Day 13 – Hollywood Studios and Disney Springs

Sunday 26th August 2018

It was another uncharacteristically late start to the morning, although nobody was complaining about that. The day was NOT going to turn out as we expected. At this point, however, everything looked normal.

This morning’s Waffle House experience was a rather odd one. Being a Sunday, it was quite busy. We were competing for seating with all the church crowds. We eventually managed a table off to one corner. Our waitress was a lovely young lady. Vibrant and bubbly, she took our order and seemed to understand everything we wanted. We expected to have to wait a bit longer for everything to come out given the restaurant was full. When the food did eventually arrive, it did so in dribs and drabs. The last of the food came to the table a full five minutes after the first bits and pieces. Worse still was the fact that some of the order was wrong. Sandy got cheese on her hash browns, for example. That was taken away and replaced with what we think was actually my order. Sandy’s pork chops didn’t arrive until a few minutes later. Our lovely young waitress was so apologetic. She tried to make up for the situation with a bit of friendly chat but seemed genuinely put out by the poor experience we received. When it came to the final bill, we had a further surprise. She was so apologetic that she had removed both Sandy’s and my meals from the bill as well as all the drinks. What we expected to be a $45’ish bill was presented instead as just $8.47. Winning! When I paid, I gave her $20 and said to keep the change.

On the way back to the house, Sandy wanted to stop off at Publix to pick up a few snacks and other provisions for in the house. We agreed I’d park the car while she popped inside. Me and the kids would wait for her. This is when the morning’s problems started. I think the kids were bored. Joey was in an antagonistic mood. I was sitting there, watching the front of the building for Sandy to emerge when Jennifer complained to me that Joey was disturbing her. I looked over my shoulder to find Joey’s foot extended over to Jennifer’s seat, as if to be deliberately antagonising her (this isn’t a particularly uncommon thing). I admonished Joey and told him to keep to his side of the car. Well, you’d have thought that world war three erupted or something. I think Joey felt he was being judged unjustly and launched into a fit of complaints and tears. I was quite tired myself and wasn’t really in the mood for all the drama. I put my foot down to stamp out the whining. Alas, the direct approach like this is never going to work with Joey and I just made the situation worse. His screaming and crying persisted until Sandy came back to the car, all the way back to the house and for a good half hour after we were home again. For some reason, this was just pushing too many of my buttons and I lost all recall of the fact that the direct approach doesn’t work. I just wanted to shut him up and the situation escalated to me threatening and then actually throwing one of his toys in the bin. Of course, that just made the matter even worse. I even managed to drag Sandy into the spat, who got progressively frustrated with me losing my shit. Eventually, and to preserve my own sanity, we had to engage a release valve. In this instance, that was me and Jennifer leaving the house and heading over to Hollywood Studios for a few hours. I left Joey – still crying loudly – in Sandy’s capable hands (although I’m sure she wasn’t thanking me for it). He did calm down eventually – probably moments after I was out the door. Ah, the bliss of being on holiday.

I did my best to put the stresses of parenthood to one side so that Jennifer and I could enjoy ourselves at the theme park. It wasn’t until we were exiting the tram and making our way through the front turnstiles that I had finally reached a bit of equilibrium.

Once again it was an extremely hot day. “It’s Florida out” as I like to put it. Jennifer and I did the usual Florida dance, hopping from one air-conditioned environment to the next. We tried as best we could to stay out of the sun, although that wasn’t always possible. We did get quite hot and bothered a few times during the day. The Toy Story section of the park is especially devoid of shade and air-conditioned environments, like shops or whatever.

We made the journey from the car park to the tram to the main entrance as we had done previously. I had Jennifer’s GoPro with me today and put it to good use taking dozens of short videos that chronicled our day. The first thing we did upon entering the park – once again – was to make a beeline for the Hollywood Tower Hotel. It’s the tallest structure in the park and visible for miles around. We already had a fastpass organised for the ride, but we also fancied a go on the Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster, which is right next to the tower. We popped in there to grab ourselves a DAS return time.

Our Tower of Terror fastpass time was still ten to fifteen minutes away so we spent a little time meandering through the various shops nearby. It was really only window-shopping, but it was at least air-conditioned window-shopping. The difference between the blistering heat of the day and the chilling A/C environment inside the shops couldn’t have been starker.

Our fastpass time eventually came around and we made it back to the tower. A quick scan of our Magic Bands to turn the light green and we were both through. Armed with the GoPro this time around, I managed to score an uninterrupted video of the entire ride from start to finish. Winning!

Back out into the open, we still had a few minutes to kill before the Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster DAS return time, so we hung out for a bit with an ice-cream each – delish!

As with the Tower of Terror, I had the GoPro with me when we went in to the Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster ride. Once again, nobody questioned me filming – even though I was making no secret of it. The ride was good, but I seem to remember that there was rock music blaring from numerous speakers in each of the rollercoaster’s ride chairs. That wasn’t the case this time around. It didn’t really spoil the enjoyment of the ride, but I did notice the difference all the same.

Since we were only going to survive for a couple of hours in this unbelievably oppressive heat, we were only ever going to do the very best attractions, as opposed to meandering round the entire park and taking it all in. Our next destination was the Toy Story section of the park. As luck (or lack thereof) would have it, that was at the far other end of the park. Just getting there meant that our blood was practically boiling by the time we got there. The first thing we did was to get a DAS return time for the Slinky Dog Dash rollercoaster. Getting normal fastpass slots for any of the attractions in the Toy Story land has been pretty much impossible for the past several weeks so we were relying on our DAS passes each time for these attractions. When we arrived to get the DAS return time, they issued us with a printed ticket. I did ask why, and they said their tablet wasn’t working. As it happens, their loss was our gain. Since it wasn’t an electronic DAS, it meant that we could go and get another DAS return time for another attraction. Normally, you have to complete the one you have before you’re allowed another. Since the Slinky DAS was a paper one, there was no way they could determine that we still had an active one. We put that loophole to immediate use and went to get a DAS return time for the Toy Story Mania attraction. Although that was an electronic one, we had no problems obtaining it. Winning!

We still had a good twenty minutes to kill before the Slinky ride return time. The problem was that there was just no damned shade or air-conditioned environment we could hang out in. This does seem like a bit of a design flaw to me as far as the Toy Story world goes. We were so desperate for relief from the piercing sun that we, rather lethargically, walked all the way out of the area to find a building to stand in and cool off. That turned out to be the Walk Disney museum. We spent a good fifteen minutes flat out on the floor in the foyer there. While there, we experimented with the GoPro and the accompanying app on my iPhone. A rather neat feature is a live link between the camera and phone, so you can see on the phone what the camera sees in real time. We played around with how far you could walk away with the camera before the link to the phone gave up. It was a good ten metres or more, so that opens up lots of interesting possibilities.

With our body temperatures returning to a semblance of normality, we hightailed it back over to the Slinky Dog Dash ride and took our place in the fastpass queue. Within a few minutes, we were strapped in and ready for launch. Yet again, I managed to film the entire ride with the GoPro and yet again, none of the cast members bat an eyelid. Winning!

Right after we finished with Slinky Dog, we pretty much went straight in to the Toy Story Mania ride, which was a nice bonus. I’m not sure that I scored any better than the last time I did this a few days ago. Nevertheless, both Jennifer and I really enjoyed the ride.

Having ticked all the boxes we wanted to, we decided we’d call it a day and left the park while we were still on a high. Just as we approached the main entrance, a squad of storm troopers emerged. Led by Captain Phasma herself, they marched off into the park somewhere, accompanied by dramatic music blaring out in all directions.

Since Disney now owns the rights to the Star Wars franchise, they have incorporated all things Star Wars into their theme parks in a big way. A massive new Star Wars section of the park called Galaxy’s Edge is currently under construction.

Because of all the construction work, it’s a slightly longer walk to where you catch the tram, but we made it to the car in the end. Now with our very own portable air-conditioning system, we set off back home. I stopped at a nearby MacDonald’s to pick the kids up a burger each.

Back at the house, I managed to unwind a little from the exertions from the day. That was short-lived, of course, since we needed to do something for dinner. In the end, that turned out to be a visit to the Golden Coral that’s on 192. We’d been in contact with Kirsty and Andy throughout the day. We all decided we’d meet up at the balloon ride over at Disney Springs. Jennifer had originally expressed interest in going up in the balloon. Secretly, it was something I really wanted to do myself anyway.

Over at the Golden Coral, we all topped up on the wide range of menu items they have there. It was particularly busy today, but it didn’t spoil our enjoyment.

With full tummies (and I do mean FULL), we hobbled back into the car and set off to Disney Springs. We met up with Andy, Kirsty and the girls there at the balloon as previously arranged. The atmosphere at Disney Springs was particularly vibrant this evening. There were thousands of people all having a good time listening to the live entertainment.

Andy, bless him, is a lovely character. He does make me laugh quite a bit and is genuinely a great guy to be around. He can be a little clumsy, however. Heaven knows how he managed it, but he did slip on thin air and broke the floor. Yes, I shit you not.

When we first arrived, they were in the process of doing a balloon test flight. It was quite windy today (not that we noticed it much down among all the buildings). The balloon was swaying side-to-side quite a bit. Because of the threat of the balloon being grounded, tickets were only being sold flight-by-flight. They explained that they do this only when there is a threat of the balloon being grounded, so as to avoid the situation of needing to refund lots of people. The balloon takes eight people at a time to around two-hundred feet up on a fixed tether. The entire up and down round-trip takes around ten minutes. After we signed our lives away with the waiver, we were sold our tickets and managed to secure a flight with just the seven of us. Ironically, despite it being Jennifer’s idea originally, she elected to stay on the ground in the end. It did mean she was able to take some groundside photos and video footage to add to that which we took from the air, so that worked out well in the end. The view from two-hundred feet up was breathtaking. The undercarriage has a walk-around cage, so everyone was able to explore the view from the full three-hundred and sixty degrees. Joey initially found it a struggle, choosing to sit on the floor, where he couldn’t see out. With a bit of coaxing, however, he did come around and seemed to enjoy the experience.

Once safely back on the ground, we thanked our captain and bought the souvenir photo they snapped of us just before boarding. It was a little obvious and touristy, but the photo actually did look very good and we got several physical formats as well as the digital file, so everyone was happy with that. With a bit of social engineering, I also managed to score a couple of extra keyring photo holders, which meant we’d have a total of four instead of two – one each for us four adults.

With the excitement of the balloon ride subsiding, we all made it back to the car park and went off our separate ways. On the way home, the kids were having fun with each other (as opposed to being at each other’s throats). This happens every now and then, and we often wish we could record it for posterity AND to prove to others that they can indeed get on well with each other when they want. Sandy surreptitiously switched on the GoPro to try to record as much of their banter as possible. Naturally, their sixth sense kicked in and they were subsequently much less chatty once the camera was recording.

Back at the house, we offloaded all the cameras and phones. For good measure, I took a backup of the laptop. Everyone was quite quickly in bed and off to Lala land. For my part, the best I could manage was a brief summation of the day with a few notes. The actual blog would need to get completed tomorrow.