Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Spring Break, or When Not to do Disney

So, for spring break this year, Eric and I took kidlet to Florida for the main purpose of visiting his parents who moved down there last summer. It wasn’t exactly a planned trip as we had originally discussed going to visit after the wedding as leave from work and finances are currently tied up with that. However, there was a little family drama over the Christmas holiday that I won’t get into that made Eric feel obligated to visit his parents to reassure them that their relationship was on good terms. So, suddenly, we were scrambling to go to Florida in March.

I’m a planner, a HUGE planner, and while we made the decision in early January, there were many bumps in the road to the point that we were still debating whether we’d make it down there in February. I didn’t even book anything until late February/mid March. In February, Eric had some health issues that really made the trip questionable, but by mid March, that was resolved and the trip was a definite. Still, the constant back and forth was aggravating to me because I couldn’t plan anything until we were 100% sure we were going, which meant I was booking a lot of stuff last minute (at least, to me).

We decided to make the most of our trip and drive down to Orlando for a couple of days before going to his parents’ house. We planned to spend a day each in Disney World and at Universal as Eric and I had both never been to Universal. After spending the day there, I kind of see why my parents never made a point to go there... We split the drive down to Florida in two days since I was sure kidlet wouldn’t make the drive in one fell swoop. We stopped in Florence, SC both on the way down and on the way back since it was a fairly nice halfway point.

While the trip was mostly a success, there are many things I would have done differently. I probably still would have done Disney, though, I will NEVER do Disney again during spring break. It is WAY too crowded. I took kidlet to Disney when she was 5 for her birthday and since she wasn’t in school yet, we could go ON her birthday. It wasn’t terribly crowded while we were there and wait times were reasonable. During spring break, Disney is ridiculously crowded and I was miserable. We got fast passes for 3 rides (only one of which really seemed worth it, but because we booked everything so late, there was slim pickings for rides). We went on Splash Mountain…at like 10 A.M. when it was only like 60 degrees outside. It warmed up to the mid 70’s later on, but kidlet and I were already cold, so adding freezing water to the mix was not my brightest moment. We also had a fast pass to the Haunted Mansion which…I like the ride, but the wait time was never that bad for that one. The only ride I had a fast pass for that was worth it was Space Mountain since that line was always about 1.5-2 hours long. We had fun at Disney, but I am serious about not doing it on spring break again.

Lessons from Disney:
1.       Not during spring break.
2.       Stay on one of the hotels on Disney property that is not owned by Disney. It’s slightly cheaper than Disney, not as cheap as an off site hotel, but you have easier access to Disney transportation, which is free.
3.       If you stay off site at a hotel, take Disney transportation ALL the way to Epcot before getting a taxi back to your hotel. Our taxi was over $40 and about half of that was just getting off Disney property. If we had taken the monorail back to Epcot from Magic Kingdom, we would have saved ourselves at least $12.
4.       Determine the dates you want to be at Disney and book reservations as soon as you know them. I would have loved to do some kind of character dining experience, but they were all booked by the time I tried.
5.       Don’t book Splash Mountain at 10 AM in March. Yes, Florida is typically warm all year, but it does get chilly in the early mornings and evenings…
Our second day in Florida was spent at Universal. I really wish I had done some research on the rides at Universal before we went. Apparently, Universal proper (we didn’t do Islands of Adventure) has a thing for 3D virtual rides. The first ride we went on was the Minion one and that made both Eric and I sick to our stomachs. From there we did Shrek (not as bad, but similar idea) and then Transformers (not as bad for me, but Eric hated it). By that point, we were really unhappy because this is not how we wanted to spend our day (or money). Thankfully, we were able to break out of the 3D world for the Mummy ride and for the Disaster ride, both which were awesome. We did do Harry Potter/Diagon alley and enjoyed the roller coaster there (because the 3D effects weren’t as vomit-inducing on that one as on the others) and Eric bought us all wands at Ollivander’s wand shop. We also tasted butter beer, which we all enjoyed. Our last ride was one Denise chose, which was the Woody the Woodpecker coaster. I wanted to do ET, but she was adamant and we were all pretty exhausted by that point anyway.

Lessons from Universal:
1.       Don’t do it. Seriously, it’s got nothing on Disney and the ONLY reason I can see going back is to do Hogsmeade for Harry Potter. We might do a return trip at some point to try that, but I don’t think it’ll be the next time we go to Florida.
2.       Research the rides before you go on them. If you don’t do well at virtual 3D moving rides, Universal is really not for you. After Transformers, I told Eric which rides had the 3D and what I thought we should skip and we were all much happier.
3.       Don’t do Escape from Gringotts first thing. When we got there, the wait was over 2 hours, but after lunch, the wait was just over an hour. Diagon Alley was still filled with people (and watch out for all the idiots who stop in the middle of the walkway to snap pics of the huge dragon), but the wait time was more reasonable.

After Universal, we drove to Eric’s parents, which was about 1.5-2 hours away from Orlando. We got to the area after dark and proceeded to get very lost. If you’ve never been to Ocala, or have no reason to go there (i.e. family obligations), I highly suggest you skip it. I had a roommate who was from Ocala during my short stint at a small liberal arts college in Florida and one weekend, we went to visit her parents. It’s basically like they took Southern Maryland (St. Mary’s County, specifically) and transported it to Florida, removing all traces of any hills and replacing them with palm trees and Spanish moss. There are tons of horse farms everywhere, miles of countryside, and not much else. Whomever designed their street system must have been smoking something because they have multiple streets with the same names, just slight variations. For instance, we were told to take 80th Street. Well, there’s an 80th Street and an 80th Avenue that actually cross each other. The road his parents live on has a similar road on the other side of town. We got so lost and we were both pretty aggravated and pissed off by the time we finally managed to find it. Lesson from that experience: don’t trust Google Maps for everything. It’s a new development, so I’m not even sure if it was ever put ON google maps.

All in all, I’m glad we went as I was able to keep a promise to kidlet to return to Disney in three years, but if I could have done this differently, I would have planned to go at a different time and preferably after the wedding. I’ve calculated my leave for the rest of the year and I’m going to have to scrimp and save it if I have any hope of going on a honeymoon with Eric in January. We’re still trying to figure out where we’re going, but I’m leaning towards going back to Freeport in the Bahamas. I went on a cruise there a couple of years ago and the area is really nice. I’m just trying to figure out where we should stay while we’re there. Hopefully we can decide on that and start booking it soon!

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