26 Nov 2008

So why do Disney World?

Why did we put ourselves though what I had a fair idea would be a difficult flight?

Here's why...
That makes sense, doesn't it!

If anyone's still not convinced, have a look at a few more:

See how excited Goofy is to meet my children! I bet that made his day.

He's such a handsome fella!

Look at that sky! After a two week long summer at home, we relished the perfect Florida weather.

This little guy was so happy. He absolutely loved the parks.

Lady loved the Pirate Pool at our hotel. She was a bit disappointed that we only went swimming once.

Duncan got so much enjoyment out of meeting the Disney characters.

I won't write a long, detailed report of our time in Florida. Well, I might do so later, but I'll give fair warning so people can skip those posts.

There are a few memories I want to share now though.

Before we left Ireland, I'd drawn up a detailed plan for the week, having researched the parks and working out what attractions were unmissable and what we could live without, as well as what would be suitable for the different tastes of various family members.

We all agreed that the holiday had to begin with a trip to the most famous park of all, the Magic Kingdom, which looked beautiful in the sunshine. Right away I went to the guest services desk to get a GAC (guest assistance card) for Duncan. He wanted to go straight to Toontown to watch the Barnstormer. After all, he'd been poring over the park maps for weeks and looking up all the rides on YouTube, so already knew what he wanted to do and see.

So going with me to get the GAC didn't sit well with his agenda and he was rather fussy as I approached the desk and told the nice lady what I wanted, reaching in to pull out some relevant documentation from my bag as I finished speaking. She immediately told me there was no need (to show her anything) and within a couple of minutes, she'd provided me with the card and a bit of red tape for the stroller, to show it should be treated at the attractions as a wheelchair. Result!

Over the week, the card was so useful, as was the ability to let Duncan sit in his stroller in the films and shows, and until he was just ready to board the rides. He was much more settled than he would have been.

The card allowed us to use Fast Pass entrances, or to queue away from the crowd, and always for a very short time. The longest we waited for any ride was about 15 minutes, for the excellent Toy Story Mania (amazing blend of high tech 3d and old skool pull-ball shoot-em-up with theming based on all the classic toys and games- one of the best) and that was only because there were 3 or so other groups with disabled people in front of us.

We went on every decent ride in each of the parks. Duncan's favourite was It's a Small World, and it's a testament to how much I love him, that I rode it 4 times with him.

He also loved the Carousel of Progress, a strange attraction for a boy his age to enjoy, being as it is, about the technological advances available to an American family at different points in the 20th and early 21st centuries. On one scene, there's a cuckoo clock on the wall, and it goes off, making the whole 30 minute, dialogue heavy show desirable to Duncan. Gordon proved his love of our son by taking him there 3 times.

Lady has developed a bit of a taste for the bigger thrill rides, and went on 2 of the bigger roller coasters, Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain. Thomas does not like coasters. He went on the kiddie coaster Barnstormer with me, and was utterly terrified. He asked me to give his opinion on my blog;
The scariest ride that I went on was Barnstormer. The least scary ride I went on was the Carousel. My favourite ride in the Pixar studios was Toy Story Mania.
That was from Thomas.
Duncan opted to just watch these things and loved it. After months of looking at the videos and recreating them as best he can on Roller Coaster Tycoon, as well as drawing them and setting his train tracks up to resemble them, he was once again in front of the real thing.

The staff were unfailingly delightful, smiling and helpful. We were always nice to them too of course, and very grateful for all their assistance. Once I was with the boys while Gordon spent some time with Lady. They were hungry so I took them to a cafe, ordered a couple of children's meals and tried to figure out how to bring them to a table while pushing Duncan. One of the staff offered to carry my tray, which helped so much.
We never encountered that kind of positive, generous attitude in Disneyland Paris.

We loved all of the parks for different reasons. We loved the lush Animal Kingdom, the gentler pace and staff who took the time to talk to the children and point out little trails and tasks they could do, the utterly gorgeous and beguiling effigy of Everest at one end of the park, and the musicians giving children a chance to bang their drums and have a go. Duncan told me his 2nd favourite ride was the safari bus. Gordon and I took turns to ride Expedition Everest. Just wow.

The Hollywood Studios park was bunged with folk there to see their favourite soap stars, an event which despite all my planning, I'd failed to notice clashed with our appointed day there. But it didn't matter, they were there for the (to us) unfamiliar celebrities, while we wanted rides and shows and our needs didn't clash. We watched the studio's spectacular Fantasmic evening show one evening. Duncan slept through the whole thing.

I'd love to go around Epcot without any children some time. There's so much to see and try there, if you can take your time and savour it all. But as it was, we all enjoyed the Test Track ride (fast, thrilling, just a bit too much for Thomas 2nd time around) and each of us but Duncan went on Mission Space (the easier option) which might be my favourite ride of all. It was especially good having watched the shuttle Endeavour launch just before.

Duncan was keen to go to Germany in the World Showcase section of Epcot, and kept talking about the cuckoo clocks he'd get to see there. I was worried that there wouldn't be any and he'd be disappointed, but he knew better than me.

The shop had a wall full of clocks and Duncan was in his element. He stood watching, enthralled for, oh, about five minutes and then the trouble started.

He wanted me to buy one of the clocks. These things started at about $200 and even if I was willing to spend that sort of money (I wasn't) they're not exactly the kind of thing you can throw in your backpack and carry around while touring a theme park. He started to kick off, so I had to take him out. I made up a story that Daddy bought the clock, and the lady in the shop put it in a box, took it to the post office, and sent it to Santa who will bring it to him for Christmas. Yes, I lied directly to my child.

(I have to get a deal on a cuckoo clock for Christmas now!)

He was not happy for a while after. I wrote out what I'd said and read it to him, letting him hold the paper. He just couldn't stop thinking about the clocks and wanting to go back to see them and to get one, but I couldn't let him do that. At least when we'd been in, the shop had only just opened so we were the only (potential) customers in it.

Again, we split up and I took Duncan ahead while Gordon took the others to watch a film about France (amazing and beautiful-Gordon, boring-Thomas). We ended up in the England bit, and guess what Duncan found in the toy shop- a load of Thomas the Tank stuff. He played for a while with the display train set and when he asked for a $14 wooden train, I complied and bought it, just to help take his mind off the clock. The man in the shop took the train to a back room to cut the packaging off for us, and Duncan tried to follow him. I found a toy policeman's hat, popped it on and said, "Stop in the name of Plod!" (It's a Noddy reference.) Duncan, either annoyed or mortified, gave me a look of disgust and said loudly, "I hate it when you do that!" prompting all the nice mums in the shop to look at me. As usual.

Just once I sort of forced Duncan to go on a ride when he didn't want to. In Soarin', you sit in a row, raised and suspended over a huge screen showing footage of California scenes from the air, and fans blow and you swoosh around giving the sensation that you're flying. He panicked when he saw the ride, thinking it was a coaster but I got him on it, knowing that he'd be fine when it started, and he really did love it, grinning and pulling his feet up when it seemed we were skimming the tops of a forest. As it ended, he said to himself (a quote from a film) "It was the best birthday ever!"

We went to out hotel pool one afternoon, and intended to go to the Blizzard Beach water park for a few hours one day, but it was just a wee bit too cool and windy for a few days, and then we were too caught up doing other stuff. Lady was disappointed by the omission, but didn't feel too bad since we were still having fun in other ways.

We bought lots of take-aways in the evenings and ate in the apartment as we don't do restaurants with our family, not yet anyway. We ate at a few of the park counter service places, but usually in 2 sittings so someone was able to keep Duncan busy while the other ate. A few places sold these huge smoked turkey kegs, very Friar Tuck. We liked those, even Duncan managed to gnaw on one for a bit, and since he mostly ate chips (fries) ice-cream and candy floss, his ingestion of a bit of protein pleased me greatly.

On our last evening, we went again to the Magic Kingdom to watch the fireworks. We were just in time to see the night time parade, with the cast and floats all lit up and looking so pretty. I pushed Duncan in his stroller to a small gap along the route, but he pushed the woman standing slightly in front of him, right on her bum. Oops! I apologised instantly, and catching sight of his badge, she laughed and said, "oh my son's autistic too!"

The fireworks were wonderful, but the boys had both had enough after about 10 minutes, so we walked back towards the park exit, looking around every so often to see the show. We made it to the exit just as it all ended and were able to get on the monorail (we loved this) to the car park right away before the crowds.

So, this seems to be a good type of holiday for us. Duncan enjoyed keeping a map in his hand at each park and knew what he wanted to see and do. Coming home, I was already thinking about what we could do for our next holiday, whenever that will be. Top contenders now are Legoland Windsor (and seeing our friends in London, brace yourselves) and Drayton Manor Park in the Midlands; it's even got a Thomas Land!


Anonymous said...

Gosh Sharon, you did so much in a short time! It sounds amazing and mostly fun for all.

We went to legoland Denmark when Elly was nine. We all loved it.

Anonymous said...

We are probably going to go to Drayton Manor next year as we live fairly close (in Shropshire).

Anonymous said...

Just hearing you describe all the parks makes me want to go back again. The safari bus in Animal Kingdom was fab, I totally agree with Duncan. It sounds like you all had a fantastic time, and seeing the shuttle launch is something you will always treasure. I also saw one when I was there and will never forget it.
Can't wait to catch up! Miche

Anonymous said...


If this was the "short" version of what happened, I can hardly wait to read the full version! ;-)

Seriously, we went to WDW last summer and had the most incredible time. Like you, our first stop was at Guest Services for the GAC. Made the whole week that much better.

Zeke rediscovered his love of roller coasters and all things fast and "scary". I lost count of how many times we went to the Test Track. We rode Space Mountain 4 times in a period of about 1/2 hour. And we did the Mountain Slam at the Magic Kingdom: Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain. And we can't forget MISSION: SPACE. After a go on the "green" mission, Zeke's response was, "That wasn't so scary; ORANGE mission here we come." An incredible trip.

I just wish we could go back every 6 months or so.

Manuel said...

Glad you guys had a great time.....I made it into the Disney shop today for the first time ever......far too peppy by have but got stuff for my nephew so that was cool.....

Sharon McDaid said...

@ Grannymar, we did manage to do and see so much, even though we took long breaks at "home" most days, or went in the mornings only. Plenty of Disney free down time helped keep the energy levels high.

@ Bullet, let me know how that goes. I can't remember if your boys are big Thomas fans too (I expect yes!)

@ Miche, I can see why you'd want to go back. The Disney experience seems to include some sort of insidious mind control making you want mooooore.

@ Brett, I kind of got carried away with that post. I really intended to keep it short but I kept remembering things and putting them down! I doubt that there's much more to say now.

Glad to here your family enjoyed yourselves there too. Go Zeke with his coaster-riding, thrill-seeking! I was too chicken to try the scary version of Space Mountain, in case I wouldn't be able to perform my parenting duties if it made me sick. But if I'm even there sans kids, hell yes!

@ Manuel, thanks, it was brilliant. A whole lot less cultured than your recent holiday! Orlando is totally mad looking and tacky (at least the bits I saw). Elegant Paris it isn't.

I've only shopped at the Disney Store when they've a sale on. Being a tight wad (when it comes to toys and clothes, but not the really important things like food) I prefer to buy dressing up and Disney merchandise at somewhere cheaper like Woolworths (RIP). And did you see all the Disney branded items for adults? Imagine wearing Winnie the Pooh pyjamas at 37!

kristina said...

I feel like I was there----Small World was my favorite ride when I was a child (we went to Disneyland in southern California). We've yet to take Charlie to the "magic kingdom"---your travels are inspiring and what a perfect ending.

Manuel said...

imagine? what do you think I'm wearing right now bwahahahaha......joke........I promise....

Anonymous said...

I think I'm in the correct comment page this time. Sigh.

I really enjoyed reading your story. Thanks so much for sharing it.

We visited DW 7 years ago when the children were 8 and 11. Like you, I did lots of prep with park maps and made the most of the time in each park.

We had 4 very enjoyable days but then found ourselves in the Orlando airport on the morning of Sept 11, 2001. Just to explain my prior concerns about flying....we do not seem to need to worry so much now.

I will be happy to read any more reports from your excursions in Florida.

Sharon McDaid said...

Kristina, I like Small World even after so many goes. The message of all the world's children playing together may not be subtle, but it's cute. The Orlando version last much longer than the Paris one though!

I'd have been hugely jealous of you as a child. I dreamed of going to Disneyland, but it was as remote and unattainable as a trip to the moon.

Do you think Charlie would enjoy it, or will he stick to his surfer dude pursuits?

@Manuel, yeah right! So what cartoon character is preferred on novelty underwear for the waiter in one's life? Moe? The Swedish chef?

@Barbara, thanks.
I'm glad you enjoyed a holiday at WDW too, and can only imagine the horror and chaos that must have ensued in an airport on that awful morning.