How my heavy heart melted to Disney magic: Plus top tips for taking toddlers to theme parks

DinoWHEN I imagined motherhood, I thought I knew where I stood.



There would be no yelling at my children in shops, no sitting in front of the telly for them while I finished whatever I was doing and definitely, yes definitely, no trips to see Mickey Mouse and pals in Florida.



While the first two of these rather deluded expectations were proved wrong a long way back, I’ve resolutely stuck to the last.



Every time the words “Disney theme parks” were uttered in my house, I sort of shrugged and looked away if I was in a good mood or muttered darkly under my breath if I was feeling a bit stressed.



Over the years lots of friends have raved about Disney, about the fun to be had and the beautiful sunshine. Meanwhile, I just sort of resigned myself to the fact that well, it wasn’t for us.



I was always delighted that my mates and their families had enjoyed such a lovely time but felt we couldn’t afford to also sample the Disney experience. Or even if funds could stretch that far, that it was all too plastic, too false somehow, for the likes of us – more used to a holiday park in Wales or a walking break in the Lakes. DSC_0204



Fast forward to last week, and there I was, blubbing like a baby as I strolled through Cinderella’s castle at The Magic Kingdom.



Now I’ve vowed to return for my daughters’ birthday, along with friends, if at all possible. And just a week earlier my daughters had been to Disneyland, Paris, where they had a whale of a time.



Thanks to a whirlwind tour of the four parks at Walt Disney World, my about face is complete.



Okay, so I went as a guest of Disney, with a bunch of other bloggers*, rather than my family, but it was one hell of a trip and one that has opened my eyes to Mickey’s charms in a most spectacular way.



The customer service was flawless, the gourmet food a revelation and the five-star spa Swedish massage, an unforgettable treat. But alongside the laughs I shared with my fellow bloggers and our unflappable Disney PR lady, my enduring memory will be of the unadulterated joy etched on kids’ faces as they witnessed Cinderella, Snow White or Mr Incredible brought to life.



They even get the chance to customise a T-shirt with their favourite character and their own personal message at the Haynes Design a Tee store. How cool is that?


I bristled at the Bibbety Bobbety Bootique where little girls were made over to look like Disney princesses, thinking it was all a bit too much, too grown up. But why should my cynical adult prejudices get in the way of the very willing models’ fun? Minutes later as I saw numerous Little Mermaids clippety -clopping along with their families and beaming from ear to ear, I relaxed. Why on earth shouldn’t they?



The tears I shed at The Magic Kingdom weren’t just for me, so moved by the joy (yes joy, however corny that sounds) I could see around me, but for all the times I’d shrugged or muttered as I’d said: “No, we can’t go to bloody Disney”. With hand on heart, I know I won’t be saying that again.



Before my trip, I never would have believed it. I thought adjectives better fitting the Disney experience were “expensive”, “schmaltzy” and “artery clogging” – thanks to all the burgers and fries on offer. Lodgepool



But I couldn’t have been more wrong. My visit to Walt Disney World was a joy, (there’s that word again) pure and simple. As I rode the Aerosmith Rock N Roller, the adrenalin rush made me screech and giggle my head off. Minutes later I braved the Tower of Terror and swore like a trooper when I wasn’t laughing so much I couldn’t speak.



I hadn’t ridden a scary rollercoaster in 10 years, limiting myself to the kiddie rides to accompany my daughters. There’ll be no such limits in future. For that alone, I would have been eternally grateful.



But of course there’s lots more I could write. I will return to the Disney theme in later posts on this blog, about the superb food, water parks and spas, but I don’t want to gush any further for the time being.



When I read yesterday that Disney’s profits had plunged, I actually felt a tinge of sorrow. I never would have seen that coming. Here’s hoping more families can discover the magic. Yes really. My name is Linda and I’m a Disneyholic.



Tips on Navigating Theme Parks With Toddlers in Tow, supplied by Disney



Traveling with toddlers is easier than ever at Walt Disney World Resort if you plan ahead, pace yourself and take advantage of the many added conveniences for children ages 5 and under.



• Plan to arrive to the parks early and take a break in the middle of the day for lunch and afternoon naps (for parents and tots). Head back in the late afternoon after everyone is well-rested and ready for more fun.



• Baby Services locations are ideal for moms with infants. Located at all four Disney theme parks, the private rooms offer rocking chairs and low lighting for nursing mothers, feeding rooms with highchairs, bibs and plastic spoons, plus diaper-changing rooms. Baby-care products such as disposable diapers, pull-on rubber pants, formula and teethers are for sale.



• No need to pack up all the baby gear for a trip to Disney. In-park stroller rental ($15 a day, $13 a day for length-of-stay rentals) makes traveling through the theme parks easy. Reserve cribs in advance at one of Disney’s resorts. Bed guardrails are available upon request.



• In-room baby-sitting services (407/828-0920) or resort-based child-care programs such as Mouseketeer Clubhouse or The Neverland Club (407/939-3463) are a great option for parents looking for a night out without the little ones.



• A theme-park “rider switch” policy gives both mom and dad a chance to enjoy the latest attractions without the double wait. A parent who waits with a young child while the other parent rides the attraction can get on the ride with minimal wait time once the first parent comes off.



• While youngsters are typically captivated by all of Walt Disney World Resort, be sure to seek out attractions and activities that are appropriate for little ones. (Some attractions may be too spooky for tykes.) Sure hits: “The Seas with Nemo & Friends,” The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, it’s a small world, Dumbo, the Flying Elephant, The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, “Mickey’s PhilharMagic,” Mickey’s Toontown Fair, “Playhouse Disney-Live on Stage,” “Jim Henson’s MuppetVision 3-D,” “Festival of the Lion King,” TriceraTop Spin and The Boneyard, plus daily parades.



• If available, choose a seat located near the back or side of attractions for a quick exit.



• There are baby-changing stations in all bathrooms, including men’s and family rest rooms.



• Most Disney restaurants offer children’s menus, plus crayons and coloring books to keep kids entertained. Character dining — where a cast of characters visits your table while you eat — is a great way to introduce little ones to Disney characters. For more information or to make reservations, call 407 939 3463.



• Be prepared for the Florida sunshine. Bring extra sunscreen, a hat, umbrella, plus a sweatshirt for chilly, air-conditioned theaters.



Disney More general tips to make the most of your trip



• Buy Walt Disney World theme park tickets before you travel to take advantage of the great value offered by the UK-exclusive tickets – Disney’s Ultimate Ticket valid for 14 or 21 days and Disney’s Premium Ticket valid for five or seven days. It also saves queuing to buy them on the gate when you arrive!



• Planning is VITAL! Guests don’t realise how much there is to see and do and how big Walt Disney World Resort in Florida really is. Even the most basic of itineraries will prove invaluable for getting the most out of your holiday. The latest information about Walt Disney World can be found at www.disneyworld.co.uk which could be helpful. You can also order a free Planning kit online including DVD.



• The Florida sun can be very strong so make sure you wear a protective hat and high factor sun cream. Having a poncho, umbrella or light raincoat might be a good idea, too. And don’t forget comfortable shoes as you’ll be doing a lot of walking!



• Remember to bring your camera and autograph books to capture those magical moments and character signatures, but don’t worry if you forget. Autograph books, cameras, film and batteries are available for purchase in the Theme Parks.



• Measure your child’s height before you arrive at the Park so you know which attractions he or she is able to ride – all height restrictions can be found on the attractions listing pages on Disneyworld.co.uk.



• On arrival at the entrance of each Theme Park, pick up a Park Guide Map which details the latest information and times of shows, parades, fireworks and Park hours. Study the map of the Park prior to your arrival to become familiar with the location of the attractions you are most interested in.



• Once in the Theme Parks, be sure to check out the “Tip Boards” throughout the day as they show the current wait times for the most popular attractions at the Park. • Don’t linger at the first few rides near to the gates when you enter the park – head to the far corners to get straight on rides with much shorter queues.



• Most people work their way clockwise around the theme parks so avoid the crowds and travel anti-clockwise.



• The theme parks are often quieter in the early evening and during the afternoon parades which means shorter queues at some of the popular attractions.



• Don’t forget Walt Disney World Resort covers 47 square miles – that’s an area the size of Manchester! Use the network of complimentary transportation around the Resort including buses, boats and a monorail, and be sure to allow enough time to experience all the magic that Walt Disney World Resort has to offer.



• Disney’s FASTPASS cuts waiting times at the most popular theme park attractions so make sure you get yours early in the day. Pick up a free FASTPASS voucher at the entrance to the ride which will give you a dedicated time slot to return and get straight on with little or no wait.



• Remember, adults with youngsters too small to ride may take turns riding an attraction. There is no need to wait in line twice. Just ask a Cast Member for details of this “Baby Switch” service.



• Theme parks can be exhausting so why not take the kids back to your hotel for a swim and a rest before returning in the evening for dinner or to watch the fireworks.



• In addition to the listed attractions, special “behind the scenes” tours are also available at the Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. Just call 001-407-939-8687† from the UK or 407-939-8687† once in Florida for reservations and details.



• Make use of the “Extra Magic Hour”. Guests staying at Walt Disney World Hotels are allowed into the parks one hour earlier each morning and three hours later each evening than all other guests. Each day a different theme park has the facility so check with your hotel reception for a schedule.



• Be sure to keep your ticket and have your hand stamped upon exiting the Park if you plan to return on the same day.



• Walt Disney World doesn’t go to sleep at night, there are loads of great shows, fireworks, parades, places to eat, drink and party.



• The Disney Character Breakfasts are popular so make sure you book in advance. Use the button on your hotel room phone if you are staying in a Disney Resort Hotel otherwise call dining reservations direct on (001) 407 939 3463.



• Make sure you pre-book your reservations for dinner – especially if you want to enjoy a character dining experience. This can be done at either Guest Relations or the desired eatery. To make advance plans, please call 001-407-939-3463† from the UK or 407-939-3463 once in Florida.


Hibiscus Tips from a mum – by Jo, a member of Disney’s mums’ panel:


Magic Kingdom



One family is chosen to open the park, they go on the train with all the characters. Arrive very early for a chance to be chosen.



The walkway on Main Street is red as Walt wanted to lay down the red carpet for guests



Wake up Tinker Bell, the first person to ask at Tinker Bell’s Treasure’s gets to wave a wand and wake her. They also get a certificate.



Sit in the last carriage of the Railroad train and you may get to be the guest conductor.



EPCOT



Do the Kidcot stops all around world showcase. Children get a mask to colour and a small symbol from each country to add to their mask, once complete they get a lovely certificate/picture.



General



Pre-order the photo pass to save $25 and get free international shipping.



Photo Pass – ask for the TinkerBell shot, find the Captain Hook funny photo by Pirates, at DHS there is a funny Stitch photo you can get.




What does it cost?



The following prices don’t include flights. They are an indication of what prices start from and have been based on September this year. According to yesterday’s news, costs are now set to stay the same for the rest of the year to help attract more people. Don’t forget to make the most of the Dining Plan that is right for you, to add more value to your holiday.



Awesomemaracas



VALUE – 7 nights in Orlando – All Stars Music



Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick direct to Orlando, accommodation at the 3V+ All Stars Music on a room only basis and transfers included starts from £827. Prices are per person based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a standard room price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change.



MODERATE – 7 nights in Orlando – Caribbean Beach Resort



Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick direct to Orlando, accommodation at the 3V+ Caribbean Beach Resort on a room only basis with free Quick Service Dining Plan and transfers included starts from £830. Prices are per person based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a standard room price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Prices are based on departures between 05-25 Sept 2009.



MODERATE – 7 nights in Orlando – Saratoga Springs



Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick direct to Orlando, accommodation at the 4V Saratoga Springs on a room only basis with transfers included starts from £815 – price includes free Disney Dining Plan. Prices are per person based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a standard room price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change.



DELUXE – 7 nights in Orlando – Animal Kingdom Lodge



Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick direct to Orlando, accommodation at the 5V Animal Kingdom Lodge on a room only basis with transfers included starts from £955 – price includes free Disney Dining Plan. Prices are per person based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a standard room price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change.


* Here’s a collection of posts so far from my fabulous blogging buddies.



Lulu at Family Affairs says we were like giggly schoolgirls with Tourettes.



Becky at EnglishMum lists her top 10 moments



Alice at Dulwich Divorcee laments a missed opportunity for romance with Mickey.



Erica at LittleMummy.com gives a tour of her room, (complete with video, go Erica!)



Laura at Are We nearly There Yet Mummy describes her Swedish massage.



Exmoor Jane appears to be softening to Walt’s charms.



I’d like to thank the PR team at Disney for making the trip possible, providing such amazing hospitality and treats, and Lulu, Becky, Alice, Erica, Laura and Jane for making it such fun. Who knew that seven women could laugh so much?



Pictures by Becky , Laura Driver and Lulu Campbell.


….If you’re wondering which one is me on the picture taken on the Dinosaur ride. Yes, I’m afraid it’s the over excited one in the blue T-shirt.