I was somewhat quiet in the social media world last week, and with good reason. After months of planning, saving and waiting, we packed up the kids and drove to Florida so our daughters could have their first experience at Walt Disney World.
It was the first time we’ve been on a week-long vacation as a family, and the first full week of vacation I’ve had in nine years. Aaron and I had spent a day of our honeymoon at the Magic Kingdom, then for our one year anniversary we spent a week at the Disney World Resorts. The second trip wasn’t quite as much fun as we expected because I was newly pregnant with Cordy at the time, and spent the entire trip with morning sickness (24/7 sickness, really). I was unable to eat anything and generally had no energy to do much.
Back then we had dreamed of coming back to Disney for our 10th anniversary, and bringing any children we had with us. So last year, around our 9th anniversary, we discussed it and decided we’d try to make it a reality for 2013. Our anniversary is in March, but the pitfalls of getting married during spring break is that you can’t travel anywhere warm for anniversary trips without crowds and higher vacation fees. But the end of February was close enough.
This time we stayed at Port Orleans – Riverside in one of their new Royal rooms.
The rooms are decorated as if Princess Tiana had made the room up for the other Disney Princesses, including a note on the table welcoming her royal friends to stay with her. There are hidden elements of all of the princesses in the room, from Cinderella’s mice and Aurora’s three fairies in the border along the top of the walls, to Ariel’s fork and pipe (dinglehopper & snarfblat) in the shower curtain design, and even the sink faucets looked like the genie’s lamp from Aladdin.
The cool part was the hidden surprise in the bed headboards. Pressing a button gave us a magical fireworks lightshow in the headboard – it’s no surprise that the kids wanted to press the button several times every day.
We visited all four parks while we were there, with two days spent in Magic Kingdom. Seeing the dropped-jaw looks of amazement from our daughters as they saw Cinderella’s Castle for the first time and met their first characters made tears come to my eyes. To them, this was a dream come true.
The rides were also a hit for all of us. Thanks to a special card we got for Cordy (more on that in the next post), it was possible to ride every ride we wanted to without Cordy having an anxiety attack from standing in a long, tightly-packed line.
There were a few rides Cordy refused to ride, and a few that we coaxed her onto and then she refused to ride again. Cordy’s experience of Disney World was mostly what we expected it to be: she didn’t want to leave home, then she was anxious about every new experience once we were there and didn’t want to leave the hotel room each day, and then at the end she didn’t want to leave Disney. “I don’t want to…” was most often heard from her during the entire trip, but we expected this.
Because of her autism, she’s an awful grump about doing anything new, which means she complains and whines throughout the entire experience, then tells us later that she liked (most of) it. It’s a good thing we have some understanding of how her brain works and know how to compensate, or otherwise we would have felt like this was a horrible trip for her. She did have a few moments where she felt safe with a new experience and really enjoyed herself. And of course we went back to the rides she liked as much as we could so she could really enjoy them the second time, now that she knew what to expect.
Mira, on the other hand, threw herself fully into Disney with the force of a five-year-old typhoon. She was determined to see and do it all, and even if her feet hurt she wouldn’t complain for fear of leaving the park early. She had an agenda of what she wanted to accomplish, including rides she wanted to go on and characters she wanted to meet. Other than riding Space Mountain (which we convinced her was probably too intense for her) she checked off everything on her list and then some. As we rode the bus back to the resort each night, she usually leaned against me and fell asleep fast.
Whenever anyone asked her what her favorite part of Disney was so far, she always replied, “Everything!!” And I’m fairly certain she meant it, two exclamation points included. She loved everything about Disney World. Even if she did figure out that the characters were people in costumes. When we met Cinderella at the Magic Kingdom on Thursday, I joked that we’d see her in less than an hour in her castle for dinner. Mira gave me the “are you serious?” look and said, “Or maybe it’ll just be another Cinderella.”
During the fireworks, Tinkerbell flew out of the top of the castle directly over us. I pointed to her and said to the kids, “Look! Tink is flying past us!” and Mira then responded, “I think she’s really using a zipline.” Despite her clever mind, Mira was still willing to put aside her rational thoughts to fully enjoy each character meeting, though.
As for Aaron and I, it was fun to experience Disney as parents. I went to Disney as a child, and we went together before we had kids, but this was our first trip seeing it through their eyes. It was definitely more exhausting, and we were at the mercy of their wake up times and energy levels, but it was still a fantastic experience.
My mom and aunt were also along on the trip (they stayed off-site and spent most of the week seeing other places in Orlando) and they watched the kids for us for two evenings so we could have a nice dinner and spend some time riding rides together without the kids. It was a good balance of time with and without the kids.
We topped off the trip on our last night there with dinner in Cinderella’s Castle with the princesses. What better way to end our vacation than by seeing the inside of the castle and visiting with the princesses one last time? I had my own surprise for everyone, too. In the weeks before our vacation, I had secretly ordered a custom cake to be delivered at dinner that night.
It was gluten-free for Aaron, with a design that was reminiscent of our wedding cake and a flavor that matched one of the tiers of our wedding cake. It was so gorgeous no one wanted to cut into it! A tenth anniversary cake in the castle at Disney World – perfect end to the week, no?
The morning that we started for home, there were tears from all of us. No one wanted to leave. Before we had even left our resort, Mira had already started asking when we could come back again. We agreed we didn’t want to wait another ten years to come back, and that maybe we could begin slowly setting money aside for a repeat trip in a few years. (Once we finish paying off this one!)
I know there are many people who are cynical about Disney, but I can’t help getting caught up in the magic. Yes, it’s all designed to get you to spend money, but I never feel cheated in handing it over. It always feels like we got our money’s worth and then some. Disney works very hard at providing a unique experience that goes above and beyond any standard theme park, and for us they were completely successful.
It was a magical vacation.
More to come on what attractions we liked best and recommendations if you’re planning your own trip. I wish Disney had invited me to write about our trip, but this wasn’t sponsored at all, as my Visa card can attest. We really love Disney that much.