Sunday, September 8, 2019

Orlando 2019 - Sea World and heading home

Sigh, It's our last day!
This trip has been a good length. We are not quite missing home yet, but we have done everything we want. So it's a good time to go.

Today we packed everything up for travel and checked out. Our flight wasn't until this evening so, we get the day to play. Our Discovery Cove tickets came with admission to Sea World, so we hit that park today.

It has been a few years since we were at Sea World and a few things have changed. Once inside we got some breakfast snacky food, something to get us through til lunch. We took this opportunity to look at the map and time schedule for shows today. We had looked online the night before and saw roughly what shows we wanted to see, so this confirmed our plan.
After eating, our first stop was the new coaster Mako. Unbeknownst to most of us... this is the tallest, fastest coaster in Orlando. Let's just say it was better that we all didn't see that sign until after we got off the ride.
All items went into a locker and then we got in line, it was fairly short so the anticipation didn't get the best of us. Before long we were heading up the first lift hill... Ok. long story short we all survived. Some of us even loved it. Some of us...not so much. But we all did it together and that was fun.

After Mako, we walked through the Shark Encounter, which was downright mellow after the excitement of Mako. Then we hoped to ride the Penguin ride - Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin... but it didn't go as planned. The ride went down shortly after we got in line. This was a struggle for our young man, so he and I stepped away to compose ourselves in the store. Hubby and our daughter waited and were able to do the walk through option a few minutes later. This is when we had a small communication hiccup.
When our young man and I came back the ride was open. So we got back in line... not fully realizing where the rest of the family was. In the end, we rode it, they walked through and we all met up again at the Orca show after.

The show was pretty much what we have seen in the past. Having seen Orcas hunt in the wild since the last time we were at Sea World, I think I look at them a bit differently. All in all beautiful, amazing animals. And an upbeat fun show.

Afterward it was time for lunch and really close by was a quick service we had done before, so that fit the bill. After lunch, we rode Wild Arctic and enjoyed the exhibit at the end of that ride. From here we split up for a short bit. The adventurous ones ran ahead to ride Infinity Falls, the new huge raft ride. And the young man and I went in search of the "quiet room" that was on the map.

Quiet Room. Nice to have as an option. 

Sea World is a Certified Autism Center, so they have quiet rooms and sensory maps around the park.
They have two in the park, one in the kid's area and one towards the front of the park.
We hit the one in the kid's area first. It is located in the building with first aid and child care. We found it easy enough and found it was already occupied by a nursing mama.
I didn't realize this was likely to happen and pretty much barged in. She hadn't locked the door and we were fully in the room before I realized. I asked if she would like the room to herself and offered to leave, but she said she was fine with us staying. So we positioned ourselves to give her and baby some privacy and enjoyed the quiet cool room.
Mama and baby didn't stay long... maybe because of us. I didn't realize it at the time but the next room over was a nursing room. So she had other options.
The room was simply decorated with what I would call sensory art - touchable with lots of texture. Seating was big pillows and bean bags. The shades were closed and in general, it was very pleasant. Our young man took the time to look over the map in detail and plan out the other things that were important to him that day. We hung out for maybe 20 minutes before heading out to meet up with the adventurous ones.

They rode Infinity Falls twice and got accordingly wet.
I had recovered enough from Mako to be willing to hit another coaster, so we walked to Kraken. Kraken used to be my favorite coaster of all time... but that was 16 or 17 years ago, so we shall see. The kids decided they were done with coasters and found a shady spot to relax and have some Dippin  Dots.
Oddly Kraken is more my speed than Mako. I still like it after all this time. We met up with the kids. Hubby now really wanted to do Mako again, so he buzzed back to it, while the kids and went to see the manatee.
Our timing was great! They had recently recused an orphan manatee due to the storm. So they were trying to feed her and we got to watch a bit.
Then we hoped to meet hubby at the Dolphin show. It didn't work quite as planned - he wasn't able to get into the arena once the show started. So after, we met up and did Sea Turtles and walked through the Manatees again with him.
Now finally its time for the Penguin ride, all together!

Penguins! So fun. 

Infinity Falls packs a punch.... they got wet! 

It was getting to be about the time we wanted to head out to the airport - time for the last rides of the day! The adventurous ones went for Journey to Atlantis and the young man and I walked to the dolphin nursery and checked out the other quiet room in the park.
This quiet room was also occupied, but by a single adult. Again I asked if she wanted the privacy... and she welcomed us to stay. This room had chairs instead of the bean bags.
We stayed for a bit less time this time. In general, it is nice to have this as an option for our young man. I think he appreciated the sensory break. I am not sure that the rooms would be used appropriately on a very busy day, but luckily for us, it was not a busy day.

We took surface streets to the airport and found a gas station on the way to fill up the rental car.
I almost can't believe it has been two weeks. We have done a ton of stuff on this trip.
Not sure when we will be back, not for a few years at least.

Our flight was a little delayed but in the end, it wasn't a full flight. We ended up with each kid in a window seat, and empty middle seat, and we parents on the aisle across from each other. It was nice to have extra room.

Waiting at the airport. 

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Orlando 2019 - Dolphins and it's not how we remember

Before we dive (that's punny, you just don't realize it yet) into today - a word about last night. More specifically about adjoining rooms and how that impacts sound. Unless you are traveling with the people in the room next to you, adjoining rooms are not fun.
Our neighbors were LOUD!
They were having a good time hours after we went to bed. Sometime around 1 am they woke me up. They were laughing and swearing. Not how I wanted to wake up.
The kids slept through but all but hubby and gave it about 20 mins to settle down before we called the front desk. They could hear our neighbors through the phone - seriously. The front desk said they would send a security guard over to talk with them. In the time it took for security to come, the neighbors had settled down significantly. And by 2 we were back to sleep.
Ok. On with the new day!

Today we go to Discovery Cove. Hubby and I visited this park in 2002 - it was considered a boutique park, only admitting 1000 people a day.
Well, the park has changed a little since we last came, and the number of people admitted was the biggest change we noted. It was quite a bit more crowded.
This park is water-based but in a more natural nature-focused way. You can sign up to swim with a dolphin. You can snorkel with tropical fish. They have an aviary, and the whole park is green and lush. With pools and rivers that wind through these beautiful natural settings.
The crowds were most noticeable when trying to find the pool noodles and at meals, which are included in the price of your day.
When we came before meals felt like a cruise buffet. Today felt more like a school cafeteria. Not great. Hubby and I were disappointed in both breakfast and lunch. The food was ok, but the service was less than. It's one of those things that had either the food or the service been great, we wouldn't have cared.
We observed other groups complaining to staff about meal issues, so clearly we were not alone in our frustration. [Editor's note: To be fair, the price really hasn't changed much since 2002 either, unlike most of the other parks in the Orlando area which have probably doubled or tripled in price during that timeframe.]
Beyond the food, it wasn't a bad day. Hubby and daughter did the dolphin swim and loved it. Hubby said it hasn't changed too much since we did it back in 2002.
We all enjoyed the pools and rivers.

Such lovely scenery 
Just wandering around while the other are with the dolphins. 

They have converted one of the shallow pools into a sitting pool, with chairs and benches in the water. This particular pool was also one you could bring food and drinks into... So a number of people grabbed beers and a seat to hang out. As those groups of people grew, this pool felt less and less family-friendly. We don't drink so we were probably a little more surprised by this area than others. It was clearly a popular area.
We were at the park from around 9 to almost 5. We made the best of the day!
We doubt we will return, especially with the current guest limits and food situation.
We decided to shower back at the hotel. Discovery Cove has nice shower and changing areas, but they all had lines at this point of the day, and we wanted to be done.
After getting cleaned up and a nice rest we enjoyed a mellow dinner at noodles and co.
Later in the evening, we decided to check out the Studios after dark, in part to ride a few rides but also to see Toy Story land all lit up.

Toy Story Land at night... love the lights, not the crowds ;)

We had a slower start than planned but got to ride a few things, have a treat and enjoy the park at night.

This cupcake was dark chocolate....of course. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Orlando 2019 - Leaving Property, what's next?

Sadly we leave Disney's Boardwalk today. The fun isn't quite over, but being on property adds a little extra magic for me, so I am sad to go.

We decided to take the morning to pack and be in the room, so we didn't leave till check out time at 11.
From there we decided to hit the Animal Kingdom. We happened to have Fast Passes for this park today, we weren't sure if we were going to use them or go to another park, but as conversations played out, it was settled we needed one more day in the Animal Kingdom.

We made it to the Finding Nemo show and then had lunch at the Yak and Yeti counter service area. I think there are fewer inside seating areas in the Animal Kingdom and we had already eaten at two of them. So we dined outside today but luckily found some shade.

After lunch, we split into two groups and rode the safari, Everest, and Flight of Passage before meeting up for Navi River.

On Navi River
Kevin sighting

Our young lady had just determined she wanted to ride Dinosaur..... as this was kind of her last chance, we decided to make that happen. This also gave me a chance to pick up some pins I had been wanting.

Our new hotel check-in was at 4 so it was time to head out. Our last stay of the trip is another Holiday Inn property. This is called a Suites Resort. So the room has a bedroom with a king bed, a small side room with bunk beds, and a living area with a pull-out. Plus mini-fridge and microwave.
The complex has a huge pool/water slide set up so we may check that out at some point.

For dinner, we decided to get back to Disney Springs one last time. This time going to the counter service Wolfgang Puck restaurant. After eating, we walked through the springs area and found some Haagen Dazs on the way to the car.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Orlando 2019 - 4 Parks in 1 Day!

We have heard of people making up a 4 park challenge and after years of visiting Disney, we thought we would give this a shot.

Since there is no formal "challenge" we decided to set some basic parameters for ourselves.
We expect more than simply walking into all the parks to call it a challenge.

So we decided that all parks needed to be visited during regular ticket hours, or resort guest hours. Not during later or earlier hours purchased by a special event ticket.

In each park, the whole group needs to ride on at least two rides.

A food or beverage item must be purchased in each park.

the group should use a different method of transportation for each leg.

We had to get an official photo pass picture in each park.

We look like we are ready!
If you notice we each have a T-Shirt from a different park... just another part of our silliness ;) 

That's it. Not too many rules. Seems doable
So we jumped to it today. Leaving the room around 7:45 to start the walk to Disney Studios.

First park of the Day! 

Once inside we went straight for Slinky Dog Dash, the line was pretty short, it was Early Entry for resort guests.

Hubby and our young lady wanted to take advantage of the light crowds and ride Smugglers Run again, so the young man and I went and got some food and a coffee (coffee for me, not him).
We also had time to ride Alien Saucers before meeting back up as a group to ride Midway Mania.
At this point we declared ourselves done with one park!

The first transition we used Disney's Minnie Van service - it's like Lyft, but Disney specific.
We had a short wait for the van, but our driver arrived and we had a really pleasant ride to the Animal Kingdom.

Minnie Van! 

By the way... did I mention it is HOT today? in the 90s well before noon... oh bother.

Park number two! 

With our Photopass done, we went directly to the safari.
We had a fun guide and the animals were out to see. After we worked our way across the park. Again the adventurous ones took a quick detour to ride Everest. But we all met after and did our second ride as a family - triceratops spin.

We decided to have lunch in the Animal Kingdom - our young lady had noticed the new counter service restaurant in Pandora had some create your own bowl options that sounded good, so we headed that direction.
The options were a nice departure from theme park food and as we finished up our order a cast member approached us. She told us we have been selected to be the Family of the day! She asked us to follow her to a surprise and that she would personally deliver our food... OKAY!

We were surprised to see a large round table in an empty part of the restaurant, all set up for us. With a "family of the day" certificate and cupcakes! We had that whole section of the restaurant to ourselves for lunch. It was really nice. We finished our lunch and cupcakes, thanked the cast member (Taylor, if you happen to know her), and departed. They opened the section after we left. Again, it was lovely to have a quiet meal in the park - a rare treat! (Additional information from daughter: the cast member liked our shirts and they caught her attention. That is why she picked us for Family of the day!)

Ok... next park!

The plan was to take the bus to the Magic Kingdom. Our young lady and I needed to make a detour back to the room, but we met the boys at the Magic Kingdom (and yes we all took the bus) in time for fast passes on 7 dwarfs mine train.

Park three! Who is tired? 

Followed right after by the Jungle Cruise. We had one set of Fast Passes left, so after a cool treat, we finished up with Big Thunder Mountain before departing our 3rd park of the day.
I am tired just typing this out.

Next up the Monorail to Epcot!
Our last park of the day!!!! Who needs a nap? I do!

Fourth and Final park!

We walked onto Spaceship Earth for our first right and then rode Test Track, which we had been able to get Fast Passes for. From here we decided to take a lap around World Showcase, and see what we might want to pick up to eat. With Food and Wine Festival in full swing, they had LOTS of options.

The last stop was the France pavilion for the movie and treats! Hubby picked up a treat in Germany when we were walking, so we all sat in France and enjoyed a little something sweet.

We did it!!!
Ok, so we are tired! But what a day! 

Wait.. we still need to get back to the room. We exited International Gateway and hopped on a boat back to the resort. This makes the 4th mode of transportation too! [Editor's Note: 5th, actually, since we walked from the room to the studios in the morning. So that give us: Walk, Minnie Van, Bus, Monorail, Boat]

We got back to the room about 7:30 - almost 12 hours after we left the room.
My Fitbit said 23,779 steps for the day - that explains a lot about how I feel.

Nice sunset for our amazing day! 

We talked about going to the pool this evening, But in the end, we decided not to exert any more energy than absolutely necessary. Baths and bed for everyone.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Orlando 2019 - What should we ride next?

Woke up to nothing dramatic outside. Some overcast skies, but no wind damage or flooding.... yay!

Our plan was to hit the studios when the park opened at 9.
Sometime around 7:30 it was announced the Studios would now be open at 8..... WHAT?
I need to get dressed and have breakfast!!!

We are ready for whatever weather we get! 
So we hustled a little and made it to the studios around 8:30. our hope was that most other guests had the same reaction and we would not be so late that lines were long.
And as luck would have it, we got on the new star wars line with about a 5 mins wait.

Galaxy's Edge is just as cool in the rain. 

Cast members' ponchos are perfect! 

The Falcon... waiting for us! 

Family picture with a Porg, not native to Galaxy's Edge ;) 

From there the young man and I went to the slinky dog ride and practically walked on!
Hubby and our young lady did star wars a second time they joined us for another round on Slinky Dog.
The line this time was more than twice as long... but still not 15 mins.
Oh, and the temperature was finally tolerable.
It was easily the nicest morning in the parks as far as temperature goes.
Yes, it sprinkled on us, but only for a few minutes.
We rode everything we wanted in the studios and had lunch before heading back to the room around 1:30.

Dessert... not fancy or anything ;) 

The crowds were wonderfully light.
We picked up fastpasses for the young lady and me to go ride Flight of Passage in AK this afternoon, while the boys walked into Epcot and saw the American Adventure.
We all met back in the room and had a short break before our evening plans.
We have signed up for the DVC member's night at Splitsville in Disney Springs.
This event includes a ton of food and two hours of bowling.


We made good use of both the food and the two hours. We have bowled at both the California and Florida locations. They are nice - easily my favorite bowling chain.

We came away with leftovers, DVC socks (just something you get at this event), and two free t-shirts. And we had fun.

On the way home, we stopped and pick up another flat of water. Somehow we have gone through 4 flats of water since leaving Universal. It's very warm, and we are walking a lot, but 4?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Orlando 2019 - Dorian, Is that you?

I mentioned the quip that says... waiting for a hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle. This last week, it that really rung true to us.

But we have been told today is the day!
It was announced that all Disney parks would be closing early (2 or 3 pm, depending on the park) and we were encouraged by the resort to eat at the parks before returning to the hotel.

All forecasts still indicated Dorian wasn't coming to Orlando directly. But his entourage of wind and rain would stop by to mix things up.

So we hit Epcot, which was our plan for the day. We used all our fast passes even though the crowds were pretty light. The sky was blue with big fluffy clouds but it was still HOT. Midday brought a bit more wind.
We enjoyed a handful of attractions and wandered to the Italy pavilion for lunch at Via Napoli. A table service option we have never done before. They are known to have some amusing ovens and we knew we could get pizza/flatbread as an option.

Ovens at Via Napoli

Lunch was great. Our waiter, who insisted it was only his second week, was great.
The food was tasty too.

While at lunch Disney updated park hours for the day. All other parks were still closing early, but Epcot would now be open until 7 pm.
Hmmmm. We had planned to cut out between 2 and 3 and spend a relaxed afternoon/evening at the hotel.
After some discussion, we choose to stick to our original plan.
We weren't worried about the storm, but why not relax? We have had some really productive days already and a lazy afternoon/evening would be nice.

After one last Fastpass, we left the park and headed to the room.

Assorted things wrapped up in plastic wrap in preparations for the storm.

We spent the afternoon watching the Weather Channel and resting.
Our young lady and I wandered around inside the resort to see what people were up to. We stopped into the store and Bakery and picked up a couple of things to round out the food we already had for dinner.

art gallery with sandbags

Additional resort offerings for the storm

Added fun around the Boardwalk.

After dinner in the room, we watched some shows and played a few rounds of the Clue card game we keep in the suitcase.
The afternoon brought some rain and wind, but nothing too much beyond what we had already seen over the course of our trip.

I took the picture the same place several times over the course of the evening.

Refreshing on the ins and outs of our Travel Clue game... not sure if we look tired or bored ;)
Disney had announced regular park hours tomorrow. No early entry, but everything would be opening on time.