After leaving Tampa, we headed towards Orlando, but had one night to kill along the way. We decided to stay at Highlands Hammock State Park near Sebring. I have mixed feelings at this park. The hiking trails were lovely, but the campground leaves a lot to be desired. After being crowded in among a lot of RVs at the Tampa RV show, we were looking forward to a nice spacious site, as we generally have learned to expect at Florida State Parks. But that is not what we got. We had a pull-through site and wanted to leave the car hooked up for the night, but the hookups for these pull-through sites are at the very rear of the site, on the road. So we just barely got the car far enough into the site without pulling up too far to be out of reach of the electricity/water hookups. And the sites were very, very tight. And most oddly of all, the firepit for our site was 6 inches from the firepit for the site next to us, both right outside of our front door. We weren’t planning on a fire that night, and luckily our neighbor didn’t either.
We stayed here on a Sunday night, and by Monday morning it had cleared out considerably. So this may be a better park to visit during the week rather than on the weekend. Even though the campground wasn’t our favorite, the hiking trails nearby were very nice. Dogs can go on any trail that doesn’t have a boardwalk.
The next day we headed towards Orlando with plans to visit Disney World. We decided to take advantage of the nice discounts Disney offers to Florida residents and bought annual passes. And since we now have the annual passes, we wanted to stay in the area for two weeks. We really wanted to stay in Disney’s Fort Wilderness campground, which we’ve heard nothing but great things about, but a two week stay there would be very expensive. On top of that, when I called they didn’t have any availability for the time we wanted to be there. So we started researching some of the other parks in the area, and while cheaper than Fort Wilderness, they were still pretty pricey.
One of the parks that we were looking at was a Thousand Trails park, so Deas did a little research on buying a membership. A couple phone calls and a little negotiating later…..and we are now Thousand Trails members. With our 1-year membership dues of $550, we get access to all of their parks in 2 zones. Which means we can stay at those parks for a total of 30 days in one year for no charge (other than the membership fee, of course), and additional stays beyond 30 days are only $3/night. We booked 2 weeks at the Thousand Trails Orlando RV Resort. The costs of our membership was much less than what we would have paid to stay at any of the private parks for the same amount of time. Even though we generally prefer to stay in state/national parks, we figured in this situation it made sense for us.
Thousand Trails Orlando (TTO for short) is a huge RV park – 867 sites! In many sections the sites are pretty close together, and there are hardly any trees. But there is one section in the park that is more heavily wooded – section D – so we went straight to that section to look for a site. (TTO, along with all Thousand Trails parks, guarantee you a spot with a reservation, but not a specific site. So you have to pick your site when you get there.) We ended up with site D37, which we were pretty happy with.
There were beautiful sunsets almost every night in the park which made for some nice nights sitting outside.
On really nice thing about this property is that part of it is a nature preserve. There is a really pretty lake just a short walk from our campsite, with kayaks available for use.
There were also many trails to walk the dogs. If we walked them around the campground each morning and then through the trails, we could easily walk them for about 90 minutes. And on almost every walk, we saw sandhill cranes hanging around the campground.
Here’s a couple of pictures of typical other areas of the campground.
But enough about the campground! Let’s get on to the main reason we came to Orlando – Disney World! We hit all 4 of the parks multiple times, rode all of our favorite rides, walked for miles every day, and generally wore ourselves out.
Even though we were there during the supposed slowest time of the year, the crowds were still crazy. I can’t even imagine coming here in the busy season!
Deas and I had both been to Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot multiple times, but this was the first time for both of us visiting Animal Kingdom. The first thing we did was ride the roller coaster Expedition Everest, which was awesome! (Did I mention we LOVE roller coasters?) And it’s also reportedly the world’s most expensive roller coaster – at a cost of $100 million dollars. We hit just about every other ride (with the exception of the water rides), including the Kilimanjaro Safari where you can see most of the animals.
I was too cheap to pay for the photos that they take of you on the roller coasters, so excuse the watermarks on these 2 photos – but they are too funny not to share!
While we were there, our friends Jeremy and Alexandra from Vandy Vagabonds were also visiting Orlando, and we met up with them one day at Hollywood Studios. Lucky for us, they did spring for the photo pass so we were able to get at least a couple of photos of us without the watermarks. I thought Deas’s roller coaster pictures were funny, but Jeremy and Alexandra took it to a whole other level. If there was an Oscar for Best Acting on a Roller Coaster, they would be a shoe-in!
But we didn’t stop at just the Disney World parks! We also bought annual passes to Universal Studios. In my opinion, the rides are better at Universal. The Harry Potter Forbidden Journey ride just might be my favorite ride ever. Deas doesn’t like it as much as I do, as it made him feel a little sick…so I may have taken advantage of the single rider line and ridden it 3 times in a row. But we discovered another ride this trip that we both absolutely loved – the Rip Ride Rockit. This ride starts out by going straight up – you’re literally flat on your back. And then it’s a crazy fast, twisting, twirling ride after that. The other great thing about this ride is that there is a video camera on every seat. So after the ride, Deas and I could watch ourselves and our reactions riding it. It was absolutely hysterical – I was crying laughing! Of course it’s available for purchase, but for $35, I just couldn’t justify paying that much. But now as I’m sitting here thinking about it again I kind of wish I had!
So bottom line is we had an absolute blast, but after two weeks of walking for miles every day, riding roller coasters, and dealing with throngs of crowds, we were definitely ready for a little downtime.