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Old 07-01-2012, 02:11 PM   #1
anierodzik
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Orlando without the mouse: Coasters, dolphins, Harry and more!

Welcome to my first ever trip report. I have gotten so much out of the DIS boards over the past few years, I thought it was time to share a bit myself. Our trip was May 17th - May 27th. We visited Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, Aquatica, Universal, Islands of Adventure, and Discovery Cove. (We did do a bit of Downtown Disney, too.)

Warning: We are not a big photo taking family, but I will share a bit of what we have.

Who are we? I am the trip planner (or in my kid's words: the BEST trip planner ever). My husband appreciates the fruit of my efforts.


Don't worry, you won't have to see many more pictures of us.


Our kids, DS10, DS9, and DD7. Let's call them T, Bug, and Lil-E.


We are ALL coaster riders, with my Lil-E being the bravest. The boys are tall enough to ride everything, and my girl was just barely 48 inches, so she could ride a lot.

I started planning/budgeting/ conspiring for this trip in January. And guess what, I was able to keep the entire thing a complete surprise from the kids. They had NO IDEA where we were going. They didn't even know we were going anywhere at all.

DH and I picked the kids up from school on 5/17, which was our last day. That's when they figured out we were heading somewhere. (Couldn't hide the suitcases in the back of the car- it is amazing, and great, how much less stuff we need now that they are getting older.) As we headed down the Interstate, they began guessing where we were going. They used the iPad to search for ideas, and finally figured out our first stop was Tampa. The theme they whole vacation was "Do we have to go home tomorrow?"

We live north of Atlanta, so we pulled into the Holiday Inn Express, Tampa around 10:00. We had booked the hotel using Priority Club points. When I asked for extra blankets and pillows, they upgraded us without charge to a mini-Suite, which meant Lil-E had a sofa bed rather than a pallet on the floor.

If you are going to be staying in Tampa, I do recommend staying at this hotel. It was clean and comfortable, the staff was competent, and the included breakfast yummy and filling.



Coming up: Our first Busch Gardens Day.
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Old 07-01-2012, 02:31 PM   #2
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Old 07-01-2012, 02:44 PM   #3
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Can't wait to hear more!
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Old 07-02-2012, 12:30 PM   #4
anierodzik
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Our first day at Busch Gardens

We were up bright and early, had a good (free or included, however you want to look at it) breakfast at the hotel, checked out, and headed to the park. The hotel was right around the corner, so we arrived in plenty of time to... sit in the car. The gates at this time of year apparently open 1/2 hour before the park does. We are typically early birds, so we hung out a bit, then headed in. I had purchased a Super Grover Pass (the platinum pass from Sesame Place), and was able to used it for Preferred parking, so we were right up front.

Now, on past trips we have gotten spoiled. We went to Disney Jan 09 and Jan 10. Besides being very light attendance at the parks, I also knew how to "work" the Fastpass system. So basically, no lines for those trips. Then in May '10 we went to Universal, and stayed on site. because of Express Pass, no lines for that trip. Spoiled, spoiled, spoiled, we are. SO, we bought Quick Queue Unlimited for this trip to Busch Gardens. They were awesome! (The Super Grover Pass did get us 10% off). We were able to walk right up to the front of the line on all the rides.

Because of the quick queue passes, we did not join to mad dash at rope drop to the right (towards Cheetah Hunt), but instead went to the left.

We fed kangaroos


and birds

.

Our first coaster of the day was Gwazi. Even though Bug and Lil-E were big enough to ride, they sat it out. The rest of us rode several times, then we headed on to Stanleyville.
We stopped first at Sesame Street Safari of Fun, where we were able to get all the kids on the little coaster. We didn't spend much time here, as our kids are a bit older, and they didn't want to squish any little kids in the play area. I would recommend this area, however, if you do have smaller kids- it looked GREAT!

As part of our package with SeaWorld Vacations, we had the All Day Dining. So we decided it was time for second breakfast. We popped into Zambia Smokehouse and everyone got a drink (water bottle) and a snack (strawberries oranges and pickles - not on the same plate). While DH and T headed to ride SheikRA (3 times in a row), we enjoyed the view.


We continued on around the park, conveniently passing up the water rides (don't worry, we got to them later). At this point we were headed for our meet up for our Endangered Safari. We did have time, however to ride Scorpion. T and Lil-E were all for it , but my middle son, Bug, was quite apprehensive. Hooray for the Scorpion! After one ride, we were not able to keep any of the kids off any rides they were big enough to ride. (Of course, we had to ride it twice.)

I learned about the Endangered Safari Safari from the Busch Gardens website, but I made sure to book it by calling them. We saved 10% on the tour by using the Super Grover pass. The tour was awesome! You ride in the back of a special truck through the Serengeti Plain. Along the way you feed giraffes:



We also got off the truck at one point where we were able to see a black rhino and two Cheetahs. Very cool! It was hot on the back of the truck, but at one point they put up a shade that covered a portion of it.

After the tour it was time to eat again (late lunch/early dinner). By this point we noticed that the number of school groups were increasing, as were the number of people. We didn't have any trouble, however. As a former middle school teacher, I have a high tolerance for school group behavior, unless my own children are wronged (by wronged I mean trampled), in which case Mama-Bear kicks in. But we had no problems. We ate at the Desert Grill, again using the All Day Dining Plan. So we had something we rarely get when we are out- sodas and desserts. Oh, and guess what we were treated to during our meal? Live entertainment. It was a fun tribute to the 70s. Now, I was a young child during this time. I have photos of myself in polyester. Fortunately, I do not have any lasting memories, so we enjoyed the show. (I'm not sure how my own kids know all the songs, but I was afraid my Bug was about to jump up on stage and shake his umm...tailfeathers.)

After our meal, we headed down toward the Eqypt area, enjoying the animal exhibits along the way. Next ride: Cheetah Hunt. Wow! We were all tall enough (Lill-E is just at 48"), so we bypassed the 55 minute wait with our Quick Queue Passes, jumped in at the front of the line. Wow! Our family has declared this the BEST COASTER EVER. Loops and straightaways and speed! And very, very smooth. We rode it 2 more times, each time thankful for the Quick Queue.

We decided to hop on the Skyride to head back to the Jungala area. Unfortunately, there is not a Quick Queue line for the Skyride, so we stood in line awhile. And just as we got to the front of the line... it was closed due to weather in the area. Now, I'm fine with that. Don't want to be a lightning target, you know. The man behind us in line was not (fine with it), and decided that colorful language was appropriate at this time. DH politely corrected him on that notion, and all was well.

So, now what? We regrouped and decided to take a slow stroll back to the front of the park, shopping, looking at animals, etc. We used our All Day Dining at
Zagora Cafe on the way out to get more water bottles. We walked out to our car, which was conveniently parked close by thanks to Preferred Parking (thank you Super Grover Pass). At this point, our kids thought we were driving back home. Okay, maybe the heat muddled their brains, maybe they were a bit addled because I kept them guessing.

We headed to Orlando for our next hotel, the Residence Inn Seaworld, where we would be staying for the next nine nights. I chose this hotel because it was a preferred hotel for SeaWorld. (Yes, that means more Quick Queue passes- this time it is included with the hotel.) I also wanted a free (or included) breakfast buffet. But what sold me on this hotel- we were able to get a large space. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, living areas and kitchen. Being a family of 5, our choices are more limited. But this was perfect for us, and quite a reasonable price (less than one room at Port Orleans, Riverside per night).

We arrived, checked in, settled in, and went for a quick swim at the average pool.

Up next.... SeaWorld, here we come!
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Old 07-02-2012, 06:28 PM   #5
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Joining in!!

We love Disney but would like to try other things in the area and our kids' ages are similar to yours!! (and family of five).

Looking forward to more!
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Old 07-02-2012, 06:48 PM   #6
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Great start. Can't wait for more.
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Old 07-02-2012, 06:53 PM   #7
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Following along. We are going several of the places you went, so I'm curious to see your reports!
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Old 07-03-2012, 10:43 AM   #8
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Is the Holiday Inn Express the one about a half mile from Busch Gardens? I was looking at their website vacation packages and if this is the same hotel, we could get a really good rate. I have never been to Tampa, so I am not sure which hotel to stay at.
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Old 07-03-2012, 11:20 AM   #9
anierodzik
Earning My Ears
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Metro West View Post
Looking forward to more.
Quote:
Originally Posted by AJA View Post
Can't wait to hear more!
Thanks! More today about SeaWorld!

Quote:
Originally Posted by BellaBaby View Post
Joining in!!

We love Disney but would like to try other things in the area and our kids' ages are similar to yours!! (and family of five).

Looking forward to more!
We love Disney too, but we loved this trip, and it was so much more relaxing for us.

Quote:
Originally Posted by reelmom View Post
Great start. Can't wait for more.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chelley00 View Post
Following along. We are going several of the places you went, so I'm curious to see your reports!
Let me know if you have any questions.
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Old 07-03-2012, 11:27 AM   #10
anierodzik
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Quote:
Originally Posted by reelmom View Post
Is the Holiday Inn Express the one about a half mile from Busch Gardens? I was looking at their website vacation packages and if this is the same hotel, we could get a really good rate. I have never been to Tampa, so I am not sure which hotel to stay at.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Tampa - USF- Busch Gardens (2807 E. Busch Blvd). Yes, it was very close. We had never been to Tampa either, but since we had Priority Points, we chose the closest Holiday Inn that served breakfast, and we were not disappointed. We were only there for one night.
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Old 07-03-2012, 06:54 PM   #11
anierodzik
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Seaworld! SeaWorld!

We were up early for our second day. The kids had figured out we were not going home, but they were not sure where we were going.

During breakfast at the Residence Inn (which mercifully included this:

I went to pick up our Quick Queue Unlimited vouchers at the front desk. These are included if you stay in a SeaWorld preferred hotel, and as I mentioned before, we are a big fan of reducing our line- wait time. You can get these everyday that you are staying at the hotel. We then headed out to SeaWorld. Using the Super Grover pass we were able to get preferred parking for free. We hopped out and went to the kiosks right outside the gate to redeem the vouchers where we got our cards for the Quick Queue passes. We THEN had to turn in the cards at a ride that accepted Quick Queue for our wristbands. Multiple steps for a great free benefit, and well worth it.

We have never been to SeaWorld as a family. Actually, DH is the only one who had been, but it was years ago, so he might as well have been a clean slate as well. We have a mantra in our family when we go to theme parks: "You say what, Momma says when." Which means we will do whatever you want to do, but Momma will engineer the timing. It works well for us. Anyway, I knew there were two things that we needed to do early in the morning: feed the Dolphins and Turtle Trek. We immediately got in line for the Dolphin feeding (remember, you get 10% off if you show them an Annual Pass- yay Super Grover.) We had a GREAT time here because we were in the first feeding group and the dolphins were so hungry and eager to eat.

After the dolphin feeding, we went on to Turtle Trek. Since it had only been open a few weekends, we anticipated a line (Quick Queue is not included here), and while there was a line, it was not too bad. We enjoyed this attraction. The 3-D dome movie was amazing, however the talk before in front of the aquarium did not seem to take into account that most of the people would be chatting while the docent was speaking. Maybe they will reorganize this in the future.

After this we rode Journey to Atlantis (with our Quick Queue) then popped over to the Whale and Dolphin show. I think I enjoyed this show more than any of the others.


We had All Day Dining Passes again as part of our package, and we headed over to Voyagers Smokehouse for lunch. Along with most of the park, or so it seemed. But we were waiting in the cool air, so all was good. (As was the food.) After lunch, we were just in time for the Clyde and Seymore show.

My family laughed and laughed and laughed here. Very cute! Get there early and enjoy the mime. (I know, I said "enjoy" and "mime" in the same sentence, but he is so funny!) T (my oldest) was laughing SO hard he was crying. Bug took lots of pictures here.

Our next stop was Manta, which the boys were dying to try. I stayed with Lill-E, who was sadly too short to ride. We went to the Aquarium at the ride, and of course stayed there a bit because the guys had to ride more than once. Bug declared it his favorite coaster ever. After this was a turn on Sky Tower, where we encountered our first rude looks because we were "cutting" in line. No, we weren't, we were just using the Quick Queues. While we were on Sky Tower, T spotted Aquatica and said "I wish we could go there too, maybe next trip."

In case you were wondering, the bridge across the lake towards Shamu Stadium is hot. Very hot. So of course, we had to stop my Mango Joe's for water bottles (All Day Dining). We headed over to Wild Arctic, where we rode the simulator. This was not our favorite ride, but Bug loved the exhibit afterward. He is fascinated by Beluga Whales, for some reason. I hurried him along (grr grr) because the One Ocean show was about to start, but he was okay when I told him we would come back (you know, "you say what, I say when" really does work.)

And on to the Once Ocean show.

We really enjoyed this one, too, and the kids sat in the splash zone, so they were good and wet by the end.

Very wet. I didn't really think that through when I led them back into Wild Arctic for Bug to spend quality time with the Beluga whales. The boys were fine, but my Lill-E does not tolerate cold very well. DH took her to sit in the sunshine (and to enjoy a parade of stilt walkers who happened by) while T, Bug and I soaked up the cool atmosphere inside the exhibit.

I couldn't believe how the day had flown by at this point. We decided for dinner at the Spice Mill cafe. No one was very hungry, but we did enjoy the meal (burgers, chili, and of course strawberries) before we headed out. We stopped by a shop on the way out to by our souvenir magnet (10% off thanks to Super Grover.) We headed back to the car with the kids debating whether SeaWorld or Busch Gardens was their favorite park ever.

Up next: Yes, T, we are headed to Aquatica!
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Old 07-05-2012, 10:47 AM   #12
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Aquatica, fun in the sun!

So by this point the kids figured out that me MUST be going back to Busch Gardens sometime this trip because of all that we had not done. We let them think it was today, and that we were going to ride the water rides. So, we had them dress in their swimsuits, and put on there shoes, sporting that amazing fashion statement: CROCS WITH SOCKS.



Down to breakfast, and since Aquatica opens an hour later than SeaWorld at this time of year, we were also running about an hour later. Apparently, this is when more of the hotel guests eat breakfast, and it was quite crowded.

Off to Aquatica, where once again we used the Super Grover pass for Preferred Parking. (At this point, the kids begged to take off their socks .) They were already letting people into the park for rope drops inside. After my bag check (we usually bypass this line altogether), we checked in with guest services to find our cabana location. I am not a waterslide person, although the rest of my family is, and at waterparks I really enjoy lounging about with a book. We have season passes to our local waterpark, and I know exactly which chairs stay in the shade/have the best view. This was our first visit to Aquatica, so we decided to splurge for a cabana for a home base with a locker. Was it worth it? Yes, for this visit it was. (We did get 10% off using the Super Grover Pass). We stayed the entire day, drank all the water in the fridge, used all the towels (and asked for more), and kept our stuff in the lockers. Would we rent one again? If it were a busy day and we were planning on staying the entire time. Otherwise, there are many, many chairs available.


Our first stop was the dolphin slide, which I knew would probably get more crowded later in the day. Bug and T headed off, and DH took Lill-E. The first time down, Lill-E had no trouble getting on. The second time, the attendant said she was too short. When DH told her that she was just on it, they let her ride again. This was the last time Lill-E was able to ride the slides with the tallest height requirement. She thought she had shrunk since we were at SeaWorld. We explained about her shoes making her tall enough. We did try twice at the measuring station to get her a band, but to no avail. They were making kids take off shoes/swim socks, etc., so that wouldn't have helped.

But it really didn't matter. Aquatica is a great family waterpark with so much for everyone to do. We didn't take many pictures (except at the wave pool with our underwater camera, but those are really not what anyone outside of our family wants to see.) I did the slides where you sit in the big raft, and they were great. The boys did all the other ones. We LOVED Roa Rapids- we all got life jackets and went. Bug and T went on by themselves, so we made a meeting point for them to stop at on each lap to regroup. We had a hard time keeping Lilll-E with us, but we managed. We spent a long time here, and also in the wave pool.


Happy Bug!

We ate at the Banana Beach Cookout (included in the vacation package.) The food was fine, not bad, not great, but everyone found something they like. Would we as a family pay for this again? No, probably not. But it would be a GREAT deal for hungry teenagers at the park.

We loved our day at Aquatica. The landscaping was beautiful. I have family in New Zealand, and I really enjoyed the kiwi birds and the names of the slides. Would we go back? Yes, if it were part of a ticket package. We would like to try some of the other waterparks in Orlando, as well.

And tomorrow:
Back to Busch Gardens!
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Old 07-05-2012, 12:11 PM   #13
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Great updates!!

We have been to sea world in the past but its been a few years and the kids were not tall enough to ride the coasters.

We would love to try Aquatica someday!! Is the dolphin slide the one where you can see dolphins as you go down it? Sorry if it's a dumb question! I just don't know much about it!!
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Old 07-05-2012, 01:10 PM   #14
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Good job...keep it coming!
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Old 07-05-2012, 02:09 PM   #15
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Loving your report so far! Our Orlando trip last year focused more on the non-Disney parts of Orlando - Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Sea World and Aquatica. My DD turned 11 on that trip and she loved all of the parks. She was a little scared of Manta, especially when she was actually on the ride in the loading area and the seat moved into "flying" position. Once the ride started, she was thrilled and LOVED it!

On our trip later this year we are going to try and hit Sea World again but the majority of the trip is going to be spent at the Disney water parks, Disney Quest and lots of pool time. I've never taken an Orlando vacation with no theme parks so this is going to be quite an adventure for me

Looking forward to your next update!
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