Back when we were engaged, Joe and I made a marital bucket list of sorts. Although at the time we didn't think we wanted children, we wrote on the list -- alongside low-aiming goals such as "win a Pulitzer" and "stay in a yurt in Mongolia" -- that if we did have any, we would take them to "real places" and not to Disney World. Both of us had been to the Orlando theme parks as kids -- I had been many times over by the time I graduated from high school -- and had fond memories of it (well, mine were fonder than his), but in our newly betrothed bliss, I suppose we thought we were too exceptional for such things.
Also, we had minimal experience with children and evidently thought (if we thought about it at all, which we did not) that spending many thousands of dollars to fly across the Atlantic with a baby or toddler sounded vastly superior to a half-day's travel that would bring us to the doorstep of a place that is designed solely to cater to the whims of small children and their families.
In fairness, a few things that Joe in particular cannot stand include crowds, heat, and waiting. We get more than our share of those things on a daily basis in New York during the summer, so when we spend our limited time and money on travel, we do prefer to go places where we don't so much have to contend with at least a couple of those things. So in that sense, steering clear of the Happiest/Most Crowded Place on Earth did make some rational sense.
Nonetheless, the convergence of several factors, including the rare alignment of Felicity's and her cousins' spring breaks, led to our scheduling a trip there with my parents and my brother's family for Easter Week.
We approached the impending voyage with both excitement and trepidation. When we told Felicity that we were going there on vacation, she said, "Yay!...What is Disney World?" This was good for managing expectations; she had no idea at all what it would be like, and anything we ended up missing was of no consequence to her. In fact, before we told her that several princesses as well as Minnie Mouse resided at the Magic Kingdom, she would have been perfectly content to spend the week at the resort pool with her cousins, never the wiser.
One of the reasons I had never broached the Disney trip idea prior to this year was that I didn't think myself capable of handling all the necessary planning. I had heard tell of highly detailed message boards and graphs of data to inform one's park strategies -- to say nothing of the newfangled FastPass system -- all of which I found quite intimidating. Compared with going online and booking a room at a cushy beachside hotel in the span of five minutes, it seemed awfully labor-intensive.
Fortunately, my mom and brother had blazed this particular path just one year prior, when they took his kids over their February break for their inaugural visit to the Mouse. Combine that with my friend Allison's sage and highly experienced advice, and I felt confident in kicking back while other people did all the work. I highly recommend this method. (Now, having been through the drill once, I know that I could definitely handle it myself and I know what our priorities would be the next time around based on what we liked this time.)
Felicity, for her part, has seen Frozen, The Little Mermaid, and Tangled, as well as a few YouTube videos of Lion King songs. She knows most Disney characters by just living and breathing in the world, but she's not all that familiar with a lot of the stories behind them. This, it turns out, really doesn't matter. At least not to a five year old.
On the other hand, I will note that one of the reasons she hasn't seen most of the Disney movies is that many of them have parts that are way too intense for her (she got very scared by Ursula in Little Mermaid and by the evil mom in Tangled), and a surprising number of the rides/attractions also include some elements that I would consider at least moderately dark/scary for a child of her sensitivity level. Most of the time it was no big deal and passed quickly enough to avoid any permanent trauma, but we will probably not ever be going to the Haunted Mansion ever again. Oops. (Feints at trying to sell it as "silly" were met with cries of abject terror and pleas to "go home.")
Thanks be to It's a Small World for restoring our child's innocence.
So yes, it was hot as blazes and extremely crowded (one of the busiest times of the Disney year, natch), and sometimes we had to wait a while (though the FastPasses really are quite nifty AND I'd forgotten at how they make it seem like the line is always moving and/or have entertaining things along the way to keep everyone from devolving into complaining and recriminations). But man, we just had the BEST time.
And who had the best time of all of us? Joe. Of all people. To all you fence-sitters, if HE can have a good time at Disney, then everybody else in the world can, too, no matter how crowd-phobic you think they might be. (He particularly recommends the Enchanted Tiki Room, which we visited at least three times during just a day and a half at Magic Kingdom).
Well, I'm worn out from writing all of 1,000 words on this (so out of practice, y'all) so next time, I promise lots of details and photos. Spoiler alert: I cried at the Frozen Sing-a-Long. Hush, you. They made it SNOW at the end. It was MOVING. Fine, it was MAGICAL. (IT WAS.)