Oh, Mickey You’re So Fine

The True Magic of Family Vacations Revealed
It seems a rite of passage in America to visit Disney World — recession or no. Everyone talks about it and there’s a spinning teacup worth of guilt if you haven’t taken your kids.

The Road to Disney

My husband had a sales meeting scheduled in Orlando this summer, but we planned to skip tagging Disney onto the trip for family budget reasons. Then, right before Spring Break things changed.

Because of my new job, we couldn’t get away. We told the kids we’d go to one of those indoor water park hotels for a night as a consolation. When we first looked, the prices were a little expensive. My husband decided to wait for a sale. Big mistake. The prices only went up and up until they became ridiculous. I asked my husband how he was going to break it to the kids. “We’re not going to the water park,” he said after gathering them. When the tears escalated to Chernobyl-Melt-Down-Level, he changed tactics and added, “… because we’re saving money to go to Disney this summer!” Not the most logical tear stopper, but that’s how our trip began.

Learning the (Waiting Line) Ropes

Our first day at Disney would be my son’s 11th birthday. I envisioned we would just pop into the restaurant in Cinderella’s Castle for a special lunch. The first book I opened, the Unofficial Guide, explained that getting a reservation at what is officially called Cinderella’s Royal Table, was a 180 day advance-affair. I was 150 late before I even picked up the book. I was now motivated to dive into all things Disney with a vengeance.

On our first day at the Magic Kingdom, we arrived at the gates 45 minutes before the park opened, just as my Unofficial Guide instructed. It seemed overkill on a 98 degree Florida day. But I clutched firmly to my book and its edicts. The security guy checking my purse took one look at my Unofficial Guide and said, “We only let the official ones in.” For a moment, I panicked. It was a library book. It would take me hours to drop it back to the car. Luckily, he was joking. Security, I guess, is the “bench” for the Monster’s Inc. Comedy Club.

Mad Hatter Dash

Once the gates opened, we dashed for Space Mountain as instructed by The Guide. When my daughter finally saw Cinderella’s Castle, I looked in her eyes for that ah-ha moment of magic. But, she just nodded. We rushed on toward Space Mountain. The Guide was right, it was worth the race. Later, we caught a show in front of the castle with Cinderella, Snow White and Minnie Mouse. There were crowns and gowns and they danced with their respective princes. My husband even hoisted my daughter to his shoulders to see. Still I waited for that special spark of magic. But at age 7, a crown is no longer her daily uniform. We were two years too late.

Missed magic aside, there was still a great big park of Adventureland, Frontierland and Tomorrowland trills to explore. Following The Guide, we hit all the highlights, the Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan’s Flight.

For an afternoon break, we watched the Hall of Presidents show in good old American AC. It was patriotic and not at all cheesy. “Teddy Roosevelt” my son blurted out as the Rough Rider appeared on stage. Maybe this was my Disney magic moment, knowing my 4th grader’s social studies had stuck. Then he continued, “…from Night at the Museum.” Poof. Magic moment gone.

A Little Park Perspective

It was hard to imagine topping the Magic Kingdom, but Epcot did. The “big golfball” Spaceship Earth was retro cool and frozen in time like the future that never came. (Think jetpacks and the Jetsons.) Because of the Disney Drawback of excessive lines, we didn’t ride it, only admired from afar, as we crisscrossed the park as instructed by my new bible, The Unofficial Guide.

The next day, we followed The Guide’s advisements through Animal Kingdom catching all the 4-star or higher rated attractions, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids and the Kilimanjaro Safari. I was pouring over The Guide to squeeze out every last Disney drop when my daughter took it from my hands. “Pool” she said. Her face was sweaty and she looked tired. My son was standing in front of a nearby fan that sprayed water, clutching it. I put The Guide away and we left.

The Unofficial Guide called out one fact that puts it in perspective. For 60% of kids who visit Disney, their number one, top, best, favorite, attraction is their hotel pool. For me, my favorite moment was splitting an ordinary Sunday four ways, spoonful by spoonful. So, I guess, that’s the real magic of vacation. It brings us together before the future gets away.

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