I had the fun of visiting the Orlando region last week with five of my grandchildren — Blake, Morgan, Addy, Jonah and Jillian with her dad Jon, the hernia king of Sarasota, Florida, and mom Hillary. Eleven strong, we relished our visits to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, and Universal Studios. I can tell you we were there four days from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and saw only a tiny part of what is there! Yes, I need a vacation from my vacation!! But I’m not complaining. The shared joy on my grandchildren’s faces and the bonding between them will last in my memory bank forever!
Walt Disney was one of the geniuses of our times and he’d be proud of what joy he brings to millions of people on the 30,000 acres in central Florida that he acquired in the 1970s.
Physically near Disneyworld is another extraordinary amusement park created by Universal Studios. Since it is owned by NBC, its stock of great legendary brands includes Spiderman, Marvel Comic heroes, Popeye, Jurassic Park, Seuss land and most importantly to my family, it houses several Harry Potter rides and “streets,” all created from the sensational books and movies which are gargantuan successes.
Since eight-year-old Jonah has read (his mom read to him each night for a year) every one of the Harry Potter books, our first stop was Universal Studios which brings to life what the brilliant writer J.K. Rowling had on the pages of her books and the movie makers captured in mesmerizing films.
For all of us, it was a delight to explore the old English cobblestone streets lined with shops that exist in the world of Harry Potter. My daughter Elizabeth said, with amazement in her voice, “It’s remarkable to see the scenes we read in the book. They’re all here!”
We went on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride which was an unforgettable, breathtaking adventure.
The brilliant engineers have designed a ride in 3D in which I was sitting on a stationary bench seat but the technology made me feel like I was traveling along the bumpy roads of Harry Potter world.
I was in awe of all the state-of-the-art technical achievements and imagination of the creators of the many themed rides at Universal.
The boys spent hours in the Harry Potter wand store trying out, holding, fondling and studying the multiple choices. There was an hour’s wait just to pay for them. But each acquired their wands and when Blake complained of his nose hurting, Jonah zapped him with his wand and yes, Blake said, “Thanks, Jonah. I feel better!’
What a world! Fantasy and works of genius are everywhere in Universal and Disney World.
Our visit to Disney World was to two of their multiple parks, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. The former includes my favorite ride, “It’s a Small World,” and the kids made fun of me as I sang the endless song that repeated itself as we made our way in a boat on the gentle water ride around the world.
Some things never change, and in the 40 years since I brought Elizabeth, then Samantha and Josh here, it was wonderful to see it was just as popular as ever.
People waited over an hour to get in but we had express line FastPasses that cut the time to minutes, allowing us to visit more rides.
One of the highlights of the week for me was the Pirate Fireworks cruise leaving from the Contemporary Hotel. We reached it by the monorail from the park and enjoyed a dessert buffet and then an hour cruise on one of the many manmade lakes on the Disney World property. Time stood still for me as we watched in wonder the spectacular fireworks blasting from the shore to the song, “When You Wish upon a Star.”
Disney is in the business of building memories and adventures and our last park visit was to the Animal Kingdom. Some of the kids had gone to the park earlier to enjoy Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest, two rides too wild for me! I went with them on a safari and got to see elephants, giraffes, hippopotami and two lions sleeping on a cliff. From there we went to an extraordinary, energetic, beautifully costumed and creatively choreographed live performance of “The Lion King,” my all-time favorite Broadway show.
To add to the magic, all five of my grandchildren got to perform with the dancers! What a memory!
To close out our Disney experience, what could be better than dinner with the Disney characters!
It was a fast break from reality to return to because there’s so much more fantasy to make a reality.