Travel History

Tracy McCully

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Orlando & Daytona Beach

Year: 2017

April 2017 

I recently returned from a trip to Orlando where I spent a few days at the theme parks and took a little day trip to Daytona Beach.

 

Flight: Air Transat nonstop from Moncton

This was great in that the flight was only 3.5 hours.  Buy-on-board meals or you can bring your own.  No seatback entertainment but they do show a movie on little screens that come down from the ceiling every few rows.

 

Car Rental: Dollar

I had reserved an intermediate car rental through our in-house tour operator, Holiday Escapes.  I paid $181.00CAD for the rental prior to leaving home.  When we got to the Dollar Car Rental desk at Orlando Airport we were then told that the local fees and the insurance that we took (3rd party liability) would be approximately $153US. 

We were offered the EZ Pass for the toll highways at $52US.  The agent explained that you can pay as you go but not if you want to go to the West Coast (Tampa, St Pete's, Clearwater etc) as you must have the EZ Pass for that route.  We decided to go to Daytona instead so that we could pay as we went.  We ended up only paying about $15 in tolls.  But we missed one ($0.75) and when we got back to Canada we received a letter with a $15 fine.

We also chose to bring the car back with a full gas tank.  Even though the agent said there are gas stations near the airport just before you enter she neglected to tell us that they charge a lot more (gas prices are not regulated in the US)....$4.59/gallon vs $2.15/gallon elsewhere.  It also took us time to return the rental car as we got a bit turned around so make sure you leave ample time for this so you do not miss your flight.

 

Hotel: Celebration Suites at Old Town, Kissimmee

Located right on highway US192 this hotel had a great location with all kinds of restaurants and shopping near by...Wal-Mart, Olive Garden, etc.  International Drive (Universal Studios and Sea World) is not far away and there is easy access to the east/west I-4 highway and just follow the signs for Disneyworld.  Very easy.  Next door is Old Town...this is a little tourist area with shops, eaterys and an amusement park.

This hotel has a 3-star rating.  It is a large hotel with buildings spread out.   We checked in at the main building and were then sent to the tour desk to "exchange a voucher for a parking pass". A nice little setup for getting us to speak to the guys who want to sell you tours and book you into timeshare/vacation club presentations.  The hotel has a complimentary shuttle to the theme parks but the schedule did not work for us.  It really is meant for those who intend to stay at the parks all day. We ended up just driving there and paying for parking ($20/day).  A continental breakfast was included each morning. We could choose 3 items plus coffee/juice.

Each building has 2 floors but no elevator.   Each suite has a balcony or terrace.  Our suite consisted of a living room with TV, bathroom, bedroom with TV and extra sink&vanity and kitchen with table&chairs, full fridge, dishwasher, sink, microwave, 2-burner stove.  Dishes, cutlery and pots&pans provided.  There was a bottle of dishwasher soap but no dishcloths or dishtowels.  Our suite was serviced daily but the floors were not swept enough (After our day at the beach we had to live with sand on the floor for the rest of the week).  The TV in the bedroom and telephone were not working when we first arrived.  The TV eventually worked but the phone never did get attended to.

In our section there were 4 buildings that surrounded the central pool.  The pool and pool area were clean with ample lounger chairs and towels were available right there too.  Only 4 tables with umbrellas however.  The pool was never crowded as most people were out and about during the afternoons.

 

Day trip to Daytona Beach

It was about a 2 hour drive from Orlando to Daytona Beach.  We paid $15 to park for the day.  There are washrooms near the pier.  This part of the beach does not have lifeguards but if you go further down to where the hotels are you will see lifeguards.  You can rent a chair&umbrella or just throw down your towel for free.  There are a couple of snack places (pizza, beer, foodtruck) and shops selling beach gear.  The waves were big and it was nice to be at the beach.  We had lunch at Joe's Crab Shack on the pier.

 

 Universal Studios

A few things have changed since I was last here 25 years ago but many have not.  It was a long walk from the parking garage for sure. The Hollywood and New York areas look the same with Mel's Diner and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  They still have the Horror Make-up Show which was fun as well as an air-conditioned reprieve from the heat.  Some of the attractions are "Transformers", "The Mummy Returns", "Shrek 3-D", "Minion Mayhem", "Jimmy Fallon's Race Through New York".  There are scheduled live performances throughout the park.  We took in the Blues Brothers show.

And of course, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley.  I've only seen the first Harry Potter movie but still wanted to check out this area and it's very neat. You are immersed into the world of Harry Potter and you can drink a butterbeer ($7.50US), have lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, buy a wand, and get suited up for your next Quidditch match.  If you have a park-to-park pass you can take the Hogwarts express train to Hogsmeade at Universal's Islands of Adventure. On the train your "window" is actually a screen and you see interesting things out your window.  Once at Hogsmeade there are more shops, restaurants  and rides.

Islands of Adventure has many larger rides.  There are height requirements for these rides so check online in advance before taking children to these parks to avoid disappointment.  One thing I noticed is that Universal is less crowded than Disney and certainly a fewer number of strollers.  It really is geared towards older children and adults.

 

Disney's Magic Kingdom

We drove to the park and paid $20 for parking.  Your parking ticket is valid for the day so you can come and go as you please.  This worked great for us because it was so hot. We went from 9:30-1 and then back to the hotel for lunch and a rest and then back to the park at 6:30pm and stayed until after the "Wishes" fireworks show at 9pm.  After parking your car you must wait for the people-mover trolley to take you to the Disney transportation area.  Here you can choose to get to the Magic Kingdom by monorail, ferry or bus.  We decided to try the ferry.  Not a great choice because it was a long wait.

 I was in awe of how many people were there at the gates to enter the park. This is where I learned first-hand about the value of the Disney Fast Pass.  The thing that has changed the most in 25 years are the number of people in the parks and, as a result, the excessively long lineups for the rides.  One was 105 minutes!  Each person is allowed 3 fast-pass entrances per day.  You can wait until you get to the park and go to a kiosk to pick your Fast Pass times but if you want  to avoid disappointment you may want to visit www.mydisneyexperience.com before you even leave home and set up your fast passes. 

Not a whole lot has changed here since my last visit except for the Little Mermaid ride and Belle's village with Gaston's restaurant and the Beast's castle. Main Street, Liberty Square, Frontierland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland are pretty much the same.  The nightly fireworks show "Wishes" was amazing and is not to be missed!

 

Disney's Animal Kingdom

They were just starting to build this back in 1992 so this was my first time at this park.  I found it to be smaller in size than Magic Kingdom but that may be an optical illusion.  We lucked out and got a fastpass for the Kilimanjaro Safari.....probably the most popular attraction. In an open-air vehicle your driver takes you on a safari where we were lucky to see rhinos, zebras, elephants, lion, giraffes, hippos and a few different bird species as well. 

We went to two shows....."Finding Nemo, the musical" and "Festival of the Lion King".  Both were amazing and again, a little reprieve from the heat.  We also saw the 3-D show "It's Tough to be a Bug" located inside the Tree of Life....and what a work of art that is!  It is the focal point of the park with the "lands" surrounding it.

The big rides are "Expedition Everest", "Kali River Rapids".

There are many, many eaterys and shops throughout the park.  This is what I noticed about both parks.....more places to spend money than actual attractions.

 

Disney Springs

 One evening we drove to Disney Springs (formerly called Downtown Disney).  This is family-friendly but more adult-oriented with lots of shops, restaurants, bars&pubs and entertainment and alcohol is served.  Parking is free here.  Our first stop was the huge Disney store.  I marvelled at the artwork on the walls and ceilings and my BFF and I had fun trying on the different hats....Minnie Mouse ears etc.  There was free live entertainment throughout.  We stopped and listened to a gal singing and playing guitar at the Irish pub, Raglan Road.  We stopped for a bite to eat in the Food Truck area and next to us another young entertainer serenaded us with some country music. 

Cirque du Soleil has a theatre here.  If you want to see their show, La Nouba,  it's a good idea to get your tickets in advance.  The House of Blues has big name concerts too so check out their schedule online and pre-purchase tickets before you leave home.

If you like your Kate Spade bags or Alex&Ani bracelets then you will be happy because there are a lot of high-end stores here.  AMC has a 10-cinema movie house where you can enjoy a Dine-in Movie  experience.  Other notable dining venues are Planet Hollywood Observatory and the Rainforest Café.