ORLANDO 2020 TRIP

As some of you may know, I went to Orlando, Florida last week. I left for Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) at around 4:30 am Tuesday morning. Our flight was scheduled for 6:30 and man, did we cut it close! We got to the airport around 6am. I went with my mom, my Aunt, and my mom’s friend. My mom’s friend picked us up at the Orlando airport and I headed right to my first park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Now this is the park I was sort of, kinda looking forward to the most. Why? Two words: GALAXY’S EDGE. This area of the park is themed to Star Wars, namely the planet Batuu. While there, I took the opportunity to drink some blue milk (it wasn’t as nasty as it sounds), meet some locals, and even fly the Millennium Falcon! Yes, that’s right, ladies and gentlemen. I flew the Millennium Falcon —BY MYSELF!–and only hit a few things. I earned the rank of Scoundrel. Hey, I didn’t say I could fly well… Probably the highlight of my day was building my own Droid. It was a little pricey, ($100 plus tax) but OH MY EVER LOVING GOD IS THIS THING AWESOME! See, the Droids are programmed and have microchips that allow them to interact with other Droids and surroundings in Galaxy’s Edge. So I’d say B1-L3 (that’s his name) was worth it! Only downside is that once you get the Droids talking, they don’t shut up! It’s all good, though. They’re so cute and lovable. Now my one regret is that, sadly, I did not get the chance to experience Rise of the Resistance. I did not get a boarding pass in time. Oh well…maybe next time…

Aside from Galaxy’s Edge, I also rode Tower of Terror, my favorite drop ride EVER, twice. The Tower of Terror is themed to the Twilight Zone television show. The premise is that a hotel in Hollywood in 1939 got struck by lightning with five people in the elevator. And, lucky you…you get to ride in that very elevator. I am not going to give away any spoilers…watch the POV…but I cannot get enough of this ride! (And yes, B1-L3 rode most of the rides with me).

One ride I am absolutely amazed B1-L3 survived was Rock N’ Roller Coaster. This ride catapults you from a complete standstill to 60 mph in about 3 seconds…and goes upside-down…and B1-L3 was on the floor not strapped into a seat or anything.

Probably my second-favorite ride at Hollywood Studios, (Tower of Terror being #1) was actually what might be considered a “family” ride. That ride is Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. This ride replaced the classic Great Movie Ride, which I know a few people are salty about. I had my doubts about this ride replacing another ride that I loved, but this is a worthy successor, I promise. Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is themed to a cartoon featuring…you guessed it…JESUS! No, of course it is themed to Mickey Mouse. And actually, of all the rides all the Disney parks have, this is the first one exclusively themed to Mickey Mouse. The cartoon is based around Mickey and Minnie going on a picnic date, and you are riding a train with Goofy as the conductor. Again, no spoilers…watch a POV…but hilarity ensues.

The one area of Hollywood Studios that takes me back to my youth the most is Toy Story Land. The only ride I did in this area this go-round was Slinky Dog Dash. The park was actually fairly crowded, so I did have to wait around an hour for the ride. And when there are, frankly, better things to do in the same park you’re not inclined to wait all that time again. Slinky Dog Dash is a fun ride–I really do like it–but Hollywood Studios was just too crowded to merit another ride.

Wednesday, day 2, I went to the Magic Kingdom. I know the Magic Kingdom is a family park and isn’t necessarily aimed exclusively at adults, but walking through those gates, I felt like a kid again. The first ride I did was the popular Peter Pan’s Flight. This ride usually pulls in a long line. I waited all of 5 minutes for it. Granted, it was right when the park opened, but considering it’s one of the most popular rides, and the first ride you see, 5 minutes is nothing! After flying of to Neverland, I bit the bullet and decided to ride the love-to-hate ride, It’s A Small World. It was a total walk-on, so why not, right? I actually really liked this ride. Yes, the song is repetitive as Hell, but damn if it isn’t catchy! It’s been four days and I still have the song stuck in my head! So after Small World, I noticed the Haunted Mansion had a 15 minute wait. Um…15 minutes? For the world-famous Haunted Mansion? YES PLEASE! The premise of the ride is dark, but it is a fun ride. There are no scary parts. It’s all silly.

The longest line I waited in all day at the Magic Kingdom was Splash Mountain. Let me add now that every day we were in Orlando, it was in the 90s and humid, so yeah…this ride was popular. Having said that, I only waited about 45-50 minutes for both times I rode Splash Mountain.

After having a Zippity-Do-Da Day on Splash Mountain, I hopped in line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. This ride is fun! Not to mention unique. The ride is themed to you going into the mines to see the Seven Dwarfs in a mine cart. The ride is half roller coaster, half dark ride, and ALL fun! The cars on the ride actually sway side-to-side to simulate a mine cart. It really is a great touch.

I also rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the front. It was bumpy, but what do you expect? I had fun on the ride and that’s all that matters. Space Mountain was the last ride I did that day. I was assigned to the very back car. While bumpy, Space Mountain surprised me. I remembered the ride as being fun, but nothing else. Now it’s earned its place as my favorite coaster in the Magic Kingdom. You get yanked over everything, providing some amazing “ejector airtime”. Airtime is when you get lifted out of your seat. There are two kinds: floater and ejector. Floater airtime is where you lift out of your seat for a few seconds. Ejector airtime is when you feel like you’re going to fly out of the ride. This is what I look for in a good roller coaster, and man did Space Mountain DELIVER!

That night, my mom, Aunt, my mom’s friend and I all went to Downtown Disney. We must have tried on every single Mickey themed headband in the store! We did get yelled at at one point for pulling our masks down for a quick photo. Whatever…it was two seconds. I got a votive candle holder. It is a pumpkin but is shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head. It’s really cute!

Thursday I visited my favorite Disney park, Animal Kingdom. This place is amazing! The last time I visited Animal Kingdom, March 2019, it was cold and during Spring Break. Oops… As a result, the park was MOBBED! COVID-era Animal Kingdom? Bliss! Animal Kingdom has an area themed to Avatar (the James Cameron film, not the Last Airbender). Last time I went, the most popular ride at the park, Flight of Passage, was basically 3 to 3 1/2 hours all day. So I only got to ride it once. This time, however, the wait NEVER exceeded one hour. GREAT! More rides for me! I am not endorsing Covid by any means, but when lines at major theme parks are this low, I’m not complaining!

Flight of Passage is a simulator ride. It is themed to you being linked to your own Avatar and riding on the back of an Ikron (or Banshee). This is probably the best non-roller coaster ride I have ever been on! I cannot get enough of this ride! IT IS INCREDIBLE! The views you get flying on your own Ikron through Pandora is indescribable. Not gonna lie…I was tearing up during the ride.

After Flight of Passage, I got in line for the other ride in Pandora. This ride is called the Na’Vi River Journey. Most people who are fans of Disney and Avatar know this ride because of the absolutely astonishing audio-animatronic Na’Vi Shaman of Songs. The ride is not exciting. It’s a slow boat ride through the rivers of Pandora. It is stunning in there, though. As with Flight of Passage, you really do feel like you are on Pandora and not in Florida. And that Shaman? It’s really hard to believe she isn’t real. She forms words, sings, and moves with such fluidity and is so lifelike you forget it’s a robot.

After I was done in Pandora, I took a ride on the Kilimanjaro Safari. This ride is actually bigger than all of the Magic Kingdom. It takes up over 100 acres of land. It is really cool because you get to see real-live animals…NOT robots like on the Jungle Cruise…just walking around. It’s amazing. On my one ride, I saw elephants, giraffes, gazelle, and two baby zebras playing. That was adorable! The ride is long, too. It takes about 20-30 minutes to ride this thing. The ride time fluctuates depending on if there are any animals in your path.

Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to see Lion King The Musical or Finding Nemo the Musical. All shows, with the exception of UP (a bird show themed to Dug and the characters from the Pixar film UP) were not running due to COVID and social distancing. I was really hoping to see Finding Nemo the Musical or Lion King, but no go.

The one roller coaster at Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest, was amazingly a total walk-on. So I took full advantage of that. I rode Everest about six times in a day, four without even having to go back through the line. One funny thing about that is they were assigning seats. So the first time I rode, I asked for the front. I waited one train and rode by myself in the front row. After that, I figured I’d just take whatever seat they assign me. Every single time, they assigned me to the front.

There was one ride at Animal Kingdom I was a little underwhelmed with. It’s a raft ride called Kali River Rapids. I have been on lots of white-water raft rides before, and have always gotten soaked. Kali River Rapids, not so much. I realize it’s a hit-or-miss sort of ride and is luck of the draw who gets drenched. But I walked off frankly disappointed. I wanted to cool off, and I didn’t get that.

After Animal Kingdom, my party and I went to Fun Spot Kissimmee. Fun Spot is a free amusement park in Orlando and there is one in Kissimmee. It’s actually pretty funny because they are literally no more than 10 minutes from each other. But I wanted to go to the Kissimmee location. Why that one? Well there are two reasons. One was a wooden roller coaster that goes upside-down called Mine Blower. The second reason, and my main excuse for going, was the world-famous, record-breaking, world’s tallest 300 foot SkyCoaster. This thing is MASSIVE! While Fun Spot is free to park and get into, you have to pay per ride, OR you can get an all-inclusive wristband that includes all the rides in the park unlimited and one ride on the SkyCoaster. That probably would have been a better deal, but the park was actually kind of iffy. The staff were nice and all, but part of me was thinking, “Just do the damn rides and get the Hell out of here”.

The two rides I paid for, SkyCoaster and Mine Blower, total was $53. The SkyCoaster alone was $40 plus tax and one ride on Mine Blower was $10. Was it worth it? Eh…I mean, Mine Blower was fun, but it was rattly and kind of rough and shaky. And the ride is only a few years old, so how that happened I have no idea. The SkyCoaster on the other hand? This ride genuinely terrified me. There are very few rides that freak me out anymore, but this was up there! And so was I. On a SkyCoaster, you are laying down in a harness on your stomach, hoisted into the air, and have to pull a cord to drop. Most rides like this are around 100-150 feet, maybe. So that in and of itself is scary enough. Now DOUBLE it, and you get the Kissimmee SkyCoaster. The scariest park was being lifted–slowly–300 feet up. I’ve ridden roller coaster that are 400+ feet tall and they are not as scary as this thing. Those rides launch you at over 100 mph up and the ride is over in about 30 seconds. The SkyCoaster, you are over water and you see the ground progressively getting smaller and smaller and smaller. And then you hear “3-2-1-FLY!” and you pull that cord and take the leap of faith. I had a blast on this thing!

The last day at the parks, Friday, I was at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. I spent more time over at Islands than at Universal Studios. The lines were a little long at Universal Studios and I had a feeling Islands of Adventure would be worse. I was wrong. At Universal, I did Revenge of the Mummy, the Transformers ride, saw the “ok” Jason Bourne stunt show, and rode Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. I also socially distance met Homer Simpson and Bumblebee from Transformers.

I also rode the roller coaster Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. This ride is cool because it is themed to music and you can choose your own “soundtrack” for the ride. I chose Metallica. You can actually listen to the song you choose while you ride, and there’s a variety of genres so that’s pretty unique. However apart from that, I can’t really say this ride was a great one. The non-inverting loop (a loop that twists out at the top so you don’t go upside-down) was cool, but the rest of the ride was actually kind of rough. Not to mention it’s just basically a hill, brakes, hill, brakes, hill, brakes…you get the idea. It’s just not that exciting.

After waiting in lines for a few rides at Universal Studios, I took the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure. The Hogwarts Express drops you off in Hogsmeade. There, I bought a butterbeer. I LOVE THIS STUFF! I’m a Harry Potter fan, so drinking a drink that Harry Potter drinks was pretty sweet! The one ride I expected to have a long line, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, had a 5 minute wait. That’s about the length of the ride itself. Then I ran to the newest ride at IOA, Hagrid’s Magical Motorbike Adventure. This roller coaster was phenomenal! It has seven launches, goes through the Dark Forest from the Harry Potter books and films, features LOADS of magical creatures (including Unicorns), a drop track (so the track literally drops from under you) and is narrated the whole time by Hagrid. This was my favorite ride in the Universal parks. It is so well-done and re-ridable. And one cool thing about this ride is that I have bragging rights on this ride. Islands of Adventure closed at 6pm. I got in line at exactly 6:00 and was actually the last rider of the night on the ride. So that was awesome!

One ride I wanted to do was a raft ride called Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges. Unfortunately, the ride closed down so I went to another water ride, the Jurassic Park River Adventure. This starts off as a nice, relaxing boat ride through Jurassic Park, narrated by John Hammond from the Jurassic Park films. But then one of the dinosaurs knocks you off-course into a restricted area. You enter a Raptor quarantine containment center and, right before a T-Rex eats you, you plunge over 100 feet into a pool of water. I got soaked and it felt great! Friday was the hottest day, so yeah…getting drenched was a Godsend!

Speaking of Jurassic Park, they have this cool thing where you can meet the Raptor named Blue from the Jurassic World films. It is an interactive show, and you can take all the photos and selfies you want. That plus I love Jurassic Park, so I decided to do it. The Raptor trainer takes professional photos of you with Blue and after that, you can take a selfie with the Raptor…just don’t touch her. That was a cool experience!

After the Jurassic Park area, I ventured over to Marvel Superhero Island to ride one of my favorite coasters in all of Orlando, The Incredible Hulk. This ride blasts you through a tube full of “Gamma radiation” at 40 mph in 2 seconds…and it’s an uphill launch, so it’s pretty forceful. After the launch, you roll into an inversion 110 feet in the air. After rolling out of that inversion, (going upside-down) you drop and reach a maximum speed of 67 mph. The ride goes upside-down six more times and is pretty intense. I rode in the back, since I was assigned that row. I asked for the front, but they said they were not taking row requests. The back row was a little jittery, but it is still really smooth. Actually, at some points, my vision went fuzzy due to the forces.

After Hulk, I was astounded to see one of the best rides in the world (voted), The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, had a 10 minute wait. So naturally, I took full advantage of that. This ride is fantastic! It is themed to all the villains from the Spider-Man comics taking over New York City. You are hired by the Daily Bugle as a reporter to go out in a SCOOP vehicle and cover the story. While there, the villains attack you, you free-fall (simulated) from a skyscraper, and Spider Man saves the day! (Spoiler!) The ride is awesome because it’s not just a 3D screen you’re looking at the whole time. The ride vehicle actually moves and has physical sets along the ride. It really is a spectacular ride!

I also rode Skull Island Reign of Kong. This ride is themed to you going into the jungle as scientists. While there, you encounter prehistoric creatures, man-eating plants, and, naturally, King Kong. Most of the ride is 3D screens. HOWEVER you do pass some actual sets. They are ruins that are on fire. You hear natives chanting and at the end of the ride is a GIGANTIC animatronic King Kong. This thing is so lifelike! And his breath smells like bananas.

So those were my main days in Orlando. I did do the Orlando StarFlyer, the world’s tallest swing ride. The ride is like an average swing ride at any amusement park on crack. This thing is 350 feet tall, goes 65 mph, and swings outwards. And did I mention the only thing holding you in is is a strap across your lap? The only thing holding you over 300 feet in the air is a tiny metal chain. These chains can hold up to 5,00 pounds each, but you kind of forget that little detail. I cannot get enough of this thing! It cost $10 to ride and $6 every time you ride after that. I did it twice in a row. Did I mention I rode it at night? So I couldn’t see the ground, or anything for that matter. I just stretched out my arms and legs, sat back, and enjoyed the sensation of flying.

So that was my trip to Orlando. I got home around 9:30 last night. I had a REALLY fun time! Everyone was so nice and friendly. They really went out of their way to make sure everyone felt safe and comfortable. The park employees went above and beyond, even by Disney and Universal standards. I loved every second of this trip! Thanks for reading!

-Tom

Author: AuTom Spectrum Blog

I have Autism and am a self-advocate and public speaker. On the side I do stand-up comedy. I live in Baltimore County and have an AMAZING girlfriend

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