Monday, August 4, 2014

Orlando, Florida

First: I apologize for taking so long to finish posting about our trip. We got home and life got busy, and I kept intending to do it and... Well, here I am! My intention is to continue using this blog to post about our travels -- more on that when I've finished out the posts from the year.

On December 3 of 2013, we finally flew back to the US for the first time in over eight months. We flew from London nonstop to Orlando in order to visit the last of the Disney parks of the year.

Meaning, of course, that I have a picture of Carter in front of every Disney castle in the world! That is fairly extraordinary, and looking back eight months later, I'm amazed that we actually did it!

I have always loved visiting the Orlando parks during the holidays. The decorations are amazing and festive and fun, and it usually gets me in the holiday spirit. Even the airport has a massive Christmas tree.

We had five days to spend in Orlando, which is quite a lot of time. We assumed we would keep the pace easy to handle our jet lag, and since we've been to Orlando a few times before, we decided to not push ourselves to do a lot. Instead, we'd just do some of our favorite things and spend time relaxing by the pool too.
One of the things we did this year that we haven't done before was to buy the extra tickets to attend Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, a special event that happens at the Magic Kingdom about four nights a week during the holiday season. I'm glad we did it, but honestly, I don't have to do it again! The big draw is the parade, and in order to actually see the parade, you have to spend most of the evening camped out on the curb along the parade route. I guess I'm not all that into parades, because that didn't seem worth the effort. We rode some rides instead and enjoyed the relatively shorter lines.  

Nevertheless, we found a spot to view the end of the parade and saw Santa Claus. And the snow! They make it snow on Main Street, which is actually really cool to see.

But yeah, that was basically it. The highlight for us was that we got to ride the new Ariel-themed ride twice with no wait, but otherwise, we don't have to spend money on that again.

I do love the Magic Kingdom's castle all lit up at light, though.

I thought I might need a holiday boost after our year of traveling, which was part of the reason why Orlando was scheduled for December at the end of the trip. I thought it would do that for me, but I underestimated the impact of culture shock of coming back to the US. It was really, really weird to be back in the US after all that time. After always being a tourist and a foreigner everywhere we were for a year, it was very strange to be surrounded by people who spoke with the same accent, and who were so... well, American. It's hard to describe the difference, but I definitely felt it. It was overwhelming to be surrounded by Americans again, and to also be in the Orlando theme parks at a time when they're so incredibly busy. We often found ourselves wanting to retreat to the quiet of our hotel room. Doug had a bad cold that he'd picked up in London, so he was pretty miserable much of the time. On top of it all, we were jet-lagged and tired from our year of traveling, and I think that by the time we got to Orlando, we were all kind of done with the trip. It definitely put a damper on being in "the happiest place on Earth." (Or is that Disneyland in LA?)

One of the things people love about Orlando is that there are all of these experiences intended to transport you to another place. And most of those represent actual real places we'd been in the last year, so that was also a strange experience! For example, Disney's Polynesian resort has a Polynesian dinner and dance show, and we decided to go to it one night.

It was interesting, but definitely not authentic! To be fair, it wasn't trying to be authentic so much as entertaining, but it was still strange to sit there and think that  we were in Polynesia not that long ago... and now we're in pretend-Polynesia.

We also spent a day at Universal Studios, mostly because I love to go there and see the Harry Potter-themed area. 

Carter wasn't quite tall enough to ride the big ride inside Hogwarts, but I got to ride it for the first time in several years.

And of course, we had some Butterbeer and pumpkin juice.

I love this part of the park! And having just been to the Harry Potter movie studios at Leavesdon the week before, I have to say that Universal is even better. This was an experience that actually transcends the "real thing" -- to the extent that makes any sense!

We had to buy some candy at Honeydukes, of course.

The new Diagon Alley area will open in the fall, and so the next time we go to Orlando we'll get to ride the train and see even more!

The Dr Seuss-themed area is also a lot of fun. Carter was about 46" tall when we were there, and so there were still quite a few rides in Universal that he was too small for. So we spent some time here!

We even had green eggs and ham sandwiches for lunch. :-)

Carter's favorite restaurant in the Downtown Disney area is the T Rex Cafe, a prehistoric-themed restaurant. The food is (frankly) overpriced and nothing special, but the atmosphere makes up for it. Carter played in the fossil dig area while we were waiting for our table.

Inside are all sorts of animatronic prehistoric creatures. 

And of course, we had to visit the gift shop!

On another day, we visited the Disney Animal Kingdom park. I always love the Christmas tree here.

There is a fantastic safari ride in the Africa section of the park, and it's really very authentic. It was fun, though it was definitely weird to be doing a Disney-created version of something we had actually done in actual Africa just a few months earlier. It added to the surreal feeling we were all experiencing of being at the end of the trip and wondering what it was going to be like to be home again.

I think Carter's favorite part of Animal Kingdom was, as always, the dinosaur-themed play area.

We spent mornings in the parks and afternoons back at the hotel. Carter and I went swimming every day while Doug recuperated in the room.

My very favorite part of going to the Disney parks is spending evenings at Epcot. There is something about those lovely evenings of wandering around Epcot that I've always found to be the perfect antidote to the craziness of the mornings in the other parks.

And so we spent our evenings doing just that: we wandered around, bought beer and wine in the various country-themed areas, had dinner in some of our favorite restaurants, and even rode some of the rides Carter had been too small to ride last time we were there. He particularly loved a ride that simulated the experience of taking off in a rocket and flying to Mars!

On one evening we met up with a friend of mine and her family at Epcot, and it was fun to wander around with them. Carter enjoyed having English-speaking kids to play with (which was quite a treat at that point in the year) and we enjoyed the fireworks at the end of the night.

We generally enjoyed our time in Orlando, though it was definitely overshadowed by the looming end of the trip and the return to the US. From there we flew to New York, the last stop of the year. I'll try to post about that soon!

Thanks again for your patience, and for reading our travel posts at all. We have done a bit of travel this year, but we are planning to spend all of next summer on a mini "around the world" trip, and once I've managed to catch up again, I'll post more about our plans for that.

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