Trip Report

Walt Disney World & Universal Orlando

July 11-26, 2009

A trip report and photo highlight from an epic two-week trip to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando in July of 2009.

Traditionally, a summer trip to Florida, whether it's to one of the hundreds of beaches or a visit to the theme parks, is common for many of today's families throughout most of the country.  And today, many of the central Florida visitors are from all over the world, whether they're from Europe, Asia, or even South America.

The summer is one of the busier times of the year for the theme parks.  The crowds aren't quite as intense as they are for the Christmas / New Year's or Easter visits, but it can still get pretty busy at times, especially if you're in the same park as one doing Extra Magic Hours.

The biggest difference between being in central Florida during the summer versus any other time of year is the weather.  As expected, it was hot and humid every single day and the afternoon pop-up thunderstorms wrecked havoc over the theme parks.  The afternoon storms are normal for Florida throughout the summer, but the number of times that we experienced the weather was a bit unusual.  It wasn't normal to experience the storms every single day like what we did during the two week trip.  The plus side of the storms is that I'm a certified weather geek and I have quite a few cool storm pictures that I'll be sharing here on this website and even in this trip report.

Other than the high number of thunderstorms, the trip went along as expected.  It always feels good making the voyage down to Orlando, and coming back home feels just as welcoming at the end of the trip.

A few random thoughts:

- The Kissimmee area as a whole continues to deteriorate, and this includes along 192 just off of Disney property.

- Universal Orlando really needs clear signs on how to go from the parking decks back to I-4.  Advance warning about knowing which lane you'll be needing will really help the flow of traffic (along with a direct road back to the interstate instead of sitting through all of those poorly timed traffic lights).

- "Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure" is a great addition to Epcot and would be perfect in Disney's Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios.

- Tomorrowland felt naked without "Space Mountain" or even TTA operating.  The crowds in the Magic Kingdom were mainly in Fantasyland and Frontierland.

- The new version of Universal 360 is still just as bad as the original, and it's a complete waste of time even though the workers continue making announcements for it in the line queue for Revenge of the Mummy.  Unfortunately, Universal will pretty much never have a good nighttime fireworks show until their residential neighbors allow it to happen.

- The new Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit looks like fun.  Too bad it still wasn't open even at the end of the trip.

- The security checkpoints at Disney and Universal are useless, and several security guards are arrogant losers who like to bully people.  This will be covered in more detail later.

- No matter what, people will continue to shoot flash pictures on Pirates of the Caribbean and it's a small world, ruining the experience of the ride for a lot of people.  Save rides like those until the end of the day.  The lines are significantly shorter and most of the people are too tired to talk out loud or use flash photography.

- Many parents are more interested in texting or talking on their cell phone instead of paying attention to their surroundings or even their children.

This trip report is organized a little bit differently than the previous reports.  Going day by day would be too time consuming and rather boring, so instead this report is divided into different sections.  The first part features "what's new" in the Disney and Universal parks.  The next section has general vacation highlight pictures along with comments pertaining to this past trip, and the last two sections deal with animals and the weather.

Enjoy!


 

New sights and experiences at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando!

Walt Disney World

Disney's Animal Kingdom - Celebrate Today banners

I don't remember seeing these back in March, but the grassy area near the parking lot tram stop at Disney's Animal Kingdom now has a bunch of the current Celebrate Today banners.

Rapunzel movie poster - 01 Rapunzel movie poster - 02 Toy Story 3 movie poster The Princess and the Frog movie poster

Up next are a few new movie posters for the upcoming Disney and Pixar animated films.  All of these are found in The Magic of Disney Animation as you enter the interactive area of the building.

Disney's Contemporary Resort - Bay Lake Tower - 01 Disney's Contemporary Resort - Bay Lake Tower - 02 Disney's Contemporary Resort - Bay Lake Tower - 03

The new Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort was finally finished and open to tours and presentations.  This is the latest addition to the popular Disney Vacation Club (DVC) program.

Bay Lake Tower view - Epcot Bay Lake Tower view - Expedition Everest Bay Lake Tower view - Magic Kingdom Bay Lake Tower view - Disney's Contemporary Resort

And of course, a few neat views from the top of the Bay Lake Tower.

Disney's Boardwalk construction

Part of the Boardwalk was being refurbished.

Downtown Disney Celebrate Tonight! banner - 01 Downtown Disney Celebrate Tonight! banner - 02

Celebrate Tonight! banners in Pleasure Island and the Wide Side in Downtown Disney.  I don't remember if these banners were up or not back in March.

Dwontown Disney - Characters in Flight balloon - 01 Dwontown Disney - Characters in Flight balloon - 02 Dwontown Disney - Characters in Flight balloon - 03

The great big yellow balloon visible from many places in the Walt Disney World Resort is for the new Characters in Flight balloon ride in the West Side at Downtown Disney.  You do have to pay to go up for a ride, but a 400-foot elevated view of the area does seem like a pretty tempting offer.

Magic Kingdom - The Hall of Presidents - 01 Magic Kingdom - The Hall of Presidents - 02 Magic Kingdom - The Hall of Presidents - 03 Magic Kingdom - The Hall of Presidents - 04 Magic Kingdom - The Hall of Presidents - 05 Magic Kingdom - The Hall of Presidents - 06 Magic Kingdom - The Hall of Presidents - 07

After its lengthy refurbishment, The Hall of Presidents was open again in Liberty Square and updated to add the current president.  Overall, I was very impressed with this show and enjoyed it very much, from the presidential paintings in the waiting room to the show's narration by Morgan Freeman to seeing the highly detailed Audio-Animatronic presidents themselves.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge - Kidani Village - 01 Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge - Kidani Village - 02 Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge - Kidani Village - 03 Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge - Kidani Village - 04

The Kidani Village (Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge Villas), another major addition to the Disney Vacation Club system, was finally finished and open for business.  The resort complex itself is just as nicely themed and high quality as the neighboring Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The pool area for Kidani Village is really cool as it has a main swimming pool as well as a water play area complete with interactive water features, a waterslide and even a waterfall!

Epcot - Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure - 01 Epcot - Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure - 02

The new Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure in Epcot is a lot of fun.  It doesn't matter if you're not twelve-years-old or if you've never seen an episode of the show.  It's easy to pick up on the secret agent theme and the cast of characters as they direct you through each World Showcase country, going from one clue to the next.  Allow yourself a few hours and check out this adventure for yourself.  I can guarantee you that you'll be focusing on a lot of small and unnoticed details that have been added discretely to the countries, and you'll most likely get a kick out of the endings to the missions.  I haven't done all of the countries yet, but so far China has my favorite ending.

The big problem with this attraction is that it gets busy and you may have to wait as people in front of you activate events before it's your turn to do so.  This ruins the experience of being a secret agent if there are three others all wanting to trigger the same event.  It helps that there are many quests within each country so not everybody will be going along the same exact path to the ending.  This helps space out the people and it also adds a little bit of a replay value to the attraction.

I could care less about the cartoon show, but Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure is entertaining to me and I'd love to see it expanded to the other theme parks.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Voyage of the Little Mermaid

The main sign for Voyage of the Little Mermaid is missing the characters from the movie & show.

Seven Seas Lagoon - new boat - 01 Seven Seas Lagoon - new boat - 02 Seven Seas Lagoon - new boat - 03

A new boat was spotted cruising around Seven Seas Lagoon and pulling up to a dock at the Magic Kingdom.  The boat (named Magic Kingdom I) was flying a pirate flag, has bench seats for a lot of people, and looks like a modified version of an old Discovery River Cruise boat that use to circle the river in Disney's Animal Kingdom.  No regular guests boarded the boat as it looked like the cast members were more likely taking it on a test run.

Downtown Disney - Paradiso 37 - 01 Downtown Disney - Paradiso 37 - 02 Downtown Disney - Paradiso 37 - 03

The new Paradiso 37 restaurant was open for business in Pleasure Island.

Downtown Disney - Princess Diana exhibit - 01 Downtown Disney - Princess Diana exhibit - 02

Another major change in the West Side at Downtown Disney was the closing of the Virgin Megastore.  The building itself is still there and the lower floor is housing a temporary, pay-for exhibit dedicated to the late Princess Diana.  When it comes to paying to see this, DisneyQuest, a concert at the House of Blues, or even going for a ride on the new Characters in Flight balloon, there is no way that this museum can or will be able to compete.  Don't expect this temporary exhibit to be around for much longer.

Magic Kingdom - Space Mountain closed for refurbishment - 01 Magic Kingdom - Space Mountain closed for refurbishment - 02 Magic Kingdom - Space Mountain closed for refurbishment - 03

We knew that this was going to be closed for refurbishment, but it was still sad to see Space Mountain closed.  Tomorrowland as a whole felt naked without Space Mountain or Tomorrowland Transit Authority being operational.  It was a little bit eerie being by the big mountain at night without there being any other people.  The Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor show is rapidly declining in attendance, and Stitch's Great Escape! doesn't draw in the crowds like when it first opened.  Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin was clearly the busiest ride in the land.

As a plus, for the time being Tomorrowland is fairly quiet and you can easily walk around and enjoy the sights and sounds of the futuristic land without annoying people getting in the way.  The only mystery is why Space Mountain and Tomorrowland Transit Authority are still listed as being open on the Magic Kingdom's July of 2009 version of the guidemap.

Magic Kingdom - Tomorrowland Stage - 01 Magic Kingdom - Tomorrowland Stage - 02

The new Tomorrowland Stage was complete and already waiting for a new show.  It seems that Stitch's SuperSonic Celebration wasn't the big hit that Disney was expecting, as that show only lasted about a month or so and was already gone by the time we arrived in Florida.  But then again, when was the last time there was a good live show in Tomorrowland?

Magic Kingdom - Tomorrowland Transit Authority closed - 01 Magic Kingdom - Tomorrowland Transit Authority closed - 02

Along with Space Mountain, the reliable and always entertaining Tomorrowland Transit Authority (TTA) was closed as part of Space Mountain's lengthy refurbishment.  It was strange seeing the cars motionless on the track and not hearing the audio from the ride.  It just added more to that general eerie feeling in Tomorrowland.  We'll have to wait and see if there are going to be any changes made to the TTA when it opens again this Fall.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Walt Disney: One Man's Dream - 01 Disney's Hollywood Studios - Walt Disney: One Man's Dream - 02 Disney's Hollywood Studios - Walt Disney: One Man's Dream - 03 Disney's Hollywood Studios - Walt Disney: One Man's Dream - 04

Inside the museum part of Walt Disney: One Man's Dream at Disney's Hollywood Studios was a collection of concept art and other material from the opening of the Disney-MGM Studios back in 1989.  It's too bad that more of this material wasn't around the park as this year is the twentith anniversary of the opening of the Disney Studios theme park.  Where have I seen this kind of information before?  Hmmm . . .

Downtown Disney - World of Disney store - 01 Downtown Disney - World of Disney store - 02 Downtown Disney - World of Disney store - 03 Downtown Disney - World of Disney store - 04 Downtown Disney - World of Disney store - 05

The last noticable difference at Walt Disney World was the addition of the Celebrate Today! decorations and a push for Pinocchio merchandise in the World of Disney store in the Marketplace at Downtown Disney.

Universal Orlando

Islands of Adventure - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter construction - 01 Islands of Adventure - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter construction - 02 Islands of Adventure - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter construction - 03 Islands of Adventure - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter construction - 04

In Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure park, construction seems to be coming along quite nicely for the new The Wizarding World of Harry Potter island.  I haven't seen any of the Harry Potter films yet, but I'll make it a point to do so before the new island opens as a lot of the new theming looks quite interesting.  Plus, I don't want to resort to asking little kids about the different characters or plots in the movie while on the rides.

Universal Studios Florida - Fast & Furious cars

Next door in the Universal Studios Florida park, the muscle cars from the Fast & Furious movie are currently on display in the New York section of the park.  They're on the same alley where The Blues Brothers Show performs, across from Revenge of the Mummy.

Universal Studios Florida - Hollywood Rip Ride RockIt roller coaster - 01 Universal Studios Florida - Hollywood Rip Ride RockIt roller coaster - 02

And finally we have the nearly complete Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster at Universal Studios Florida.  We saw them making a few test runs of the trains, but alas, nobody was offered a sneak preview of the new ride.  The loading station looks outstanding at night.


 

Vacation Highlight Pictures

Walt Disney World

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney's Animal Kingdom - Expedition Everest - 01

The lines were always long for Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain.  Unfortunately, the yeti never performed in "A mode," but it instead had a little bit of real animatronic movement and the illusion of even more movement with the strobe lights.  The yeti itself was okay, but the ride as a whole is much better when the yeti is behaving at its full, aggressive potential.

Disney's Animal Kingdom - Expedition Everest - 02

Racing down the main drop on Expedition Everest.  We were actually assigned to sit in row two, but somebody in row one was scared and insisted on switching rows with us.  Otherwise, we usually sit near the rear of the train.

Disney's Animal Kingdom - duck

Is this science gone mad or a lesson in physics?  The answer is a lesson in light waves known as "refraction."

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Studio Backlot Tour - 01 Disney's Hollywood Studios - Studio Backlot Tour - 02

Some people just cannot stay seated.  For some reason this guy was standing up during the entire Catastrophe Canyon part of the Studio Backlot Tour from the earthquake to the flash flood.  What's worse is that the cast member at the front of the tram (the one who used to narrate the ride but now just faces backwards and makes sure that everybody behaves) never said a word for him to sit down.  It's like she was asleep or something up there.  I believe that's the back of the second or third car, which should have been clearly visible to the cast member sitting at the front of the tram.

If any official Disney people want to have a chat with said cast member about why this safety hazard was overlooked, these two pictures were taken on Friday, July 24, 2009 at 5:46 pm.

As far as the Backlot Tour, I really do not like the new automated spiel.  They need to re-do the woman's voice and at least make her a little bit more serious sounding.  The same is true for the voice actress who did the part for Catastrophe Canyon.  They both sounded like those lame voice-overs that they used to do in the old Walt Disney World souvenir videos.  Or better yet, they could just go back to having a real cast member do the spiel and at least bring back a little more charm to the ride.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Fantasmic! crowds

Fantasmic! was incredibly popular and quite busy for every showing.  This is the end of the line for the second showing of the evening about an hour before the start of the show.  The second showing is usually less busy than the first one, but as we can see here, the people are lined up halfway down Sunset Boulevard.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - The Great Movie Ride - 01 Disney's Hollywood Studios - The Great Movie Ride - 02 Disney's Hollywood Studios - The Great Movie Ride - 03

Pretty much every time we visited The Great Movie Ride during our trip only the gangster side (second group of cars) was running.  Most of the time the line was short anyway so it wasn't a big deal.  But finally, on our day of departure, the Movie Ride had a long line and they were using the cowboy side.  It was great to finally see that part of the ride again and to also have a good cast member / actor playing the part of the evil cowboy.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular - 01 Disney's Hollywood Studios - Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular - 02 Disney's Hollywood Studios - Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular - 03 Disney's Hollywood Studios - Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular - 04 Disney's Hollywood Studios - Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular - 05

On this trip, nearly every showing of Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular was jam packed and required waiting outside in line.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Voyage of the Little Mermaid

Ariel is deciding whether or not to marinate Flounder before dinner.  Like Indy Jones, Voyage of the Little Mermaid was very busy for nearly every show, even late at night.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - New York Street

New York Street was deserted at night.  Everybody was in line for Fantasmic!

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Sounds Dangerous closed

Once again, Sounds Dangerous Starring Drew Carey was not open.  I can almost sense some kind of refurbishment or demolition in its future.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Star Tours

For the most part, Star Tours had a short line throughout the trip.  The only times it seemed to be busy were during the middle of the day or just after the Indy Jones stunt show ended.

One evening we were in the Star Tours line queue taking pictures and some twelve-year-old or so kid laughed at me, saying something like "You should have gotten a FastPass!"  Well, kid, with less than a five-minute wait for this ride, you're better off just keeping that FastPass as a souvenir.  I pointed out that it wasn't worth it using FastPass when the stand-by line was less than ten minutes, especially with the line going directly to simulator pods.  That kid was in a different simulator and got onto the ride about a minute before we did.  Whoop-de-do.  His mom took flash pictures in the line queue, anyway.  Amateurs!

Epcot

Epcot - American Adventure

Ben Franklin and Mark Twain offer their words of wisdom during The American Adventure.  This show does not get the attention or respect that it deserves.

Epcot - O Canada!

The current version of O Canada! with Martin Short is an outstanding show.  Sadly, we saw it during the middle of the day and had a pretty empty theater.  A lot of people either overlook them or are just not interested in the various World Showcase shows.

Epcot - China

Reflections of China is pretty good, but I prefer"O Canada! over this show.  The scenery and design of the China pavilion is fantastic.

Epcot - IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth

The fireworks and fire effects for IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth are top-notch and nothing short of spectacular.  The singing and actual reflections of earth bring the show to a screeching halt, just like the "false ending" after the second session of fireworks.

Epcot - Living with the Land - 01

It's rare these days for Living with the Land to have an actual line.  People only go on that slow-moving, air conditioned, educational ride when they're bored or if they're waiting for their FastPass for Soarin' to become active.

Epcot - Living with the Land - 02

They taught the Brussels sprouts how to fly.  Terror of the skies!

Epcot - Soarin'

Soarin' continues to be an incredibly popular ride.  Even on a slow day this ride will have at least a 45-minute wait.

Epcot - Test Track

On one of the days Test Track was experiencing problems, and it had a delayed opening.  It was strange to walk by and see the three doors closed.

Sadly, it's becoming more and more rare to have a good, solid ride on Test Track with everything working from the in-car audio and video to all of the video monitors throughout the ride.  Most of my rides on the Track had at least something broken, whether it was one thing or another.  It stinks for the people riding it for the first time and not realizing what a great ride it is when everything works correctly.  Perhaps it's fitting having General Motors as the sponsor considering all of the quality control issues that plague the ride.

Epcot - Wonders of Life

And speaking of sad things, it always disappoints me whenever I walk past the old Wonders of Life pavilion.  It was great going in there back when Body Wars was the only thrill ride in Epcot, and Cranium Command was one of the funniest shows at Walt Disney World.  Perhaps some day in the future we'll see new life again in the gold dome.

Brazil tour group problem - 01 Brazil tour group problem - 02 Brazil tour group problem - 03 Brazil tour group problem - 04 Brazil tour group problem - 05

I know that days in the parks can be hot and tiring, but that doesn't mean that you can take over an area and designate it as a napping place!  This is quite rude and a nuisance to the other park guests.  If you're that tired then take a break and go back to the hotel.  Disney needs to stop this kind of behavior in the parks.

I will go out of my way and compliment the other Brazilian tour groups that I saw on this past trip.  For the most part, a lot of the teenagers were polite, followed the park rules and minded their own business.  A few of them even asked me nicely if I could take their picture, which I gladly did.  The current Brazilian tour groups have gotten the message that the loud, intolerable behavior is not welcome in central Florida, and these groups were significantly better than the tour groups that infected the parks back in the mid and late 1990s.

I'll still change my path if I see a group of them about to go on a ride or into a restaurant (I just don't like being behind large groups no matter who they are), but otherwise it was fine being around them this time.  Watch out for when the tour guides get in line at the FastPass distribution spots.  They'll take 10 minutes to get a whole stack of passes.

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom - Cinderella Castle

The world famous Cinderella Castle looks spectacular at sunset.

Magic Kingdom - Crystal Palace

Along with the Crystal Palace.

Magic Kingdom - it's a small world

The hula girls are still doing their dance on it's a small world after all of these years.

Magic Kingdom - Splash Mountain - 01

Racing down the main drop on Splash Mountain.  It took a few tries to finally get the combinations right on my camera for this awesome shot.

Magic Kingdom - Splash Mountain - 02

These brave people were wearing ponchos while riding Splash Mountain.  Gee, wearing ponchos in the middle of the summer on a water ride where mainly the front row gets a little bit wet.  That sounds about right.

Magic Kingdom - Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Good times were had by all on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  Both Thunder and Splash were quite popular all the way through park closing.

Magic Kingdom - Enchanted Tiki Room - 01 Magic Kingdom - Enchanted Tiki Room - 02

The Enchanted Tiki Room - Under New Management was a refuge from the crowds and summertime heat and humidity.

Magic Kingdom - Tomorrowland - 01 Magic Kingdom - Tomorrowland - 02

This time down there Tomorrowland was almost more amusing from a distance than it was inside of the futuristic land.  But the land of the future that never was still looks outstanding at night.

Resorts & Miscellaneous

monorail yellow

For the most part the Disney monorails were as fun and cool as always.  Nobody seemed concerned or even talked about the fatal incident that occurred just a few weeks ago.  Either the news services kept the story low or most people had enough common sense to see that the monorails have a nearly perfect operating system and what happened could almost be classified as a freak incident.

There were a couple of times when the monorails were unusually slow moving for one reason or another.  The monorail yellow in the picture above took an incredibly long time to arrive at the TTC.  It was actually crawling as it approached the station.  It turned out that there was a loose emergency hatch in one of the cars that needed to be repaired before we could board the train.  Coincidentally, I did see a bunch of upper-level managers on the far side of the Epcot platform at the TTC making observations and comments before this monorail finally arrived.

Another incident was when we were on the monorail at the Magic Kingdom station and for some reason we kept waiting and waiting and waiting in the station.  The express trains were moving frequently but the local side kept sitting there with the doors open.  The monorail conductor finally said that a monorail ahead of us was experiencing technical difficulties and it would take a few moments to remove it from the line.  It took a few more moments before the problem was solved and we were on our way.  They didn't say exactly what happened to the other monorail, and looking around the car I saw that most people didn't care.  The people were tired and knew that the monorails were safe vehicles.

Another time we were waiting for the monorail to arrive in the Magic Kingdom station, and it finally did arrive, but it was crawling and going slower than normal.  "Why is it going so slow?" a kid (maybe 8 or 9 years old) asked his mother.  "Because they don't want it to crash," she replied.

Wow. Are people really that ignorant?

WDW resort boats - 01 WDW resort boats - 02

The little water sprites were pretty popular on this past trip.  We saw a bunch of people using them in Seven Seas Lagoon, Bay Lake, Crescent Lake (between Epcot and the Studios), and on Village Lake (Downtown Disney and Saratoga Springs).  In other words, pretty much everywhere.

WDW resort bus

For the most part the Disney buses were reliable, although there were a few times when it took more than 20 minutes for a bus to arrive at the stop.  If you have the time, take a bus out to a resort and have a quiet lunch or early dinner outside of the parks.  Some of the Disney resorts are vacation destinations themselves.

The Disney buses are also handy when it comes to park hopping, and there will be a bus to take you back to your car for at least an hour after the park closes.  For example, on two of the days we parked at Disney's Animal Kingdom in the morning and hopped over to the Magic Kingdom for the evening.  On those nights the MK closed at 11 pm and we didn't get to the DAK bus stop at the TTC until after midnight (resort buses go to the front gate of the MK while the other Disney buses drop you off at the TTC so you get the full experience of going to the Magic Kingdom).  The bus arrived and my brother and I had a private bus ride back to DAK (this happened twice) only to see that our car had the honor of being the very last one left in the DAK guest parking lot.  The parking lot trams only run for an hour or two after each park closes, so we had the pleasure of walking all the way back to the car (it's a nice walk at night).  As long as you're ready for conditions like that, the Disney buses can save you time and wear and tear on your car while you enjoy your vacation at WDW.

Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort

Preparing to fire on a sailboat at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort.

Universal Orlando

Islands of Adventure

Islands of Adventure - Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls

Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls was quite busy and had a long line each day at IOA.  This is a great summertime ride as you most likely will get soaked on top of the fact that it's a fun log flume ride.  The worst part of the ride is the actual log itself.  Not too long ago they installed individual lap bars on the ride.  I'd guess and say that too many people were trying to climb out of the log before the final drop (there are still many signs telling you to stay seated and there are workers just before and at the top of the drop, making sure that you stay in the log), creating a safety hazard.  The problem is that now you're wedged into the log and it's much more difficult to get in and out of the seat.  By making the change, the ride is even less accessible now than it was before, and people like my father who have a walking condition and could go on the ride before can no longer go on it now.  Thanks, Universal.

Islands of Adventure - Dueling Dragons - fire dragon

Riding the Dueling Dragons is always fun except when they run only one coaster on each side, even during busy days.  The line queue through the castle is great and both fire and ice dragons are a blast, but it's quite frustrating when you have to wait five minutes between each cycle of coaster trains.  It's even worse as you try to squeeze in a second ride before the 30-minute part of the free locker rental expires and you have to pay to retrieve your stuff.

Islands of Adventure - Green Eggs and Ham

For a long time now Green Eggs and Ham has been more of a decoration rather than an actual eating location.

Islands of Adventure - Incredible Hulk Coaster

The front row on Incredible Hulk Coaster is best at night.  At least they ran multiple trains here and kept the line moving, unlike at Dueling Dragons.

Islands of Adventure - Jurassic Park River Adventure

A split-second before splashdown on Jurassic Park River Adventure.

Islands of Adventure - Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges

The people getting off Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges were completely soaked and just as happy being that way.  It was like they literally went swimming through the water.  Many people had to stop in the child swap area and wring out their shirts.  If you're hot and in dire need of some water, this ride can easily solve those problems.

Islands of Adventure - Captain America

Captain America shows his approval in Marvel Super Hero Island.

Islands of Adventure - careless people

Here at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous, some thoughtful park guest decided to leave their trash on the floor in the middle of one of the seating areas.  It was there before we arrived.  And as I sat there and observed, the trash continued to sit on the floor until after we left at least 45 minutes later.  There was an employee going around and taking empty trays from the trash cans, but he could care less about trash on the floor.  So the trash sat there and people just walked around it.

Another example for the classic battle of Disney versus Universal involves the tables in the eating areas.  Each time we sat at a table in a USF or IOA restaurant, it was always sticky and a mess (and we weren't sitting down just as people were leaving the table --- these tables had been vacant for a little while).  It didn't matter if this was for an early or late lunch in the park.  Every single table was a sticky mess.  At least Disney has workers who circulate in the eating areas and manage to wipe down many of the tables after the people leave, making it a little bit of a cleaner and better eating environment.  Universal just doesn't seem to care about little things like that.

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida - Animal Actors on Location! - 01 Universal Studios Florida - Animal Actors on Location! - 02 Universal Studios Florida - Animal Actors on Location! - 03 Universal Studios Florida - Animal Actors on Location! - 04

Overall, Animal Actors on Location! was a pretty good show and the animals were entertaining, especially the orangutan.  The show felt like it was missing something since there were several props on the stage (like the waterslide by the waterfall) that were never used.  This was actually our first time seeing this show so we didn't know if it was unexpectedly cut short for some reason or if what we saw was in fact the entire show.  It could have also been where not all of the animals perform in each show.

Universal Studios Florida - sunset

Sunset across the lagoon.  Every day in Florida we saw afternoon thunderstorms.


 

Animal Fun

alligator

The alligator watches carefully, waiting until a tourist's finger is within the biting range.

neat bird - 01

A neat bird in the Magic Kingdom.

neat bird - 02

A strange duck-goose hybrid or whatever that commonly lives near the Imagination! pavilion (appropriately) in Epcot.

neat bird - 03

An interesting bird is keeping watch over some ducks near The Seas with Nemo & Friends in Epcot.

neat bird - 04

This cool looking bird is posing on a rock in China at Epcot.

neat bird - 05

The bird watches you from underwater as it takes a bath in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

duck versus frog - 01 duck versus frog - 02 duck versus frog - 03

Here we have a "teenage" duck (not a duckling and not an adult) who thought that it could eat a frog.  The duck caught the frog (that was the hard part), but it couldn't quite swallow it.  The duck carried the frog around in its beak as it was later chased around the pond by a larger duck.  It ducked out of sight (pun intended; yeah, that was an easy one) and I don't know if it somehow managed to eat the frog or just gave up on it.  This incident took place at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.

ducks - 01

A pair of ducks at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.

ducks - 02

Little ducks using a duck ramp in Epcot.

ducks - 03

King of the water.

ducks - 04

Nap time near Mexico at Epcot.

ducks - 05

Putting all of your ducks in a row.

goat - 01

The goat looks like it has something to say.

gorilla - 01 gorilla - 02

The gorillas were out on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

heron - 01

A heron posing along the side of Splash Mountain.

hippo - 01

Hippo taking an underwater nap on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.

lizard - 01

Believe it or not, but a lizard actually stayed still long enough to take its picture.

parrots - 01

These two parrots were quickly removed from the Discovery Island Trail following this display of affection.

rabbit - 01

One this trip the vast majority of rabbit sightings were in Epcot, typically in the grassy areas in Future World West by Innoventions and between Canada and the Refreshment Port in World Showcase.  On past trips, rabbits were very common throughout the Disney resorts, especially at night.  Pop Century and the Wilderness Lodge are usually loaded with them.

sheep - 01

Sometimes you need to improvise if there aren't any pillows available.

smiling giraffe - 01

Is this giraffe smiling?  Well, it is lunch time.

large spider - 01

An ultra-scary tarantula!

tiger - 01 tiger - 02

The tigers were enjoying the water on the Maharajah Jungle Trek trail in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

tiger - 03

Mmmmm, tourists!

tortoise - 01

Yes, you can bribe a tortoise with a piece of sweet potato.


 

Wild Weather

Pretty much every day on the July trip saw high daytime temperatures, high humidity, and combining the two, afternoon pop-up thunderstorms.

The afternoon thunderstorms are common in Florida during the Summer, but not the extent that we experienced them on this past trip.  It turns out that we were stuck in a peculiar weather pattern that promoted the growth of the storms and kept away other weather fronts.  We didn't see any large scale rain events until we were trying to leave for home on Sunday.  We had to wait inside of the Studios until the rain let up enough to get to the car and then hit the road.

A neat thing about the thunderstorms were that they produced local areas of rainfall.  In other words, the storms were small enough that it could have been raining in Canada and dry across the water over in China and Norway in Epcot.  It was also where it could have been storming in Epcot and completely dry in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The other cool thing about the constant thunderstorms was the amount of lightning that was produced, especially when the storms were still around at night.  One night in particular saw an extremely brilliant lightning display in the skies above Epcot right before IllumiNations started.  The crowds were thrilled each time a magnificent lightning bolt raced across the entire night sky, electrifying the clouds and showing them just a small sample of the power of nature.

Downtown Disney - storm clouds - 01

Strong gusts of wind and dark clouds about the West Side at Downtown Disney.

Downtown Disney - storm clouds - 02

A storm is over Saratoga Springs.

Downtown Disney - storm clouds - 03

The windsock shows that it's too windy for the Characters in Flight balloon.

Kissimmee - storm clouds - 01 Kissimmee - storm clouds - 02

Some nasty looking storm clouds while driving around Kissimmee, FL.

Epcot - lightning - 01 Epcot - lightning - 02 Epcot - lightning - 03

Bolts of lightning at Epcot.

Epcot - rain - 01

Rain is approaching from Canada and the west side of World Showcase.

Epcot - rain - 02

Rain in the east side of Future World by Test Track.

Epcot - rainbow

The end of the rainbow is in China.  Wait, what?

Epcot - storm clouds - 01 Epcot - storm clouds - 02 Epcot - storm clouds - 03 Epcot - storm clouds - 04 Epcot - storm clouds - 05

Assorted storm clouds in Epcot.  With the wide open spaces and World Showcase lagoon, it's easy to have lots of good views as the storms move into the area.  Then again, with the open areas it can be interesting running from one covered area to another once the rain is falling.

Epcot - sunset storm clouds - 01 Epcot - sunset storm clouds - 02 Epcot - sunset storm clouds - 03

Storm clouds at sunset in Epcot.

Magic Kingdom - rain

Rain is approaching Seven Seas Lagoon and the Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom - rainbow - 01 Magic Kingdom - rainbow - 02

A rainbow in the Magic Kingdom seen from the border between Frontierland and Adventureland.

Magic Kingdom - storm clouds

Thunderstorms are developing behind The Magic Carpets of Aladdin in Adventureland.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - lightning - 01 Disney's Hollywood Studios - lightning - 02

Lightning in the clouds behind Dinosaur Gertie and Indy Jones at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Seven Seas Lagoon - rain

Rain is approaching Disney's Polynesian Resort.

Disney's Polynesian Resort - rain

It's still pouring rain as we wait for the Studios bus at the Polynesian Resort's bus stop.

Epcot resorts - thunderstorm - 01 Epcot resorts - thunderstorm - 02 Epcot resorts - thunderstorm - 03

This was one of the most impressive thunderstorms that we saw while on the trip.  We're on the Boardwalk and looking over to the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts with Spaceship Earth visible on the horizon.  As nasty and impressive as this storm looked, you would have never known that it was there an hour later.  We took a walk around the resorts before heading into Epcot, and that afternoon we had party cloudy skies with lots of sunshine just like any normal day in Florida.

Universal Studios Florida - rain - 01 Universal Studios Florida - rain - 02 Universal Studios Florida - rain - 03

Small areas of rain across the lagoon and just outside of Universal Studios Florida.

Universal Studios Florida - rain - 04

It was pouring as we were leaving The Simpsons Ride.

Universal Studios Florida - rain - 05 Universal Studios Florida - rain - 06

At least somebody was out there and having fun in the rain and deep puddles of water.


 

Conclusion

Summertime has always been one of my favorite times in central Florida.
The intense heat has never been a major problem for me, and I love walking around the parks and resorts during the warm nights.  I'm also a certified weather dork and it amuses me greatly when thunderstorms develop in the area.

The crowds do get busy when it comes to certain parks and attractions, but it's expected and some of it can be avoided through proper planning and using FastPass.  The only exception for my system was for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster in Disney's Hollywood Studios.  That FastPass was a hot seller and there were times that the single rider line was so busy that the workers had it periodically close it.

Otherwise, all of the popular rides were busy as they normally would be any other time of the year.  Some of them had stand-by lines that moved fairly well (Toy Story Midway Mania and Dinosaur), while others had painfully slow lines (Soarin' and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster).  As it was pointed out in one of the pictures, the crowds for Fantasmic! were insane.

As far as the dining options went, the best food was consistently found in the resorts and not in the parks.  Going to the resorts for lunch was a nice break from the crowds in the parks and also gave you something else to see and do, or if it was your first time, it was something new to explore.  It was easy to hop on a bus and visit a resort for lunch with most of the resort buses arriving within 10 minutes.  Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of our favorite places to have lunch along with newly re-discovered Caribbean Beach Resort.

I don't know if it was just me, but a lot of the time when walking around the park I felt like I was invisible.  Had it not been for last second course varations, people of all shapes and sizes would have crashed into me all day long.  Many knew that I was there, but they just didn't care and walked wherever they wanted to go.  After a while that got really frustrating and I began standing my ground.

Society is rapidly changing and many of those changes are quite visible in the park guests at Disney, Universal and the surrounding area.  I have a few theories about the future of the Disney theme parks based on these observations, and I'll be posting those and other observations in a series of new articles I'm planning on adding to this website.

For the most part the Summer trip went rather well and we all had an enjoyable time.  As long as you're ready for the heat and have a solid plan for working around the crowds, you can have a great time even with it being hot and busy.

Thanks for making it through this lengthy trip report.

Let me know what you think about it or if you want to share your stories about being in the parks in the summertime.

- Dan

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