How One Mom Got Over Herself to Enjoy Disneyworld
It seems to me that the real business of parenting is creating memories for our kids to build on. It's also about creating good human beings but good memories are a good starting place. It's not an easy job because it seems that we are wired to remember only the bad stuff -- one exception may be family vacations.
One of my favorite memories of my grandmother was when she took me on Space Mountain at Disneyworld when I was eight. She loved the ride and was amazed at the incredible technology (keep in mind this was the mid-70s) as well as the twists and turns. The memory intermixes the thrills of the ride with the childlike amazement that my grandmother brought to her visit to Disney.
Despite this memory, and my ability to still sing 'It's a Small World', I have never been a Disney fanatic, I'm just too cynical. I have only made a brief appearance at the park since I was eight. I did assume we would take the kids eventually and check it off the list, ensuring that the kids never say to me resentfully: 'You never took me to Disney'.
And so I found myself fully ensconced in the land of Mickey last week with a daughter in full princess regalia, boys excited beyond belief and with my husband who had never been. [Full disclosure: We were invited guests of Disney as part of a media event for the launch of the Disney Dream Cruise ship. They did not pay for this post nor will they see this post before the rest of you.]
Here's the thing about the magic of Disneyworld; it's different for everybody. The magic of Disney to me is not the rekindling of my childhood memories, nor is it sparking a romantic notion of marrying a prince; the magic of Disney is in how hard everyone works to make you happy. And Disney is a pretty happy place as a result: the parks are beautiful, the rides are fun, the grounds are clean and well-cared for. But what makes Disney different than your local amusement park -- what makes it Disney, is the attention to every detail.
The details make the experience immersive, it makes the spectacle that much more spectacular and makes the magic seem real. For example: whenever my kids bought popcorn someone was quickly following behind them cleaning up the spills; as soon as it rained, rain ponchos appeared on the shelves and people appeared from nowhere to sweep away the puddles; whenever my daughter walked by a Disney person with her crown on they would bow and call her Princess (this is either good or bad, depending on your perspective).
It took us a day but we learned some important tricks to managing Disney well.
Figure out the Fast-Pass system: Disney does line management extremely well but long lines do exist for some of the high-demand rides. A fast-pass ensures you will make it on to your desired rides but it does take planning.
Use the Disney Mobile site: The site tells you which lines are the longest, how many Fast-passes are left and which rides are good for which age group and height.
Work in some downtime: Our kids loved swimming in the hotel pool just as much as the days at the park.
Book at least one restaurant ahead of time: The food was mostly disappointing. Kids' lunches were generally mediocre hot dogs and pizza. The macaroni and cheese at one restaurant was so bad the kids refused to eat it. The restaurants at the International Showcase at Epcot seemed to be better but needed a reservation booked well in advance.
Get a PhotoPass and take the cheesy photos: The park photographers will hand you a photopass and you can then hand it to each photographer when you take your pictures with the characters, the pictures are then available for download. The photos are expensive, but every family needs at least one character photo framed somewhere in their house. The photographers are very nice, and would also take photos with your camera.
Catch the Magic Hours: If you are morning people find out which park is open early and go. We are not early risers so we stayed late, way past the kids normal bedtimes, and enjoyed the nights.
Go to the fireworks show at Magic Kingdom: the newly-engineered show is a technological wonder. Entitled, "the Magic, the Memories and You" the new show projects photos from the day on Cinderella's castle from 16 cameras positioned all over the park, even more amazing is the technology that makes the images dance all over the walls. Not to mention, the fireworks are incredible.
Don't focus on the costs: Your kids will remember this forever, so don't get caught up in the cost of food (expensive) or the high-priced trinkets.
Eventually, even I let go (mostly) of my need to understand how it all works. (Where are the secret doors that the characters disappear through? Does Snow White always talk like that? Is the clean-up crew told to follow around kids eating popcorn?) and experience Disney through the eyes of my kids. I loved watching them believe and for a moment when Tinkerbell flew down from the castle spire to start the fireworks, I too, believed.
And, Space Mountain, it's still incredible (and so are the rest of the coasters). And my kids though I was pretty cool for taking them.
If you are going, there are a lot of Disney resources out there, but a great place to start is the Disney Moms Panel.
Do you have memories of Disney? Do you plan on taking your kids there?
Want more? Last year I wrote about the cathartic process of cleaning out my closet.