Podcast No. 0044: Spring Breaking at Walt Disney World

Magic Kingdom
Cinderella Castle viewed from Fantasyland

This month on Dispodopolis, Fiona and I discuss our latest trip to Florida during our Spring Break. It is once again the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot, and it is beautiful. We are excited to talk about the ever-changing policies and choices for fun in the park. In this episode, we stayed at a hotel off property and visited the Magic Kingdom. We start the discussion of our trip with our excursion to the Atlantic Coast of Florida and our adventures in cocoa Beach, Melbourne Beach, and the Canaveral Nationa Seashore. There are many fun options, from day trips to a half-week visit to this beautiful coast.

We start our spring break with a few challenges, but that seems true with every vacation. This one started with a canceled flight and a last-minute shift to a road trip. We arrived at the airport with no flight and no airline representative available to converse with about what to do next. I had received an email while one of my kids was in the hospital about a flight change. I obviously didn't pay close attention to the changes. I thought there was just a change to the return flight and didn't notice the canceled departure flight. We headed out to rent a car, which was out of the question when we saw the price. We gathered our wits, had lunch, and started on our 10-hour road trip for the day. Of course, every inch of Interstate-10 was under construction, and it added 3 hours to our day. All of that put aside, we made it to Biloxi, Mississippi, and rested up for our next day.

Melbourne Beach view from our room at the Doubletree Suites in Melbourne, Florida

Our next day ended with an arrival on the beach of Melbourne, Florida. We stayed at the Doubletree Suites on the oceanfront (https://www.hilton.com/en/hotels/mlbbodt-doubletree-suites-melbourne-beach-oceanfront/). The hotel is located on the coast with a small dune covered with sea grapes bushes that you cross using a boardwalk to access the beach. Yes, small grapes grow on these bushes, and they are edible. It is a native plant to this region, and the small bar adjacent to the pool on the campus of the hotel shares the name with the plant. The hotel was unique to a hotel on the beach. It was built in the 1980s but has been refurbished and updated. Every suite has a view of the ocean and a view of the mainland. It is a narrower room that is a little tighter than most suites. The beds are on the side of the ocean, and the living area with the sofa bed is on the mainland side. There is a bathtub/shower and small toilet between the two rooms and a sink area across from the shower and toilet room. It works so much better when the sink is accessible and not placed in a closed room with the shower and toilet.

The coast has a lot to explore, but some of the options are minimized due to the fact that everything is not at full capacity or fully open yet in Florida. Each business is deciding how to handle the way they open up to the public. The Kennedy Space Center is an excellent example of these processes. They have much of their public spaces open, but any tours and bus transportation to view other areas are still closed. Since being able to tour the space center campus is the main reason we wished to visit, we postponed visiting the Kennedy Space Center until later. It would have also cost us around three hundred dollars, and we would have had a limited experience. We opted to spend our time outdoors and visiting different regions of the coast.

Canaveral National Seashore Apollo Beach

We headed over to the Canaveral National Seashore. It is adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center and has two distinct sections to explore. The first area we visited was the Atlantic seashore and we picked up a physical map at the gate. One thing to keep in mind is that you exit the way you come into the park. There is only one entrance and exit into this area of the park. It is a beautiful quiet beach that stretches miles and miles with a few parking areas with boardwalks onto the sand. You get to experience the untouched coast with views that we common a hundred years ago before tourism was so prominent in Florida. The high dune walls block off the harsh weather from the mainland that sometimes visits these shores. The sand is coarse and full of shells. The shells run the spectrum of earthen tones into the red and pink hues that line the ridges. There are quite a few areas to camp and launch a boat into the Mosquito Lagoon. Yes, there are plenty of mosquitos everywhere.

The other area of the park resides between the natural islands and barrier jetties that protect the mainland. It shows you how rich and beautiful these estuaries genuinely are. They are rich with wildlife predators and prey alike. We headed along the Kennedy Parkway to visit the Manatee Viewing Area, but that was closed to the public. The next stop was the Scrub Trail, but that was covered with mosquitos. So we settled on the Merritt Island Black Point Wildlife Drive that is a raised road that drives you out to the edge of the Indian River to view cranes, spoon-bills, and alligators. It is a slow drive with many stops to view the wildlife. It is important to remember that every small fresh or brackish water pool in Florida is home to an alligator. It was a great way to get up close and personal with all the wildlife without feeling we were invading their environment or in danger of being injured by an alligator.

Our last adventure was the beloved tourist trap known as Ron Jon Surf Shop. There are quite a few of them that have popped up along the coasts of Florida and South Carolina, but the original one resides in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Those who lived through the sixties and watched television during the seventies when they returned from school know the name of Cocoa Beach from the show, "I Dream of Jeannie." Some of the houses and shops still exist from this period. This area has been modernized over the last few decades, especially along the waterfront. The Ron Jon Surf Shop has adopted to the times. The shop is no longer a small quaint stop that represents the quiet surf shop lifestyle. It is an homage to the gaudy surf shops that have started to populate the coastline since the nineties. It is a large two-story building with every Ron Jon t-shirt you could ever want. My kids were taken back by the fluorescent lighting and the immense catalog of stock that filled the shelves. We picked up a beach towel and magnet to add to our collection and a t-shirt for my husband, Jeff. You could wander the aisles and sections of this store for many hours. During our excursion, a few of my kids counted down the moments until they could leave. They were actually begging me to end this outing. It is overwhelming to anyone with sensory issues, and that is something to keep in mind when venturing to this spot.

The next day we had a short car ride over to the Disney Springs area to drop off our luggage at the Doubletree Suites at Disney Springs. We had stayed here recently but only for one night before we moved to the Disney property. We had not stayed here in earnest for ten years. That was also another short stay. It has dramatically improved over the last ten years and had a nice overhaul of all the rooms. It is a hotel that sees a lot of families, and families are hard on establishments. The one-room suites with two beds and a sofa bed work really well for our family of five. It has a large eating area with a large counter with a microwave, refrigerator, and sink. It is always great to have two sinks. There were also open shelves below to hold light breakfast items, snacks, lunch, and beverages. We always try to bring drinks to the parks to cut down on our expenses in the park.

We patronize Hilton properties because we use the points we have earned over the year. We used our Hilton points on this trip to cover our room cost. There is usually a deal when you spend points on four nights, and you get the fifth night free. If you are paying cash, it is usually priced around two hundred and fifty. I'm sure pricing will be going up as the year continues and more people start traveling. The pool is nice with a separate jacuzzi and has plenty of room, but it is not themed like a Disney resort, and there is no slide. The pool is behind the hotel, and a small jaunt to get there. It is quiet but can be heavily populated throughout the day. It is an excellent place for a larger family (greater than 4). They have a discounted breakfast if you are a Hilton Honors member with Diamond Elite level status. But the best thing about Doubletree is their warm walnut chocolate chip cookies.

We headed to Magic Kingdom after our stop at the hotel and had a fun short day surrounded by the magic. We drove to the park and parked in the villains parking lot area. The parking prices keep creeping up, and I believe you have to pay for your parking at the Disney and Disney Spring hotels. The only ones excluded from paying for parking at the parks are those with annual passes, and at the hotel, it is those with a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) membership, which is Disney's timeshare program. We opted for the trip to the park using the monorail and took the ferry boat back. Both are wonderful choices and are fun experiences. There isn't a significant mass exodus to leave the park since there isn't a nightly fireworks show. There is more of a trickle during the later hours and a small rush at the end.

During our Spring Break, the parks were full accept for our first two days visiting. Hollywood Studios is full every day because of the high demand to be immersed into Star Wars Land: Galaxy's Edge and Rise of the Resistance. You can't believe the number of people trying to work the system at Guest Relations trying to get on Rise of the Resistance. People think they can go there and get a boarding pass. You can't. But back to the Magic Kingdom. It was a bonus week for us in the parks. We didn't plan on visiting during the Spring Break, but because of the closer of the parks and the extension of our annual passes, we could take advantage of another week.

Fantasyland around the Pinocchio Village House at Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World
Fantasyland around the Pinocchio Village House

The lines at the Magic Kingdom were longer than typical on the boat rides: Pirates of the Caribbean, It's a Small World, and Jungle Cruise. The lines were light for attractions that were able to load the same as before Covid restrictions. Those would be Peter Pan's Flight, The Haunted