We needed to return to Orlando for our flight home. We’d booked a couple of nights here, initially so we could do 2 days at the Kennedy Space Center – but having squeezed an extra day in earlier in our trip, we now found ourselves with a free day in Orlando. Disney World was the obvious choice.
The night before we downloaded the mobile app, purchased our Magic Kingdom day tickets for $120 each, reserved a table for two with baby at the Be Our Guest restaurant and prepared packed lunches and breakfasts.
We got up and out early, the resort opens at 9am but they let you in early, and it can take an hour to get from the car park to the gates. We left our nearby hotel at 7am with bags loaded full of bagels, cantaloupe and sausages from breakfast. Avoiding the worst of Orlando’s rush hour, we snaked our way through the road systems that lead to the Disney resorts – following signs for Magic Kingdom, and parking in the Simba area. The skies were a beautiful azure blue, and even at 8am the temperatures were soaring.
An unending procession of people led the way to the park, through security and to the transport links – we boarded the monorail with Conway in buggy, and set off around the Seven Seas Lagoon, Cinderella’s famous castle loomed in the distance. We took the downtime to lather ourselves in sun lotion. From the monorail we clicked through the turnstiles, scanned our mobile tickets – and we were in – heading down Main Street USA.
From the colonial buildings of Jekyll Island, to the stylised over the top old town of Disney, a high street lined with store after store of merchandise, old cars whisking guests up and down it, all leading to that world famous view of the Disney castle. Hundreds of people poured down the street, and we all gathered by the castle to wait for the opening performance. Nearing 9am and it was hot, very hot, the sun was lightly grilling our shoulders.
We parked ourselves beneath the bronze statue of Walt and Mickey, and we watched the mice and the princesses welcome us, the fairy godmother cast a spell from a high window of the castle – and the park was open.
Unsure what rides we could and couldn’t do with Conway, we walked first to Fantasyland and were the first to enter the Enchanted Tales With Belle – an interactive performance. As would become ritual – we parked the stroller, took bags with our essentials and carried Conway to the ride. And this was our first taste of Disney air-con – each ride, ride line and shop gets pumped with cold air to cool everyone down – aircon is the hook that pulls you into the shops, making it almost pleasurable to buy overpriced merch.
We passed through double doors into Belle’s father’s workshop. Maurice is an inventor, and around us were sketches and examples of his work. In front a magic mirror, which we’d pass through into a tale of how Belle met the beast. A talking wardrobe assigned us roles to play – she moved her head and eyes in a lifelike way – Samantha and Conway got the role of Mrs Potts, while I cringed inside.
Through another door and Lumiere welcomed us, his candelabra arms waving and gesturing, his French accent setting the scene. Belle soon arrived, and we played out the story, children super excited, staff slightly jaded.
Still early, and with queue times only 5 minutes, we hopped from Belle’s story to Ariel’s. Our first actual ride. The line led us around displays showing the mermaid’s human collectibles and the noisy seagull welcomed us. We sat down in a seashell, Conway snuggled between us, and set off on an underwater journey – Sebastian the lobster sung to us, Ariel and Flounder danced, and we watched the retelling of their story. We pointed out each fish and octopus and starfish to Conway, he was wide eyed and quiet, taking it all in but not sure what to make of it – occasionally he pointed with excitement. Down where it’s wetter segued into Poor unfortunate souls, then Kiss the girl, and out to the wedding finale.
Time for breakfast, and we perched outside Gaston’s Tavern, eating our sausages and pancakes, and listening to others talk about certain rides being closed – all the big rides hadn’t opened yet – Space mountain, Splash mountain and so on – this didn’t bother us much, except that it meant queues at the quieter rides were now longer.
Staying in Fantasyland, the next ride we’d try was a little more exhilarating – a spinning flying elephant ride. You sit inside a little Dumbo and spin up and around, a little lever controlling how high you go. A half an hour queue now, but inside we waited in a faux-circus soft play area – a beeper would tell us when it was our turn to board. And Conway enjoyed sitting and driving a little car as all the other kids rushed about around him.
Beep, beep, it was our time to board. We squeezed in, Conway tightly in the middle – immediately drawn to the lever, and off we go – spinning around, and around, up and down, Conway enjoyed every moment, while daddy felt queasy by the end.
Now nearing midday, we stopped again at Gaston’s to buy some drinks and eat our homemade packed lunch – delicious pickle and pastrami subs, saving us about $30 and tasting superior. Inside the tavern a fake fireplace roared, while the aircon whirred, in Gaston’s giant seat a mother was breastfeeding, the perfect throne for it.
Time to leave Fantasyland, and beneath the hot sun, sun lotion lathered on again, we set out to explore the rest of the park – walking West into Frontierland, then Adventureland, screams fell from Splash mountain, horns bellowed from the steam boat, families wore matching Disney t-shirts and Mickey ears were everywhere. We hopped from shop to shop to keep cool – from the haunted house to Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe.
We passed from Adventureland, and the Swiss Robinson tree, back across in front of Cinderella’s castle and into the underwhelming Tomorrowland – a 60s future looking a little dated, and where bottled water will cost you $3.50. Of course we had refillable bottles and the park is full of water fountains.
Back on the periphery of Fantasyland, clearly this is where we wanted to be, we cooled down with a tasty iced coffee, booked a ride on Winnie the Pooh using our FastPass and headed towards the Mad Hatter’s Mad Tea Party.
After feeling too queasy on Dumbo I opted to watch this one, I don’t mind rollercoasters, I don’t like spinning. Sam stayed in line with Conway, and I watched them board a yellow cup in the middle. A mouse poked its head out the top of the ride, Conway pointed to it, and the cups began to spin, round and around, I watched as they zipped by, again and again, both clearly having a lot of fun.
When it was time to join Pooh bear’s journey through the 100 Acre Forest the ride broke down. Our FastPass got switched to a generic one we could use on anything, and we chose to go on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride – we crossed back to Adventureland for it.
We meandered through and around the FastPass waiting area, still queuing for 15 minutes before getting our turn. “Is this ride ok for babies?”, we’d asked at the entrance – “yes, there’s no height restriction”. We boarded a boat and set out into the darkness, unsure what to expect.
Around a corner, and there were pirates, and villagers, and hearty singing, and cannons and gunshots, water splashes and animatronic dogs. Conway screamed with each bang, upset, but not overwhelmed, a little fake cat or dog calmed him quickly, and the ride continued. Then in the darkness, a surprise drop, we whistled down a short hill, completely unexpected, it was fun for Conway and I, but Sam’s heart was in her mouth.
All in all though, the ride was a bit of a wet flop, there was a Pirate with a strong resemblance to Jack Sparrow, but not much of a story, you wouldn’t want to wait long for it. Winnie the Pooh would have been better. Still, the cool air conditioned darkness was a welcomed break from the blazing hot sunshine.
And back out in that sun, where adult and children alike were turning the colour of Minnie’s dress, we found ourselves amongst a full on parade. Merida from Brave danced upon a dragon, Minnie and Mickey rode a balloon, a giant Dumbo float was surrounded with dancers. Everyone must melt in those outfits.
When the music had passed we escaped the hustle and bustle for the quiet tranquility of Tom Sawyer Island. From a wooden raft we climbed onto the green hill – the noises, music and screaming of Disney World now only a soft din, we explored the island like it was some National Trust walk – from the windmill, through the mine, over the water, to the imaginary boat, we let Conway roam free as much as we could.
We’d booked the only table available when we did it online last night, and that was 5pm. We hadn’t expected to get in, the Lonely Planet had suggested booking months in advance. It was nice to know we had dinner planned.
From Tom Sawyer’s island we approached the bridge to The Beast’s castle, where we waited with anticipation in front of two large wooden doors – enormous lions sitting either side, staring down at us. A lady greeted us, welcome to the castle and our restaurant, she gave Conway a sticker, and the giant doors opened for us.
We walked through, past a beautiful mural of Belle and her prince, into the grand ballroom. While it didn’t have the tranquility or intimacy I’d expected, it was still magical. A balcony ran around the edge of the room, large chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and at the back a large window opened onto a winter’s landscape, snow was falling in the night.
We were seated in the main hall, but there were two other rooms as well – one contained a giant spinning figurine of Belle and The Beast, with paintings of their life together adorning the walls, while the other was all the more impressive – a dark room resembling The Beast’s despair – a magical rose drooped in the corner, a portrait was torn by bear claws and drapes were ripped to shreds, a tapestry on the wall told the story.
It was a 3 course set menu – Sam chose Escargot (snails) with a center-cut Filet Mignon, I had a gruyere and onion soup followed by pork tenderloin. Everyone’s desserts were the same – a trio, include a white chocolate chip cup filled with matcha cream. Every now and then The Beast walked by, welcoming us to his castle.
Every night at Disney World the day ends with a fireworks show. After our meal at The Beast’s we ambled back to Main Street – the sun had set and the temperature was at last comfortable. We explored some more of the Disney stores before finding a space in front of the castle for the final show – we parked right in the middle, with a perfect view of Cinderella’s place. The finale starts at 9.
We sat and waited, as the sky grew dark and the castle’s lights began to dazzle. I was expecting a 5 minute fireworks display – but it was a full half hour show, it began with music and a choreographed light show onto the castle, then well timed explosions of fireworks in time with the performance.
Big Disney show numbers were accompanied by dancing animated characters projected onto the spires and windows of the castle. All the villains, then the heroes took turns in lights, from Moana, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, to Toy Story and Pirates of the Caribbean. Tinkerbell appeared in a window and flew out and above the crowds to rapturous applause as fireworks crashed and popped on either side of the castle.
With one last hurrah, the castle explodes in a flurry of light, colour and music, “follow your dreams” they say, and the show ends, A phenomenal light show, and the perfect serenade to the end of our holiday to Florida and Georgia. A little bit of magic to end with.
We followed the crowds out of the park, and boarded the boat across the water, back to our car, and back to our hotel – 15 hours later, an epic day. Tomorrow we would pack, hang by the pool, drive back to the airport, return our trusty rental and fly home again to Brighton – an 8 hour flight with an infant, it could have been worse. From the wedding and family time in Longboat key, to the alligators and pelicans, the great rockets in the space center, the swinging Spanish moss and old American architecture of Jekyll island, and the thrills and magic of a day at Disney – a fantastic holiday.