Disney Adventures

I don't care what anyone says about Disney World. I love it. Sure, it's not the cheapest place to hang out with your family. The lines can be long. There are crying children all over the place. But seriously, sign me up.

In the summer of 2017, my husband and I went to Orlando with another couple. It was our 20th wedding anniversary (theirs, too). We didn't take any kids and we had a blast. I didn't feel guilty about not bringing my daughter because she was having a great time with her cousins. My sister took the kids to Busch Gardens and planned a bunch of other fun stuff. When I talked to my daughter on the phone one day during that trip, though, I heard myself saying, "Hey, I'll bring you to Disney next Christmas."

I said it without giving much thought but then it did start to seem like an achievable goal. So, I started planning. The friends from our anniversary trip let us use their timeshare account, which was a generous gift indeed. Instead of spending thousands to stay at a Disney property, we spent around $400.00 for a beautiful two-bedroom suite with full amenities. I also spaced out the expenses in advance. One month I'd buy park passes. The next month I'd buy airline tickets. We planned for three days at Disney parks and two days at Universal parks.

Our trip finally rolled around this month. The mister stayed home with the dogs (and the guinea pig family that we were fostering). I think he is going to take the kid on a father-daughter trip when she graduates (I have no idea who is going to plan it, though - nothing really happens around here unless I plan it). We flew out on Wednesday, December 12th, landing in Orlando by early afternoon. We picked up our rental car (which was surprisingly affordable) and then headed towards the resort. The kid was snapping photos of palm trees before we even left the airport. That evening, we headed to Disney Springs. For the uninitiated, Disney Springs is basically a shopping/dining/entertainment district owned by Disney. Parking is free, so that's a plus. We checked out some shops and caught a few musical performances. We had dinner at the House of Blues. Our server was amazing and kept calling us "Queen." I had a vegan burger. This was also the meal at which we found out that my daughter does not like feta cheese.

The next morning, we had plans to visit Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park. Getting my kid out of bed was a challenge. I mean, if she won't get out of bed for Disney World . . .  sheesh. One nice thing about staying at a resort was that we had a full kitchen and could eat breakfast there. I was trying to avoid the expense of eating three meals a day in the parks. Eventually, I bullied her out of bed and out the door. We had a great day at Hollywood Studios. We both love the Tower of Terror (and as an added bonus, we had fast passes for it). We also rode the Rock-n-Roller coaster (she had been too short to ride when we visited in 2012). The day was warmer than expected, and I never heard the end of that since I'd indicated that she wouldn't need to bring any shorts (per the forecast). We finished the day with dinner at the 50's Prime Time Cafe. This was the one "special" dining experience that I'd booked. I'd heard mixed reviews on this place from fellow vegans. How well a vegan eats there seems to depend on a number of factors, such as the chef on duty. I was not one of the lucky ones. I had spaghetti with marinara sauce that was nothing special. However, it was a fun experience and I did enjoy a very festive adult beverage.

One thing I was really looking forward to was seeing the holiday decorations in all of the parks. I must say they did not disappoint! We saw some amazing decorations and watched lots of fun holiday performances as well. 

On Friday, we were scheduled to visit Universal Studios. I had planned specific parks on specific days because of the fast passes. Getting my daughter out of bed was, once again, a challenge. When we got to the parking lot, the attendant pointed at the sign and told me that "we recommend the premium parking." General parking is $25 and that seems ludicrous to me already. Paying $40 for upgraded parking is crazy talk. When I declined, she snatched the $25 out of my hand and didn't say another word to me. I wonder if she had some sort of quota to meet. Regardless, you don't see that shit at Disney.

When we walked through the park and entered Diagon Alley, seeing my daughter's face made the whole trip worthwhile. She held her cheeks in her hands and repeated "ohmygodohmygodohmygod!" She was blown away. She's a Harry Potter fan and it really is amazing how they've recreated the place. "Now you see why I wanted you to get out of bed!" I said. We started by buying a wand in the wand shop (which was packed to the gills). My mom and stad had sent her $100 for the trip, and my husband had put aside $400 of his bartending money for us. So, it felt okay to splurge on a $50 stick. She quickly got some lessons on how to use the wand at the interactive displays. A steady drizzle was falling but everyone basically just ignored it. I mean, there were people there from all over the world - when you've spent that much money and traveled that far, you just go with it.

We did visit the rest of the park and rode a few rides. I love rides, I really do. I do struggle with some of the virtual reality-type stuff, though. I had purchased some anti-nausea patches and took a non-drowsy form of Dramamine, but some of those rides were still a struggle. I ended up closing my eyes during the Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon ride. If you ever get to Universal, you've got to ride the Escape from Gringott's ride in the Harry Potter area. It was so much fun and didn't make me queasy.

When I went to Disney and Universal in 2017, it quickly became clear to me that I hadn't done enough research into vegan options. This time around, I had my ducks in a row. Plus, both parks have gotten better about making vegan options available. The rising popularity of the Impossible Burger makes it easy to eat "fast food." I ended up eating several of them during my trip. At Universal, I even had vegan ice cream at Ben & Jerry's. I also appreciate how great the vegan community is when it comes to sharing. There is a full wiki for vegan eating at Universal, and a Vegan Disney site as well. I also made two visits to Voodoo Doughnut during our trip. So many options! We also had dinner at Dixie Dharma in downtown Orlando one night.

Saturday was slated for Disney's Animal Kingdom park. I had tried desperately to get fast passes for the Avatar Flight of Passage ride, but it was a no go. So, I knew we'd have to suck it up and stand in line for that one. We decided to get it out of the way when we first arrived. It was raining heavily but again, whatcha gonna do? Indeed, we were in line for about two hours, but Disney does a pretty good job of entertaining you (or at least giving you something interesting to look at) while you are waiting. I had really talked up this ride to my daughter so I was hoping she would enjoy it. She was almost speechless after we got off the ride. Mission accomplished!  Eventually the rain stopped and we had a nice day in the park. I've seen the Lion King show three times now but it's still a lot of fun.

On Sunday, we visited another Universal park, Islands of Adventure. This one is more super hero-oriented but does feature another Harry Potter experience (Hogsmeade). The good news is that we were able to bring the wand so that she could get some more mileage out of that. I also did a bit of shopping at this park. My nephew's birthday is the day after Christmas so I picked up a few things for him. While I was shopping, my daughter rode the Incredible Hulk coaster. She tucked her phone into a pocket and then buttoned it up. As it turns out, all riders have to pass through a detector and she was immediately busted for having a phone. I guess they don't mess around! She brought her phone to me and then rode the coaster. We rode most rides together but I passed on a couple of them. I had to pace myself or my stomach would get angry.

The resort where we stayed had tons of activities for kids, teens, and adults. My daughter checked out "teen ping pong" later that evening and had a lot of fun. The resort had tons of pools and I could see people swimming in them, but I felt like the amusement parks were enough excitement for me. It was warm but it didn't seem to me like it was swimming weather. The resort was beautiful. Each morning I enjoyed breakfast on the balcony and enjoyed the views of the palm trees and other Florida-ish things.

Monday was our last day in the parks. We headed to Epcot. I know that not everyone loves Epcot, but I really enjoy it. We had one fast pass, which was for the Soarin' ride. This was where things turned a bit sour, at least temporarily. Soarin', as you might guess from the name, is a ride that makes you feel like you are flying. It's pretty low key, though. You sit in a row of seats that swing a bit as you fly over mountains, the Eiffel Tower, etc. In our row, there was a woman with four children. The youngest boy seemed to have some trepidation about the ride. He looked to be about three. One of the cast members knelt down next to him and explained how the ride would work. He didn't seem to be buying it. Eventually, it became clear that the mom would have to exit the ride and take the little guy with her. That left three other kids. The youngest one was not old enough to be on the ride without an adult. I heard the cast member say that he could stay if another adult would take responsibility for him. I unbuckled myself and said I'd do it. I said to the family, "I'm Claudia," and did my best to look like a friendly mom who can be trusted with a stranger's child.

I sat next to him and the ride commenced. He really seemed to enjoy it, as did his sisters who sat on the other side of him. I helped him with his seatbelt when the ride was over.  My daughter, however, was not a good sport about any of this. She was deeply disappointed that I had volunteered to sit with a different kid. I volunteered for a couple of reasons. One: no one else was stepping forward. Two: this little guy wouldn't have been able to ride the ride if I hadn't sat with him. And three: I felt like I sped things up a bit for the dozens of people waiting for that ride to start. If they'd had to pull the second boy off the ride, it would have taken that much longer.

Honestly, I was appalled that my daughter was upset about the fact that I had stepped forward to help another family. Is this how I raised her? Not to try to help when you can? An hour later, she had another meltdown when I stopped to return some work messages. We were spending six solid days together - how much more of my time could she possibly want? Later, she apologized for being bratty and all was well again. I think she was just tired and crabby. After all, we'd had several days of non-stop rides and shows and walking.

We walked through all of the countries at Epcot (where else can you go from France to Japan to Mexico?) She was invited to join some performers in Mexico and had a lot of fun singing and dancing. She also had her photo taken with Mary Poppins (in England, of course). I may or may not have grabbed a margarita while in Mexico. We did some shopping in China and then poked around a bit more before heading to the MouseGear gift shop. I hadn't yet purchased any souvenirs for myself, so I found a couple of unique items to take back home.

We walked past the big ball as we left the park and talked about a plan to make one last visit to Disney Springs before flying back home the next day. We took the shuttle to our parking lot and hopped off. Now, up until then, my phone had been doing a great job of marking our parking spot each day. This time, however, it was off. We began walking up and down the aisles, looking for our nondescript rental car. Suddenly, five days of parking had blended together. Were we near the front of the aisle? In the middle? How far had we walked to the shuttle? Were we near the small grove of pine trees or farther away? The rental car was a grey Toyota Camry. I decided to be more methodical about it. I started at the first row and just started checking grey cars. I had noticed previously that the key fob didn't work until it was directly next to the car, so there was no hope of getting it to beep or to activate the lights from a distance. The kid, meanwhile, was tired and started to cry. I continued to look for the car. I couldn't believe it was this hard to find! I felt like an idiot, for sure. Eventually, I spotted a security vehicle parked in the distance. I walked over to her and explained our predicament. As it turns out, they get a report showing what time each row was filled. Based on when we arrived, she could give us an idea of which rows were mostly to contain my rental car. I looked more closely at the rental car tag. I had misread the abbreviation - it was a Corolla, not a Camry. Son of a! The security guard drove around the lot while we walked down the aisles she had mentioned. It was the kid who finally found the car. So much relief! I'm not sure how long we walked around, but it was longer than I'd want to admit regardless. Anyway, if you go to Disney, take a picture of your dang car and where it is parked. That's a tip from me to you.

After all that, we decided to skip Disney Springs. I picked up some ice cream for the kid (I felt bad because she'd been so upset about the car) and headed to the resort. She rallied and walked over to the recreation center for that night's teen event, which was dodge ball. I can't even imagine a scenario in which someone would choose to play dodge ball voluntarily.

The next morning, we packed up our gear and checked out. We were ready to go home, but not quite ready to leave behind palm trees and 70-degree days. Our flight home was uneventful. The kid was supposed to do her homework but she watched some goofy show instead. Gee, I'm glad I went to the trouble of alerting her teachers about her absence and making sure she had all of her assignments. 

If I had known (at the time I made the offer) that my daughter is going to Estonia this summer with her touring choir, I probably would not have done the Orlando trip. I mean, this stuff is expensive and it was certainly an extravagant Christmas gift. I have no regrets, though. In just a few short years, she'll be away at college. I hope she'll remember the trip - our inside jokes ("Are you chapsnatting this?"), lying in bed watching Live PD together, talking to Stormtroopers at Hollywood Studios, and screaming our heads off on a roller coaster. I hope she'll forget the whole misplacing-the-car bit, though.


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