Vacation report, with pictures:

I started taking pictures before we even got to the parks, because this hotel connected to the airport in Orlando — with this awesome indoor courtyard overlooked by rooms — is just so badass. I don’t think brother found it as cool as I did, but I was excited, so whatevs.

We had originally planned to go to Universal Studios on Tuesday, but transportational concerns prevented that. So we spent Tuesday in the Magic Kingdom.

By the way, brother used a kinda cool (in theory) service offered at the Disney World resorts where they’ll grab your suitcase for you from airport baggage claim and deliver it to your room at the hotel. Unfortunately, brother’s bag didn’t get to the room until Tuesday afternoon, so on Monday night and Tuesday morning brother had no personal hygiene items or fresh clothes to wear to bed or change into. My brother-in-law offered to loan him some clothes for Tuesday, but not only is he shorter and a bit of a bodybuilder, we’d also already left for the park before the offer came XD

Aaaanyway. I have to admit to some disappointment in the Disney World rides; much that’s a copy of Disneyland is shorter and often missing bits. This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the parks, but… I like Disneyland better. This was the first time I’ve ever ridden Pirates of the Caribbean only once; it was too disappointingly truncated to repeat.

Also, no Indiana Jones ride at all, and the Haunted Mansion was down for maintenance. I was a little surprised they haven’t built the Indiana Jones ride in their Hollywood park, but whatevs. The lack of Haunted Mansion is not, of course, a point of comparison between Disney World and Disneyland, but it was a source of huge freaking disappointment for me.

Here are a bunch of teacup pictures:

For some reason, I was far more interested than I’ve ever been before in tracking down characters and getting pictures with them. Stitch was the first we ran into, and, though I’m not a particularly big fan (I only saw Lilo and Stitch once, back when it came out), we grabbed some pictures just because he was there.

OK, food. I have to talk about this, because I’m still a little annoyed. Months ago, my parents and brother and I discussed what kind of accommodations we wanted based on price and convenience. We decided to take the suite that had a little kitchen attached so we could buy food at a local grocery store, store/cook it in the suite kitchen, and avoid paying in-park prices for meals. Brother and I each contributed extra money to the overall endeavor in order to help pay for this grocery store food. Sounds reasonable, right?

So the flight mom and dad took got them to Orlando by early afternoon, whereas the flight brother and I took didn’t get us there until late evening. Pookster and her family drove from their home in Georgia, and were actually there a day before us. Mom and dad met them and went out to dinner with them and then grocery shopping. AND THEY DIDN’T BUY ANY FOOD.

So brother and I got to the hotel and there was NO DINNER waiting for us there. That wasn’t a huge problem, since we both kinda just wanted to go to bed anyway, but there was also no breakfast for the next morning, no lunch for the next day, nothing for the rest of the week, and no apparent plans to go back to the store and get any. Mom and dad had bought only some distilled water at the grocery store, and then gone to bed.

We did have some beef jerky, and some candy (Snickers and stuff) left over from our post-Thanksgiving festivities, which we’d packed up and brought to function as snacks for this trip, and dad literally expected us to live off of this for the entire week. I didn’t even know how to respond when he said that.

Pookster, who had bought food for her family in the room next door, noticed our dilemma and (she being the only one with a car) went back to the store and bought a bunch of food for us too, but that wasn’t until Tuesday night. So brother and I ate in the park on Tuesday and tried not to have a heart attack at the gourmet prices of the cafeteria-esque food.

But enough about that.

I thought this store name in Tomorrowland was clever and amusing:

You’ll observe that, in the end, I chose tank tops. This was because they pack so well; they roll into tiny little bundles and leave plenty of space for souvenirs. And it was quite warm in Orlando; the only times I was ever uncomfortably chilly were all inside buildings or shuttles/buses at the mercy of hugely unnecessary air conditioning.

We giggled at these store names:

I had to restrain myself from buying a bunch of junk, since I knew I was going to Harry Potter Item on Thursday and didn’t want to decide what to spend my money on until then. But this was something in which Disney World proved far superior to Disneyland: they had a lot of high-quality merchandise available, much of it very tempting.

Jasmine is one of my favorite Disney princesses, but ZOMFG WHY SO WHITE?? Seriously, look at her — she’s even paler than I am! Disney can bring people in from all around the world to populate their World Showcase at Epcot, but for Jasmine in the Magic Kingdom apparently this is OK?

I don’t mean to say that this cast member didn’t look good or play the role well, or that I’m unhappy to have gotten a picture with her or anything; but this kind of whitewashing is a serious problem, and I was disappointed in the park for casting her the way they did.

Also, can I mention the wigs? Almost every character we ran into (who wasn’t full-costumed like Stitch) was wearing some awful wig that was kindof embarrassing to look at. Really, Disney, you can afford better than that, can’t you? After charging us $35 for a cafeteria lunch?

It poured rain in the middle of the day on Tuesday, and we just walked through it because it would be silly to let some rain mess up our Magic Kingdom times. In the rain we found the incredible, gorgeous, well dressed Tiana:

We also found someone’s cell phone sitting in the dirt in the rain!! That was so sad. I hope that person got their phone back and it wasn’t completely ruined.

We liked these mosaics in the walkway under Cinderella Castle very much:

Lots of people walking through made it difficult to get a picture from any further away.

The fountain outside of Gaston’s Tavern does an excellent job being excessively disturbing without having anything overtly disturbing about it:

We headed up that direction, of course, because we were looking for Gaston himself. We found him. This guy was having so much fun hamming up this role, and he was hilarious.

We had to have pictures with Gaston because he’s everyone’s favorite YouTube Poop source, and making fun of him never gets old. We talked a lot about the YouTube Poop Land theme park we’re going to build, and what kinds of rides and characters and stores will be in it.

At every character’s line, there was a cast member that would helpfully take pictures of us with my phone. Unfortunately, some of them kinda sucked at it; they would take one picture, not bother to check that it wasn’t horribly blurry, and then move us along. Gaston’s photographers, obviously, were on top of that shit, but some others weren’t so good. Which is why our Ariel picture isn’t the best:

We started to stand in line to get pictures with Elsa and Anna, but after waiting for, like, an hour and seeming to be only halfway through the line, we gave up. Their wigs probably would have hurt my heart too much anyway.

Then we spent another eternity in line to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Cart, only to be kicked out when it was having mechanical difficulties or something. They did hand us FastPass+ tickets on the way out of that, though.

And speaking of FP+, why didn’t we have things like meeting Elsa and Anna fast-passed? Because we couldn’t get my account and brother’s account to sync up. A helpful cast member tried for, like, half an hour at the beginning of the day to get it to work, but even after she’d made a phone call to some central power, he and I could never see each other when signed in or include each other in our FP+ plans.

After Tuesday, we started getting FP+’s separately but at the same time and just reloading until we managed to get the same times for the same things, so that kinda worked… but we never were able to see each other when signed in. It didn’t help that brother’s phone completely died on Monday, so we were relying exclusively on my phone the entire time we were there.

I have to mention the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, because it was surprisingly awesome. I was expecting to laugh politely (especially when I saw the signs encouraging kids to text their jokes in to have them included in the show), but it was legitimately good comedy. We would have liked to go there again and see how the show changed, since it was interactive to a certain extent and some of it was clearly ad-libbed, but we never had time.

We didn’t ride the Little Mermaid thing, the carousel, or some horrible Winnie the Pooh horror, but other than that I think we went on everything at Magic Kingdom. It was an exhausting day.

We decided to split Wednesday between Hollywood Item and Epcot, thinking those were the two least interesting parks of the four. It turned out we liked Epcot enough to want to go back there on Friday, but I’ll get to that.

Of course we found the hat. And in general we were right about Hollywood Item being not a very interesting park. We did the Tower of Terror, which was inferior to the California Adventure version, an incredibly random Aerosmith roller coaster, and saw a pretty cool and funny Indiana Jones special effects show.

We also rode the Great Movie Ride, which was so weird. It was like the rest of the movie-based rides around the place — car on a preset track through animatrontic scenes — except ostensibly for adults; and it seemed simultaneously to assume that adults don’t have the attention span for a ride based solely on a singly movie, and, contradictorily, that adults have the attention span for the SLOWEST-MOVING RIDE IN THE HISTORY OF ANYTHING.

What tickled us was that we were joking while we walked through the line about the possibility of the ride including a scene from Alien — assuming offhand that it wouldn’t, that Alien was too intense a movie for this venue — and then pleasantly surprised when it did, in fact, include a scene from Alien (sort of; it was more of a hybrid of scenes from the first two movies), including a delightfully accurate animatronic depiction of Sigourney Weaver’s unusual jawline.

These incredibly sweet little lizards were running all around our hotel:

ZOMFG SO CUTE. Yeah, we went back to the hotel for lunch that day, since sister had rescued us by getting some real food, so money was saved at that time.

So then we went to Epcot.

There was this super badass gospel choir performing four times a day, and they were so awesome that we listened to them three times (twice on Wednesday and once on Friday). The second time, we ran into the rest of our family, so we took niece and nephew to meet Mulan:

Then we walked around with niece and nephew a bit, and looked at some stores. Everything adorable and hilarious in the world can just give up now, because this happened:

Niece and nephew each had $50 to spend on stuff, and it took all the persuasive powers everyone could muster to convince nephew (who is seven years old) to wait until later in the week, after he’d seen everything, to make an informed decision on what he wanted to buy.

Eventually we separated from them and went to do Soarin’ Over California (just called “Soarin'” at Disney World, but identical to the California Adventure version of the ride) and watch Captain EO. Of course I have the latter here at home, and it’s always been a terrible, terrible, terrible short film (except for MJ dancing and singing, of course), but we had to see it there in 3D on principle. I had hoped that it would lead out into a gift shop full of Michael Jackson merchandising that I could add to my list of ‘stuff I might buy,’ but it dumped us straight outside. Blah. Poor Michael.

Thursday was the Big Day Of Going To Harry Potter Item, the part of this trip for which I was most excited — and justifiably so!! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando is one of the most awesome places I’ve ever been, and I enjoyed the hell out of every minute of it. Even for people like us that are fans pretty exclusively of the books and not the movies, this was absolutely worth the rather high price of admission and giving up a day of Disney World for.

I am extremely picky about roller coasters, and very few I’ve been on live up to my idea of a really good ride. All the roller coasters at this park were just OK, including the Dragon Challenge with its two tracks (Chinese Fireball and Hungarian Horntail), though the “family friendly” Flight of the Hippogriff was hella boring.

But LET ME TELL YOU GUYS — the ride inside Hogwarts (technically called “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” which is silly, but whatevs) is THE BEST RIDE EVAAAAAAR. Definitely my new favorite of any ride I’ve ever been on. We went on it a million times that day. So amazing. So much fun.

We heard representatives from the Hogwarts school choir do some very passable a capella, and watched a rather pointless demonstration from representatives of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang–

–and we had lunch in the Three Broomsticks. That was expensive, but at least we had chicken. I mean, at least they gave us plenty of food for the price and there was pumpkin juice to drink. OH AND WE HAD BUTTERBEER, which I could literally drink until I died. So freaking delicious. And of course we looked all around Hogsmeade and inside all the shops, which were delightfully interactive.

Of course they’re very limited in such a place as to which characters they can have wandering around. We did run into the conductor of the Hogwarts Express, and he had such a jovial face that I had to get a picture with him.

And then we actually got on the Hogwarts Express.

I loved to pieces how they made even that — which is just a tram from one park to another — into an actual ride. They’ve done such a good job on this place; it’s insane. The entrance to Diagon Alley was pretty sweet:

I wasn’t sure why Quality Quidditch Supplies had a Hogwarts crest over its door, but whatevs.

The whole place is very much a mishmash of the timeline, as well it should be.

One thing I was really excited about (and, again, rightly so) was the prospect of finding merchandising for houses other than Main Characters and Bad Boys In Leather Pants — er, I mean, Gryffindor and Slytherin. The robes were a bit expensive ($110) for something I wouldn’t actually wear all that often, so I satisfied myself with a couple of pictures instead of buying the actual item.

I didn’t mind taking mirror pictures, because it was a talking mirror that told me my shoes looked comfortable — which they were, and that was probably the nicest thing she could come up with to say about them since they certainly didn’t match anything else I was wearing, including the robe.

Anyway, I got a super cute Hufflepuff shirt and a hoodie sweatshirt and a pin (and also the Time Turner necklace I’ve been coveting for years, though technically I could have bought that online any time since it’s been available in many other places and has nothing to do with my Hogwarts house). I’ll grab pictures of all of that whenever I actually wear it, though.

I’m not a big fan of taking vacation pictures that don’t feature anyone in the party, but I was tempted here when it was totally impossible to get a decent picture of either of us with the dragon on top of the Goblin Bank of Wobblecolumns in the background. Ah, well. You can easily look it up online if you want more detail.

The dragon periodically roars and breathes fire, but for about the first million instances of this, we were inside shops and didn’t make it out in time to see it. But eventually we did, and it was aaawesome.

The interior of Gringotts was just as badass as the outside:

Of course there were a lot of interior scenes (including the entirety of Hogwarts) that were simply too dark for picture-taking. In particular I would have liked a picture in front of the one-eyed witch statue, but my phone camera doesn’t have a flash, so there you go.

The Gringotts ride wasn’t nearly as awesome as the Hogwarts ride, but it was still pretty awesome. It was great to see Bill Weasely featured so prominently in something. And then! We came out of Gringotts just in time to watch Celestina Warbeck perform!!! She was a fantastic singer, and soOoOo beautiful; I wish we could have caught her show again, but we didn’t manage to.

Brother had a wand experience of destroying shelves and murdering flowers, but we didn’t buy wands since they were super expensive and then what do you do with them once you get them home? But all these interactive shops were just so amazing. I would have gotten some pictures in Knockturn Alley, but it’s dark as shit in there and I think I mentioned the lack of flash on my phone camera.

A couple other random things I want to mention about Harry Potter Item: first, the line through King’s Cross Station to get onto the Hogwarts Express back to Hogsmeade funnels you through a snack shop where they have ACTUAL BRITISH CANDY FOR SALE. I bought four Bounties and screamed with joy. Second, there was a Gringotts goblin that answered questions; brother asked if humans could work in the actual bank (like as tellers), and he said no. Third, butterbeer is the most delicious substance on this planet.

Friday we wore ourselves right out. We started out by going to Animal Kingdom, which turned out to be way crappier than we’d expected. The Dino Land deliberately set up to resemble a cheap carnival was almost nauseating. But we did meet a lovely lady with, spectacularly and unprecedentedly, her own hair:

We went on a safari, which was cool, and saw It’s Tough to Be a Bug, which I’ve always been rather fond of, and then got the hell out of that boring place. We ran to Magic Kingdom, where we opted to eat lunch in the park to save time (if not money), and ended up back at Gaston’s Tavern. The only entree available there is a ginormous pork shank, so we had a absurdly huge (though, admittedly, delicious) amount of pork and a cinnamon roll for that meal.

We returned to that park so brother could grab some Haunted Mansion playing cards he’d had his eye on while I rode the Mine Cart at last. Aaaaand the Mine Cart kinda sucked. So we went to Epcot.

This time we walked thoroughly through the various countries, and were greatly amused to find that, while shops in Germany, France, and Italy were devoted to the sale of various alcoholic beverages (and even Canada had maple whiskey), Japan’s store was FULL-ON NERD.

I was not expecting anime merchandise (at least not of anime Disney doesn’t own the western rights to) at Disney World.

(OK, technically, Japan’s store sold sake too. But mostly it was nerd stuff. They had a lot of gundam models, but none from GW, so no pictures of that. Brother found some really great Studio Ghibli playing cards, though.)

We saw some shows, and here’s another thing I didn’t expect: the real, actual Whoopi Goldberg there in person narrating one of them. None of these shows were as fantastic as the gospel choir, but they were all thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.

Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get to the Coca-Cola place before it closed, so, sadly, no Beverly for us. We stuck around at the park fairly late in order to see the fireworks/laser show over the lake.

There was a tree between us and the show, but that turned out to be a good thing. Yes, here are some pictures not featuring any member of the party. THERE WAS ALSO A LIZARD EARLIER.

So that was my vacation. I loved it.