There’s a place on this Earth where reality fails, excitement is on tap, and prices are only limited by your imagination. Walt Disney’s Disney World creation is the most spectacular piece of manufactured tourism in the world. It’s also one of the only places that truly caters to the whole family, thereby nailing such a broad audience that it’s pure marketing genius. It would make even Microsoft proud.
We took a vacation to Orlando recently courtesy Amy’s parents. It was their pleasure, and gift, to get Balthazar down to see the big Disney castle. We stayed on the grounds at Port Orleans – Riverside, which was a sort of “turn of the century” styled shipwright and ferry yard. At 2,048 rooms total, it was one of the largest resort complexes Disney has to offer. Riverside is a short walk from the French Quarter, the other side of Port Orleans resort. The rooms were nice enough. Nothing immaculate, and they’re all pretty small. However, it was perfectly adequate for a family of three and we did little more than sleep there anyway. On location was a restaurant set to the tune of an old shipwright. There’s a boat skeleton suspended overhead, tools on the walls, and framed blueprints for classic paddle boats. The food was decent, but the price was disproportionate. At Disney, you pay a premium for the atmosphere. That’s an understanding you must carry with you at all times throughout an adventure at this famous vacation spot.
At four years old, Balthazar was just at an appropriate age to introduce him to Disney World. He was sold at the site of Disney’s magic castle right as you turn the street onto Main Street as you work your way between turn-of-the-century styled shopping stores. We could have gone home then having captured his awe in one single visual blow. What I learned (quickly) about young children at a park this size is that it’s way more than they can grasp. The magnificence of the place was lost to someone so small and focused on the now. I first noticed it at a playground near our resort in Port Orleans. He was so excited to see this awesome playground – he could have spent the whole day there. Since the time we told him just two days before we set out on our journey to Disney World, he had been excited at the prospect without fully understanding what it was. Now as we walked around the resort and settled into our new surroundings, he began associating all the sites with Disney World. The playground became the most exciting thing to do (until we came upon the resort-class swimming pool) and was so the object of the trip. No amount of explanation of what awaited could pull him away from the now. It happened again when we went swimming in the pool. This was truly a first for Balthazar. Swimming is something he’s only had experience with in the lake near our house. This new adventure became more important than the playground and replaced the association with what Disney World was. So after days of new experiences, each bigger than the one before, I imagine his mind had trouble grasping the hugeness of what he was in. Regardless of his comprehension, he had a really good time! He has tried out lots of new experiences and I’m very proud of him for that. He was actually really good on the trip despite the stressful and anxious situations he was dropped into. He rode a roller coaster – a mistake on his account, but one that he decided to take on. Needless to say, he didn’t speak much on it afterwards. The simple explanation was “it made my tummy sick.” I can tell those of you who are planning a similar trip that the other parks (MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom, etc.) don’t match up well to the younger children like the Magic Kingdom. It was, by far, his favorite. He liked some individual things at the other parks, but we always went back to the Magic Kingdom to do the Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, and Aladdin’s Flying Carpet rides in the end. He also really dug the fireworks display at Magic Kingdom, but so did we! Disney really knows how to put on a show – seriously some of the best fireworks displays I’ve ever seen.
As for the adults, well we had a really great time too! The excitement, Florida sunshine, and abundance of walking rendered all of us napping around midday everyday. It turns out, the very best times to hit the parks are right at opening and later in the evening before closing. Most people are suckers and stay throughout the day, which has them leaving the park before dark with exhaustion. Lines are shorter, the evenings are cooler, and you catch the closing ceremonies, which are always amazing. I can’t imagine the people that do this sort of thing every year, but I did enjoy it well enough to make it a point to visit again when Balthazar is older. There truly is something for everyone at the magical kingdom of Walt Disney World.
- Stay at a resort: driving is troublesome, costly, and the resorts offer free transportation to everything Disney.
- Visit parks at their opening, go eat lunch, nap, swim, and come back around 6 or 7:00pm for dinner. You’ll avoid the midday Florida sun and longer lines.
- Create an itinerary. The parks have mismatched opening and closing times; some parks open earlier or stay open later on certain days. Also look at their special events. If you aren’t that interested in the event, avoid the park for that day!
- Watch the Disney-sponsored television in your hotel at least once at the beginning of your trip. It gives you great insight into the things to see at each park.
- Eat at Pleasure Island. Pleasure Island hosts many restaurants, fun atmosphere, and more proportionate prices than the much-hyped counterparts within the parks.
- Expect to pay a lot for food and dine accordingly. There is no real option for snacks within the park; 5 adults and a 4-year-old will run you upwards of $50-60 and get you more food than you probably expected. Breakfast will be $50.00 at a minimum, lunch around $80.00, and dinner around $150.00 before liquor. $200.00 a day for a family’s eating budget would be conservative, but probably doable.
- Stay for fireworks at the Magic Kingdom at least once – watch them from the Flying Dumbo ride location.
- Put your kid(s) in the “Talk with Crush the Turtle” experience at Epcot.
- Internet access in your hotel will cost you $10.00/24-hour period, but you can hit some Disney sites for free.
- If you have a 4-year-old, take the stroller rental option rather than brining along your own (or choosing to carry him). It’s $10.00/day (one pass works for all parks) and worth every penny in convenience.
- Try not to buy toys…they’re mostly all Jackson killers.
The Polynesian Resort has some really great food. It’s worth the money.
- Birds will take your food.
- Bring good walking shoes (surely you know this)!
- Coffee sucks at Disney World. The best I had was at Kona, (one of) the Polynesian Resort’s restaurants. It’s a blend of Kona and dirty water. At Tony’s, I added a shot of espresso to a cup of coffee for some boldness – it worked, but at great cost.
And oh yeah – I shouldn’t have to tell you people this, but please be a little considerate to your fellow humans! I can’t tell you how many Disney tourists are real asshats.