Even though many people here go at a young age, after 21 years I finally was able to experience Disney World and Universal Studios for myself. My father said that he always wanted to vacation there as a family before, but as an ex-Enron employee, things never quite came together and before he knew it, I was going to college. After earning my undergraduate degree and selling my soul to medical school’s curriculum with its miserly vacation time, my parents decided that this year we were going to do this. Even though money was extra tight this year, my father somehow managed to budget together two days at Disney World and one day at Universal Studios in Florida. Needless to say, I was determined to enjoy this outing.
Early morning on July 17th, we left for the airport in Houston, Texas. Since I had not had a true Summer Vacation for a while (I always had other obligations during my summer), I had already begun to grow a little restless with the lack of things to do. Being able to once again climb aboard and airplane and navigate through airport terminals was an exciting change of pace as we made our way to Orlando, Florida where Disney World awaited. We did not opt to stay at the Disney Resorts (though they looked pretty neat as our monorail passed by them) and instead chose to stay at the Galleria Palms Hotel which was about 10-15 minutes away from both Disney World and Universal Studios. After grabbing some basic necessities from a nearby Target (which strangely had two floors), we went to sleep, eager to arrive the next day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom the next day before the park opened.
Day 1: Magic Kingdom
We arrived early enough to grab the monorail to Magic Kingdom and wait outside of the gate before the park opened. In many ways, the Magic Kingdom was the perfect destination to start our vacation, as the park was completely geared towards immersing its inhabitants in a fantastical world of Disney characters, performers, and diverse “lands” to let one truly feel as if he or she has left the “real world.” 15 minutes before the park opened, Mickey and his friends arrived by train to the station that could be visible above the main park gates and put on a small welcome show for us which was rather cute and fantasy-like. As the show finished, the gates opened as fireworks sounded above to officially start the day, letting the crowd walk down Main Street U.S.A. towards the park’s center.
At the center of the park stood the iconic Cinderella’s Castle that has come to represent Disney World along with the infamous statue of Walt Disney and Mickey standing in front. Even seeing these from a distance filled me with a relaxed yet giddy feeling that I was in someplace special. I was at the largest and most funded park in the world and was staring at real life manifestations of the cartoons/movies that I had grown up with. As a person who is “growing up” and being thrust into the professional world of medicine, you can imagine how I must be feeling– I was extremely happy and felt like I had truly escaped the world for the day and entered fantasy worlds that I had not thought about in years.
Indeed, Disney World knew exactly what it was doing in terms of creating its atmosphere and accordingly also housed attractions for all ages rather than only young children. Once again, being Disney, the park is extremely well funded and even I was impressed with some of the special effects they showed off despite being the type of person who tends to know how such things work. The Disney characters blinked their eyes and moved their mouths to what they were saying, the animatronics were extremely detailed, rides had gimmicks in all the right places, and the visual effects in their shows were breathtaking. The day was finished with Disney’s Electrical Parade, lighting up the castle with a montage of different Disney characters, and a fireworks show that would put some July 4th celebrations to shame. Just thinking about how all of these performances and shows are done every day at Magic Kingdom makes it really feel as if everyone in the park is trying their absolute best to make it a special experience just for you– it really is not an understatement to call it the “most magical place on Earth.”
Snippet from the Wishes fireworks finale. As the fireworks lit up the castle, you got to hear what various Disney characters were wishing for.
Day 2: Animal Kingdom
After reaching home close to 11:00 PM the night before, we fell asleep rather quickly and repeated the routine the next day to go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The highlight of the morning was a safari through the park’s animal preserves. SinceAnimal Kingdom had a Disney-sized budget to work off of, they were able to recreate beautiful African plains, oases, and more to let animals roam free. During the safari, we drove through these environments and were able to see some of the animals up close without fences to separate us. At one point a giraffe wandered onto the path though so we got stuck for a bit though!
Along with many animals to see, Animal Kingdom also hosted a number of shows such as the famous Festival of the Lion King which is based off the Broadway musical which is in turn based off the movie. The songs were of course a delight to listen to and the African choreography accompanying them made the experience a very colorful one. In addition, they also performed Finding Nemo the Musical which was very creatively done in terms of costuming and movement.
Day 3: Universal Studios
During our final event-day we decided to visit Universal Studios’ Isles of Adventure, also known as “the side of the park that has the Harry Potter stuff in it.” This day was a little more relaxed as we were starting to grow a little tired from our regimen of waking up early then walking around the large parks during Florida’s summertime afternoons. Today however it decided to rain to cool off things which luckily happened after I had ridden on the main roller coasters.
Naturally, the first place my brother and I went to was the opposite side of the park where Hogsmeade and Hogwarts were. They did a rather good job in creating the environments and the main ride took place in Hogwarts so the queue stretched through the castle– this made the wait much less boring as there were plenty of things to keep us busy, including talking portraits on the walls. The ride itself was very well done– it was a sort of ride-film that had you flying through and over Hogwarts on broomstick. The ride’s motions mimicked what you would be feeling while you were surrounded with a movie screen that created a very very convincing illusion that you actually were flying. In addition, since you were being chased by a dragon, the room would shoot hot vapor at you when the dragon would breathe fire to make the effect all the more convincing– well worth the wait to get on the ride!
A similar ride was also in the Marvel section of the park except it was a 3D ride-film based aroundSpiderman. Interestingly enough, Stan Lee still made a couple cameos in the ride which was amusing. Universal Studios also had its share of interesting shows and did a great job at creating the environments/atmospheres to make you feel like you were in different settings.
There are many words that I can use to describe my vacation, with “magical,” “escape,” and “fantastical” among the best. Both Disney World and Universal Studios not only provided entertainment, but also immersed you in vivid environments that are housed on land so big that they are isolated from the rest of Florida. The entire experience was an escape in every way to ideal fantastical worlds that let my imagination run free and… play. A strange concept sometimes to one who has graduated college to go on to the more complex prospects of life, but a very necessary one. Once in a while, one just needs to be reminded about how much magic and adventure there is in this world.
Any Dream Is Possible, finale from the Dream Along With Mickey show