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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-.
Not to be outdone by his sisters, my son posed next to the Viking statue outside the Akershus.
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.
He also got involved in a street act at Hollywood Studios.
If it looks like all we did was pose with characters, you might be right. But there was the Dreams Come True Parade.
And many, many rides.
The lines, fortunately, were not too long.
And the Disney cast members are pros at keeping the kids occupied while they wait.
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…
We were celebrating my daughter’s upcoming birthday on this trip, and she got special treatment everywhere we went.
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.
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.