I have been a Disney fan my whole life. It began with Cinderella and my first trip to Disney World when I was just 2. Disney movies have always been a shared family favorite. I distinctly remember being sent to bed without watching, newly on VHS, Toy Story when I was unable to eat my “no-thank you” portion of creamed spinach.
When I got married in 2010, I began to learn that this was not true for all families. My husband Michael was raised more around Star Trek, WWE, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It is somewhat understandable since I was from a family of only sisters. But still, we had a long way to go.
All my wished upon stars finally aligned in September 2013 for us to go on an anniversary trip to Orlando and see everything. Absolutely everything. Due to the rave reviews of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we tacked 3 nights and 2 park days to the front of our trip to The Place Which Must Not Be Named. To me this was just a further delay before getting to the Happiest Place on Earth.
We arrived in Orlando early afternoon (woohoo for direct flights!) and shuttled to the Hyatt Place Orlando across the street from Universal Studios. The hotel was clean, had free breakfast, was walking distance to Universal City Walk, and had wine and cheesecake waiting for us to celebrate our anniversary. Off to a great start! A not-so-short walk to City Walk for dinner at NASCAR Café and an early night for us to be up and at ‘em early.
The next morning we caught the first shuttle across the street to begin at the Islands of Adventure. Thanks to a sweet travel package from Costco, we had 2 day park hopper tickets so I decided starting at Wizarding World would be best so we could go back if we wanted to the next day. We didn’t want to miss a thing. Per advice from friends, when the gates opened we booked it to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. While the aesthetic of the Wizarding World is incredible, during our jog there I was confused. This whole new world was unfamiliar and disjointed to me. The characters and attractions of the different parts of the park were strung together with no connecting story. It lacked the immersive magic of Disney.
Sadly for me, the Forbidden Journey was just the beginning. I should mention I did not grow up with the Harry Potter books, Spider Man, the Hulk, The Mummy, Twister, or really any of the tales the Universal attractions are themed around. Getting on each ride the whole weekend was just stressful for me since I had no idea what I was going to encounter. I don’t like the dark, sudden drops, or generally being afraid while experiencing a ride. The employees who answered my questions about the rides prior to boarding were either indifferent or ill-informed. We were immensely disappointed in the food: the cost, variety, and quality were lacking in all areas. I was also confused as to how on a Saturday-Sunday in early September, there was no crowd. Normally that would be considered a good thing, but in this case, it freaked me out.
Luckily, our 3 nights passed quickly enough and at 10am on Monday morning our driver picked us up to transfer us to Walt Disney World Resort. The whole trip turned around right then. I had booked our transfer with Mears for less than $30, so I didn’t get my hopes up about the experience. Our driver was wonderful and pleasantly chatty. He had such nice things to say about living in Orlando and how he and his wife loved hearing different bands during EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival.
We were lucky enough to get in under the wire and get free dining for our 5 night stay, but our last minute booking meant we were staying at All-Star Sports, not our first choice, which was Art of Animation. The check-in process was easy and we were given a 1st trip pin for Michael (long story) and our Anniversary pins. The only thing I was disappointed in about our Disney World experience was that we were not chosen to test the Magic Bands, which were still in trials. But that didn’t stop me from asking every single cast member we came into contact with about them. Our room was clean, quiet, and very close to the main lobby which was a relief due to the huge sprawling layout of the resort. We spent our first night utilizing our free dining at Wolfgang Puck Express and exploring Disney Quest and all of Downtown Disney in the pouring rain. It was wonderful! I watched Michael like a hawk the entire time for any hint that he might prefer Disney to Universal. We had a blast at Disney Quest (my first time too!) and I got to eat amazing chicken pot pie, so I counted the day as a win.
I had planned our 4 parks in 4 days adventure around Extra Magic Hours and went against my initial plan of starting at Magic Kingdom, and started at EPCOT. It’s always amazing what you can learn about someone even after 3 years of marriage, i.e. Mission Space made Michael motion sick and woozy the rest of the day. But he was a great sport and rode everything else with me and ate all the French pastries and English fish and chips. Illuminations was as special as it had ever been, despite the drizzle. Nothing can dampen the Magic of Disney for me!
Our magical day at Magic Kingdom was probably my favorite day of the whole trip! I got to meet the Mayor for the first time! Also, getting to see New Fantasyland for the first time was just incredible. Be Our Guest for lunch and The Voyage of the Little Mermaid are beautiful additions and completely worth the wait. The expanded Fantasyland immerses you in a beautiful world of princesses and castles, you completely forget you are in Florida. Celebrate the Magic prior to Wishes will never cease to amaze me. Transforming Cinderella’s Castle into a scene from Wreck-It Ralph or Tangled is simply mesmerizing.
The following day at Hollywood Studios continued the list of firsts for me! While I considered myself a seasoned Disney-goer, I was amazed at how many wonderful attractions I got to experience for the first time. We got to ride the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster 2 times and see Beauty and the Beast which I couldn’t believe I had missed up until this trip. The always-thrilling Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and Lights, Motors, Action were a pleasant surprise for Michael who was impressed by both. The biggest surprise for me during our time at the Disney World parks, was Michael preferring Fantasmic over both Wishes and Illuminations! I personally don’t think they can be compared in any way, so the perspective of a first-timer was interesting.
Our last park day was spent at Animal Kingdom with perfect weather which was a true gift as I continually underestimate the size of the park. With all the adventures to be had, becoming a Wilderness Explorer was a fun way to be sure we saw something in every corner of the park. Festival of the Lion King will always be my favorite show at Walt Disney World. The round theatre, enthusiasm of all the performers, and contagious festival atmosphere are always a highlight for me. Sadly our day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom was shorter than we intended. 4 parks in 4 days open to close is quite an undertaking.
I should mention we visited the Disney Vacation Club office during our time at Downtown Disney, more on that later. All in all, a wonderful anniversary trip with many new exciting experiences.