When I was five, my parents took me to Walt Disney World for the first time. Of course, we had an amazing time but when we got home they assured me that that would be the last time we would go. “The next time we go,” they joked, “You’ll have to pay your own way!” Since that day, we have been back no less than five times and each has been its own uniquely “Disney” experience.
One week ago, my parents and I made the now-familiar journey from Central Ohio to Central Florida to spend the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with Emily. We arrived to an unusually cold, blustery Orlando and immediately met up with Emily who greeted us as we stepped off the Magical Express at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. Hugs ensued. One of my favorite memories was seeing Emily and Dad walking hand-in-hand toward our room. Disney reunions are the best reunions.
One of the coolest parts of this particular Disney trip was testing their newest initiative, MyMagic Bands! These little things are pretty amazing. They hold everything from your room key, park tickets, and credit card info, to PhotoPass photos and FastPass reservations. After the initial set-up they’re super easy to use and kind of fun to watch (for me, at least). Each park has replaced their entrance turnstiles with a wonderfully sleek MyMagic touchpoint, complete with subtly glowing Mickey silhouette; touch your band to the Mickey and “Bing!” you’re in!
MyMagic bands made it super-duper easy to buy things (which, of course, makes Disney pretty happy) but I like the idea of using them to log your experiences (via photos, reservations, etc.) and I can’t wait to see how Disney grows and expands the program in the future.
Our first night was spent bent against the freezing winds at Downtown Disney. I hadn’t been the resort’s outdoor shopping complex in close to 20 years so it was nice to see how things have changed and what new things they have in store. We skirted in and out of the various Disney and standard clothing stores, buying time (and merch) before our reservation at Fulton’s Crab House. I really enjoyed setting foot aboard the same paddle steamer where we had our first-ever Character breakfast close to 18 years previous. The dinner was delicious and we left stuffed and happy on our way to catch a showing of Disney’s newest animated feature “Frozen” on its opening day.
Thanksgiving Day meant extra large crowds and therefore all-hands-on-deck for Cast Members so after an IHOP brunch we parted ways with Emily and made our way to Hollywood Studios to try and squeeze in as much fun as we could before the sun set and the cold rolled in again. Hollywood Studios is one of those parks that has a lot of secrets that hide just under the surface. We rode my favorite DHS E-Ticket, The Tower of Terror and, despite having ridden it a dozen times, I still find details that make me smile. The idea of “highly maintained dilapidation” is so fun. We indulged in a famed Disney Turkey Leg as our Thanksgiving meal and watched the sun set behind Grauman’s Chinese Theater (which sits sadly, but patiently, behind the garish Sorcerer Mickey hat).
Fantasmic, while still one of my favorite nighttime shows, feels so tired compared to the sparkly new brilliance of World of Color, although its theme song finds a way to lodge itself as firmly in my brain as ever.
Friday was the day I was most anticipating. Through some miraculous act of God, or good timing, or luck, Emily was able to trade shifts and spend the entire day with us at Epcot. It’s funny how the definition of “A Day At The Park” changes as you age. I remember when it meant running around trying to squeeze in as many attractions as possible, strategically planning FastPasses, and sucking down whatever food crossed your path on the way. Our experience was much less hectic this time. We casually strolled through Future World, taking in the sounds of a gospel choir perform on the Fountain stage. Future World is an almost impossible concept because the minute you conceive, approve, construct, and open a “future” concept, it’s no longer all that futuristic. Despite feeling somewhat abandoned, Future World has some gems.
By far my favorite part of Epcot is World Showcase. My graphic designer, proto-Imagineer brain goes ballistic around the amazing design, architecture, typography, music, and optical magic. Our lunch reservation at The United Kingdom’s Rose & Crown was somehow simultaneously very British and very delicious. Disney magic at its finest. After a few pints, we made our way down the way to Japan for some hot sake and on to Germany for a few more pints. “Drinking Around the World” is an adult luxury of which I will forever avail myself.
We were lucky enough to catch the opening night of the annual Candlelight Processional at The American Adventure. We watched as Cap’n Dan (Gary Sinise) told the Christmas story accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra, mass choir, and my favorite, a rank of six herald trumpets. Everything is better with herald trumpets.
We capped off the night with the special Holiday edition of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth with the incredible choral epilogue of “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and a salutation from Walter Cronkite that brings a tear to my eye every time I hear it.
Saturday was our final full day in Florida. Emily took us to one of her favorite local spots, Flippers Pizza, for lunch before heading to The Magic Kingdom for the day. For me, the Magic Kingdom is one of those innately magical places and it’s made even more magical when draped with incredible Christmas decorations.
A spin around Big Thunder Mountain and a dinner at Liberty Tavern later it was time for our FastPass on Emily’s ride, Under the Sea – Journey of The Little Mermaid! This was my first visit to New Fantasyland and, despite it being well past sundown and rather dark, I was amazed by the detail. I cannot wait to explore the finished land in daylight and soak up everything. The show building for The Little Mermaid ride is incredibly beautiful. We jumped on to the ride and went under the sea and had a blast only to be greeted by a familiar face as we returned. it was so fun to see Emily on the conveyor belt doing her thing!
One of special parts about the holidays at The Magic Kingdom is the holiday edition of the Celebrate the Magic castle projection show. Only Disney could transform a 180+ foot castle into a gingerbread house, wrap it in gift wrap, cover it in poinsettias and set it shimmering with christmas lights all in the span of six minutes. This show was the opening act for the Wishes fireworks which, even all these years later, remain a perfect kiss goodnight from the most magical kingdom on earth.
We had one last bit of magic in store for us however. Emily was able to get off work early so she and I consorted to surprise mom and dad and have her waiting in our hotel room when we returned! Several excited shrieks and a few minutes later the four of us were seated by the pool sipping caribbean drinks, already planning our next Disney adventures.
Spending Thanksgiving at Disney is a special opportunity that not many get to experience and it reminds me how thankful I am to have a family who can still celebrate the magic, even after all these years.