Are you, dear reader, familiar with the scene in the film 300 that references the strategic funneling of enemy soldiers in order to lead them to slaughter? The area the 300 Spartans want to siphon the opposition through is referred to as “The Hot Gates”. I think that name gives an appropriate visual without me explaining any further. We lived in a house once that had a narrow hallway we called “The Hot Gates”. We had birthday parties and holidays in that house and I swear to you, guests would have to walk single file down that hallway.
This week, at several different times while visiting Walt Disney World, I was reminded of that scene and that hallway. Disney, though, does everything on a much larger scale. Disney felt like The Hot Gates almost everywhere we walked, not just while standing in line for rides, although a few of those were psychologically tough to handle. There were so many people at our resort, so many people on the buses to the parks, so so so so so many people inside the actual parks, that a good portion of my subconscious was anticipating being attacked or trampled by Leonidas and this legendary troops. It was like having flashbacks to a historical event you didn’t actually attend.
So, in short: Disney, man. It’s crowded. Moving on to my review of our stay…
We (my husband, myself, and our 7-year-old son Emmett) set out on our adventure on a Sunday morning, after checking and re-checking that we had packed all the clothes and gift cards and the plants had been watered and the appliances were turned off and most importantly, there was nothing in the apartment that would cause it to smell like an animal had burrowed under the sofa and died while we were out. I know it sounds strange, but my dad always had us take out all the trash and do all the laundry in the house before vacation, and I have adopted that habit and now inflict it on my own children. Seriously, though, what’s worse than coming home to some strange odor? Anyway, we loaded up in my VW Passat, and settled in for the 6-7 hour drive to Walt Disney World.
***Be warned now: This is not going to be a short blog post. Not at all. There’s a lot to cover and I tend to ramble. Consider yourself warned. Continue at your own risk.***
The drive to Disney was relatively uneventful. I’m blessed with a husband who drives well and a little boy who is content to draw, read, or watch a movie in the car without complaint. It was a nice drive on a beautiful Fall day, and thankfully we arrived safely at our destination, Disney’s All Star Music resort.
We have stayed at the Art of Animation resort before, so we chose All Star Music to try something different that was still in our price range. Listed as one of Disney’s “Value” resorts, it is a little bit like a motel with doors outside and little extras. We knew this before we arrived and personally we are fine with it, as we spend a total of 30 minutes a day in the hotel and the rest of the time at the parks. It’s a good option if your main focus is the parks. We don’t use the pools because we typically travel to Disney in the cooler months. It’s fine for what it is.
At check-in, Stephen was polite and smiley, as Disney Cast Members tend to be. He offered my son a “Celebrate” button, wrote his name and drew some balloons on it. This is something Disney does for special occasions. They have buttons for First Time visitors, Birthdays, Honeymoons, and I’m not sure what else. It’s a great and cheap way for them to make guests feel special, and I love it. If you have young kids, you know that they love stickers and buttons and my son is no exception. I appreciated the effort to make him smile upon arrival.
After a few minutes of typing on his keyboard, Stephen told us our room was in the Country Music section. This was not music to my ears – not because I have something against Johnny Cash – but because Country is located WAY out in the back of the resort. In the woods. We’re already talking about a bare-bones resort, and now we’re talking about a half-mile trek from the front desk out into the woods on the back of the property. I wanted to change this immediately, but nothing else was available. (I thought booking our trip for a Sunday-Wednesday in November was a smart move, but apparently no one else worries about their kids’ education because the place was jam-packed.)
After dropping our bags off in the room, we came back to the desk to talk to a manager about the room and one other big disappointment. We learned that the Main Street Electrical Parade (one of the things on our list of “MUST SEE” items this trip) was no longer running. Not only that, but there would be no parades at night at all because we were unlucky enough to have booked our trip during the “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” time. This was news to me, and a bit distressing for two reasons: 1)I really wanted Emmett to see a parade, as we didn’t see one last trip and 2) I had never even heard of the Christmas party, and we would have enjoyed going to that. Now, standing at the desk sniffing back tears, I’m told the admission to the Christmas party costs as much as one day of park admission. So there’s no way we can attend.
I’m a big believer in addressing issues as they arise, and not letting them fester. Disney has a reputation for pleasing its guests and making things right, so I knew it wouldn’t hurt to ask. That said, it had been a long day of travel. I was tired and all my balloons were being popped before our actual vacation even got started. What gives, Disney? Big, hot tears were welling up in my eyes, mostly about the Christmas Party situation and about 10 percent about not wanting to be murdered in the back of the hotel property by some insane woods-dweller and never ever being found because not even the maintenance guy goes back there.
Nick, the manager, politely apologized about the room and said he would be happy to move us to the Broadway area (one building closer to civilization) the next day. We made arrangements to do that. I tucked my tears back in and resolved to make the best of the rest of what Disney had to offer. We had 2 1/2 days of fun in the park to look forward to! Chin up! Let’s go to the gift shop! [Note: The next day we inquired at the desk about our room change, and there was no room change noted or listed for us. Nick was off that day, because of course he was. We waited quite a while to get it moved, but at least something else was available.]
So we looked around the resort gift shop for a while. My son decided that first night that he wanted to spend his $25 gift card on a Stitch doll. We persuaded him to at least wait until we were in the Magic Kingdom to make up his mind, and he acquiesced. I noticed that the resort gift shop carried baby clothes for girls, but nothing for baby boys. I inquired about this, because we also have a 6 month old who stayed home with the grandparents, and the attendant told me she wasn’t sure why that is, they used to have boy stuff and now they just don’t. Um… ok. At this point I decided to start taking notes. Positive and negative, I would record this trip for posterity and for Disney’s, and other travelers, information. We went to Publix to grab a few snacks for the park the next day. I’m no penny-pincher, but I’m not going to pay $75/day for meals and snacks. Okaaaaaaaay?
OFFICIAL DISNEY DAY 1: THE MAGIC KINGDOM (part 1)
We awoke on Monday morning and walked (and walked and walked) to the resort dining hall for breakfast. The prices give me a headache, so I tried to coach myself that this would be the only ‘paid for’ meal today so at least there was that. I got the Bounty Platter, which is eggs (I believe this is actually egg product scrambled to look like eggs, but I digress…), 2 strips of bacon, one sausage, one biscuit, potato squares with onions (strangest thing on the plate) and a waffle shaped like Mickey’s face. Emmett ate the waffle and biscuit, I ate the eggs and bacon. No one ate the potatoes, and I can’t really figure out why they’re there. The platter costs $11 so I was half-expecting some Mickey Mouse – shaped lobster chunks, but no such luck. My husband ordered the biscuits and gravy and a coffee and said it was fine. I don’t know how much it cost. Part of me doesn’t want to know.
While eating breakfast, we were approached by Cast Member Joshua. He told Emmett “Happy Birthday” – something that happened over and over and over again during our stay thanks to the marvelous button on his shirt – and inquired about our stay and where we were from. He gave a few suggestions of his favorite things in the Magic Kingdom and wished us well. This, I like. This, I expect. I hope that Disney encourages this kind of behavior in cast members and from what I can tell, they do. Every time a cast member went above and beyond, whether in attitude or in service, I made a note. They’ll all be mentioned by the time I’m done writing.
After breakfast, we boarded the bus, which was pretty standard and uneventful. We arrived at the Magic Kingdom full of hope and expensive egg substitute, feeling excited for our day of magic. (Last year, Emmett’s review of the Kingdom was that it was “too girly” so we tried to be more aware of ‘boy’ things in the park, like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.)
[Note: I LOVE the Magic Bands, they make everything so simple and organized, connect reservations, photos, fast passes, practically all the info about the trip is on them. we just scanned our bands and went right on in.]
Right inside the park, before walking down Main Street, we entered the Town Square Theater, where Magician Mickey was doing a Meet and Greet. We wanted to get this most important meeting done early, so we went inside and stood in line. It was about a 25 minute wait. Meet and greet wait times don’t bother me as much as waiting for rides, because the character cast members genuinely take time with each visitor, hugging and joking with them, signing autographs, and posing for several photos. The Disney photographers take PhotoPass photos and will also take photos with a guest’s smart phone. Finally, we got up to the front of the line to meet Mickey. Emmett was so nervous, his little clammy hand was pressing into mine. Mickey is his guy, y’all. He met him last year at Epcot but this time, Mickey was talking. This Mickey talks! Right away, Emmett’s “Happy Birthday” button was noticed. Mickey said, “This calls for the birthday song!” My heart skipped. What’s this? THE Mickey Mouse is going to SING to my Emmett? Oh boy! And he did. Y’all. I was like a child in that moment, too, just soaking it all in. Unfortunately all the basking meant that I completely blanked on taking video of the moment, but it was incredible. From what I understand it is somewhat rare, as well. Emmett hugged Mickey and left that meeting knowing that they were BFFs. This, Disney. This right here. This is why you are successful and drowning in other people’s dollars. Please never forget it. Please never stop doing it.
We’re all on a high from what just happened, walking towards the iconic castle. We got to the area right in front and while attempting (and failing) to take a family selfie, we were approached by a custodian in all white who offered to take the photo for us. Sweet! His name was Richard and he was from Trinidad and Tobago. His personality was almost effervescent and we thanked him profusely. This small act, coupled with the Mickey Birthday thing, had me feeling like I was walking on air. This place really is magical. I was starting to feel it.
***To be continued with Official Disney Day 1: The Magic Kingdom (part 2)