Visiting The Mouse

Our 2017 high school graduates, Anna, Kate, and Cat.

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.

Catherine and Mickey Mouse strolling Disney MGM Studios

Catherine visited Disney World in October of 2001. We were guests of Buena Vista, and since 9/11 had been so recent, not many children were in the group. Mickey spent nearly an hour with Catherine – it was quite an evening. Here, they’re strolling up and down the backlot streets in what was then Disney’s MGM Studios.

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?”

Catherine and Stitch ride Cinderella's Carousel in 2004.

Catherine and Stitch ride Cinderella’s Carousel in 2004.

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.

Cat Gassiot and the Cinderella mosaic

My princess and their princess. Cat and I sure love Disney. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

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.

Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) gives Mary Poppin's writer Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) a personal tour of Disneyland.

In Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) gives Mary Poppin’s writer Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) a personal tour of Disneyland. She was not amused. My friend disliked Disney World just as much.

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!

Lagoon at the St Louis World's Fair

St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904.

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.

Geodesic Sphere — Planet Earth at Epcot on a foggy morning. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Thinking about a trip to Disney?

Cinderella's castle in Disney World with Christmas lights.

The Christmas season at Disney World is magical. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

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.

Rockin’ it with Stitch — one of our favorite characters.

25 Comments on Visiting The Mouse

  1. Wonderful post with gorgeous pictures 🙂

    Like

  2. I was so glad to see a post on DisneyWorld, as we’re hoping to go there in November! Sounds like it may be too late to get some of those dining reservations… Oy! The last time we were in DisneyWorld, it was 2010, so I imagine things have changed a ton. Glad to see you five had a lot of fun! 🙂

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    • Julianne — you’ll have NO problem getting many dinner reservations — other than Cinderella’s Castle (not a big focus for adults) at times closer to your visit.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You’ll be fine with dinner reservations, but I’d look at restaurants you want now, since you know you’re going — get some nailed down, and then change, depending on availability.

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  3. Allison Wong // July 16, 2017 at 10:09 am // Reply

    I’ve yet to been to this Happiest Place On Earth! It’s still on my to go list and I hope to go to the original one in California.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been to both Disneyland and Disney World, and if you are going to be in California, I’d certainly go to Disneyland. However, if you’re making a Disney-specific trip, I would choose Disney World in Florida because there is simply SO much more there.

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  4. I went to Disney World 10 years ago while I was still in university, and I LOVED IT. I know I still will at this age and I can’t wait to go back to check out the new Pandora! I didn’t know that you need to make reservation 6 months ahead for dining. I will need to keep that in mind for my next trip!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Cat, you don’t HAVE to make dining reservations six months ahead for anything EXCEPT Cinderella’s Castle. You absolutely do want to make dinner reservations, but I’ve never had problems making reservations a few weeks ahead of a trip.

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  5. This post has so much info! I’ve actually never been to Disney World – only Disneyland. It sounds like you need to do a lot of preparation and research before you go. Good to have all these resources and to know about the other blogs and books to check out too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susan, none of the prep is difficult, but it sure can make the difference between relaxing and having fun, or finding yourself swamped in a hot line. The Birnbaum guide really has everything you’d need to be in fine shape :-).

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  6. Such exciting times. I can’t wait to hear about their college adventures. I think you have the right approach to Disney, where you see it as an expanded resort and permanent world fair. Simply standing in line after line for rides can be so tiring but the creativity that goes into making Disney a magical destination is mind blowing. I was blown away in Disneyland where they have realistic redwood forest lodges on property.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We definitely have a relaxed approach to Disney. I book the Fast Passes ahead, and we go to those rides, but we just don’t ever stand in long lines — it’s no fun! In the afternoons, we relax — pool, naps, reading, then a walk over to Epcot for dinner.

      The forest lodge you’re talking about in Disneyland sounds like The Wilderness Lodge at Disney World, which is an absolutely beautiful building — I’ve gone over for dinner at their restaurants before.

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  7. jenruizwriter // July 14, 2017 at 8:32 pm // Reply

    Happy graduation Catherine! She’s such a cute little VIP with Mickey and has grown into a beautiful young woman, you can see your pride in your post! So glad you had this experience, I went on a trip with my mom after high school and it will forever be one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. Epcot is my favorite park too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those visits when she was really little were amazing. The characters were so real for her — and I had so much fun watching. It sounds like you’re post high school trip was a great time!

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  8. You and your daughter’s enthusiasm for Disney World comes shining through in your pictures. I am a cross of the friend who hated it and of your husband, who could admire it for the design/business aspect of it. I went as a child and enjoyed it, but had no desire to go back. But it’s almost a requisite of parenting to take your children to Disney at some point. I waited until my children were old enough to appreciate it, explore it themselves, and remember it. They loved it. My son is eager to take his own children someday. And apparently. he wants me to come, too. :}

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like you worked out a good time to take your kids — and it looks like one day you’ll be headed back. The visits with Catherine when she was three to seven were my favorites because the characters were so real for her. I had a wonderful time watching her.

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  9. mycountryepoque // July 2, 2017 at 6:52 pm // Reply

    I am so happy the girls had lots of fun at Disney. Something for them to enjoy before they finally think of what they want to do in life. Good Luck to them all.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Betty Costantini // June 16, 2017 at 7:12 am // Reply

    How fun to see the pics/video and to learn there is WAY more to Disney than just characters and rides. Is it too late to go a first time at 50 – I don’t think so anymore!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Betty, I have as much fun in Disney now as I did when I was a kid. I don’t think it’s ever too late to go for the first time :).

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  11. Missy Balleza // June 15, 2017 at 7:47 pm // Reply

    Great information Ann! Traveling with a travel blogger who knows a lot about Disney was priceless! I consider Kate and myself lucky.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Missy, I had such a wonderful time with you and Kate and Anna. What a trip it was — all made so much better by the good company. So fun to be able to go do our thing and have the girls safe to go off on their own.

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