Is today February?
The 4-year-old knows. He knows that the Year of Disney begins for us when the calendar turns to February. Every day since he learned that fact, he has asked the question.
Is today February?
Not yet, we tell him. Soon. Shortly after February arrives, we’ll make the first of many planned trips over to Lake Buena Vista to visit the Mouse and his minions. We’ll use the seasonal passes Disney offers to Florida residents. Choosing the less-expensive seasonal passes saves us money, but there will be blackout dates. That’s actually OK, because the blackout dates take place during the high summer, as well as at Christmas and Easter. Going to a Florida theme park in June and July is as close to experiencing the heat of the Earth’s core as you’ll ever get. The Brits and Brazilians can have those dates. As for Christmas and Easter – those are the dates when the park administrators routinely close the gates to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom because they reach maximum capacity. You can have those dates, spring and winter breakers. If we want to get lost and disoriented under the relentless crush of a crowd of wild-eyed strangers, we’ll go to Ikea.
We’ve always been Busch Gardens people, because that wonderful Tampa theme park is nearby and the annual passes are much less expensive than Disney’s. We’re splurging at Disney this year because the boys are seven and almost five. They are, we think, the perfect ages for a deep immersion in the most relentless (and relentlessly endearing) entertainment industrial complex the world has known.
We want to give them those memories. We want them to have fun.
Here’s the question, though: How much fun is too much fun? When I was a kid, our family did things like visit Appomattox Court House. What a thrill for a pre-teen Civil War buff to walk up the stairs of the McLean House, to gaze into the parlor where General Lee and General Grant politely discussed their days together during the Mexican War before getting down to the business of disbanding the Army of Northern Virginia – thereby effectively ending the terrible conflict.
We never visited Disney World as a family when I was a boy, even though we moved to Palm Beach Gardens from North Carolina in 1982. Family finances dictated less-ambitious vacation venues, like Lion Country Safari and Monkey Jungle. I remember one time we made the drive down to Everglades National Park and hiked through the cypress swamps on rickety boardwalks built by a man as close to Tom Bombadil as you’d ever want to meet outside of Middle Earth – Tom Gaskins, founder of a venerable but nearly forgotten (and since closed) Cypress Knee Museum bearing his name.
In 2012, the DadScribe family went to Disney World twice. Both times, the boys were on their best behavior throughout the visit. We stayed at the Port Orleans Riverside resort. I would recommend booking a room if you go with small kids. We like to walk into the park when the gates open, hit the big attractions like Dumbo right away, squeeze in as much fun as we can before lunch, then head back to the room for a break and a nap. Then it’s back to the park for a leisurely evening and dinner, finished off with fireworks. It was so amazing, we just want more, more, more of the fun, fun, fun.
Again, though, how much is too much? I guess we’ll find out. Because we’re going to do it all. In years past, when the mood struck, we would make the quick jaunt over to Busch Gardens for a couple of hours. We wouldn’t try to do everything in the park every time there. Now, instead of a half-hour drive for our theme park fix, it’ll be a bit more involved. We’ll still use a similar strategy, though. On those weekends when we don’t stay overnight, we’ll get there as early as possible, target a few attractions or activities,
then head home when exhaustion begins to set in. What doesn’t get done one trip can wait for the next. That’s one of the benefits of living in Central Florida. We might as well take advantage of it since we’re fortunate enough to have the resources.
Speaking of resources … they are far from unlimited. There will be rules about toys and souvenirs. As in, purchases of said items will be few and far between. Similarly, we’ll try to save money by eating before we go to the park and by just saying no as much as possible when the begging for souvenirs starts (which it inevitably will). Just because we’ve dubbed this the Year of Disney, it doesn’t mean we’re flush with excess cash. It’s just that this is something we want to do for our kids, something we know they will remember the rest of their lives. Nothing wrong with that.
The Year of Disney is almost upon us.
Is today February? They can’t wait. And neither can we.
We will do it all over the next 12 months, and I’ll chronicle the adventure here as well as I can. In the meantime, here’s our top 10 to do list for the Year of Disney:
10. Pirates of the Caribbean, Magic Kingdom.
9. Haunted Mansion, Magic Kingdom.
8. Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure, Epcot.
7. The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, Hollywod Studios.
6. Jedi Training Academy, Hollywood Studios.
5. Beauty and the Beast Live On Stage, Hollywood Studios.
4. Kilimanjaro Safari, Animal Kingdom.
3. Dinosaur, Animal Kingdom.
2. Hidden Mickey hunt, all parks.
1. New Fantasy Land, Magic Kingdom.
What are your family’s favorites? Any suggestions for can’t-miss fun this year? I’m all … ears.