I grew up disturbingly poor. That being said, at the age of 44, I finally got to take my first (and realistically, probably only) trip to Walt Disney World. A couple of things had to align cosmically to make this trip happen (like the Florida resident discount and discounted hotel lodging at a convention that took place during the same time frame,) but even then it cost me more than two weeks pay to pull it off. Luckily, once all of the wheels were in motion, it was indeed a magical trip.
Severe weather hampered my initial drive to Orlando but after a couple of hours it finally gave way to fairer skies and warmer temperatures. It was well after lunch when I pulled into Downtown Disney, set up my patented tracking device on my vehicle, and set off to explore. My first stop was Guest Services where I picked up my tickets and acquired my First Time Visitor’s badge that I would display proudly for the rest of my trip. My second stop was the Ghiradelli shop and the free complimentary chocolate that every visitor receives!
I began my exploration of the boardwalk with snapping pictures and perusing the numerous shops. I spied the Character’s in Flight balloon by Aerophile and had hopes of riding it but it was grounded due to high winds. I made a mental note to check back before my vacation was over and maybe I’d get lucky. I snapped a few more photos of the Lego characters and of the lake monster and then packed it in so I could head to my hotel and get checked in. *Note: This involved negotiating dangerous I-4.
On Friday my real adventure began, starting with I-4. The people driving the section of I-4 between downtown Orlando and Walt Disney World are insane. More than once I had people try to occupy the same space that I was in at the same time and I was in the larger vehicle! Turn signals were non-existent, as were police officers. The majority of people were driving 20-30 miles over the speed limit and then would have to slam on the brakes to keep from hitting other vehicles. I-4 is a stressful way to start the day and I don’t recommend it.
I finally arrived at Walt Disney World and more importantly, Animal Kingdom. I was fairly early because I wanted to be there for “rope drop,” but was a little confused that a parking attendant put me way out in the middle of BFE all by my lonesome. I implemented my patented vehicle locator, slipped on my camera bag and walked to the entrance where after a short 20-minute wait they allowed the throng of excited people into the park and stopped us all just before Discovery Island.
Finally the park “officially” opened and the mob dispersed. I aimed straight for Kilimanjaro Safari Rides and scored a fast pass ticket before jumping into line and almost getting to walk straight onto a tour truck. We loaded a couple of minutes later and off we went into the “Harambe Wildlife Preserve.” Realistically one has to accept that it’s not “really” an African wildlife preserve but a very good facsimile. Despite that, I saw lots of animals and got great photos.
Following the safari ride I hightailed it over to the Wildlife Express Train where I boarded my first “real” train. Honestly, my entire goal with this ride was to ride to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, turn around and ride back. I’m just here for the train ride, folks. After that was done, I hot-footed it back over to the safari for round two!
On my second pass through the Harambe Wildlife Preserve a different set of animals were out and about like the rare and endangered White Rhinos and a beautiful Cheetah. The only animals noticeably absent were the zebras.
My next stop after the preserve was to head over to It’s a Bug’s Life inside of the Tree of Life. My timing was perfect and I got ushered straight in. This turned out to be a great show and afterwards I headed over to Dinoland to take a spin on Dinosaur! I’ve been fascinated by dinosaurs since childhood and took the time to look around, even taking a ride on Triceratop Spin. It might be a kiddy ride, but I wasn’t the only adult zooming around on it!
I headed over to Camp Minnie & Mickie to pin down two of my favorite chipmunks, Chip & Dale. Dale saw my Chip & Dale lanyard and all of my Chip & Dale trading pins and I’m pretty sure he proposed to me right there on the spot. I would’ve loved to have spent the day with them, but I had to get over to the Festival of the Lion King, where once again I was ushered straight inside like I was a V.I.P.
The Lion King was awesome. Next stop, Flights of Wonder where again I managed to show up just as the show was getting ready to start. My timing couldn’t have been better and I enjoyed an amazing show. I also managed to tackle Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek before depositing myself at Finding Nemo – The Musical which was actually very entertaining (and again, I was ushered right in!)
After all of my exploring and running a headache finally knocked for attention reminding me that I hadn’t stopped to eat since breakfast and it was rapidly approaching closing time for the park. I knew it was a slim chance to get into the Rainforest Cafe for dinner without a reservation, but I pushed on. They were able to seat me right at the bar where I immediately ordered a soda to get some sugar in my bloodstream and then I ordered a burger with sauteed mushrooms and bacon. I don’t know if it was just because I was that hungry or if the burger was that good but I almost managed to eat the whole thing (it was pretty big.)
At last, I finished my burger and dragged my weary self out of the restaurant and park and began the arduous task of locating my vehicle, which oddly enough, was fairly easy to locate because it was a) all by itself in BFE and 2) my patented vehicle locator was visible from quite a distance. I made my way to it, climbed in, activated my Garmin and headed back to the hotel. Unfortunately this required navigating I-4 again, only this time I got to experience rapid deceleration on the off-ramp. I was terrified and amazed that I reached the hotel in one piece with no scratches on my vehicle.
Once in my room you would’ve thought that would be the end of it, but I felt compelled to drag myself down to the hotel hot tub after seeing that I’d clocked 11 miles on my pedometer. As I passed the front desk I made a point to inquire as to an alternate method of arriving at Walt Disney World that didn’t involve I-4 and the chipper desk attendant assured me that was the only way. I made a note to reprogram my Garmin the next morning because I would find an alternate route because I-4 was going to be the death of me if I didn’t.
I spent a few minutes in the hot tub and alternatively the heated pool before heading upstairs and finally turning in near midnight. I was reveling in the idea of sleeping in because tomorrow I was attending a conference at the hotel and I could rest. There are hundreds more photos that I couldn’t include due to space restrictions. They can be viewed here.