Travel Memory: My Teenage Vacation in Orlando

Disney World Orlando travel memory

While I spend the next few months staying put in Chicago and saving up for Alaska, I want to start sprinkling in some “travel memory” stories of trips I took a while back, way before I ever had the blog.

Unlike many frequent travelers, I did not have the good fortune of traveling as a child. Up until I graduated high school, I had only left the Pennsylvania-Ohio-West Virginia tri-state area once, for a school trip to Washington DC.

But at age 18, I took my first flight with a friend to Orlando, where we stayed for two weeks with his aunt, checked out the Disney parks, and got seriously sunburned. We went to the Disney parks, visited nearby areas like Kissimmee and St. Augustine, and had fun lying in the sun.

That trip was many years ago, but I have a few lingering memories. The highlights and lowlights, accompanied by some shoddy old photos:

Disney World

Many of our days were obviously spent at Disney World, where my friend’s aunt worked. I remember wishing they had more thrill rides. The only one to speak of was the Tower of Terror at MGM Studios, a free-fall elevator ride.

The Animal Kingdom was closed, so we primarily spent time at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. I loved the World Showcase section with different pavilions representing different countries. Since I had no international travel experience, visiting the Japan and Germany and Norway pavilions was the next best thing!

I also have a strange lingering memory of getting the shaved Italian ice from the Vietnamese stand nearly every day. I loved that stuff.

The sunburn

Having never been south of the Mason-Dixon line, I had no idea just how fast the sun could fry your skin. We had a sweet swimming pool the backyard where we stayed, and one afternoon I spent an hour out there with no sunblock. I ended up getting a burn so bad it hurt for the next two weeks. Oops!

Orlando sunshine weather activities pool

The MTV game show

Back in the ‘90s MTV had a game show called Sandblast, which was sort of American Gladiators on the beach. We stumbled upon a taping of the show, and they put us in the audience for a couple rounds, until we decided the delays between filming were too excruciating and left. It was probably the shortest audience cameo ever.

Quirky Attraction: The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

I have no idea whether we actually made it onto TV because I never saw the episode air. Even now, I’m unable to find a single clip of this show online. Didn’t anybody tape Sandblast on their VCR? All I could find was this short commercial for the show on YouTube.

St. Augustine

We took a day trip up to historic St. Augustine but didn’t have the greatest time. We took a walking tour of historic houses, but found it so boring that we ditched midway through. I don’t know if it was truly that boring, or if our young selves just didn’t appreciate what we were seeing. The highlight was seeing a parked car with a license plate holder from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania – our small hometown! We did not expect to see that in Florida.

After that, we swung over to the beach on our ride home. That was my first time seeing the ocean and being on a real beach (unless you count Lake Erie.) So many people in the middle of the country never get to see the beach – I hope those who had beach vacations as kids realize how lucky they were.

St. Augustine beach - Orlando things to do

The AA baseball game

We couldn’t go to the Disney theme parks everyday, because my friend’s aunt only had free passes for three days per week. So we had to make our own fun. One night we checked out the local AA baseball team in action. A few of those players ended up making the major leagues, so we can say we saw them before they hit it big.

(At the time, they were an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, so they were known as the Orlando Cubs. These days, they’re known as the Orlando Rays, due to their affiliation with the Tampa Rays.)

But the memorable part of the game was the usher who looked exactly like OJ Simpson. I couldn’t believe the resemblance. I guess I wasn’t alone, because later in the game, the guy did this skit where he pretended to try on a leather glove. Smart move by that guy, incorporating the OJ theme into his act! I’m sure he got bigger tips as a result.

Quirky Attraction: Portland's Mill Ends Park, The Smallest Park in the World!

I’m not sure what Orlando would be like as an adult, but hopefully I’ll make it back there someday to give it a shot.

While I haven’t been back to Orlando, I’ll been all over the state of Florida, checking out the alligators at the Everglades, camping at Dry Tortugas National Park, finding things to do on a lazy morning in Key West, and exploring Miami’s beaches and architecture and Calle Ocho in Little Havana.

Have you ever been to Orlando?

About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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  1. I loved this!! I see so much Disney-bashing online, so it was refreshing to read this. I lived in Orlando until I was 16. During those awkward early teen years, nothing beat going to the parks with my friends and lounging around our various pools. From there, I moved to a place with relatively nothing to do. I think Orlando is the best place for kids!!

  2. I didn’t travel outside my country (Israel), which is small in US terms, until I was an adult, so I can relate on that ground. However, I’ve spent all my life in beach cities dreaming of snow, so only now do I start realizing my good fortune and want to take more advantage of the nearby shores while I’m still close to them, and while planning Winter Wonderland trips of course. I’m looking forward to your trip to Alaska, to get tips and see photos until I can make it there myself.

    1. It’s funny how people who grow up with snow wish they didn’t have it, and vice versa. I hope you make it to some cool winter places!

  3. Just got back from St Augustine and loved the novelty and the history of the Fountain of Youth Archaeology site. Did you guys see that?

    1. Good question! I wasn’t looking for anything quirky back when I was there, so I have no suggestions unfortunately. The Burt Reynolds Museum sounds really funny, I would like to read about that!

  4. Great post! I actually have spent time near to Orlando as well and actually loved Warm mineral springs, located just nearby and the Gulf of Mexico the most. Went to Busch Gardens too which was nice, but the natural world is always my favorite. Thanks for the post.

    1. Hmm, that would be odd. I experienced the same kind of thing at a Cancun resort a few days after a massive hurricane went through. There wer so few people… but the privacy was kind of nice.

  5. What a heart warming post. Well, we all have those memories which remain etched in our minds. Loved the MTV sandblast story, wonderful.
    Have a nice week ahead Scott 🙂

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