Tuesday, April 8, 2014

First Visit! My Trip To Disney World

CHAPTER 1, Meeting the Princesses
Yes, I am a middle-aged parent and I just took my first trip to a Disney resort (Disney World, to be exact). I’ve always been a bit intimidated by the sheer size of the resort, but a motivator to take the plunge was that my own little girl is in what I’d describe as her “Disney princess sweet spot,” which is a nice way of saying she’s obsessed. Since she’s been old enough to care about Halloween, she’s portrayed (in order) Aurora from Sleeping Beauty; Merida from Brave; and Ariel from The Little Mermaid; and if she could portray two princesses at once, she would. (Note to self: new product line?) At age five, she is old enough to appreciate and participate in nearly all the fun and activities an amusement park offers. So we took our trip. And simply put, anyone in search of all things princess will find heaven itself at Disney World. The princesses “themselves” will meet, greet, dine with, sign autographs for, and pose with any park-goer who asks. And the princesses do not disappoint. They are beautiful, lovely, gracious, kind, and patient; the perfect embodiments of animated characters “magically” brought to life. There’s no eye rolling, winking at the camera, irony or even fatigue here. These princesses take their roles as seriously as their fans do, which is saying a lot.

I appreciated that during a meet-and-greet, there was no rushing the kids through the line. Not to get off topic here, but I remember accompanying a younger cousin who wanted to meet Santa at a major department store. We waited in a very long, tiresome line; then met a rather exhausted Santa who barked, “You want a picture?” by which he meant did she want to pay for a photo with Santa. I still remember the look of disappointment bordering on disgust on my cousin’s face. I’m happy to report that there were no such sloppy, tired cast members at Disney World. Just the opposite: this crew was among the most dedicated I’ve ever encountered in virtually any theatrical experience. You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate the magic; and as an adult, I can only admire their dedication to their craft and their sense of ownership in ensuring that the kids have a great experience. Obviously, the expectation of excellence comes part-and-parcel with the management-employee contract here, as the quality level was superior across the board. And at the end of the day, anyone who treats my kid this well is more than okay in my books.

My daughter's admiration for Elsa
from Frozen is pretty clear.
Lucky for me, my cousin is a Glass Slipper Concierge. That’s a person who knows all the parks inside and out and has undergone special training to help people plan the perfect Disney experience. And boy, did she. It helps to work with someone (cousin or not) who has experienced all that the parks offer and can help you make informed choices, as there are so many choices at any given moment, there’s always the fear that you’re missing the “must” ride, show, or meet-and-greet. Plus, if you’re like me (read: intimidated), a concierge can help you make sure you get what you want from your trip. You can actually contact my cousin (Mary) directly at mbs5021@gmail.com and she will help you plan the perfect Disney vacation.

We met Aurora from Sleeping Beauty
at a wonderful princess luncheon
hosted by Belle.
In our case, that meant helping us decide what to “Fast Pass”; that’s the Disney method for reserving popular attractions to avoid time waiting in line. And on a crowded day, those wait times can add up. Forty-five minutes here, forty-five minutes there, and your day of fun can slip through your fingers. As it stands, park-goers can reserve up to three attractions per day. A concierge can steer you in the right direction so that you don’t waste a Fast Pass on an attraction that doesn’t get long wait times (such as rides that are constantly moving like the “It’s a Small World After All” ride). And they’ll steer you to experiences that will enhance your goal. Who knew that the Peter Pan Ride is always crowded and therefore worth a Fast Pass? Not me. But my concierge knew. Worth it? Totally. Also worth noting is that often, the lines themselves are filled with visual interest and hints of things to come on the rides themselves, not to mention the happiest, most “up” customers I’ve ever seen. This ain’t the line at the D.M.V. My favorite “line” moment? A family played a lively game of charades aided by the smart phone app, “Heads Up.” I immediately downloaded the app myself and it’s awesome.

What do you wear to meet Rapunzel
from Tangled? It's obvious.
For my family, meeting princesses was our theme, so we had plenty of reservations that involved special interactions with princesses, like the popular “Storytime with Belle” (from Beauty and the Beast) and “Meeting Ariel in her Grotto” (from The Little Mermaid.) Some princess events can’t be reserved as I write, like the extremely popular meet-and-greet with the stars of Frozen, Elsa and Anna. That’s when advice from a Disney expert can really pay off. Currently, the place to meet Elsa and Anna is at Epcot Center in the Norway exhibition. The savvy park-goer lines up a bit before the park opens; then a member of your party (that would be me) sprints for the Ann-Elsa line. While my husband, daughter, and cousins had breakfast, I held the place in line for just over an hour. And that was the longest line-wait of our trip. And then: magic. It’s hard to describe the sheer thrill in the life of a little girl as she meets a princess she JUST saw at the movies. Rumor has it that you’ll soon be able to meet Anna and Elsa in The Magic Kingdom, but as I write, Epcot is still the only place where they appear.

Snow White likes warm hugs as
much as Olaf.
There are similar meet-and-greets scheduled throughout the day and a great way to keep organized is through the app “My Disney Experience” where you can actually track characters appearing at all four parks. You’ll get their schedules and meeting places. Then you wait your turn; you meet your princess. This is how we met Tiana from The Princess and the Frog and Jasmine from Aladin as well as Dug and Russell from my favorite film, Up. If you’re on the lookout for a particular character, it helps to know there’s a method to the organization of appearances as Disney tries to make a strong connection between the character and their location. For instance, Dug and Russell only appear at the Animal Kingdom Park where they’re associated with their own version of the Wilderness Explorer’s Club. Animal Kingdom is also the only park where you can meet Pocahontas. Want to meet Mulan? You’ll find her in China at Epcot Center. And while you can meet many princesses at The Magic Kingdom, you may also run into a princess in her “country” at Epcot. You can find Aurora or Belle in France and Snow White at the wishing well in Germany. You’ll find Jasmine in Morocco, Alice and Mary Poppins in the United Kingdom, and I already mentioned that Anna and Elsa can be found in Norway. Makes sense, right?

Meeting Anastasia from Cinderella
was a high point.
But my favorite place to meet a princess has got to be at the special princess meals. (You can choose breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner.) As you and your family enjoy a meal, a number of characters (generally four) circulate the room, talk with patrons, sign autographs, pose for photos, and enjoy quality time with the kids. At a princess lunch at Epcot hosted by Belle, we met Snow White, Aurora, and Ariel. And my favorite: at a Cinderella-themed dinner at the Disney resort The Grand Floridian, we met Cinderella, Prince Charming, Fairy Godmother, and sisters Anastasia and Drizella (who were hilarious; a real high-point of the trip.) What I love about these events is that when you’re not con-fabbing with royalty, you’re enjoying your family and meeting a few new friends to boot.

Did I mention that there’s a tradition where kids dress up as their favorite characters on a daily basis at every park? It’s adorable. Dressing up at Disney is for kids only (except at Halloween). I suppose the park doesn’t want any confusion with an unofficial, grown-up Cinderella walking about; but I did see one clever young woman who did her own version of a Snow White costume: bright blue t-shirt, yellow clam-diggers, bright red sneakers, and a red head band. Yes—the love of the princesses runs deep at Disney, and if you bring your princess-lover to Disney World, nobody will be disappointed. This is the place to revel in the fun and fantasy of being a princess. And in a country with no actual aristocracy, it’s all good, clean fun.

Merida from Brave rides a giant bagpipe in the
Festival of Fantasy parade.
Another new and frankly astounding way to enjoy the princess experience is the “Festival of Fantasy” parade in The Magic Kingdom, presented every day at 3 p.m. Each princess is given her own float, with Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Alice, and Mickey’s crew thrown in for good measure. It’s outrageously over-the-top. Want to see Princess Merida from Brave riding a giant bag-pipe? You got it. How about Rapunzel from Tangled riding a float that’s a tribute to The Snuggly Duckling Tavern interpreted as giant swinging weapons? You got it. You’ll spy Eugene/Flynn Rider swinging on one of the axes. There’s Ariel in a giant clam shell. And you won’t want to miss the sight of the giant steam-punk-inspired mechanical dragon, a.k.a. Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. (Should we just start calling the dragon Angelina right now?) She even spits fire. With this parade, you’re seeing Disney in a nutshell: it’s the place where designers dream big and those dreams come to life in all their extravagant glory. It’s impossible to be cynical when everything is so well realized.

In my next installment I’ll look at something Disney World does very well: move people from place to place. Stay tuned!


  1. it is a magical place, and I'm so glad you got to see it though a five-year-old's eyes. We waited a bit too long to go and our kids totally rolled their eyes as I made them pose in front of Minnie's house. They were 9 and 11 and clearly past Minnie & Mickey. But they LOVED the rides and exploring. Our son proposed to his fiancée in front of Cinderella's palace. It was a great day and of course every single MK employee congratulated them on their engagement {Disney cleverly supplies them with "just engaged" buttons}. It was a magical day! Thanks for sharing your experiences. It is truly a wonderful magical experience!

    1. No eye rolling from Julia. Just wide eyes from start to finish. She loved it. We did, too!

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