A Florida Vacation: There’s more to Orlando than Disney World

As my brother and I left the Magic Kingdom full of anger and annoyance, I suggested we visit International Drive. Aside from Disney World, International Drive is probably the second most popular and well known place in Orlando.  It’s the city’s main tourist strip.

In addition to Universal Studios and Sea World it has attractions such as a Titanic museum, a wax museum, a chocolate museum, an animal skeleton museum, pirate miniature golf, a murder mystery dinner show and a zombie outbreak experience.  I knew there was no hope of getting my brother to agree to visit any of those attractions but at least we could have dinner there and look around.

I wasn’t sure where exactly International Drive was but I was hoping it was near The Magic Kingdom.  That way we could kind of sort of convince ourselves that our ill fated trek to The Magic Kingdom had been worth it. It turned out International Drive was right next to our hotel.

When we got there we saw some interesting sites including a hotel shaped like a castle and a building that looked as though it was upside down. When we passed the stores full of Disney merchandise I was still feeling so irritated by the whole Magic Kingdom fiasco I was tempted to take a picture of myself giving Mickey the middle finger.

My brother and I argued about what restaurant to eat at like we always do but eventually we settled on one. I don’t remember what I had for dinner but for dessert I had cheesecake lollipops, which were good. I wanted to ride the Orlando Eye, a ferris wheel that gives a birds eye view of the city. We’d seen it from our hotel room and been intrigued by it. I’d asked my friend Mary where it was and she’d said it wasn’t in Disney World so we shouldn’t waste our time but of course since then certain negative feelings towards Disney World had emerged and become known so we were willing to spend our time on non-Disney attractions. My brother said we should save it for the next day when our father and Gabrielle could join us.

When we got back to the hotel and told our father what happened he got to have a glorious ‘I told you so’ moment. “You should have listened to me when I told you the tickets were only good for one park per day. Why did you find that so hard to believe?” he said to me.

I figured that even though we hadn’t gotten to visit the Magic Kingdom that night I should honor the promise I had made to my brother to do something non-Disney the next day. I was so mad about what had happened that night that I wanted to boycott Disney out of spite anyway.

My brother was so tired the next day that he would have been happy staying at the hotel but I wasn’t going to stand for that. I looked up nature parks in the Orlando area and we settled on Wekiwa Springs State Park because of the opportunities it offered for hiking, canoeing and swimming in the springs.

When we got to the springs I was intimidated by the ‘Swim at your own risk’ signs that warned of the possibility of alligators. I know that there’s a possibility of alligators in any fresh body of water in Florida though. The springs looked so inviting so I decided it was a risk I would just have to take. I’d read that the springs were very cold so I prepared myself for a polar plunge but to my surprise and delight the water really wasn’t that cold. After I’d been in it for a few minutes it felt warm. I had a nice swim and I exited the swimming hole with all my limbs intact.

After I’d dried off my brother and I went on a hike. He’d sat out the swimming because he’d forgotten his swim suit. After we’d been walking for about half an hour I discovered to my dismay that he’d also forgotten to bring water. Luckily this is Orlando we’re talking about so this nature park had a store that had not only water but soda, chips, sandwiches, ice cream and cupcakes. After I’d gotten the food I asked my brother if he wanted to go canoeing but he said he was too tired so we left.

The drive back was not too pleasant for me because my brother had the radio tuned to Armed America. I wasn’t sure how or why there would be a radio station dedicated solely to gun laws in America but needless to say as someone who really dislikes guns and is very pro gun control, I strongly disagreed with the ideology that was put forth on that station.

That night we had dinner at another restaurant on International Drive with our father and Gabrielle. Then we rode the Orlando Eye. Although Gabrielle had no problem riding the London Eye, she decided she didn’t want to go on the Orlando Eye so it was just the three of us. I didn’t find the view from the top to be all that impressive but the ride was nice enough, especially since we got free cokes (the ferris wheel is owned by Coca Cola.)

Before we’d gotten on the ferris wheel we’d had our picture taken in front of it. When we got off we were asked if we wanted to purchase our pictures in a little booklet about the Orlando Eye. My father asked how much it was and was told that it was 45 dollars. “45 dollars?” my father replied incredulously. I panicked for a moment because I was afraid he was going to say  “But I thought it was free!’, which is a tired old joke of his that makes me cringe every time but he handed over the 45 bucks and said  “Ah, well, it was an experience, a moment in time.”

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A Florida Vacation: Epcot

The next day as I was getting out of the hotel shower I noticed to my alarm that there were words written in the condensation in the mirror. One word was ‘you’ and the rest of the words were undecipherable. Of course my mind made the message say “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE”. The message definitely hadn’t been there when I got in the shower and no one had entered the bathroom while I was showering so I was pretty freaked out. I was relieved to learn that the laws of chemistry, physics or whatever science it is that I don’t understand said that the words were most likely written on the mirror before I showered but it took the steam from the shower to make them visible.

The next day was to be our last day in Orlando and we had a conversation about how we would spend the rest of our time. Since my feelings towards Disney World were very different from my traveling companions’ feelings towards Disney World, the conversation got kind of heated. Gabrielle said that tomorrow she definitely did not want to go to Disney World.  My father and brother agreed. The thought of not going to Disney World the next day was anathema to me and since I’m a big animal lover missing out on Animal Kingdom would be a real bummer. Still, my brother insisted that since he hated Disney World and his vacation time was limited he deserved a Disney-free day.  That night my father was having dinner with some business colleagues. My brother had the option of going to the dinner or going to Disney World with me.

Most people would have immediately chosen Disney World without even having to think about it but for my brother the decision involved figuring out which one he considered to be the lesser of two evils. Eventually I came up with a compromise. I said “How about this- you go to Disney World with me tonight and I’ll do a non-Disney activity with you tomorrow.” “Deal” he said and we shook on it.

I managed to get us all to Epcot at around noon. My friend Mary was visiting Disney World to run in a Princess Marathon so we met up at Epcot. We had our picture taken together and I captioned the picture “The people who actually like Disney World.”

Mary visits Disney World frequently so she’s picked up some pointers on how to make the most of your experience there. She told us that you could reduce your wait time for Test Track by entering the single riders line. We did that and afterwards we went on some space ship ride. The ride offered two options: an intense version and a less intense version. I went for the intense version while my brother did the less intense version with Gabrielle. My brother complained that his version of the ride was boring and I complained that my version left me feeling nauseated.

Then we saw some show about colors. My brother and I snickered about how lame it was. After that we moved on to The Sea section of Epcot. We went on a Finding Nemo ride and since we rode in shells I busted out the camera on my phone and took a shellfie. Upstairs there was an aquarium with various marine life including manatees. This prompted my father to start calling Gabrielle Manatee and he periodically referred to her as Manatee for the rest of our trip. If I was called Manatee I would take it as a disparaging comment on my weight and would be insulted but I think my father meant it affectionately.

After The Sea we split up with my brother and me going in one direction and my father and Gabrielle going in another direction. My brother and I were both hungry so we went to The World Showcase to find a restaurant. “What country do you want to eat in?” my brother asked. “A country in which the food is not spicy” I replied.  France seemed like a good bet for non-spicy food so we went to a French restaurant.

When my brother noticed that I wasn’t eating my salad he pointed out that I hadn’t had any intention of ordering a salad but when the waitress had asked me what salad I wanted I panicked and chose one. It was similar to what the waiter had done with my dad and the ribs last night. It was another example of Disney employees sneakily tricking you in to paying too much money for things you didn’t want or need and this was why he hated Disney. I could not argue with him there.

After our meal we went to The Land. We saw a boat ride with a very short wait so we hopped on. We assumed that since the wait was so short the ride would be lame but it was actually pretty cool and interesting. Then we went on Figment’s Imagination Ride which is the kind of childish brightly colored ride full of song and dance that I love and my brother hates. After that we saw a compilation of 3-D Disney animated shorts. They were so cute and funny that even my brother enjoyed them.

When we met up with my father and Gabrielle again we discovered that in our time apart we had gone on the same rides. Now it was time for my father and Gabrielle to leave and get ready for the business dinner. My brother had agreed to continue doing Disney with me but I told him I didn’t want to stay at Epcot. I wanted to go back to The Magic Kingdom to do some of the classic rides we hadn’t gotten to the first time we were there, especially the haunted mansion. My father said we couldn’t do that because the tickets only allowed us to go to one park a day. I told him he was mistaken about how the tickets worked.

As we headed off to The Magic Kingdom  (which I’ve just learned is now called Magic Kingdom; ‘The’ has been removed from several of its signs)  I felt excited. This was going to be fun.

When we reached the parking lot we had to pay $20 for parking despite the fact that we were only going to be there for a few hours. They charge a flat rate for parking each day, regardless of the amount of time you’re spending in the park. It took us a while to find a spot but we eventually found one in the Ursula section. Then we had to take a trolley to the monorail. Then we had to wait among the crowds for the monorail. Then we were packed like sardines in to a monorail full of loud children and taken to the park entrance. Then we waited in a very long line to be admitted to the park. I knew it would all be worth it in the end though.

Finally we made it to the front of the line. After having our bags checked and our fingerprints verified, my brother inserted his ticket in to the machine that would admit us in to The Magic Kingdom. It didn’t work. He tried it again. It didn’t work that time either. He tried a third time. It still didn’t work.

A Disney employee came over to investigate the problem. After scanning my brother’s ticket she said to him “This ticket is only valid for one park per day and you’ve already been to Epcot today.”

A wave of crushing disappointment came over me. This was supposed to be the happiest place on earth but I wasn’t feeling very happy. In that moment The Magic Kingdom lost some of its magic for me. In that moment I was able to see Disney World through my brother’s eyes: A world full of long lines, crowds and hassles, a world where you were tricked in to giving up ridiculously large amounts of money for rewards that didn’t pay off.

That Disney employee could have said to us “Look, your ticket isn’t good for The Magic Kingdom but we know you came all the way here, paid for parking, and fought your way through crowds. Since there are only a couple of hours left until The Magic Kingdom closes we’ll let you in tonight.” You’d think that would be in the spirit of what the place was supposed to be about. Of course she didn’t do that though. She chose to follow the rules, rules made by a bunch of dirty, sneaky money grubbers.

I turned to my brother and said “Fuck Disney World. Let’s see what else Orlando has to offer.”

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