So, our long awaited trip to Disney with Wyatt finally happened last week.
I have a friend who works at Disney and she advised me that the two weeks following Thanksgiving are typically a slow period at the Theme Parks. 2021, of course, hasn’t been a typical year and Post-Covid travel-lust, delayed Disney trips from 2020 and the celebration of the Magic Kingdom’s 50th year Anniversary was the perfect storm for masses of people to flock back to Disney, all in full on Disney regalia.
“The parks are packed,” my friend told me, but it was too late as I’d already booked our tickets and a room at Animal Kingdom Lodge. It cost a small fortune. Emma told me I could’ve gone to Europe for what I paid to go (and this was before I stepped foot onto the park). When I mentioned to Kelley, a Disney Passholder and frequent Guest, how expensive it was, she said:
Don’t you know the last ride is where they turn you upside down by the ankles and shake the last dollar out of your pockets?
My friend who works at Disney said a travel agent she knows is booking Disney Trips for customers for 40 and 50 thousand dollars! People who weren’t able to go on their expensive vacations to exotic locales with money to burn, are spending it domestically. At Disney.
Disney has changed, Post-Covid (are we really post-Covid yet?). For one thing, you can’t just swing by the Magic Kingdom and buy a ticket. You need to make your reservations at the various parks in advance. I did this first, before I got our hotel. The second thing is there is no longer Fast Past, where you could book a popular ride and skip the long lines. It’s now called Genie + and, while the Fast Past was free, Genie + will cost you $15 per person, per day. That was $45 extra per day for us, on top of the entry fee.
I kept getting e-mails from Disney saying to “Book Your Dining in the Parks”, but it was a challenge, to say the least. The only reservation I was able to get was at Tony’s in the Magic Kingdom at 2:15! Epcot was impossible, since it’s known as the Foodie Park and Animal Kingdom (which actually has pretty good food) was no better. Oh well!
Undeterred, we set off to Orlando with the highest of hopes.
Wyatt had his Mickey shirt and ears on; I had on a Little Mermaid shirt with black sequined ears. I figured if you’re going to do Disney, you might as well go all out! As we approached the archway entering, I told Wyatt “Here’s the Magic Kingdom!” No matter how many times I’ve come to visit this dream of Walt Disney’s in Central Florida, it’s always a thrill. When we got to the entrance gate, we were asked if we wanted “Preferred Parking.” We got Standard.
Preferred Parking is where you used to park, for free, with the sections marked with cheerful Characters so you could remember where you parked. Standard parking is in Siberia, where you walk by Sand Dunes and Alligator-infested swamps to reach the entrance. I thought I would feel self-conscious wearing my ears, but nine out of ten people exiting their vehicles were also wearing mouse ears.
The 50th Anniversary Celebration at Magic Kingdom seems to have brought out every Disney fanantic, from near and far. There were all iterations of ears being worn- Christmas, plaid, jeweled, light-up- you name it, they had it. Plus, tons of people in matching T-Shirts with Disney backpacks, purses, shoes, earrings, necklaces and socks. If a mouse could be put on something, it was. I saw this t-shirt in the park:
I want to wear a Matching T-Shirt.said no Man ever.
We entered with the masses and eagerly put our Magic Bands onto the circle that was supposed to turn green. It turned white.
Media not found.said the cheerful Disney employee.
Directing us to the long line at Customer Service. There was a group ahead of us of 23 people. You couldn’t get me to visit Disney with 22 people for all the tea in China! We finally made it to an agent who fixed our Magic Bands and we were on our merry way. Magic Bands, which we’d gotten years ago for free when they first came out, now cost money, from $20 to $40, depending on the style. Luckily, our old ones still worked.
We took the Monorail in and finally arrived on Main Street, where we hustled to our first ride (booked with Genie +) The Haunted Mansion. Wyatt LOVED it. Mind blown, and this is what you live for when you take your child/grandchild to Disney. The wonder and excitement in their eyes is worth everything in the world. Since we had a little time to kill, we went to PhilharMagic, a 3-D film with Mickey and Crew. Wyatt asked what the ride was about. I told him it was about music.
You tricked me into music?he said.
Still, he loved it. We then hung out in Fantasyland, doing the Spinning Tea Cups, Race Cars and Dumbo. The Seven Dwarves Mine Ride (a roller coaster) was a big hit, not so much It’s a Small World (my favorite ride). We watched some of the Calvacade going down Main Street. It was like the Parade, but not as good. The other thing they did for the 50th Year Anniversary was place gold statues of iconic figures (like Donald, Daisy etc…) around the park.
When we got to Tony’s, which is fashioned after the Italian restaurant from Lady and the Tramp, there was a gold statue of Lady and the Tramp. All the Favorite Characters were waving from the railroad tracks above Main Street. Our lunch at Tony’s was very good (although Wyatt found his spaghetti and meatballs “too spicy”) but of course it was so late for lunch, any thing would’ve tasted good. I had a New York Strip, Zeke had Chicken Parm. We left to check into Animal Kingdom Lodge and relax. I fell asleep! But we returned to the Magic Kingdom around six.
The Magic Kingdom used to be open until 10 p.m. Now it closes at 8 UNLESS you purchase a separate ticket for a “Special Event” that goes from 8 to midnight. When we arrived, there was already a long line, waiting to get in at 8 and the event was SOLD OUT. I can only imagine how much money Disney is making!
We bought Wyatt a $6 pretzel shaped like Mickey and headed to the Enchanted Tiki Birds, a classic Disney ride. We then did Pirates of the Caribbean; Wyatt wanted a Pirate Toy set, since you exit through the gift shop, but he’d already gotten a $30 bubble maker (that kept going off in inappropriate places), so that was a no. We got a Pineapple Dole Whip, which we ate by Aladdin, which is like Dumbo, but with flying carpets. We did a quick tour of the Swiss Family Tree House, watched the fireworks and left the park.
Normally, after the fireworks, everyone walks down Mainstreet to exit, but since they were having the special event, we got taken out the back way, past warehouses and where they store the vehicles.
This doesn’t feel very magical!I noted.
This was like a Behind-the-Scenes tour, but one you didn’t ask for. Worse yet, when we exited to leave, the huge crowd was funneled into few exits, bottlenecking people. It didn’t feel safe and there was very little crowd management. Wyatt fell fast asleep on the bus ride to our hotel and despite Zeke trying to wake him up, he was OUT. Zeke was forced to carry him off the bus, to the hotel and on the long walk back to our room. As we passed, people said “That was a successful day!” and “I remember those days.”
We put him to bed and went out on our balcony (overlooking the fake savannah) to have a glass of wine and watch the animals gathered. Wyatt, didn’t seem too interested in the animals we could see from our room, but he did enjoy all the Disney channels on our T.V. But, no rest for the weary as I had to wake up bright and early Saturday (7) to reserve a spot on the Ratatouille ride at Epcot.
Wyatt really wanted to go on this ride, which is why we chose to go to Epcot, not normally a favorite for small children. Ratatouille is a new, very popular ride, based on the movie, and you can’t wait in Standby for it. You either pay $11 per person or, if you are staying at a Disney resort, join a Virtual Que. I pressed to join at exactly 7, but was already 84 in line! We were supposed to go on the ride at 1:50 p.m. This was fine, as we figured we’d hit some other rides before we arrived in France.
Wyatt loved Soarin’ (now an airplane ride over all over the world, not just the U.S.) and Turtle Talk with Crush (inside Nemo ride) was very cute and interactive. He hated Zeke’s favorite ride, Living with the Land, which talked about how plants are grown. We saw Winnie the Pooh on the way to the countries. Wyatt had brought his autograph book, but none of the characters are signing, due to Covid. You also can’t get close to them, like you used to.
Speaking of Covid, Disney was very careful. Whenever you went inside anywhere, you were required to wear a mask and if you didn’t, Cast Members were on you like Mickey on Minnie. On more than one occasion, especially in Gift Shops, Disney members made a beeline to me to remind me to pull up my mask. There were also hand sanitizer pumps located around the parks.
We saw Mickey dressed in Holiday Garb inside the Pixar short film festival (my request), but the photo I got of him wasn’t very good. Then, we hit the World Showcase. Wyatt got a little Ziploc suitcase in Mexico, where you collect postcards from each country. They used to have an art activity (Kidcraft) you did in each country, but not any more due to… Covid. We went to China and saw the 360 since we had plenty of time. The film is a little dated and Wyatt was bored, but I wouldn’t let him leave. At the end of the film, the narrator said: “I hope you have enjoyed our film of China.”
No, I did not. Thank you, but I did not enjoy it.Wyatt
Epcot was also packed. There were people Drinking themselves around the world- the line for tequila in Mexico was crazy- but also there is now a Cookie Crawl, where you get a cookie in each country. Luckily, I’d packed salami sandwiches with goldfish and tangerines for lunch; we stopped and ate it near Norway.
As we made our way through the countries, our time slot for going on Ratatouille kept getting later and later. We’d been hurrying to make it to France in time, but by the time we arrived our time had been pushed to 5. We were then prisoners of France, along with mobs of other people, waiting for their turn in the Virtual Cue. The shops around France- perfumeries, pastisseries and an ice cream were doing very well. We went into the Beauty and the Beast Sing-a-long because it was something to do while we waited. There was a Bridal Party who sat in the row in front of us and then Bride, in Minnie Ears with a veil, sang very sweetly.
Tale as old as time,
Since we hadn’t eaten since noon Wyatt was hungry so I took him to get ice cream. After giving the thumbs down to smoked caramel, he decided on Chocolate Chip Mint. The Disney Cast Member ice cream into a cup instead of the cone he wanted, so he told me to keep the cup of ice cream. This is the only thing in Disney I had that was free. Unfortunately, right then we got called to go on the ride we’d been waiting all day to see. If you want to see a five-year-old really cry, ask him to throw away a half-eaten ice cream cone.
By the time we finally got called to go, it was six o’clock. The ride was cute but a seven minute ride wasn’t worth waiting five hours for! My Disney friend told me Epcot had the best night show, but after nine hours at Epcot, we were finis! We had dinner at a French restaurant (Zeke’s idea), which was very good. Wyatt got Chicken Fingers, not very French, but that’s ok.
By the time we got to Animal Kingdom, we were a bit burnt out on Disney. I’d made reservations on the Safari, where you board a jeep and see animals roaming the savannah. I thought it was pretty cool- we saw Lions, Rhinos and even a baby Hippo- but Wyatt seemed a little bored. I guess after larger-than-life characters, animated animals, cartoons and 3-D, real animals seemed dull. We went on the Dinosaur Ride, then It’s Tough to Be a Bug and headed out.
As we drove again, under the archway announcing Disney World, we all said: “Goodbye Disney World!” I thought to myself: “And good Riddance!” But I have a feeling it’s like childbirth. After a few months, I’ll forget the pain, suffering and exhaustion it caused and think it’s a good idea to try it again. The magical moments we shared will remain, while the not-so-magical ones will fade away.