It's been over a week since we stepped foot on Magic Kingdom's perfectly manicured lawns and my mind is still blown with the wonder of it all. It was not only Cruz's first time to Disney, but mine as well, and I had no idea what to expect. I grew up watching and loving Disney movies as much as any other child and that castle with fireworks displayed minutes before the movie was about to start was a mere fantasy to me. Experiencing Walt's world for the first time through the eyes of my three year old was special and a bit surreal. I'm not sure which of us was more overwhelmed by it all!
I'm not sure there is another place on earth like it. You literally step into an alternate world, a world where modesty and practicality go out the window. From the perfectly cut shrubs in the shape of Mickey and Minnie, the underground tunnel system that transports trash so it is not visible to guests, and the multi-million dollar firework shows that light up the sky every single night, I was completely blown away with the spectacle of it all. So much of it can only be explained as magical --- the opening chant from the Lion King's Circle of Life (you know, the ingonyama bagithi baba) playing in the background of our safari car as a family of giraffes slowly parade just feet in front of us, or the series of single fireworks that resemble shooting stars that light up the night sky as "when you wish upon a star" plays around us, or the fake snow that filled the night sky on Hollywood Blvd. as millions of people sing "Let It Go" with Anna, Elsa, and of course, Olaf. These are those moments where you feel like a kid again, eyes big as saucers and responses limited to a series of "holy cows" and "you are kiddings". It was unbelievable.
I laugh, though, because just as this place can only be described as a place fit for your most magical dreams, it can also fall somewhere in your 'worst nightmare' category at times, sometimes within minutes of each other! Deny it as much as you want, but anyone who has been to Disney with kids knows exactly what I'm talking about! At one point, Beau saw a father grabbing his crying kid by the arm, saying something along the lines of, "Get over here, damn it! You gon' enjoy this damn park!" and we felt this sort of summed it all up quite well! Did you know Magic Kingdom alone averages 70,000 visitors a day? That's 70,000 people who have spent $100 a ticket, bound and determined to soak up every drop of what this park has to offer, whether it means standing in line for hours to ride a five minute ride, or take a picture with Mr. Incredible, or buy an $8 Mickey shaped ice cream cone that will melt in the 100 degree heat before your little nap-deprived child can even get their sticky hand on it. You are hot, you are sweaty, and you find yourself packed like sardines with other hot and sweaty people as you attempt to experience a mere pin drop of everything this place has to offer. And you can go into it with no plan, no expectations, but then you will most likely miss out on the saving grace that is fast pass - a beautiful little thing that I learned to take utmost advantage of during our time at Disney. This place is magical, don't get me wrong, but at times it scratches the surface of magical as in I now know what it feels like to trip on acid. (**Cue the It's a Small World music on repeat as you float amidst hundreds of wooden dolls that are otherwise hanging from the ceiling at Rudy's Tacos, staring, singing, and lulling you into the Twilight Zone as you float into a strange abyss...)
All humor aside, we had a wonderful time at Disney World and I will never forget Cruz's expression as he scored Buzz Lightyear's autograph, saw Mickey for the first time, or sat on his very first ride (Peter Pan's Flight). I'm already dreaming about Mila's first trip to this place, one that I'm sure will involve a visit to the Bippity Boppity Boutique and Cinderella's castle. No matter what age you are, this place has a little magic for anyone and it was so fun to watch Cruz take it all in and see what he was most excited about.
And because there's no way I can possibly recount everything we saw and experienced in this magical little world of wonder and fantasy, I'm going to share our top ten favorite moments from our trip to Florida, along with hundreds of pictures and a few tips we learned along the way.
10. Downtown Disney - we flew into Orlando mid afternoon on Monday and decided to check out Downtown Disney for the night. This place, unlike the four Disney parks, is free! It's basically a big long boardwalk with Disney-inspired shops, restaurants, and things to do - a huge bowling alley, a dinner-and-a-movie theater, House of Blues, and a 12-room Disney store that I could have spent all night in. I bought my souvenirs here so I wouldn't have to lug them around the park, we made our custom Lego family at the Lego Store, and we ate dinner at T-Rex, a huge restaurant with life-size dinosaurs and a meteor shower every fifteen minutes.
9. Dinner at the drive-in - on our last night at Disney, I made dinner reservations at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater restaurant at Hollywood Studios. The 1950s inspired waitress led us down a dark hallway and through a set of doors into what looked like a large parking lot under the stars, packed with convertible cars transformed into tables, all parked in front of a large movie screen playing vignettes of old movies. We ordered chocolate shakes and burgers from the "Snack Bar," and enjoyed this (air-conditioned) step back in time as we rested our tired feet and enjoyed the quiet hum of the movie screen. I felt like we were on the set of Grease or The Outsiders and the food was the best we had all week. Especially the onion rings.
8. Meeting the characters - Cruz doesn't get too worked up or excited about much and I wasn't sure how he would react to seeing or meeting some of the familiar faces from his favorite movies. But after catching a glimpse of none other than Buzz Lightyear after riding one of our favorite Buzz Lightyear Laser Spin rides, Cruz's mind was blown. He stared in awe at him and when it was his turn to meet him, he shyly handed Buzz his autograph book, then gave him a bear hug even Beau and I were jealous of! We loved filling our autograph book with characters and I was impressed with how sweet they were to their little fans. Cruz was quite smitten with Minnie and Jake the Pirate was our favorite. He playfully tousled Cruz's hair and drew a little sword under his name for him.
7. Magic Kingdom at night - the colors and details of this place are amazing during the day, but nothing compares to how Magic Kingdom looks at night. About 7:00 every night, Main Street begins to fill with people and every storefront is completely lined with bulbs. You have the Town Hall on one end and Cinderella's castle on the other, illuminated with that famous blue. There are people walking around with balloon bouquets that compete with Carl and Russell's and there is a collective sense of anticipation as the night falls and Disney lights up. It was rainy the night we were there, but it was all a little romantic as we dodged in and out of coffee shops and candy shops, bought Cruz silly laser lights, and awaited the firework show. And those fireworks? They deserve a post of their own.
6. the rides - we had the most fun at Magic Kingdom pretending we were kids again and piling into the teacups and Peter Pan's bed, Aladdin's magic carpet and even that silly boat on It's a Small World. If you ask Cruz what his favorite part of Disney was, he'll tell you the roller coaster, by far the most intimidating ride we rode on (although nothing is too intimidating at MK). The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Buzz Lightyear's Space Spin were our favorites at MK, and Toy Story Mania is worth a trip to Hollywood Studios in itself. Cruz was a little terrified of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, HATED the Lilo and Stitch ride, but loved flying high on Peter Pan's Flight and driving the race car at Tomorrowland's Speedway. Every ride was done well, telling a story of a particular movie or character. I loved that the set of Toy Story Mania looked like Andy's room, and I appreciated the witty commentary from our Jungle Cruise captain. Every ride was its own little experience and it was fun to be able to cram in the seats together and watch Cruz soak it all in.
To be continued...:)