I returned from the Land of Eng to find Belle and Loops living in a field just outside of DeLand, Florida. That makes them sound pretty dejected doesn’t it? I promise they weren’t.
In my absence it turns out that Loops had made friends with yet another older gentleman Bluebirder, who owns a nice bit of farmland and invited him to park the bus there while he waited for me to return from the UK. Additionally it also proved a handy place for a brief rendezvous with Martha, a friend of my dad’s, who is very sweet and kind and likes to check in on us when we are in the area.
It turns out that Loops and I however are in this location for a more particular reason though because, unbeknownst to me, as a treat for my return Loops has booked us in down the road in Orlando for four days at Disney’s Fort Wilderness RV campground; with accompanying four day, all Disney park passes!
Wow, I guess he really was really excited I came back to America, huh?
Now I know at some point in history I have been to Disney World, because I clearly recall there being family photos with my mum, dad, sister and I posing with Mickey Mouse in his dressing room. I also distinctly remembering we all had matching Mickey Mouse watches as well, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you how long ago that was.
I will be honest and say this – I know some people love Disney, like properly go mad about it, and that’s adults, not just children. But honestly, I’ve never been one of them. It has not ever occurred to me as an adult to ever want to visit a Disney park. But I’m really very glad I’ve done it now, and even more so because it was just a really thoughtful thing for Loops to do, it was just the right way to start the New Year off.
So what do you need to know about visiting Disney?
For a start, Fort Wilderness is a rather nice campground. They do have a ridiculously odd booking in system which doesn’t allow you to reserve a specific site before your stay, just a place. What that means is that you have a guaranteed campsite somewhere in the park, but it’s not until you arrive at the gate that you are given a list of available sites to choose from.
This is just weird and not a very good system.
This means that when you get to the nice person at the gate, they rattle off about 15 site numbers at the speed of lightening, and then ask you to pick one. Well….ok, but how do we know what they look like? How are we supposed to know the positioning of the site, the ease of access or whether it will fit our rig? Well, you don’t, is the answer. You are pretty much picking blind off of a location map.
You think Loops would fall for that jazz? Nope, me either.
So we ended up with the lady booking us a random site, just so we had something to our names. We then took the list of site numbers available and, with Loops parking Belle in the overflow car park, jumped in The Beast and proceeded to drive around and evaluate our possibilities. This is now a palava.
I will warn you, while our course of action is a definite possibility if you decide to be a little choosy about where you camp, you do risk the chance that by the time you’ve visited the sites available, chosen the one you like and get back down to the gatehouse, your selected spot may have already been taken by one of the other campers coming in. And there is a constant flow of campers rolling in.
So now we’ve chosen our site, you’d think we could head over and park, right? Well, it seems that Disney won’t let you park in your spot until they have ‘cleaned’ it. That basically means someone checks your site for rubbish and hoses it off. Ok, well, sure that’s a nice thing. So we are told just to wait in the overflow car park and Loops will receive a text when our site is ready.
Two days later, he is sent a text to say the site is clear and ready to go.
That is no lie. Obviously we didn’t wait around for two days. After having had lunch and having sat for two hours, Loops has had enough and drives us over to the site regardless, and no-one ever turned up to say anything about it.
Apart from the rather odd registration process, the campground itself is very nice. There are well maintained flat concrete pads to park on, plenty of trees and greenery to keep it scenic, there is a laundry and toilet block within easy walking distance of each camping section (though I practically fainted at the $3 price tag to use the washer and another $3 for the dryer!) and there is a handy bus service that drives around every 10 minutes or so to take you either to the pier or the bus station, where boats and buses depart for the four different Disney parks.
I personally loved taking the boat rides from the pier; they are almost a separate activity in themselves. Each trip one way is about 10-15 minutes in length depending where you want to get off. They not only service the parks, but the hotels as well, including the Contemporary Hotel where you can get off the boat and board the monorail system to both Disney and Epcot. If fact, you could spend a good portion of your day just taking the different boat and monorail trips to see the sights.
Loops and I decided we wanted to try all four parks and ended up dividing our days in halves. We would spend the morning at one park, take the boat or bus back to the campground for lunch and then head back out to a different park in the late afternoon until evening.
Personally, I enjoyed Epcot the best (followed a close second by Animal Kingdom). I liked that half of it was science based and the other half was based on different countries around the globe. I felt like it gave the best value for money for me as I visited everything and went on pretty much every ride there, whereas The Magic Kingdom was half for adult and half for kids, so really, we only used half of the park.
Speaking of value for money, personally for a cheapskate like me, Disney isn’t. It is hugely expensive. They are happy to gauge you at every twist and turn for money. Even after you pay for your camping and tickets, the prices for everything in the park – souvenirs, food, photos – is ridiculously high. I had to spend $7 for a small pastry when I got caught out needing a sugar buzz.
And simply for that fact I would recommend taking plenty of food and water with you during the day. Oh, and every time you enter the park, prepare to stand in line to have your bag searched for weapons.
Final tip – if you are given a Magic Band, the wristwatch thing, when you stay at one of their hotels/campgrounds, be sure that you use it for the Fast Pass option for the rides at the parks. Some of the ride queues were showing at one point up to 180 minutes – certainly the Soarin’ ride at Epcot was consistently that long, and even with the Fast Pass option we were in the line for at least 45 minutes, if not longer. Generally though, the Fast Pass got us in within about 10-15 minutes, sometimes much less, but you can only use it to book 3 things in advance and depending on the type of rides you chose, it only lets you book one type of a certain experience at once.
In our opinion the rides we enjoyed the most were:
Epcot – Soarin’ (flying through the air over the sights of the world), Test Track (a really fast flat car ride around an outdoor track), Pixar Short Film Festival (three 4D movies to watch, these were excellent), Spaceship Earth (a little old school, but talks through the changes of technology through the ages) and Mission Space (a simulator for a space mission). For clarity, Loops enjoyed the Mission Space ride; I did not. It is a ride that simulates weightlessness, which I can appreciate the effect of, but it does so by spinning you around at incredibly fast speeds. I do not do spinning and in order to cope with the ride and not vomit, I had to keep focussing on a single non-moving spot in front of me, so I couldn’t even tell you what the actual ride was about or what it entailed. Loops did really like it though.
Animal Kingdom – Kilimanjaro Safari, It’s Tough to be a Bug and the general animal exhibits.
Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM so I learned from AJ) – Rock ‘n’ Roller coaster Aerosmith ride, Tower of Terror (which Loops had to ride on his own, I flatly refused to be dropped while in an elevator, I’d never get in one again otherwise). I also liked all of the Storm Troopers that were parading around.
Magic Kingdom – we actually only spent a short evening here and didn’t really go on many rides, but we did enjoy the Carousel of Progress and the general fireworks at night. By the way, Magic Kingdom seemed to be really poorly lit at night compared to the other parks, not sure why but it was actually quite off-putting.
After wearing our feet and our imaginations out over four days, we packed up once again and headed south, back towards Clearwater for a three day Bluebird Rally and a day out at the Florida RV Show. These both just happened to fall on a good timeline for us, so it seemed silly to miss them out.
The rally was a far smaller gathering than the one we visited last year in Georgia, with probably only about 30 buses, but it was a far more social affair in my opinion and I found myself spending time talking to some new faces and not feeling as awkward as I did at the previous one. There were shared breakfasts and pot luck dinners (where our special salad went down a treat – if anyone needs the recipe let me know!) and campfires in the evening. I’m met several well-travelled older gentlemen who were delighted to spend the evening asking me questions about England and regaling me with tales of their own lives in Europe.
Spending a day at the RV show was Loops’ pick, mostly as there were a couple vendors he wanted to see, and of course I’m always happy to go and window shop in other motor homes and then feel smug about wonderful I think Belle is in comparison.
Our big coup of the day as it turned out was visiting all of the nation-wide RV campgrounds that were present and advertising. The moment you even glance their way, the sales rep sidles over and invites you for a closer look at their brochure and in many cases offering a free night’s stay (or in some cases up to three days) to try out their park. At one stand the company had a spin the wheel game to win prizes and both Loops and I took a turn, with me winning us a ‘buy one, get two night’s free’ offer and Loops bagging a ‘buy one week and get another week free’.
Needless to say we have tucked all of these coupons safely away until such a time that we roll through the appropriate state.
Well it’s almost time to properly get back on the road again and travel a little further afield…hmm, I think I fancy someplace with a water view…..