December 16, 2011 – We got out of work and hit the road. We usually drive to Orlando in two parts with a stopover around Palm Coast. Since this trip was going to involve hitting all four Disney Parks + Downtown Disney, we knew we needed an early start. The drive went smoothly, and we were at our hotel within 6.5 hours. Which included a dinner stop at Chick fil A – their peppermint milkshakes are great, by the way.
December 17, 2011 – Saturday morning we got breakfast at the hotel and drove over to Hollywood Studios. Extra Magic hours let us into the park by 8am, and we made a bee line to the Aerosmith Rockin’ Rollercoaster. After about a 10 minute wait we were happily on the ride, ready for a (relatively) well lit indoor coaster complete with a loop.
By 8:30 we were hustling back to our car (despite Disney workers wondering out loud why we were leaving already, “we’ve got other parks to get to!”) and on our way to Animal Kingdom. It was just a little after 9, and the park still wasn’t too crowded – though that would change by noon-ish. We walked through a few of the nature areas to see the different birds, a hippo, and a variety of monkeys. Tony had never ridden the Everest coaster (the large, mostly indoor coaster that’s inside the fake mountain), so we got in line. Why this was good: the line moved quickly, and there were a lot of little kids so how bad could it be? Why this was possibly bad: there was a sign warning that a lot of the coaster was indoors, it went both forwards and backwards, and it was not advised for those who might get motion sick. Ahem. So, we ignored the sign and proceeded to the coaster. On a scale from 1 to Noah’s Ark (at Kennywood), it’s a solid 8 – 8.5; Louisa had to sit down for a little while, and wasn’t really moving that fast for about 2 hours, but then she got over it. It was definitely a once-every-few-trips type of ride!
We recuperated by sipping an iced lemonade and looking at some cool birds, including flamingos, and a few kangaroos. We also walked through the exhibit with the silver back gorillas. Lunch began with shrimp and pork egg rolls enjoyed while waiting to order orange chicken from Yak and Yeti. The chicken was still good (and generously-portioned), though the recipe was a bit (er, a lot) sweeter than we remembered.
After lunch we made our way through the masses of people streaming into the park, hopped in the car and parked at Magic Kingdom. Ironically, our spot in the overflow lot was closer to the park than many spots in the main lot. (We only realized this, though, after waiting for and taking a ridiculously short tram ride to the gate.) We didn’t actually go into the park, but hopped on the monorail over to Epcot. After snagging a few fast passes for the GM Test Track we enjoyed a relaxing ride on Planet Earth, then wandered around to the different “worlds.”
Stops along the way around the lake included the Norway area for a cappuccino and rum cake topped with vanilla custard and almond meringe, the China pavilion (where we discovered a little statue appears out of the water, and then disappears for about 5 minutes), the French section (for toasted flatbread with ham and cheese and a twisted sweet bread with cinnamon, sugar and raisins), and the Great British area for fish and chips (still fantastic, a must-try). By this time we were back to the test track, and had a relatively short wait for the (always fun) ride. It’s even better at dusk, since the outdoor section seems must faster than the 60-ish mph the ride reaches.
Finally it was time to head over the to the fourth and final park, the Magic Kingdom. Like the other parks this one was decorated for Christmas. Each park had a very large, decorated Christmas tree, as well as an abundance of poinsettias. We rode a few rides, including the train (always fun), and the Haunted Mansion. There were quite a lot of people in the park, but that might have been because it was open till 1am. We stayed until about 10 (so a few hours) and then headed back to the hotel.
The night wasn’t quite over yet, though, since Downtown Disney was right across the street. And it was so warm we only needed windbreakers. As usual the destination was the Ghirardelli Soda fountain. We ordered a midnight fudge sundae (chocolate ice cream with dark [72% cocoa] fudge sauce, to go). Tony waited in the mass of people, while Louisa went next door to get some free chocolate samples. They were giving away the peppermint chocolate squares, which are among our favorites. Our order number was called, and we found a table to eat at outside. The sundae was wonderful – super rich, very chocolate-y, and our new favorite item on their menu.
December 18, 2011 – Sunday was our travel day. Since the apartment wasn’t too far away we had a leisurely morning, then went to Blue Spring State Park. There were quite a few (about 10-12) manatees, including a few smaller young ones, swimming in the clear blue water. Apparently manatees can only survive in fairly warm waters like this spring, which is why they come here in winter. Many of them were quite active, including two who were swimming around, hitting each other in the heads with their front flippers.
Lunch was enjoyed at LaSpada’s Original Philly Cheese Steaks – they have one of the best Philly cheese steaks (with mushrooms and a generous amount of White American) we’ve had, including ones in Philly. Their curly fries are basic frozen fair, but are cooked well and make a nice side dish. If you are around Blue Spring State Park, we definitely recommend this food stop.
Our final stop that evening was, of course, a Five Guys for burgers, peanuts, and Cajun fries.