Disney World is a must see destination for many American families. We wanted to take our kids one day, but it is not close to us and quite expensive, so we waited until our kids were older to really enjoy and remember the trip. When our kids were 9, 8, and 5, we finally decided to take the plunge. An added benefit to their ages was that they were tall enough to ride nearly everything. We also didn’t want to wait so long that they missed the magic of the experience. Florida has an enormous amount of activities to do, cultures to experience, and landscapes, wildlife, and people to see. Florida, here we come!
We finish packing and attempt to head out by 8am. It was tricky packing for heat and cold, the beach and rain, swimming and walking.
We finally head out and start our 10.5 hr road trip from Durham, NC to Kissimmee, FL. The last long road trip we took with our kids was in 2016 when they were 2,4, and 6. Wow what a difference those years have made! This trip was quite pleasant and we made good time. We only had to make a couple gas/bathroom/food stops. They easily entertained themselves with music, movies, drawing, dolls, video games, and napping.
We got to stop at Shoney’s for lunch in Sumter, SC!
This meal brought back memories from my years living in Columbia, SC. We drove through GA in no time and then hit the FL border! Yeah! Some things I noticed about Florida were the bushy, short forests, lots of water, and exotic beauty! Lots of different birds, and palm trees! Orlando is a beautiful, tall city!
We check into our suite at The Quality Inn and Suites and walk next door for dinner. Seafood and pineapple drinks! Yum! Head back and get ready for bed. We made it!
We decide to make this day a rest day and sleep in. By 7am we start getting up and eventually make our way to breakfast. At a packed breakfast buffet, we quickly realize that this is a worldwide destination. We hardly heard any English, but languages from all over — Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and more! I couldn’t even identify the origins of many of the people.
Afterwards we decide to check out the heated pool for about an hour.
Then we get ready to drive to Clearwater Beach, Fl. Clearwater is rated one of the best beaches in Florida and about 1 hr 40 minutes away. Kissimmee is in central Florida, so we are about the same distance to beaches on the east coast vs. beaches on the west coast. Clearwater is in west Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico. It ends up taking us almost 3 hrs to get there. Traffic in Tampa was terrible!
When we finally make it to pier 60 around 2pm, the beach was super packed, on a Monday in February! But we find a nice spot and start to enjoy the white beaches and green water. Definitely a beautiful area. The water is chilly but it is a manageable 80 degrees outside.
We end up staying for the afternoon and the beach crowd starts thinning out. The girls play in the sand, cover each other up in sand, and play in the water. And of course they make friends with other visiting kids. I end up relaxing and enjoying the quiet, soft beaches and warm temperatures. It is nice having kids old enough to entertain themselves and a husband that doesn’t mind hanging out with them in the water!
We eventually start to get hungry and pack up our gear. We rinse off at a nearby shower and head back to the car. The girls change in the car and Sam and I clean up the best we can and we head over to a popular restaurant. Good seafood and ice cream!
Then we start our 2.5 hr trip back to Kissimmee. With more Disney music playing and our game of guessing from which movie the song originates, the drive goes by relatively quickly.
We make our way back to the hotel and quickly head to bed. We have a early start tomorrow to Disney!
We get up at 6am and get kids showered. By 7:30am we head to breakfast and then by 8am head to Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The hotel was close by, so we had a short drive and parking did not take long. We took the tram and then the ferry to Magic Kingdom. We arrived around 9:05am (park opened at 9am). We immediately went left to Adventureland and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Short wait and it was so much fun! Then we saw other parts of Adventureland like the Aladdin magic carpet ride, and the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House. Then we head to Frontierland and ride the Big Thunder Mountain Rollercoaster. It was super fun! The 5 year old loved it, as well as the other girls. It was definitely a family favorite.
Then we made our way to FantasyLand and Liberty Square. We rode the Under the Sea-Journey of the Little Mermaid and the Prince Charming Regal Carousel, visited the Princess Fairytale Hall and Mickey’s PhilharMagic, and rode the Haunted Mansion ride. The Enchanted Tales with Belle experience was our least favorite and not worth the long wait. We also saw Cinderella’s Castle and ate lunch at Gaston’s Tavern.
8 Hours and 17K+ steps later, we were done. So we headed out and stopped for dinner. After some bbq, we headed back to the hotel and rested. We definitely enjoyed ourselves and would consider coming again. The park was clean and there was lots to do. However for one of the lesser crowded days, it was super busy!! We still had long lines. We did use fast pass for 3 rides, and that was very helpful. I do wish we had done further planning with some of the timings of the fast passes and gotten a lunch reservation (because there is just not much sitting anywhere!). It was quite warm and we appreciated the times we got to sit on the rides. It was quite a magical experience! Our entire family enjoyed it.
We get up at 6am, shower, eat breakfast and head out by 7:30am. We discovered at 6:45am that the Hollywood Studios opened earlier than Magic Kingdom – 8am instead of 9am. So we kicked it in high gear and attempted to get to the park as soon as possible. We were at the studio by 8:05. Something I would recommend is writing down your parking number! We did that at Magic Kingdom and totally forgot to do so at Hollywood Studios!
Sam once again got the fast pass loaded with 3 experiences/rides and that proved to be very helpful during the day. As soon as we entered the park we booked it to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Very fun! The first time we rode it we used the standby entrance since the line wasn’t terribly long, but later we used the fast pass to ride it quickly in the afternoon. We also rode the Star Tours, and attended the Frozen Sing-Along. It was a good show! We all enjoyed it! We also saw Muppet Vision in 3D, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast – Live on stage. The Beauty and the Beast show was my favorite of the day! The girls also got to meet one of their favorite book characters – Fancy Nancy. We ended up using the fast pass 6 times. We would have loved to ride some of the roller coasters, but they had huge wait times the entire day and our youngest daughter was too short for the Rock’n’Roller Coaster.
We had lunch at Rosie’s All-American Cafe and there was lots of seating available – yay! It was predicted to thunderstorm for most of the day, but God prevented the rains until 3:30pm! We ended up staying for 8 hours, and walked 12K+ steps.
When we were leaving it was raining harder and harder and once we loaded the tram back to the parking lot, Sam and I realized that we did not take note of where we parked! So we had no idea where our car was in the giant parking lot. So we took a guess and got off the tram in the Mickey Mouse lot. I thought I had some memories from the morning tram ride, which would help us find the car. However we walked and walked with the girls and the rain was coming down harder and harder and our youngest was crying quite a bit from the wet and exhaustion. So we find the security station, ask for assistance, and they guide us to where our car should be based on the time we parked. We find our car and are gone by 4:30pm.
We head back to the hotel and change into dry clothes. Then we head out to dinner. Dinner at Chuy’s is good and then we head to back to the hotel to rest. Our hotel is located in a good area – there were so many restaurants available! We have survived day 2 at the parks and are so tired!
Rest Day! We visit the heated pool, wash our dirty laundry, and relax in our hotel room. We noticed the girls were especially cranky and tired on day 4, so instead of visiting another park, we relaxed.
For dinner we went to the Whispering Canyon Cafe in Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. It was recommended to us by a neighbor who had last visited it 25 years ago. Positives: beautiful setting, decent, plentiful food. Negatives: most expensive meal of our trip, slow service, and not a good value for the price. Evidently it used to be a fun experience, complete with Cowboys and Indians (played by the servers). However around 2013 that experience was eliminated due to the use of the toy guns and maybe the lack of political correctness regarding the Cowboys vs. Indians. I should have researched it! Lesson learned.
We get up at 6am, shower, eat breakfast, and head to Universal Studios Florida by 7:45am. Park was about 25 minutes from us and opened at 9am. Parking was about same price as Disney ($26 per day, standard parking), and tickets cost about the same as Disney ($125 per day/pp). We parked in a parking deck and then walked to the entrance. It was a much faster experience than Disney. We did not have to park so far away, or ride a tram or ferry to the entrance.
Overall, this was the best day of our trip. We had a great time at Universal. Despite it being a Friday, it was not very busy. The morning was a chilly 50 degrees but eventually warmed to 60 degrees and sunny. We did nearly everything and never had a long wait. The rides at Universal were innovative and always brought you into the story of the representing movie or show. At ET, we were riding bikes into the sky like in the movie; at Fast & Furious, we were part of a fun car chase; at Men In Black, we were shooting aliens. Even the Woody Woodpecker Nuthouse Coaster in the little kid section was fast and fun. My least favorite rides were at the Simpsonland. The Shrek and Minion rides/experiences were alright.
The very best of the day was at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley. From the outside, you only see a street in modern day London; but once you enter one of the alleys, you discover Harry Potter’s world! As soon as we entered, I just came to a stop and my mouth dropped open in great delight! It was like we had really entered the beloved books.
We saw many of the shops from the books and sampled many of the sweet delights, such as pumpkin pasty’s, and butterbeer! Butterbeer tastes just like cream soda. Delicious! We caught a street show called The Tales of Beedle the Bard; peaked inside the shop that sells wands; and saw the Leaky Cauldron! We rode the thrilling Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride.
Parts of the day were bittersweet. My deceased younger brother, Jonathan, would have LOVED Universal Studios. He especially would have loved the Transformers, Fast & Furious, and Simpson attractions. My brother loved to work on cars and everything related to cars. Walking through Fast & Furious was very emotional! It was by far one of his favorite movies and he would often watch these movies over and over again at the theaters. I don’t know why God allowed my brother’s life to end so early and unexpectedly. I miss you Jonathan!
In all we spent about 8 hours at the park and walked 17K+ steps! We ended the day at one of our favorite restaurants – Cowfish! Cowfish has 2 locations in NC, including the original location in Raleigh. So yummy! Thank you Lord for a great day.
We get up early, eat breakfast and pack! We check out of the hotel by 10am and get on the road to meet my cousin Janine outside of Sarasota. The drive to Sarasota is terrible! Evidently the I-4 between Orlando – Tampa is always packed. We eventually arrive 2.5 hrs later at a lakeside restaurant. It was so great to see Janine and her husband, Patrick. We spend a few hours catching up and then part ways. Janine and her husband are musicians and have a gig later that afternoon and we start our drive back to NC. We make it to Jacksonville, North Florida and call it a night. We check into a suite at a Best Western Plus, grab dinner, and head to bed. Another long day!
Day 8 – Last Day
We get up early, shower, eat breakfast, and pack. We hit the road by 8:45am. We drive for 3 hours until the kids ask for bathrooms and lunch. We take a 30 minute break in SC. Then we hit the road and eventually arrive in Durham, NC by 4:45pm! Yay we are home! Thank you Lord for a fantastic trip! Florida was beautiful!