Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Disney Report

The Cornett family has relocated to Southwest Florida for the month of April.

The trip has been part vacation, part family business, and part experiment to see if we can really travel with our two children. Most days, everyone gets part of what they need, and some of what they want. Ada needs some quiet attention, Jude needs action, Linden needs sleep, and Daddy Ben needs a drink by five o'clock.

Just in case the changes of time zone and climate weren't enough, we tried to throw in a little trip to Disneyworld to mix it up. Mission accomplished. Last week we drove the 4 hours from Naples to Orlando for 3 days of theme park madness. Here is the report.

Day 1: The Drive

We left Naples at a leisurely hour, heading north on the highway with movie players entertaining the back seat. A stop at Wendy's took us one full hour to get out of the car, order lunch, find a table, eat lunch, play with the toys in the kids' meal, use the bathroom, order a frosty, eat said frosty, change a diaper, and get back in the car.

Arriving in Orlando, we had booked a time-share condo through an acquaintance. The property was 20 minutes from Disneyworld, but it turned out to be just perfect for us. The condo was in a high rise, and had a largish living area and kitchen, with a bedroom and full bath at either end. Our kids don't seem to sleep very well together, so we put Ada to bed in one bedroom (in a travelling crib) and then Jude would fall asleep on the other side in our bed. We sat up in the middle watching Game of Thrones, and then carried Judey, the heavy sleeper, back to the kids' room. So we all managed to sleep. Oh, and it was CHEAP.

Day 2: The Magic Kingdom

We planned for two days a the Magic Kingdom with a rest day in between. Our little crew bravely got up early, sunscreened, dressed, and packed for a day of adventures. We all wore good shoes and socks, light clothing, and hats. Daddy Ben had bought the Unofficial Guide to Disney World with Kids, and it was very helpful in planning our visit.

Arrived at the theme park close to opening, only to find that it is quite a long process entering the kingdom. Late April is not a busy time for Disney, and we passed vast empty parking lots on our way to an exact spot indicated by uniformed employees. From the car, we walked to the end of the line (maybe 100 yards?) and boarded a small tram bus that carried us to the gates and ticketing machines. We managed to buy our passes in the machine with no fuss at all, and proceeded to the Monorail station. Now we boarded another large bullet train looking thing, and headed off over acres of jungle and through Disney resorts to the gates of the Magic Kingdom.

The sheer size of the Disney empire is impressive. Of course they want you to stay at Disney resorts and hotels, sleeping close to the theme parks, or generally spend all of your money on mouse ears. There are Disney meal plans, Disney photographers, and Disney travel agents. But none of this was necessary for us. We were happy to experience the place as first time visitors.

The Kingdom is seeing some wear. First built in 1971, the basic infrastructure is now over 40 years old. So here we were, first day, riding the monorail and what happens but we are heading up a rise and the train comes to a stop. We were fairly packed in, and our family was all standing and looking out the windows. We could see Cinderella's castle in the distance, with swamps and trees down below us. There is anticipation in the air, and everyone on the train is disappointed with the delays. Apparently something was wrong with the power system, and they had to back up the monorail and get another run a the "hill", but this didn't work either. Our kids were fine, but a few others became restless. One boy, he was maybe 8 years old, began crying on his mother. Sometimes the anticipation is just more than you can take! Linden was very nice to him, and helped him calm down. Anyway, the delay was only about 15 minutes, so no big deal.

Okay, now we are finally at the gates of Main Street USA. This is the Disney of my memories, with old fashioned shops and a long boulevard heading to the princess castle. We all walked in together, kind of in awe of the place. There was a truckfull of singing and dancing people that wandered by and did a show right in front of us. We laughed and looked and pointed, and then eventually ended up walking through and under the castle and into Fantasyland. We read a number of touring plans, and had a list of our favorite rides, but that basically went out the window. I'll give you the short list of our first morning, but I'm sure you can see that we were busy. We used several combinations of Fastpass to accomplish all this.

The Carousel
It's a Small World
Mickey's Fantasy Show
Winnie the Pooh
Peter Pan's Flight
The Barnstormer Roller Coaster

After all of this morning action, we were pretty tired. Last but not least, we rode the old-fashioned steam train back to the entrance. This was a crucial part of our planning and strategy. The book suggested we LEAVE and go home during the hottest part of the day. This was brilliant. Just when our little crew had worn themselves out, we broke for home and had naps, shows, and a short swim. I woke up from my nap to hear the kids in the other room, singing "It's a Small World After All!" They were ready for another shot at Disneyworld.

The evening drive down the interstate was easy. Parking was a breeze. The kids were a little tired, but we pressed on with our evening plan. Arriving at Main Street USA, we tried to take the steam train again but found it was closed for the night. At this point we broke out our snack bag and just sat around on the raised deck of the train platform. The sun was low, the whole place was thinning out. The kids were HUNGRY, and they proceeded to eat ALL the snacks I had brought for the night. A breeze picked up, and we just relaxed our way back into the Disney experience. It can be a very beautiful place. Suddenly, the sounds of a Disney parade came up the street. And there we stood, watching the whole place roll through a beautiful celebration.

The kids were tired that evening, but we managed to explore a bit more of the park, including a quick ride for Jude and Dad on the Pirates of the Carribean, and a trip for Linden and Jude on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We also enjoyed the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, and generally took in the evening scene. We carted the kids out of there around 8:30pm, just as it was getting dark. Ada looked back from the top of Mom's shoulders and saw the Cinderella castle, all lit up in purple. She asked me to stop and take a picture. The ride home was short and sweet. I kept a cooler in the car with cold drinks and milks. The sun went down on our long day at Disney and everyone slept well.

Day 3: A Day Off

Besides a little morning shopping, we basically took Wednesday off from the adventure schedule. But by mid-afternoon we were at it again with some new activities. Our condo was in the neighborhood of Universal Studios, but also right near Wet 'n Wild waterpark. Now waterparks and thrill rides in general are really the purvey of the brown eyes in our family. After our day at Disney, where Ada's participation was fairly limited, we blue eyes decided to skip the waterpark. Instead we made an afternoon trip to Epcot, another of the Disneyworld parks. We basically walked around and looked at the exhibits for different countries, catching sight of a few favorite Disney characters along the way.

Both the blue eyes and the brown eyes had a nice time, splitting up and seeing different things. This is what is known as "touring" the parks. Orlando is full of theme parks, from Seaworld to Harry Potter to Legoland. What fun to have a vacation and adventure!

Day 4: Magic Kingdom Around Again

On our final day of Disney, we planned to meet with Linden's cousin and Judey's lifelong buddy Lukas. They were in town for a wedding, and we all just decided to spend the day at the Magic Kingdom together. Again we rolled to Disney early to try and beat the crowds. This time we were TOO early, and had to wait about 30 minutes at the head of the monorail. The kids were in high spirits, so we didn't mind the wait. Unfortunately we tried to beat the system by rushing over to the thrill rides in Frontierland and getting fast passes. There was some kind of technical difficulty with the rides that morning, so our early efforts were wasted. About 20 minutes later we met up with our cousin crew in the Pirates gift shop and a good time was had by all. We knocked out a few rides with them, then headed over to Tomorrowland to chase down several more rides. Ada was not really ready for most of the rides in this area, so again Daddy and daughter sat out and watched while the others had fun.

The action packed morning included the Buzz Lightyear ride, Monsters Inc, the People Mover, and Space Mountain. Then we broke for lunch at a counter service place. Good friendly times were had with the kids, and we revived ourselves a bit. Following lunch we returned to Frontierland and everybody rode the rafts out to Tom Sawyer's Island. Our kids were getting a bit worn out as the hot afternoon wore on. The cousins were still going on rides, but our kids lingered for a nice half an hour around the island. Ada was in the fort turrets, shooting the pretend rifles. Jude and I took a seat at an old fashioned checker board and played our first game of checkers. He won.

We saw the cousins again after a bit, and then said our goodbyes around 3pm. As we headed toward the exit, we stopped for some last minute Disney shopping and caught part of a parade on Main Street. Ada was too scared by the loud music to see much of the parade, but we managed to leave with some lovely little princess figurines and ANOTHER sword for Jude. This one was a Mickey Mouse Lightsaber. That's my boy!

We pulled out of Disney about 4pm and did not return that night. It was enough Disney for us. We got home, watches shows, and swam in the pool. We picked up some dinner and called it a night. All four of us were EXHAUSTED. And also relieved. We succeeded in visiting Disney with our young children.

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