Day Five: Hollywood Studios & Epcot at Night

Today was Hollywood Studios – Laura and Jessica warned us that there wasn’t as much to do here because the Star Wars land is still in construction so it’s a half day theme park. This worked out perfectly because 1) it was 95 degrees today! and 2) I’m trying to recover from yesterday’s Universal Studios trip. We had a “leisurely” wake up call where we’d leave the hotel at 8:30am. Still, my mom wakes up it seems every day at 6am no matter when the leaving time is, which causes me to wake up every day around 6:30am.

Oatmeal for breakfast. Left by 8:30am. I think my family was thrown for a loop because usually the Kuos rush to the first ride, and today, we were just ambling around, seemingly with no set plan. They headed to a picture area with Mike and Scully while Jessica kindly took us around Toy Story Land for pics. It was SO HOT and still only 10am – apparently this theme park was built pretty quickly because they were trying to get it open a month before Universal Studios, so there were few trees and a lot of blacktop. You can truly feel a difference here in temperature due to the blacktop. Also, everyone who hears that I went to “Hollywood Studios” assumes that means Universal Studios. What a weird name change but apparently this theme park used to be called Disney-MGM studios, and opened 1988.

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Our fastpasses for the day were Tower of Terror, Rock n Roller Coaster, and Toy Story Mania. We also watched the Beauty and the Beast show and the Muppets show (where I pretty much fell asleep). The park decor is just ok, I guess the best part for photos was Toy Story Land but it was so hot there, I quickly lost interest.

 

For lunch, we were near Fairfax Faire, having just gotten off of the Tower of Terror. There were two other quick lunch spots sharing the same outdoor table space, so that seemed promising. Laura said “everyone look for covered tables!” and I immediately saw one and yelled “THERE!” and she ran over and slammed her hands on the table to claim it. Laura had forewarned us that the food in this park wasn’t that great, so with that low level of expectations, I will have to say my Mexican salad was decent! A LOT of dressing, iceberg lettuce which I haven’t had in a VERY long time, and delicious cheese, pork, tortilla strips, corn and beans tossed in.

 

None of the rides here were particularly memorable. The shows were just ok. So I’m really glad we were just here for half a day and didn’t have any kids that wanted to explore Toyland! The next best thing is my family took a photo with Donald Duck, right before we left the park.

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Laura’s family split from us after the Muppets show so they could look at Muppets merchandise together, and Laura very kindly took our family around basically the entire park again just so my mom could take pictures. We essentially did ANOTHER circle around the park (it kind of feels like this might have been our third time circling around the park), snapping photos at the fake Chinese Mann theater, and ride entrances for Indiana Jones and Star Tours (the lines were surprisingly long at this time of the day so we did not go on these rides since they’re also at Disneyland). We ended up leaving around 2pm and got back to the hotel around 3pm. Laura decided this was the perfect time to summarize Endgame for me – I have no interest in watching the movie but I want to know what happens so she took 1.5 hours to summarize a 3.5 hour movie for me. HA. Anyway, back at the hotel, almost everyone did a combination of an afternoon shower, nap, snack, or solo walk around the hotel. I love this mid-day hotel time!

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My favorite photo of this theme park

Thanks to Jessica’s Disney vacation club membership, she was able to score us all passes to do an After Hours event at Epcot. Apparently, this “Moonlight Magic” event is where members (and up to 7 guests) can enter a park FOR FREE and stay after the park officially closes. We got little wrist bands to distinguish us. Jessica and my brother kept emphasizing that Disney never ever pushes people out of the park, but will instead just have a polite, subtle way of directing people towards exits. So for instance, I think we got into Epcot around 6:30pm, when it was still open for other people, but as it got closer to 9pm, if you tried to enter an attraction or anything, they’d ask to see your wristband.

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Besides the obvious benefits of getting to wait less, we ALSO got a FREE dinner entree + drink, ANDDD they gave out free mickey mouse ice cream bars (and a fun surprise, no sugar strawberry popsicles!!!). Not only that, they ALSO had a second fireworks show, solely for the benefit of us after hours people, AND they had some disney character meet and greets (though this wasn’t something my family is interested in). Apparently these after hour events only happen 1-3x at select parks – and just by chance, we happened to be in Orlando while Epcot had theirs! (I am looking at the 2019 dates and there were no other after hours events in the period we were there). What a lucky gift!

So anyway, we left our hotel at 5:30pm. I always kind of like how Laura and Jessica can just shout out a departure time, and everyone follows it! It’s such a nice structured way to live life but still feel some sense of freedom. Oh, another lucky coincidence for our May dates (actually, maybe Jessica chose these vacation dates for a reason, and I should give more credit to her planning and not call it a coincidence) was that it was also Epcot’s Flower and Garden festival. It happens over three months in the spring. There’s also the Food and Wine festival, which happens late summer/fall. OOO I feel like I’d love this – the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays in fall/winter! Epcot is definitely my favorite of the parks, though I also enjoyed Animal Kingdom for its relative calmness.

Anyway, for the Flower and Garden festival, they had gardens, topiaries shaped like Disney characters, and some special foods at their dining areas. We got a little pamphlet where you can check off things you did, genius! I guess I’m lucky to live in a foodie area, because we saved quite a bit of money because I’d look at some of their special food items, and think, well I could easily get something similar to this in CA so I’ll resist.

Oh wait, I’m starting to mix up my night at Epcot vs tomorrow’s day at Epcot. I’ll try to stick to this night alone!

 

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Laura and Jessica emphasized that our family’s main goal of the night was to take PHOTOS. I think because they knew my mom would go ham with all the flowers, and want photos everywhere (very true) and the next day we’d have to focus on RIDES! Their family pretty much immediately left ours at the entrance which worked out well. I feel slightly bad for my brother, who definitely does not view photo taking as a priority. I did, however, emphasize that he could feel free to go off on his own if he wasn’t happy with what we were doing, WHICH HE NEVER DID! I swear he’d rather stew in misery with a group of people vs. figuring out how to do something on his own and being alone.

So we first went to the … ok I honestly don’t know if it’s east or west side. We went to the side with Finding Nemo! We took so many photos just in that area, and we never even started around the lake! It probably took another hour until we actually got to the beginning of the lake loop, which made it 7:30pm which means we only had an hour to go around the loop and take as many photos as possible before the sun set!

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you can tell my brother’s already tired of taking photos

We started at the Mexico end. Long story short, we really only got up to Italy before the sun set and we couldn’t take many more photos. I guess this was a positive, because then we could actually theoretically enjoy the park without cameras. Around China, I think my brother started getting a little frustrated, because that meant we’d been at the park for over 90 minutes and hadn’t ridden anything and was just basically going around taking photos (again his most hated activity, I would venture to guess). I made the point that we were going to do rides tomorrow anyway, and waiting in line for anything before 9pm didn’t make any sense because after 9pm, the crowds would thin out and only vacation club people would be left.

 

Well on we went … Jessica had given us our four tickets for free meal entrees. There were five restaurants you could choose from, but after looking at yelp, one was a bakery and one was like cheap American food (immediate no’s). One was a nicer American place, where I THINK you could have gotten a steak, but Jessica had made a beeline to it when they got into the park, and had said over group chat that they’d already run out of steak. (Also, no one in my family really likes steak, except maybe my brother, but he can make a delicious steak himself so I think he probably has heightened standards). That left “The Land” for dinner, which was more cafeteria style, and a UK fish and chips place. My brother and I agreed to use two tickets at the fish n chips, and then save two for The Land (where Laura had already recommended ordering a salmon w cheesy grits).

So the sun set and our next goal for the night was basically to get food at the UK fish n chips place, then position ourselves for the 9pm fireworks show. When we got to fish n chips, it was a LONG line, and I could tell my dad’s energy was wearing out. So I had my brother take him to go find a place to watch the fireworks, and I’d wait in line for food. My mom was free to walk around. The line was truly long, and I wonder how many people were other vacation club members wanting to use up their free entree. The line moved quickly though – the menu literally had two entrees listed, and one was some weird thing I didn’t understand, I feel like it had the word Orange in it. So I ended up ordering two fish n chips, kind of unhappy with that because I know my mom hates ordering duplicates (and that’s rubbed off on me).

Once I got to the pickup window though, I noticed that they ACTUALLY also had a mushroom spinach pie. WHY they didn’t show this at the place you ORDER, I have no idea. But I asked if I could trade one fish n chips for the pie, which they allowed, YAY! (The pie was cheaper but more delicious to me because I actually hate fried fish).

So now we had our food and I was ready to walk over to my dad and brother to eat this food while standing. BUT my mom was like, I’d rather just sit and eat, and she of course ends up sitting at the first place she sees, which was a very empty curbside. It was empty, I find out, because the entire fireworks show was blocked by a tree. -___- so I didn’t see any bit of the Epcot fireworks show.

The night then unravels. We walk back towards where my brother and dad are. I see them both walking away, and I shout, but they can’t hear me over the crowd. They continue walking to the UK fish n chips shop, assuming that’s where we are (even though I had texted my brother that I’d be coming to find them). I start texting my brother and it’s clear that we are both slightly annoyed. This whole time I’m holding two open plates of food and my mom’s holding two giant cups of soda/tea.

We eventually find each other, but have to find a table to eat, and we find one in the corner in the dark. I know my brother hates eating from half eaten plates, so getting a plate with like a few bites taken out of a pie and one single giant fried fish is not his idea of a good dinner. I think otherwise, my parents are content.

BUT THEN. It’s only like 9:30pm so the after hours event is now really starting to gear up. Meanwhile, I think my dad is mentally ready to go home. However, we still had those two dinner tickets, which we’d use for The Land, which is also the site of the Soarin’ ride. My brother is also intent on finding these free Mickey ice creams we’ve heard about… but in that walk between UK and The Land, we run into the night time dance party (which I actually truly do think is very fun and enjoy the DJ – he played Old Town Road and I’ve only ever experienced that song through Twitter so it’s interesting to see how everyone young in the crowd immediately GOES IN when the song starts). My mom finds this fascinating and wants to stop and record it. My brother gets really annoyed, and I’ve been wondering whether we accidentally missed the ice cream handouts, so I tell him I’m going to go ask where the ice cream is. WELL! My brother ends up following me, my dad ends up following him, and when I turn around, MY MOM IS GONE. She obviously thought we’d continued walking ahead of her, and started to walk around on her own.

Now everyone is pissed. I am super pissed that my brother followed me and didn’t have the brains to realize he should have been keeping an eye on my mom. My brother is super pissed at my mom for walking away (to which I would say, what would someone do if they turn around and their whole family is gone?!) and my dad is agitated because he senses that my mom has done something to upset everyone’s plans. So my dad starts walking around this little dance area and I’m running after him going “YOU NEED TO SIT DOWN! Stop wasting your energy walking around!” Because I know he only has a finite number of steps left before he gets tired and expresses his exhaustion in some idiotic tantrum (LIKE A BABY).

My mom eventually answers my brother’s calls and finds us. Now the four of us are PISSED and walking quietly to The Land, and we end up going to Soarin’ first because no one’s really that hungry yet. I immediately turn to my dad and tell him he doesn’t have to ride this if he’d rather sit and he says “ok!” and immediately turns and sit at the closest seat, which basically faces a wall (mind you there’s tons of seats in this building where you could actually see something interesting). My mom and brother act like I deprived my dad of some great life experience and kept feeling guilty that my dad wasn’t going to ride Soarin’, to which I was like, UH LOOK HOW LONG the walk to this ride is, he would have been PISSED! I still completely stand by this.

Soarin’ ended up being my mom’s favorite ride of the day and possibly of the entire trip thus far. The three of us were content and went back to find my dad, who was sitting in the exact spot we had left him (if it had been my mom, she would’ve wandered off within minutes). By this time, Laura’s parents were about to leave the park and return to the hotel, so I was like, please wait for my dad! So then we started walking back to the exit. While the original plan was for the three of them to take the monorail home, which should theoretically be simple, but would have involved a transfer at the transportation center, Jessica decided to order a Lyft for them – and it was only $5!!! My dad’s entire demeanor changed the moment he saw them waiting for him, because this meant he could FINALLY BE HOME!

Jessica and Laura left with the three of them to find the Lyft. For some reason, I thought we’d just wait at the entrance for the rest of them. This upset my brother, but I didn’t think of it in terms of wasted time, I just didn’t think it’d take that long for them to return. My mom was happily taking photos of the entrance, and once she’d gotten in her twenty photos of the same one thing, she was like “why wouldn’t we just go back in? We still have to eat” and I was like … oh … that makes sense.

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Entrance of Epcot at night

WELL in those five-ten minutes of waiting at the entrance, my brother had gotten extremely agitated, probably from having to sit and do nothing while my mom was taking photos. So he was once again in a MOOD! Once again I was like, hey you can go do whatever you want. BUT AGAIN he declined! Which I think is idiotic. We ended up going back to The Land and along the way, we found the ice cream! We each got one, my mom and I immediately tore into it. My mom loved it, probably primarily because it was free, but I actually don’t love vanilla ice cream bars, so I was over it pretty quickly. The first obvious indication to me that my brother was bothered was that he took the ice cream but didn’t eat it. He was walking around 80 degree heat, lackadaisically just holding his unopened ice cream bar in his hand! I whispered to my mom, “he is an idiot – that thing is going to be a melted mess when he decides to open it.” But denying food is his strongest way of expressing EXTREME DISPLEASURE *rolls eyes*

Once we arrived at The Land, he refused to order anything, saying he wasn’t hungry. My patience was at the point of “I will just take care of myself then” so I said ok, and went to order the salmon and grits. My mom was distressed that my brother wasn’t ordering anything and tried to force him to order something, which probably only gained her a rude snap from my brother. I got my salmon and grits and a coke, and had a FABULOUS meal. My mom shared a little bit, but probably felt uncomfortable eating when my brother wasn’t. Meanwhile, my brother was quietly looking at his phone and refused to engage, and mid-meal, said he’d return to the hotel. Fine by me!

So off he went. I actually kind of assumed he would at the very least go back around the park on his own, but it did not sound like he did. My mom and I ended up leaving to meet Laura and Jessica at Finding Nemo, and this was when I found out there’d be a second fireworks show just for the after hours event! We rode the Finding Nemo ride – though I’m not 100% sure that we did it at this exact moment. They made the point that by the time we would come back from the fireworks show, they probably wouldn’t serve food, so I ran back into The Land to use up our last meal ticket – another salmon and cheesy grits! (NO REGRETS! This made a DELICIOUS breakfast the next day).

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The second Epcot fireworks show! Photo credit Laura

I think we then just walked back to the lake to watch the fireworks show. Jessica had separated from us while I was buying the salmon whereas Laura stayed to lead us around. After the fireworks, we somehow ended up getting another ice cream, this time we got strawberry popsicles! So the three of us just sat on a bench and rested and used the restroom. I think at the time, Jessica might have been on a ride and we were just relaxing. By pure coincidence, when we decided to get up and leave, we ended up running into her again, and then we decided to go on the Frozen ride, which was awesome! There was NO line, we were the only people there. I think it was probably 11:58pm when we got in line, which means we were probably the very last people on. On the walk to the ride, my mom decided she MUST have a THIRD ice cream, it was her last chance! So she got another Mickey ice cream bar. I love that she really makes the most of things.

 

The Frozen ride was fun, though possibly because we didn’t have to wait at all. Then we all had to leave because the park was officially closed! It was so late, there weren’t even very many people exiting at the same time as us. We found out that shuttles were only running to the transportation hub and then we’d have to transfer to another shuttle to get to the Grand Floridian. Jessica said NOPE! and ordered us a Lyft. We got back around 12:30am and I remember I went to bed around 2:30am after showering and attempting to blog. And that was the day!

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