We spent a week in the Orlando area celebrating our daughter Laura's finishing her classwork at the University of Iowa. In that time, we rode many rides at Universal and Disney World and took a side trip to the Kennedy Space Center. Here are my favorite rides.
1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Universal Islands of Adventure) - Hermoine casts the spell that allows you to fly on an enchanted bench. Harry and Ron (who ride broomsticks) lead you around Hogwarts' towers and surrounding forests, quidditch stadium, and mountains. Watch out for dragons, a whomping willow, and dementors. You feel like you are really part of the story. We rode five times in three days.
2. Star Tours (Disney Hollywood Studios) - We were at Hollywood Studios late Sunday evening after the crowds had left. It was Star Wars Weekend to relaunch the updated ride. It is now 3-D and has a different destination each time you ride. The ride through the frozen planet of Hoth was especially thrilling. Again, you really feel part of the story. We rode five times in one evening.
3. Kilimanjaro Safaris (Disney Animal Kingdom) - Though the script is essentially the same for this trek through the African landscape, every ride is different. Much depends on the quality of the driver. Will he stop at the great scenes or keep the vehicle bumping away? Will she actually tell you where to look? Frommer says to avoid the middle of the day when the animals are inactive and the lines are long. We found the lines moved well and plenty of animals were about at that very time. Frommer says the best views for photographers are on the left, but the animals were mostly on the right the three days that we rode.
4. Splash Mountain (Disney Magic Kingdom) - You ride a hollow log through a mountain and past many scenes from the life of Brer Rabbit. You might get very wet or you might not depending on your seat placement and the timing of water effects. You'll leave singing. We rode twice.
5. The Cat in the Hat (Universal Islands of Adventure) - If you love the story, you'll love the ride. There is so detail, we rode three times to see it all.
6. Expedition Everest (Disney Animal Kingdom) - This is a fast roller coaster ride through the mountains worth repeating. Beware of the Yeti! We rode twice.
7. Astronaut Training Experience (Kennedy Space Center) - While we all want to be astronauts, this is as close as most of us will get. As you prepare for your simulated launch into space, you hear stories from real astronauts at every turn of the ramps and in the waiting area. I could feel my skin flapping.
8. Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (Disney Magic Kingdom) - This is a game as well as a ride. You have to learn to spin your car as well as shoot. I'd like to go back right now.
9. The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man (Universal Islands of Adventure) - You wear 3-D glasses in this action-packed ride through a city being torn apart by powerful super-criminals. I rode twice.
10. It's a Small World (Disney Magic Kingdom) - Have you seen an 18-month old girl react with pure joy? It's the best part of the ride, which actually is a much better ride than it used to be. While the refurbished ride is still high on cuteness, it looks much brighter and is not so sweet as it was fifteen years ago.
Having and using Express Passes at Universal and Fast Passes at Disney is essential to enjoying the parks. We got these for staying at the official resorts, which also let us into the parks early and late. It was a great week. More on other aspects of the theme parks in posts next week.