It wouldn’t be right to continue the Disney redux without publicly thanking my husband’s parents, the elder Chopps (a.k.a. Ann and Bruce, Grandma and Grandpa), for all of their help on the trip. If you know Greg, you know that he has two speeds – fast and stop. Ann and Bruce are the same way, times ten, plus a hundred. Tireless, from the moment they spring from their bed in the morning. It’s the only way to describe them. The only thing that can wear them out are three energetic little girls and one surly teen. See?
That picture was taken on our last day of vacation. Anyway, a HUGE thanks to them for everything up to and including walking all the way back to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at 10:00 p.m., after a full day at Universal Orlando, because someone had cheapskate’s remorse and just had to go back and buy the Hogwarts matching gloves and scarf set. They followed along, without complaint. At least not to my face.
I decided to start with the worst, leaving the best for last. Hollywood Studios. Maybe because it was New Year’s Eve, my dogs were tired, and I would rather have sat by the pool sipping a cocktail, but I am sad to say this was a waste of a day. At least it was for my family. Besides a picture of Mike Wazowski and Sully (Monsters, Inc.), and Jake (Jake and the Never Land Pirates) we really got nothing from this experience. Even the twins weren’t impressed. We sat through a Disney Jr. show that ended with bubbles floating down. And that was the best part of the show. Their words, not mine.
We actually ended up at Hollywood Studios by default. All of the other parks closed because they were at capacity. Fortunately for you, we are charitable folks, willing to lend the wisdom of our experience. And I am here to say, you should expect this if you go between Christmas and New Year’s – or at any one of their peak weeks, for that matter. You either have to get there at the crack of dawn and stand in line, or you run the risk of not getting in at all. Two of the parks had reached capacity by 10:00 a.m. and the third, I believe, while we were waiting in line to park? I don’t recall exactly. Anyway, not our finest moment.
The day was not a complete loss, however. We ended up pulling into a Chili’s because all the nicer restaurants at Hollywood Studios booked up and you couldn’t pay us at that point to choke down another theme park meal. We got seated immediately, had alcoholic beverages (adults only, of course), and at least one of us had so much we ended up with a balloon hat on her head. Later, just as we were tucking the girls in their beds, they were treated to a fireworks display. Right next to the condo. That went on for a couple of hours. It was great.
Best Experience (Family):
Hard to say, really. It probably would be an interactive experience called Turtle Talk With Crush at Epcot. The kids got to sit in front on the floor, while Crush (Finding Nemo) swam around on a screen teaching them about sea turtles. Somehow we ended up in the front row and Cameron and Madison ended up right in front of the screen on the floor. Crush picked Madison out of the crowd – perhaps because of the hat or the blue streak of bangs sticking out or her funky glasses – and actually talked to her for several minutes. He later coined the phrase, “Madison Style”.
He talked to a few other people in the audience, including Greg and I, the “parental units”, and Quincy who froze when Crush’s assistant thrust the microphone in her face. She couldn’t even remember her own name, poor kid. They will remember this, and we’ll be telling this story for the rest of our lives.
I think another good story from this experience, though, is this. As I’m walking with Emily on the way out of the theater, she said something about how cool it was that he could talk to the people but was clearly animated. To which I explained that there are cameras around the room and the person doing the voice over can see and hear everyone in the audience. Her response: “Thanks for ruining the magic, Mom.” This, from the girl who, when I said, “Hey, there’s Pocahontas. Want to get your picture taken with her?” said very flatly, “No, I’m pretty sure Pocahontas didn’t wear red lipstick.”
Teenagers. They slay me.
Best Experience (Mine):
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – It was magical, and not even a Disney attraction. Yep, it’s at a whole different park so you have to buy different, very expensive tickets to get in. It is a part of the Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park.
Just like all the Disney theme parks it was packed full of people. That area of the park was at capacity so we had to stand in line for over an hour just to get in, which was just fine with me. If I had to go all Black Ops on them, I was getting in that place. And it did not disappoint. From the music playing in the background to the butter beer, and so much more. And I didn’t even get into Hogwarts to ride the ride because we spent another hour in line waiting to get into Ollivander’s Wand Shop for the wand experience. Even though you can buy wands off of carts in Hogsmeade, you should go to Ollivander’s. I would definitely go back again.
Despite the fact that “the wand chooses the wizard” in the story, at $37 a wand, I avoided one and let Madison and Emily have their “pick”. You can actually choose one that is unique to you and in that sense, I guess the wand chooses the wizard.
Anyway, as I was taking Emily to school the other day and she startled wiggling in her seat. I asked what the problem was and she said, “I wish I had my wand with me.” I thought that was kind of sweet. That she might think up some spell to soothe the dry skin and keep her back from itching. And then she said, “A wand makes a really good back scratcher.” Talk about ruining the magic.
Other Favorites: Soarin’ (Epcot), Living With The Land (Epcot), It’s Tough To Be A Bug (Animal Kingdom), Finding Nemo – The Musical (Animal Kingdom), Festival of the Lion King (Animal Kingdom), Kali River Rapids (Animal Kingdom), Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (Magic Kingdom), Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Magic Kingdom), The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman (Universal Orlando – Islands of Adventure), Muppet Vision 3-D (Hollywood Studios)
Tips/Resources: I would like to say a huge thank you to my friend, Amy MacEwen, for giving us a tons of information and all sorts of wonderful tips and tricks. She should be designated a Disney Brand Ambassador/Expert, in my book. She told us about Touring Plans, which gives you a printed touring plan of each park depending on when you will be going. Greg printed them out for each day of our trip. What impressed me is that they even tell you when to pick up a fast pass. Our experience using this service is that, while it is extremely helpful, it is best to use it as a rough guide and then prepare to alter the plan when you get in the park.
While I am thanking people, I’d like to include my brother and sister-in-law, Braden and Ashley, for getting the girls started with a pin bag and pins as their Christmas gift. If you’ve never been to Disney World, pin trading is so much fun for the kids. Even Emily got into it and she is 13.
We used TicketMomma.com to get discounted tickets to Universal Orlando, but there are a gazillion other ways to get discounted tickets. Our advice is to order tickets in advance of your trip and don’t wait to pick them up when you get down there.
Finally, just FYI, we felt like Universal’s Express Pass and Meal Plan were well worth the money.
Whew! That’s it folks. Now I have to edit all the pictures and get them into a gallery. I’ve left out only about a million details so if you are going and want some advice, we are happy to answer any questions. Not that going once makes you an expert by any stretch, but believe me, when you get back from seven days of it with four kids, you at least feel like a veteran.
Thanks for reading!