 tip which was fully included in our Platinum Plan. I was astonished at the amount of money they charged for the service. While I was there, Andrew took out a different Sea Raycer boat from the Contemporary but they had no idea how to ring him up on the Platinum Plan. Apparently Sammy Duvalls, much like the Walt Disney World Speedway, is not associated at all with Disney. It was yet another frustration in a very frustrating day, and neither of us were in the mood to be cheerful.
We ended the day at the California Grille with our 6:00pm dinner reservation. When we arrived, there was some kind of mixup about our seating arrangements. One cast member told another that we were to be seated in the “wine room” but halfway to our table, she was intercepted and motioned that we were the “wrong couple” and to take us to the regular seating. It was embarrassing for the staff, clearly, but we really didn’t care to sit in the fancy “wine room” anyway.
Wishes Fireworks from the California Grille
The dinner took more than two hours, which meant we missed our Preferred Viewing appointment for the Wishes Fireworks at Magic Kingdom. When we go out to eat normally, we order a simple entry and we’re done. We aren’t used to spending 2-3 hours at every meal, so it was wearing sometimes to have to wait for course after course. This time, it was worth it though. Three cheese flat bread, a sushi platter, Filet Mignon, bison, a cookie plate and a caramel banana dessert were by far the highlight of our day. Aside from our waitress talking about her boyfriend’s divorce when noting that it was our anniversary, the dinner was pretty good. Although it would have cost $169 plus a $28 tip for dinner, it was awfully pricey but the food was truly delicious.
Having missed out on our Preferred Viewing of the Wishes fireworks, we decided to head out onto the exhibition platform on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort to see them from there. The view is decent and they pipe the music into local speakers so you can hear the show. It was a unique place from which to view the fireworks, and if you have a chance to see it from the California Grille, I would recommend it.
Waiting for the water taxi to take us back to the Wilderness Lodge, we noticed Peter Pan was standing out on the edge of the dock. After a minute or two he hid behind a pillar, which seemed very odd to us. We soon realized that the Pirate Cruise was about to land, and Peter Pan was the special character that the kids got to meet when they disembarked from their cruise. It was very cute to watch it “behind the scenes.”
In Room Dining
We went back to the Wilderness Lodge and decided to order room service because we had so many extra points on the Platinum Plan remaining. We ordered iced tea, chips and salsa, a turkey sandwich and caramel apple pie. As the in-room dining arrived, the Electric Light Parade stopped in front of the Wilderness Lodge on Bay Lake and proceeded to light up the night with a dozen floats. They had floats with a turtle, dolphins, an octopus, alligator, King Neptune, seahorses, then USA flags and flashing stars. It was very cute.
Due to the water parade we had several of the balcony doors open while we were enjoying the festivities. Florida was experiencing quite a cold spell on this day. I made the grave mistake of asking Andrew to turn on the heater in our room. More to come on that soon.
We typed up recaps for the day. We decided to cancel our character breakfasts at the Tusker House and Cape May with concierge because the buffet breakfasts were not very good. We also had a hard time getting to some of them, and wanted to be able to sleep in a few days on our vacation. While reviewing the accounting on our plan, Andrew discovered that the Contemporary Spa had charged us a meal point for the manicure and pedicure, so I went down to the concierge again and had them fix the problem. It was the first of many times we had to have concierge straighten out issues with the Platinum Plan because nobody knew how to ring it up throughout Disney.
Jessica’s Favorite Thing of the Day: The Filet at the California Grille
Andrew’s Favorite Thing of the Day: The Bison at the California Grille
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Visiting the Magic Kingdom & The Richard Petty Experience
Castle and Crane
We woke up early on our first full day at Walt Disney World and took the water taxi to the Contemporary Resort. From there we hopped on the Monorail to the Magic Kingdom, where we were allowed to enter the park early and make our way to the castle. We checked into Cinderella’s Royal Table for the 8:00am character breakfast on the second floor inside the castle. We had the chance to meet Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora, Ariel and Belle. The food pretty good. We had all-you-can-eat scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes & sausage, fresh fruit and pastries. The total for the Royal Table, which was included in our package, would have been $91. Gratuities were included for this meal, which was a rare exception on the Platinum Plan.
Inside the Castle
We finished up breakfast just as the park opened at 9:00am. We rode Snow White, then Space Mountain, and indulged in a little pin trading. We rode Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, the People Mover, Space Mountain a second time and then sat through Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor which was absolutely hilarious. Andrew was chosen to be featured on the big screen during the intro humor when Mike shouted, “Hey everyone, there’s a guy in a tortilla hat and he’s going to buy us all Churros!” I’m not sure that Andrew appreciated being the source of the humor, but it was all in good fun.
We had lunch at The Plaza on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. I got a chicken, ham and swiss sandwich and an ice cream shake for dessert. Andrew chose the tuna salad sandwich and a sundae with mint chocolate chip ice cream and nuts. Lunch would have been $43, plus the $8 tip. We then walked through the Swiss Family Treehouse and took some shots of the castle with the crane behind it. Then it was off to see the Enchanted Tiki Room, ride the Pirates of the Caribbean and make our way out of the Magic Kingdom.
The monorail took us to the Transportation and Ticketing Center (TTC) where we switched to the shuttle bus to the Walt Disney World Speedway. I supposedly had an appointment at 1:00pm to ride shotgun in a Nascar vehicle as part of their Ride Along Experience. When we arrived, however, we were told by a disgruntled employee that they were not affiliated with Walt Disney World at all. They were Richard Petty, and “those people at Disney don’t know what they are doing.” They took my word for it that I had a reservation, let me suit up and sent me out for the ride along. Unfortunately, I arrived right when the driving class was finishing, so I had to wait a really long time until it was my turn. They allowed several of the drivers to run laps, one at a time, and once in a while they would send car #88 out on the track with a passenger.
Jessica Riding Shotgun - Notice Andrew's Photobomb!
Eventually it was my turn to ride. I was escorted out on the track and told, with no further instruction, to hop in through the passenger window. Luckily I had seen a bunch of people do this on YouTube in my research about the experience, so I already had some clue about how to do it. You put your left leg in first, then your right leg, and then you use your left arm hold onto the handle inside and squirm your body down inside through the window. It was easier to get in than I thought it would be, but I immediately began to wonder if I’d be able to get out at the end of the ride.
My driver was Derek and he was very friendly. They belted me in securely while Derek asked me where I was from and made a little small talk. He told me this was his first time on the track (ha ha ha) and asked if I was ready. Ready? Sure, let’s go! He took off like a bat out of hell and never looked back. He made it up to about 145 miles per hour on the straightaways and slowed down to about 100 for the turns. Three full laps around the Walt Disney World Speedway took us a whopping 2 minutes and 45 seconds. I thanked Derek for the ride and quite easily crawled back out the same window without much trouble. It was a lot of fun, and since I was clapping most of the time I think Derek went a little faster with my constant encouragement. I ended up purchasing the video and the photo for an extra $60, and we were on our way back to Disney in the shuttle.
The shuttle took us back to the TTC lost and found building. We took the Monorail back to the Magic Kingdom. Once inside, we tried to ship our Speedway items back to our room but Disney doesn’t allow you to ship anything that was not purchased at Disney. We tried to explain we bought them at the Walt Disney World Speedway but clearly, just as the staff there had told us, the Speedway is not affiliated with Disney in any way.
Blurry Shot of the Castle during Wishes
We shopped around a bit for souvenirs such as Christmas ornaments and keepsake magnets and frames ($90) and decided to head back to our room to drop off the items. The Dreams Come True parade decided to start at that very moment, so we were stuck for a while at the start of Main Street waiting for the parade to go by. We took the water taxi back to the Wilderness Lodge to drop off the bags and relax for a little bit. The concierge had dropped of an autographed picture of Mickey and Minnie to our room, wishing us a Happy Anniversary.
Unlike the concierge staff at Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort, the concierge staff at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge actually helped me ship the gifts I had bought for Sarah’s birthday. When I brought the items out, one of the staff members commented, “OH. You went to that OTHER castle.” I laughed at the absurdity of them having to ship my Universal purchases, but they took them without issue and shipped them out for me without another word.
The concierge also helped me get a cosmetology appointment for Thursday morning. Since we were having professional portraits done for our 10th anniversary, I thought hiring someone else to do my makeup was probably a good idea. I traded pins with the concierge, and we took off for dinner.
My First of Three Pooh Hugs
The Crystal Palace on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom played host to our character dinner that evening. We got to meet Tigger, Piglet, Pooh and Eeyore while enjoying a simple buffet meal. I had some turkey, mashed potatoes and corn while Andrew enjoyed turkey, cornbread and some Mediterranean chicken. The desserts were pretty good featuring strawberry cheesecake, chocolate cannoli and raspberry cake. The total for dinner would have been $79 and the tip was $14.
After dinner, we made our way over to the Christmas store and ordered a personalized ornament and stand to be sent home in the mail. We also sat through the Hall of Presidents featuring our current US President, Barack Obama. The Wishes Fireworks display started while we were standing outside the Sleepy Hallow and the view was terrible. We couldn’t even see anything behind the trees, although Andrew enjoyed the digital projections on the castle prior to the display’s beginning.
We rode Haunted Mansion and were impressed at how much better it was than the one at Disneyland. I had forgotten how much longer and more detailed the ride is at Disney World. We rode It’s a Small World, saw Mickey’s PhilharMagic 3D and then saw the outdated Carousel of Progress with HDTV and “car phones.” We rode Space Mountain again for the third time, then hopped on a water taxi back to the Wilderness Lodge. I was bleary eyed, cold and queasy from our adventures and needed a nice warm bed to settle down in.
Jessica’s Favorite Thing of the Day: Riding shotgun at 145 mph with Derek in #88
Andrew’s Favorite Thing of the Day: Riding Haunted Mansion classic style, nice and long unlike the Disneyland version
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Universal Studios & Arriving at Walt Disney World
The night before, we noticed we had a message on the phone and Andrew had tried to retrieve it without success. After breakfast, I called the operator and asked what the message was. They said they had tried to deliver a package to us but couldn’t because we had the Do Not Disturb sign on the door the entire day before. They asked if I wanted it delivered, and I said yes they could deliver it now.
We waited about 15 minutes, then decided to go grab some food. The continental breakfast at the 7th floor concierge had butter bagels, donuts, chocolate croissants and other small items to satisfy our tummies at the start of the day. It wasn’t much of a spread, but it was enough to get us going.
We came back to the room and we still had no package. I called the operator again, and tried to ask them who had sent the package. She told me that someone had sent us a gift and that it was going to be delivered. After some coaxing, she finally told me it was champagne and strawberries, but refused to say who it was from. We waited around a while longer and still nobody showed up with the delivery. I sent a text to my sister who declined sending the package. We had to check out by 11:00am and it was quickly approaching time for us to leave the room. I called the operator back and told them we were checking out, and that whomever sent this mystery package would just have to lose out. She finally told me it was the hotel staff who sent it to us as an anniversary gift. She then told me that it couldn’t be delivered until after 11:00am due to the hotel regulations about alcohol. I told her to forget it, and we checked out of our room, angry at the hotel for wasting our time.
Our luggage was checked with the bell desk and we were finally on our way to Universal Studios. We quickly discovered that this Saturday morning was much busier than we anticipated due to a children’s marathon that was going on nearby. We made it to the park and rode Shrek 4D, which is a motion ride with extra sensations of things like water sprays and odors.
Rip Ride Rockit
From there, we rode Revenge of the Mummy which I loved! It’s an indoor roller coaster that stops, turns, launches and is a blast to ride. We had used our Express Pass and walked right onto it. Afterwards, Andrew braved Rip Ride Rockit where he got to choose his own music to listen to during the ride. He chose Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster Stronger to jam to. The ride has a crazy vertical lift and straight drop down. He felt the lap belt was too constricting across his stomach and the handles were difficult to hold onto.
We went back to ride Revenge of the Mummy a second time and walked right onto it again. Then we got in line for Disaster and waited for about 15 minutes to see it. They have added a lot of humor to the experience and it was enjoyable. We used our Express Pass again to ride Men in Black, and ended up waiting over 30 minutes although the queue said it was a 15-minute wait. What we discovered was very disheartening – when the park is slow with low crowd levels, Universal only brings in half the staff to run it and they shut down half the ride. This means that no matter how many people are in the queue, you still wait the same amount of time because only half the cars are being released with guests. To say the least, this really upset me. We watched as car after car left completely empty from the ride on the left side, as they half-filled cars on the right side very inefficiently.
Empty Universal Studios
At the food court, I picked up some chicken parmesan with a breadstick while Andrew decided upon the sweet and sour chicken dish. It was cheap food, but we got what we paid for. It was definitely not the tasty food we experienced at WWoHP the day before. We went from lunch to ride ET which I enjoyed. It was a different concept to have the ride vehicle going over top of the scenery. Then we got in line for the Simpsons using our Express Pass and still waited 20 minutes. The group behind us was very loud and obnoxious. The show was funny and impressive overall; Andrew liked it better than Back to the Future.
By this time, our adventures were already wearing on me and I was still feeling ill from all the motion I had experienced. We stopped to watch Terminator 2 3D and I actually fell asleep during it, which Andrew couldn’t believe. I was tired already, and this was only day 3.
We decided to leave Universal Studios and walk back to Islands of Adventure to visit WWoHP a third time. It was around 2pm on a Saturday, and the crowds were evident even though it was the slowest weekend of the year. I waited in a line of 25 people to get two more Butterbeers from the Hog’s Head bar while Andrew rode in the single rider line for The Forbidden Journey. The standard line wait was about 75 minutes, but he only waited 20 minutes in the single rider line, which is a shortcut that leads directly to the Gryffindor common room.
After he finished the ride, he came to join me at the Hog’s Head where I had a Butterbeer waiting for him at the bar. We then made another stop at Honeydukes for another Lightening Bolt Shaped Rice Crispy Treat, and Andrew picked up some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans for his teammates at work. We left Hogsmeade and tried to take a shortcut out of the park but ended up back tracking through Jurassic Park instead of going through Marvel. We didn’t have enough time to wait to ride Spiderman again because our limo was coming for us.
Limo Ride to Disney
We left Islands of Adventure and walked back to the Royal Pacific Resort for the final time. Andrew picked up our luggage from the Bell Desk while I called the limo service to discover our limo driver was already waiting for us outside. Although we were 30 minutes early, he picked us up and we were on our way to Walt Disney World.
The limo left a lot to be desired. The driver, although friendly, didn’t speak English very well. There were sodas and water for us to drink. The fancy inside track lights didn’t show up because it was too bright outside for us to see the colors. The seat was ripped in the back, the door handle had missing pieces and somebody had left a random empty spool of ribbon on the floor. About ¾ of the way to Walt Disney World, the air conditioning not only stopped working, but the heat came on full blast for some reason and we were quickly miserable.
I scooted up to ask the driver if he had turned on the heat. We had a language barrier, but I’m pretty sure he said he didn’t turn it on and that the controls were in the back. We fiddled with the A/C and tried to get the cooling to work again. Without asking, the driver pulled off the side of the freeway and ran back to hop in with us and try to get it working. We asked him to just drive because we wanted to get there, but he proceeded to continue to try and fix the A/C. Eventually I shooed him out of the back of the limo and he got us back on the freeway. A few minutes later, suddenly the A/C started working again. A few minutes after that, we were pulling into the Wilderness Lodge. It was a limo ride I would rather forget. In fact, we haven’t had a good limo ride in Florida yet – our limo during our wedding rehearsal actually broke down on Disney property. No more limos for us in Florida!
When we arrived at the Wilderness Lodge, a cast member was waiting for us and took us straight through the lobby, up the elevator and directly to the 7th floor concierge. The concierge staff apologized for not having the room available that I had requested, which was room 7084, the Honeymoon Suite we had stayed in when we got married. I had made the reservation one full year before this day and had called back repeatedly to ensure our request for room 7084 was on the reservation. Andrew could see the red start to fill up my ears when he told us he didn’t have our room available.
The concierge once again apologized for not being able to accommodate the request. He said the concierge manager hoped it would be okay with us if we were upgraded to the Yellowstone Suite.
Did I hear him right? THE YELLOWSTONE SUITE?
Master Bedroom in the Yellowstone Suite
For our wedding trip ten years prior, I had researched the room types at the Wilderness Lodge to a degree which almost sickened myself. I knew the square footage, all of the furniture styles, locations throughout the lodge, and every single thing about every room type they had, except the Yellowstone Suite. You see, most people didn’t have a chance to stay in the Yellowstone Suite, so there wasn’t much information online about the room. You could occasionally find information and pictures when someone was fortunate enough to be upgraded to the Yosemite Suite, which is considered their Vice Presidential level suite. Finding pictures or information about the Yellowstone Suite was so difficult, I didn’t even consider booking it for our wedding. The rate on the Honeymoon Suite we booked was $495 per night, while the Yellowstone Suite was $1000 per night. It wasn’t even on our radar.
I had no idea what to expect in the Yellowstone Suite. Even the concierge seemed surprised at what he himself was telling us, and he later expressed that it was such a rare event that the management upgraded anyone to the Yellowstone that it was quite a treat for him indeed.
The concierge staff had our keys ready for room 7123, aka The Yellowstone Suite, aka the Presidential Suite, for the Wilderness Lodge. They escorted us to the farthest end of the property on the 7th floor and allowed me to do the honors to open up the double entrance doors into the rich wood-lined foyer. Past the formal entrance, there was a small receiving area with a half bath. This led out into the formal living room. To the left was a formal den and the first balcony which had impressive views of the property facing the pool and Bay Lake, and a glimpse of the Sunrise Terrace on the 4th floor where we were married 10 years prior. The entire suite was covered from floor to ceiling with deep wood paneling and unique pieces of art, such as wood carvings and original oil paintings from the northwest.
The main living featured a second balcony, leading into a beautiful formal dining room with a custom wood dining table and seating for eight people, along with a third balcony. A kitchenette had a decent sized refrigerator, a small sink, coffee accessories, a microwave and some plates and cups for use.
View from the Yellowstone Suite
The master bedroom had a very impressive four poster hand carved king bed with beautiful furnishings including a large bureau, a beautiful wardrobe, two side tables and comfortable chairs and benches throughout. The bathroom was massive and featured two separate vanity areas, a separate makeup area, a separate room with a toilet and bidet, a huge double walk-in shower and the biggest Jacuzzi tub I have ever seen in my life.
It is difficult to explain just how large and beautiful the Yellowstone Suite is. While I don’t know for sure, my guess is that the entire suite is around 1300 square feet. It had four full balconies, two flat screen televisions, two separate bathrooms, his and hers vanities, a full dining room, the biggest Jacuzzi tub on the planet, a double shower, two separate entrances and for crying out loud, it even had a bidet. The place was huge.
The concierge came to the room and asked to come in and see it. Even some of the staff at the resort had never been invited inside the room before. We were shown how to use the very sophisticated remote control systems for the electronics, as well as all of the touchpad lights throughout the suite. Many of the light controls had 2-6 items on the same touch panel, and they were often variable so you could dim or brighten the lights if you held the panel for a moment. The concierge provided us with Happy Anniversary pins and a welcome basket with several different chocolates and nuts inside.
I spent a bit of time photographing the suite and did a video walk-through of the entire place. I was so excited and amazed at the Suite that I pretty much forgot everything else around us. Andrew took the camera and went around capturing more pictures as I started unpacking. I called his mom to tell her about the surprise of a lifetime we had just been given, and he completed the unpacking process.
We went back out to concierge to express our gratitude of the upgrade. They all seemed to be a little jealous that we were staying in it for the next 9 days. The concierge assisted us to make dinner reservations The Flying Fish at the Boardwalk Resort. Originally they couldn’t get us in before 8pm but while we snacked on cheese, meats and crackers at the snack area, they were able to call and arrange to squeeze us in for a 7pm reservation.
The water taxi provided our first bit of transportation to the Magic Kingdom where we transferred to a bus to the Boardwalk. We looked around in the shops where I picked up my first two pins from Disney celebrating St Patty’s Day with a Luck of the Irish motif. One of my favorite things to do at Disney is pin trading with the Cast Members. Many of them wear lanyards or fabric swatches at their waist to trade pins with guests. I love trading with them. Before this trip, I had purchased a lot of 40 pins from eBay to trade during our stay.
We walked over to the Flying Fish and picked up a pager. After about 10 minutes, they called our names and noticed we weren’t wearing our Anniversary pins. They gave us a second set and insisted that we wear them. It wasn’t long before we realized that guests wearing their celebration pins get a lot more interaction and perks than guests who aren’t wearing pins. The Cast Members are required to acknowledge your pins by saying “Happy Anniversary” every time they see you, so we heard it dozens of times each day. It felt a little weird going around without the pins after a while, because nobody said anything to us without them.
Dinner at The Flying Fish
The Flying Fish had incredible food. The waiter attempted to give us champagne as a gift for us to toast to our anniversary, but we politely declined stating we don’t drink alcohol. He came back a few minutes later with some kind of mango sparkling cider for our toast, which was very cute. The steak I had was very, very good. It was one of the best steaks of the trip, in fact. The total amount our amazing dinner at The Flying Fish would have cost was $143 but it was included on our dining plan, so we simply paid $25 for the tip.
We were on the Platinum Plan during our stay at Disney, which is the highest plan money can buy. The Platinum Plan means that everything is included. That means everything. There is almost nothing you can do at Disney on that plan that is not included, apart from tips and alcohol. Every single day on this plan, we received three full meals and two snacks – for each person – and no matter what we ate, it was always one single point. For each full meal we were allowed to choose an appetizer, entrée and dessert and one non-alcoholic beverage.
So let me run this down for you. On the Platinum Plan, each person receives a breakfast appetizer, entrée, dessert and drink, two snacks such as a soda and a rice crispy treat, then a lunch appetizer, entrée, dessert and drink, two more snacks such as an iced tea and an ice cream cone, then a dinner appetizer, entrée, dessert and drink, every single day.
Can you eat that much food? Neither could we. Halfway through our trip we were ordering stuff just to use up the points, trying a small bite and moving on. It’s simply an enormous amount of food.
After dinner, we walked along the Boardwalk and I had the chance to trade a few more pins. We then boarded the bus back to the Magic Kingdom and went into the park during the Magic Hours. It was open until midnight. I bought a few more pins and we walked down Main Street against the mass exodus of people leaving the park following the evening Wishes Fireworks show. There was a giant crane to the right of the castle which was being used to remove the Christmas light displays. One of our boat captains later told us the crane was there to lift up the castle at Cinderella’s request so the housekeeping could dust underneath it. We walked into the castle and found the place we had to come for the Royal Table breakfast the following morning.
Exhausted from a long and exciting day, we walked back down Main Street and I traded a few more pins with some Cast Members. We left Magic Kingdom on a large boat around 10:00pm and went back to the Wilderness Lodge. Andrew wrote up the recap notes on the Xoom and I restocked my trading pin lanyard with more options for the following day. I expressed my love for Andrew’s note taking ability for the recaps, and we both crashed hard.
We definitely agreed on our Favorite Things of the Day:
At Universal, it was riding Revenge of the Mummy. At Disney, it was our Yellowstone Suite Upgrade!
Friday, January 27, 2012
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter & Islands of Adventure
Breakfast arrived to our room at 6:15am. Andrew ordered the spinach, bacon and Swiss omelet. Jessica got the All American Scrambled Eggs. It was pretty good for in-room dining, but nothing to really get excited about. The best part about breakfast was that we were done eating by 6:45am, and none of the other restaurants opened until 7:00am. We took advantage of this by making our way over to the gates at Islands of Adventure to be the first ones in the park.
By 7:30am, we were first in line at the turnstiles to get in at 8:00am. As a guest at a Universal Orlando property, we were allowed to get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one full hour before the park opened to the public. Since WWoHP was the hottest thing in Florida as far as tourist attractions go, this one hour made all of the difference in the world to our visit. We had arranged our trip to be at the theme parks on the least busy weekend of the entire year because neither of us like crowds.
What do you get when you visit on a “slow” weekend and get into the park an hour before the public? Completely EMPTY park. We loved every second of it! I was able to take as many pictures and videos as I wanted with nobody in the shots, nobody in the way, and nobody pushing me out of the way. It was truly unbelievable.
The first thing we did when we arrived at WWoHP was to go straight to Ollivander’s for the Wand Ceremony. My dear friend Sue had advised us to do this first, because they only let about 20 people inside at a time and since it takes so long to conduct the ceremony, the lines are actually longer for Ollivander’s than they are for the other attractions. We walked right up into line and walked straight into Ollivander’s without waiting (thanks Sue!). Later in the day, the line did queue a bit but I don’t think most people waited more than an hour to see it on that particular day.
Ollivander’s is very small and they crowd a bunch of people inside. The actor then chooses a small child from the crowd to receive a wand based on his or her birth date. Then the actor has the child flick several different wands until one “chooses” the child. It’s pretty cute, especially for big fans of the movie. Afterwards, they corral you into the gift shop where you have the option to purchase your own wand. They have displays for character wands (such as if you want to buy Harry’s or Sirius’ wand) as well as wands for other witches and wizards based on your birthday or anniversary.
We walked over and hopped in line to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. By this, I mean we walked and walked and walked through the empty queue for a good 10-12 minutes before finally making it to the front of the “line” which did not exist. We literally walked straight onto the ride. We had heard horror stories of people who waited 3 or more hours to ride this ride. We felt extremely fortunate to walk straight onto it.
The Forbidden Journey is a ride like no other. You’re sitting in a four-seat car side by side like in a theater, on a giant mechanical arm which twists and turns you through a series of scenes either on a giant video screen or a real life environment such as encountering the dragon. It’s like a motion ride on steroids, and like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. Andrew maintains that it is the best ride in Florida, and he proceeded to ride it three times during our stay! I rode it twice with him, and the motion made me very ill, so I regretfully couldn’t ride it any more than that. The ride has a lot of animatronics and effects like fire and water. You get rotated around, spun quickly and flipped onto your back several times while moving from scene to scene.
We walked to the Owl Post and mailed out three postcards – one to my friend Sarah, one to my friends Sue and Charlotte and one to ourselves. This happened to be the 15th anniversary of the day we first met at ASU, so the postcard to ourselves had a message to mark the occasion. I didn’t realize it until later, but the United States Postal Service had raised postage just a few days before this from 29 cents to 32 cents for postcard stamps. The stamps I had been using up until this point were 28 cent postcard stamps, which I had stored in my wallet to send mail to my little brother Noah while we were traveling. I never realized the rates raised from 28 to 29 cents! The post office was kind enough to continue to mail my postcards even with deficient postage for the past year or so. Lucky enough for us, our postcards mailed from Hogsmeade also arrived at their destination, each short 4 cents postage. I later picked up a stash of 32 cent stamps so I would be in compliance for all future mailings.
With our postcards mailed by Owl Post, we went to the gift shop and I purchased two pins for my collection. The first was my House pin for Slytherin, which I was sorted into while playing on Pottermore online. The second pin was a Hogwarts pin with small crystals matching the colors of the Houses. I also purchased a round white Christmas ornament with pictures of the Harry Potter characters on it to commemorate our trip. We had the ornament shipped back to the Trading Post at the front of the park for pickup later that evening, and I wore the pins on my lanyard.
Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks
We went inside the Three Broomsticks restaurant and purchased one regular Butterbeer. There were no lines and we got our Butterbeer right away and sat down near the Hog’s Head bar to enjoy it. The Butterbeer has a nice butterscotch taste with a light butter foam on top, which was incredibly tasty! The Butterbeer had to be one of the highlights of our trip. We’ve tried to emulate it at home using recipes we found online with cream soda, vanilla and melted butter, but it was nothing like tasting the real thing. I don’t know what Universal puts into it, but it’s mighty delicious and worth way more than the $3.25 they charge 12 ounces of the stuff.
Honeydukes was next on our adventure and we had a nice time walking around the empty shop and looking at all the sweets. For my friend Sarah’s birthday I picked up some Chocoballs, a Limited Edition Chocolate Frog and a box of Peppermint Frogs. I picked up a Chocolate Covered Lightning Bolt Shaped Rice Crispy Treat (that’s a mouthful) and it was absolutely delicious. The items for Sarah were sent back to the Trading Post for pickup later with the ornament.
We went through the queue again for The Forbidden Journey, this time allowing people to pass us by so we could stop and take pictures of all the items in the queue, such as the House Points display, the moving paintings, Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor Common Room and the Pensieve. We once again made it to the front of the line and only waited 2-3 minutes before walking onto the ride. It was just as incredible the second time through! Even though we knew that the photo was taken just after you pass the spiders, the second ride photo was just as bad as the first one so we once again passed it up.
Extendable Ears inside Zonko's
I was feeling awfully ill by now with all the motion in the ride, so Andrew went off to ride the Flight of the Hippogriff which is meant for smaller witches and wizards. While he was on the ride, I hung out and took pictures of all the windows throughout the village of Hogsmeade. The windows had lots of little details that you could pick up on if you had read the books and saw the movies, like the actual tuxedo and gown that Harry and Hermione had worn to the Yule Ball in the movies. They had animated Mandrakes (whose screams will kill you, according to the books) and even Moaning Myrtle could be heard teasing you inside the bathrooms.
We went back to Dervish and Bangs which was the shop we were corralled into after the Wand Ceremony. Andrew purchased a wand for his friend and coworker Bonny based on her birthday. We looked at the ones for our birthdays and our anniversaries, but we didn’t like any of them. Most of them had skulls on the top and were somewhat gruesome. Andrew also picked up a Hogwart’s pin for his coworker Mary, and I got a Hufflepuff House patch for my friend Sarah. We sent all of it back to the Trading Post to pick up later that evening.
Andrew decided to ride the Dueling Dragons and made his way through the queue, choosing the Blue dragon on the right. While he was off doing that, I took dozens of pictures inside the (still) empty Honeydukes sweets shop and inside Zonko’s joke shop. Once he completed the ride, Andrew came and found me and we went back through the queue of the Dueling Dragons so I could see all of the fun props and things they had built surrounding the Triwizard Tournament, such as the Goblet of Fire, the Golden Eggs and the Triwizard Cup. The queue was very well done, and is definitely worth a look even if you don’t want to ride. Andrew chose the Red side the second time through, and I waited for him at the ride exit.
We went back to the entrance of Hogsmeade and a kind stranger took a picture of us in front of the Hogwart’s Express. Later in the day when the crowds started coming, we noticed they had a Conductor character standing in front of the train that kids could have their photos taken with. It was a nice little extra for visitors. Andrew noticed that once you entered Hogsmeade, the sensation of being within the world of Harry Potter was never broken. There was nothing that indicated you are at Universal Orlando; they had no penny smooshers or generic gift shops. Everything about this area of the park was 100% Harry Potter. The illusion was never broken, and I think that’s what made it so magical.
Lunch was enjoyed at the Three Broomsticks. I had the fish and chips plus a water, and it was very tasty. Andrew decided on the Shepard’s Pie with a Pumpkin Juice, and he really liked it. I tried his Pumpkin Juice and thought it was horrid; to me, it tasted like a sugar laced pumpkin tea. Andrew liked it though, so that’s all that mattered.
After four hours exploring a relatively empty WWoHP, we finally ventured outside of Hogsmeade to experience the rest of Islands of Adventure. We went through the Jurrasic Park section but the water ride was closed. We tried to ride the Pteradon Flyers but we were told we were too tall and had to have a child with us. We walked through the Comics section but didn’t ride anything. Then we made it to Marvel Land and rode Spiderman using our included VIP Express Pass. Spiderman had been partially upgraded to new projectors and screens, but it was still relatively old. We may have been slightly jaded having ridden Forbidden Journey twice already that day.
The Flying Car inside the Dueling Dragons Queue
Andrew decided to ride The Hulk. He used the Express Pass to go through the line and ended up waiting longer than if he had been in the regular line, although only about 5 minutes. He was in the second row, and he said it shook his skull up a bit. In fact, he felt the motion effects of the Hulk for a few days afterwards.
We made our way over to Seuss Landing and rode The Cat in the Hat using our Express Passes. It was a bit too much spinning for my taste as I was still motion sick from the airplane and forcing myself on The Forbidden Journey twice. We sat down to help calm my stomach and watched the 12:30pm Sinbad Stunt Show, in which I was not impressed. We then got in line for the 1:15pm Poseidon’s Fury show, and waited 30 minutes because we didn’t realize the show before had just started when we got in line. Again, I was relatively unimpressed and growing cranky because I was used to just walking onto everything.
Having exhausted the rest of the park in a whopping hour, we made our way back to Hogsmeade and went shopping again at Honeydukes. This time, I picked up some Chocoballs for myself (which I ended up not liking) and a plain rice crispy treat. Andrew decided upon some Treacle Fudge which he really liked. We then walked over to the Hog’s Head and picked up a frozen Butterbeer, which we both agreed was not as tasty as the regular version.
It was raining slightly and misting throughout the day which helped with the illusion at Hogsmeade. It felt like we were in London with overcast skies and lots of clouds. I don’t think the effect would have been as authentic if the sun had been shining, given the mounds of snow on top of the buildings.
Triwizard Cup inside the Dueling Dragons Queue
We said goodbye to WWoHP for the day and went back to Marvel to ride Spiderman one more time. Then we picked up our souvenirs from the Trading Post and walked back to the Royal Pacific hotel. We tried to ask the concierge for help shipping the gifts to my friend Sarah, but they couldn’t help us. We went down to the Business Center which advertised shipping via FedEx and UPS, but they also couldn’t help us. They didn’t have any boxes, packing materials or tape for purchase or use. We ended up keeping all the items and taking them with us to Disney, which was definitely not the plan.
Exhausted from the day’s adventures, we took a quick nap and wrote the day’s recaps. Then we decided to have dinner at NBA City at CityWalk. We tried the Parmesan chicken tenders for an appetizer but they were dry and not tasty at all. Andrew got a cheesesteak, and I chose Captain Jin’s Ginger Chicken which was pretty good. I also got the Chocolate Caramel Appletini which was good, but too much of a contrast with the ginger chicken to be enjoyable. After dinner, we walked over to TCBY for frozen yogurt. Andrew got called by his boss at work about a problem they needed help with immediately. Unfortunately, Andrew couldn’t do much from central Florida because he couldn’t log into his work machine from the Xoom or from his phone.
Jessica’s Favorite Things of the Day: Walking through Hogsmeade, drinking Butterbeer and taking pictures inside Honeydukes
Andrew’s Favorite Things of the Day: Riding The Forbidden Journey and the regular Butterbeer
During our trip to Florida for our 10th anniversary, throughout the day I took notes on my DROID smartphone in an email draft to myself so we could remember everything we did. At the end of the day, I emailed the notes to myself and compiled them all in a Google Doc into one big Florida trip journal. It wasn’t until a few weeks after the trip that I actually typed these recaps in full detail. I will share them with you one day at a time so you, the reader, can experience them at the same pace we did. I hope you enjoy reading about our trip. We had the time of our lives!
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Flight to Florida & Universal’s Royal Pacific Hotel
We started planning for this trip exactly a year before it started. We spent days researching all the things we wanted to do like tours, restaurants, park hours and more. We tirelessly coordinated expected park hours and timings to get the most out of the vacation. Finally, it was time to go!
Andrew’s parents picked us up at our house in Gilbert at 4:30am and took us to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for our 7:00am flight to Atlanta. We didn’t have much trouble getting our bags checked because we had checked in online with Delta Airlines before we left. We even used our DROID smartphones to get through security and get on the plane, using the QR that was sent to us by text from Delta. It was the first time Andrew had ever used the paperless boarding process.
Walking Path to Universal Studios from the Royal Pacific Resort
When we got to the airport in Atlanta, we grabbed a bit of lunch. I opted for a snack at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels while Andrew snagged some Chick-Fil-A. They didn’t exactly have any healthy options to choose from. Our layover was fairly short, only about 30 minutes, and we were back on our way.
On the second leg of the flight from Atlanta to Orlando, I sat in the center seat and struck up a conversation with the guy in the aisle seat. (Andrew usually sits in the window seat when we fly.) The guy was Shawn Finney, an assistant basketball coach at the University of Central Florida. We had some interesting conversations during that flight, about basketball, leadership and family history. He told me that a wise man once advised him, “I don’t manage my people, I lead them.” What great advice! We finished out the flight by doing a crossword puzzle together on his iPad2.
Once in Orlando, Andrew and I met up with our Towncar driver Raul from Destination MCO Orlando. The company sent me a text message confirming the Towncar and gave me the name and location of the driver so we could find him. We were pleasantly surprised at the space inside the Lincoln Towncar, and had a very comfortable ride to Universal Studios.
Room 3617 at Universal's Royal Pacific Resort
We arrived at Loews Royal Pacific Resort and the check-in went smooth. We were given room 3617, which is in Tower 3 on the 6th floor. The concierge was on the 7th floor, however; so every time we wanted to use our club concierge keys we had to take the elevator up one floor to go grab a snack. That was awfully annoying throughout our 2-night stay.
Downstairs in the lobby, we returned to purchase 2-day 2-park tickets for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Andrew accidentally left his credit card at the ticket desk while we walked to CityWalk for some dinner. The walk was fairly short at about half a mile, and took us about 10 minutes or so. It followed the route of the water taxi, and walking was always faster.
Once at CityWalk, we ate dinner at Pastamore. Andrew opted for the Risotto & Chicken, and Jessica had really bad Chicken Parmesan ($42). While paying for dinner, Andrew realized he no longer had his credit card. I called the ticket desk back at Royal Pacific and they confirmed they had the card, so Andrew calmed down a bit and we stayed in CityWalk a few minutes to go shopping at the Universal Store. I picked up a Chocolate Frog from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which ended up having a Ravenclaw card inside. We then made our way back to the resort where Andrew breathed a sigh of relief once he had his credit card back in his hand.
After dinner we went swimming at the Royal Pacific. The pool was huge and pretty much empty. We had the run of the whole place to ourselves, sans a few lifeguards who were required to watch us. Andrew even came into the water for a couple of minutes. I ran through their kids play area which had a pirate ship with water pouring out random places in heavy sheets. The first one I ran through was a decent temperature. The second one, however, was freezing cold. I learned quickly to test the temperature of the various water attractions before running through them!
We went back into the resort and up to the 7th floor concierge for dessert. We opted for cookies and a little crème brûlée. We ordered room service breakfast for the following morning because we wanted to leave the hotel before the restaurants opened, and then hit the sack.
Andrew’s Favorite Thing of the Day: Finally getting to the room in Orlando
Jessica’s Favorite Thing of the Day: Swimming in the pool at the Royal Pacific
I dug out this old picture of me on the back of the Disney Wonder cruise ship at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. This was taken on March 15, 2008. Just look at that smile! Notice the neck full of Disney trading pins and the Black Pearl from Pirates of the Caribbean in the background. I loved our first Disney cruise! I hope we can go on another one someday.
Jessica at Castaway Cay
We’ve traveled to some incredible destinations over the past decade together. Some of those trips have created the memories to cherish for a lifetime. Ironically, many of those instances were tied directly to the cars we rented at our destination’s airport.
It’s seems like a funny thing to do doesn’t it? Who would generate a blog entry dedicated to rental cars? Cars are a big part of our life. From my husband’s love of Transformers to my father’s career with General Motors to our travels to auto museums throughout the country, cars are always a big part of our adventures.
I’ve chosen three cars in particular that have played an integral part of three very special vacations, and I’d like to share with you why.
2004 Jeep Cherokee
2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee – We rented this Wonder Jeep on the Big Island in Hawaii and used it to circumnavigate the island multiple times. This vehicle took us where no other rental car could dream of. Its 4×4 action climbed lava rocks, sandy beaches and even suffered a coconut concussion. Without it, we never could have made it to the Green Sand Beach. This Jeep made our trip amazing, and we still talk about today!
2009 Mustang GT
2008 Ford Mustang GT – We rented this beautiful blue convertible Mustang in Vancouver to enjoy in our days prior to board our cruise to Alaska. Much to our dismay, it rained almost the entire trip. Just before we were about to take it back, the sun broke free from the sky and we rejoiced! This little beauty took us around and around Stanley Park with the top down, wind in our hair and spirits finally free. This Mustang was one of the best things that happened to us in Vancouver. I also loved the “butt warmers” which made for an especially pleasing ride.
2009 Chevrolet Camaro – Cliffjumper (from the Transformers) is what this red beauty is known by in our household. Arriving in Denver for the Fourth of July was the last thing Andrew wanted to do. Sick to his stomach and exhausted from travel, you can imagine the brain crunching that had to occur when I gave him the keys to our secret rental. Driving around Denver in a real live Cliffjumper may have just made that trip bearable for him. We quickly determined that we both pretty much hated the vehicle, but it was really fun to rent one. We were both scared of harming it in any way. Getting dirt on the floorboards was some kind of sin. The blind spots in this car were absolutely horrendous. People stopped in the parking lots to take their picture with our rental car. It garnered a massive amount of unwanted attention from the public in Denver. This rental car definitely made the trip a memorable one.
Here’s hoping that our future holds many more destinations, and more incredible rental cars.