Catherine, you’ve just graduated from high school! What are you going to do next?
“I’m going to Disney World!”
My daughter Cat graduated from high school in May, and we’ve been planning a graduation trip with two of her friends and one of their moms since last fall. When I saw the Class of 2017 Mickey Ears from Disney, I knew they’d make the perfect trip-morning present. Cat and Anna and Kate jumped on the ears — which became props in numerous selfie and video shots. The five of us had a great four-day visit, and a fine time was had by all. Here’s the fun video overview:
(Video by Anna Costantini; editing for short version, Ann Fisher).
Catherine and I go way back with Mickey.
We’ve been to Disney so many times that my daughter and I could give tours. In essence, that’s what we did in May. I was the concierge — arranged all fast passes and meals, and my daughter and I ran the “Disney Experience” for Missy, Kate, and Anna.
Catherine and I are lucky that my sister has been in the advertising business for a long time. She’s a MadWoman. We were guests of Buena Vista for a number of years.
October of 2000 was my neophyte visit at Walt Disney World — my first time there as an adult. My sister was there on a advertising exec trip. I arrived, and Carolyn introduced me to her ad friends, one of whom had played concierge for all of us.
I can remember saying, “Disney World Reservations? You need dining reservations at Disney? Seriously?”
Yes. Oh, yes. If you don’t have them, you’d better like counter-service meals, because you may not get in at a sit-down restaurant.
I was properly trained to “do Disney” by this super-savvy mom from New Jersey. I was well-schooled on Cindy’s castle.
“Okay, darling. Now, when you’re ready to take Catherine to have dinner at Cinderella’s castle, this is what you do. You wake up super early 6 months from the day you want that reservation. Get your coffee, and get settled in, and you start calling Disney World thirty minutes before the switchboard opens at 7:00 am Florida time. And you keep calling until you get someone. Otherwise, the reservations for that day will be all gone within fifteen minutes of opening time.”
“Really?” I said. “I’d never do that.”
Well, um. Yes, I did.
When we decided to take a family trip to Disney World during the month of September 2004, we made plans a long way out, and I did indeed go through the rigamarole to get dining reservations at Cinderella’s Castle. Catherine was six. Big smile. And I’m glad I did it. (If you’re wanting current tips on snagging this reservation, check out the Birnbaum Guide to Walt Disney World to Disney World. — Also, it’s one of only restaurants at Disney that requires this much effort. I always find reservations somewhere, sometimes not my first choices, even a couple of weeks ahead of a trip).
On that trip, as an extra-special experience, we weathered Hurricane Jeanne at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Jeanne was a strange hurricane. After hitting Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, it dissipated, headed out into the Atlantic, then looped back and smacked Florida. We saw Disney planning at its finest. The entire hotel was on lockdown as the hurricane blew through. It was the most original hurricane party I’ve ever attended — and I grew up in New Orleans. The staff was amazing — there were ongoing activities all over, and periodically characters like Tigger and Pooh appeared to entertain the kids.
The next day, we were in the Magic Kingdom, with only the Jungle Cruise down post-hurricane.
You May Love it — You May Hate It . . .
. . . but it’s impossible to be complacent about Walt Disney World.
A good friend who took his family at Christmas 6 or 7 years ago couldn’t stand Disney World. Hated it. I mean really hated it. All he could see was the commercialism and the crowds.
I’m in my fifties now, but my inner child is still alive and well. I went to Disney World for the first time when I was seven. The year was 1972, and Disney World was having its first birthday. I’ll never forget — ferry across — seeing Cinderella’s castle for the first time.
Part of me is still seven when I’m in Disney World.
Yes, there is a gift shop at the end of every ride. I barely see it anymore. We never had a problem with Catherine and the stores. Each trip, I set a limit — you can buy one small to medium stuffed animal + spend an additional limited dollar amount. She was happy and we weren’t crazy. This year the teenagers were much more interested in shooting selfies and video than in buying things.
When my husband was still alive, his impressions of Disney were from the perspective of a CFO. Drew was fascinated by the way things work in Disney World — all of the systems that it takes to run such a massive enterprise successfully. If you find this part of Disney World interesting, and I do, then doing one of the behind the scenes tour might be right up your alley.
When I was in Disney World last year, I did the full day Keys to the Kingdom Tour, which I loved. The tour took us everywhere — through the costume design building, props and sets, to one of the laundries — which was way more interesting that laundry ever has been at my house! We had lunch at the Whispering Canyon Cafe in the Wilderness Lodge. We went behind the scenes at Epcot into the American Experience and learned all about set design and the use of forced perspective — and of course, we did a tour of the utilidor system under the Magic Kingdom. If you’re a big Disney geek, you’ll have a wonderful time!
Epcot of course, is based on Walt Disney’s concepts of what a permanent World’s Fair could be. Walt grew up in the age of great American World’s Fairs, and each time I visit Epcot, I think about the American love affair with this kind of entertainment.
American Experience and Walt Disney
Want to know more about Walt Disney as a person? American Experience did a two part documentary of the man behind the mouse in 2015 “An unprecedented look at the life and legacy of one of America’s most enduring and influential storytellers.” I learned many things I didn’t know about Walt — giving me further insight into how much this man changed both the film industry and American business.
If you subscribe to PBS, you can watch a high-quality version there, (link to PBS to watch Walt Disney on the American Experience) otherwise, look for both parts of the documentary on Youtube, but low quality. It’s fair and well-done, covering both the positive and not-so-positive aspects of Walter Elias Disney’s life and career.
Thinking about a trip to Disney?
Over the years, I’ve stayed at the Contemporary Hotel, the Coronado Resort, the Animal Kingdom Lodge a couple of times, then the Boardwalk, the Beach Club, the Yacht Club, and the Swan Hotel. Cat and I stayed off-property once, in December of 2006 when I was in Orlando for a conference — and we’ll never do it again. I’ll be in a Disney World Resort, or I’m not going.
Our strong preference now is to stay at one of the Epcot area hotels since we spend more evenings there than any other park.
I hate the heat, and I really, really dislike being at Disney World in the summer. We did it August about four years ago. I don’t know what I was thinking — and it won’t happen again. Our preferred time to visit is in the fall. We love the Not So Scary Halloween party, the cooler weather, and the international wine festival at Epcot.
Disney during the Christmas season is gorgeous, just be sure not to visit the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve — when there are always record crowd numbers — something I avoid. I did, however, meet a woman who comes every year for New Year’s Eve. Everyone is different :-).
In my opinion, Birnbaum’s Guide To Walt Disney World is the most comprehensive guidebook available. Whether you’re going for the first time, doing Disney as a family, or going it alone — this guide covers EVERYTHING, in more detail than most normal people will need — and in enough detail that most obsessive-compulsive types will be satisfied.
Blogging about Disney is a massive cottage industry. My favorite Disney blogger — I call him Mr. Disney — is Tom Bricker. Bricker constantly updates his information, so it’s as current as it gets, and he gives great photography tips and lessons away for free.
If you’re planning a trip to Disney World within the next year, I’d recommend subscribing to Bricker’s site, Disney Tourist Blog. He sends updates whenever Disney changes something, or when there’s a really great deal going.
So, in my family, we love us a little Mouse. And it won’t be long before we return to get down with Stitch and all our other Disney pals.