It's Magic Kingdom Day!! WOOHOO!!
Perfect timing, too. We had planned to go to the Magic Kingdom on the Sunday after we arrived, as it just happened to be the same day that we, as resort guests, could enjoy three extra hours of fun after the park's regular closing time of 8PM. A friend of mine recounted her visit the previous year, with her daughter who was then three years old. As long as she had a nice long nap, back at the hotel, in the middle of the day, her daughter was good to go all the way until the late closing time. So that was our game plan, too, and it worked! It was a long, exhausting day, but this was probably my daughter's favorite of all the parks.
Just a few more hints and suggestions before we venture off. The first: wear comfy shoes. I saw many people in flip flops, and I was there in my Keen Bali sandals, which are normally very comfortable. But with all the walking around, in backless shoes, my legs and feet were so tired and achy by the end of the day. The rest of the trip, I was in my favorite pair of New Balance running shoes, and hubby was in sneakers as well. With all the walking around in the hot Florida sun, wearing sandals won't do all that much to keep you cool.
The second topic here is sun protection. You'll notice in later photos that my daughter and I are in pink long-sleeve hoodies. Those are "Sun Smart", moisture-wicking, sun-blocking tops from L. L. Bean. They are so lightweight, and offer an amazing equivalent to SPF 50. I forgot to pack those in our day pack during our first day at the Magic Kingdom, but I did buy those specifically for our trip. They are fantastic; doubling as sun protection for your arms, and keeping the chill off when indoors in the air conditioning They wash up very easily, and they air dry fast. I highly recommend these. Just order a size up, as they do fit a little snug. Green Organic Girl is a tall size 4, but she's wearing a 5-6 in those pictures. That's also a Sun Smart hat on my head. Very comfortable to wear.
As for the rest of your body, don't forget to slather on the sunblock, at least 20 minutes before heading outside, and reapply every couple hours; especially after excessive perspiration. I was trying to find a less pasty-white alternative to California Baby for Green Organic Girl, so we tested out Mustela's Bebe/Enfant SPF 50 High Protection Sun Lotion. Mustela is made in France, and is a bit pricey, but it was the alternative I was looking for. It does go on a little thick and white, but it's much easier to work into the skin than California Baby. For the grown-ups, I have yet to find a "natural" sunscreen that works as well as Neutrogena's Ultra Sheer, so unfortunately, we had to go "conventional" on that one. Ultra Sheer works exactly as the name says -- it absorbs well, it's not greasy, and doesn't leave a film. On our lips, we used Kiss My Face SPF 15 lip balm in strawberry (Green Organic Girl's favorite). Kiss My Face held up very well in my purse, in the blazing sun. That's more than I can say for a lot of lip balms on the market. My Burt's Bees Hand Salve turned to mush, traveling alongside in the same purse. When the sun started to go down, we spritzed ourselves with JASON "Quit Bugging Me!" natural insect repellent. It's a nice, non-greasy spray, that is also free of DEET and parabens. It's not quite as effective as the conventionals (OFF! Skintastic, Avon Skin So Soft, etc), but it's a good natural substitute.
One final touch before heading out the door:
We're very fortunate to have a child who is wary of strangers, and one who also doesn't like to wander away from mom and dad. Still, Disney World is a HUGE place, and kids get lost every day. I saw quite a few little ones wearing teddy bear/puppy dog backpacks, with built-in harnesses, and what can only be described as a leash. I guess that would be suitable for very adventurous toddlers, but not what I had in mind. I remembered reading about various child ID products in a magazine before, and one of them was the Safety Tat. This is an ingenious product! These are very durable temporary tattoos, that you can easily customize with anything from allergy information, to your cell phone number. [Here's a picture of us riding the giant helium balloon in Downtown Disney, and Green Organic Girl modeling one of her Safety Tats.] We ordered ours with mine and hubby's cell phone numbers. The print is clear and easy to read, and the tattoos come in all sorts of neat designs. They're quick and easy to apply, with no smudging and no staining, and the tattoos stayed legible for about two days, before flaking off by themselves. Heaven forbid that our daughter get lost, and end up crying and screaming unintelligibly at a Disney Cast Member, trying desperately to reunite this child with her just-as-distraught crying and screaming parents. This way, we had some peace of mind that she was at least "carrying" our contact info. Highly recommended.
Now that we're all protected from the sun and "branded", it was time to head out the door! Hubby's research had indicated that it may sometimes take up to an hour to travel by shuttle bus from our location in the Old Key West resort to the Magic Kingdom. Not wanting to miss the 9AM opening, we got up quite early. We caught the Magic Kingdom shuttle bus, with an extremely friendly driver named Pat. She was so nice, and very welcoming. Imagine the Fairy Godmother at the driver's seat of this bus, and that's Pat. LOL! She ended up being the only driver we had during our whole visit, who did actually chat with passengers, and not just rely on the push-button computer and automated voice alerts. Pat told us some stories, as we passed through the Disney grounds, and really engaged everybody on board. Less than 20 minutes later, we had arrived!
"When you're ready to come back, head for Bus Stop Number Nine. Let me hear everybody say "Nine"!"
"NINE!" we all shouted back in unison.
Now, I know all of you are smart enough to know that there are certain items that Mickey Mouse probably wouldn't want you to carry into his kingdom. Just to be sure, there is a security screening at each park entrance. There's usually a bit of a line, so help speed things up by having all bags unzipped and open and ready for inspection, as you place them on the tables.
We ended up waiting about 45 minutes for the park to open, but at about 8:50AM, there was an opening song and dance to watch, right above the front gates! I won't ruin the surprise, but it was very enjoyable :)
Once the gates open, everybody flooded in. The Magic Kingdom lives up to its name. There is so much to see and do, and we certainly weren't able to cover the whole grounds in one day. Do pick up a map on your way in, along with the day's schedule of events (parades, closing fireworks display, etc), and do this at every park. Also, as we went in early September, which is the typical slower season, some of the attractions, and even shops and carts, were closed and/or undergoing renovations.
On the day that we were there, Mickey's Toon Town wasn't scheduled to open until 10:00AM (an hour after the park opening), so do plan for things like that. There wasn't much of a wait anywhere we went, until later in the day. Even then, I think we waited about 20 minutes to ride Dumbo. Most of the other ride attendants just waved us on through.
A tip for those who've never been to Disney World before:
The line of people you see, waiting for a ride, can sometimes be VERY deceptive! Several of the rides and attractions throughout the parks have waiting areas outside of their buildings. Then once you get inside, you find yourself still standing in a line that weaves back and forth, and back and forth. You're exhausted by the time you get to the actual "front" of the line. The nice thing is that Disney offers a service called "Fast Pass". It's free, and included in your park admission. For some rides, you'll see ticket machines just off the main entrance to an attraction. You insert your park ticket (and there are usually Disney Cast Members standing there, available to help you), and you'll get another ticket in return. This is your Fast Pass ticket. On it, it will give you a specified time and window to return to this ride, while you go off and do other things (let's say, come back between 1:50 and 2:50PM). You then come back between 1:50 and 2:50, and enter the designated shorter "Fast Pass" line, where there is a minimal wait. It's a neat thing, very handy, and apparently, not many park guests take advantage of it (although there are a set number of these that will be given out each day, so get yours early).
We had a great time riding the "must do" rides: the teacups, It's A Small World, Dumbo, etc. I have to say that our absolute favorite was the Mickey's Philharmagic 3-D show. We watched that twice, to the little one's delight. She still talks about it, even now that we're home. LOL!
Oh, a quick note about stroller parking:
You'll find designated "Stroller Parking" areas, very close to the exits of most rides and attractions. We always kept valuables on us at all times, but we felt quite safe leaving our stroller unattended (as did hundreds of other parents). Just be sure you can easily identify your own stroller from a distance (tie something decorative to it), as there will be rows and rows of them, and yours might have been moved by an attendant while you were on a ride. And as I mentioned before, if it looks like it might rain, drape a cover over your stroller before walking away.
Our special treat this day was a character buffet lunch at the Crystal Palace with Pooh and Friends, and I would recommend this particular lunch to any family with little ones We had made advance reservations, and even ordered a special allergy-free "vegan" chocolate birthday cake for our now four-year-old big girl! The Disney Dining line was really helpful in going through the available character meal options with us, and answering all sorts of questions. The first rep I spoke to, explained that you can always order a "Celebrate Today" cake at most of the restaurants. No need to order in advance... just tell the host/hostess, and they will bring one out to your table. However, as I have a milk allergy, the dining rep gave me the number to the "Cakes" line. Yes, Disney has a phone number just for cakes. LOL! That rep was also very helpful; taking down our reservation number, and placing an order for a vegan cake to be delivered to the Crystal Palace for our scheduled lunch. However, even if you don't order a special cake, the servers will still bring you a free birthday cupcake, complete with a candle to blow out :) The gentleman next to us was celebrating his 60th birthday with his wife, and he got a cupcake. LOL ;)
Now, even though we had reservations, when we arrived, there was still a massive line and crowd waiting outside. What the Crystal Palace would like you to do is to send ONE member of your party to the check-in line out front, where a host with a wireless tablet computer will check your party in. Your whole party is then sent over to the holding pen... er... waiting area, outside the main doors. One by one, you'll see servers pop out the door, carrying white tickets and announcing, "Winnie the Pooh and Friends would like to welcome the Smith family! Party of four!". It was a long wait... probably 20 minutes from our scheduled lunch time of 1:10PM. It was crowded in the holding pen. We were hungry. I also have a weird hyphenated Chinese- and German last name, and I was afraid somebody had already called out and mispronounced it, and we missed it. The princess was also carrying a giant "mouse ears" balloon (which incidentally, you can ONLY buy on Main Street USA, despite asking several gift shop clerks all around the park where I could find one, and they all said they weren't sure. BTW, these mouse ears balloons are $10 each. Yes, you heard me right. Cash only, please). That giant balloon was blowing around and bumping into other hungry, waiting people (sorry, if that was my kid's balloon that hit you in the face).
Finally, Winnie the Pooh was ready to have lunch with us! We were led to a table with brightly colored mouse-head shaped metallic confetti sprinkled all over it, and a big curl of ribbon, for our special birthday girl. The server was very nice, and pointed out the walking route that the costumed characters would take, to make their rounds to every table. Piglet was already out and about, and Tigger was not far behind. There were typically two characters on the floor at a time. The characters were all very nice (though silent), and took their time with each party. They aim to please. Accompanying the characters is usually one "handler", who can tell you how soon until it's your turn, and can hold a camera for you to take a shot of your whole group, too. The timing worked out well, and we had a chance to sit and take pictures with all of Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, and Pooh. In fact, Pooh was just around the corner, when we finished our meal and we were ready for our cake. My husband asked the "handler", and our server to bring out the chocolate cake as Pooh approached. The timing couldn't have been better :)
Now before I critique the buffet, let me explain that my parents spent 30 years working in one of Canada's top golf and country clubs. My dad was the executive chef. He put out A LOT of buffets. The one at the Crystal Palace wasn't bad. Again, as I mentioned before, the chef came out and personally toured the buffet with me, to point out any potential allergens, and offered to cook me separate side dishes at no extra charge. There was a nice variety of things; a big salad bar, lots of desserts, a soft-serve ice cream machine, and a wide variety of hot food. There was a carving station with pork loin and flank steak. Unfortunately, that was probably the worst flank steak I've ever had. Dry, dry, dry. The roast chicken was dry and stringy, too. (Disney, you're more than welcome to try out my Fall-Off-The-Bone roast chicken recipes). But I did enjoy the salmon, and the curry noodles with black sesame seeds were wonderful! I could have eaten three plates of just those noodles. LOL! There was also a "kids' station", open to all diners, with standards like mac and cheese, steamed broccoli, and chicken nuggets. Unfortunately, our little one was just too excited to have something decent to eat. I think she had all of a dill pickle, a bite of salmon, and some tomato salad. I was very disappointed to see her full plate of food go to waste. All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience, although I think we'd want to try something different next time. $100 is a lot for a lunch.
After lunch, we watched the afternoon parade, which was full of floats, musicians, and dancers. Quite loud, and a bit crowded, though. I can't imagine what the crowds would be like during peak season. We then headed back to our resort for some much-needed naps, to recharge camera batteries, and to unload memory cards into our laptops, ready for the evening.
When we returned to the park, the crowds were a little heavier, but we managed to see Philharmagic again, ride the Small World one more time, and got not-too-bad seats to see the end-of-the-night "Wishes" fireworks and lights show. As the $7-per-order-of-hotdog-and-fries vendor told me, make sure you have a clear view of the castle, and that's the best way to see the fireworks show. It was just amazing! Totally beats out any 4th of July/Canada Day display I've ever seen. And they do this every night!! Wow!!
And when the fireworks were done, we still had three hours to play because of Magic Hours! WOOHOO :) We had the most wonderful time at the Magic Kingdom. It's definitely the most "little kid friendly" of all the Disney World parks.
On to Disney's Hollywood Studios, and a boat ride to Downtown Disney tomorrow! (Continued in Part 4) :)