TR: September Farewell Illuminations Tour, HHN and Aquatica...

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Just returned from a quick mid-week Orlando visit with the primary purpose of catching Illuminations one last time before it goes dark. I’ve seen the show countless times over the past two decades and for whatever reason, it is one of the strongest connections I have with my WDW memories. I’m going to miss this show and hopefully whatever replaces it, is just as good.

Anyway, for this quick trip, I didn’t “do Disney” in the traditional sense, rather, I visited some new attractions and/or ones that I haven’t visited in a long while. Some highlights and general commentary:

  • Arrived at MCO Tuesday night around 10pm after a couple hour flight delay, which sucked. Since I only had my backpack with me, I just Ubered it right from MCO to Disney Springs for a late dinner as I was starving. Back in the day before Uber, a Mears cab would have set me back $60-$70 for the trip; with Uber, it was only $30 and is clearly the best way to get to/from MCO in my opinion. The Magical Express clearly works, and there is nothing wrong with it for some scenarios, but the whole process of getting from point A to B just seems so painfully slow (taking ME). For me, it’s just quicker and more comfortable spending the $30 bucks or so on a ride share.

  • Didn’t get to Disney Springs until a little after 11pm and there were only a handful of places still serving food; it was not crowded at all. Ended up eating at Blaze Pizza and along with an ice cold beer, it was a great meal. I’d certainly return here again. Really cool concept for a QSR.

  • I’m typically a huge on property WDW resort fanboy, but because I booked this trip fairly last minute (and wanted to keep expenses in check), most of the WDW resorts were either booked, or at price points too high for me to bite. Even Swan/Dolphin were north of $300 a night. Might be some Star Wars effect working in here. I ended up booking a one bedroom villa at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek, which is technically on WDW property (over by Epcot) but obviously not a WDW resort. Only set me back $130 a night. Clean, well maintained and while I didn’t spend any time there, the pool complex(s) were on par with any of the WDW deluxe resorts. I’d certainly stay here again and having a roomy one bedroom villa with separate full kitchen and living area for $130 a night was a steal. Even though I didn’t need all that extra space, it was very comfortable. If you are looking outside the box for your next WDW stay, check this place out.

  • After sleeping in a little on Wednesday, hit up Aquatica during the day. I’ve been to this water park several times before, but only on convention (IAAPA) tours and events, not as a guest. It was a fun, but very hot day. For a 90F mid-week day in September, the park had a decent crowd but most everything was either a walk on, or was only a few minute wait. Some really cool slides….the fast moving river (forgot the name) where you just float around at a fast pace is a simple, cool concept. Spent some time relaxing in it cooling off. The park needs more walkway sprayers; my feet are still burning days later.

  • After Aquatica, headed over to City Walk for some supper. Ended up eating at the Chocolate Emporium for the first time. It wasn’t my first choice; I had to be convinced to go there as I thought it was one giant candy store; boy was I wrong and I was very impressed with the place. Great menu, really cool interior and theming. Totally would return here. Happy that I was convinced to eat there.

  • After dinner, headed over to Halloween Horror Nights; haven’t been in probably close to 15 years. I’ll be honest, I was slightly disappointed. Perhaps it’s because I work in the industry so I’m de-sensitized to a lot of it. Don’t get me wrong, the event theming and attention to detail in the scare houses and actors were top notch. But other than the individual theming and story of each of the haunts, it all seemed the same and repetitive to me. You walk around a corner and some actor jumps out at you with timed audio and strobe lighting support. Maybe I was just tired from being in the sun all day. Again, it is a fantastic event, I was just expecting more, I guess, if that makes any sense. Perhaps I’m being too critical.

  • A few comments on HHN. For a Wednesday in September, it was mobbed. So be prepared for that. Prior to my trip, I ended up purchasing the Express (cut the line) Pass and I can’t stress enough how critical this is if you want to get through most of the park in one night. All of the haunts were a good 45-60 minute wait and the attractions that were open weren’t far behind. My Visa card took a beating, but if there is any way you can spare the extra $80, you have to get the Express Pass. I ended up getting through all 10 haunts and rode most of the attractions that were open; and even hung out in the Harry Potter land for a bit to sip on a Butterbeer. Money well spent in my opinion. Oh, and there is a drink cart every five feet which I thought was interesting that they are really pushing the alcohol that hard. In the end, a fun HHN visit, stayed until the end and didn’t get back to the resort until almost 2am. I’d do it again, just not an every year kind of thing for me.

  • After sleeping in a little on Thursday, headed to Epcot for Food and Wine and the whole reason for the trip, Illuminations. Epcot was decently crowded; Food & Wine was great. Lots of construction walls up. Hit up all my favorite F&W spots throughout the afternoon. Snagged a FP on Soarin, but the standby was only 15 min. That third theater really makes a difference. Snagged another FP on Mission Space and for the first time, did the more intense orange side (had a few beers in me helping to make this decision). I don’t see what the big deal is with the Orange side, and I know they really throttled it back, but I really didn’t find it that much more intense than the green side.

  • Finished the night (obviously) watching Illuminations for one last time from my favorite spot over by Germany. Fantastic as always. After the show, strolled over to ESPN Club to watch the end of the Thursday night NFL game. Had no problem getting a seat at the bar.

  • 4:15am departure from the resort for a 6am flight home Friday morning. I have TSA Pre so got right through security; the “standby” line was 30 minutes. Please spend the $79 and get TSA Pre…even if you only fly a few times a year, it is totally worth it. My park is still open on weekends so had to get back in time. 6am flights suck. Farewell Illuminations…

I just watched a livestream of the final Illuminations show. It's a tough act to follow. Nice report.

Jeff's avatar

The last show tonight is the busiest I've seen the park since one of the weekend Toad The Wet Sprocket shows a few years ago where they parked people at MK. (Not saying it was all Toad, but their shows were particularly well attended.) There were at least 10 people deep even in obstructed viewing areas. It was nuts. And a passing heavy shower surprising didn't dampen the mood.

I'll miss the show, for sure. I can admit that it ran its course, I just shudder at the idea of another Disney jukebox show.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog

Watched the livestream of the last show tonight as well.

Beyond disappointed that it was a regular show with no special ending. Even Osborne Lights got a special ending on its' last night.

Slap in the face for an iconic Illuminations show with over two decades of greatness that has entertained and touched millions of guests.

I was really looking forward to streaming the last show to see what the ending would bring. Sadly, I signed off disappointed...

Last edited by Hanging n' Banging,
Jeff's avatar

We felt a little let down as well, but they had a ton of catered events and VIP arrangements. We talked to a cast member that said they invited back the people who worked on the Parade of Nations back in the day. But yeah, it would have been cool to do the Christmas version or something.

And by the way, there was already a crane there to pluck the globe out of the water back in the marina.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog

Raven-Phile's avatar

At 10:30 last night, they announced that they were giving IllumiNations a final send-off, and that what you were about to see was controlled and intentional. Then they "blew up" the barge. Likely just the standard emptying of the lines that they do every night, but they made a spectacle of it, and that was nice. (albeit upsetting)

When I worked at Epcot, they would do this once or twice a month. It was always cool to see.

Also, the @EpcotCentre twitter account was on point as usual in regards to the ending of Illuminations.

Raven-Phile's avatar

Oh, that’s hilarious. I think the people responding as if it were real are my favorite.

kpjb's avatar

That account is consistently funny, and yes, the people who think it's actually serious are hilarious. One time they tweeted something to the affect of the park will be opening late because the manager forgot the keys at home and people were going nuts.


It's one of my favorite things on Twitter. A few months ago someone tweeted at them thinking it was a legitimate account for the park and hilarity ensued.

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