We waited 16 years to take the plunge.We put it off mostly because it’s the opposite of everything I would ask for in a vacation destination. And, to be honest, I wasn’t sure this slow-craving, introvertive mom could survive it.
But it occurred to us one cold winter evening that we only have a few more trips with our almost-16-year-old daughter before she heads off to college, assuming we have the resources. And when we asked where she hoped to go as a family, she confessed that there’s only one place she’s ever dreamed of visiting: Walt Disney World.
Instead of packing the camper and driving to a state park for a budget-friendly, spirit-refreshing week of reading and relaxing beach time (a more typical family vacation for us), I said, “Okay, let’s do it. Let’s just go.”
So last week for Spring Break we bought the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, drove a thousand miles to Orlando, stuffed peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and granola bars into a backpack, laced up our athletic shoes, and took the plunge.
We relied on the touring plans from the Unofficial Guide.I highly recommend that when visiting Walt Disney World (WDW) in peak season, buy the book and follow the plan. If the plan says to walk briskly to one side of the park and grab a FASTPASS, do it. Even if the wait for that ride is only ten minutes, stick to the plan.Otherwise, the park is too full of people trying to do the same thing at the same time. If you don’t follow the plan, you’ll wait in line at some point for two hours (or more) and ride only a few rides all day. It was that full.In fact, the tram operator said they almost closed the parking lot, which is considered full at 75,000 vehicles. He said that they had just under 73,000 that day. It means that at some point, the Magic Kingdom may have been near its capacity of 100,000 people.One hundred thousand people, most of whom want to ride Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain at least once.Thanks to the plan, we rode every major ride once and saw most of the shows that interested us.But. Following the plan also meant we arrived at opening and left just before closing, adrenaline surging nonstop as our family of six wove through crowds, stopping only to eat our peanut butter sandwiches on a stone bench outside the Haunted Mansion. While sitting there, we looked up to see a skywriter starting a message.On a different day in a different park, we spotted his handiwork again.That second skywriting message was above Hollywood Studios (a fascinating contrast to see Jesus’ name appearing in the sky over the “Tower of Terror”).We went to all the parks.Even saw a couple of hidden Mickeys, including this one.I took migraine medicine every single day.I let two of my girls spin me around in a teacup on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party ride and almost fainted when I tried to stand up. Then I almost threw up. I was shaky for hours. Epcot was nice. I liked a ride called “Soarin‘” that simulates a hang-gliding flight over various terrain in California. And I’ve always liked the little boat ride in Mexico. It’s tame, I know, but I needed some tame in the midst of the crushing, manic masses.While the kids rode something called Test Track, I held onto that day’s supply of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and read Our Town.Yes, I really read Our Town at Epcot.How high does that score on the nerd-scale?There is something quite charming about watching one’s kids wave at the cheery characters during the parades.But the thing that charmed my son more than anything else—more than meeting Mickey and getting his signature; more than a Mickey pin his bought with his own money—was finding a heart jewel on the ground at the Magic Kingdom.He kept pulling it out of his pocket to turn it over in his hand and hold it up to the light.We warned him that if he kept messing with it, he might lose it.I was so sure he’d drop it, I tried to offer a positive spin by pointing out that if he loses it, he’ll just be passing along the joy of the heart to some other child.But that cheap little plastic heart survived all four of the main parks and two water parks.The heart survived a sloshy side trip into the washing machine and a tumble in the dryer at the place where we stayed.The heart magically made it all the way back home with us in one piece.And, thankfully, so did I.Barely.Thank you for your patience with me. Without a moment to breathe or think during those Disney days, I was unable to write any posts other than those I scheduled ahead of time.