Our June 2017 visits to theme parks included the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida!
Our visit to the Magic Kingdom was a lot of fun. We made sure to take many photos with the park photographers since photos are included with our annual pass. Plus we also wanted to wish Donald Duck a happy birthday while we were there!
We were lucky enough to be in the front two rows for our ride on Seven Dwarfs Mine train that day.
Autism is a perplexing (at times) neurological disorder and even though he has enjoyed this attraction since 2003, the last few times we have gone on the Haunted Mansion ride, our son has not liked the crowds in the loading area and his stress level has been very high, to the point of almost meltdown level. After our last visit, we have decided to take a break from this attraction for the next few months and hopefully his anxiety will not be so high when we try it again during lower crowd levels.
We try not to let a stressful experience at the parks ruin our day and after taking a break, we spent the remainder of our day at the Magic Kingdom enjoying all our favorites, including the Muppets' show in Liberty Square, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the Main Street Trolley Show.
On a rainy day in June I thoroughly explored and enjoyed Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park by myself.
I was excited to see the baby elephant while on the Kimilamjaro Safari ride during this visit to Animal Kingdom.
I also spent time walking the trails and paths throughout Animal Kingdom. They are such a good way to get away from the crowds and explore the unique offerings of Animal Kingdom.
I ate lunch at the Flame Tree Barbeque and my mixed greens salad with roasted chicken breast was very good.
I took the train over to Rafiki's Planet Watch and saw Doc McStuffins meeting fans at her Pet Vet Clinic.
Back in May, we attended the annual passholder preview of Pandora: World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom. We loved the thrilling Flight of Passage attraction and enjoyed the tranquil ride on Na'Vi River Journey. Details about our adventures are here in this blog post.
This visit, I was able to obtain a FP+ for Flight of Passage for later in the day. Flight of Passage was even more thrilling the second time and I highly recommend the attraction.
I ate dinner at Satu’li Canteen in Pandora. I ordered a child's meal of Steamed Cheeseburger Pod stuffed with Ground Beef, Ketchup, Mustard, Pickle, and Cheddar Cheese served with Vegetable Chips and Grapes, and small bottled water. The chips were a bit soggy and the cheeseburger pod was okay. Next time I will order one of the bowls available. Satu'li Canteen serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily and also offers call ahead ordering through the My Disney Experience app (Satu'li Canteen Menu).
In spite of the rain, I had a wonderful long day at Animal Kingdom and look forward to going back again soon.
My family and I visited Islands of Adventure on a hot weekend afternoon in June. We started out in Seuss Landing and enthusiastically enjoyed the water rides in Toon Lagoon the last part of our day.
One of the advantages of living near the theme parks is seeing familiar faces of the TMs and Cms at the parks, and many remember our son's name. We were happy to see our favorite storyteller from the Oh! The Stories You'll Hear! show in Seuss Landing. She was very excited to see our son too since it had been several months since our last visit.
While in Islands of Adventure we also rode The Cat in the Hat, The Trolley Train Ride, Flight of the Hippogriff, Jurassic Park River Adventure, Reign of KONG, Dudley Dooright's Rip Saw Falls, and Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges.
To say we got wet on Rip Saw Falls and Bilge Rat Barges is an understatement! We were soaked to the skin and EVERYTHING was drenched. It was awesome!
A few days after our visit to Islands of Adventure, my husband was able to take a vacation day and our son was in good hands with his caregiver, so we spent the day at Universal Studios Florida, just the two of us.
While we were walking into Universal Studios, I opened the Universal Orlando Resort app and made a reservation for the new Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon ride. This attraction has a virtual queue and guests can either obtain a reutrn time using the kiosks to the right of the attraction or use the Universal app. The app gives more choices of return times than the kiosk. This virtual queue is for all guests, not just those who need the AAP. We recommend using the virtual queue reservation for this ride if a time is available and use the AAP for another attraction-therefore virtually waiting for two rides at once. If your family member can not wait in the holding areas of the Race Through New York (there is one downstairs and one upstairs), tell the TM when you enter the attraction and they can provide you with a black card instead of the other colored cards. Show the card to the TMs and they will direct you where to go to enter the ride loading zone. If you experience this attraction in the first couple of hours after the park has opened, there will be minimal waiting time in the holding areas.
We decided to eat lunch at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley. It was delicious. My favorite non-alcoholic drink from Diagon Alley in warm weather is not frozen Butterbeer (unconventional for sure), it's the Lemon Squash from the Leaky Cauldron. The Lemon Squash is very refreshing without being too sweet.
Our lunch was great. The most surprisingly delicious part of our meal was the dessert. We tried the chocolate potted cream and the butterbeer potted cream. Oh My Goodness! Our tastebuds were jumping for joy! The chocolate potted cream was good, but the butterbeer potted cream was fabulous! We highly recommend these desserts the next time you are at the Leaky Cauldron.
After eating our delicious lunch, we had time to ride Escape from Gringotts.
We enjoyed the fun antics of Margo, Edith and Agnes of Despicable Me Minion Mayhem attraction. And we helped save the Allspark at the Transformers ride (we used the single rider line and didn't have to wait very long).
The Secret Life Of Pets street show has some fun photo ops and we decided to take a few photos while we were there.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our June 2017 adventures at Orlando's theme parks and that you will be visiting Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando Resort soon!
Recently my family and I registered for Disney's Annual Passholder preview of the new Pandora – The Land of Avatar section of Disney's Animal Kingdom. All information in this blog post is based on our visit. As with any newly opened attraction, aspects of the attractions and new area may change during its test run phase. We will update this blog if anything changes or new information becomes available.
Pandora currently has two attractions, two food and beverage locations, and two locations to purchase merchandise. The restrooms in this part of Animal Kingdom do offer companion restrooms. Pandora is a beautifully themed section of Animal Kingdom with both real and imagineered plants and flowers artfully placed throughout. The plants glow at night along with portions of the walking paths.
Na'vi River Journey
The first attraction in Pandora is the Na'vi River Journey. Guests can "journey deep into a bioluminescent rainforest in search of the Na'vi Shaman of Songs." This is a family friendly boat ride that does not have a height requirement. The queue to this attraction is primarily outdoors in a covered switchback setup that would be loud on busy days. The attraction has a Fastpass+ option and will accept the DAS. You cannot have a FP+ for both the Na'vi River Journey and the Avatar Flight of Passage attraction. You must choose between the two.
The Na’vi River Journey does not offer a wheelchair accessible boat so all guests who use wheelchairs or ECV's must transfer to the boat in order to ride. The boats require a big step into and out of them.
The ride itself is calm and takes place inside. The lighting is dim and the sounds (primarily jungle-like creature sounds) are not loud. However, as your boat reaches the Shaman (an amazing animatronic and the highlight of the entire ride), the singing and music becomes louder. The bioluminescent plants are intriguing in their uniqueness and colors. We enjoyed this ride and the main weakness (other than not being wheelchair accessible) is that the ride seemed too short.
Avatar Flight of Passage
The second and headliner attraction in Pandora is Avatar Flight of Passage 3-D ride. "Fly on the back of a mountain banshee during an exhilarating 3-D ride above this vast moon." This attraction has a height requirement of 44". Flight of Passage has a Fastpass+ option and will accept the DAS. It also offers a single rider option. You cannot have a FP+ for both the Na'vi River Journey and the Avatar Flight of Passage attraction. You must choose between the two.
Flight of Passage Queue:
The first section of the queue for this attraction follows a long, steep incline for a significant portion of the queue. The queue wanders through a variety of well themed areas including caves, dark conservation section, laboratory with an astonishing animatronic and finally the loading zone. Our understanding is the standby queue is long enough for at least a 4 hour wait. Guests utilizing the single rider or Fastpass+ queue for this attraction will encounter a much reduced queue length along with missing a significant portion of the best features of the Flight of Passage queue. Guests may remain in their ECVs throughout the queue until the seating assignment section. At this point ECV users must transfer to a wheelchair (or if possible, walk) for the remainder of the queue.
Flight of Passage Boarding and Ride Vehicle:
Once guests reach the seating assignment area, there is a series of two holding rooms that they must proceed through. There are videos in the holding rooms that instruct guests how to link to their Avatar in order to ride the Banshee. Guests are also instructed where to place carry-on items and the safety restraints and are given their 3D glasses.
The vehicle seat looks like a small motorcycle seat with handlebars. Guests must be able to straddle the seat. The restraints come up from behind the guest and press against their lower to mid back and both calves. Guests with certain body types may have trouble fitting properly. When we visited, there was no test seat in front of the attraction. CMs have indicated that a test seat will be outside the ride once Pandora opens to the public on May 27, 2017.
Flight of Passage Ride:
The ride itself is reminiscent of Soarin’. The ride vehicle 'breathes', adding to the feeling you are on a Banshee flying through Pandora with its vivid and breathtaking scenery shown on a multi-story 3D screen. The attraction also enhances the rider’s experience by including wind effects, smells and some spraying water. If you are a fan of Soarin', you'll probably love Flight of Passage. There are no loud sounds nor overpowering senses but guests who have extreme fears of heights or experience motion sickness from simulator rides may not enjoy this attraction.
Once the ride ends, guests walk to the exit. Guest may encounter stairs at this point and if they are difficult to maneuver, please see a CM for assistance. After exiting the building, guests proceed down several ramps and exit through the ride's gift shop, Windtraders.
Merchandise and Food
A large variety of themed merchandise can be purchased at Windtraders. Many unique items including Na'vi costume pieces, adoptable Banshee shoulder puppets, glow in the dark items, and customizable Na'vi action figures can be purchased along with Pandora branded clothing and plush toys.
The Colors of Mo'ara kiosk offers face painting and other merchandise.
Pongu Pongu is a food and beverage stand that currently offers Pandora related drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), beer and a pineapple lumpia snack.
Satu'li Canteen is a cafe that has ample seating both inside and covered outdoor seating. It offers breakfast, lunch and dinner foods, themed uniquely for this section of the park. Guests who are picky eaters may not find items to their liking. Allergy menus are available from a Satu’li Canteen CM. We tried the Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse. It was very good.
Besides the new attractions and unique food choices, the Avatar – Land of Pandora scenery is spectacular. The amazing floating mountains and many other scenes provide excellent photographic opportunities and enable guests to feel immersed in a different world. Although we have only visited Pandora during daylight, we are looking forward to visiting at night to see the glowing luminescent plants, flowers and pathways throughout Pandora. You don’t have to be a fan of the Avatar movie in order to appreciate the uniqueness and striking appearance of the landscape and all the other aspects of this new section of Animal Kingdom.
My family and I visited Universal Orlando Resort recently to enjoy the December Holiday Festivities of Grinchmas and the Macy's Holiday Parade.
Whimsical decorations are found throughout Seuss Landing in Islands of Adventure.
We also came upon some of the Who actors from the Grinchmas production.
The Grinchmas show is a must do at Islands of Adventure every year. The performers are very talented and the fantastic music is by Mannheim Steamroller
We took the Hogwarts Express from Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure to Kings Cross Station in Universal Studios.
The Christmas Tree in front of the Macy's Store and Macy's Parade balloons located throughout Universal Studios Florida make for some great photo opportunities.
Our son loves parades and he was very excited when the Macy's Holiday Parade began. You can probably hear his squeals of joy in the Facebook Video below.
Huge balloons, confetti, a marching band, floats, and of course, Santa appearing at the end make this parade a must-do when visiting Orlando's theme parks during the holiday season.
After the parade guests can have their photo taken with some of Santa's helpers. On select nights, Mannheim Steamroller performs their wonderful music for park guests.
I highly recommend the fabulous holiday events at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida and hope you will be able to visit soon.
One of our family's holiday traditions is to tour the Walt Disney World Resorts to see the beautiful decorations. This season we visited three resorts: Animal Kingdom Lodge, Grand Floridian Resort and the Wilderness Lodge.
Our first resort was the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The magnificant Christmas tree and holiday decorations in the lobby were stunning.
When we walked into the lobby, we heard invigorating drummers entertaining the guests.
I posted a live video to Facebook while we were visiting but you can watch it below.
The detailed and unique decorations on the beautiful tree keep true to the Animal Kingdom Lodge theme.
The next resort we visited was the Grand Floridian Hotel. This resort lives up to all expectations each year as we are enthralled with the outstanding life-sized gingerbread house and the beautiful Christmas tree. Both are located in the lobby of this deluxe resort.
Views from the second floor of the lobby.
The tree is stunning.
The amaing, detailed gingerbread house. The chimney also produces a sweet smelling smoke every few minutes.
Guests can purchase snacks at the gingerbread house.
The final resort we visited was the Wilderness Lodge. We enjoyed our ride on the boat over to this beautifuly decorated resort.
We love the Wilderness Lodge lobby, especially during the holidays. The beautiful tree and rustic decorations are breathtaking.
Decorations can be found throughout the lobby.
I hope you've enjoyed viewing our photos and videos from our visit to Walt Disney World resorts. I also hope that one day you'll be able to see the beautiful holiday decorations in person.
My family and I began our traditional theme park holiday activities at SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration over Thanksgiving Weekend.
Prior to our visit, we purchased the reserved show seating package online for the Christmas Celebration in order to minimize our waiting in the lengthy shows’ lines and to ensure a good view for the shows.
For our new seies, Theme Park Tuesdays, I recently visited Disney Springs. I was pleasantly surprised at how much it has changed since I last visited.
I parked in the newly opened Lime garage. Parking is free at Disney Springs. A great feature of the parking garages is the sign indicating available spaces on each level.
As part of the ongoing AutismAtTheParks’ series, Theme Park Tuesday, I visited Animal Kingdom on a beautiful November day. Crowds were low to moderate with posted wait times of only 15 minutes for Expedition Everest roller coaster and 30 minutes for Kilimanjaro Safaris.
I arrived at the park later than anticipated and decided to reschedule my first Fastpass+ (FP+) for later that afternoon. I logged into the My Disney Experience (MDE) app and easily modified my FP+ for It’s Tough to Be A Bug for a different time. Guests who do not have a smart device can visit the FP+ kiosks to make FP+ reservations and adjustments.
Recently, my husband and I visited Epcot's Food and Wine Festival as part of AutismAtTheParks’ Theme Park Tuesday. It isn't often that we are able to visit a theme park without our son but we were able to make arrangements for a parents’ day out. It was a beautiful day with temperatures in the mid-80's. The crowds in World Showcase were moderate and we usually waited less than 5 minutes to purchase our food at the kiosks.
We obtained a festival passport (free to all guests) once we arrived. It is an excellent guide to the more than 30 Food and Wine Festival offerings found throughout World Showcase, the Festival Center, Odyssey Center and Future World. The passport also includes information about the Eat to the Beat daily concerts, specialty offerings and activities designed especially for kids. Inside the passport you will also find stickers to adhere to each listed marketplace you visit. Also, vegetarian and gluten/wheat-friendly items are indicated on all menus in the passport.
My family and I recently visited Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando Resort. The weather was wonderful with sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80's. The crowds were moderate.
We needed to renew our son's Attraction Assistance Pass (AAP) this visit. The queue for guest relations was extended outside and it took us approximately 20 minutes before we reached a Team Member at the counter. Universal Orlando Resort has recently become more stringent regarding who can qualify for the AAP. For more details and our tips about using the AAP, please visit our website here.
The Magic Kingdom was my destination this week as part of AutismAtTheParks’ new social media and blog series, Theme Park Tuesdays. It was a beautiful day with highs in the 80’s and relatively low humidity. The crowds were moderate, with wait times ranging from 15 minutes for Haunted Mansion, 20 minutes for Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, 45 minutes for the Jungle Cruise and 70 minutes for one of the more popular Magic Kingdom attractions, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
I took the Ferry from the Transportation and Ticket Center to the Magic Kingdom. My family and I usually walk up to the top deck of the Ferry but this morning I decided to stay on the lower level. I noticed the ferry’s engine noise was much louder on the lower level than the top level which could disturb some guests with sound sensitivity.
My family and I recently enjoyed a visit to Epcot. The main purpose of our visit was to experience character dining at the Garden Grill restaurant in the Land Pavilion. We fit in some FP+ reservations before our 4:30 pm dinner reservations for the Epcot Character Spot character meet and the newly updated Soarin’ Around The World attraction.
Our new social media and blog series, Theme Park Tuesdays, was launched this week! Each Tuesday we will be visiting a theme park and posting live on social media with a follow up blog and photo report. This week's theme park was Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS).
Crowds at DHS were heavy-much more than I expected for a Tuesday in October. At one point I had difficulty walking from one attraction to another because of the sheer number of guests. One reason for the noticeable crowds was probably due to the limited number of open attractions at this park now with all the construction going on resulting in more people walking around. It was also Columbus Day week, with some schools out for their fall break. Wait times for attractions varied with 90 minutes for Toy Story Midway Mania, 25 minutes for the Great Movie Ride and Star Tours at 50 minutes. The temperatures were great with highs in the low 80's and skies were overcast.
Disclosure: Orlando Insider Vacations provided my family's lodging at no cost in exchange for this blog post and social media posts during our weekend stay. I did not receive any other compensation and the opinions in this blog are my own. Read our Disclosure Policy here.
Recently my family and I were excited to receive an invitation to stay at Orlando Insider Vacations' vacation home, Serendipity at Indian Creek. The home is located in a nice, quiet residential neighborhood just 10 minutes from Animal Kingdom. Ample shopping and dining are conveniently located close by on Highway 192. We were thrilled how quick our commute was to Epcot and the Magic Kingdom from the vacation home. We were also curious how our son with autism would react to staying in a vacation home rather than a hotel or time-share condo environment.
Serendipity at Indian Creek is a lovely 5 bedroom home (3 with king-sized beds), 4 full baths, a dining room that seats 8, an eat-in-kitchen, a large family room with a sofa bed, large game room, covered lanai, screened private pool and hot tub. The back yard is enclosed with a delightfully adorned privacy fence. Charming Disney artifacts are found throughout the tastefully decorated home.
I recently applied and was accepted to be one of 100 participants in a two day Social Media event and launch of the OSIRIS-Rex sample return mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was an amazing behind-the-scenes experience at Kennedy Space Center culminating with a picture perfect launch.
"NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is the first U.S. mission to retrieve a pristine sample of an asteroid and return it to Earth for further study. The mission’s target is Bennu, a carbon-rich near-Earth asteroid that is also potentially hazardous to Earth.
Asteroids are the leftover debris from the Solar System’s formation process that began more than 4.5 billion years ago. Studying Bennu will revolutionize our understanding of the early Solar System and teach us much about planetary history and the origin of life. The OSIRIS-REx mission will expand our knowledge of the hazards and resources in near-Earth space and will serve as a precursor to future asteroid missions."
The mission will take seven years from launch to return. The encapsulated sample will land in the Utah dessert in September, 2023.
Throughout the two day social media event, we were provided behind-the-scenes tours at Kennedy Space Center. We also observed and participated in question and answer sessions with NASA scientists and administrators. Two of these sessions were broadcast live on NASA TV. We were given ample opportunity to photograph and video all of our experiences and encouraged to post them on our social media accounts. You can search #NASASocial or #ToBennuAndBack on social media to find the postings.
Will this be your first time experiencing the magic of Walt Disney World, the thrills and adventures of Universal Orlando Resort or the education and entertainment at SeaWorld? Or was your last visit to Orlando’s theme parks in the previous decade, before the advent of Magic Bands and the DAS, prior to the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or preceding Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin? We’ve compiled six common mistakes, along with some tips, to avoid making during your visit to Orlando’s theme parks with a family member with autism.
To celebrate Father’s Day this past weekend, my family and I visited SeaWorld. It was a hot but beautiful June day, and the crowds were moderate.
For several months, my family and I planned a visit to the Magic Kingdom on World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, 2016. We designed new Autism At The Parks t-shirts promoting our website and decided to give away Autism Awareness pins to anyone who asked. We were very excited and hyped for our adventure!
My family and I recently visited Epcot and had a wonderful time! We saw Baymax from the movie Big Hero Six, hunted Disney Eggs throughout World Showcase, and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the Flower and Garden Festival.
Pulling into the parking lot on this lovely Friday morning, we noticed the option of Preferred Parking available for $35.00 ($15 if you have an annual pass). Regular parking is $20.00. For an extra $15.00 you can park a little closer to the entrance. We didn't feel the need to use preferred parking.
My family and I were very excited to attend Universal Studios and the Mardi Gras celebration this past Saturday. The weather was fabulous, with temperatures in the 70's and beautiful blue skies. The park was busy that afternoon but wait times for attractions were moderate.
We recently went to Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney) . We haven't visited this shopping, dining and entertainment venue since last summer and we were looking forward to seeing the changes and updates.
My parents are visiting us from out of town. They both have mobility needs and are assigned a disabled parking permit. We parked in the disabled parking lot next to valet parking on the West Side of Disney Springs. Parking is free, disabled spaces are on ground level, clearly marked and were plentiful that day. However, it was a weekday and I'm uncertain how full this disabled parking lot is on the weekends. If you do not need to park in the disabled parking lots, currently you have the option of parking in the Orange Garage for free or valet parking for $20.
Our family spent Valentines Day at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It was a beautiful day with temperatures in the low 70's. The crowds were moderate.
After we arrived at the park, my husband went ahead of us to get a DAS return time for the Tower of Terror and my son and I took our time walking down Hollywood Boulevard.
My family and I recently visited Animal Kingdom. The day started out very cloudy, windy and cold, but the sun soon appeared and it became a lovely yet cool day.
Since it has been more than 60 days, it was time to renew our son’s DAS pass. Luckily guest relations inside the park had no wait. The Cast Member scanned each of our Magic Bands, reactivating our son's DAS.
Has the recent winter storm given you the idea to plan a vacation at Orlando's theme parks during the winter months? Want to escape the freezing temperatures and inclement weather for warm, sunny Florida? Here's what you can expect while vacationing in the sunshine state and tourist capital of the world during the winter.
Thanksgiving weekend is usually the beginning of our family's holiday celebrations. We visited Sea World during that time (see blog post here). We also toured several of Walt Disney World's resorts in order to see the beautiful decorations.
On Saturday, December 5, 2015, my family and I attended the sensory-friendly performance of the Blue Man Group at Universal Orlando Resort benefiting Autism Speaks. As part of a year long partnership with Autism Speaks, Blue Man Group will donate a minimum of $25,000 toward autism awareness efforts and research to benefit families affected by autism. The Co-founder of Blue Man Group, Phil Station, stated “With our sensory-friendly shows, we want to create a safe and welcoming environment for individuals and families affected by this disorder, in the hopes that they can have an entertaining and joyful experience together.”
Maureen is married and has a son with autism. She and her family visit an Orlando Theme Park nearly every weekend. Maureen created AutismAtTheParks to help vacationers who have a family member with a developmental disability to better navigate and enjoy the theme parks. She is also a contributor to the Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Periscope.
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