All Around Orlando
Bob and Terry on Tour 2013, with Justin, Kim, Ellen and Richard
The Best of Florida

This trip went through some amazing twists and turns.

It started out as a quick getaway for Terry and I. Visit Ellen and Richard… play some cards… and just generally not be at work for a week with some fresh and new scenery outside.

And then we contacted Justin and Jay and asked what they thought… and suddenly Justin was along for the trip, with his girlfriend, Kim.

This led to discussing Disney World and whether or not to visit a theme park or two.

Ultimately… wow… all four Disney parks, plus DisneyQuest -- a trip to Ocala transformed into a trip to Orlando.

I’m starting this effort with those details for a simple reason -- this was a great trip, and also a trip in constant motion. Ellen and Richard were only with us at the Animal Kingdom park… we stayed in Ocala for a grand total of about 24-hours… some of us have been to the parks multiple times, while Kim was making her first visit to any Disney theme park. In short, there are some considerations to keep in mind when reading our answers.

If you want more…

The travel diary for days one and two

The travel diary for days three and four

The travel diary for days five and six

The travel diary for days seven, eight and nine

The 2013 Magic Kingdom visit

The 2013 Epcot visit

The 2013 Hollywood Studios visit

The 2013 Animal Kingdom visit

And with that… the Best of Florida 2013…

What were your favorite things we did in Disney World?

Bob: I’ll cover a few things more in the best ride section, because some of the favorites would have to include Expedition Everest, Toy Story Midway Mania!, and Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid along with the new Test Track.

Also… this was our first visit to the Animal Kingdom since 2005, and it was great to get back there.

But I honestly think my favorite part of being in Disney World was Terry and I being there with Justin and Kim. His last trip to see the Mouse and Orlando was in 1999, and she was making her first visit to Disney World theme parks. It was awesome to watch them laugh, to share stories of our past visits or even general information and trivia, and especially to see Justin get excited about certain things that he remembered.

Terry: Visiting the parks.

It’s been great visiting Ellen and Richard the past few years, and also heading to Orlando with Mike and Louise, and Joe and Donna. But there has been something different on all of those trips. Maybe it was the focus of Halloween or Christmas when visiting the Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios. Perhaps it was having not been to Animal Kingdom in so long.

I really enjoyed having Ellen and Richard along to see the Animal Kingdom. That was great.

And this time, being able to see all four parks at Disney World in the same visit was really fantastic. Plus, being back there again with Justin, and being able to show the parks to Kim for the first time… sharing the trip with them made it extra special.

Ellen: Kilimanjaro Safaris. I took things easy on this trip and didn’t go on Expedition Everest, which I think probably would have been my favorite.

Richard: Expedition Everest.

Justin: There was so much. Kilimanjaro Safaris at the Animal Kingdom stands out. And I also liked the Lights, Motors, Actions! car stunt show at Hollywood Studios.

Kim: The Kilimanjaro Safaris ride.

What were you most impressed by at Disney World?

Bob: How much ground we covered in the parks without ever rushing our schedule.

I’ll admit it… we didn’t visit some attractions. Space Mountain… Big Thunder Mountain… completely walking the World Showcase… The American Adventure… Tower of Terror… Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster… Kali River Rapids… there are some special names on that list, and some big names that could be included but I just don’t have time to mention.

Still… with exception of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh… we never waited in any line for more than twenty minutes, and really only used a FASTPASS once or twice in any of the parks.

We’ve been there on some busy days in recent years, and yet the ability to get on rides and see huge chunks of the properties without having to force the pace has been a bit eye-opening and fun.

Hey… part of it now for us, since we know we’ll be visiting Ellen and Richard and heading to Orlando perhaps on average once a year or so, is that we know that what we might not see on this trip we can catch in the near future. That removes some of the fear that might create an early morning start and a 12-plus hour park visit.

But I seem to recall days in my youth when you most certainly did wait twenty minutes or more for every ride… days when the Magic Kingdom had to be a two-day park because you could never see it all in one day. (And I do hear stories of incredibly long ride lines these days, and the Magic Kingdom is a multiple-day park if you want to see everything.)

Terry: The Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot was going on during our visit, and that felt special and different.

Justin: The organization of the parks and how everything was so professional.

Kim: The night shows at every park. All of them different, and all of them impressive.

Favorite things we did…

Bob: Getting to all of the parks was awesome. And… speaking for myself in a way on behalf of Terry and I… getting there with Justin and Kim, as well as hitting one park with Ellen and Richard, made it even better. There is a totally different feeling to Disney when it’s experienced, as examples, by couples returning, a group of friends, and family.

Since we’ve hit the theme parks already though… and still have some individual favorites to go… here are a few specifics…

Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza – We stopped at the one on Turkey Lake Road in Orlando… and we stopped there twice.

DisneyQuest – I suppose this would be more of a “glad we included it” kind of thing, especially since it wasn’t one of the very best things we did. But as a favorite… seeing Justin’s reaction when we told him it was an option was fantastic. Memories from roughly 15 years earlier came flooding back to him and it was pretty great to watch. And since we got our admission as a free add-on, yeah, it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Kobe Japanese Steakhouse – Now officially a Bob, Terry, Ellen and Richard tradition in Orlando.

Terry: Seeing the Disney theme parks.

Ellen: Just spending time together. I really look forward to each time we meet up, even when it’s just playing cards and taking it easy.

Richard: I agree. Playing cards and spending time together.

Justin: To get away from Disney World, I thought the meal at Carrabba’s was fantastic, and the time share unit we stayed in was really good. I also loved the antique car show we went to in Old Town.

Kim: Downtown Disney was really fun. We went there on a few days, and every visit had something new. Started with the shops, then Earl of Sandwich, and then DisneyQuest.

Best park…

Bob: You know, the Magic Kingdom gets it.

I keep trying to think of ways to elevate the other three here… since we got to all of the Disney World parks on this trip, making a comparison valid. It just doesn’t work though.

All of the parks are good. All of them have their strengths.

Magic Kingdom is just stronger than the others.

Terry: Magic Kingdom

Justin: I really like Epcot.

Kim: I like Epcot too.

Best ride…

Bob: I really enjoyed Expedition Everest and the Under The Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid rides. Had never been on either… both were very good. Add the new Test Track in… which is an old favorite, with all the accessories redesigned.

Soarin’ is incredible.

And we could cover more ground. But…

The simple fact is, Toy Story Midway Mania! was an incredible surprise. Very different… imaginative take on a ride themed to the movies… and a lot of fun. Easily the best ride for this trip.

Terry: Hmm… I’ve got two.

Over at the Hollywood Studios, we made it on Toy Story Midway Mania! this time. That ride was really different and pretty cool. Lots of fun, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

At the Magic Kingdom we went on Splash Mountain. That one is always a favorite of mine, even though we don’t always get on it. And, being able to get Kim on the ride was something I really enjoyed and keep laughing about.

Ellen: Kilimanjaro Safaris.

Richard: Expedition Everest.

Justin: The ride with the plunger guns… at Hollywood Studios… Toy Story Midway Mania!

Kim: Terry will be thrilled to hear this. It’s Splash Mountain.

Best place to eat (overall)…

Bob: Kobe would be one… Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza would be two… and Earl of Sandwich would be three.

And on this trip, Terry and I made it official for Kobe… as I said a second ago, it is now a tradition for us. And, Ellen has been a part of every visit we’ve made to Kobe’s… Richard missed the 2005 visit.

Terry: Of course, it has to be Kobe Japanese Steakhouse. What a great place.

I do want to mention Carrabba’s. We stopped there after visiting the Animal Kingdom because all of us like the place. And we stumbled in during their Amore Mondays promotion, which effectively created three-course dinners for terrifically low prices. Awesome. Loved it.

Ellen: Kobe Japanese Steakhouse.

Richard: Yup, Kobe. It has become pretty much a must for us, and I enjoy it every time.

Justin: Mom and Bob love Japanese steakhouses. I think just about every time I travel with them we end up finding one. I remember visiting Washington, D.C. and eating at one, and I know we went to a different place in Orlando when I was younger. Well, they’ve done it again, and it’s a very good one. I vote for Kobe’s.

Kim: I really like Kobe’s as well.

Best place to eat (inexpensive)…

Bob: I’ll go with Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza.

It was a bit of a drive from the Disney and Irlo Bronson area we were in, but nothing amazingly inconvenient. (And if you were at Universal Studios or the International Drive area, it would be pretty much right there for you.)

The food was outstanding… prices were really affordable… and the service and atmosphere during both of our visits was great.

Terry: Earl of Sandwich was great (again)… but I’m going to say Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza. We went there twice on this trip, and it was something brand new for us.

Ellen: The night at Carrabba’s would be hard to top. I know the Monday night specials were incredible. But even for Richard and I, craving something else from the menu, didn’t end up with a big check.

Richard: Can’t argue with Ellen, even though we’ve been to Carrabba’s before, this visit was a great meal at a great price.

Justin: I like what Ellen and Richard are saying. Carrabba’s has been a place I’ve enjoyed before, so the good meal was no surprise. But this visit, with the menu specials for a Monday night, was incredible.

Kim: I was really pleased with Earl of Sandwich.

Biggest surprise…

Bob: Hmm…

Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza was fantastic. Toy Story Midway Mania! was outstanding. But a surprise?

Oh wait… ok… I got one…

Ordering later from the Disney Marketplace.

You’ll need to check out the full story in the article that focuses on Epcot. But, basically, Terry and I spotted a Tinker Bell garden fairy item. Because of the size, we passed. And, naturally, when we got back to the room we were regretting the decision. We probably could have had Disney ship it… and easily could have imposed on Ellen and Richard to ship it.

In the end, I asked at World of Disney about it, and they gave a business card with information to use in tracking it down. Long story short… we’ve got our Tinker Bell.

Disney is brilliant at things. I hate the stories of people taking advantage of the place and their policies… do your own research on that one… because it really does ruin things for people honestly asking questions. But, that understood, if you speak with a Cast Member… in a store or restaurant, on the phone, and so on… you are likely going to get some amazing information.

Terry: The International Flower and Garden event at Epcot.

Ellen: It had been so long since I had been to the Animal Kingdom that it was pretty much like going again for the first time.

Richard: How well my days off from work matched up with the plans we were able to make for your visit.

Justin: That the Disney characters are mainly set up in specific meeting locations and don’t really walk around.

Kim: I still can’t believe we got to every Disney park.

You know, I never thought about this before, so I found it interesting when…

Bob: After the Fantasmic! show, we were funneled out of the park.

Ok… stay with me.

Disney is an amazing magnet when it comes to your wallet. Tickets can be expensive to begin with. Then add on food and souvenirs. And for the most part, it is what it is.

The funny part though is watching how you get directed through all of it. And as an example, all of the roads out of the theme parks run past the retail options.

Well… apparently all roads except one.

See we hit the first Fantasmic! performance of two that were scheduled that night.

For the most part, because Kim isn’t a huge fan of heights (and is not big on flying), we had been keeping most of our things low key. She didn’t go on Expedition Everest as an example.

But she had gone on a couple of rides with us, and was basically agreeable to most stuff along the way. Plus, she was becoming more and more comfortale with Disney thrills, thanks to Test Track and Soarin’. So Terry kept slowly asking her about the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. By the time we got to the show, Kim seemed willing to check it out before we left.

Now I was figuring that depending on the waits, since we would be in the area, if we were looking at the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster then I would check out the Tower of Terror. Seemed like great options for finishing off our day.

Only… our audience is guided away from that part of the park after the show. (I know it was mainly to get around people coming in for the second show. I get the reason for it.) I’m guessing that I may have walked that way before… and just never thought of it then because I wasn’t trying to get back to the Tower of Terror. But I noticed it this time.

And not only did the walk bring you away from those two attractions, it went behind the scenes all the way to the plaza just inside the entrance gates. In other words… a back-of-the-house kind of walk that not only leads you away from a couple of rides, it also moves you past food and shopping opportunities.

And I thought that was pretty interesting.

Terry: We spent one day taking a time share tour, which was more or less required for us to be able to get the discount ticket offer.

Now we’ve always thought about buying something, so it wasn’t purely a “just keep saying ‘no’ and never waver” exercise. But we weren’t really sure about buying with Vacation Village, so the “no” response was repeated often.

The interesting part was watching the prices drop. I think we went through three people, five pricing changes, and offers in three different states for four different resorts. I don’t know, I didn’t keep the notes Bob does. Still… it was like that joke you see played out on TV: “See what I’m doing? Watch this. Are you ready? See that price there? Well forget it. You don’t want that. You’re intelligent consumers, and I can see that. So what if I add points and an extra bonus week and we do this? Will two weeks at this price get you interested right now? What do I have to do to get you into a vacation paradise today?”

Justin: These four (Mom, Bob, Ellen and Richard) keep talking about Orange Lake, but I’ve never stayed there. So, it may very well be better than this place. That said… Vacation Village was really good to us. I understand they are trying to make an impression and sell people something, but the pool and all the other free things going on were impressive. And, the unit itself was perfect for us.

Kim: I’m with Justin on this one. There were so many free things to do it made me wish we had more time to spend around the property.

If I had to recommend something that a person had to do, regardless of expense, I would say…

Bob: Well, any of the places we’ve covered would be good. From the parks to eating, we had a really great week with Ellen, Richard, Justin and Kim.

With all the changes at Universal Studios… and even SeaWorld… Terry and I are beginning to feel a bit of a pull toward some different things for the next visits to Orlando. Disney will always be at the front of the line, but there is interest building for a few other experiences.

That said… something to do based on this trip… I’m going to say miniature golf.

Ok… that’s a silly answer… but what I’m driving at is that even when you head to Orlando, whether it’s for Disney or Universal, you are going to need something to occupy yourself with for a bit as a break. There’s going to be a time when you are looking for a quick and inexpensive place to eat… a theater showing a movie… something to do like a place to go that won’t cost fifty-bazillion-dollars per child.

Now sure, this could be the hotel pool and a good book. (And I would recommend Time Just Drifts Away as a good book for your consideration… available in paperback and Kindle editions.)

For us, we got to Pirate’s Cove on the last day. It was something to do for an hour or so before we dropped Justin and Kim off at the airport.

We’ve played miniature golf before… always had fun… so that’s my recommendation from this trip.

Terry: Kobe. It’s the tradition for us now.

Ellen: I’m just going to keep it simple and say go to all of the Disney Parks.

Richard: Ok… I agree with Ellen… but that’s really quite a statement from me. I’m not a person that wants to see the Magic Kingdom several times in the same year. One good visit satisfies me for a while.

But I didn’t join the group in 2005 for any of the parks. And I didn’t go with Ellen, Terry and Bob to the Hollywood Studios in 2011. So when we got to Epcot in 2009… or the Magic Kingdom for a Christmas visit in 2011… or on this trip the Animal Kingdom for, I think for Ellen and I, the first time in that park since 1999… I do enjoy it.

Disney does do some amazing things, and when you keep it fresh, I have to say that all of the parks are worth taking in.

Justin: Get to Epcot, spend the day and evening, and see all of the countries in daylight and at night.

Kim: Try to visit every park.

If I had to recommend something but expense did matter (so go cheaper), I would say…

Bob: Ok… Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza and Pirate’s Cove are the answers so far. Those would be specifics.

In general, I’m going to go back to an old reliable piece of advice… split your meals.

Terry and I split sandwiches or plates a few times during this trip, and it worked marvelously for us.

A couple of dishes at Kissimmee Ale House… a burger in the Animal Kingdom… sharing plates at Carrabba’s while taking advantage of the Amore Monday specials… and so on.

It helped us keep costs down, which was fantastic. We also felt better since we weren’t eating as much in any sitting, plus we had the freedom and appetite to pick on some other fun foods at the parks.

Terry: The tickets we ended up with were fantastic. And, since we actually are interested in a purchase at some time, the information and experience we got from spending time discussing a time-share property was valuable to us.

So… for this one I would actually say to consider arranging a tour with a time share group. We saved hundreds of dollars on our tickets by doing this. And, since so many of the discount ticket offers are scams, this was one way where investing slightly more than two hours of our time actually resulted in a fairly secure way of getting the tickets at significant savings.

Justin: I understand there are warnings that go along with it, because you need to be aware of why the great stuff is there. But the time share deals, from the units we stayed in to the deal we got on Disney tickets, were great.

Kim: Look for deals wherever you can find them. The time share ones were good, but I remember a few times having Bob, Terry, Ellen and Richard move us around in a way that saved us time, money, or even just energy by not aimlessly wandering around the parks again and again.

Person/people that impressed me the most…

Bob: Well… the gang of five would be the top of this list for me. I love traveling with Terry, and it’s always a thrill to do things with Ellen and Richard. Having Justin with us, as well as Kim, was great. In fact, Justin and Kim really changed things up this time for us… creating some different experiences at favorite locations.

I’ll give a general nod to the Disney staff. They pass out buttons… for anniversaries… birthdays… first time visits… and the cast members take notice when you wear them.

And for specific names -- Matt from Red Lobster and Bill from Kissimmee Ale House. Of all the people that took care of our groups at restaurants during the week, those are the two names I made it a point to write down and share. They were really great to us, and stayed on top of everything. Friendly… and they exceeded our expectations, contributing to our having a really good meal.

Terry: Bob!!!

He’s always been perfect in the role of Tour Guide Bobby. This time though, I think about everything we accomplished, and how much we saw, and it’s kind of unbelievable. Bob knows the parks really well, and he navigates them beautifully. If you are with us in one of these parks and want to see something… you will see it.

There was a lot going on during this trip. Justin hadn’t been to Orlando since 1999. Kim had never been to a Disney theme park. There were some new rides involved, plus I wanted to make sure fireworks and Fantasmic! and the Main Street Electrical Parade were part of our visits.

We were at the Animal Kingdom with Ellen and Richard, which is the only park Ellen hasn’t been in since 1999. (Richard missed the Hollywood Studios during Christmas with us in 2011, so he still hasn’t been there since 1999.) And I can’t think of one thing we wanted to do in the Animal Kingdom that we didn’t do.

In fact, I can’t think of one thing we didn’t do that anyone wanted to do in any of the places we visited. And watching Justin and Kim, seeing their faces, talking with them or hearing them talk with Bob… well, just awesome.

Ellen: Ok… I’ll say Justin. I haven’t spent this much time with him since long before he even started college. It was great spending time with him and Kim around the condo, and I was impressed that he has become a very mature and level-headed young man.

Justin and Kim: You guys! There was so much to do, every day, and all of it was fun.

Event that impressed me the most…

Bob: The flower and garden show at Epcot was cool. I would have liked to have seen even more of that.

Here’s a funny thing that happened for me on this trip -- I was reminded exactly how much of Disney I can miss by focusing on other things, or, have never seen at all. We always seem to have a basic plan… a park to visit or some new attraction that has been added. So it might be a visit to the Animal Kingdom or the new parts of Fantasyland. But the reality is, this was the first time all four Disney parks have been part of a visit since 2005.

And even if 2005, I don’t recall the last time I stopped in the Hall of Presidents… saw all of the attractions in the World Showcase from rides to movies… and so on. Several places, mainly in resort areas, I have never experienced.

So another impressive thing was once again appreciating the size of Disney World.

And, I was very impressed with the new Fantasyland. From the Little Mermaid ride to LaFou’s Brew, it was awesome. And I am definitely looking forward to experiencing the new roller coaster that opens soon, and getting into Beast’s castle.

Terry: Epcot’s Flower and Garden event.

Justin: The fireworks at Epcot.

Kim: The Fantasmic! show at the Hollywood Studios.

Thing I’m really glad we included…

Bob: Well, all four parks were incredible. And, getting Ellen, Richard, Justin and Kim involved was awesome. So the ground we covered and the company involved were just brilliant. I’m very glad for all of that.


Something like Splash Mountain was a great addition we hadn’t been certain about trying. That one creates a solid memory from this trip.

I’m glad we expanded some of our dining ideas away from Disney and Irlo Bronson… which led us to Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza.

And… this one will be unexpected… I’m glad we included the time share presentation. It got us discounted tickets for the parks, and, it also showed us what Terry and I do want if we really get to a point where such a purchase becomes reality.

Terry: Epcot.

It was a back-burner idea for us. With Kim having never been, the Magic Kingdom was an obvious choice. The Animal Kingdom is one we’ve been trying to get to for a few visits now. And Hollywood Studios has Fantasmic!, which I wanted Kim to see if we were going to be able to add more than one park on.

So Epcot… Soarin’ and a new Test Track or not… seemed like the candidate that wouldn’t make the cut. But we got there and saw a ton of it.

Turned out to be one of the favorites for Justin and Kim.

Ellen: A day together in a Disney park. It was fun being there with Justin and Kim as part of our group.

Richard: Again, I agree. Wasn’t the Animal Kingdom day the first visit for Kim to a Disney park? I think so. I said before that it’s nice when the visits have a bit of a different twist, and this group we had was a lot of fun. The conversations were good and the laughs continuous.

Justin: Getting to all of the parks and DisneyQuest.

Kim: All of the ground we covered at Downtown Disney, including that almost hidden section with the Lego statues.

Thing I wish we had done…

Bob: Hmm… good question… and most of the answers would have simply been impossible because there just wasn’t enough time.

First up… more of Disney. Could have been water parks… seeing La Nouba… going to the Hoop Dee Doo… exploring some of the resorts for shops and restaurants… but being there for Kim’s first visit to the theme parks, and getting to see all four parks in a single trip, it really connected with me how much we either haven’t seen in years or have never explored.

Next up… Universal. I can’t say this one is on the same level as more of Disney, or even with the concepts like getting to Ocala, but Universal Studios is adding, expanding and changing. I do like Universal, even after several moments of frustration.

Ocala. We missed Ocala just about entirely. Justin didn’t get there at all.

And, I wish we had more time in general, and more down time specifically.

Terry: An airboat ride. I think both of the kids would have loved it.

Justin: I’m not complaining. But I would have loved to relax a bit more. A full day at the pool and stuff like that.

Kim: I understand how everything fell together, but spacing the parks out a bit more so it was not as exhausting.

Suggestions from this experience…

Bob: Got to spread out the parks to keep the energy levels up high and not get burned out.

Hey… I’ve done four straight days of parks before, and I would do it again. It is simply more fun though when you can recover and head to the next one at full strength. Or, have more time, because doing just a few hours of the park… say three or four… can be a waste or very limiting.

Terry: See my answer above about a time share and resort property tour. I can’t believe how Ellen and Richard have been able to share so much with us thanks to their ownership. And to get the tickets discounted (plus a breakfast)… you might actually buy!

Justin: When you can, schedule things with some down time so you can be rested, enjoy yourself, and really appreciate the excitement.

Kim: I agree. There was so much going on at times.

Sure, this will be set up as a best of column, but you should always warn people about the bad, so here is something I think we need to mention…

Bob: I’m going to use the Vacation Village WiFi for this one as an example… never, never, never assume that all amenities will be offered, working, and expectations met.

The WiFi at Vacation Village, which we never got working on my laptop, is a perfect example of this. Thanks to an iPad and smartphones though, this was never an issue that hampered us.

The concept expands though. I’ve been on trips where rides and attractions were closed for maintenance. I’ve seen dates when the parks closed early due to private evening events.

Do at least a little homework, and be prepared for the curveballs and unexpected.

Terry: Do not attempt four parks back-to-back.

Justin: Pick on me if you want. I didn’t see Disney characters walking around. I saw them at staged meet and greet stands. And for me, that was a failure.

Kim: Be prepared to spend more money than things are worth, because it is Disney World.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at