I grew up in Central Florida and when the rumors about Disney started to whirl around our tiny town, I had no idea of the impact and change it would bring, not only to our community but to our lives as well. As a young child I just kept thinking that I was about to be neighbors with Mickey and Minnie Mouse! Soon, cow pastures turned into the Magic Kingdom and orange groves became filled with hotels and mysterious lagoons. We waited until December 31st after the October opening that year to go for the first time and I never turned back. I actually stopped counting when I had been on property 300 times, after all it was a wonderland just 15 minutes from our front door.
When I moved away as a young adult, a visit to one or all of the parks was always on the agenda at every visit home. It didn’t matter if it was for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas or my niece’s birthday dinners with Cinderella or Mickey and Goofy; it was and is a part of my living. Even now, I never tire of it and find something new every time I visit.
There have been multitudes of changes over the years, like the now abandoned River Country Water Park that rises as a ghost town in ruins from the nearby Bay Lake and the old ride that paid homage to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is gone. Then there is the addition of popular new characters such as Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean found in multiple places on the boat adventure bearing the same name. There are new characters from more recent films such as Frozen also incorporated into the park.
The Imagineers at Disney left nothing undone, small things such as the images of Mickey and other characters are hidden all over the park. Another example is at the train station where there are articles left behind by popular Disney characters. There are phones all over the park as well, like on Main Street in the candy store and when the receiver is picked up you can ”overhear” conversations of all kinds. Then there is the Cinderella fountain that little girls can look into to see the crown appear on her head, something unnoticeable without leaning in. The Castle even has a room that privileged guests can stay in and a royal night’s stay is given away as a grand gesture by Disney on occasion. Even smells that fill the air are crafted to delight and play on the imagination. The details are everywhere if you look, you just need to pay attention to the smallest things.
There are unadvertised things to do in the park, such as my favorite idea of a Neverland Scavenger Hunt which is a guided tour of sorts in search of items on a map that will lead you to the likes of Captain Hook and Smee and ultimately to Peter Pan, Tink and The Lost Boys. Then there are background tours called Keys to the Kingdom that if planned well you can see the behind the scene workings of the parks, the city underground that houses tunnels and roads and rooms that transport you into the makings of the magic you see up top. There is also an amazing tribute to 9/11 at Epcot’s American Pavilion that includes an American Flag pulled from the rubble of The Twin Towers.
I always recommend a trip (or three hundred) there, especially to families with young children. There is nothing like the imagination that envelopes the park or the wonderment in a child’s eyes when they see before them the characters, live and in person. I will never forget the moment my four year old niece had dinner with ‘Prince Harming” and “Cindyrella” at the Grand Floridian. As an adult, I enjoy the nostalgia and the “unplugging” of sorts and the closeness to being that young at heart again. I also enjoy being family in those parks as the shared experience, no matter how tired you will be, makes for a really beautiful day and lasting memories.
Some secrets I have learned?
When going to the Magic Kingdom, go early when the park opens (if you stay at a Disney Hotel you get in an hour earlier!) Once in, go left just past Main Street and by the Crystal Palace and you will come into Adventureland and The Tiki Room, the Aladdin ride and Swiss Family Robinson Tree House. One of the most important features is the lovely Dole Whip stand that is to your right near the Jungle Cruise. The Dole Whip? It is worth every penny and every calorie and by the end of the day you will be back in line for round two. Trust me on this. Then on the left Pirates of the Caribbean, one of the most popular rides will be a bit less crowded because everyone else went straight and through the Castle. You can even ride it twice! Then there will be Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain and the Country Bear Jamboree in Frontierland. Then on to Liberty Square and the Hall of Presidents and this fabulous perfumery there where you can blend your own scents from essential oils just before being a bit frightened in the Haunted Mansion. Around then you go through what will be your young kid’s favorite place in the park, Fantasyland. It’s A Small World, Snow White, Winnie the Pooh, and rides like the Mad Tea Party, the Carousel and Dumbo’s Flight are there, but most importantly Peter Pan’s Flight (one of the parks most popular) is worth the wait. Then it is to Tomorrowland and Space Mountain, Monsters Inc., Buzz Lightyear and the Carousel of Progress. There will be some crowds, but everybody else has gone through the Castle and is now crisscrossing across the park aimlessly while you are on a mission. In the end you will have made a big circle and then you can go to Cinderella’s Castle and back to rides you want to re-visit and get that second Dole Whip.
If you are at the other parks, GO EARLY and start at the back and work your way forward to the front, with the exception of Epcot which houses their main rides immediately and the World Showcase is in the back of the park. (Best dining experience is the Moroccan Café (plus your little ones can meet Aladdin and Jasmine there) and unless you like cold fish and smelly cheese bypass the legit Norwegian fare.) Everything in the Animal Kingdom is amazing, especially the wildlife that lives there. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a 15 minute film on Walt Disney called One Man’s Dream that has memorabilia of Walt’s and is worth the time. Also take the backlot tour and have your photo taken on the NYC Street. (Eat at the Brown Derby or Hollywood and Vine.) By all means don’t forget the Aerosmith Rock and Rollercoaster. In December, in keeping with Star Wars mania, the Studio Park will be opening up a Star Wars experience complete with Jedi Training.
Some other hints? With any of the parks, always stop at Customer Relations and ask for a list of that day’s events and any suggestions they may have to make your day that much more memorable. They will give you a list of character’s schedules and locations and other important events. Also, when riding the monorail, go to the front car, and while you are there ask if you can ride with the operator, hands down a one of a kind amazing experience worth taking. One more? If you are on a ride and there are two lines and you can’t see the loading area, go to left line, as it tends to move faster for some reason. Also, although they deny it, Omega track on Space Mountain appears faster than the Alpha side.
Always call well in advance of your trip to book character dinners. They are fast going on reservations but a BLAST, even for us big kids… nothing like a hug from the Fairy Godmother to make me smile. Breakfast is best at The Contemporary’s Chef Mickey’s, where you will dine with Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Chip and Dale and a few others. The Willie Wonka type cereal towers and candy toppings along with Mickey shaped waffles and vats of whipped topping are sure to please. Dinner at The Grand Floridian’s 1900 Park Fare is a buffet of goodness with the Cinderella Crew and my third favorite mouse, Gus.
Disney is an amazing experience for most. Obviously, Summer, Spring Breaks and Holidays are always busy, so patience is key when going then. Late September, October, January, February and April seem to be the least busy from experience.
In closing, the best advice is to plan ahead, go and be set on enjoying your time there. Stay on site, go for several days and take it all in. If you have questions, feel free to email us and if we can help you plan your Disney Vacation, give us a call.
Maybe my love for this place is the memories I have had there and the thought of memories yet to come. That is what I want for you and for your family, the memories of a lifetime.