Florida – September 2008

Day 14 – Orlando – EPCOT (again)

Sunday 5th October

We got off to a late and rather rocky start this morning. The truth is that for the first time since arriving in Orlando, we had no clear idea of which theme park we were next going to visit and we even contemplated giving it a miss today. Eventually, we packed all the bits and bobs together (we can do this on auto-pilot now) and threw it all into our trusty, rented mini-van and headed out towards highway 192, where the promise of the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at the Golden Coral faithfully awaited us yet again.

Another late start meant another morning of tenuous tension levels and slight irritations with each other, but we knew from past experience that some yummy-yummy-in-my-tummy, as the kids know it, would put pay to that. My leg was feeling much better today but still I was hobbling and at a reduced paced to boot (no pun intended).

The Golden Coral restaurant was quite full this morning and we even had to stray into the nearby Waffle House car park just to get a spot to park. To make matters worse, once we had paid and were inside and settled at our table with high chairs, the breakfast buffet started to disappear in favour of the lunch buffet. We all still had plenty to eat but not exactly what we wanted. If it’s a late start again tomorrow, we may end up back at the Waffle House, where breakfast is served twenty-four hours a day.

When we left the Golden Coral, we set off in the general direction of the concentration of theme parks in a general north-easterly direction but not really knowing where to go. Should we go back to the Magic Kingdom or EPCOT, where there were still parts of the parks that we’d not yet seen? Or should we go back to Universal, where there are two parks next to each other and where there are some playground areas that the kids could run around in? We still hadn’t done Sea World yet but we want to keep that for Monday or Tuesday, the theory being that the park wouldn’t be so full on a weekday. We could do a water park but Sandy wants to do this when we have an early start so that we can better manage the kids’ naptimes and we can enjoy a bit of relaxation. We have unlimited tickets for pretty much all the parks so we really were spoilt for choice. We changed our minds, and re-programmed the sat-nav each time I might add, no less than seven times whilst we were on the road, even to the point of having to double back along I-4 and change directions suddenly a couple of times, before we eventually decided to go back to EPCOT again. In the end, it was a tough call between EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom and we were debating this right up to the last. Actually running out of road and into the EPCOT car park area turned out to be the deciding factor in the end. Nothing like being prepared and planning ahead is there!?

Once inside the park and under the shadow of the huge golf-ball-like Spaceship Earth, we thought about what we’d do in the park today. As it was a late start and it was now nearing mid-day, we thought we’d have a go at getting the kids to take a nap in their buggies so we could wander around and enjoy the atmosphere in relative peace. After half an hour of trying hard, we gave up on the idea. The kids had other plans and sleep was not on their agenda.

We thought the kids might enjoy the Seas again with the Finding Nemo ride and all the sharks, dolphins and other fish in the huge aquariums so we made our way over there and repeated all of the above.

A new ride at EPCOT (at least it wasn’t here when we were last here) in the Land section is called Saurin’. It’s some sort of hang gliding ride that gives you the sensation of gliding. Joey is just about forty inches tall, which is the minimum height for a number of rides at the various theme parks, so I wanted to take him onto this ride. Sandy would take Jennifer back onto the boat ride through the hydroponics garden again and we agreed a meeting point for when we each emerged. We went one way and they went the other. When we got to the ride, there was a fifty minute wait, which I really didn’t fancy, so I got FastPass tickets instead and waited for Sandy and Jennifer at the designated meeting point.

I’m a bit conflicted about the FastPass system that they have at the Disney parks. The idea is that you can either queue up with the other hoards of mere mortals and wait anywhere from an hour upwards to ride a specific attraction or you can swipe your park entrance ticket at one of the FastPass machines near each major ride and be assigned a window of time in which to return and walk straight onto the ride through the nearly always empty FastPass queue. The problem is that the time you’re allocated to come back is several hours later and you cannot get another FastPass for another ride until the one you have has elapsed. Before your return time has arrived, you could be clear across the park and you have to double back again – meaning you’d not really be able to visit the entire park. It also means that you can get only maybe two or three attractions done using the FastPass system, even though there are a dozen or more FastPass attractions you could try. By mid-afternoon, all the FastPass ticket machines are closed as well so you’d have to start pretty early to get any real benefit from the system. On the flip side, they are completely free. At the Universal parks, you have to buy a book of tickets (and they are certainly not cheap) at the turnstiles. Having said that, there are no time restrictions with the Universal system so you have more freedom – if less money in your pocket at the end of the day.

Sandy and Jennifer eventually emerged from their boat ride and we set off around the World Showcase again – but this time in the opposite direction compared to earlier in the week. We weren’t far into the circular route before the kids eventually dozed off. When we got to France, a couple of entertainers dressed as French waiters were just setting up their comedic, circus balancing chairs act so we parked the buggies and hung around to enjoy the show for ten minutes.

We meandered around quite slowly, all the while trying to avoid the masses of people here for the international food and wine festival, which had been taking place at least since earlier this week. We thought it might be a good idea to grab some late lunch so we made Germany our next stop, where their Oktoberfest buffet hall would serve to fill our tummies. In years past when we’ve visited EPCOT, it’s nearly always been this buffet hall where we’ve eaten in the park. The atmosphere was very nice and the traditionally dressed German folk musicians had just started their half hour long set so it was a nice diversion from the heat of the day. After we’d finished eating and the band had stopped playing, our two kids joined a handful of others and entertained themselves running around on the dance floor. It’s always nice to see kids just being kids.

Throughout the day, I had made sure to keep topped up on happy pills. I don’t know if my calf muscle is getting better or the pain is just being kept at bay but I’m walking much better on the left leg now.

Our Soarin FastPass return time was neigh so we completed our walk around the World Showcase lagoon and made our way back to the Land to meet our deadline. Although we by-passed a very long line of people, it still took nearly fifteen minutes before we made it into the attraction. Whenever we have to queue up anywhere with the kids, I have to work very hard at keeping them occupied to stave off any boredom. This usually means a lot of horseplay and or repeatedly throwing one or other child up in the air. I’m inevitably exhausted by the time we reach the front of whichever line it is we’ve stood in.

In the end, the ride was a very good one and well worth the wait. We were sat in hanging seats about ten people across and several rows deep (we were lucky enough to be in the front row). The entire contraption was raised up in front of a huge Imax-like screen on which images of souring through the air were projected. The seat contraction from which we were dangling was rocking and tilting gently in sequence with the imagery and the resulting effect was the sensation that you were really gliding through the air. Very nice indeed!

We wandered next door to Imagination next for the family ride again and for the kids to run around in the Imageworks interactive play area. After this, we went over to the Character Spot, where we queued to get our photos taken with some of the more familiar Disney characters. Naturally, I was knackered again by the time we were at the front of the queue. Joey was really showing sings of tiredness by now and we were finding it hard to keep him under control but Sandy wanted him totally exhausted so he’d be more manageable by the time we got home this evening.

Apart from those attractions where there were height restrictions that precluded both kids, one of the areas we’d still not done was the Innoventions centre. It would not long close for the day so we stopped in and let the kids enjoy themselves on a number of hands-on exhibits. One thing that was pretty neat was an exhibit of Segway personal transport vehicles. I actually got to get on one and try it for a few minutes and I must say I was totally impressed. If ever I get the chance, I’ll get me one.

We made one more circuit around the Seas attraction and popped into Spaceship Earth for one last ride before catching the tram back to the car park. Stunningly the kids were both still awake by the time we got home but they drifted immediately into dreamland as soon as their heads hit the pillows.