One day in the not so distant future, my husband and I will pack our belongings and move to Walt Disney World. No, seriously. It is our favorite place in the world for many reasons. Have your moment for capitalist woes, if you must, but Disney knows how to create a magical experience for guests. Everything is clean; everyone is happy. It is an entire world devoted to the importance of creativity, dreaming, progress, the list goes on. We are both literature people, with degrees in English, and we love a good story, Disney’s business.
I have been to Disney world 4 times now. The first time, my now husband and I got engaged in front of the castle.
The second time, we “Disneymooned.”
Then, this past year, we were fortunate enough to go twice (Thanksgiving and Christmas) with our family to visit my sister-in-law, who is currently a Disney castmember.
Our family, on my husband’s side, is where all of this Disney obsession originated. His dad and step-mom vacationed at Walt Disney World and fell in love with all things Disney. When you go to their home, even the spoons have Mickeys on them! They run a website with Disney updates (diswhiz.com). They might as well begin a lucrative career as Disney vacation planners. Nonetheless, I was destined (doomed?) to become a Disney fan.
What I was not prepared for, however, was Disney Depression; it’s a real thing. Most days, there are moments throughout the day where I’ll think of a specific place or activity in Disney World and lament that I am not, in fact, there.
Here are a few aspects that make a Disney Vacation so memorable:
Seeing the castle
There is nothing like first spotting the castle from the end of Mainstreet U.S.A. I’ll never forget the feeling of my initial excitement. I saw the tip of the castle as we pulled into the park on the resort shuttle during our first trip and exclaimed “I see it!” in a childlike voice. This moment has now become something my husband and I quote frequently. Each trip, I get that same feeling when I first spot the castle; I’m home. My husband and I always head straight for the bridge to Frontierland, where we got engaged. It’s a picturesque view, and it transports me back in time. We love it so much, we had to get our very own castle on our last trip to take home with us; it’s displayed in our office.
On our first two trips, we bought a meal plan, which allowed us two sit down meals, one counter service, and a snack per day. It was wonderful because Disney food is so delicious. We got creative when planning out where to spend our meal tickets because some of the more fancy meals are worth two sit downs instead of just one. We have yet to try all of our desired dining locations, but, so far, these are my favorites:
Ohana is a restaurant located in Disney’s Polynesian Resort. I have never eaten dinner there, although I’ve heard it is great as well. We always go for breakfast, and it is my favorite breakfast location. While you’re eating and drinking freshly-squeezed juice, Stitch and friends stop by your table for a quick photo-op.
Akershus is located in the world showcase of Epcot, in Norway. If you have breakfast here, you actually get into the park a little early. When we first ate at Akershus, my husband was not very excited because all that he saw was a buffet of strange breakfast choices, like smoked salmon and other fish. Luckily for him, they came by with a more typical breakfast shortly thereafter, and it was delicious. Akershus is a princess breakfast, so the Disney princesses stop by for photos while you’re eating. Last time we were there, a young girl was dressed like Jasmine at her table. Unless attending Mickey’s not so scary Halloween Party, you aren’t allowed to wear costumes over a certain age. This girl must have been right at the cusp because she looked older, and little girls kept approaching her for pictures, believing she was Jasmine.
Disney’s 50s primetime cafe
I’ve always been a fan of the 50s. I love the look, the music, the fashion, everything. It came as no surprise exactly how much I loved 50s Primetime Cafe, located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The entire restaurant is made to feel like a family kitchen in the 50s. When your table is ready, they holler at you to “come to dinner.” When you are seated in front of a black and white T.V., you become subject to your “mom’s” (waitress) demands. Don’t think about getting on your radio (cell phone), putting your elbows on the table, or not cleaning your plate, else you be reprimanded. (Basically, make sure to do all of those things because it creates a comical memory.)
Cinderella’s Royal Table
Eating dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table is the quintessential Disney World experience. You actually enter into the bowels of the castle and dine in the epicenter of it all. As you eat exquisite food, Disney Princesses cycle from table to table for pictures. This dining experience is so sought after that it books out 6 months in advance! If you want to eat at Cinderella’s castle, don’t expect to eat there on a whim. This is where we dined to celebrate our engagement!
Be Our Guest
One of the more recent additions is the Be Our Guest restaurant located in Magic Kingdom. It is designed to look like Beast’s castle, and there are three themed dining rooms you could possibly eat in. When they first opened, you could line up for a counter service lunch that was nice enough to be a sit-down meal. Now, you have to have a reservation for this as well, and it requires much forethought, like Cinderella’s Royal Table. While in the castle, you get to meet the Beast. On our Disney moon, we were sat next to other Disney mooners; it was kismet (or perhaps a practical joke). Also, be sure to order the grey stuff; it’s delicious!
Garden Grill is located in Future World in Epcot. If you ride Living with the Land, you tour gardens where Disney World is growing fruits and vegetables and breeding fish, while learning about sustainable farming. Garden Grill is unique because the menu items mostly come straight from Disney’s very own garden. It’s served family style, with a few courses, including the most decadent blackberry cobbler with ice cream on top served in an iron pan. While you eat, the platform you are sitting on rotates once an hour, overlooking the Living with The Land ride. Farmer Mickey and friends stop by to feed you, too.
Disney’s California Grill is my ultimate dining experience. It is my favorite place to eat, quite possibly, anywhere in the world. Located at the very top of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, with a view of the Magic Kingdom, it may not be the quintessential dining experience, but it is the best kept secret. You have to have a ticket to be admitted to that floor, and when you dine, you receive another ticket that allows you to return to their observation deck for a spectacular view of the firework show. Of course, if you plan your dinner just right, you can enjoy all of the experience at one time. Each time we have eaten at California Grill, a couple has gotten engaged, which, as a romantic, I love to witness. One time we ate there on our honeymoon, and our table was decorated with Mickey confetti. There were two couples at the tables next to us. We all went out to view the fireworks, and when we came back, I noticed confetti two tables over from us. We sat down, and the couple that was seated right next to us headed back. I guess the woman forgot exactly where they were sitting because she saw the confetti all over the table, and her expression became one of utmost delight. That is, until she realized it was the wrong table. Her expression fell entirely, and they ate an awkward, expensive dinner sandwiched between us, the honeymooners, and a newly-engaged couple.
Meeting characters is part of the traditional Disney World experience, and it’s not just for kids, either! Although some waits to character meet-and-greets have prevented me from waiting in line, often you can walk right in and meet the characters for a quick photo. It’s always funny and entertaining. “Friends of the characters” do a good job of bringing them to life. If you don’t want to wait in line to meet a character, just plan a character meal, and they will come to you while you eat. It’s the perfect way to maximize your time, while still getting the character photo-ops.
The fireworks spectaculars are the cherry on top of a perfect Disney day. You are exhausted; your back hurts; your feet are blistered, but all of that disappears when the music begins, and fireworks color the skies. There are no fireworks like Disney fireworks. Disney just retired the show I have seen in Magic Kingdom, Wishes. I haven’t seen the new one yet, but I have heard all good things, and I can’t wait to see it and have another Disney first time experience. I can never get enough of Illuminations at Epcot. The globe projecting images from all around the world, the world showcase alit, fireworks gleaming through the sky is enough to make you contemplate the themes of progress you have been subtly exposed to throughout the day. You leave feeling accomplished, like you learned something, like you’re united with the world and have a purpose. There are also spectacular fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. They have two different fireworks shows at Hollywood Studios, depending on the season. On our last vacation, there were Star Wars fireworks, which were awesome, even coming from someone who really is not that into Star Wars. (Although my husband’s jaw was dropped the entire time.) There was also the Jingle Jam, Jingle Bam holiday show. I try to avoid taking pictures of the fireworks shows because I want to live fully in the moment. I did manage to snap the perfect shot during Wishes, however:
Disney world is not your typical roller-coaster park, although it does have some exhilarating options. In each park, there are shows throughout the day. Some are small, made up of animatronic people or animals. Some are digital, requiring you to wear 3D glasses. Some have people – dancers, gymnasts, actors, puppeteers – displaying great talents. Sometimes these shows happen in set locations, and other times they pop up anywhere. Last time we were at Epcot, two men put on an acrobatic show right in the middle of the France pavilion. My favorite show experience happened on my first trip. We were given priority seating at the Indiana Jones show because of our engagement (Disney spoils you if you are celebrating anything. Be sure to wear your pins.). I was actually selected to participate in the show. I had to sign a waver and everything because at one point there was a huge explosion. I didn’t even realize what a rare experience it is to be chosen until later; thousands of people are in the crowd each show. I’m always sure to catch any show I can while at Walt Disney World.
Touring the world
Epcot is a completely unique park. Half of the park is very futuristic, allowing you to imagine what could be, and the other half allows you to experience how things actually are in different parts of the world. Imagineers did their research to ensure a cultural experience in each section of the world showcase, even hiring employees from each country. If you are in the France pavilion, prepare to hear castmembers bantering in french. It’s relaxing and fun to spend the day exploring what the different countries have to offer. Until recently, this was the only place in Walt Disney World where you could purchase alcohol in the parks. One trip, my husband and I attempted to “drink around the world.” We only made it half way. We had a beer in England, wine and a cocktail in France, and by the time we got to the saki, it was enough. Each time, we try to make a stop off of the world showcase to grab a Mickey’s Kitchen Sink from Disney’s Beach Club. I’m not ashamed to admit my husband and I always finish our sundae, so we can take our kitchen sink home with us.
It’s important to invest in photopass on your Disney vacation. Disney photographers are posted everywhere in picturesque locations, ready to capture your family memories. Yes, some are better and more personal than others, but, occasionally, you will get a photographer that really goes the extra mile to make sure you have magical pictures. It’s much more advantageous to just buy the photopass and get unlimited pictures, rather than paying per picture. Not to mention, you get pictures from many of the rides as well!
Being a kid
Going to Walt Disney World is all about escaping from the harsh realities of the world and appreciating fantasy, idealism, and creativity. It’s a reminder that ideas are powerful; that the sketch of a mouse can bloom into millions of people flocking each year for a taste of magic; to believe in your own potential and ideals. It’s also a place to bring out your inner-child, which is something my husband and I value; we’re just big kids most of the time, and I’m glad we can regress and be ridiculous together.
Honestly, I hardly broached the topic of Disney in this blog, although it is now quite lengthy. Aside from pictures, I didn’t even mentioned Animal Kingdom! If you would like me to break down facets of Walt Disney World in my next blog, sound off in the comments.