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Trip Report Disney Mom/Daughter Weekend. Nothing. But. Fun!

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I decided to surprise our 9 year-old daughter with a long weekend trip to Disney World in late March, and she responded as predicted—with lots and lots of questions. Our last visit to Disney was when she was 3, so she remembered very little. I had also notified her teachers in advance, and springing the trip on her on the school morning before we departed allowed it to sink in in time for her to go to school totally hopped up for the day. Good thing her teachers like us.

On our previous trip we stayed at The Polynesian, which we loved and would recommend the larger space for families and/or longer stays. For this trip we stayed at a Disney “value” resort, the rationale being that I wanted the conveniences of a Disney property, and wouldn’t have time to enjoy the amenities of the higher end resorts. Plus, using AmEx points brought the flights and hotel total cost to $300—a great deal for three days at the happiest place on earth. Our room was in the All-Star Movies Resort, and the buildings were adorned with larger-than-life Disney characters (we were in the Love Bug building). The room was small and very Spartan, but just fine for the two of us.

For this trip I stepped a bit out of character and planned little more than the flights and lodging, figuring the parks themselves would provide the agenda. I did investigate the Park Hopper pass versus the Single Park ticket and determined the latter a better fit for our stay, but the park hopper might have advantages for longer stays or for families who may want to move between parks during the day. I, personally, didn’t see the value of the Disney Dining Plan, either; the whole point of our trip was to have fun, and keeping track of how many chits were used for snacks and beverages, and so forth, seemed anti-fun. This is not to say that we purchased the $15 refillable soda bottles (!); I’d just made peace with the fact that convenience comes at a cost.

Domestic flights pique DD’s curiosity for some reason (The brevity of the flight relative to our overseas hops? The fact that she can look down on the Earth? The general excitement of travel? Who knows!) and on the flight to Orlando she asked about 158 questions. Answering them made the 90 minute flight fly by (pun intended), and as we were exiting the plane the passenger adjacent to us nearly brought me to tears when she said, “I’ve only known you for a short time, but I think you’re a great mom.” Is good parenting a lost art, I wondered?

In short time the Disney Magical Express whisked us to our resort. A quick change of clothes and a small bite to eat at the resort café later, and Disney Transportation delivered us to EPCOT. We had the good fortune of being at EPCOT during the International Flower and Garden show, and so in addition to the fun of the rides and attractions we were also treated to amazing flower displays and topiaries shaped like all of our favorite Disney characters. (The Disney Host at the turnstile was right—Lotso (from Toy Story 3) did smell like the strawberry plants he was made of!)

Our day was spent first exploring the world showcase, stopping in Mexico to try on sombreros, pausing to share a pretzel in Germany, getting henna tattoos in Morocco (I raised a few eyebrows at my staff meeting on Monday morning with my wrist art!), and catching Disney characters whenever we could. We decided we would not be held hostage to the brutal “schedule” of character sightings and would just wing it. I saw way too many moms begging their daughters to wait 45 minutes in the hot sun just to see a character—our threshold was more like 5.

Dinner at EPCOT was at Les Chefs de France, a sit-down restaurant offering, of course, French fare. The weather was too warm to enjoy the duck or other heavier foods on the menu, so we ordered salads and shared a noteworthy cheese plate and icy cold Oranginas. Just as dinner was ending, the one character I really wanted to see came out from the kitchen to greet guests—Remy! (The animatronics for Remy are remarkable.) Our long day over, we returned to our hotel and fell asleep to a Disney flick (what else!) on the television.

It’s hard not to people watch at Disney, and in EPCOT I observed an interesting phenomenon: waves of people who drink their way “around the world.” In the early afternoon it’s the 20-somethings who start with a Margarita in Mexico and stumble through the UK with a pint in hand; and in the late-afternoon it’s the 30-something parents, one hand on the Bugaboo and the other babysitting a German beer while en route to the Venetian wine bar. I’m no teetotaler, but it did seem like an odd sport.

Favorite conversation overheard at EPCOT, by a gaggle of teenage girls:

“Oh, fish and chips! What country is this?”
“It’s The Netherlands.”
“No, I think it’s The Britain.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday was the designated Magic Kingdom day. Up and at it we were by 7:30, enjoying Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles in the resort café before heading to the park. Unlike with EPCOT, we had a pseudo plan for the Magic Kingdom. FastPasses were a priority for the roller coasters, we had dinner reservations for later in the day, and the rest of it was made up as we went along. Despite warnings from the concierge of how busy the park would be on a Saturday, we had a wait time of zero minutes at every ride in FantasyLand. We flew to Neverland, trembled through Snow White’s Scary Adventure, sang It’s a Small World over and over and over, twirled on Prince Charming’s Royal Carousel and made ourselves dizzy on the teacups in under 45 minutes. Oh, and we even had time for a photo with Mary Poppins!

From FantasyLand we skipped over to TomorrowLand and waited a mere 10 minutes to ride the Speedway. DD was very “Pish-posh, this ride is soooooo easy. I’ve driven a go-kart before.” Uh, huh. Good thing the car has a rail to keep wayward drivers in line (I also made a mental note to pull out the photos from this ride in 7 years when she wonders why I won’t just hand over the car keys).

Next stop was FrontierLand to make use of our FastPasses for Thunder Mountain Railroad. This was DD’s first roller coaster ride, and I have to say she’s a confirmed thrillaholic! With our FastPass we waited less than 10 minutes to ride, while others who went “standby” waited up to an hour. Maybe waiting is part of the magic for some people. We hesitantly eyed Splash Mountain, mom hemming and hawing about not wanting to get my camera wet, and not wanting a wet bum for the rest of the day, and decided to FastPass it for later in case we changed our minds. Plus, that final drop just seemed a little steep. From here we went back and forth between FrontierLand and AdventureLand, soaring over the crowds on Aladdin’s magic carpet, exploring Tom Sawyer’s Island (way fun!) and the Swiss Family Robinson’s Treehouse (where I was bumped repeatedly by a little boy who was in a hurry to “get to the ride” despite his parents telling him every 2 steps that “walking is the ride.”), and popping in and out of stores when so inspired. We tried our luck at the shooting range, but Annie Oakleys we are not. Lunch was quick at Columbia Harbour House—not bad, not outstanding, pretty ordinary fish and chips. In Liberty Square we rode the “doom-buggy” through the Haunted Mansion, which, surprisingly, scared DD! (I was bummed that the grim grinning ghosts don't come out to socialize with the riders anymore.) A last minute decision to cool off at the Hall of Presidents held the surprise bonus of a character sighting with no wait—Presidential Mickey!

We paused in the afternoon for the character parade along Main Street. All around us were girls who had visited the Bippity-Boppity Boutique looking just miserable in their polyester princess costumes that don’t breathe in the least in the hot sun. Then we made the decision to ride Splash Mountain. Before I could change my mind our FastPasses had me seated on a slightly wet bench in the “log” rolling toward that steep decline. And you know what? That final drop wasn’t the least bit terrifying, and neither my camera nor our bums got wet. That’s the magic of Disney! We brought our day in the Magic Kingdom to a close with an early supper at Tony’s Town Square, the restaurant from Lady and the Tramp. I enjoyed a crisp salad and bruschetta, while DD ate Mickey-shaped ravioli. We were seated right by the window where the silhouette of Lady and The Tramp sharing spaghetti is—too sweet!

Walking from the resort lobby to our room after dinner, DD was drawn to the pool—who wouldn’t be? To those of us who left the cold and gray behind, the palm trees looked so pretty against the warm early evening sky; the giant Sorcerer Mickey holding court over the shimmering water invited us to jump in (well, invited one of us to jump in), while the gleaming white chaise lounges invited the other one of us to relax. So relax I did! I rated DD’s underwater handstands, sipped an obscenely expensive glass of Pinot Grigio, and chatted with the couple sitting next to me, who were from Michigan and were quite happy to have escaped the snow. Eventually my wrinkled mermaid grew tired, and with just the slight outline of the palm trees against the evening sky we headed to the room for a good nights’ sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Our final day in Walt Disney World got off to a slow start. We arrived at the Animal Kingdom a little after 8:00 am only to learn that the park did not open until 9:00 am.
At 8:45 the crowd is allowed to enter the park, but only so far. Calm Disney cast members kept us at bay while Safari Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto came out singing to welcome us. Once the ropes were dropped the crowds wove their way calmly around the exhibits to the very back of the park for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. We boarded a safari truck straight away and headed into the African Savannah. It being early morning, most of the animals were awake and out and about—it was a feast for the eyes and the camera lens. From the safari we meandered through the Animal Kingdom, always eyeing the terrifying Everest Expedition roller coaster--a careening ride through the Himalayas where there was the possibility of being attacked by Yeti! Just before lunch we felt brave enough to take it on. The ride begins pleasantly enough--gently rolling curves through the snowy mountains, not-so-terrifyingly steep drops, and then...before you realize it, the cars are scaling Everest. At the very top the ride stops because—oh, my!--the Yeti had ripped up the tracks! For a few brief seconds everyone wonders what will happen, and then the cars careen backwards in the dark and around corners towards our death--how awesome is that! Finally there is daylight, just moments before the steep drop near the end of the ride. DD and I agreed that even though we got off the ride with wobbly knees, Expedition Everest was our favorite roller coaster.

The rest of our time in the Animal Kingdom was spent with feet planted on terra firma--the Maharaja Jungle Trek and the Flights of Fancy attractions delighted us with larger-than-life fruit bats and lazy tigers and gorgeous birds of prey that buzzed our heads, and we went back in time on the Dinosaur ride. We shopped in Asia and late-lunched in Africa at Tusker House (great African-inspired buffet!) before catching our return Disney Magical Express back to the airport. The Disney magic definitely ended at the airport, though. The best our terminal offered in dining choices ended up being Nathan’s hot dogs, meaning that we were starving when we landed at 10:00 PM; and at our gate I asked the flight attendant if there were seats together for the two of us, and he curtly replied, “Well, if you and your daughter had the same last names this might not be an issue.” Thankfully I was still too sprinkled with pixie dust to care about his attitude—our little antidote to winter and long mom/daughter weekend had played out beautifully, and we even spent the flight home hatching plans for future trips.

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