Florida 2002  

I’m sorry, but we both love Walt Disney World in Florida (WDW for short). We love the atmosphere, the food, the sunshine, the food, Mickey Mouse, and of course, the magic (and did I mention the food?).

Florida was experiencing extremely high temperatures for this time of year during our visit and we were very thankful that air conditioning is standard in hotels, shops, cars etc. as it was quite uncomfortable to stay outside for too long.

We stayed at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort courtesy of Virgin Holidays. At this time of year, the hotel was very quiet, though I think the fact that the rooms are so spread out would help to give that impression even at busier times.

Although we did have a car, Coronado Springs is in an ideal location for doing WDW without a car. It is very well connected to all the parks with the WDW buses which run very frequently. We often used the buses in preference to the car for the early morning entry to Magic Kingdom as you get much closer to the park entrance than the ordinary (car driving) tourists and therefore get in about 15 minutes earlier (see photo gallery as proof of this). We did, however discover that it is better to use the car to go out for dinner in the evening as busses are less frequent at this time and you could end up with a long wait before the bus home. Even so, the journey to the Board Walk was only 5 minutes and this has a back entrance into Epcot World Showcase which is where many of the more interesting WDW restaurants reside.

We thought a breakdown of our highlights of each park might be in order here for those thinking of following in our footsteps.

Magic Kingdom

This is a very magical place and we love it. If it weren’t for the crowds of people, you really could believe that you were in a dream world. All the rides here are great fun, though not extreme. The attention to detail is brilliant, with not a blade of grass out of place.

We spent a number of days exploring the park, not just the rides, but also the more intricate areas of the park. For example, there’s an island in the middle of a lake (Tom Sawyer Island) with a number of paths and some very dodgy rope bridges where you can get away from nearly all the crowds in the park and have a peaceful rest for 30 minutes or so.

The rides are great too of course. The Buzz Lightyear ride is a particular favourite for Linda. This involves shooting a laser beam at practically anything that moves!

There is a restaurant within Cinderella’s Castle called Cinderella’s Royal Table and this is where our marriage proposal took place. We had a table next to a window where we could see out over the roof tops of all the Fantasy Land buildings. Whilst many of the buildings in the Magic Kingdom are just facades, where guests may be able to see above the facades, Walt Disney made sure that the theme was kept intact and that you can’t just see a mass of concrete structure round the back.

Fast food is often the order of the day within the theme parks, and our recommendation for a burger and chips has to go to Pecos Bill Café. They have a “fixins” bar where you can pile your burger with all sorts of extras.


Beyond the magic, our favourite park has to be Epcot. This is a much more relaxed park and the crowds are much less (though still exist at busy times). Epcot is split into two parts, Future World and World Showcase.

Future world is a bit of a mix 'n’ match of thrill rides and shows, there is no theme here to speak of but it does have a few interesting (and educational) elements (though not as many as some would have you believe).

World Showcase is a collection of architectural representations of countries from around the world. Each “country” has a shop selling merchandise, and a restaurant serving (sometimes Americanised) food from their own part of the world and this really can be an experience in itself (around the world in 80 minutes!).

We love World Showcase. It’s great for just strolling around and browsing through the shops. Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, France, Canada and of course the UK and the good ol’ US of A are all represented here.

Highlights for us are:

  • Mexico – The dimly lit marketplace inside the Mayan pyramid.
  • Norway – The Maelstrom boat ride (you sometimes have to queue for this).
  • China – The shop!
  • Japan – The Japanese taiko drummers…. Awesome! The shop is great here too.

Of course, the architecture of all countries is stunning, with scaled down replicas of many famous sights.

Our favourite eating holes in Epcot are:

  • Norway – A Scandinavian buffet, this was superb when we went on this holiday but had changed somewhat on our next visit and is now just a little disappointing in comparison.
  • China – Dim Sum in the main restaurant for lunch (steer clear of the fast food outlet and don’t bother with a full meal, you get better Chinese food in the UK ).
  • Japan – Steer clear of the Yakitori House fast food outlet and you can’t go wrong here. There is a Tapinyaki Restaurant where the food is cooked directly in front of you as your entertainment (watch small fingers, it’s hot!), a Sushi Bar (yes, that’s raw fish to you!) and a Tempura Bar (crispy deep fried battered fish and vegetables) where you sit around the kitchen area. All serve excellent food, if you try one, you’ll certainly want to try another next time.
  • Canada – A steak house. Nice steaks and good cheese soup.

It’s a shame that the UK has a pub and a fish and chip shop to represent it as the dining choices, but then again, what else? USA does however have a worse choice! Did you want fries with that?

We also tried the Coral Reef Restaurant which has a huge glass window onto one of the aquariums within the Living Seas in Future World. It was good, but there are many better options within WDW.

At the end of each day Epcot has a closing show (currently called Illuminations: Reflections of Earth). This is a fantastic sound and light show with fireworks, lasers, huge balls of fire, music, narration and a huge video screen on a representation of the earth. The whole show takes place on and around the large lake around which all the future world countries lie. It is spectacular from any angle.

MGM Studios

This park has limited appeal for us. It’s very highly themed mostly in an art deco style. There are however several thrill rides here, the best being the Tower of Terror where, after the customary pre show and a second queue you are seated in a lift which plummets to the ground only to go back up again at break neck speed. You can hear the screams from all over the park.

There used to be some animation work done here, but Disney closed this down in 2003 so the “studios” part of the park is now completely non-functional.

The Brown Derby is our favourite eating place in this park, it’s a class act (and the prices do reflect that).

Fantasmic is a spectacular show that is performed nightly and includes many fire and water special effects. It is spectacular and dwarfs most other WDW performances.

Animal Kingdom

The thing we remember most about this park is that it was hot. It was the very first day of the holiday and we realised then that we were in for a roasting for the next two weeks. There are, however, lots of shops dotted around that you can pop into to cool off every 100 yards! There is also a water ride where you can get quite wet and therefore cool.

The Legend of the Lion King show is very moving and full of spectacular acrobatics. This runs a number of performances throughout the day to packed audiences. During our visit on this occasion, the theatre had open sides and therefore no air conditioning, it was quite uncomfortable. We’re glad to report that during our more recent trip we discovered that they have now enclosed and air conditioned the theatre.

It’s Tough to be a Bug is a 3D movie with some interesting effects thrown in for good measure. It’s quite well done but may be a little frightening for young kids.

The only restaurant within this park is a branch of the Rainforest Café. Which we don’t mind at all really. If you’ve never been to one of these places, you’d be amazed. The whole restaurant is dressed up to be a jungle with all sorts of foliage and animals (noisy ones at that) all around the place. The occasional thunderstorm is thrown in for good measure (thankfully without the rain!). Linda insists on having breakfast here. They do Tonga Toast. This is basically deep fried sourdough bread stuffed with banana and covered in sugar and cinnamon. We also had lunch here on one occasion and it wasn’t bad.

Universal Studios

We rate this much higher than Disney’s MGM Studios. Some TV is filmed here and it is possible to watch the filming (though why you would want to after paying $50 to get in to the park is beyond me!). The detail in this park is very good, and everything seems to fit into the overall film set type theme.

There are several rides which we particularly like in this park:

Earthquake, the big one has you take a subway ride into the next station where you experience a (mostly) fairly realistic earthquake whilst trapped in your carriage.

Men in Black has you equipped with laser guns where you score points for shooting various aliens and your opponents whilst riding in a buggy. It’s great fun.

Twister, ride it out has you up close to a simulated tornado complete with flying cows and the mandatory gas explosion.

We liked the Clam Chowder served in a bread bowl (available from a booth near the Jaws ride) but didn’t try any of the restaurants.

Universal Islands of Adventure

We chose the wrong day for visiting this park. Hoards of school kids invaded very early and filled the park to capacity in no time at all. School kids, being kids, all wanted to queue for the same ride at once and chaos ensued! We managed to dash to the other side of the park and squeeze in two rides before we decided to call it a day and go someplace else. Crowds we can do, crowds of screaming untamed and unsupervised kids, no thanks!

The rides at this park are all pretty extreme. The roller coasters cause an inability to walk, the water rides have you wringing out your underwear in the loos. Nuff said!

Discovery Cove

This is where you can swim with Dolphins. They only let 1000 guests into the park maximum and you get an allocated time for your Dolphin swim. Up until, and after this time, you are free to swim with thousands of other fish that populate the pools in the park (rays included), feed tropical birds from your hand and just generally chill out. The water here is quite cold to accommodate the fish, but with the supplied vest and snorkel, you can soon forget this and the experience becomes amazing.

The water is even colder in the Dolphin pool, but as soon as the Dolphins come out to play, all that becomes irrelevant.

Sea World

All guests of Discovery Cove get a complimentary 7 day ticket for Sea World, so we thought it our duty to make use of this.

It wasn’t too crowded on our visit and we managed to do the whole park in a day. We had no need to return so the 7 days pass is more of a gesture than a necessity.

Much of what we saw of the animals here is on a par with a Safari Park in the UK . The usual Whale and Dolphin shows, the seals and sea lions basking in the sun….

We liked the rides here too. Kraken is the roller coaster and Journey to Atlantis is the water ride. On the later, you stay completely dry, even on the water chute at the end of the ride. It’s only on the return to the demount point that the car takes a sudden (invisible) drop and drowns all the occupants!

Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral

Home of the US Space Programme. All the space shuttles are launched from here and most land back here too. They call this part of Florida the Space Coast.

The space centre is a break from the theme parks, it’s basically a huge museum dedicated to the history of the US Space Programme. Entry is very cheap, but you do need to pay more to go on a bus tour of the site which is an absolute must. Several stops are made along the way and you can choose your own pace.

We were lucky that a shuttle was due for launch shortly after we left and so it was already on one of the launch pads. Photo’s don’t really come out too well as the closest the public can get is 4 miles away. We were also unlucky in that the shuttle was originally planned to go up while we were there, but it was postponed shortly before our holiday began (which is extremely common).

Just down the east coast from Cape Canaveral is Cocoa Beach, famous for surfing and the huge Ron Jon’s 24 hour surf shop. We love this shop, it’s a huge art deco palace with vivid colours that can’t be missed as you drive by (it used to be pink, but they have toned it down a bit now). Not that we surf you understand, but they have all kinds of clothing and other stuff too.

And talking of clothing…. In Cocoa Beach there is a huge Wal Mart…. This is the place to get the real shopping bargains!

Downtown Disney

We spent a few evenings here. It’s full of shops and restaurants (it also has an area of nightclubs but we’re not really your clubbing type). We shopped in many of the shops and ate in a number of the restaurants which are mostly very good. There is a theatre here where Cirque du Soleil perform La Nouba. We went to see this and were very impressed even though it cost $70 a ticket. It’s a show full of sometimes seemingly impossible acrobatics.


We love shopping in other countries. We both have a fascination for how other people live and what they have available to them. I think the real fascination is to do with what we can’t get in the UK! We can spend hours in Publix (Florida’s version of Tesco), Wal Mart (there’s no comparison in the UK , though ASDA think they would like to have a go!), and the numerous “Outlet” centres around Orlando . We came back from our holidays laden with what we called our “stash”. Our strategy on shopping in the USA is simple:- to take with us as little clothing as possible and shop at the first available opportunity to build up our clothes supply for the whole year. We actually pack an extra suitcase in our luggage to bring back our “stash”.