Orlando Part 2 – A Full Helping of Disney World with a side of Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Not sure if Zeph is liking Mickey Mouse or not...

Not sure if Zeph is liking Mickey Mouse or not…

One of the things I was very much looking forward to when we planned our trip back at home this summer was getting to go to Disney World and (maybe more importantly) Universal Studios Orlando, home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Growing up so close to Disneyland in California, we have spent much time exploring and riding and eating our way through the park.

Family trip to Disneyland before we left California. Not pictured: Auntie Marisa Mraz Gerszki

Family trip to Disneyland before we left California. Not pictured: Auntie Marisa Mraz Gerszki

The thought of FOUR parks all run by Disney was very exciting. I had high expectations that each of the four parks in Orlando would be bigger and better than Disneyland. We found out about Fort Wilderness, the only Disney RV park, online a couple of months ago back in Texas. It got amazing reviews online for fun, food and overall experience so we decided to book a week. Unknowingly, we booked one of the slowest weeks at the park of the year so we were pleasantly surprised with the lack of crowds we encountered (for the most part). ft wilderness check inFort Wilderness is a beautiful park… more like Yosemite Valley than what I expected central inland Florida to look like. There are little “trading posts” which are actually souvenir/grocery stores. There’s an awesome heated pool with a fun slide and a toddler area. The on-site restaurant is way more tasty than any Disneyland food I’ve ever had. There’s transportation available to every theme park on the Disney World property, via ferry, bus or monorail. There are playgrounds everywhere. The bathroom and laundry facilities were some of the nicest we’ve encountered yet. Included with your stay is something they call “extra magic hours” where each day one of their four parks opens an hour early and closes an hour late, for guests of their resorts only. There’s entertainment on site every night. Chip and Dale come and have a singalong in this outdoor amphitheater by the pool and then they show a Disney movie on the outdoor screen (like a drive thru without the cars). Mom took Zeph down there one night while Chris and I went to Magic Kingdom. She said it was fun and Zeph loved the music. Being at Fort Wilderness is like an extension of being at Disney World or Disneyland, part of the Happiest Places on Earth! Everyone – campers and employees – are super friendly and chatty. We met people from Canada, lots of Floridians who just come to Fort Wilderness for the day to use the playgrounds and eat and walk around, and people from just about every other place within driving distance.
Disney World is on forty-seven square miles (that’s approximately 750,000 acres!) of flat land filled with spanish moss-laden trees and small bodies of water (and alligators) everywhere. In fact, the transportation from Fort Wilderness to the Magic Kingdom is via ferry! None of the water is swimmable, as they say in this state if there’s more than three feet of water, there’s alligators.

Ferry sunset on our way to Magic Kingdom

Ferry sunset on our way to Magic Kingdom

Our ferry driver said that when the alligators on Disney World property reach five feet in length, they relocate them. Finding every single one of these five-footers seems unrealistic to me but what do I know about alligators? We didn’t see any while we were there, they said they see more water moccasin snakes (poisonous, in fact deadly, water snakes) than alligators usually. Apparently the time of year we picked to go was not only slow for human visitors, but also reptiles (yay!).
And now for our experience at the parks… Chris and I got to go to Magic Kingdom our first night there, while Mom (who Zephyr is calling “Money” because he can’t say “Mima,” which is what her other grandkids call her) watched Zeph. Magic Kingdom, to me, was like a smaller version of Disneyland. They had the basic “lands” there: Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, etc. Some of my favorite rides were either at the three other parks (Matterhorn, called “Everest” on the east coast, Soarin’, Star Tours, etc) or missing entirely (Indiana Jones – my fave – and Peter Pan). Some of the rides were pretty much the same (Big Thunder Mountain), some were nowhere near as good (Pirates),

Chris's face is priceless. See how the cars are different from Space Mtn in Cali?

Chris’s face is priceless. See how the cars are different from Space Mtn in Cali?

some were better (Space Mountain and the castle at the end of Main Street was more impressive), some were just different (no French Quarter where Haunted Mansion is, they call it “Liberty Station” instead and it looks more like Philadelphia than New Orleans at DW). Best of all were the presence of PeopleMover (no longer at Disneyland in Cali), and a kiosk selling pineapple Dole Whip, which I must eat every time I am close to it. And I figured out why you call it “pineapple” Dole Whip at Disneyland in Cali, when pineapple is the only flavor they have: at Disney World they have vanilla and orange Dole Whip too (think 50/50 bar), so you must specify “pineapple” when you order if that’s what you want. I feel so educated and in the know now! I got myself and Grandma Money some Mickey ears that first night at the park, so we could wear them the rest of the week. I tried to convince Chris to get some and let me get Zeph some too, to no avail. You can’t win ’em all I guess.

Ah my happy place... pineapple Dole Whip in hand.

Ah my happy place… pineapple Dole Whip in hand.

The next evening we all went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This looks just like California Adventure on the outside. Star Tours is here, and that’s about it. Hollywood StudiosThey have Fantasmic the fireworks nighttime show, in a huge arena, but I had forgotten how kinda dark and scary it was, so I felt bad as we sat there watching the evil villains on stage with Zeph on my lap. He didn’t seem to care much. Honestly this was my least favorite park. There just wasn’t that much to do there. No cool rides really for the grown-ups, and the Disney Junior section I was looking forward to taking Zeph to was closed for renovations. Tower of Terror was there, but that is Chris’s thing, not mine. He made Money go with him, she didn’t look too stoked when they got off. He said the ride there was totally different than at home. They did have this weird Aerosmith-themed ride… think Space Mountain with a bunch of neon signs saying “tacos here” and LA-ish freeway signs. It wasn’t horrible, it just seemed kinda out of place. Since when does Disney collaborate with rock bands for rides? Chris enjoyed the rollercoaster part of it and went on it twice. I didn’t mind heading back to camp that night, for me Hollywood Studios was kind of a bust.
Everest on the waterAnimal Kingdom was the next park we (all) visited. It’s like a zoo and Frontierland mixed. There’s a great jungle ride (think Jungle Cruise, but in a big jeep with real animals) where you get to see elephants, hippos, lions, and other safari animals. Everest, the roller coaster that looks somewhat like Matterhorn, with a “Yeti” instead of an Abominable Snowman, was at Animal Kingdom. Chris took Money on the ride, and said it was way more crazy than Matterhorn so of course Money didn’t love it again (she passed down her non-love of roller coaster rides to me). We skipped the kid sections for the most part, as Z was just happy to run around. That crazy flu is going around and we didn’t want him playing on all the toys with a bunch of sick snot-nosed kids. We weren’t at this park for too long.

Zeph loved this bridge, we had a hard time getting him to leave. And does my kid ever wear pants?

Zeph loved this bridge, we had a hard time getting him to leave. And does my kid ever wear pants?

It was cool to look at (there’s a giant tree in the middle of the park called the “Tree of Life” with all these animals carved into it that’s neat) but ultimately not too much to do there. And it was hot when we were there, so we’d all had enough after a few hours.
Money and mama at EpcotI have to admit I had the lowest expectations for Epcot. In my mind from what I’d heard and seen over the years, it’s kinda outdated and not that cool. It ended up being my favorite of the four theme parks. The giant golf-ball is actually very iconic and fun to see in person. And it seemed to me that Epcot had the most inventive rides. Unfortunately the day we went it rained and was FREEZING (by Florida/California standards, it was probably 60 degrees) and none of us had brought sweatshirts. And Zephyr’s diaper leaked all over his shorts (luckily I had thought to bring him a sweatshirt, but not a change of pants) so we kinda froze our butts off until we broke down and all bought cheesy Disney gear.

Just another no-pants day for Zephyr, parentFAIL

Just another no-pants day for Zephyr, parentFAIL

Epcot has a cool Finding Nemo ride, where you sit in clamshells (kinda like the Haunted Mansion carts, but much happier) and go down a line of decorated tv screens while all the characters look for Nemo in front of you. The most impressive and surprising part of the ride was when you got off, there was a huge aquarium! Multiple large tanks of animals, including sharks and dolphins (in separate tanks) and manatees. Zeph loves aquariums so we hung out in here (plus it was warm and dry inside) for awhile enjoying all the displays and tanks. It was kinda funny because when my mom/Money got to Orlando, she talked about wanting to swim with the dolphins. I explained that it wasn’t good to support places who have these “swim with the dolphins” attractions because of the way they obtain their dolphins. I made her watch the documentary “The Cove,” which I recommend to anyone who loves dolphins or wants to swim with them in captivity. She quickly changed her mind about swimming with them after that, so to see these poor two dolphins swimming in endless circles in their not-that-large tank kinda broke our hearts. They just looked bored and depressed. But all the other aquarium stuff was cool and I’m pretty sure I overheard a trainer say the manatees were rescues so that made me feel better. I hoped the dolphins were, too. Epcot had “Soarin'” which we didn’t go on because it’s no different in FL than it is in CA. Epcot also has this cool “street” of different countries.

A toy store in "Germany"

A toy store in “Germany”

We got tea in China, had lunch in France and dinner in Mexico. Disney actually hires people from the different countries to work in each corresponding part of the street. Our waitress for lunch was on a work visa from France and was headed back home in a month, our waitress for dinner was a Mexico native, as were all her co-workers. It made each place feel more authentic, and the food options were super fun and diverse. There was even a Norway section! They had a little ride there that was reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean, as it was on boats, but the boats basically took you through a Norwegian history tour. Zeph’s diaper leaked in “America” and luckily there was a warm building we could hang out in and watch old-time colonial-type singers while we all warmed up and dried out from the rain. By the time we all got sweatshirts, it was dark outside. Chris went single-rider on a rollercoaster called “Test Track,” while we waited. The ride broke down and a half hour later he returned to three popsicle people outside waiting for him. We spent probably five hours at Epcot and could have stayed longer if it wasn’t so cold.

Waiting for Chris, who was stuck on a broken-down ride.

Waiting for Chris, who was stuck on a broken-down ride.

The highlight of the trip for me, and the thing I was most looking forward to, was visiting “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Studios Adventure Island. Like Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando has multiple theme parks. Adventure Island has a Dr Seuss section, a Marvel comic superhero section and a few others. I didn’t care about any of it but Harry Potterland.

On our way to the "Forbidden Journey" ride

On our way to the “Forbidden Journey” ride

Admittedly, walking through “Jurassic Park” land was pretty cool, felt just like being in the movie. I think Universal does a better job than Disney of really putting you on set of the movie. Thankfully this was ever so true in Hogsmeade, the little village just outside of Harry’s school, Hogwarts. You walk down the snowy village streets to see stores like “Ollivander’s” and “Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods.” Grandma Money stayed with Zeph so I could fully experience Harry Potter’s world without having to keep track of Zeph, which was awesome. Chris and I ate lunch at “Three Broomsticks” restaurant. Being here, and in this whole section of the park, felt like we were on-set at a Harry Potter movie. I loved every minute of it.

Wandering the streets of Hogsmeade, Ollivander's in the background

Wandering the streets of Hogsmeade, Ollivander’s in the background

They had a candy store selling all the magical candies and treats of the Harry Potter series, a joke shop, and you could buy a stuffed Fawkes or a wand of your favorite character. There are three main rides: Flight of the Hippogriff is an outdoor mini-coaster made pretty much for kids, Dragon Challenge is a bigger kid outdoor rollercoaster but was closed while we were there.

Butterbeer! (Non-alcoholic)

Butterbeer! (Non-alcoholic)

Forbidden Journey is the indoor coaster of sorts, a bit like Soarin’ but so much better! You actually feel like you are flying through Hogwarts grounds, following Harry and Ron on their brooms. It was very well done and so exciting to finally experience it. Of course I had to have a butterbeer while we were there (tasted like a mix of a rootbeer float and caramel).
We went to Downtown Disney one night to see what we could see. There wasn’t too much going on down there, I’d say Downtown Disney in California is better but maybe I am a bit biased.

Zeph and I attempt to share an ice cream cone... not sure who won.

Zeph and I attempt to share an ice cream cone… not sure who won.

Who knows…
All in all, our week at Disney World was an awesome adventure that I will never forget. Thank you, Grandma Money/G-Money/Moneybags, for coming to stay with us and taking care of Zeph and us.

I still think Z needs some Mickey ears...

I still think Z needs some Mickey ears…

We loved having you and yes Zeph asks about Money everyday! And a note to any future Disney World goers reading this: rent a motorhome and stay at Fort Wilderness! You won’t regret it.

  • Diane Palmer

    Hi! Had the best two weeks ever!!! It was so fun just hanging out and seeing y’all everyday, all day long! Loved staying in the Moho, very warm and cozy! I got such joy and a smile to my heart watching Zephyr run…like the wind! His little legs moved so fast and he would just seem to glide across the ground like he got some air…it was awesome!Miss you guy’s so much already! Ready to come back now! It was wonderful to spend time with you Chris…You made and make me laugh…all the time!!! It was great! I love my new Bible with my name engraved on it, you have a big and tender heart…it was so sweet and thoughtful!!! Love you guy’s and miss you always!!! All the love I can muster, Grandma Money

  • Kimberly Burleson

    Love the Disney recap!! Great pictures and wonderful blog!

    • zephyrsunrise

      Thanks Kim! Hope you guys are doing well! <3

  • YOLANDA GUTIERREZ

    HI, HOW ARE YOU GUYS DOING,IM SO GLAD TO FIND YOUR GUYS BLOG. LOVE READING AND LOOKING AT YOUR PIC. SEPHYR IS SO CUTEEE!!.. ILL KEEP ON FOLLOWING :).

    • zephyrsunrise

      Hi Yolanda, thanks for the comments! How’d you find us?