The end of our Florida vacation was just as activity-packed as the beginning.
Everyone told us to budget an entire day at each park, but the Express Passes allowed us to get through them in about six hours as opposed to 10, so being done by suppertime left us with some unexpected free time in the evenings.
After we left Universal Studios, we took an Uber to a huge outlet mall to have a look around. I’m not much of a shopper, but it’s a good thing, because this place was enormous and the selection of stores was out of this world. The prices weren’t as low as I expected, but we picked up a few good deals, and the youngest MacDonald came away with a pair of sneakers.
Our last day in Florida was spent at Universal Islands of Adventure, which was our favourite of the theme parks. The Marvel Comics section was pretty amazing, and there were characters there to meet the kids and take pictures. There were some cool rides, from Jurassic Park, to a fun white-water rafting ride, and a Poseidon’s Adventure show that we really enjoyed. I did a few roller coasters, which seemed like a good idea at the time.
A big draw to the Universal parks is their Harry Potter sections, which are at the far end of each park. If you have passes for both parks, you can ride the Hogwarts train, which is an actual train that connects both Harry Potter sections.
I’ve never read the books or seen the movies so I couldn’t appreciate the details to the same extent as a fan, but the entire place was amazing even to me. There were castles and dragon statues and shops the likes of which I have never seen before, and everyone was in amazement at such a beautiful re-creation of the movie sets. It would be quite a thrill for a Harry Potter fan, for sure.
Pro tip for a Universal vacation: wear comfortable shoes. We logged over 16 km and 18 km per day, respectively, walking around those two parks.
It was time to eat dinner, and we had already tried out TGI Fridays and Hooters and other popular spots, so we figured we’d try a place we’d seen advertised all over, Golden Corral. Remember that name, okay, Golden Corral. Trust me on this one. I feel like writing about it could never do it justice, and I could never properly convey the scope of the food selection. You walk in and it looks kind of like a shifty cafeteria – no menu, no tables, just a cash register and cutlery. You pay in the neighborhood of $15 per person and then walk through to the main restaurant area and BAM, you’re in heaven. Actual heaven. It’s a giant, never-ending buffet.
Name it, and it’s there. So many hundreds of different foods that you don’t even know where to start. Do I get the fried chicken and grits, or a feed of Chinese food? Do I plate some beef fajitas, or get a 14oz striploin made to order? How much brisket can I carry in one hand? How much cheese sauce can I pour on my nachos before they throw me out? These are some of the many questions I asked myself. It was the most glorious eating establishment I have ever been in, and I will think about it for years.
On the last night, we decided that we couldn’t go all the way to Florida without at least seeing part of Disney, so after I recovered somewhat from Golden Corral we got dressed and made our way to the Disney Polynesian Village, which is a hotel on the Disney resort.
Like everything else we saw at Universal and Disney, it was so impressively presented that just the aesthetic of the properties themselves are a sight to behold. The entrance to the hotel was lit with giant tiki torches and other Polynesian-themed décor, and the inside was equally as out-of-this-world. We arrived just as the sun was going down, took a walk along the dock and the beach, taking in the beautiful views of neighbouring resorts. And what better way to end a Florida vacation than with a gorgeous, warm night on a sandy beach, watching Disney’s Magic Kingdom fireworks, which were set to the theme music of everyone’s favourite Disney films and accompanied by a water parade of lighted floats. It was just perfect.
I could easily have stretched this last part out into another column, but I figure you’ve probably heard enough by now. I thank you for indulging me in my vacation chronicle, and I hope everyone gets a chance to have their own.