It’s been a good handful of years since I’ve visited Disney World. My family and I used to go every summer when my brother and I were kids, and we’d done a big family/friends party trip a few years ago. Times (and line organization) has changed a lot since that last time.
I was fortunate to go on this big trip with a good friend who happens to be a Disney employee, so… yes, we got into the parks for free. For months we’ve been reserving dinners, planning events, arranging convenient accommodations, and anything else we could to save money prior to being in Orlando because, let’s face it, the World of Disney can get expensive.
On our first full day, we visited Hollywood Studios. We’re talking Tower of Terror, Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster, Star Tours, the Big Movie Ride… rides I’d been on tons of times in the past but somehow never lost their appeal.
Disney Parks don’t have the most death-defying attractions, but they hold a different kind of imaginative, adventurous lure for kids of all ages. Maybe it’s the simulations, maybe it’s the well-thought out attention to detail and the beloved stories that linger with fans. Maybe it’s the delightful illusions and the desire to immerse yourself in other worlds. (A feeling I often get from reading fantastic books, might I add.) Whatever it is, it works. Bravo, Disney.
That same first day into night, we got ready for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom. That was a little tricky because even though it was September, Florida was hot and humid well into the evening hours! Layers weren’t even an option, lest you suffer the uncomfortable, sweaty consequences.
We saw great costumes through the park and did massive trick-or-treating… they had boatloads of candy… BOATLOADS.
It rained a little that night, so we witnessed an abridged version of the Sanderson sisters’ performance in the Hocus Pocus Villains Spelltacular in front of the castle. LOVE THEM! You can be certain that we sang and danced along, not a care in the world. After all… when in the “happiest place on earth”…
We had dinner reservations at Cinderella’s Castle, my first ever Disney restaurant character experience. Seats by the window, delicious food, and occasional visits by the Disney princesses, who did a pretty good job of being in character. Snow White was a delightful act, and while she’s never been my favorite of the royal party, I actually liked her more after that bit.
The dining room was beautiful, full of banners and colors, and people watching was great. Seeing a kid meet the princess she never thought she’d ever meet and talk to her (or not talk to her out of sheer happiness and awe) is a good kind of inspiration. We also got wands… I think it was meant to include us as “princesses”, but I think I’d be happier as a fairy godmother.
The Happy Hallowishes Fireworks show was spectacular, as is typical of all Disney fireworks night displays, and while we (sadly) never got to see the last performances of the Electrical Parade, the Boo-to-You Parade was awesome. Have I mentioned that villains are my favorite characters in pretty much any story?
After our free day of shopping and roaming Disney Springs on the second day, we woke up early the third day for our Akershus breakfast at Epcot Center, my favorite of the parks. (I love learning things!)
We had been told that you have a better chance of meeting your favorite Disney princesses in Norway at this particular dining experience. While it wasn’t a must-have for me to meet princesses (I’m more of an Alice in Wonderland kind of girl), that particular piece of advice was spot on. We met the girls, and again, they wore their characters very well. There was also a princess promenade with the kids in which the royal party led them around the dining hall like a strange procession through the woods or something.
A Disney employee – let’s just call him the flower guy – came out every half hour or so to hand the lead princess a flower basket so that she could march the children around the hall. It was rather amusing. Breakfast was standard (eggs, toast, bacon, sausages, juice, coffee, fruit) but delicious so all good.
Because we had arrived so early for breakfast, we didn’t have to wait long for the Frozen ride. That was a good time, particularly the part where the boat goes backwards while Else belts out “Let It Go” in all her gleaming, icicle glory. Disney Parks rides always had amazing “Animatronics”, but present day technologies bring us projections and more variations of color and light.
The effects are impressive, and I’m sure they’re a lot easier to maintain and update through the years, but there’s something about old-school robots and animatronics that add to the Disney experience. I’ve decided that I prefer a combination of both.
After that hearty breakfast, we laughed our way through some old favorites – Soarin’, Spaceship Earth, Test Track – and met Baymax, Joy, and Sadness!!!! I’ve never “met” so many characters before! I particularly enjoyed Baymax and his humming, smushy belly and Sadness with her chubby, blue, forlorn face. Poor thing.
A major reason we chose to go to Disney World in September was to experience the Food and Wine Festival. Who needs restaurant reservations, when you can hop from country to country in the World Showcase and eat internationally? We visited several booths to get a satisfying taste of Beef Skewers in Patagonia, Ice wine from Canada, boeuf bourgninon in France, Hummus fries from Morocco, buttered chicken with cilantro and naan from Africa, Korean style BBQ beef with cucumber kimchi and white rice from South Korea… I’m lucky to live in an area of the United States where all of this stuff is common and easy enough to get, so nothing was new with regard to flavor, but Epcot’s World Showcase and all its worldly displays and food get me every time.
On our fourth day we took a break from the World of Disney and visited Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Harry Potter World! Universal parks have more “adult” attractions (a little riskier, a little faster, and a lot higher), but really, the effect is the same: giggles and wide grins and active imaginations. Nothing much scares me when it comes to these kinds of rides. I’m in it for the fun, but I’ve realized that as I get older, the motion-sickness starts to take over. I can’t go on them over and over and over consistently without losing my head. That being said I was seriously impressed with the Gringotts ride.
The line waiting area alone was magnificent. The chandeliers? The stern goblins? Just like in the movies. I was almost expecting Bellatrix Lestrange, er, Hermione under polyjuice potion, to march down the hall and demand to see her vault.
The fifth day brought us back to the Magic Kingdom. It was the first day of autumn, though still grossly hot and humid, and the performance in front of the castle was all things red, orange, and gold leaves, and festive dancing with Mickey and the gang, Rapunzel, Elsa, Anna, Tiana and Prince Neveen!!!
Again, we danced, we sang along, and we traipsed. Later we threw our hands up on Space Mountain, chuckled at Brer Bear (just lookin’), reminisced on the Carousel of Progress, and rumbled along on the Mine Train.
That evening we dined in the Beast’s castle (Be Our Guest Dinner) in the West Wing with the magical rose and the tattered curtains. We drank from obscene, red and blue lit goblets, and delighted in the grey stuff (it was delicious!). We stared wide-eyed at the simulated falling snow through the windows of the grand ballroom and smirked at Belle’s “favorite room” with its music box of their beautiful dance and gigantic paintings lining the walls.
Memories and music, truly a Tale as Old as time. Every half hour the Beast would make an appearance in the West Wing and bow to the patrons as he made his way to the library for pictures. It was so brief and almost badass when he arrived. I could hear Flo Rida’s song in my head every time… “Welcome to My House”…
We spent our very last day of vacation hanging out at Sea World. Maybe I wouldn’t come to this park every time I’ve been in Orlando, but if there’s anything that would bring me back it’s PENGUINS!!!!! They redesigned their exhibit a few years ago, so it’s been a while since I’ve seen my favorite creatures on earth, so we stuck around the frigid room and laughed our brains off at the little waddlers.
To end this rather exhaustive but unforgettable trip, we made a stop in the Animal Kingdom to see the “Awakening’ light display on the Tree of Life, an appropriate finale to a much needed escape from reality and routine. I enjoyed every moment of it.