As brilliant as Walt Disney was, I bet he knew he had created a place on Earth where peace reigns forever and families have time to bond and relish each other. That was my week in Disney World.
We all have busy lives, but I believe working hard requires playing time, too, and that’s what I did with four of my grandchildren and my daughters. It was all I hoped for and more.
Just to watch the four children relish each other, hug and hold hands as they walked through Disney’s remarkable creation in Orlando was worth every minute and every dollar spent.
My late husband Stu and I bought a Starwood time share because my daughter Samantha had one. Over a decade, we had never used it at the same time, but this year the timing of February break for the four children was the same and we finally had the opportunity to use our time share together.
The Starwood Sheraton Vistana Village where we were staying is just 15 minutes from Disney World, where we parked our rented eight-passenger van in the massive lot and took a tram to the park’s entrance. The Disney World experience is broken up in different areas, each with its own parking lots. We began with the Animal Kingdom. Then, the next day, it was on to Epcot Center, then my favorite, the Magic Kingdom, leaving room for a return visit on the seven-day vacation.
My daughter Samantha is a superb planner and she made all our reservations to make sure each day at the massive parks would be enjoyed to the kids’ maximum energy, including celebrating Jonah’s seventh birthday, which was a unique, memorable one beginning with breakfast with the Disney characters.
To see the kids hug squishy, soft Pooh and march through the dining room holding hands with Snow White with smiles as wide as the full moon made my heart swell.
After breakfast at Animal Kingdom (because Jonah adores animals), we took a safari ride. We rode through a recreated African savannah where we saw lions, elephants, giraffes and Jonah’s favorite, massive hippos.
Since I had been on a “real” safari in South Africa, I was impressed with how Disney has created the savannah environment and protects the animals it cares for on its hundreds of acres.
The 22-minute ride was expedited because we used Disney’s Fast Pass program. Every ride has two lanes and with that pass you can reserve a time to see a ride with the shortest wait time. It enabled us to see more in our limited days at the remarkable parks.
From my comfort zone on the safari, the kids – but not me – were ready for Expedition Everest, a speeding train that goes through the Himalayan Mountains but is really a fancy roller coaster! They adored it and I took a break – watching the thousands of people, many dressed in costumes (adults and kids), many with creative Disney ears and T-shirts with all kinds of Disney characters. That was a show of a different kind: people-watching.
One of the highlights for me at Animal Kingdom was the 30-minute show inspired by “The Lion King.” I give it five stars! The pageantry, costumes, music and 10-foot-tall mechanical puppets were mesmerizing. What a treat!
The rides, the shows, the meals, all had to be coordinated – no small task. There are miles to walk and planning is key because it’s easy to walk around in circles and possibly miss parades, rides and multiple dining reservations.
In Disney’s infinite wisdom and, I’m sure, careful marketing research, the Fast Passes allowed us to go on shorter lines for rides that otherwise could require hours of waiting. The result is we did 10 rides in one day.
In Epcot Center, the next day, my favorite time was simply walking to 10 different “countries” to have the kids’ “passports” stamped, collect flags from each country and, for me, watching their faces as the fireworks exploded above us to glorious music at 9 p.m.
Then, we took a day “off” and spent it around the Village’s pool complete with a pirate ship where the cannons shot water off the boat!
The next day was at the Magic Kingdom, my all-time favorite place, and it all brought back memories of when I took my children to Disney decades ago and I fell in love with its magic. My absolute favorite ride is “It’s a Small World.” It was as good as I remembered, and now I was able to love it again with my grandchildren.
Being in Disney World is to feel complete happiness, from the friendly, welcoming staff to the brilliantly efficient operations, I reveled in the pure happiness everyone shared by being there.
We were all exhausted but the memories will linger on and be treasured forever.