Sharing a Few of my Favorite Things

One of my favorite things about living in Orlando is being able to visit Walt Disney World whenever I want. I know, I know. Orlando is much more than a bunch of theme parks, and there are plenty of people who think Disney parks are for people who can’t handle the real world. But there is just something about strolling along Main Street, cotton candy scent lingering in the air, that makes me feel happy. It’s like I’m on vacation along with everyone else in the park, when in reality, I have to be back at work on Monday.

Disney Magic on Main Street USA Orlando
Magic Kingdom in 2012 with my beautiful then-roomies!

That’s why I was so excited to share the Disney magic (did I really just say that?) with my brother Jared on his first-ever visit to Orlando this fall. I’ve lived in Orlando for just over eight years, and Jared has heard plenty about my adopted hometown from myself and the sisters who visited me. My descriptions of brightly lit parade floats, attractions that never cease to amaze, and perfection in the form of corn dog nuggets meant this first visit had a lot to live up to.

We started our day off at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a park which, when it was first created, was designed to give guests a peek at the movie-making process. Nowadays, the park is more about rides and shows and less about movie magic, but it retains the nostalgic vibe of Hollywood’s Golden Age. This is a park I could photograph all day long.

Disney Hollywood Studios Grauman's Chinese Theater Great Movie Ride
In addition to being a fabulous replica of the Grauman’s original Chinese Theater in Hollywood, this building houses The Great Movie Ride, which takes riders through scenes from classic movies like Mary Poppins and Casablanca.
Details Seen Around Disney's Hollywood Studios
Nods to the movie-making process are littered all around the park. This concept art for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is from the queue for the now-defunct “Magic of Disney Animation,” one of the park’s original attractions. The lower left photo shows one of many plaster casts littered around the production-themed Backlot Express restaurant.

Since Fast Passes can only be arranged for use in one park each day, we opted to save ours for use in the Magic Kingdom later that afternoon. Hollywood Studios, while highly entertaining, has relatively few rides when compared to the Magic Kingdom, and if lines got too long, we could always duck into one of many shows around the park. We arrived early to make the most of our day, and were disappointed to see that wait times were already climbing for most of the rides. Toy Story Mania, the newest ride to debut at Hollywood Studios, already had a wait time of 80 minutes by ten am. It seems that most people shrug and “do their time,” ride the ride, and move along to the next great thing, but we opted to skip it altogether. This may have been Jared’s first visit, but it won’t be his last! In fact, he’s already planning a trip back to do it all over again next fall! My advice? If this is a must-see attraction on you or your family’s list, and you don’t expect to be back anytime soon, just do it! Or better yet, plan ahead and get Fast Passes for this ride, which tends to hover around an hour wait time at the very minimum.

Queue Details at the Hollywood Tower Hotel Orlando

Jared in Line for Tower of Terror Orlando

With Toy Story Mania out of the picture, we headed straight for The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a “drop ride” which is easily my favorite attraction in the entire park. We waited about thirty minutes for this particular ride, cursing the sun as it crept out of hiding. I wrote a little bit about the theming of this ride in a recent post about my sister Michelle’s visit to Hollywood Studios. Check it out if you are interested in the story behind the ride! Jared, of course, loved the dramatic drops, while I drooled over all the gorgeous little details seen while waiting to ride.

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Image: Walt Disney World

Next up was Aerosmith’s Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster. We knew there would be a long wait time for this one as well, and decided to chance the single rider’s line. This is a handy little feature that helps both guests and park employees to reduce the wait time. The single rider’s line is exactly what it sounds like: you will be separated from your group and ride alone, a single body to help fill in empty seats after guests from the regular line have been assigned a seat. It’s a bit of a gamble, and while I almost always have good luck going this route, you might still wait just as long as those in the regular lines! Our line moved quickly, but our luck didn’t hold out for long. After a ten minute standstill, we were told the ride was temporarily closed, and asked to leave the building.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Dan, always the clever one, suggested that we make ourselves comfortable near the ride entrance and wait for it to re-open. I know some people might be leery about riding something just minutes after the entire ride building was evacuated, but the odds are it was something small and even routine that caused the ride to stop. We took our chances. We couldn’t have waited more than fifteen minutes. I’m actually grateful that the ride stopped when it did, because it meant I got to be there, sitting right next to my brother as he experienced the roller coaster for the first time ever.

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On-ride photo courtesy of Disney Photo Pass. Horrible photo, great memory!

Next up was the new and improved Star Tours, a 3-D simulator ride that takes visitors through familiar scenes from the movies. When I first laid eyes on this ride, so many years ago, I thought it was exactly the sort of thing my dad would go nuts over. From the AT-AT lumbering along outside the building, to the life-size robotic C-3PO worrying just inside the starport loading area, it’s a Star Wars nerd’s dream come true.

Star Tours at Disney's Hollywood Studios Orlando FL.jpg

The ride itself is pretty awesome as well, and the variety of possible ride sequences makes it worth experiencing several times. You might see Tatooine one day, and interrupt an assault on Hoth another day. Jared liked this ride as well. My only regret is that we didn’t have more time to ride a second time! Remember, this is the park that will be housing the new Star Wars area in the next couple of years. Star Wars fans, prepare yourselves!

After all the morning’s activity, we stopped for a snack break at the Tune In Lounge, a fabulous little bar and restaurant straight out of the 1950s. This is one of my favorite spots to grab a drink and relax in the AC, but with a few things left on our list, we just grabbed a couple of PB&J shakes to go and hopped in line for The Great Movie Ride.

With a little time to spare before the next Lights, Motors, Action stunt show, Dan, Jared and I stopped to watch the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.” This stunt show is a nod to the original park concept, and shows eager audience members the movie-making secrets behind some of their favorite Indiana Jones scenes. Think rolling boulders, fight choreography, and fiery vehicle explosions. It’s an interesting show for those who have a little extra time to kill in the park, and we were grateful to escape the heat for a little while. Then it was on to Lights, Motors, Action!

Catching the Adventure at Disney's Lights, Motors, Action

This is a really cool stunt show which, similar to Indiana Jones, demonstrates some of the special cars and filming techniques used in movies like The Bourne Identity. We picked prime seats right next to a stadium fan, and settled in to watch the staging of several action-packed car stunt and chase scenes. The shows are only performed twice a day, and are well worth seeing, for kids and adults alike!

After the show ended, we opted to take a break back at the apartment Dan and I call home. With only two days to experience all the wonder of four Disney parks, stopping for a two hour midday break might not seem like the brightest idea. In fact, when my sister visited just one month earlier, taking a midday break wasn’t even an option…that is, until disgustingly hot and humid weather drove us back home after finishing a packed morning at Animal Kingdom well ahead of schedule! The next day, our afternoon break was prompted by rain, soggy shoes, and the need to change into something comfortable. By the time Jared came to visit in September, Dan and I actually planned on taking this time to rest, shower if needed, and eat reasonably-priced food.

The Magic Kingdom Main Street Station Dressed Up for Fall

After we’d recovered a bit, the three of us headed back to Walt Disney World, but this time, we were going to the Magic Kingdom. Home of Cinderella Castle, a slew of iconic Disney rides, and the best corn dog nuggets I have ever tasted. It was still humid out, but as the clouds rolled in and blocked the hot sun, being at Disney World felt less like a punishment and more like a treat. The first thing we did, at my pleading, was to take a picture with Cinderella Castle. I take at least one castle photo every time I visit the park. I’m very curious to see how many pictures I’ve taken of just that iconic structure in my lifetime.

Adventuring to Cinderella Castle

After satisfying my need to get the “first visit” photo, we veered left into Adventureland. Despite choosing to visit in late September, the park was still packed. We had only three Fast Passes, which weren’t scheduled to start for another hour or two, so we hopped on some of the rides with relatively low wait times. Guys, we’re talking The Enchanted Tiki Room and The Country Bear Jamboree here. I insisted that Jared try the famous Pineapple Dole Whip, a smashing success, and we walked around for a while, just waiting for the lines to die down a bit.

Jared's First Dole Whip at the Magic Kingdom
“Can I please just take one picture of you and the Dole Whip!? I promise I won’t post it online if you hate it…”

It actually got a bit tense for a while. Since I can visit the parks any time I please, I wanted Jared to pick everything we did…even if it meant waiting in hour-long lines for certain rides. Jared, meanwhile, preferred to take a backseat and let me play tour guide for the day. Which naturally resulted in a lot of hangry, “You pick!” “No, YOU pick!” back and forth, until it was finally time to redeem those Fast Passes!

Magic Kingdom Space Mountain Seen From the Tomorrowland Transportation Authority

We chose to reserve passes for Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the brand-new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The first two, as can be expected, were amazing! Space Mountain is my favorite ride in the Magic Kingdom, admittedly because it awakens a real sense of terror whenever I ride it. Just check out a “lights on” ride video, and you’ll see what I mean.

Disney World Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.jpg

Big Thunder Mountain is always a good time, but the ride I was most excited about was the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Rocking Along the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Walt Disney World.jpg

This ride, which just opened last spring, still has a long wait time on a daily basis, and Dan and I almost never nab Fast Passes for it! So we were thrilled to bring Jared along for the ride! It’s a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs concept, as you probably guessed from the name, and the coaster takes riders through the dwarves’ diamond mind. Simple enough. It looks and seems like a kiddie ride, but it packs some surprising speed into those drops and curves! Better yet, by throwing our weight into it, we could rock our four-seater car from side to side as we veered along the mine track. One of my favorite memories from that night was when the poor single rider stuck in our car finally began to sway back and forth, helping to rock the car as the rest of us burst out laughing.

Oh, did I mention the fireworks went off as we sped along the track? Each curve brought a new, stunning view of the fireworks exploding above our heads. Talk about a magical moment. It made me wish I owned a GoPro and had recorded the entire ride, because all I can say is that it was pure Disney magic.

The moon glows from behind Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World.

Are you guys grossed out yet? I’m not apologizing. I love Disney World! Even with the crowds, the strollers, the ECVS, the screaming kids, and the occasional ride closure (Pirates of the Caribbean was closed during both Jared and Michelle’s visits), it remains one of my favorite places to spend the day. Even with our silly sibling squabbling, I had such a great time showing my little brother around a place that is dear to my heart…and by the time we left, we’d actually ridden everything we wanted to see! It was the perfect end to a long but happy day.

And if Jared wasn’t sold on Walt Disney World yet, he soon would be. The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival started just a day or two later, and I couldn’t wait to take my first spin around the 2015 festival with two of my favorite guys by my side. Spoiler alert: Jared loved it!

Epcot Food and Wine Fest Chew Lab

RELATED: Taste the World at the 2015 Epcot International Food & Wine Food Festival


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