The Reluctant Disney Traveler
By Susan Farewell
Disney was one destination we had managed to avoid visiting with our daughter when she was really little. Nothing against the theme park giant, it’s just that there always seem to be more pressing trips to take as a family.
Before she even started school, we ruled it out. Too young. There would be too much schlepping of stuff, we reasoned. The diapers, the stroller, the Goldfish, the juice boxes, the extra outfits. And what about naps? Don’t mess with the naps. Besides, one trip to the Disney store in Manhattan seemed to be plenty for her and what would she remember anyway?
Then when she started school, we had to join the masses of people who can only go places during school breaks. Winters were automatically out. We were determined to get her skiing as early and as often as possible. Summer didn’t work either because we were building a family tradition of visiting a lodge in Maine. As for the April vacation, something always seem to come first. Colonial Williamsburg, for example, was one we couldn’t miss—especially since the American Girl Doll movie Felicity was being filmed there that year. We also had to get to the Grand Canyon in April because there was no way we’d join the throngs in the heat of summer.
But when she celebrated her ninth birthday, the official start of the tween years, I couldn’t keep away the pesky feeling of guilt.
All of our reasons for not having been to Disney were good rationals for not going, but the biggest reason of all was that I simply didn’t want to go. Disney? Me? I don’t want to sound arrogant, but whenever a friend said she was going to Disney with her family, there was a huge part of me that thought “better you than me.” I’m not big on rides, cotton candy, and lines…especially at the most famous amusement park in the world.
Deep down, however, I had a nagging feeling that it was my parental obligation. Afterall, my parents took us—all six kids and drove all the way from South Salem, New York to Disney Land in California. I started to wonder, what kind of parent am I, denying my daughter a chance to see the Magic Kingdom. My guilt was frequently stoked by friends making casual comments. One told me that every time her teenage daughter is in a sulky mood, she angrily reminds her parents that they never took her to Disney. They failed as parents, she says.
So…it was with a great deal of reluctance that I suggested a Disney trip to my husband Tom one night. Without looking up from the Times, he immediately replied “Count me out on this one.”
Wow. Tom closed out his position so easily. Where was his sense of obligation? Did he even have a choice in the matter? Apparently.
Part of me wanted to say, “Forget it then,” but the other part said, “Just go.”
And so, in the heat of June, two days after school was out, Justine and I and her best friend Arianne were Disney bound. I declared myself the sherpa/chaperone and decided this was their trip, not mine.
My job was to read up on the various parks and rides and make suggestions (and reservations) along the way. I had zero expectations and figured I’d just have to cope with the fatty foods, the sweaty lines, the cantankerous toddlers and testy parents and the constant pleading to buy tchotchkes.
I could not have predicted what was to happen the next four days and nights. I, Susan Farewell, actually had fun, a lot of fun. But not just the kind of fun you’d expect to have on roller coasters at theme parks, but fun discovering how much fun it is to be a parent—especially when you’re in this make-believe world.
My first make-believe-world experience was at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, our hotel. Here, you can see giraffes and flamingos outside your room. Even in the real Africa, they don’t come that close to the buildings. How cool.
Then I was completely surprised by the food. Shortly after arriving, we rushed downstairs to have dinner at Boma, where the African food was so unbelievably good, I actually called Tom and gloated. “There’s nothing like it, even in Nairobi,” I yelled into the cell, making sure he could hear me over the drums. As I feasted on an array of exotic and spicy dishes I had gathered at various food stations, I thought, “Well at least I won’t go hungry.” The girls wouldn’t go hungry either. They started by piling their plates high with the usual mac and cheese and chicken fingers, but then dabbled in some of the other dishes as well including some Moroccan concoction I would not have been able to force feed them at home.
We spent the bulk of our first full day at the Animal Kingdom itself. Rather, we spent the bulk of our first full day taking the Kali River Rapids ride over and over again at the Animal Kingdom. It’s hard to imagine a ride could be any more fun than this. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but all I can say is that if I could bottle the glee I witnessed with these two nine-year-old girls (girls that are not into thrill rides or scary rides), I would.
P.S. Take along a tall kitchen garbage bag for each family member. Poke holes for your head and arms and you’ll be the only dry passengers to disembark.
Our second day was divided between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot (with a pool break in between). The overwhelming highlight of the day for the girls was a princess character dinner at Akershus in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot. Not one, but five real princesses came to our table and posed for pictures, leaving the girls swooning each time. The highlight for me, was stepping out of the restaurant after dinner and seeing IlluminNations, an open-air extravaganza of fireworks, laser lights, neon and music.
The next day was devoted to Typhoon Lagoon, where I had to beg the girls to let me go down the Humunga Kowabunga triple speed slides just one more time, please!!! All three of us were delirious with joy in the Surf Pool where an enormous crowd cheered the rumbling of the next wave, which would come slamming into all of us, carrying us through its frothy finish. I still can’t figure out what the appeal is of seeing a monster wave come barreling towards you, but somehow I didn’t want to leave.
Later on, we explored MGM Studios and wrapped up the evening by watching Fantasmic!, another outdoor mixed media show that I had heard was Disney’s best nighttime event. Just before it started, clouds threatened above and I imagined thousands of people trampling each other running for cover if we heard thunder. But it’s Disney, so magically, the storm seemed to blow over, just as the show began, offering its own brand of thunder, lighting and fire.
Our last morning was the all-out relax at the pool, do-nothing day. I had a list a mile long of things I still wanted to do, but found my chaise lounge was a perfect perch from which to watch the girls whipping down the hotel’s water slide and doing hand stands in the pool. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t get to do everything. I don’t care what my reasons were for not wanting to go before. I don’t care how hot it is, how crowded it can get, how many other places in the world I want my daughter to see. I’m here to say, with or without Tom, with or without my daughter and her friend, I’m going back.
Photo credits: Mickey and Magic Kingdom photos provided by ©The Walt Disney Company. Princess photo by Susan Farewell.