Our Road Trip to Orlando – Day 4 – EPCOT – Part 2

The 2nd half of photos at EPCOT. We took so many photos at the park.

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Our Road Trip to Orlando – Day 4 – EPCOT

We arrived at EPCOT at 9 am. We were presented options for Standard ($22) or Preferred ($45) per day. Again with the elite parking options? We checked guidance online while parked in line, and this time it didn’t seem to make sense. Preferred is mostly for park-goers who are handicapped, elderly, etc, who need close access to their vehicle. We opted for Standard, and lo and behold, we found parking right near the entrance alongside Preferred. Guess if you get to the park by 9 am, Standard and Preferred are the same, and you can save some dough.

Security check-in was short, and we entered easily. We had 3 Magic Pass reservations to work around during the day, including Test Track. We also had lunch reservations (with friends) at the Marrakesh in the Moroccan pavilion, and then dinner at Tokyo Dining in the Japanese pavilion. The kids very much wanted to visit the Mission: Space attraction, but we didn’t have a reservation. However, our plan to make a direct line to the place gave us only a 10 minute wait! Kids still loved it, and it’s a good ride. After that, we checked out the flowers, and the Journey in Imagination ride. That was not so good and not worth the time to wait on line. I remember it being better a few decades ago as a kid.

The Ipes (including Josh) enjoyed our time at Test Track

We walked next door to the Pixar Short Film festival, and that was pretty good. 3 Pixar shorts in 3D, and I’d recommend it. Afterwards, we got a small snack, took more photos, then walked over to the World Showcase. We hit up France and Morocco, then grabbed lunch at the Marrakesh restaurant. We met our friends from town Gary, Ellen, and Noah, who were also visiting Orlando for Spring Break. They were doing EPCOT the same day we were, so we decided to have lunch together.

After lunch, we walked around exploring the rest of the World Showcase. We made it to Test Track, which was pretty cool. The kids thought so, especially Josh. 😉

We walked around exploring EPCOT, and it’s still one of my favorite parks within the entire Magic Kingdom. We later back to the World Showcase, grabbing drinks, and checking out a show at the American pavilion. We also grabbed some cool drinks, and relaxed by the water. We walked over to dinner and an alright sushi dinner (I’ve had better for the price.) We hung around after for the fireworks at 9 pm, then we made our way back to the car and the hotel

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Our Road Trip to Orlando – Day 3 – Universal Studios Islands of Adventure

Let’s commence the main event — four days of Florida sunshine and theme parks!

First day up was Universal Studio – Islands of Adventure. Now, we did this park once already, but we compared it against the attractions at the other Universal Studios, and this seemed like a better use of our money. Arriving at the parking lot entrance, we had to decide if we wanted $35 Prime parking (closer to the parks) or the $22 Standard (far from the parks) garages. After some quick research in the car, and some grumbling, we opted for the Prime parking, which was indeed significantly closer. Normally we wouldn’t care too much, but it turned out to be useful later in the afternoon (more on that later.)

Once getting through multiple moving walkways, the security line, CityWalk, and the ticket entrance area, we were finally in. As per the plan, we hightailed it to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area. Lily was now 54″ tall, and Lily could now ride the fun and exciting Dragon Challenge roller coaster we enjoyed last time. We surprised to find it was torn down recently to make way for something new. Rats. Lily took it in stride, and we waited an hour for the Forbidden Journey attraction. Pretty good… once we got on.

We hit up the rest of the Hogsmeade area, the kids drank Butter Beer, and we walked to the Dr. Seuss area to ride that Seuss trolley ride again. We found the Winters family, and we walked around the park. The kids did a few rides and attractions like the Poisedon’s Fury, The Jurassic Park  play area, the Pteranodon Flyers, Bilge-Rat Barges, and the Spider-Man ride. Hulk was down for the afternoon, and there were long lines at Kong and most other stuff. Frankly, the park was very crowded, and the only people who benefited were those who paid an extra $70 (each) for the Express passes. I think I rode or went to 3 rides/attractions total. Not exactly a fun-packed day.

We did wait about 30 minutes on line for lunch at this BBQ restaurant.

By mid-afternoon, my backpack was overstuffed from unneeded hoodies and souvenirs, so I opted to make the trek back to the car to offload all the bulky weight. Now I was glad we paid extra for the Prime parking!

We stayed until around 6 PM. We could have stayed longer to get onto some of those rides and attractions that were too full, but the kids (and adults) were pretty tired from all the walking around under the hot sun. We went home to rest and cool off. In the evening, instead of grabbing dinner out, I picked up some Chinese food takeout, some drinks for Mom and Dad, and we ate and chilled out in the hotel room.

Next time, I would either do Universal Studios (the other park), or visit in an off-peak season, because the Spring Break crowd is crazy. Or maybe stick to Disney only next time. I like that you don’t have to pay extra to get on 3 rides per day without waiting.

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Our Road Trip to Orlando – Day 2 – Orlando, here we come!

Happy Easter!

The Ipes were up early on this Sunday morning, getting ready for church, breakfast/brunch, and getting to Orlando.

Although we were slightly pessimistic about our ability to get to church on time… we got to church on time! Left the hotel more or less on time, drove around and eventually found a parking lot with a few spaces left. We walked the few blocks to Grace Church Cathedral on Wentworth St, and got there a few minutes after the 8 am service officially started. Beautiful cathedral, BTW.

After the service, we took a few photos inside, then walked back to the car and drove to Toast of Charleston on Meeting St. They don’t take reservations, but i found this place weeks earlier and they has good reviews. We waited 15 mins and got s nice table with a window. Breakfast was excellent. Josh had some fancy French toast dish, and Lily had Eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce for the first time. I’ve never had it but she loved it.

Back to the hotel for some more Easter Sunday photos in the hotel lobby, then to change our clothes, finish packing, and check out. The drive from Charleston through the rest of South Carolina, Georgia, and the northern half of Florida was pretty uneventful.

Okay, I got a speeding ticket from a nice police officer in Yemassee, South Carolina about an hour or so outside of Charleston. I was distracted and talking to the rest of the family and enjoying the scenery, and he swung around from the other side highway. Doh! He did offer me a choice of violations to pay for, and he “would know which one” I went with by how much I sent in. Only in South Carolina.

We hit some rain around Orlando, but found the Residence Inn easily enough. Unbeknownst to us, the Residence Inn was next door to the Homewood Suites we stayed at 3 years prior. Wow, that was a weird coincidence. We checked in, but had one more surprise for the kids….

After thoroughly shocking the kids, we went to our real room, began to unpack. We started planning a mini vacation together with the Winters family a month or two ago, and we decided to keep it a surprise from all of the kids. They would do their own thing, but we would hang out at Universal Studios and Hollywood Studios.

We freshened up for dinner at Enzo’s Hideway at Disney Springs. My first time at Disney Springs, and wow, what a nice outdoor mall. Free parking. Lots of performers singing etc. Crazy nice. After another hour of walking around, we decided to head back, and get some rest before tackling Universal Studios on Monday.

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Our Road Trip to Orlando – Day 1 – The road to Charleston

For Spring Break this year, we all wanted to go somewhere. That was a given. The question was where would we go without spending an arm and a leg? That’s the part that was tough. Flying to the Caribbean and staying at a resort was out. So was flying to Hawaii or Europe. We also looked into flying to Austin or New Orleans, but the flights were looking to be $1200 round trip or more. We decided that we could drive to Orlando over the course of four days (two days there, two days back) and about four days of time in Orlando itself. Along the way, we could do some sightseeing. We had the Armada for road trips, so why not use it? Driving would be half the price of flying.

We started planning for the trip in the few weeks before Spring Break. We ordered tickets for Universal Studios and Disney World. Ordered Magic Bands. Arranged a pet sitter. Got the car serviced. Planned the route and made hotel reservations.

Our itinerary was:

  1. Saturday – 10 hour drive to Charleston.
  2. Sunday – Easter Sunday service in Charleston, Easter Brunch, drive to Orlando, dinner at Disney Springs
  3. Monday – Universal Studios Islands of Adventure
  4. Tuesday – EPCOT, lunch and dinner at the park, and watch the fireworks.
  5. Wednesday – Hollywood Studios, lunch and dinner at the park.
  6. Thursday – Kennedy Space Center
  7. Friday – Drive home, sleepover in Richmond Virginia
  8. Saturday – home

We slept in a little longer than planned in the morning, loaded up the car, left around 5:45 AM. We made some great headway down I-95 all the way down NJ, Delaware, Maryland, and only hit some minor volume in Virginia. It was pretty smooth all the way down. We took a breakfast break at a Panera in Virginia, and ate a packed lunch (sandwiches) at a picnic / rest area along the Virginia / North Carolina border. I forget exactly where.

We arrived in Charleston after 6 pm, and checked into the Charleston Marriott in the downtown area. We had a small snafu where we were surprised to find only a large king bed, but the front desk was able to sort it all out, and get us a new room with double queen beds. We freshened up, then drove 10 minutes to dinner in the more downtown area with shops and restaurants. We found garage parking, and walked to Sticky Fingers for BBQ.

After dinner, we walked around briefly, but everyone was tired and ready for pajamas and bed.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone. On Friday night after work, we got together with some friends for Happy Hour / dinner at Ruth’s Chris. Fun fact – they have a decent Happy Hour menu.

I spent four hours on Saturday driving Josh two and from a Boy Scout Merit Badge Fair over at Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.  That’s one hour each way, back and forth, back and fourth. My God, so much driving. The good news is that Josh is on the way to earning four merit badges. Still, my butt was sore from all that driving.

On Saturday night, Namita and I went out to Bar Louie at the Brunswick Square Mall for drinks. Big place, nice sized crowd, a DJ playing good music, and very nice drinks. I definitely want to come back for more.

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Random cat photos

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Joel’s review of A Wrinkle In Time (2018) – I’m sorry, but I didn’t care for it

I remember being introduced to the book by Madeleine L’Engle in 5th grade, but after attempting to read past the first few pages, I do remember being confused and losing interest. Unusual, to be sure. 30 years later, I’ve never read her young adult novel A Wrinkle in Time, released back in the early 1960s. Until this day, I didn’t even know that the book was the first novel of a 5-book series. Good for her. With Disney adapting the book into a major motion picture, the kids wanted to see it. For Josh’s 13th birthday this year, we took a bunch of his friends (plus Lily) and went to see A Wrinkle in Time.  It’s a big production written by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, and directed by Ava DuVernay.

After dinner, we settled into our theater seats, and I was seriously underwhelmed for 1 hour and 49 minutes. I can’t tell you how underwhelmed exactly, but it was up there. The film is full of visual spectacle, and it has a pretty big decent cast (almost) in major and minor/cameo roles:

  • Storm Reid
  • Reese Witherspoon
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Mindy Kaling
  • Chris Pine
  • Zach Galifianakis
  • Michael Peña
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw

The film is about the Murry family. The parents are supposedly brilliant scientists with  two kids Meg and Charles Wallace (more on him later) living… somewhere in the U.S. When they’re still really young, their father (played by Chris Pine) disappears one night, never to be seen again. 4-6 y years later, Meg is now 13 years old and struggles in school. No friends, depressed, etc. Her brother, Charles Wallace is now a pretentious 6 year old (?) who is super mature for his age, supposedly super intelligent (?), and I don’t know what to tell you.

Soon enough, this precocious Charles Wallace characters knows all these strange characters like Mrs. Whatsit (Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Winfrey), and he secretly knows what’s going to happen, what’s the plan, and Meg and her friend Calvin are playing catch-up. Charles Wallace is a 6 year old who is somehow 20 steps ahead of everyone, and…. gah. I can’t.

I’m not trying to knock young actor Deric McCabe, but I really did not like how this kid’s character was the Mary Sue of story. He’s 6 years old and there’s no reason why he’s so confident, knows so much, and is running the show. I don’t care how smart he is. This character was ridiculous to me. Absolutely ridiculous.

The film spends most of its time about the journey they all take to find Chris Pine and bring him home. Somehow he used his mind to teleport himself across space and time (without aging) to a few different planets. And he’s being held prisoner by a CGI black-tentacled cloud of bad feelings.

I was glad when this film was over. I’m sorry.

A Wrinkle In Time (2018)

A Wrinkle In Time (2018)

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The kids went to bed and the adults rocked out to Outsourced in Bridgewater

Friday night, the kids went to bed, and we took drive up to the Green Knoll Grill in Bridgewater to hear the Outsourced band play. I’m not sure what time we left, but it was sometime after 12 or 1 AM. We grabbed a late night snack at a nearby diner, then made our way home.

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Joshua’s 13th birthday

This year, with his birthday falling on a school day, and our upcoming vacation plans, Josh opted for a low-key birthday. We picked up a few of his friends for dinner at a local pizzeria in town, and tickets to see A Wrinkle in Time.

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