A few posts ago I told the story about how I recently tried to book a last minute trip to Africa which, due to universal forces, did not happen. I found a way to get to Africa anyway 🙂 And, I think I’ll go ahead and visit and handful of other countries while I’m at it. But I only have 36 hours. How am I going to pull that off? It’s Disney time!
Blond On The Road
First, I have to share a blond moment. On the way to the parks, I was on a toll road. Toll roads are all over Florida. It’s how they get some revenue from all the tourists.
So I’m on the toll road. I see a pay station, so I pull off and pay. About 2 miles later there is another one so I pay again. It is at this point that I realize I’m the only one pulling over to pay.
I figured everyone else was a Florida resident and had a SunPass. On the 3rd toll booth in 6 miles, I made a comment about how many tolls there were. More than I remember. That is when I learned that you only have to pay when you EXIT. Not at every booth.
I swear it was not obvious. But I had a good laugh at myself anyway.
You can’t make this up. As I was driving onto Disney property, I stopped at a light and saw this:
That’s a sandhill crane. Hanging out in the median outside Disney. Good omen for sure…
Another Reason To Love The 80’s
My first visit to Disney was in 1983 during the first year that Epcot was open. I remember staying at a Howard Johnson’s Inn and being psyched that it had a pool. Other than about 3 single day trips over the next 30 years when I was in college and a resident of Florida, I have not been to a Disney park since.
For those of you Disney-philes that just fell off your chairs, that is correct. It’s been 30 years.
Instruction Manual Please
My plan was to hit Epcot and Animal Kingdom. Epcot for the food, Animal Kingdom for, well, animals. Figuring out how to book a park ticket online was one of the more challenging projects I’ve taken on lately and I failed. I had to call a human. Thank goodness in a world of short-staffed everything Disney has managed to employ patient and friendly people who could explain the rules and regs for me.
Tip for those who have not been to Disney since the pandemic – “fast pass” is no more. It’s now “Genie” and you get to pay $15 a day extra for what used to be fast pass and you can do pretty much everything from an app which was pretty convenient.
People Make All The Difference
I drove in early from the coast and arrived at the Disney Swan Reserve, the swankier cousin to the Swan Resort on property. I was thrilled to find out that they would actually let me check into my room (it was 9am). The smiles and service were so refreshing compared to the norm these days and it started with the valet at the hotel.
Rick was my valet. Super nice guy. I think he took one look at my car load of stuff and was thinking, “I’m going to need a bigger cart”. I think he was relieved when I told him I was not unloading the whole thing.
The packed car led to the story of my cross country road trip, which led to Rick telling me that he and his wife are about to go to Boston for their 25th wedding anniversary and they’d never been which led to me shamelessly promoting my website and the Boston trip itineraries. I shared a couple of my top tips, including that I always recommend using Old Town Trolley tours as a great way to get a ton of interesting history of Boston and see key sites without walking them all.
Rick asked me where I was going next. I told him (top secret) and he said, “oh, I love that city and guess what, they are also one of the towns that has Old Town Trolley tours”. He also made a great rec for a hotel in another upcoming destination that is probably going to save me a boatload of money. Happy 25th Anniversary to Rick and Deborah! I hope you are having a fabulous time in my hometown!
Some Things Don’t Change
I was so surprised at how little the parks had changed. It only took me 2 hours to cover the World Showcase at Epcot which included standing in line for 45 minutes to ride Ratatouille (cute but I was quickly reminded that virtual reality rides and I don’t get along).
I spent most of my time participating in one of my favorite sports – menu shopping – trying to decide what to eat for dinner later that night.
Disney pro’s may be laughing right now thinking, “wait, you thought you were going to eat at an Epcot restaurant without a reservation months in advance?? Silly girl.” Well friends, never underestimate the power of a pretty smile and natural sales ability.
I have always wanted to eat in Mexico. Internet said “fat chance”.
I strolled right past the sign that said, “honoring reservations only at this time”. I introduced myself to the host, and was promptly offered a table.
Then I realized I wasn’t even slightly hungry so I just took the boat ride instead. By the time I WAS hungry, my friend was gone and the next guy was not buying what I was selling.
Disney Going Green
My favorite part of the day at Epcot was actually in “The Land”. It is a pretty old fashioned ride talking about the development of agriculture and whatnot, but then all of the sudden these doors open and your little boat is floating through Disney hydroponic organic gardens!
It was immaculate and impressive. They claim to be growing the majority of the lettuce used at their parks and resorts in this tiny little facility which can’t be possible but I applaud the effort. The third picture is upside down brussels sprouts!
I had plenty of time left and a park hopper ticket so I decided to go to Magic Kingdom. Got there just in time for a parade, so I took a little ice cream break to watch it go by. Got me in the spirit.
I hit the classics – Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Small World and Space Mountain. Finished the night off back at Epcot. And, I had no problem getting a table in Japan without a reservation!
Had a really really surprisingly good and not-that-expensive meal at Teppan Edo which is located right next to a replica of the Japanese castle known as “White Egret”. Duck Ramen, Sushi, Sake.
Eyes To The Skies
Of course the whole idea of eating dinner at Epcot was to finish the night off with the fireworks show. It was awesome. I’m humbled by the creativity and effort that Disney puts into this stuff.
“Wherever you go, go with a song in your heart and know that someday start with you.”It’s a Small World, Disney
May The Force Be With You
Part of this cross country journey is about celebrating the inner child that hasn’t had enough play time in the last 20 years. So that’s exactly what I did.
Early Bird Does Not Get Worm
The main reason for burning a significant amount of credit card points to stay on Disney property, other than obvious convenience of it, was to get early access to Animal Kingdom. Got up a 6am, on the bus at 620am, at “rope drop” by 645am.
Rope drops and 99.9% of the people head straight for some ride called Pandora. I was so excited that I was the ONLY ONE heading toward the safari!!
I’ll be first! I’ll have the tour to myself!! Yippee!
Don’t Mess With The Moose
I was practically skipping as I went through the arch announcing I had arrived in Africa. Then I got to the safari and was promptly informed by an overly smiley cast member that the safari starts at 8am, not 7am.
Remember the scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation where Clark wants to hit the moose for telling him Wally World is closed? Yep. It was like that.
And it turns out nothing that has to do with animals opens at 7am. In fact, most don’t open til 830 or 9. So I just waited.
But I was first on the safari!!!
Too bad there were absolutely no animals to see. It was like Flamingo Bay all over again.
Never Fear. Birds Are Here.
No big deal. I went about my business and enjoyed the park. I ended up seeing just about everything that you can see on the safari during the Jungle Walk and the Gorilla trek.
And just when you thought you were going to get an entire post without birds, this happened.
There are 2 bird aviaries in Animal Kingdom. One in Africa, one in Asia. I took WAY more pictures than this post can handle. I’ll leave you with this little video of a bird in process of weaving his basket nest.
Feathered Friends In Flight
This may surprise you, but I almost skipped the bird show. I was hot and tired. And I figured it would just be a bunch of trained parrots and macaws doing stupid tricks.
I did NOT expect to see a great selection of rare and endangered birds, including a harpy eagle, a bald eagle and about 5 blue macaws of which there are only 300 left in the world. As a bonus, Disney gave a little political message about protecting wild birds and discouraged people from purchasing tropical birds as pets which I 100% agree with.
Fun With Kites
I unexpectedly caught the “kite show”. That was an understatement. If you are not familiar with this, they are using jet skis to pull these gigantic character kites around the pond. It was super cool.
Bugs Are Cool Too
By now, I’m in full kid mode. I even went to see “Bugs Have It Tough”, the 3D movie. I loved it. All in all it was a great 36 hours around the world.
I’ll be back on the road tomorrow…. still heading north up the east coast of our amazing country. I realize that eventually I will need to drive west…but not yet. Not yet.