Okay. You can do this.
I repeated it in my head as I got ready for the day ahead.
Comfortable shoes? Check?
Companions in misery? Check. Check.
I popped yesterday’s enormous blister, shoved my feet back into gym shoes, and steeled myself for the day.
Okay, it’s not like I was preparing to run a marathon or anything. But two days straight of nothing but theme parks really takes it out of me! And now it was day three: time to check out Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
It’s hard to fit four Disney parks into two days, but we were trying! Still, it was a welcome relief when the friend getting Michelle into the park asked if we minded meeting up later in the day. Those extra hours gave us plenty of time to sleep, rest our feet, and even stop for breakfast at Einstein’s. By the time we reached the entrance of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we were fully awake and ready to take on the day.
Good thing, too! The previous day’s rain had not subsided. If anything, if was worse! Orlando gets some pretty bad thunderstorms in the warmer months (ha. Who am I kidding. Every month is a warm month), and it stormed for the first two hours of our already minimal park time. We spent the first fifteen minutes of the day dashing from one store to the next, huddling for extended periods in the hopes of waiting the storm out. When it became clear the rain was here to stay, we ran over to the first ride of the day: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
This is easily my favorite ride in the park, and probably one of the most recognizable on Disney property. It can be seen from Epcot and Animal Kingdom, and is, in the most basic of terms, a “drop” ride. The ride is fun, and I think the building and details are just gorgeous. It’s themed to look like a glamorous hotel in 1930’s Hollywood, and everything from crooning tunes of decades past to the lobby decor is right up my alley.
Taken from the ride itself:
“Hollywood, 1939. Amidst the glitz and the glitter of a bustling young movie talent at the height of its golden age, the Hollywood Tower Hotel was a star in its own right. A beacon for the show business elite. Now, something is about to happen that will change all that.”
You can probably guess what happens next.
We used our Fast Passes for Tower of Terror, Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster, and Star Tours, all of which had long lines by the time we arrived. Get those Fast Passes early!
The rain did let up eventually, and with plenty of time remaining before we wanted to go to Epcot, we took a seat at the Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show.
Hollywood Studios was originally designed in competition with Universal Studios. Both parks would bring guests into the movies and show them the ins and outs of movie-making. While that tradition has sadly dwindled over the last few years (gotta make way for Star Wars, after all. Cue eye roll), shows like Lights, Motors, Action do show that movie magic in action. It’s a stunt show, featuring fast cars, motorcycles, plenty of fire, and even a “celebrity appearance” to satisfy younger fans. I highly recommend it. Just check the park map and choose a show time early in the day, because these shows are held only twice per day! Any more than that, and the stunt cars’ tires would have to be replaced between shows!
There are plenty of other things to do at Hollywood Studios. One of my personal favorites is Toy Story Mania, which opened a few years ago and still has a massive line to get in. Or go watch a live stage performance of Beauty and the Beast! It’s ultra-cheesy, but oh so nostalgic. And of course, for anyone closing out the night at the park, there’s Fantasmic, a nighttime show featuring live actors, fireworks, lasers, and more.
By the time we ate and made our way over to Epcot, the sun was already starting to set. Whoops! Poor time management, although I don’t think it would have been an issue if we had arrived when the park opened. Epcot is a huge park, with plenty to do and lots of ground to cover. Luckily, Michelle had been there before, and she wasn’t too worried about experiencing everything this time around. We stuck to Future World, an area that challenges visitors of all ages to keep thinking and innovating. It’s the kind of stuff Walt Disney himself was famous for, and it’s nice to see his memory live through Epcot.
Here, we rode Spaceship Earth, a timeless, slow-moving ride that transports visitors back in time to the “dawn of civilization.” Bonus: the ride is housed inside the Epcot ball! Walt was known for his animatronic figures, which move and act like real people, and this ride is full of them! The ride tracks the development of communication, from writing on cave walls to the introduction of the personal computer. There’s something for everyone on this ride. My favorite part? Gliding through Florence at the peak of the Renaissance period.
Next was Soarin, a unique ride that “flies” visitors over various scenes from the state of California. It’s a beautiful ride, and a great place to relax and take a break from the hectic world of strollers, turkey legs, and screaming kids just outside the door. Would I wait an hour for it? No, but then again, I’m spoiled by having Walt Disney World in my backyard. If you can nab a Fast Pass for Soarin, do it!!!
We also designed our own test vehicles at Test Track, and got to see how our designs performed in terms of capability, power, and more. We enjoyed a relaxing boat ride on Living With the Land, which shows visitors new and innovative ways of growing food and surviving with the land rather than off of it.
We sadly didn’t get to spend much time in World Showcase, the “other half” of Epcot, which takes guests through pavilions representing eleven countries around the world. But don’t worry! I spent plenty of time here with my younger brother just a few weeks later! If you’re curious about the World Showcase, check out my post on Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival!
We did have time for a quick snack in the China Pavilion, which we took outside to eat while watching the nightly fireworks. Of all the shows and parades at Walt Disney World, Epcot’s nightly Illuminations show is my favorite! It takes place in the middle of the World Showcase lagoon, with fireworks, fire (lots of it!), lasers, moving music, and gorgeous lights. It’s a show with a wonderful message, and I always feel a bit warmer inside by the time it’s over.
We took our time strolling through the remaining pavilions on our way back to the park exit. The rides were closed and the stores shuttered for the night, but Epcot is gorgeous at any time of day. We took a few photos, then it was time to say good night to the parks. Until next time!
Michelle’s final day in Orlando was a quiet one. Sure, we could have gone back to Universal and spent more time in Diagon Alley, but I’ll be honest. After spending three days in the sun and rain, surrounded by hordes of tourists, and with blistered feet, we weren’t too keen on returning anytime soon. As Michelle said, the theme parks are fun, but what we really wanted was just to spend some time together. We relaxed, watched a movie, and had lunch at what is now called Disney Springs, the resort’s adorably-themed dining and shopping complex. Dan and I go to Disney Springs frequently to catch a movie or a quick tasty meal at Earl of Sandwich.
But today was a special occasion. To celebrate Michelle’s Orlando visit and send her off in style, we had lunch at Portobello Country Italian Trattoria, a restaurant I’d been dying to visit for months. The food was tasty, the dining areas beautifully decorated, and the company was top-notch. In place of the standard bread and butter plate, Portobello delivered savory rosemary bread and an entire head of garlic, cooked in olive oil. All that garlic sounded like way too much of a good thing, until we tried it. Mmmm. The garlic cloves melted and spread like butter on the bread. Easily my favorite part of the meal, to the point that we debated ruining our appetites and asking for more bread!
After lunch, Michelle picked up a few souvenirs for family members, and we returned home to relax for the night. She had an early flight to Seattle the next morning, but that didn’t stop us from staying up late to chat and watch Modern Family! I was sad to let her go when the time came, but more than anything, I was grateful for the time we had together. I love making new memories with my family, who I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like. Bonus: Michelle and Dan had never met before this trip, and by the time it was over, the two of them were chatting like they’d been friends for years.
I miss my sister now, even though she’s technically just a few hours north of me in Jacksonville, Florida. Interested in following her adventures while she serves a mission for her church? You can check out here blog here.
In the meantime, stay tuned for a review of the stunning Portofino Bay Hotel, as well as trip reports from my brother Jared’s September Orlando adventures!