We haven’t taken a ton of family vacations over the years. But when we have we’ve always been fortunate to have safe travels and good times at our destination. Our luck held up once again and we had a fantastic time last week on our first (and still expected to be last) trip to Disney World. I’ll do my best to sum up the week without forcing you to read for half an hour.

We flew down Tuesday, leaving Indianapolis when it was a brisk 9°. We made it safely to Orlando1 and headed to our hotel, the Buena Vista Palace, right across from Downtown Disney. The hotel was a little older, giving off a bit of a 70s-80s vibe, but was in good shape and was sparsely occupied. We were a quick 15-minute bus ride from the Magic Kingdom and only had to cross the street for shopping and dining.

Wednesday we got up bright and early and arrived at the Magic Kingdom shortly after the gates opened at 9:00 am. The girls got First Visit buttons at the ticket window, which they loved, and then we took the monorail across to the park, which they also loved. OK, they pretty much loved everything about the next 72 hours.

We strolled down Main Street, USA, taking in all the images we had seen on TV for years. There was Cinderella’s Castle in front of us, so of course we snapped a few pictures. The girls had their heads on swivels looking for any characters that might be buzzing around that they could grab for autographs. We worked our way back to the new Fantasyland section of the park and hopped on our first ride, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. Ooohing and aaahing commenced.

We did a lot of research and picked last week knowing it was A) already a short week for M. and C. at school and B) would not be a busy week at the parks. We were right on with that second assumption. We didn’t have to wait more than 10 minutes for any ride or show over our three days at Disney. Our longest delay was for our shuttle bus Wednesday afternoon after one skipped our stop and we had to wait for 45 minutes rather than 15. It was sunny and in the low 70s, so if we had to wait it was the day to do it.

We spent about four hours at the park Wednesday. That night we went over to Downtown Disney for shopping and dinner, where the girls got their obligatory mouse ears.2 A very solid first day.

Thursday was set to be our busiest day. The girls had brunch with the princesses at Epcot. S. and her step-mother took them to that while my father-in-law and I waited at the hotel. We met the ladies at the Animal Kingdom in the early afternoon. As we approached each other from opposite bus stops, M. and C. ran full speed towards us, screaming about how great every single minute of the brunch was. The princesses were awesome! They had the best eggs ever! The got autographs and pictures with all the princesses! There was a Mexican Donald Duck! You get the point.

We spent a few hours in Animal Kingdom, which was super cool as well. We took the Dinosaur ride, which was a little rough, very loud, and was apparently a little scary to one of the girls. When we exited the ride and walked by the screens with the images snapped of us during the ride, six of us were looking around at the dinos while M. sat with her arms gripping the safety rail and her head ducked beneath them. Apparently she sat like that the entire time. She got some courage later, though.

We went home for a few hours then headed back to the Magic Kingdom for the night time events. We barely made it in time for the Electrical Parade. After that we hung around for the nightly fireworks show, which was spectacular, of course. After that we ran into our only crowd issues of the week. Apparently everyone who goes to any of the parks during the day crams into the Magic Kingdom at night for the shows, and then tries to get out at the same time. It was like the entire crowd from a Colts game trying to get out of one exit gate at once. It was amazingly crowded and everyone was right on the verge of getting frustrated. But after a couple tense moments everyone started moving and we got out of the park surprisingly quickly.

We spent Friday in the Magic Kingdom again, knocking out Adventureland and Frontierland and finally riding the Tomorrowland Speedway cars. In Frontierland we took M. and C. on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster. We weren’t sure how they would do, but, keeping with the theme of the week, they loved it. It’s not a crazy coaster with loops and huge drops, but it’s a lot bigger than the dinky kids coasters they’ve gone on at the church festival around the corner each summer. As soon as we got off M. said she wanted to ride it again and again, and if she ever came back to Disney that would be the first thing she rode. So I guess it worked out ok. L. drove me on the Speedway and spent the entire time giving a running commentary on our status in the race, how we had to catch C. and S. in front of us, and how we were going to win the championship. She’s a funny kid.

We said goodbye to the parks and returned to the hotel to spend a little time in the pool before the sun set. There were three pools, but only one was heated. As nice as it was, it was not warm enough to be in an unheated pool. Fortunately there were mostly adults sitting in the sun and the warm pool had only a few kids in it, so the girls were able to splash around for a while. There was a small lake around the hotel, and the banks were full of all kinds of cool birds looking for fish and other critters to eat. The girls laughed and laughed when they saw a couple ducks sitting at the end of one of the pools.

The weather was perfect the entire time. It was a little chilly Wednesday morning, but each afternoon the temperature pushed well into the 70s. As I said, the crowds were completely tolerable. We were constantly thankful that our schedules allowed for us to go at a time when the parks weren’t overrun with families and the lines were crazy.

A friend asked if I had become a Disney convert. I wouldn’t go that far. I had a good time, and love that the girls loved it. They said that Thursday, with the princesses and safari and fireworks, was the best day of their lives. I was fascinated by the logistical miracle that is Disney. From the clever disguising of the lines to the easy access to everything that is important, it’s an amazing place just to look around and observe how it works. But we have no plans to go back. This trip was crazy fun, but S. and I agree that it’s a one-time thing and we have other places we want to visit as a family while the girls are still little.

  1. Well we did. We had a very tight connection in Atlanta and our bags did not make the second flight. It’s the first time I’ve ever arrived without my luggage. Fortunately they were on the next flight and delivered that evening. Which led to a strangely exciting five minutes, as KU beat K-State and moments later the phone rang announcing our bags were downstairs. Good times! 
  2. M. and L. got ears, that is. C. had some picked out then changed her mind and decided on a Minnie Mouse diary/notebook thing. We made sure she was sure she didn’t want ears, and she convinced us. The next night we found some ears that had been misplaced during the Electrical Parade and she got her ears after all. The best part was L. quickly pointing out that since C. got two things, she and M. got two things, too. She doesn’t miss a thing.