“This feels like home!”
I have to stifle a giggle as I look around me at the aqua walls covered in plastic Ariel decor. There are seashell-shaped red chairs, clamshell headboards and a full scene from “The Little Mermaid” printed on a shower curtain that separates the bedroom and bathroom. The shower tiles even form a mural of Ariel’s treasure trove. This couldn’t be further from our home’s decor, but in my kindergartener’s eyes, this room is a dream come true. And that’s why we’re here.
We giggle each time we walk to the elevators and see Triton’s hiney looking right at us through a giant window. Across from the four-story sea king is the sea witch of E.V.’s nightmares (I remind her constantly that it’s just a statue), and in between the two enemies is Ariel. We do a dance party for her each time we pass by in hopes that she’ll come to life. But she doesn’t. And neither does Sebastian or Nemo or Scar (whom we yell, “Be nice!” at each time we pass through his lair). But we dream out loud that they can and do come to life as we swim in the hotel’s pools surrounded by larger-than-life characters.
The girls eyes light up at Cinderella’s castle in the distance. To them, it couldn’t be more real. It’s the first castle they’ve ever seen in person, the first evidence that fairytales might actually be true. We wait our turn for the obligatory picture with “Mickey and that guy” (“Dear, that’s Walt DISNEY, who made this whole place come true.”), trek through the crowds and scramble to figure out which way is up. It’s been a decade and a half since my feet have walked on Main Street, and the first time we’ve done it with children. We check our phones for the Fast Passes our amazing consultant has scheduled for us, marvel at how times have changed, and find Tinker Bell. The girls’ eyes light up each time they scan their Magic Bands and see a green light. Ryan and I grin at the chance to pass up the lines (for now), and grin even bigger as the girls hug each and every princess.
Ryan and I talk non-negotiables — It’s a Small World, Peter Pan and The Jungle Cruise for me. Race Cars and The Haunted Mansion (yeah, right!) and “NOT the Tea Cups” for him. We chuckle at cheesy t-shirts, and I rate them internally. (The winner is a burly man with a silhouette of only mouse ears and his unique beard. I want to tell him of his honor, but I keep my mouth shut because, well, he’s burly.) We eat snacks constantly, having bits and pieces of everything from Mickey Pretzels to Mickey Ice Cream Bars to a pumpkin purse of popcorn (which was hilarious). We wait in some lines, sweaty and swampy but happy. No one really complains. We only lose Cricket once (a miracle in and of itself). We take a quick nap back at the hotel while they hunt for our lost luggage. At sunset we head back to Disney for fireworks and more rides and about five minutes of rain. (As if we weren’t gross enough to begin with!) We push through until midnight, ending our day with Peter Pan. It’s an hour wait, which feels like torture at this hour with little kids. But their hearts are set on it, so we persevere. And then, when they both pass out on top of Ryan while riding the bus back to the hotel, we give each other the marriage-and-parenting fist bump and muscle through to carry to heavy kiddos all the way to from the hotel lobby to our room — in the furthest spot possible from the bus stop.
Ryan heads out early in the morning for a work gig, and I wrestle the girls awake and into random clothes (to avoid confrontation with cranky kids) and realize that although they’ve found our luggage, we’ve lost our only hairbrush somewhere. We run to the bus with frizzy ponytails and pretend they’re trendy messy buns. As I attempt to lug two girls from the bus to the monorail to get to our breakfast appointment, a guest services employee sees my struggle and grabs a handicap van for us. Mansions in heaven for you, sir. We eat waffles and pastries and God knows what else while Mickey and the gang wander around Chef Mickey’s for visits. I urge the girls to stuff themselves silly, since at $100 for a buffet for the three of us, we need to get our money’s worth. But they each fill their plates and eat exactly three bites. Go figure.
We swim all afternoon, buy a $5 mini hairbrush from the gift shop, and get ready for the evening’s events. Emma Vance spends exactly two minutes in the Princess Leia costume she’s been talking about form exactly two months before declaring it too hot. So we pivot, feeling thankful that I thought to bring a backup Belle nightgown. Cricket won’t be derailed, though, because Vampirina is her latest obsession. As I pull her batty tails onto her head and loop her tiny arms through bat wings, she asks if anyone else will be dressed like her tonight. I laugh and tell her confidently that she’ll be the only Vampirina, considering the show has been out all of two weeks. And then as I pull on my orange-and-black socks and debate whether or not the witch’s hat I brought to wear is worth the effort, Cricket passes out cold. So we pivot again, relaxing for a bit before heading out.
It’s four in the afternoon, so the heat is subsiding. There are people dressed up in elaborate costumes everywhere, face paint, accessories and all. Mickey jack-o-lanterns are glowing on the street lamps, haunting music is being pumped through all the speakers. Classic characters are out in costumes themselves, drawing people from the trick-or-treat stations and from the rides. The lines are shorter, and we do more. The girls hide their eyes during “Pirates of the Caribbean” and scream their heads off on the roller coasters. We are unable to convince them to see the ghosts at “The Haunted Mansion,” so we ride “It’s a Small World” for the second time, with big, bright eyes. “It’s my favorite, Mama.” Me, too.
There’s a parade, and we happen to find a spot where a few weary families are all seated on the ground, so we join them to give our feet a rest. The girls are delighted as the procession passes us — villains and dancers and ghosts within arms reach. The castle is lit with one last spectacle of fireworks exploding across the sky, and we call it a night. The girls dig through their candy as we head home, and we let them because it’s keeping them awake.
In the morning we hob nob at the Grand Floridian for breakfast with Mary Poppins. Ryan and I ooh and ahh as we walk the property, then declare that although it’s beautiful, it’s not the fun Disney experience we would want for our small children. We head back to our cheesy, exciting hotel to swim and play in the arcade, get one last meal at the hotel cafe, and shop for over-priced paraphernalia.
We wave goodbye as we drive away, and the girls are asleep within minutes. Our hearts are full, and we can’t wait to be back.
Surprising E.V. with some “special” homework of tracing + sounding out words
Yay! We’re going to Mickey’s Not-so-Scary Halloween Party!
(And I swear I could’ve sold these ears for $$$ there. If only I had known, haha!)
It’s go time! DISNEY here we
Arriving at Art of Animation (and our Ariel room)
(Post-rest nighttime visit back to the park for fireworks and more rides!)
Breakfast at “Chef Mickey’s” (The Contemporary) — to which we got a special Disney Uber because their rocking guest services saw me struggling with two girls to get to the monorail. Disney won my heart with that move!
Swimming in the Little Mermaid pool + the Nemo pool
We planned on going to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary-Halloween Party early to maximize our time, but this happened about 15 minutes before leaving, so…change of plans.
(And although we couldn’t quite convince E.V. to ride “The Haunted Mansion,”it was the spookiest, most fun Halloween celebration ever! Short lines, less heat, trick-or-treat stations and lots of October cheer!)
Halloween Parade (which was my favorite part of the night)
Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare (Grand Floridian)
On our way down to Disney, we spent one day with Great Grandma Vance, who happens to live in Orlando. It was a quick visit filled with the usual — a trip to TJ Maxx + grocery shopping, swimming in her pool (and helping her clean it), showing off our reading skills and eating at Boston Fish House + Jeremiah’s (“froggy ice cream,” which is the BEST). Oh, and eating homemade chocolate chip cookies. Of course. Also, please note how badass my 90-year-old grandma is, cleaning her own pool like it’s no big deal. #grandmagoalz