Disney World: The Kids' Choice
3. A Little Yin, a Little Yang
Epcot is delightful for grownups, especially the World Showcase. We had Moroccan food, saw a street performance by some young Chinese acrobats, scarfed a big beery meal in the German Biergarten Restaurant. The kids? They were entranced by the acrobats, unimpressed with Moroccan food and neutral on the Oompah band. But since we spent our mornings on more kid-oriented things in the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, they went along willingly with our middle-aged evening program. (And we did make a point one night to catch the grand evening parade in the Magic Kingdom.)
Ditto for rides in the parks. Hey, one trip through "It's a Small World" is worth a whooole lotta turns on the Carousel of Progress, right? Oscillating between kid stuff and our stuff throughout the day kept everybody happy.
4. Let Disney Be Your Friend
Of course, there are some rides you shouldn't take kids on, even if it is your turn. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter Space Mountain? Not with our 5-year-old, thank you very much. But with an informal Disney program called Switchoff, two parents of little kids can still get their kicks on the scariest rides without having to wait twice. It works like this: When you get to the ride's entrance, tell a staff member you want to do a switchoff. One adult goes ahead, the other takes the too-small kids to wait at a designated spot, probably near the ride's exit. When the first rider finishes, they meet up, hand off the kids and the second grownup gets to go to the front of the line.
In that way, Ann and I both managed to ride Epcot's very intense Mission: SPACE, a realistic rocket simulator plastered with warnings to the squeamish. Tyrie didn't even make the height requirement. Isabel was tall enough but didn't like the constant overtures to anyone with doubts to LEAVE NOW! We gave her a choice but pressed her to ride, our instincts being that she would emerge loving it. She rode with me, and -- phew! -- did love it. In retrospect, at least.
Switchoffs are one crucial Disney timesaver. Others include Fastpass, the computerized ride reservations system, and the "Extra Magic Hours," which on certain days allows people staying in Disney resorts to go into the parks one hour earlier than other guests. We visited Animal Kingdom on a magic hour day. The tiny early crowd, combined with our radio-controlled, rapid-response strategies, meant that we had ridden all of the headliner rides and seen the world's coolest 3-D bug movie well before breakfast. By the time the hordes flowed in, we were ready for our own magic hour -- that one by the hotel pool.
5. Stay Close, Bail Out, Have a Drink
Finally, here is the ultimate recipe for remaining a happy grownup in Disney World: rum and chlorine. The touchstone of our daily routine was to bail out of the theme parks just after lunch, the most crowded stretch of the day. We swam, we swilled, we positively swooned in the relaxing Florida sun, steadily recharging for an evening return to the action. You can do that at any number of Orlando hotels, but it's sure easier at one of the more than 20 resorts within Disney's endless boundaries. (We stayed at the Dolphin Hotel, a sleek pastel tower just a boat ride away from Epcot and a bus ride from the Magic Kingdom. Others, like the Polynesian or the Grand Floridian, are on the monorail line, putting them in prime in-and-out territory.)
On our last full day, Ann and I set our umbrella drinks down long enough to take a dip in the biggest of the Dolphin's five pools. As the girls dogpaddled about, we took turns pushing each other on a float through the 20-foot grotto waterfall (the poor man's massage therapy). In between dunks, we talked about arranging a few hours to ourselves that night. It wouldn't be hard; we could book a hotel babysitter or park the kids in one of Disney's child-care "clubs." Surely, after four nonstop days, we needed a little grownup time.
But no, we decided, we really didn't. With a little care and a lot of fun, Disney with the kids was plenty grownup for us.
Steve Hendrix will be online to discuss this story Monday at 2 p.m. during the Travel section's regular weekly chat on www.washingtonpost.com.
Details: Disney World
GETTING THERE: Several carriers fly nonstop from D.C. to Orlando, including US Airways (currently quoting a round-trip fare from Reagan National of $176), AirTran (from BWI, $182) and United (Dulles, $182). We took advantage of an option uniquely available to Washington- ians: Amtrak's Auto Train offers daily overnight trips for you and your car from Lorton, Va., to Sanford, Fla., about 30 miles north of Orlando. The $120 one-way coach fare for adults ($60 for children) includes dinner and breakfast. The one-way fare for autos is $140; for vans and SUVs, $228. We loved arriving fed and refreshed at 9 a.m. the next morning. Info: 800-872- 7245, www.amtrak.com. To save money and visit family in Savannah, Ga., we returned by car: 13 hours/850 miles split over two days.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
After a mad dash, the author's daughter gets Minnie's autograph at Disney World.
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