Disney World: The Kids' Choice
Finally, we committed to the Haunted Mansion, a 50-minute wait for an eight-minute ride through the cobwebbed, sweetly spooky Victorian Disney classic. The grownups adored it; the kids were terrified. (We should have introduced them to "animatronics" with something a little cheerier.) In all, after a slow dinner at a teeming Tomorrowland burger stand, we spent four hours during our first visit and managed to get into exactly two attractions.
Here's how to do it right (We still refer to this day as the Glorious 8th of April): The park opens at 8 a.m. -- we're through the turnstiles by 8:10. Ann takes the girls to the stroller rental office (we found pushing the two of them around saves them energy and us time). Meanwhile, I jog, literally, through the all-but-empty streets to Splash Mountain, where I insert our four tickets in the Fastpass machine, a computerized crowd-control marvel that gives us an appointed one-hour window later in the morning to come back and ride Splash Mountain without waiting in line. (The most popular rides are on this network; the catch is that you can only reserve one ride at a time -- and during peak hours, your appointed time might be four or five hours in the future.)
The walkie-talkie crackles with the news that Ann has secured the stroller and will be at our meeting point -- the Pirates of the Caribbean -- in two minutes. As I set off, the early sun slants prettily through the big live oak at Liberty Square, and there's still a scrap of morning fog over the waters of Tom Sawyer Island. I pause to appreciate how pleasant it can be here before the masses assemble.
At the entrance to Pirates, we experience the Joy That Passeth All Understanding: a ride at Disney World with absolutely no line. We trot through the empty maze and step right into a boat. This time the kids are more prepared for the unique experience of a Disney ride, and they groove right along to the happy pillaging of a West Indian port town. (Ann and I notice a few PC updates from our childhood visits -- the women now chase the pirates, for some reason, and during the auctioning of hostages, the rascals seem to be offering bids for the lady's "ribbons," not her person. Yeah, right.) But my favorite robot buccaneer is still getting drunk with that robot pig, and that robot dog still holds the keys just out of reach of the beckoning jailbirds. We're all more than satisfied.
Outside, The Plan calls for us to step across to the Enchanted Tiki Room. Again, no waiting. (This ride has also been updated, with less fortunate results. The old Tiki Room was about camp and charm; the new one -- with new characters, a caustic story line and a hip-hop rendition of "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing" -- is technically advanced but stylistically damaged.) And then it's straight to the Jungle Cruise, usually good for an hour-long line. But now, aboard we go after 10 minutes.
With hundreds of people a minute pouring through the gates, the streets are finally getting a little fuller (things really start to clot up by 11 a.m. or so). But never mind, because it's our reserved time to go ride Splash Mountain anyway. Zip, we slip right past the 30-minute standees and are shown directly to our log. What joy! (Getting to the front of the line, I mean. The ride is nice, too.)
Can this be happening? We've been here 90 minutes and ridden four major rides. With a sort of stunned triumphalism, we slow down, mosey up and down the Swiss Family Treehouse, buy goofy crap at still-uncrowded shops (you know those iron keys the Pirates dog has in its mouth? There's now a set hanging in our kitchen) and eat a relaxed breakfast at the bakery on Main Street. By the time things are approaching gridlock shortly after noon, we head for the pool, having bagged our perfect day.
2. Don't Plan So Much
All right, already. Obviously, the benefits of a little holiday discipline are abundant, but with young children in the squad, don't get carried away. Sometimes we pushed (okay, force-marched) the kids for their own benefit. ("Noooooooo!" is how Isabel greeted the day on the mornings I peeled her from her bed like Velcro at 7 a.m., after having laid her down, still dressed, at 11 the night before. But still I carried her, limp and protesting, straight out of the hotel to the Disney bus. Within a few minutes, she was up and delighted with our early start.)
But just as often, we let ourselves be sidetracked by worthy diversions. We never did make it to Mickey's PhilharMagic, but we did line up for every Disney character that popped up in our path, and the girls' scribble-filled autograph book is their most-prized totem of the trip. And as the week filled, we ended up jettisoning Disney's MGM Studios altogether. But we enjoyed Epcot so much, we spontaneously added a third evening visit.
The prime source of our regimented approach was "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World" (Wiley Publishing), a frank, exhaustive and irreverent tour manual and one of the most genuinely informative guidebooks I've ever used. But it is, well, a wee bit zealous. It would be easier to complete a NASA astronaut training course than stick to all of this book's maneuvers. (For example, within the five pages it devotes to booking a breakfast table in Cinderella Castle -- where Disney characters join you over pancakes -- it describes how to use an online atomic clock to calibrate your phone calls to the reservations line.) We didn't arrive at the park 50 minutes before it opened, as the book demands, or time every movement to the second. But we did find the underlying principles -- go early, go with a plan -- invaluable.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
After a mad dash, the author's daughter gets Minnie's autograph at Disney World.
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