You may or may not have heard that I went on a work-related trip to Orlando a few weeks ago. Now that I have properly returned, I thought I could share some pictures with you and tell you a bit more about it. ***Disclaimer*** This blog will only contain an account of the trip. If you wish to read more on my professional opinion or outcomes of the trip work wise, then please visit discoverattractionsthemeparks.co. I will be blogging about the more professional side of things there.
Disney World Orlando’s Magic Kingdom end show Wishes
Our trip started in Amsterdam of course, hopping onto a plane and crossing the pond. The trip itself was fairly uneventful, apart from some turbulence right before landing. Since the flight was fully booked with Dutch families with children that caused quite the commotion. We landed safe and sound and drove to our first motel.
After some meetings with students (one of the main purposes of the trip), we set off to visit the parks themselves (the other purpose of this trip: to gain more knowledge on how the largest theme parks in the world run their businesses). We started off at Hollywood Studios and my colleague got me one of these buttons. If you’ve never been to Disney: make sure you get one from Guest Relations as it truly adds to your experience.
Disney Hollywood Studios was the least impressive park to me. Perhaps because it was the first one, but I felt less of the ‘Disney magic’. We skipped the Tower of Terror as I didn’t find it too appealing, but we managed to see some interesting rides in the TCM Great Movie Ride, Rock N Rollercoaster and the Muppet 3D experience. We also caught some live entertainment on our way out of the park.
Our next stop was Animal Kingdom, where we ended up having dinner at the Rainforest Café, which is an experience in itself. We started with a Lion King show however, which includes some very nifty use of IP and reusing of materials. After that it was time to go on a ‘true’ safari. The Kilimanjaro Safari is a unique experience as it brings you closer to the animals than ever before. A driver drives you around in specially designed trucks for a ride across the savannah.
We also caught the new Rivers of Light show, which was fully packed, but which was also very impressive with lots of water projections. After the show we moved on to Expedition Everest. I had decided to go into the entire trip blank: I had not Googled or looked up anything and since my colleague is quite the expert, he recommended I’d do the ride. It was such a great one that I went again right after: the waiting line was only 5 minutes anyway. After that we even got into our rental and decided to check out Disney Springs: the nearly finished downtown Disney are with lot of food and shopping opportunities.
For a few nights during the trip we stayed in a Disney resort to gain the full Disney experience. We were hence completely immersed in the world of Disney and found lots of hidden Mickeys along the way. We stayed at the Boardwalk Inn, which was a lovely place to stay at.
After that first day of theme park madness we had some official work meetings. Then we moved on to Epcot and met some more students throughout the day. In Epcot we got to see two different rides before moving on to Magic Kingdom and meeting some more students there. We knew we wanted to stay to see Wishes, the Magic Kingdom end show, and we simply squeezed in as many rides as we could. Since it was the low season we were very successful and got to do the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. After seeing Wishes, we hung around as the park guide said there would be another show 45 minutes later. As it turned out that was a try out for the new end show that will be replacing Wishes soon.
After the magical world of Disney and three days that had us running around from early morning to late in the evening, we decided we needed a change of pace. We had booked our tickets to Universal in advance, so we only had to wait a short while to pick them up and go into the parks. We started off with Islands of Adventure and went straight the to Hogsmeade/ Hogwarts/ Harry Potter part of the park, since it is all the way in the back.
Welcome to Hogsmeade. As you can see it was incredibly busy in the area, but there are also a lot of shops and food places to roam around in. We had a browse around and then decided to do the Hogwarts ride, which you will find in Hogwarts Castle.
It was amazing to see how they created the area and the ride itself. The waiting line in itself is an attraction and it is actually worth it to stand in line. It not only sets up the story line for the ride (you will be riding alongside Ron and Harry on a broomstick FYI), but it also takes you through some of the iconic rooms of Hogwarts. These include Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor Common Room and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Of course including talking portraits and other magical items for you to gawk at. The first day we took the Hogwarts Express from Hogsmeade to London, where we ended up having lunch in the Leaky Cauldron (how weird is it to say that?!) and doing the newest Escape from Gringotts ride. We roamed around Diagon Alley and then set off into Universal Studios and did most of the rides there. After a full day of 3D video projections and lots of thrill rides, my brain felt fried, and we called it an early night. We ended up at Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium for dinner: a steampunk Victoriana dining concept that was very entertaining and delicious.
Day 2 at Universal had us going the other way round. This day we started in Universal Studios and then took the Hogwarts Express from London to Hogsmeade to go and do some more rides in Islands of Adventure. We did a few more rides in Universal Studios first (ET, MIB and Simpsons to be exact), had lunch at a San Francisco inspired fish restaurant and then were even treated to the Ukranian Ironbelly breathing fire that is perched on top of Gringotts.
The Transformers ride was one of my favorites in Universal Studios, but in Islands of Adventure we made sure we did the new King Kong: Skull Island ride. All I’m going to say about that is that I hadn’t realized that being attacked by a bunch of T-Rex has never felt so realistic. We also did Hulk, Spiderman and afterwards I walked back up to Hogwarts Castle and did the ride again twice in a row. I also had my taste of frozen butterbeer!
There I am! In case you were wondering whether I actually went on this trip. Universal had tons of characters outside to meet right as you walked into the park after it had just opened. Since it was fairly quiet, it was easy to do everything we wanted to do and see also in Universal. The weather had warmed up quite dramatically over the days we were there, so after a hot day out in the sun, we grabbed dinner at Hardrock Cafe (the largest in the world) and called it a night.
For our last visit to a theme park, we went to Busch Gardens. And I glad we did, because this park contrasts nicely with Disney and Universal. It is a little out of the way and about an hour’s drive away from Orlando, but it is an interesting park as it combines a zoo with rollercoasters. They even had a rollercoaster that is inspired by the run of a Cheetah. It was a very different experience, including a different type of safari and the coasters were crazy as they are always striving to be the first to do things bigger and better. Unfortunately there was one ride we couldn’t do as it broke down while I was waiting in line.
For our final day we just did some shopping and had an amazing dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack and then it was time to go home again. I not only enjoyed myself but also learned lots about the theme park industry and how some of the biggest theme parks in the world manage their business.