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Hey everyone, my name is Cole Geryak and today I am not here to be your tour guide for an extinct Disney attraction. Instead, I’m going to be diving into the present and my first trip to Walt Disney World without my parents. OK, well, to clarify, I have been there without my parents before, but I was with some family friends, so there was still some adult supervision around me. So you could say this was my first time going independently, just my roommate, Vito and me.

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It all started back in May when I suggested that we go on a trip to Shanghai Disneyland during our pacing break in October. (Pacing break is something my school does every fall semester to give us a couple of days off near the end of the first half of the semester.) Needless, to say our parents were not ecstatic with us flying around the world in the limited timeframe of five days, so we “settled” by suggesting we go to Walt Disney World instead.

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Much to our surprise, our parents agreed to that idea without much convincing, so we immediately began planning our trip. We decided to use our college skills to plan our trip as inexpensively as possible, while still maximizing our fun. With that in mind, we found a great Back-to-School deal for the All-Star Music Resort, so we jumped on the opportunity to book that room. It was my first time staying in one of the value resort, so I was actually pretty excited to see the difference after primarily staying in Vacation Club hotels on my previous trips.

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Since we were going in October, we thought it will only be fitting to include Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween in our plans, something I had only ever experienced once in Disneyland. While Disneyland has some awesome overlays for its attractions during the Halloween season, it does not have the Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular Show, so that was the aspect that I was most excited to experience regarding Walt Disney World in the fall. (Though, I am a bit sad they do not have Haunted Mansion Holiday because that is one of my favorites.)

Knowing we wanted to at least do the party, we set about planning our time in the parks. It was such a liberating feeling to have the freedom to do whatever we wanted to do, with no other older authority dictating our moves in the park. OK, I’m making it sound terrible, but I have had pretty much free reign in the parks for about five years now and have been visiting Disneyland with no parents ever since I could drive. Still, it felt completely different to be planning this trip with one of my best buds and knowing we could do whatever we wanted in that time.

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Ultimately, we decided on three days in Walt Disney World and one day at Universal Studios Orlando because Vito and I are both big Harry Potter fans and I wanted to do Halloween Horror Nights (Vito, not so much). Our minds set, we finally bought our tickets to the parks, purchasing our plane tickets at the same time. But all of that booked, we now had a three-month wait until October 13th, the day our flight finally left to take us to the most magical place on Earth.

As the weeks went on, I could not control my excitement. I was telling people that I had just met that I was going to Disney World because I just couldn’t help but talk about it. And then finally the big day came. Vito and I finished our classes and we were off to the Newark Airport, ready to go an adventure that we would never forget.
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Because Vito had class until 4, we decided to play it safe and take a 9:30 flight out, putting us in Orlando right around midnight. (Funny enough, I actually ran into my dad’s cousin and his family at the airport, a nice welcome face for someone going to school across the country. I had totally forgotten that they would be at Disney World at the same time.) We got there about four hours early, so even taking security into consideration, I had about three hours to sit down, write, and listen to the amazing tones of Ke$ha, Katy Perry, and the Footloose soundtrack.

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Just our luck, the plane left half an hour late, so we didn’t board the Magical Express until 1:00 AM. But on the bright side, no one was on the road, and we made it there in just over half an hour, bringing us into our room right around 1:40. There is no rest for the weary, though, because we had a big day ahead of us, starting with waking up at 6:30 to start our trip at Universal Studios.

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I won’t dwell too much on Universal Orlando because this is a Disney website, after all, but there are a few things I have to point out because they truly impressed me. (Quick note, there are two parks, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, and I will be talking about both when I use the term “the parks.”)

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First, a lot of the theming in the parks is incredible. Overall, the lands don’t meld together as well as in the Disney Parks, but if you look at each area individually, most of them look fantastic. The crown jewel has to be the Harry Potter lands because you truly feel immersed in the world that J.K. Rowling created, with places to cast spells and meet wizards. Seeing it made me extremely excited for Star Wars Land because I would hope that Disney is aiming to have the same level of immersion in the expansion. Having a land of that caliber would further cement Disney’s legacy as the king of theming. Plus, wouldn’t it be awesome if there were places around the land where you could stand and simply use the force?

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But the thing that impressed me the most about Universal is how incredibly detailed each of the queues were. Disney creates some great queues, but a lot of them, especially the ones in Disneyland, tend to be too simple. However, nearly every attraction at Universal had an incredibly detailed queue that really added to the story. Having this lead up kept me engaged before each attraction and helped make each one a memorable experience. I wish that Disney would be a little more like Universal in terms of their queues because I feel like it would help take already exceptional Disney attractions and make each one even more of an unforgettable experience.

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With that in mind, my final major compliment for Universal is their attractions. Though they really do overuse 3D and water effects (there is water involved somehow in nearly every attraction, I kid you not), nearly all of their attractions are truly phenomenal. Skull Island: Reign of Kong is the newest attraction in the resort and the one I was most excited to ride this time around. It immediately became one of my favorites, and I would place it up there amongst the parks’ best, along with both of the major Harry Potter attractions, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, and Poseidon’s Fury. I also have to give some quick shoutouts to T2 3D: Battle Across Time and E.T. Adventure because those attractions are based on two of my favorite films of all-time, so their respective experiences have a special place in my heart.

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But now let’s move onto my favorite part of the day: Halloween Horror Nights. I love horror movies, so obviously I am a big fan of Halloween Horror Nights. The atmosphere is unlike anything I have experienced anywhere else and is truly hard to describe. The main draw for HHN is the mazes, primarily based off of hit movies and television shows in the horror genre. This year, my favorite horror film, The Exorcist, finally had a maze, and it was everything I ever wanted from a maze based on that film. It included all of my favorite elements from the movie, and I could have stood in there all night if they would have let me.

I really love just walking through and taking in the story of the entire maze because you really feel as if you stepped into the films. Vito and I had watched all the films represented before our trip, and I have to say that it was well worth it as all of them felt so extremely fresh in our minds. The creators behind Halloween Horror Nights did a fantastic job of creating all of these worlds in real-life, and I have nothing but respect for them.

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Overall, I had a fantastic time at Universal Orlando, especially at Halloween Horror Nights. They are no Disney parks, but they are a lot of fun and definitely worth it, (for Harry Potter fans especially). Between our time in the park during the day and staying late for Halloween Horror Nights, Vito and I managed to ride nearly every attraction, do all the mazes (well, Vito left me for a couple of the scarier ones), go through all the scare zones, and see both of the nighttime shows. It was a very successful day, and we were spent when we finally arrived in our room around 2:30 AM.

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There is no time for sleep, though, because we were at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in time for rope drop at 9 AM. We started the day with Toy Story Mania because we didn’t have Fastpasses for the always busy ride. The attraction is nearly identical to the one in California, except for the new addition of the third track.

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We were actually lucky enough to experience that third track, which was a surreal feeling. It felt as if we had discovered the bonus level of a video game, but otherwise the experience was almost identical. Still, we got a look at Andy’s room and it made an already amazing attraction even better.

After the attraction (where I was best in the car, just by the way), I took the chance to sneak over to a bench and take some pictures of the construction of Toy Story Land. They aren’t super exciting, but I’ll still post one below for your viewing pleasure.

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Moving along, we took a quick stop at one of my favorite attractions, One Man’s Dream. It is such a beautiful testament to Walt Disney’s life that I could spend all day walking around, so I just needed to give it a quick mention.

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But then it was time for the big guns: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Two of the most thrilling attractions in all of Walt Disney World, I always have a great time on them and that day it was no exception. Though, it was crazy when we walked up and saw this line for Tower of Terror!

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Luckily, we had Fastpasses, so we got on quickly, and then moved around the rest of the park, finishing up some of the attractions we hadn’t yet done. I was particularly happy to experience Muppet Vision*3D one more time because I never got the chance to say goodbye in California. It is such a fantastic show and I really wish that we still had it instead of the sneak peeks of films that we have at Disney California Adventure nowadays.

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Having accomplished most of what we wanted in Hollywood Studios, we decided to make a quick stop at Disney Springs because I hadn’t seen it seen since its renovation. I’m not much of a shopper, so it doesn’t hold much appeal for me, but I did think that it looked beautiful. It had definitely improved a lot since I had last been there, so I’m really glad I had the chance to stop by.

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We had decided that we were going to visit Epcot on our first day in the Disney parks, so that we could experience World Showcase, leaving Future World for the following day. When I was younger, I never truly appreciated Epcot, World Showcase especially, but I feel like it truly found a new place in my heart on this trip.

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I got to experience one of my favorite attractions (The American Adventure), try new food in Japan, and explore the country of Italy and its famous buildings. But the highlight of my time in World Showcase had to be my experience in Reflections of China.

I had never seen a Circlevision film before, and I have to say that it truly blew me away. It was the most incredible way to watch something, and I found myself continuously spinning in a circle, trying to take all of it in. I had been hesitant of the film before, but it is now a must-see, and I challenge anyone who has never seen it to experience it next time they are in the park.

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When our time in World Showcase had come to a close, we decided to move over to the Magic Kingdom to close out the night. Once we got there, the first attraction that we did brought back some memories as we saw the Country Bear Jamboree. Vito had never seen it before (and he was not impressed), but I was sitting there clapping my hands and stomping to the beat because I always have a fantastic time with Big Al and company.

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After the jamboree, we walked over to the hub to catch my first ever viewing of Wishes and Celebrate the Magic. I want to preface this by saying I am not a huge fan of fireworks simply by themselves. Therefore, I was not very impressed by Wishes, as it left me wishing that Wishes and Celebrate the Magic were combined to create more of a spectacle as had been done with the Disneyland Forever fireworks. However, Celebrate the Magic amazed me, and I’m so glad I got the chance to see if before it became extinct last week.

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Funny enough, Vito’s parents had booked a trip completely separate from us with some of their friends and would be leaving the next day. So that night, we met up with them for a few hours to hit a few attractions, primarily in Tomorrowland.

The next attraction we went on is my least favorite attraction in the entire world: Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. The attraction is simply so terrible because you can’t take the guns out, you have no idea how many points each target is worth, and it’s hard to tell if you are even actually shooting the target! Especially compared to the one in California, Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin is simply the worst. Ok, that’s enough of my grumbling because it’s actually probably the only Disney attraction that I genuinely dislike, but I just had to get that rant out there.

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Throughout the rest of the night, we simply wandered around hitting up attractions with short lines. I was pleased to learn that the Enchanted Tiki Room is almost identical in Florida now, and I was able to recite almost the entire show word for word. Also, the Jungle Cruise uses some different jokes at Walt Disney World, plus it’s a bit longer, making an altogether pleasant experience for a lifelong Jungle Cruise fan like myself.

Having wrapped up a fabulous first night in the Magic Kingdom, we deemed it a successful day and headed for bed at the nice early time of 1 AM.

I hope you enjoyed this little look at my time at Walt Disney World, and as you might have noticed, this was only part one! Over the next few weeks, I’ll keep sharing more from the trip (though each will be a bit shorter than this one, so don’t worry!). Thanks for reading and be sure to tune in next Monday.

Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.

Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.

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