After one of the most emotional and trying weeks Orlando has ever encountered it is time to slowly get back into the habits that make us happy. Everyone grieves and heals in a different way. Personally, I wanted to get back into the swing of things and enjoy the life that I love. This is of course doesn’t mean that I’ve completely moved on or forgotten about the tragedy. But to me one of the ways to honor those that are no longer with us is to go enjoy life while we can, making each day the best we can make it. With that in mind, and with a bunch of new things to see at Walt Disney World and SeaWorld, I had a jam packed 24 hours spread across five Orlando theme parks.
I took a half day off from work so I could get out to Walt Disney World and cover some of the new experiences that debuted on June 17, 2016. Originally my plan was to get to Magic Kingdom and then head to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. However, Anna and Elsa’s new meet and greet location inside Epcot, the Royal Sommerhus, opened a little unexpectedly. I couldn’t just let it go, and besides that weather had gone from rainy in the morning to pretty stunning in the afternoon, might as well make the most of it. The more themes parks, the merrier.
When I arrived at Epcot I felt a sense of joy that I hadn’t felt in nearly a week. As I set my eyes on Spaceship Earth I smiled for the first time in days. I couldn’t linger though, royalty waits for no one. I quickly made my way to World Showcase and straight to the Norway pavilion. As I approached I noticed a whole clan of Norwegian Cast Members gathered throughout the pavilion, more than I’ve ever seen.
The Royal Sommerhus is one of the first areas you’ll encounter if you are strolling World Showcase starting in Mexico. This new building is a welcoming, cozy wood building meant to represent Anna and Elsa’s summer home, a place they used to visit when they were very young children. Upon arrival the posted wait time was 25 minutes, so after admiring the new buildings and the colorful flowers and landscaping I entered the queue. Past the 25-30 minute mark an overflow queue is utilized and it is entirely outside. Something to keep in mind if you visit on a busy day.
Once inside the level of detail and decoration impressed me. The Royal Sommerhus does feel like a cozy, residential space. The meet and greet itself of Anna and Elsa is a great experience for families and fans of Frozen. I enjoyed that these characters now have a space that really represents their story. For more info about this experience check out this blog post.
After exiting into the merchandise shop, naturally, I felt a hunger befitting a Viking and headed to Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe. This quick service location is adored by many Epcot loyalists mostly because of school bread, a traditional treat in Norway. There have been quite a few new menu items added recently including sandwich, salads, and of course Frozen themed cupcakes. The ham, cheese, and apple sandwich caught my eye. Priced at $7.98 with tax it’s not a bad deal.
What was bad, however, was the bread. Incredibly stale, I guess I should be thankful because I ended up pinching most of it off and thus reduced my carb intact considerably. The ham itself is nothing spectacular but the double slices of cheese, one slice Gouda and the other slice Jalsberg, made the sandwich rich and buttery. Thinly sliced green apple topped one side of the sandwich and sweet, golden apple chutney topped the other, this elevated the sandwich beyond a plain ham and cheese, though the chutney is very sweet.
I had just over an hour until my first FastPass+ time to visit the Princess Fairy Tale Hall at Magic Kingdom. I decided to make my way out of Epcot and utilize the monorail to get to Epcot. I could have taken my car, but by the time I would park, get on the parking tram, get to the Ticket and Transportation Center, and then use either the Ferryboat or monorail to get across the Seven Seas Lagoon it is typically more convenient to use the monorail from Epcot.
I arrived at the Magic Kingdom a little after 3:00 PM which meant I was greeted by the Festival of Fantasy Parade arriving on Main Street USA. I opted to use the “backstage bypass.” This was actually my first time using this bypass now that they’ve spruced it up. I used to be strongly opposed to this bypass when it was still clearly a backstage area just with a wall of plants hiding the cars parked behind Main Street. In fact, I loathed the idea since I was once a Cast Member and a believer in the concepts of “good show / bad show.” Now that permanent decor has been added it is mildly acceptable and certainly makes for easier travels when Main Street is congested.
The parade had passed by and it was not quite yet time for the new castle stage show, Mickey’s Friendship Faire, which meant the walkway through Cinderella Castle was open! I passed through the regal archway of the castle and out into Fantasyland. It was time to find out who Cinderella’s new visiting princess would be now that Anna and Elsa moved back to Epcot and Rapunzel moved across the castle to her own meet and greet (plus visiting princess).
Cinderella is now joined by Sleeping Beauty / Aurora, a perfect classic princess pairing. And Rapunzel is welcoming guests with Princess Tiana, a modern princess pairing. It’d be hard for me to choose which pair I like more. It’s just great to see the princesses take back the castle and now that Anna and Elsa have their place in Epcot.
I had one more FastPass+ booked and had some time to kill. I craved a little more protein, it seems two and a half later the Norwegian sandwich was not enough. I headed to one of my favorite counter service locations, Columbia Harbor House. A kids meal of chicken and fish ($7.44 with tax) consisted of two chicken nuggets and one long piece of fish, plus two sides (I went healthy with broccoli and grapes) and a beverage. I of course had to sit upstairs, and at the far right side along the overhang overlooking Liberty Square on one side and Fantasyland on the other. The spot is one of pure bliss for me.
It was time to head off to Neverland! My FastPass+ was for 5:55 PM and I entered the line at 6:05 PM. It took about ten minutes to get my own pirate ship and visit Peter and the Lost Boys. Peter Pan’s Flight is a classic attraction. Sadly it has a really low occupancy and is a popular ride to boot, so wait times for standby tend to stay around the 60 minute or more mark. I enjoyed my trip to Neverland and was ready for the next destination in my line-up: Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
After riding aboard to monorail system back to Epcot, I drove over to Hollywood Studios. With it being the opening night of “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular” the parking lot was pretty full. Once inside I observed the streets were busy and there was lots and lots of fellow Star Wars fans showing their pride with apparel and such.
I met up with a group of friends and grabbed a drink at the Tune-In Lounge. It was about 8:00 PM and every seat at the bar was taken and the line was out the door! Proof that with Hollywood Studios could use another bar.
We gathered around Echo Lake and chatted. The sun began to set and we discussed from where we wanted to view the Galactic Spectacular. We decided to go with Hollywood Blvd since we had heard the show uses a lot of projection technology and other effects. Suffice it to say, I absolutely loved this show. I was blown away. Now, I am a big Star Wars fan and I appreciate multiple layers to a show, not just fireworks. So this show more than met my criteria. Check out my full review, including a spoiler-free version.
After being blown away by the show, we headed out and dealt with the traffic jam of exiting Hollywood Studios. That night I kept thinking about the show, but it was time for bed because tomorrow brings more fun in the theme parks.
One of my favorite Orlando theme parks is SeaWorld. It is the second oldest theme park in Orlando and thus has design and decor that is nostalgic for me. Plus the landscaping is lush and grown in. It truly is one of the most beautiful parks in Central Florida.
I had a precise mission and wanted to stay on target, and on schedule. I arrived shortly after 11:00 AM and headed to the Mako area. No, I wasn’t going to go on Orlando’s tallest, longest, and fastest roller coaster, I’m not far enough along in my thrill ride conquering journey. But I did want to check out the area and visit one of my favorite theme park bars, the Shark bar at Sharks Underwater Grill.
I love the new modern look of the area surround Mako. I do wish that Sharks Underwater Grill got a little refurb and a menu makeover, but it’s forgivable. The new color scheme and design of the area is pretty sleek. I was also impressed and how quiet Mako is, expecting lots of roars from the coaster and screams from the guests, instead I heard cheers and excitement.
After scoping out the area I had worked up a thirst. Time to try one of the new Mako themed specialty cocktails! As I browsed the menu I was a little disappointed to see that every drink would be very sweet. I wavered back and forth on which one to go with. In the end the Ocean Lava because of the Guy Harvey Spiced Rum. The remaining ingredients make this a very sweet drink, too sweet for me, creme de banana, peach schnapps, apricot brandy, mango puree, and lemonade.
Three of the four drinks are served on the rocks, the Mako Colada is frozen since it is a pina colada swirled with blue curacao. My neighboring bar mates ordered the Mako Colada and the Mako Mojito. Both remarked on how much they enjoyed their beverages. All four drinks are $14.99 each and include a Mako glass. A brand new packaged glass is presented to you with your check.
After relaxing at the bar and taking another stroll through the park it was time to leave. I was sad to leave so quickly, but I had two dates waiting for me at Universal Orlando. So it was a quick hop onto toll road 528, pass my favorite traffic sign in Orlando (go right for Universal or left for Disney – choose wisely!).
The weather was holding up so I enjoyed a stroll through CityWalk with a great visit to Margaritaville.
I met up with a new friend at Backwater Bar. This bar is a favorite among Universal Orlando Annual Passholders, though it’s not my favorite bar at Universal. Still, it is a great gathering place and I enjoyed sipping on a very spicy bloody Mary and engaging in fun conversation.
I was soon joined by another friend and we daringly decided to scope out the potential for a Skull Island Reign of Kong soft opening. Alas, when we arrived the line was into Toon Lagoon and the weather was taking a turn. As a cool front moved in, we decided to move out.
Although my visits to SeaWorld and Universal Orlando were both quick, I still enjoyed being out in the theme parks. Being surrounded by smiling faces and fantastic sights brought me joy. Hitting five theme parks in 24 hours reminded me why Orlando is the best place ever!