I document my insanity to preserve it for my own memory, which is poor. If it helps someone else, with vacation planning or to get a good laugh at my expense, then BONUS.
When I picture my perfect vacation it’s foreign, educational and adventurous. I love to plan a vacation. I arm myself with numerous guide books and websites, looking for the best deals on the best places to stay, the things not to miss and the best places to eat. It is part of my enjoyment of my vacation – the discovery and planning phase. And I have learned that it’s just as important to me to plan for Disney World as it is Guatemala.
My Mom had been wanting to take her grandkids to Disney World before she had grandkids. And she had been asking me regularly when we could go for years. I finally told her that I’d like to go within a few months of Lee turning two. This way he was still free of charge but he could enjoy it on some level. So after Christmas we made the plans – we’d go end of September 2011. I really wanted to stay in the resort. As a kid I’d been to Disney 4 times – 4, 10, 14 and 17. It’s really the only family vacation I remember going on with my Mom – we didn’t do regular beach or mountain getaways. But Disney is pricey and my Mom was a struggling working mother so we never stayed in the park. I remember the traffic getting into the park and it seemingly taking forever to get there and I dreamed of staying within monorails reach of Magic Kingdom. So I was genuinely excited to book a week at the Polynesian after finding a good package deal on Mousesavers – which my mother more than HELPED with. I picked the Polynesian not only because I remember taking the monorail through it and thinking how lucky the people were who stayed there, though that is certainly part of it. I also had read that their rooms had been recently updated and were among the largest single rooms in Disney – which is a big deal for a family of five.
When I booked the package they told me I could make dining reservations 180 days prior to the start of our trip. This struck me as insane. It meant that in March I had to have our whole week of vacation planned out. You can’t make dining reservations when you aren’t sure which day you are going to be at which park. And now the real research began. I had to figure out which day to head to which park and most importantly what were the best places to eat. If you opt for the dining plan it means you get one table service meal a day and since I’m a bit of a foodie and obsessed with getting a good value I had to do serious dining research. I quickly decided that heading to the best buffets and family style meals was our best bet. This way the meals would be faster, which is key with a 19 month old, we’d definitely get enough to eat and my boys wouldn’t be relegated to eating chicken nuggets off the kids menu at every meal. I used the reviews in the Unofficial Guide to Disney World and made our plan, breathing a sigh of relief when everything was booked.
One of the smartest things I did was to buy the boys Birnbaum’s Kids Guide to Disney World. Noah and Ray devoured it. They read the description of every ride. They also watched Disney World promotional videos on Netflix. Their excitement was at a fever pitch. And per the guides suggestion we made lists the week prior to the trip for each park that included which rides we couldn’t miss, which were maybes and which ones we definitely could go without seeing. The boys loved this. And a few days before the trip I looked at the Unofficial Guides touring plans and made our own plan based on what we wanted to see and geographic location. I also kept track of which counter service restaurants would be decent to hit for our second meal a day based on where in the park we might be. And though in retrospect I definitely overdid the size of our order I was also pleased with ordering food from Garden Grocer and having it delivered to the resort since we didn’t have a car. Most important was the fruit we ate for breakfast and the water and juice boxes that kept us going without paying $4 at the park.
I admit even I thought I was being insane with all this planning. But damn am I glad I did it. And I’d do it again. All our sit down meals were excellent. And because we had a plan there wasn’t much standing around squabbling about what we should do next. And the time of year was perfect – the lines were short and though the heat was uncomfortable at times it also made for a perfect pool day.
There are a few things I would do differently. I thought Hollywood Studios was a major disappointment and I won’t go again. I was a bit disappointed in Animal Kingdom too, but I’m sure if we saw some shows there we’d have enjoyed it more. They told us we had to line up a half hour before a show to get in – and Lee just wasn’t in a stage where I’d wait in line half an hour and then sit through a show with him.
Some things were more awesome than I hoped. The kids enjoyed Epcot way more than I expected. The loved the rides Test Track, Soaring, Nemo and The Land. They still laugh about Turtle Talk with Crush. But they also loved the countries for two reasons, the biggest being The Kim Possible missions. Kids sign up to be on Team Possible and get a fake cell phone that then sends them on mission in one of the countries. They look around for clues and the phone triggers magical things to happen. It’s quite cool. Despite never having seen Kim Possible this was right up Noah’s alley, half his play has to do with spies. The boys did 4 missions – in Germany, Japan, France and the UK. Ray got a little frightened on the Japan mission, what with the killer robot babies, but he got over it. I also got the boys Epcot passports and it was a fun activity to have them stamped in each country.
Lee’s favorite thing about Disney World was the ducks. He’d have spent all day every day chasing ducks around every Disney constructed body of water. But I was most struck by Lee’s fearlessness, as I often am. I took him on every ride that didn’t have a height requirement. He went through the pitch black spookiness of rides like Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean seamlessly. Once or twice he’d go “MA?” as if to say “Are we okay?” I’d hold him tight and say “It’s okay. I’m right here” and he’d be fine. I think his favorite ride was Small World – he looked around and chattered as if chiming in with us trying to identify the countries represented.
Ray never wanted to leave Disney World. Last Christmas he saw a picture of my Mom in front of the Epcot geosphere and was impressed with the giant golf ball. When I told him he’d see it in person he was excited and it didn’t disappoint. He lists it among his favorite rides. Of course his list of favorite rides consists of almost everything he rode. And he rode everything he was tall enough to ride – including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which is his biggest coaster to date. He loved it – and rode it three times. The other thing Ray loved doing was looking for Hidden Mickeys. He is still obsessed and anywhere he sees circles he sees one.
Noah has become my thrill seeker. He went on almost every big thrill ride twice. He goes on things I break out in a sweat just considering. Space Mountain was his favorite but he also enjoyed the Rockin Roller Coaster as well as Mission Space. My sister and I went to take him on the more adult version of Mission Space after the attendant reassured me it was just two complete spins different – but after I got in that small simulator box and the head guard started pulling down I panicked and had to be let off the ride. But Noah loved it. He’s way cooler than me.
Mark was a Disney cynic. I think part of him wanted to be underwhelmed but he just couldn’t be. In fact I could tell he was a bit taken with the classic feel of Magic Kingdom. We might not be fond of huge conglomerates constructing palatable vacation experiences but we do love a theme park. And well, the food was good. He can’t argue with that.
One of my favorite things about the trip was Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party. My Mom splurged and bought the extra tickets the party required and though I knew the kids would love it I was a bit suspect of their worth. However I LOVED the parade. I watched it a second time while everyone else went on rides. I loved the grave digger and zombie dancers. So much so that we’ve been watching the parade repeatedly on Youtube. I can’t get the music out of my head.
Of course the best part of the vacation was being together. My Mom and her husband followed us around on our harried schedule – helping out with the kids, taking them on rides and keeping them busy. And that was real quality time for all of them. And watching the kids enjoyment of the parks was, dare I say it, magical. And yes, we all got over tired and over stimulated in certain moments but the lines were short, we were on a mission and mostly we just kept going.
The boys want to plan another Disney trip tomorrow. I’ve told them a day at Hershey Park will have to do next summer. But I can see us going back to Disney in 5 years – the boys at 12, 9 and 6. I picture us staying in one of the lodges in the Wilderness Lodge resort. It’s farther out and you have to get to everything by bus but you stay in a little cabin that I imagine would be fun and more appropriate for boys of that age.
Here are petty details of the dining itinerary, again these are more for my reference than for thrilling reading:
Sunday Epcot Center with my sister, her husband and son
11:30 Sunshine Station in The Land – Excellent choices, excellent quality of fast food lunch. Totally recommend. I loved my veggie noodle bowl.
4pm Germany’s Beer Garden Buffet – Not only is the food excellent but the kids really loved the German band and danced their little hearts out. I dare say our kids were entertaining the entire house.
Monday Animal Kingdom
11:30 Local Anandapur Café – Again, really fresh and flavorful fast food.
4:00 BOMA in Animal Kingdom Lodge – everyone says this flavors of Africa buffet is awesome and they aren’t exaggerating. LOVE. I was a bit put off when I realized it wasn’t in the park and we had to go a bit out of our way to get there and back, but it was worth it.
Tuesday Magic Kingdom
11:30 Character buffet lunch with Pooh and friends at Crystal Palace – The food options at this buffet are more conventional but done very well. Everything was good.
4:00 Starlight Rays – This was rated as one of the better fast food options at Magic Kingdom, which has a reputation of having lower quality food than the other parks, because it has a burger fixins bar but I was not impressed. Edible but meh.
9:00 snacks at Pecos Bill – Another fast food place with a fixins bar. Fine. But I can recommend the onion rings.
Wednesday Pool Day
12:00 lunch at Captain Cooks in Polynesian – Flat bread pizzas, sandwiches and noodle dishes were decent but once again the kids picks were just nuggets, mac and cheese and PB&J. The kids can’t even get the pizza with their meal plan. It’s a sin. I used the adult meal plans to feed them.
5:00 O’hana – Family style dinner of wings, dumplings, low mein, broccoli and grilled meats. Tasty. And fun.
Thursday Hollywood Studios
11:30 50’s Primetime Café – This was the only sit down menu meal we had and it was fantastic. The boys all devoured the chicken noodle soup and my fish dish was so tasty – mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus included. But nothing could beat my peanut butter milkshake. Awesome.
6:00 dinner for boys from Captain Cooks
7:15 Citricos- My Mom watched the boys so Mark and I could have an early anniversary celebration. I mentioned our anniversary in an offhanded way when I booked it and Disney put that info on our stay info so we were constantly being wished a “Happy Anniversary!” At dinner they took our photo and gave it to us as a souvenir. We found this sort of corny but it made us smile. This is a Disney Signature restaurant and takes 2 table meal credits per person but we decided to just pay cash. We totally splurged, getting a bottle of wine and ordering a full meal. Everything was delicious. REALLY delicious.
Friday Magic Kingdom
12:00 Columbia Harbor House – I found this a better fast food option than the burger places. I had a tasty salad and Mark enjoyed a tuna fish sandwich, though he was disappointed he couldn’t get soup with our meal plan.
4:00 Liberty Tree Tavern – A family style Thanksgiving style dinner. It’s as good as you’ll get over the holidays, probably better.
Parts of me was dreading Disney World with three small children. But it was absolutely great. If I had to do it all again - I'd worry alot less. Well... if that was possible for me.