Visiting Disney at Christmastime #FamilyTravelDiaries

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Nobody does vacation like Disney.  They think of every little detail — right down to the hand soap with Mickey on it and the clear plastic covers that fit perfectly on paper plates for meals to go.  Everything has a meticulous system, and everything runs like clockwork.  Parades and shows start on time.  Every. Time.  Dinner reservations are expected to be honored.

It sounds divine, right?  For the most part, it is.  When you’ve been waiting around for an hour for a parade to start, it’s always such a relief when it starts not a minute after it was scheduled to start.  I’m thoroughly amazed at how they keep shows on schedule, always exiting on one side of the building while the next patrons enter from the opposite.

But we discovered that this kind of organization affords the vacationer very little flexibility.  You’re running 5 minutes late to dinner?  Too bad.  The doors are closed and you must wait for the next seating.  IF there is availability.  You don’t want to make plans for every meal?  Good luck getting into a restaurant without a reservation.  You don’t have permission to be in the park during Extended Hours and your little one desperately wants a picture with a certain character?  You’re out of luck.  (Fortunately I was not the recipient of this lesson learned the hard way, but I witnessed it taking place.)

All that to say, enjoy the benefits of the well-oiled machine, but don’t expect anyone to make any exceptions for your circumstances.  Allow plenty of time to get where you are going, and make sure you leave room in your plans for the occasional mishap and some down time.

The other thing that was really alarming this trip was the commercialism that is in your face every minute of every day.  There is something to buy at every turn, and they aren’t shy about promoting their wares.  After a few days my kids got used to it, but at first it was overwhelming.  I also found myself feeling uncomfortable with the contrived fantasy world and the persistent message of self importance.  I just hope my kids were oblivious to it.

And did I mention that everywhere you turn, there is a crying child?  It can be a bit disconcerting, but every time that it’s not yours, you breathe a little sigh of relief.  And when it is yours?  Well, at least you’re in good company. ;-)

But I don’t mean to sound like the Disney Scrooge.  We had a blast, and there is much fun to be had as long as you can manage your children’s expectations, provide some down-time, and keep your sense of humor.

Many of you asked for more pictures.  Okay, so it may have been two of you.  At any rate, I don’t need much encouragement to post more pictures.  I was trying not to over-do it, but if you insist… ;-)  Here are some of the highlights of our trip:

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a special event at Christmastime in the Magic Kingdom.  If you live in the Orlando area (or find yourself on a Disney World vacation during the holiday season) this is definitely worth the price of admission.

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There were special events throughout the park all evening long. “Snow” was even falling on Main Street.

There was a special production on the castle stage, featuring all the Disney characters we know and love.  The castle was aglow in Christmas splendor.  There was a magical Christmas parade, and a fireworks spectacular coordinated to Christmas music.

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One afternoon, my girls visited the Bippiti-Boppiti-Boutique where they were properly bedazzled and bejeweled into perfect princesses.  This is totally over the top, but they loved it.

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Afterward, my mom and I treated the girls to Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian.  My advice?  Save this event for children who are older and more, um, well behaved.  Ahem.

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But it’s worth a trek over to the Grand Floridian just to see their life-size gingerbread house.  Every bit of this house and it’s decor is edible.  AMAZING.  It even SMELLED of gingerbread.

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We attended two princess character meals.  One would have been plenty.  I recommend the Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus in Epcot for dinner over the Once Upon a Time Breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table.  Both get an A+ for atmosphere, but I’d give Akershus a B or a B- for food and Cinderella’s Royal Table a C-.

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Not to be outdone by his sisters, my son posed next to the Viking statue outside the Akershus.

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For the first half of the trip, my son thought he was too cool to pose with characters, but by the end, he was making up for lost time.

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He also got involved in a street act at Hollywood Studios.

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If it looks like all we did was pose with characters, you might be right.  But there was the Dreams Come True Parade.

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And many, many rides.

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The lines, fortunately, were not too long.

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And the Disney cast members are pros at keeping the kids occupied while they wait.

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One night we had dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern.  The food earned a meager B- but I’ll give the colonial atmosphere a A, and sometimes it’s just nice to eat dinner without cartoon characters visiting your table.  The Liberty Tree Tavern has its own characters, though…

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We were celebrating my daughter’s upcoming birthday on this trip, and she got special treatment everywhere we went.

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My favorite restaurant of the trip was conveniently located right inside our own hotel.  The Wave is a newer restaurant, known for its healthy menu.  We ate dinner there one night and breakfast at least three times.  I give The Wave an A+ for food, atmosphere, and service.  The other restaurant that earned an all-around A+ from this persnickety traveler was Tutto Italia in Epcot.  Oh and also, the counter service eatery at the Contemporary Resort, the Contempo Café, was a great place to grab a quick lunch.

One last piece of eye candy…  I absolutely love this photo.

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It was definitely a vacation to remember.  If you find yourself at Disney World with young kids any time soon, here are my key pieces of advice:

1)  As much as possible, don’t over plan it.  Allow some flexibility.

2)  Make breakfast reservations late and dinner reservations early.  Grab a snack lunch in between.

3)  Don’t miss the fireworks at Epcot and Magic Kingdom.

4)  Don’t miss the Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue.

5)  Go easy on the character meals. Chef Mickey’s is our fave.

6)  And finally, repeat after me: “It’s about THEM, not YOU.”  Put yourself in your kids’ shoes for a minute and consider how overwhelming and stimulating a trip like this would be.  Don’t pressure them to react the way you expect them too.  Take it easy, and be sure to have fun.

Comments

  1. says

    Great post. We live 15 minutes from Disneyland. We go all the time. It’s very easy to rip our son out of the park and take him home, when he’s being a pill.

    We are supposed to go this year for his 5th birthday. I go back and forth about flying all the way to Florida, having to pre-plan everything, when he probably won’t cooperate…ugh

    love your pictures!

  2. says

    Awwww, I love BOTH of the last photos of your two girls! Wonderful!

    Man, sweep the bangs off little R and she looks so much older! (I know you don’t want to hear that!)

    What was the fake snow made of for the parade? Was it plastic-y or more like mashed potato flakes?

  3. pixielation says

    That last photo is totally goregous. Should be blown up and framed!

    I love this post, because mine can’t wait to go to Disneyland. I am making them wait because they are too young. I went to Disneyland when I was 14 and my brother 8. I have great memories of it – he has some memories. As my oldest is 8 and the youngest is 5, I don’t want to go there and take a trip that they don’t get lasting memories from.

    I’ll be squirrelling away this information for that day when we do go!

  4. Hope says

    I loved reading about your trip. It is holding me over until we go again. My girls LOVED the boutique and I can’t wait until my little one goes. She will be 3 in December. I think we will go in Spring 2011. It will get us out of the never ending winter in western PA.

  5. says

    I agree 100%, Jo-Lynne. Growing up in Florida we spent a lot of time at Disney World (I love Mickey’s Very Merry!) and while it’s a fun vacation spot, it’s waaaaaay too easy to get sucked into the commercialism and I’m-the-center-of-the-universe mentality.

    My mom always tempered days at Disney with days at the outlet malls – we loathed the outlet malls chock full of easily breakable home goods about as much as she did the unhealthy, overpriced food and long lines. In the end everyone had fun most of the time and no one came home with too big an ego.

  6. says

    Thanks for sharing the pics as I requested (yep, I was one of the two…Disney nut here).

    I am sorry you had some bad experiences there (ie, food, lines and upset children). But, I am glad that you also had some amazing ones, too!

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the last picture!!!!!

  7. Dawn says

    I went to Disney for the first time about a week before your visit. I anticipated the crying children and thought I’d be annoyed and ready to leave after an hour. But I was pleasantly surprised! I found so much joy in the happiness all around me. Maybe it’s because I don’t have children (hence no kids pulling on me to buy everything in sight) or because it was my first time to Disney, but I loved it. I saw people of every age having such a great time and it warmed my heart.

    We got pins from the vistors’ center – the big buttons that declare what you’re celebrating. Ours simply said “Life”. :)

  8. says

    Love the pics! We are leaving for Disney a week from Saturday, and you answered most of my questions :)

    Just two more:

    What did you guys do about strollers? Our girls are 7, 5, and 2 1/2. We are thinking that we will need two strollers for sure. Did you have a stroller for C?

    And we are a bit on the fence about the Christmas party as well. I would LOVE to go, but I’m just thinking that the kids will get tired and crabby and it won’t be worth it. How late did your kids make it?

    Your posts have been so much fun! I’ve been showing my girls your pictures and they have been getting more and more excited about our trip!

  9. Jo-Lynne says

    Amy, good questions.

    1) Strollers – We rented a double. The girls shared it, but they are kind of temperamental, so sometimes it caused extra stress. With the ages of yours, I’d probably bring one from home for the youngest, b/c you may need it at airport, and also there is sometimes a bit of a walk from a bus or monorail into the park where you can rent a stroller. Then I’d probably rent a double in the park.

    2) As for the party, we didn’t plan anything else that day. I think we did end up going to another park earlier in the day, but we came home and napped before the party. I think it’s do-able if you don’t wear them out beforehand. It really is a lot of fun. :-)

  10. says

    Still dreaming of the time when we will get to go. At the rate we are procreating, it will be never! Or we will have babysitters with us that call us Mom and Dad. :) It really is one of my parenting dreams to take my family to Disney for at least a week and do it up right. If the day ever comes, I’ll be bugging you for tips. :)

  11. says

    Thanks for the tips! We keep saying we want to wait until AJ is 5 but the kids would love to go sooner than that. Loved the pictures! Looks like you guys had a blast but it’s nice to have you back in the hood. :-)

  12. says

    Great photos and you are too right about the reservations. I know all too well since I am late for everything. But thankfully never got totally bumped!

    P.S your tigger and pooh picture brings back our one rough Disney memory. It was so hot and LL loves Tigger. We waited forever in line and was two away when they announced a 10 minute break. YIKES. LL was already losing it. So we just went on the honey pot ride instead :)

  13. says

    Oh wow, that picture of her is gorgeous. Kudos to the photographer! ;)

    I’ve only been to Disneyland once, I was 6ish. All I remember was meeting Cinderella (my mom says she wasn’t very nice, but I saw her through child’s eyes), jumping in Goofy’s house, and a few random rides. Luckily I do remember the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, it was the scariest ride for me! Oh and my brother threw up after the teacups, multiple times. I’m glad you didn’t have such an incident!

  14. Karen says

    Love that last photo too! At the suggestion of numerous friends, over the weekend I booked all our dining for the trip that we’ll be taking to DisneyWorld in May. I felt like an anal retentive control freak when I called and said I was booking meals for a trip that’s 6 months away, but then the reservations person told me I had to do it that way if I wanted to get into all our top choices. I can’t even decide what I want to eat for lunch today, so how will I know what I’ll want for dinner in six months????

  15. Darla says

    Is it wrong I just said a little GLORY BE! that we are going to Ixtapa, MX and not Disney in February?

    I’m tired just reading this. You must need a vacation now that you are back from your vacation!!

  16. says

    Love it! It looks like a great trip. Thanks for sharing the photos.

    My sister is getting married at Disneyland in March. We are SO excited! It will be the girls first Disney trip ever. We are planning to do atleast 2 days (one at each park) but maybe 3. I am unsure about the 3rd day though because it would have to be on the weekend and since it is spring break I am worried the weekend crowds will be too big and it won’t be worth it.

  17. says

    I’m taking your advice for our trip next week. Great pictures!

    We’re going to the Mickey’s Very Merry…party too and I made reservations that night at Liberty Tree Tavern. Sounds like it’s not that great of a place to eat so I’m thinking of canceling. Also, how early did you stake out a place for the parade? Thanks.

    And, woah! Is that new profile picture one that Christy shot? It’s beautiful!

  18. Jo-Lynne says

    Anna, I wouldn’t say the food is bad. It’s a really nice atmosphere, and it’s fairly relaxing on a night that will be pretty hyped. I think it’s a good choice. Frankly, for serious foodies, there is nothing at Magic Kingdom that will rank very high. It was decent comfort food. Everyone in our party enjoyed it. I think I have pretty high standards when it comes to food, so don’t let my average ratings stop you from eating there.

  19. says

    Oh my goodness…that last photo!!! She looks like the perfect fairy.

    Thanks for all the heads up. That’s probably the best (honest) write up on Disney. Now I know what to plan for!

  20. says

    We just spent the weekend at Disneyland and the whole experience was completely magical. I am always impressed by Disney’s attention to details. They infuse everything with such excellence and class.

    We opted out of character meals altogether. Since we don’t watch much TV (our 3-year-old hasn’t seen any of the Disney movies), she doesn’t even know all of the characters. Besides, we saw PLENTY of characters in the parks.

    Your little princesses are super cute, by the way. And I love that photo of your son performing in the hollywood street act. Classic.

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