March 4, 2013 by Julia
We got back from DISNEY WORLD on Tuesday night. You read that right. We were gone for eight days. It involved a week of preparation, and we have taken almost a week to recover. So, that’s why I’ve been MIA round these parts. I almost suffocated under a pile of laundry. I don’t even know how long it’s been since I’ve had time to write – it feels like EONS. I’m starving for writing.
In between attempts to get our household back on track I kept trying to start writing about our vacation – it’s been such a big undertaking, though, and I couldn’t figure out how much detail to include, or if I wanted to take a “travel tips” angle or a “reflecting on our experience” angle. I think I ended up with the “preserving memories” angle, with a dash of the “I’m too tired to go into every detail here” angle thrown in for good measure. You don’t care about our whole itinerary anyway, right?
Let me begin by saying that sometimes I have trouble seeing past the work involved in special events to the fun. A vacation with young kids is not a relaxing prospect, exactly. And ya’ll know how I feel about packing up stuff for the family. (Unadulterated hatred.) I knew the fun was there, waiting for us; I just had to keep the faith while digging through closets for summer clothes in the middle of February.
Also, I’d never been to Disney World, and I was a bit jaded about the whole Disney shebang – the way they keep movies “in the vault” to panic people into buying them the moment they temporarily emerge from the vault, the princess culture, the adults in bad over-sized sweatshirts with embroidered Mickeys, the business of Disney, I guess. Consumerism, smiley faces that cast long shadows, blah blah blah.
AND we were coming off Christmas, and my trip to Chicago, and Dennis’ business trip to San Francisco, and our busiest birthday season, and Valentine’s Day, and I felt like we hadn’t experienced “regular life” in forever. Not that there is such a thing. But I long for it anyway!
Okay, I think I’ve covered all my reservations about the trip. (Shut yer cakehole about how hard it is to go to Disney World, already, lady!) But as it got closer, and I had to actually start researching what we might do there, I got excited. Dennis’ wonderful parents (really, I lucked out in the in-law department, and I’m not just saying that because they’re probably reading this) have been talking about taking us to Disney World since the kids were barely twinkles in our eyes. And they so generously made it possible for us financially, in addition to offering ultra-helpful Grandparent-type services while in the parks. We’d never have made it there without them. (Thank you, Jackie and Jon!!) I packed, and reminded myself that it was going to be family time, memory-making time, and there would be sunshine and adventure.
And it was magical. Truly. This is coming from me, who was prepared for the worst, and got the best.
The thing that surprised me the most was the joy in seeing all those Disney characters – dancing around, hugging children, putting on shows, singing about dreams and love and magic, of course. My kids were enthralled. And so was I. No matter that I knew it was just people in costumes. In that setting, with the bright sky, and the glittering castle, and my own beautiful daughter in a pink ball gown, it was real enough.
Disney is responsible for most of the kid movies of my childhood, and my parents’ childhood, and my grandparents’ childhood – and when you bring all those characters together, it’s pretty awesome. There is something about seeing ALL the princesses twirling their skirts at the same time, or the whole Mickey gang bouncing along. It was a nostalgic trip. Even Jack recognized these guys, and begged for a Mickey doll, which we totally caved in to.
Of course there were meltdowns, and times that we felt overwhelmed by the crowds, and the lines for rides or food, or the fact that Jack would only eat french fries or sweets while in the parks. But none of that stuff was a big deal. I never felt discouraged, or like we were having a bad day. We always bounced back. The exercise, and the warmth, and the delightful newness of it all were enough to keep us going. I actually felt great, even as I fell into bed exhausted at night.
On our first day we went to the Magic Kingdom, and were pretty blown away by the sheer number of people – it is clearly the busiest of the Disney World parks. But after a while we figured out how to work the system with “Fast passes” for the rides, and a keen eye for the parades or shows. The turning point from “whoa, this is crazy” to “wow, this is great!” happened for me when we saw our first show in front of the Cinderella Castle.
Fiona also got to ride her first roller coaster (The Barnstormer – a kid-friendly one with a few real thrills), which she described thus: “It wasn’t too slow like some rides that are boring to me, and it wasn’t too scary, it was just right, in the middle…it was great!”
The best part of the day for us actually happened at night: The Electrical Parade. It’s hard to describe, but the way Tinkerbell came out dancing in her hot-air balloon, leading all the lit-up characters through the streets, was enchanting. I especially loved the lines of glowing princesses, swirling under canopies of sparkle.
Fiona was beside herself, saying that it was better than treats, better than anything she’d seen, and that she wanted to see it again, and she couldn’t stop thinking about it. A mouse from Cinderella had touched her hand on the sidelines, and Fiona kept checking to make sure I wasn’t sad that the mouse hadn’t touched my hand, too. I said, “No, I’m GLAD she touched you instead of me! I’m happy for you!!”
The next day we took a lazy morning at the hotel to recover a little from the previous ten-hour day. In the afternoon we headed out for Disney Hollywood Studios, and upon arrival, were instantly charmed by the retro feel of the streets, the laid-back vibe in comparison to Magic Kingdom. Things felt less intense.
We started with the Disney Junior puppet show, and the kids got to meet Jake of the Never Land Pirates. Jack wouldn’t get out of his lap, and couldn’t stop smiling.
Another major highlight of Disney Hollywood Studios was the “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” play area. Of course Fiona had no idea what that movie is (it’s more of her parents’ generation), but she and Jack totally dug the concept, and would have made us chase them around there the entire day if we’d let them.
We wandered around the “movie sets” outside, soaking up the vibes as the sun went down, and the kids were happy just to explore, testing out doors and looking in windows. I was thrilled to see the Singin’ in the Rain umbrella. It’s one of my top three musicals (the other two being The Sound of Music and West Side Story).
On the third day we went to Universal Studios, which is also in Orlando, with the main intention of seeing the Wonderful Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Fiona is obsessed with Potter in a Lego and Lego video game capacity – the books and movies are still too scary for a five-year-old, methinks. Dennis and I were excited, too, and wanted to go on the big Harry Potter ride that happens inside the Hogwarts castle. The day got off to a rough start, however, with Fiona crying in the car that she was sick. It seemed like seasonal allergies, so we made the tough call of giving her Benadryl, which was sure to knock her out. Later we realized she just had a bad cold, and the Benadryl did nothing but make her extra tired and whiny. Just what you hope for at an amusement park, right?
Again, though, it didn’t seem like the day was ruined by any means. Even when we took her on the Harry Potter ride with us after a ninety-minute wait, and then it malfunctioned and stopped, leaving us hanging in front of a waving dragon wing for five minutes, and she screamed “I want to get off!! This is too scary!!” and when it restarted and she shrieked in terror as dementors tried to suck our souls out of our bodies and we knew she was traumatized for life and this would go down in her personal history as One of the Many Mistakes My Parents Made.
And the day STILL wasn’t ruined when we stood in line at Seuss Landing for an elevated trolley ride with an antsy Jack who doesn’t quite get the concept of waiting in line yet, only to find once we got to the end of the line that the ride had stopped working and no one could say how long it would take to get running again. No, the day wasn’t ruined! Because Jack got to run down the ramp as fast as he could, and had no idea what he’d missed. And because the kids found Seuss-y water (alas, no blue goo), and could not have been happier.
Fiona’s favorite ride was the Pterodactyl Flyer in the Jurassic Park area. It was for one adult and one child, and we had to wait forever, but she was very patient. We really felt like we were flying once we got up there.
After our three days at the parks, we drove into the Florida Keys to visit with Dennis’ mom’s family members, many of whom I hadn’t met, or hadn’t seen since our wedding. I was glad that Jackie got to show off her grandbabies to everyone, and that Dennis got to see his family, and that Fiona and Jack, who don’t have any cousins yet (hint hint, my siblings, but no pressure!), were able to bond with their second cousins. I really enjoyed talking to the wives of Dennis’ cousins, too. Women are awesome. I won’t post pictures of them all here because I didn’t feel like asking everyone’s permission (how annoying would that be in that situation?), but of course (OF COURSE) I have a few pictures (just a few) of my gorgeous children on the beach. The whole family gathered there on a misty Sunday afternoon, and everything was white – the air, the sand, the foamy waves. It was magical.