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Orlando Vacation - 5 Cents
Posted by: Mark Nichols

16 Mar 2007

I spent this week in Florida visiting Disney for two days and Universal for two days. Here's a quick review:


Day 1 - Epcot Center


Epcot has the big globe thing, which I used to think was the entire park and that all the rides and attractions were inside. Actually, it's just one ride, called Spaceship Earth.


The main rides to get on are:


1) Mission: Space, which has two choices - Orange, for more thrilling, and Green, which is for the fainter of heart. You basically pretend to fly to Mars. Gary Sinise is there to talk you through it (with his weird looking hair - seems like hair implants or whatever the latest procedure is... or maybe it was filmed 20 years ago. Whatever).


2) Soarin', which is a ride in front of a big video screen, kind of like you're flying.


3) Test Track, which is meant to simulate the tests vehicles are put under like acceleration and braking.


Disney has a nice system down called FastPass. Anyone with a ticket can go to a ride and "fastpass" it (you insert your ticket, then it spits out a ticket and an hour-long time period when you can come back and go through the speedy line). When you first get to a park, it's a good idea to immediately fastpass one of the more popular rides, so you won't have to wait in line forever. When it spits you out your fastpass ticket, it will also tell you when you can next fastpass another ride (you can't fastpass everything all at once. You might only get in 3 fastpass rides a day). But using fastpass will cut the wait by more than half, and since everyone has the chance to do it, there isn't as much of a reason for everyone in the slow line to glare evilly at you.


I remembered Epcot as the most fun of the Disney parks when I went 11 years ago. It's a more adult kind of park, with country sections around the park that have themed shops, restaurants, rides, and shows in each. The Chinese acrobats were amazing, and it was fun to hear a Bag-piper with a rock band, but generally I just wasn't that impressed this time around. Soarin' seemed to be the most popular ride (judging by wait time), but it was not that fun. And the Orange Mission: Space ride seemed tame compared to any roller coaster at Six Flags.


Day 2: Magic Kingdom


Magic Kingdom can't be beat for atmosphere. It's definitely family friendly, and there are plenty of opportunities to see characters from the Disney classics. The Cinderella castle is amazing just to look at from a distance, and there are different themed sections around the park that each offer plenty of rides. You should fastpass one of the main rides as soon as you get in the park. The best in my opinion are:


1) Space Mountain - a roller coaster ride that's mostly in the dark.


2) Splash Mountain - a water ride that won't get you too wet if you sit in one of the back two rows.


3) Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - another roller coaster, but not as good as Space Mountain.


You should also ride the Mad Tea Party since it's famous and stuff. Pirates of the Caribbean sounds like a lot of fun but is overrated. The Haunted Mansion compared to other rides isn't a big deal, but when compared to other haunted houses is pretty neat. And the Jungle Cruise was tame but your guide has lines memorized that are pretty funny.


A lot of rides at Disney include neat robotics, and that by itself can be pretty cool. But basically, don't expect a lot of thrills at Disney. A lot of the rides have you sit down and watch these neat robotics, so it can get old, fast.


There is a parade around 3 pm that includes a ton of Disney characters. The streets get pretty crowded, so you'll need a sneaky spot to witness it all. Try Pecos Bill Caf. Get there 10 minutes early and you should be fine. There's outdoor seating there, and you can stand on a stone wall that has a short fence on top. You can get to this sneaky spot without going through the caf and without ordering something. You'll practically be on the street and the people on the other side of the fence stand lower than you so you can see right over and take good pictures.


There is another parade at night and some fireworks, but after a day in lines and walking so much (and being disappointed in the thrill aspect at the Disney parks), my wife and I didn't bother sticking around. We didn't even bother going to MGM or Animal Kingdom for the same reason - lack of thrill rides.


Day 3: Universal Islands of Adventure


Parking isn't as efficient at Universal as it is at Disney, but the rides are more fun. The express pass system is a little different, too. Once you're in the park, find a sign that says "Express passes sold here" and buy one. It's in addition to your basic ticket and costs about $20 extra per day, but it'll save you a lot of time in line. (A basic week-long ticket at Universal which includes access to Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios costs about $90 a person. Add in the Express Pass option for two days of visits and it's another $40 or so. $130 for a week versus mega-bucks at Disney seems like a good deal, especially for thrill seekers like me and my wife.) The Express Pass allows you to go through the speedy line once per ride. Again I say - it's worth it.



The Hulk, Spiderman, and Dr. Doom rides in the Marvel Super Hero Island were all good rides. The Dueling Dragons roller coaster in The Lost Continent was also neat, although I only rode one of them (there are two dragon coasters - fire and ice. They're supposedly different, but I didn't want to wait in line again because the line winds through a dungeon-like area which is very stuffy).


All in all, it was a fun day that didn't take up the entire day (in part because of the Express Pass; in part because the park isn't as big as Disney).


Day 4: Universal Studios Florida


There are a lot of big-name kind of rides here, but they all end up being a little too similar - use of a video screen with some spraying/seat movement combination, or just a lot of jostling. Back to the Future, Jimmy Neutron, Shrek 4-D... even Terminator 2, were all neat in their concepts, but all a little too similar in their execution. I read that Back to the Future will no longer be a ride after March this year (2007), so it's good that I got to go on it.


The Express Pass saved us a lot of time again, but if you really have a week to spend at these two parks, there may not be a need to buy it. You'll have plenty of time to wait in line and still get to every ride. Be mindful of when you are visiting, though. I imagine weekends and the middle of summer would be busier.



Notes I was too lazy to add to the actual article

- Universal also has a water park that we did not attend.

- Universal also has an area called City Walk, which is a bunch of clubs and restaurants you're forced to walk by on your way to either of the two theme parks we visited. We did not check out anything in this area, but Universal definitely skews towards a more "hip" crowd than Disney. (Maybe "hip" isn't the word the kids are using now-a-days. But it's tough to keep up with those young whippersnappers and their lingo.)

- Traffic around Orlando, even in rush hour, is not bad. There is a lot of construction, though.

- The food at Universal seemed pricier than at Disney, not that we checked out every place imaginable. But we ate a meal at Disney once for eight dollars (combined!) by buying a kid's meal and a garden salad. Disney had more expensive fancy restaurants, too, and if you're expecting to eat in the castle at Magic Kingdom, make sure you make reservations as soon as you know when you'll be there. I think they take reservations months in advance.

- I recommend cargo shorts when you go to amusement parks - enough room to carry your camera, wallet, Pop-Tarts, bottle of water, and whatever else, so that you don't have to wait to get your bags inspected as you're entering any of the parks.

© 2007 Dime Brothers
Category: Product Review    

Reader Comments:

Universal Studios Florida
I forgot to mention my favorite ride in Universal Studios Florida - The Mummy Returns. It's like a roller coaster without loops but it catches you off guard, which is fun.
18 Mar 2007
Parking at Disney costs $10. Parking at Universal costs $11. I think Universal makes you pay extra because you're in line longer. ha ha. Or maybe it's because you get covered parking at Universal (but not at Disney). And the lots are better labeled at Universal, ya know, so you can actually find your way back.
18 Mar 2007
I can't believe you think that MGM has no thrill rides. I went on a 4 day hopper pass to Disney in 2003 and everyone in my group agreed that MGM's Rock and Roll Rollercoaster is by far the best ride in all of disney parks. Add to that the Tower of Terror (another awesome ride) and I would place MGM over Epcot.
19 Mar 2007
I know that MGM and Animal Kingdom each have thrill rides, but we decided 4 straight days of theme parks was enough. We would have done MGM on the 5th day had we gone anywhere, but 2 or 3 big rides wasn't enough motivation. All in all, it seems like it's worth sticking around the northeast and going to Six Flags (as long as it's the summer) instead of heading to Disney.
20 Mar 2007

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