One of the advantages of the quarter system in college is that school doesn’t start until late September, which means that when you have a child with a September birthday, it is possible to go somewhere—say, hypothetically, Disneyworld—with that child to celebrate before school starts.
This year, it was a special birthday as we celebrated in Disneyworld for the weekend. Marcus turned 21 this year (although I am in denial about that), and we celebrated his first legal drink (note the very carefully worded description). Jade flew out from Atlanta to join in the festivities, and it was really wonderful to have the family together for such a fun occasion.
Disneyworld was magical, as usual. It was Marcus’s first time on the newest ride, Guardians of the Galaxy, and he enjoyed the three times he rode it (we had 3 different songs, too, which rocked). A lightsaber was added to his (already extensive) collection as an additional birthday gift. (Or, as his sister says in opposition, we continue to contribute to the arming of her brother.) We ate at the Brown Derby (in Hollywood Studios) for his birthday dinner. And to give the birthday boy credit, he didn’t think it was at all lame to celebrate his 21st birthday with his parents.
Because Marcus (wisely) decided to take a gap year instead of attending college in the fall, we decided that his birthday needed celebrating and what better place to celebrate someone’s birthday than at Disneyworld? Disney felt very safe with hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations everywhere, socially distanced lines, and everyone masked. (And when someone—usually an adult—wasn’t masked, a cast member was always quick to remind them.) There were some constraints (no park hopping and no Fastpasses) and not everything was open, but we rode all of the rides we wanted to ride and then some. We even managed to get on The Rise of the Resistance our first day there. And, of course, a Darth Maul lightsaber was a must have as a birthday gift. Marcus even discovered the perfect Magic Band for himself—it’s a Stitch in Hawaii band, combining two of his favorite things. Disney, even under the constraints it was operating under, is still the happiest place on earth.
What’s the best way to get rid of the winter doldrums? The answer is to travel to the happiest place on earth (aka Disneyworld), run a 10K during princess half-marathon weekend, and then luck into being able to ride the newest ride at Disneyworld, The Rise of the Resistance.
This is the second year that Jim and I have run the Princess 10K. It’s the perfect distance for us. First, it’s not a real race distance, so there are fewer hard-core runners in the race. Second, it is the perfect psychological distance because you are done once you hit double digits. And, third, I don’t have to train for it because Jim sets the pace during the race. 😊
The unexpected obstacle we hit this year was the unusual cold in Orlando. At 5:00 am the morning of the race (which started at 5:30 am), the temperature was 47 degrees and windy. This is perfectly good running weather. This is horrible wait-for-the-race-to-start weather. I don’t think I thawed out until the next day (when it was 72 degrees and sunny). But the race was good, and Jim did much better this year than last year. This year, no one asked him on five separate occasion whether he was okay in the 100 yards between the finish line and the bus. Progress.
The Rise of the Resistance is the newest and most popular ride at Disneyworld. Conventional wisdom says that you need to be at Hollywood Studios by 6:30 am, be in the park at 7:00 when it opens in order to obtain a boarding pass to the ride. There is no shortcut (well, I am sure there is a shortcut, but not one we could find, and we looked). The three of us decided it wasn’t worth getting up that early to try to get on the ride since we knew we’d be back soon, and we were leaving that day. However, we were at Hollywood Studios by 8:00 am and decided to try and get a boarding pass just for fun. While we did manage to get a boarding pass, it was a waitlist boarding pass. Disney only kinda sorta guarantees groups 1-63 (and not even that), and we were boarding group 132. So we thought not only was it unlikely we would get to board, but it was even more unlikely we would get to board before we had to leave to catch our plane.
We were in EPCOT when it became clear that our boarding group was likely to be called around 5:00 pm (we had to leave at 6:00 to catch our plane). We rushed out of EPCOT, drove to Hollywood Studios, arrived at 5:00 at which point our boarding group had already been called. We power walked through Hollywood Studios, arrived at The Rise of the Resistance at 5:09, and were through the ride by 5:50 pm.
In case anyone is interested, the ride (really, an experience/ride) was beyond description!! It was a totally immersive experience, the special effects were incredible, and we walked out of the ride thinking it was one of the most amazing theme park experiences we’ve ever had.
To be sure, we celebrate every trip to Disneyworld. And we certainly celebrate every birthday trip to the happiest place on earth. But this particular trip (the birthday boy’s 61st trip, to be exact) is best known as “the Galaxy’s Edge trip.” If you don’t belong to the Star Wars fandom, then that phrase has no meaning whatsoever. So for those barbarians, I will explain that Galaxy’s Edge is the new Star Wars land, located in Hollywood Studios in Disneyworld. There is currently only one ride there, known as Millenium Falcon: Smugglers’ Run where you are the pilot/gunner/engineer for the Millenium Falcon. Anything else I said would spoil the surprise and be inadequately descriptive of the ride. But let me repeat the key takeaway here: you are ON BOARD the Millenium Falcon. There are no other words necessary. The theming of Galaxy’s Edge is pretty amazing, even by Disney standards. Kylo Ren and his stormtroopers make unscheduled but frequent visits. Chewbacca and Rey also appear (and I’m told that there are stories of people who try and hide Chewbacca when the stormtroopers appear). You can play an online game assuming the role of a supporter of the First Order, the Resistance, or an ordinary scoundrel. (I was most displeased when our daughter decided to install surveillance equipment on behalf of the First Order. She will do anything for Kylo Ren.) Despite her inadequate moral framework, we all had a memorable time exploring Galaxy’s Edge and the rest of Disneyworld, of course, as part of the oh-my-gosh-the-boy-is-legal birthday celebration.
We were once again fortunate enough this year to have our college-attending daughter share a spring break with our high school son. After some consultation with the entire family, we decided to spend spring break at the happiest place on earth (aka Disneyworld). It has been many years since we spent an entire week at Disneyworld, and we were looking forward to an opportunity to do some things that we had not done in a long time or had never done before in and around the parks. Our dual missions were accomplished successfully, as we all had a wonderful time and did things we had never done before (an encounter with Kylo Ren, anyone? He’s a bit scary up close and personal).
Highlights included meeting up with friends whom we had not seen for 20 years who live in Orlando (I know, shame on us); meeting up with friends whom we see regularly but who loathe Disney in an attempt to brainwash them otherwise (our attempt met with modest success);
and the velociraptor consuming a large pizza meant for 2-3 people by himself at Via Napoli (in Epcot) for lunch (I am incredibly envious of his metabolism). The parks were crowded, but we rode all the rides we wanted multiple times and even saw some shows that we hadn’t seen in a while (including Festival of the Lion King and, despite the reluctance exhibited by the daughter, It’s Tough to be a Bug). We ate well, played well, and spent some quality family time together. As the velociraptor said, “This was one of the best spring breaks ever!”
To celebrate someone’s 17th(!) birthday, we jaunted off to Disneyworld for the weekend. The weather was hot and humid (welcome to Orlando in September!), but the weekend was glorious. We tried to do this last year, but Hurricane Isabel decided to make an appearance, and we had to reschedule our trip.
Making the trip in early September meant that our daughter could come with us as well before she left for her sophomore year in college. She was beyond excited, as it was 15 months since she last was at a Disney theme park.
I was always certain that when the kids turned into teenagers, they would turn their noses up at spending time at a Disney park. I am delighted that it is still one of their favorite places (Hawaii being a close second). We have so much fun riding the rides, but our enjoyment in Disneyworld is more than that. It is one of the places where we are a family and family-focused. The kids have grown up there, we have celebrated birthdays and other special occasions there, and everyone has pushed their fear boundaries there. (Although the daughter still will not ride Rock-n-Roller Coaster.)
Disneyworld is where we celebrate the present, reminisce about the past, and create memories for the future. We have delighted in Walt Disney’s optimism, reveled in his belief that humans are capable of endless innovation and creativity, and criticized the parks/Disney where we thought it was merited. It is a place where we are forever children, looking with wide-eyed wonder on the future. It is, truly, the happiest place on earth.
It was officially the 16 year old’s 56th visit to the happiest place on earth. (He’s catching up with his sister who has been there 57 times.) We also dragged along our former exchange student, Yinan, who is staying with us for a couple of months while she does an internship this summer. (Little did she know what price she had to pay.)
There were a couple of highlights on this trip (and one major lowlight, which is that the 19 year old daughter wasn’t with us). It’s times like these when we’re accustomed to going places together as a family that I miss her the most.
Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom
one of our favorite rides!
March of the First Order at Hollywood Studios
Nonetheless, it was a fun trip. The newest ride—Flight of Passage—based on the “Avatar” movie in Animal Kingdom remains a highlight. I thought the ride couldn’t possibly live up to my memory of it from October, but it does and then some. It’s a difficult ride to describe—it’s as if Soarin’ and Star Tours had a baby who emerged as a prodigy. Even if you haven’t seen the “Avatar” movie or aren’t a fan, the ride is still mind blowing in its visual impact and ride experience.
Another highlight of the trip was the “giraffic jam” we experienced. We were on the Safari ride at Animal Kingdom when two adolescent giraffes proceeded to bicker (the human term for their behavior) in the middle of the road by swinging their heads at each other, using them as battering rams. It held up the ride for about 20 minutes and was hilarious for each and every minute, especially if you’ve ever had teenage children in the house.
I’ve included a 4 minute video of it, courtesy of the 16 year old son. Bribes of lettuce and orders to move were tried to no avail. One of the park rangers finally convinced the giraffes to move off the road by nudging his truck slowly and carefully closer to them. (The safari ride trucks have to keep their distance.) Knowing the giraffes, I have no doubts that once we were safely by, they would be back at it. Teenagers!
We were also guinea pigs for test runs of the “Minnie van.” Get it? The vehicle is painted in Minnie Mouse polka dots and bows and supplied with Minnie Mouse water bottles. Playlists of all four parks and each Disney hotel are available for your listening pleasure. It was traveling in (Disney) style!
the Minnie van!
complete with Minnie water
It was a wonderful opportunity to relax and enjoy the wonders of Disney before the end of school pressure cooker begins. The Disney magic definitely worked itself on us!
Disneyworld!! We have not been since last September. We were planning to go again this September, as a combination birthday/going off to college trip, but Hurricane Irma vetoed that idea. :(. So we rescheduled the trip to last weekend, when Marcus had a 3 day weekend. He brought a friend, Matthew, along for the trip. It was Matthew’s first trip, and it reminded us that there are certain rides we love because of the memories that don’t necessarily appeal as much to a teenage boy going for the very first time (can anyone say “It’s a Small World?”)
Because we had to reschedule the trip, the only place available for us to stay was the Four Seasons (it’s a hardship, but someone had to do it!). The rooms at the Four Seasons are much nicer and roomier than at even the high end Disney resorts, but there is, obviously, much less Disney theming and the system is not as tied in as at the Disney resorts. For example, while you can get Magic Bands at the Disney desk at the hotel, you cannot put park charges on it, and they don’t serve as keys to the room either. All of which makes perfect sense. And it’s a great add for Disney because there are certainly folks who would come and stay at the Four Seasons who would not stay at a Disney hotel. (We are not one of them, as you might have guessed.)
The new Pandora ride—“Flight of Passage”—the more popular of the two Pandora rides—is amazing. It’s a cross between Soarin’ and Star Tours and is an order of magnitude better than either. The premise is that you are flying on a banshee through the world of Pandora, so there’s a big screen like Soarin’, but you are on a contraption that mimics being on a banshee (a kind of giant flying bird). The banshee even breathes as it sits between your legs. It’s pretty mind-boggling and definitely a fantastic addition to the park. (Time to update the Disney tome!)
in the world of Pandora
We also visited Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney), which we have not been to for years. It, too, has grown and improved and is a nice place to visit in the evenings or whenever you want a little down time from the parks (as difficult a concept as that is to imagine).
With the older one off to college, it gives the younger one an opportunity to catch up on the number of trips to Disneyworld count. This is Marcus’s 55th trip, so he has only a few more before he ties his sister. (Not that this is a competition or anything!)
In the category of “How to Make Me Feel Really Old” falls the 18th birthday of our daughter (I assume our son’s 18th birthday will fall into the category of “How to Make Me Feel Really Really Old.”)
Our daughter elected to celebrate this momentous occasion of being able to sign legally binding contracts by spending it in Disneyworld. Fortunately, her birthday coincided with a school 3 day weekend, which made it perfect.
We managed to spend time in all 4 parks, although Magic Kingdom received the brunt of our attention. It makes me feel all warm and gushy inside to know that this now 18 year old young woman still loves Disney and still loves the Magic Kingdom. (She may still turn out to be a serial killer, but at least she’ll be a serial killer who loves Disney.)
We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, so we woke up each morning to the sight of giraffes, zebras, and other wildlife right outside our balcony.
High points of the trip include:
— being at Magic Kingdom when the park opened at 7:00 am
early morning at the Magic Kingdom
— getting a how-to-be-a-warrior lesson from Mulan in the China pavilion at Epcot
— being entertained by Dara Vamp at The Brown Derby
We haven’t been to Disneyworld for the Christmas season in years, but when we learned that this would be the last year of the Osborne Family Lights at Hollywood Studios, a visit was a must do and off to Orlando we went on the first weekend of December.
We landed on Friday evening and headed straight for the lights. They were even more spectacular than I had remembered.
Saturday morning was the Wild Animal Trek, something we had never done before. (Shock!) It takes place at Animal Kingdom, and half the trek is done with a harness so that you go over bridges and look at hippos and crocodiles up close and personal. The other half of the trek is essentially a VIP version of the Safari ride. The ride was particularly memorable for two reasons: first, there was a baby rhino out and about and feeling particularly frisky, chasing zebras and running around (so adorable!); and two, we had a (successful) proposal in the group when we broke for lunch (also adorable).
wild animal trek
After the trek, we resumed our normal Disney activities with multiple rides of various rollercoasters and other rides at the parks. We returned to Hollywood Studios, had dinner, and headed for the lights one last time on Saturday. <sad face>
It was a spectacular trip. We had forgotten how festive Disneyworld is for the holiday season, and it was a good reminder. As our daughter said, “I really wasn’t in the Christmas spirit until I saw the lights again.”