When most people think of Disney, the first thing that comes to mind is the Magic Kingdom, the nighttime parade down Main Street USA, pictures in front of Cinderella’s Castle, and everything that comes along with that. So it was fitting that the next morning we were up early and on our way to the Magic Kingdom first. Swirling through my head were all the memories (both real and embellished in the intervening years) of my own trips there, the most recent being 25 years prior to our adventure.
As we drove through the expansive gates of the Disney complex it was like entering a whole new world (pardon the double entendre). I had Heidi take a few pictures as I drove a little slower to capture it all. The kids in the back with my mother were oohing and aahing over the huge likenesses of Mickey, and Goofy, and Donald painted onto the gates. I knew it was going to be an amazing day, although it had been hot as blazes when we’d left our resort, and I knew it would just get hotter as the day went on.
But we had a plan. If there’s anything you should know about Heidi, it’s that she’s the queen of planning things out. Our honeymoon was coordinated to perfection, and other trips we’ve taken have received the same treatment. Following the signs, we ended up in the parking lot marked for Simba (Alexa was upset we weren’t in the villains parking), but we were early enough that it wasn’t far from where we needed to catch the monorail.
The monorail brought back some memories of its own, but seeing it through the eyes of my children, who were mesmerized, was even better. As we zoomed over and through some buildings we took a lot of pictures, or at least I did. The plan was for me to be the official unofficial photographer of our trip, and I took the job seriously, making sure that I appeared in just enough pictures so anyone looking at them would know I was there too.
When it came to pictures, though, we had an ace in the hole, as I convinced Heidi to get the Memory Maker experience, which meant that anytime we saw a photographer during our entire trip to Disney we could get digital pictures from professionals. It was perfect because it meant we could use our phones for random shots, but for the big ones (in front of Cinderella Castle, for example) we needn’t worry, and we could all be in those shots together.
I wish I could tell you how it made me feel, as a 42-year old kid, to see the park again, with its iconic train station, as we got off the monorail and entered the grounds. The magic bands were another wonderful planning perk as simply scanning them worked to gain us entrance, instead of having paper tickets, and they were also useful in making sure all our official photos were archived in our group’s MyDisney app.
I stood there, just inside the entrance, soaking it all in, despite the crowds, maybe even because of the crowds, just knowing I was back, like coming home. And even though in my regular life I have to search hard to find the magic, the sense of wonder, it all came back in a rush once on the grounds. I was instantly sad that we had only a day, but I hitched up my shoulders and remembered that we had an entire day, and we needed to enjoy it.
First, I want to say thank god for Fast Pass and Disability Pass. For us, Fast Pass was an investment that we knew we had to make ahead of time, because it gave us the ability to get into shorter lines for certain rides/experiences we wanted throughout the park. This would prove beneficial for rides like Space Mountain, where the regular wait was 90 minutes at one point throughout the day, and allowed us to go on more rides than otherwise. Disability Pass was due to our youngest daughter, Madeline, and it was as helpful as Fast Pass, maybe more so in places. Disability Pass allowed us to sign in and return after a certain time to places where we couldn’t use Fast Pass.
Oh, and I saved the best for last. We invested in a wheelchair for Madeline, who often gets very tired and grumpy after too much walking; with all the walking we had planned for the week, we knew that the only way to save ourselves was to get her some wheels. Amazingly enough, Alexa asked to push the chair for most of the week, which brought a tear to my eye as the sisters aren’t always the nicest to each other. It showed me that there is indeed some Disney magic.
So both girls had autograph books to catch the characters as they moved around the park, but we knew already that most of them we would have to catch at EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. We did see a few, though, getting autographs from Captain Jack Sparrow, and Ariel (the Little Mermaid). Madeline was nonplussed by both encounters and the subsequent photographs that came from each.
Another great part of the planning was not eating lunch in the park. We set it up so that we left at mid-day (when the sun was highest), returning to our resort to eat lunch and rest up, because we planned on going back refreshed to catch the light show and the nighttime parade. We arrived back and parked in Scar parking (villains at last, to Alexa’s delight), using the monorail to return to the Magic Kingdom. In the evening, though, the park was different, even more magical. There were fewer people, and the atmosphere was just more relaxed, less hustle and bustle of earlier.
Side note: as we emerged from the monorail a couple behind us started singing “MotownPhilly” from Boyz II Men, and since I’m from Philly I joined in, they laughed, and we shook hands. There’s just nothing like music to bring people together, far from their homes, and create a community.
Sadly, when we re-entered the park, we found out there was no parade that night, just a fireworks show, but it was lovely nonetheless. We weren’t able to get a Fast Pass for the Haunted Mansion, but as it was so late they let us in anyway, which made for a sort of theme for us at night at the parks. Alexa still talks about how cool she thought the Haunted Mansion was, so the experience is one that can’t be overstated.
All in all, it was a pretty perfect day. We saw the afternoon parade, with Mickey, Goofy, and Daisy, we got a rest in the afternoon, and we saw the wonderful light show with a special reflection on Cinderella Castle. Here are the rides and attractions we enjoyed:
- “It’s a Small World”
- Haunted Mansion
- Jungle Cruise
- The Hall of Presidents
- The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Space Mountain
- Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid