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  • Writer's pictureAnne B 10milesfrom

Big Trip 2024 - Florida and Disneyworld!

The best cuddles!!

(So, some of you have commented that you think we have kept really busy on this trip. That was nothing compared to the next phase where we met up with family, including our lovely, just 4 year old, Grandson! We are now officially shattered!!) Consequently, I am 2 weeks behind with the posts, and we are now safely home!)

From Cancun it is just a 90 minute flight to Miami, with great views of Cuba, the Florida Keys and the Everglades. We picked up our hire car, and, thanks to the lovely Angelina, we got a free upgrade to a 7 seater. We then waited for Peter and Tracy to arrive from London with a very excited Arthur. Actually,  I'm not sure who was more excited, Arthur or Grandma! After the usual airport shenanigins, I drove up the Florida turnpike to Orlando, and our rental house in Villas at Seven Dwarfs, Kissimmee!

Nothing to do with Disney, but a nice, smallish, private gated community... as are most things here. Our cottage was just right. 3 bedrooms, and a nice lounge and kitchen.

Best of all it was 2 minutes walk from a large lake, swimming pool, splash Park and playground, which were pretty quiet most of the time. The price was a lot more affordable than most, and it was really well located just 20 minutes drive from all the Disney parks. By now it was 10pm Florida time and 3am  UK time, so we all headed for bed! The English contingent were awake early thanks to the time difference, so we went off for a walk around the lake. Well, maybe not right around!

There was a variety of wading birds too. Suddenly, a little, ominous dark object was stealthily moving towards us! 2 alligator eyes!! He came quite close which was very exciting as Arthur's current favourite animals are Crocodiles and Alligators! Apparently there are 2 that live in 'our' lake.... and this was the small one!

We had wanted to alternate Disney theme park days with quieter ones, but next week was spring break here, and the parks were forecast to be packed, so we decided to have a quiet day 1, and then do 3 consecutive park days if Arthur's stamina was up to it. (And Grandpa's!) I have only highlighted a few things from each park. There is so much to see and do, and a lot of it is more educational than you might expect, mixed with a great dose of nostalgia at seeing characters and rides from films you remember as a child. Photos were tricky, especially indoors, and, understandably, Arthur's parents have asked for no full face photos on social media, hence the occasional sticker!

Day 1  Shopping for food meant rediscovering the vastness of America's Supermarkets, which devote only about 10% of their floorspace to food! We had all been to the USA before, and a big surprise/shock was that in shops like Target and Walmart there was still a huge emphasis on fairly unhealthy food. Most products had quite high levels of sugar and additives, and when we got to the tills they were dishing out plastic carrier bags like confetti, and seemed astonished when we produced our own bags. Sometimes you have to go abroad to realise your own country is doing really well at some things! Next we headed to Disney Springs, a free area of boardwalks by a lake, with some nice eateries, shops and Disney statues to ease us into the mood.

We had a good meal at the amazing TRex cafe, which was themed with full Disney expertise. Divided into 3 seamless section, outdoors with the planets above, under the sea, and an ice cave. Huge and very effective animatronic dinosaurs and sea creatures were all around, and every 10 minutes there was a meteor shower and volcanic eruption! Not good for the digestion, but very impressive.

The 2 'children' then spent a good while building cars to race in the Lego play area.

Ok, Grandma might have built one too!

Day 2 To Disney's Magic Kingdom by paddle steamer! Why did we bother going to New Orleans?! The public transport system is one of the real miracles of Disney, using boats, monorail and trams to shuttle people with minimal waits between carparks, theme parks and resorts

It was a return visit to Disney for Grandma, Grandpa and Peter, but it was lovely to view it through Arthur's eyes. It had been his 4th birthday 3 days before, so Peter had booked a surprise breakfast with the Winnie the Pooh characters! Grandma sneaked a few hugs too!

Collecting character autographs is very popular, and Arthur took this very seriously, and amassed quite a collection in his new book. A rather lovely tradition is that if a child wants a hug, the character will not be the one to end it.

The park was busy but Peter used the Lightning and Standby systems to good effect, so we got on all the rides we wanted to, and Peter and Tracy were able to do some big rides while we did gentler things with Arthur! I am hopelessly travel sick on anything that swings, spins, twists or goes too fast, so even this was pushing my comfort zone!

The afternoon parade was magical, especially the fire breathing dragon!

Magic Kingdom is divided into themed lands. Tomorrowland contains Disney rides with a futuristic theme, like Buzz Lightyear. Peter, Tracy and Grandpa went on Tron, a super fast motorbike ride. Chris looks as if he is ready to compete in the Isle of Man TT!

We had decided to stay for the fireworks at 8pm, but Arthur fell asleep just before! How he slept through the cacophony of noise I do not know, but the combination of light show and fireworks was super, culminating in a real tinkerbell flying from the top turret of the castle across the park above our heads.

Disney can certainly still do magic.

Day 3 was to Disney's Animal Kingdom. This was even better than we remembered. Excellent boat rides, 3D cinema shows and a 'real' jungle safari across vast areas that have been converted into jungle, savannahs and watering holes making excellent habitats for an impressive range of animals.

The baby elephant born in December was a real treat, as were the hippos! These are live animals, not animatronic, and the park plays a very active role in conservation work, using Disney characters to promote the message. Arthur, Grandma and Grandpa went on a successful Tiger search while Peter and Tracy braved the Everest rollercoaster.

We also found gorillas, apes scaling ancient temples and Komodo dragons that we had been unable to visit in Indonesia! They can grow up to 10ft long, run at 12mph, have wickedly serrated teeth and venom which prevents their victim's blood clotting!

Day 4 to the amazing Epcot Centre, a combination of informative rides and experiences. Apart from the giant dome, a key feature of Epcot is the huge lake, surrounded by vast pavilions, each from a different country, and themed to reflect that.

For example the British area has the Rose and Crown pub, a tea garden, castle and the gift shop is a baronial Hall. Food reflects a national theme. .  So of course there was a Fish and Chip shop too, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan and some great T shirts for Monty Python fans! If you know, you know!!

Some pavilions contain rides, experiences or films, usually publicising the country in a gentle way. The gentle ride up inside the dome tells the story of man's evolution from the dawn of time to now, and was perfectly narrated by Dame Judi Dench! Another excellent ride is Soaring, which simulates a hangglider flying over some of the world's most iconic sights, and through a group of elephants and over polar bears. It was magical. Peter, Tracy and Grandpa went on the Guardians of the Galaxy ride, while Arthur and I chose the more sedate Frozen, which is in the Norway pavilion, and was once the Maelstrom ride. Toned down a little, it still had a backwards water splash, which Arthur was not too sure about! However, he coped really well compared to Grandpa. The description of his ride had been a bit misleading, and he reappeared a dazed, dizzy and broken man!! It took him a good few hours to recover!!

Well, until lunchtime when he managed a beer! It was the Epcot Flower festival while we were there, with beautiful displays and wonderful topiary Disney characters.

All around the lake were pop up food kiosks themed to each country, with some great snack options at surprisingly reasonable prices. The savouries were yummy, but my absolute favourite was this caramelised, vanilla filled Beignet from the french stall!

France had a new ride based on the film Ratatouille, using a new generation of technology. You are in a 'car' following Remy the rat chef under the tables and chairs. He gets spotted and a chase ensues. It appears as if your car goes in different directions to the one in front, and is quite thrilling!

For the first few days of our park visits, I often called Arthur David, and I realised I was being transported back over 32 years ago when I had first visited here with the children, when David was 2 and in a pushchair! Many things here have not changed at all! Dinner was a return to an old favourite, the Mexican restaurant, set as if in a Mexican courtyard, with Disney stars above, a river ride, temple and a Volcano.

Perhaps Chris and I needn't have gone to Mexico either! Good food too!

Then home at a more reasonable time. This was Friday night, and, we had been warned, it was the one noisy night...Karaoke at the clubhouse! It was loud, some of it was way off tune, but, as promised, on the dot of 11pm, while 3 ladies were attempting to belt out 'I will Survive' the metaphorical needle was lifted from the record, and silence fell! Arthur slept through it all anyway!

Day 5 A complete change! A 2 hour drive east to Crystal River and Three sisters state park where we met up with lovely cousin Beth and her husband Jay. We enjoyed a walk around the Crystal clear springs, but sadly, the Mantees, who winter in the warm springs because the Gulf is too cold, had left a few days before due to the better weather arriving! Pic 3 is what we might have seen!

There were birds, fish and a turtle, and we enjoyed a super lunch at Cajun Jimmies fresh seafood cafe, one of Beth and Jay's favourites. They are Snowbirds, spending the winter down here in their camper to escape the Northern winters and be near Beth's father. We enjoyed wonderfully fresh fish in a very welcoming, traditional setting.

Back to our villa, and a swim in the pool before a nice evening of games.

Day 6, Sunday! Disney Hollywood Studios and braced for the crowds! It wasn't too bad, and the Disney miracle number 2 is that, even at peak times like today, there was never a queue for the loo, and every loo was spotlessly clean everytime. Queues for refreshment outlets were short, and using the lightening pass again we had only short waits for rides. One of our main goals was to pace Arthur and keep him awake for Disney's best fireworks and live action show, Fantasmic at 8pm. We achieved this quite easily. A favourite activity here was the Indiana Jones stunt show which appears to have changed little from when we first saw it 30 years ago! Arthur loved it!

Other highlights were the whole of the new Star wars themed area,

the Toy Story section, including Arthur's first real roller coaster ride, on Slinky,

and the general architecture, some of which is art deco 1930s. There is a copy of the Hollywood Chinese Theatre, and many stars have visited and created handprints.

The Fantasmic show was sensational, and many Disney characters appeared at the end on a boat. Arthur loved it. It may sound trivial, but to look around and see literally thousands of people, mainly adults, smiling and waving to characters, or suddenly exclaiming "Look, it's Snow White" or "There's Baloo" was quite liberating! They were allowing their inner child a moment of freedom! Very therapeutic!

The new Star Wars area in this park contains a new ride which had immense queues all day.

After Fantasmic, we took Arthur home, and Peter and Tracy took advantage of shorter queues to ride it, and have cocktails in the Star Wars bar! They got an Uber back and said it was a brilliant ride and experience!

Day 7 was a relaxing day starting with a quick check in the lake!

Then brunch at Cracker Barrel, a mainly southern states institution that Tracy remembered from visits to the US with her parents many years ago. They serve a really excellent breakfast at very affordable prices! I just had to have the Grandma Special.

That afternoon there was a bit more swimming and then a great game of crazy golf on the excellent Congo River course 10 minutes walk from our villa.

Peter won, but only 2 people got holes in One.... Arthur and Grandma.

Day 8 was a relaxed morning. Chris and I went to Lake Kissimmee for a walk and watched Osprey catching fish, and saw these birds called Limpkins!

Then a return to Epcot using our 7 day pass to further explore the country pavilions, do the rides we missed and hopefully stay for the fireworks. The FindingNemo ride is whimsical fun but it ends in a world class aquarium, with so much educational information. In the vast tanks, we finally got to see Manatees, which were huge but so graceful.

In the wild they eat Seagrass, but here they love Lettuce, consuming over 100 heads a day each. The Manatees here have been injured in the wild, and after rehabilitation will return to wherever they were found. We also saw sharks, dolphins turtles and rays up close, as well as seahorses, spectacular prawns and many fish!

The Moana water experience is lovely on a hot day and follows the water cycle, with interactive water encounters, including a super water harp.

The butterfly garden is interesting too. Arthur was fascinated, and we watched the lime green and black one unfurl its wings for the very first time! Beautiful!

We made it to the spectacular firework and laser show, but we didn't think it was as good as the other 2 night shows we had seen, and was incredibly loud, which some children didn't like.