Returning home from Disney World in Florida is like emerging from a parallel universe. We left the autumn chill of Illinois to step off the plane into balmy temperatures and pure, unadulterated fantasy. For six days, we flitted from castles and princesses, pirates and spaceships to Europe, Hollywood and animal-roaming Africa.Highlights? The picture above was a photo opportunity perk for those who use a credit card sponsored through Disney. Card holders can show up at a location in EPCOT for a surprise reveal of Disney characters and a complimentary 5 x 7 photograph. It was fun to see the curtains open to reveal Minnie and Goofy, two major characters. Although those less-initiated with Disney mania may think this ho-hum, just know that Disney characters are “real” in that they appear in only one place in “the world” at any given time and always in designated areas where their handlers can insure their safety. Yup. Such is life today, even at Disney World. So having access and hugs from the “real” Minnie and Goofy in a private photo op was very special. The picture is one I will frame as an unforgettable keepsake of our 40th anniversary trip.
With the dining plan, we also enjoy the food options at Walt Disney World. Favorites? We finally were able to book Le Cellier’ at the Canada exhibit, EPCOT, for a luscious lunch. It was worth having to do lunch rather than dinner. Topping even that, however, was our Monday evening dinner at The California Grill on the top floor of The Contemporary Hotel. We all agreed it was the ultimate experience over-all. The evening began with our arrival in the ultra-modern lobby of the premier resort where the style vibes are so thick, you can feel them threading through your system. We checked into the reservation desk on the second level, then received a pager and waited to be ushered to the top floor by two attendants in a special elevator. From the moment we walked into the California Grill, our party was treated royally. The food was fantastic, which in my case was a melt-in-your-mouth filet on buttery cheese souffle’ potatoes.
Dirk had an impressive cheese board to begin his meal, pairings of such things as a jellied cube of cranberry compote with a blue cheese or candied almonds to accompany a semi-soft sharp cheese. Dirk and Julie had dined here previously and told us to be prepared; the desserts are an experience. Kelly’s berry sorbet was deliciously intense, paired with double chocolate lava cake. I chose the carmel-banana marscapone mousse on sugared Phylo. It came to the table with a white chocolate banner artfully launched from the whipped cream that announced “happy anniversary” in dark chocolate script. How cute is that! And yummy.
The icing on the cake is the viewing platform on the roof outside the restaurant, although the complete glass surround also enabled us to enjoy the lofty views of lights and parades of floating-light floats on the lake throughout dinner. But when the closing fireworks at The Magic Kingdom began, our servers assured us nothing would be removed from the table as we moved outside to catch the show. It was expected. The sound and music are piped outside for the ultimate experience.
After the fireworks and a bit of lingering over desert, Kelly and I decided we couldn’t end the evening without taking advantage of extra magic hours for resort guests in The Magic Kingdom. It was just a monorail ride away! As most guests exited the park, we arrived to a blissfully quiet wonderland with just the right scattering of resort guests to make it festive. We walked onto Dumbo, a Clemens’ tradition, as an example of how nice it is to have less crowds.
If Disney is something you follow, the buzz about the new Fantasyland addition attracts all kinds of anticipation for its grand opening in December of this year. Imagine our delight to find that Dumbo’s Flying Circus is already open and the Belle and Ariel attractions were quietly offering a soft opening when we were there, which we heard about in line to get our character photo. Although we thought it was only open on a chance basis, my husband and I happened to find it operating when we were in the kingdom on our own on Sunday. So, we were delighted to go through Ariel’s new ride, which is a virtual audio-animatronic tour of the entire Little Mermaid movie. We were interested to see the new que technic–more interesting, threading through waterfalls and grottoes with interactive screens. At the new Dumbo, they even have an internal playground for the kiddies while mom and dad watch with pagers that tell the family when it is their turn to ride. Leave it to Disney’s imaginators to come up with user-friendly lines.
Julie happened to be in new Fantasyland to see the Belle interactive experience, but we missed it. On a hunch, Kelly wanted to see if it was open again, and it was! They were shooting a promotional commercial earlier in the day. The lighter crowds actually allowed the cast and crew more time to perfect the experience. Guests are ushered into Belle’s cottage and then into her father’s workshop, where the Beast’s mirror begins to sparkle, change shape, and turn into an open portal into the Beast’s castle library. We walk from a cottage workshop into a large library. Dirk said he hadn’t figured out how a real mirror became a door yet, but he was working on it. We were greeted by the Wardrobe, an effective audio-animatronic creation. She moved as much as a Wardrobe could move and her face smiled and contorted very convincingly. Lumiere was extremely impressive as he was a glowing candlestick on the mantle that also bobbed and moved and talked–while his flames flamed.
Following the new fads, instead of riding, it was meant to be an interactive experience and several in our party were given parts–I was the salt shaker. We were told to imagine it was the night Belle and Beast fell in love. Then Belle herself came in the room in her golden-yellow ball gown. Her characters paraded, curtsied, and had our pictures taken with the soon-to-be-princess. We were then given a special photopass to be able to retrieve prints on-line. Kelly was thrilled that we saw Disney’s newest attractions in their first days of operation in a behind-the-scenes opportunity.
It wouldn’t be Disney without favorites such as Dole Whip, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pooh [with new interactive ques to keep the kids happy], The Haunted Mansion, California Soarin’, strolls around The Lands, Nemo, pastries in France, Buzz Lightyear’s and Toy Story’s zany rides, and the excitement of walking down Main Street U.S.A. We also enjoy The Carousel of Progress, watching a family evolve in four different time periods right before our eyes. “It’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, starting at the end of every day.” My husband can’t miss “It’s A Small, Small World,” and I defy anyone to come out of it without humming that jingle.
Lest you think the whole trip idyllic, we had our moments with fatigue and even a virus that snuck up on two of us…probably picked up on the plane going down. But as I look as these pictures and those our daughter captured, the memories overcome the challenges. It required two years of planning, saving, scheduling, training and praying for the six of us to vacation together at Disney World. That we were able to be there together as a family was unforgettable.