Early on our first morning, after spending the night at the Miami Sheraton, we picked up our hired car from the car hire depot across the road from the hotel, and set out on our journey to Walt Disney World Orlando. We hadn’t planned to visit any of the Disney parks until the following day, so we took our time and made our way up the scenic coastal route. We started out on Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, and headed up towards Palm Beach.
Walt Disney World, Orlando
We reached Palm Beach just after midday and decided to take a break for lunch. Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar is on Clematis Street, and it looked perfect for lunch. A man with a guacamole station came to our table and asked if we wanted some fresh guacamole. We ordered some spicy guacamole, and he got to work straight away peeling the avocados. A few moments later we had a bowl of nachos and probably the freshest, tangiest guacamole I have ever had. To follow I had a steak and shrimp taco with a cool refreshing Mojito.
After lunch we sauntered around Palm Beach before continuing our journey up towards Orlando. After a leisurely drive we arrived late afternoon at the Best Western Lake Buena Vista. I had booked an ‘Epcot firework view’ room, so we would be able to view the daily Epcot fireworks from our room and balcony. Once we had settled in we decided to have a chilled evening, in preparation for an action packed 6 days in Disney. So we relaxed on the balcony, ordered some room service, and watched the Epcot fireworks. Perfect.
Best Western Lake Buena Vista
The Best Western Lake Buena Vista is located in the outer Disney resort area, just a few hundred yards from Downtown Disney. One of the perks of this hotel being in the Disney resort area is that you can catch the Disney transport buses. The buses, right from the hotel’s front door, run every half hour to all the parks, every hour to the water parks, and there is a regular service to Downtown Disney! The buses start running an hour before each park opens, and carry on until an hour or so after each of the parks close. The buses to Downtown Disney run well into the early hours so you can take advantage of the great nightlife that is on offer there, unless you are too exhausted from a day in one of the Disney parks!
Walt Disney World, 7 Day Unlimited Ticket and Disney FastPass+
Walt Disney World is made up of four main parks; Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, along with two water parks; Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach. An addition to the parks, Walt Disney World Orlando consists of Downtown Disney, Disney’s BoardWalk, numerous resort hotels and also the hotels which make up the ‘Walt Disney World Resorts’.
When booking Disney tickets online you have a choice of 7, 14 or 21 day passes (you can buy 1, 3 and 5 days passes at the parks upon arrival if you prefer). As we had 6 days in Orlando we opted for the 7 day pass. The unlimited ticket allows you 7 full days in any of the Disney parks, and the two water parks over a 14 day period. You can also park hop between 2 or more parks on the same day, so you could spend the day in Magic Kingdom then head over to Epcot for the evening fireworks. The 7 day pass was £259pp, but the 14 and 21 day passes work out considerably cheaper.
The opening hours in the Disney parks differ from day to day, and also differ by park. They open from as early as 8am and close from between 6 – 9pm during the week, and as late as 1am at the weekends and holidays. We were lucky enough to visit Disney on Halloween, so we were able to go to ‘Mickey’s not so scary Halloween party’. This was not included in the unlimited ticket, and the additional ticket cost about £40pp. The park was decorated for Halloween, and there were fireworks and parades throughout the evening.
When you arrive on your first morning and activate your ticket you are given a card the size of a credit card, that is required for entry to the parks. It is also required for FastPass+ rides. FastPass+ allows you to pick three rides, or attractions, every day for which you can choose an hour window where you can queue jump. You can pick your selections online, at a FastPass+ booth in any of the parks, or on the Disney app on your smart phone.
You can also purchase a ‘Magicband‘ that is linked to your card so that you can just tap your band on the touchpad instead of getting the card out your wallet each time. By adding a credit or debit card to your FastPass+ card and Magicband you can make payments for food, and gifts in the Disney stores. You can also use the app to make dinner reservations at any of the Disney restaurants in any of the parks, or any of the restaurants in downtown Disney.
Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Orlando
The Magic Kingdom is the original park in Walt Disney World Orlando, and is the magical home to all the Disney stars; from the original well known stars such as Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy, to the newer editions such as Captain Jack Sparrow and Perry the Platypus. The park is arranged over 6 unique, themed lands, each packed full of rides, attractions, retail outlets, restaurants, snack vendors and even photo opportunity areas with your favourite stars. Cinderella’s castle is the central attraction, with all the lands leading off from this focal point. And if this wasn’t enough, there are daily parades along Mainstreet USA – a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of your favourite Disney character!
The second of the parks to open, Epcot, is represented by a huge geodesic sphere, that is known as Spaceship Earth. The sphere is also home to the Spaceship Earth attraction, a time-machine themed ride showing the advances in human communication over the years. The rest of the park is divided into two main areas. The World Showcase is located around the lagoon, and showcases 11 different countries from Mexico to Morocco. Each area is themed to match a building, area or landscape which the country is famous for, and includes shops, restaurants, attractions, rides and shows that represent that country. The other main area of the park is divided into areas themed by sea, land, space, imagination and innovation, with rides, attractions, shops and restaurants themed to these areas. Epcot is famous for its nightly IllumiNations show, featuring fireworks, lasers, fire, and water fountains which usually takes place at 9pm at the World Showcase lagoon… not to be missed!
Originally called Disney-MGM Studios, Disney’s Hollywood Studios was the third park to open at Walt Disney World. This park is all about show business, with attractions such as live stunt performances, and interactive 4D shows, and thrilling rides such as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. The Hollywood Studios are represented by The Sorcerer’s Hat, this version was devised from the original Sorcerer’s Hat, from Fantasia. Watch out for random live street performances which occur all over the park.
The Animal Kingdom is the newest of the four main Disney parks. This park boasts everything from high adrenalin rides, such as the thrilling Expedition Everest, to a chance to get up close and personal with many animals, on a half hour safari tour. The park is made up of 6 main areas, with a 7th under construction. These include lands such as Africa, and Asia, with each showcasing wildlife and animals from that region. Discovery Island is the central area of the park and is home to the Tree of Life, the symbol of which is the logo that represents the park. The Tree of Life, standing at 145 feet tall is an artificial tree, with many animals sculpted into the trunk.
Disney Water parks
There are two main water parks at Disney; Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard a Beach. Typhoon Lagoon is based on the Disney legend of a typhoon that savaged a tropical Paradise. Blizzard Beach is based on the legend of a freak snow storm which hit Florida, leading to Florida’s first ski resort. After the snow melted, it left behind a mountain of melting snow and a waterlogged mess of ski lifts and jumps. During my short visit to Disney I didn’t get a chance to visit either, but for me this is just an excuse to return again soon!
Downtown Disney & Disney’s BoardWalk
Downtown Disney and Disney’s BoardWalk are shopping, dining and entertainment areas located on the Disney site. They are open year round and have no entrance fee. They also offer free parking and free transportation to the Disney resorts. Planet Hollywood, Rainforest Cafe, and Cirque du Soleil are some of the main attractions located here.
My unforgettable 6 days of Disney ended with a glass of Prosecco, while standing on the shores of the Showcase Lagoon at Epcot watching the IllumiNations. A perfect ending to my stay. This was not, however, the end of my road trip. After the IllumiNations I headed back to the hotel for some sleep before the long drive to Key West, for the next part of my Florida adventure.