My family used to go to Florida every summer, but I hadn't gone for about 8 years until this trip. Since I had plenty of money to spend, I decided to go to every park possible in the allocated time, skipping only Sea World. I bought my tickets in advance through Undercover Tourist and got some good deals. I also spent a lot of time on forums looking for "Disney Secrets" and learned a lot about the most efficient ways to move through the rides and avoid long lines.Days 1 and 2
I left for Orlando on the night of October 16th, departing Cedar Rapids, Iowa at about 2 PM. I drove all the way down to the Chattanooga, Tennessee area before stopping at a wayside and sleeping for a few hours. At 6 AM, I departed once again, reaching Orlando at about 5 PM and checking into the Howard Johnson along 192. The worst part of the drive was Atlanta, since traffic is horrible there, even though it is eight lanes much of the way. That city definitely needs more public transportation to get some cars off of the road.
The hotel was a bit of a dive, but at $30 a night I couldn't really complain. There were some tiny ants coming out of the sink, but they didn't really bother me. I went to Downtown Disney that night and had some fun checking out the various stores.
The next morning, I went to MGM Studios (now known as Disney Hollywood Studios) for the first time in my life. It was very exciting lining up and waiting for the gates to open. After getting inside, they had a short pre-show and then I followed the people in Tower of Terror uniforms to that ride. The Tower of Terror was a lot of fun, with great Twilight Zone themeing and special effects. Next, I went over to the Rock and Rollercoaster, which was also a blast. Over the rest of the day I visited all of the other rides and shows, even enduring the massive crowds at the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and the long wait for Fantasmic. Overall, I liked most of the rides and shows, but I hated Sounds Dangerous with Drew Carey, where they put you in a dark room and spend most of the time listening to him stumbling around. It rained for a while during the day, but it helped to thin out the crowds a bit.Day 4
The following day, my destination was the Magic Kingdom. I arrived early and they had opened Fantasyland before official opening time, so I was able to hit all of the rides there quickly. I enjoyed the rides, but not as much as I used to when I was younger. Peter Plan's Flight is probably my favorite ride there, since it has a cool miniature London. The new Winnie the Pooh ride that replaced Mr. Toad was OK, but I enjoyed Mr. Toad's Wild Ride a lot more back in the day.
After Fantasyland, I waited for the ropes to open to Tomorrowland, then immediately went on Space Mountain. It was a great ride, since you can't see where you are going and there are plenty of surprise turns. The new Buzz Lightyear ride was pretty fun, designed as a shooting gallery of sorts. The Carousel of Progress was also enjoyable since I like history, but the modern era part was a bit cheesy. My least favorite ride was Stitch's Great Adventure since I had been on Alien Encounter, its prior incarnation, and it was no longer scary at all or even that funny.
The next destination was the Haunted Mansion, a classic ride that I have always loved. They added a new scene with a sort of Escher chaotic staircase that was very cool. I also went to the Hall of Presidents and had a chuckle at George W. Bush's magic eloquence and then headed over to the Pirates of the Caribbean. The Pirates of the Caribbean is another timeless and epic ride and I was impressed by the updates, which included Davy Jones being projected on a waterfall and the new animatronics for Barbarossa and Johnny Depp. After that, I rode the Jungle Cruise and laughed at the boat pilot's dark humor. Splash Mountain was another of my favorites, with tons of animatronics and a fairly good drop.
I spent the rest of the day getting the few remaining rides in and eating an overpriced smashed cheesburger at Pecos Bill's Cafe. In the evening I watched the Spectromagic Parade, which was cool, and the fireworks show at the end, which was spectacular. Overall, the Magic Kingdom was fun, but not as fun as it used to be when I was younger.Day 5
Today I went to EPCOT, and unfortunately the signature ride, Spaceship Earth, was closed for refurbishment. My first ride was Test Track, which was OK, but I liked the outside area where it accelerates quickly. After that I bravely went on Mission: Space, taking the orange level and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I didn't really feel sick, just kind of lightheaded and the ride itself was awesome. After that, I rode Soarin', which was a cool simulation of flight, and then the Living Seas with Nemo, which was fun. I was also impressed by the Universe of Energy ride with its giant prehistoric area with animatronic dinosaurs. The Living with the Land ride was fun since I was interested in botany, but the movie in that building was rather depressing.
After doing all the rides in Future World, I went over to the World Showcase and rode the few rides there, including Maelstrom. I was impressed by all of the country pavilions, particularly Mexico and China. They had all sorts of musicians and plenty to eat since it was during the Food and Wine Festival. I ate at a Japanese restaurant and tried several wares from booths along the path and then shopped through the various stores.Day 6
I had never gone to Animal Kingdom before, so I was excited to check it out. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of going on a Extra Magic Hours day so most of the resort guests seemed to be there too. Nonetheless, I made my way to Expedition Everest and admired the very elaborate queue before enjoying the ride itself. The mountain was spectacular, but the ride itself was somewhat disappointing. Perhaps if you could see the Yeti longer it would be more exciting.
After that, I went on Dinosaur, which was a very bumpy and fun ride. They had an interesting carnival style area near Dinosaur with some midway rides, but I quickly made my way over to the Serengeti Safari ride instead. Unfortunately the line was very long and I regretted not following the touring plan. After about two hours, I finally got on the ride and it was pretty cool, but some of the animals were still sleeping or hiding. I spent the rest of the day going around to the various animal exhibits and Rafiki's Planet Watch.
Today I slept in and drove out to Daytona Beach to relax a while. It was cool going in the ocean and jumping into the waves, but there was hardly anybody there and I left after a few hours. After getting back to the hotel, I went to Downtown Disney's Pleasure Island and went to the Adventurer's Club for the first time. It is a small club with great themeing and a number of actors who play the roles of the club members. Every fifteen minutes or so, you are called to an area of the club to watch and participate in an activity. After an hour or so, I wandered around to the other clubs, which were all pretty much empty.
Today I drove out to Tampa and went to Busch Gardens. It was not crowded at all and it seemed like it was mostly British tourists. They had excellent roller coasters, including one that went down at 90 degrees. It was also cool seeing all of the animals and the train ride through the savannah allowed me to get unbelievably close to a rhinoceros. There was also a stage show that featured great acting, dancing, and puppet work. The worst part of the day was getting soaked in the Pirates 3D show since the water nozzle on my seat was broken and sprayed continuously after it was activated. A highlight of the day was going in an aviary, where I was able to lure small birds with nectar and get them to walk on my arm. One thing that really impressed me was the food, since they give you a lot for the price and it is of a higher quality than Disney's.
Today I went to Universal's Islands of Adventure for the first time. I really liked the themeing of the park and started the day with the Hulk coaster. It launches you with force and has a number of vertical loops, making it very thrilling. Dr. Doom's Freefall was kind of lame, but I enjoyed the other rides in the park, including the Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dueling Dragons, and even Dr. Seuss. I didn't go on the Popeye raft ride because I saw that the people getting off were entirely soaked. Instead, I went on the ship so I could be evil and spray them with the water guns mounted on it.Day 10
The next day, I went to Universal Studios. The first ride I went on was the Mummy coaster, which was a lot of fun. I also really liked the Men in Black ride, which is a shooting gallery sort of like the Buzz Lightyear ride at Magic Kingdom. The Jaws ride was cool, but not as exciting as I remembered it being. The horror makeup show was one of my favorites, since the person conducting the show was hilarious. The worst ride was probably ET since the animatronics all looked dated and it broke down for a while, even though I liked the forest queue.
I ate supper at the Universal Monster Restaurant, which had props from many classic horror movies, such as Frankenstein and Creature from the Black Lagoon. After that, I waited for Halloween Horror Nights to start. Some men dressed up like rednecks and carrying chainsaws started walking around scaring people, along with a man dressed up like the sheriff from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I managed to get in 10 of the scare zones, with my favorites being the ones themed as the Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Thing, and Friday the 13th. They also had a very cool 3D funhouse one with evil clowns that reminded me of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Overall, I was very impressed by the scare zones and how much work was put into them. I also managed to catch the Bill and Ted show, which was funny. I left at about 11 PM because the place was packed and all the lines shot up to 2 hours since there was probably 30,000 people there.
Today was another laid back day and I only went to Gatorland, a small zoo. The place had a lot of alligators and you could buy hot dogs to feed them. It also had several shows, such as one where the alligators jumped out of the water to grab chickens and one with gator wrestling. Overall I thought it was a very interesting experience and a great place to visit.Days 12 and 13
Today I left Orlando early, checking out of hotel at around 5 AM to avoid traffic. After eating at IHOP, I hit the road, driving straight through to Cedar Rapids, where I froze my ass off since I hadn't packed pants for the trip and it was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a grueling 20 hour drive, but I made it unscathed and passed out in my bed.Final Thoughts
Overall I was satisfied with the trip and finally got the chance to see everything that I wanted to see. It was interesting seeing the parks that I had never been to before and also comparing the others to what I remembered from my childhood years. Orlando is a great place for vacation and I hope to go back after they add a few more rides to the parks.