The Chopps Do Disney (Part 1)

Cameron is the star student in her second grade class this week, so she came home with two posters to glue pictures and magazine clippings to and fill with all sorts of details about herself and her crazy family.  And if you know Cameron, you know that while she didn’t have to do it over the course of just one night,  she would rather the skin melt off her face before she walked into class the next morning empty-handed.  So, what did I do?  After attempting, unsuccessfully, to convince her to do it over the next couple of days, I did what any mom would do.  I schlepped off to the dollar store to find something inexpensive to fill an estimation bag – one of the exercises on the star student instruction sheet – so that she could take it to school the next day.

Before she went to bed, she reminded me that she left a space for our family picture and that she needed it “first thing in the morning,” so I made a copy of the picture they snapped of us as we headed into the Disney character dinner.  She hopped out of bed the next morning to glue that sucker on the poster, and she couldn’t have been more pleased with herself.

As we were getting ready to go, the poster was sitting on the counter drying.  I was gathering up my things to head out the door and noticed Madison staring at it.  She looked over at me with a strange look on her face, tiger hat on her head, of course.

“You ready?” I said.

She dropped her head, shaking it, then reached up and wiped a tear.  “Those were some good memories,” she said, as if our trip had taken place 50 years ago.

“Yep, we had a great time didn’t we,” I said, giving her a squeeze and kissing the nose of the tiger hat.  Sweet little Madison.

I had to tell that story before launching into my list of Disney World takeaways because it is an excellent example of why parents bear the expense and put themselves through the planning, travel, and dare I say, the hell of dragging their children around a string of theme parks for days on end.  It made me cry, too, although I am happy to report that the vitamin D has kicked in.

Okay, anyway, here it is folks.  Carmen’s view of the magical World of Disney; the high points, the low points, the proud parent moments, some tips, and a few missteps revealed.

1.)  Timing is everything, and so it is with a trip to Disney World.  While I enjoyed the anticipation and relished the thought of surprising the girls at Christmas, just like in the commercials, the period between Christmas and New Year’s Day is one of the busiest times of the year.  And when I say busy, I mean the scary, don’t-let-go-of-my-hand-or-out-of-my-sight busy.  I’m sure the girls enjoyed being pulled through throngs of people, getting stepped on and over, or having head-on collisions with double-wide strollers as much as Greg and I did.

There are perks, like extended hours and added parades, offered during this time of year.  However, all things considered – the joy of the surprise, the decibel level of the girls’ screams, the cost, and the experience – I wouldn’t go at this time of year again.

2.)  I’ve always thought of Disney World as a uniquely American thing.  Boy, was I wrong.  It is a UNIVERSAL attraction.  Some of you are going, “Well, duh, Carmen.”  I know.  I’m slow sometimes.  But for those Disney virgins out there who suffer from the same affliction, I point this out for a very important reason and it is this.  While experiencing that kind of cultural diversity is so awesome for your kids (they met people from all over the world), remember that diversity can and does present some challenges.  For example:

a.)  Don’t assume the person waiting directly in front or behind you in an obscenely long line speaks your language.  That language barrier can make a 30-minute wait feel like an hour and a half.

b.)  Remember that traffic rules and etiquette differ greatly in other countries.  For this reason, defensive walking is highly recommended.

c.)  Parenting standards?  They, too, are very different from country to country.  While this may seem small now, it becomes a much bigger deal after existing in a crowd mentality for seven straight days.  Don’t be shocked by what you see.

d.)  Imagine you are in a crowd of people, following the pack, going the way the nice Disney worker tells you to go as you head race-walk to the next attraction.  Just then you see an opening in the herd, and you decide to step out away from the crowd to enjoy the beautiful, 80-degree Florida weather.  You see your opening and dart towards it to claim it as your own only to step through the most heinous cloud of body odor which almost causes you to hurl up your $8 hot dog.  Yep, personal hygiene standards are also very different in other countries.

To be fair on this point, it could just as likely have been a guy named Joe Smith from Oklahoma who just forgot to use deodorant that day.  It just so happened that the guy in front of me looked like he was a taxi driver from Istanbul.  Again, just a heads up.

3.)  There is no magic age at which to take your kids to obtain maximum enjoyment.  There is absolutely something there for every age, and I firmly believe that the level of enjoyment depends wholly on the person.  For example, I thought for sure the girls would go absolutely ape nuts over the character dinner at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.  Turns out, they got just as much excitement out of the buffet as having their picture taken with Cinderella, Prince Charming, and The Step Sisters.

Girls with Cinderella

They had a special kids buffet so Greg and I didn’t feel the need to hover over them as they filled their plates.  When we all got back to the table, we noticed that Cameron had taken one of each dessert for a total of six.  Emily made the mistake of pointing it out to everyone, to which Cameron looked around the table, then said, “Hey, don’t judge.”

4.)  Pay heed to the symbols on the map that show the age appropriateness and specifics of each attraction BEFORE partaking in said attraction.  Case in point, Quincy is a Stitch (of Lilo & Stitch) freak so we scoped out the line for Stitch’s Great Escape at Magic Kingdom and managed to get in.  Had we bothered to heed the warnings on the map, we would have been prepared for the terror inflicted upon both Cameron and Quincy and the therapy bill sure to follow.  Cameron was sitting between Emily and I, and at one point the room goes dark.  Cameron starts to cry and chant, “Get me outta here,” so Emily and I both reach over to comfort her.  When the lights come back on, Emily and I look over and realize that while we thought we were holding Cameron’s hand, we were really holding each others hand and Cameron is cowering in her seat, a mess of tears.

5.)  Character picture opportunities are a huge parent fail if you fail to plan for them.

C&Q with jake

If there is a specific character that your child is crazy about, make sure you pay attention to the times they will be available for photos and make sure you know where they will be.  Also, make sure you buy one (or 4, unless you get them to swear ahead of time that they will share which you accept at the time but know in your heart never works) of the autograph/picture books for $11-$12 because many of them will sign it.

I’m completely serious.  Don’t get caught in line without one.  You will find yourself digging through your purse for a non-existent pen as the line inches forward, then you’ll try to speak Latvian, or do some creative sign language, to borrow the pen of the person behind you so that once you finally get up to have your picture taken and get the autograph, you can have the character sign the back of the map that you’ve carried around with you all day.

That’s it for today, folks.  I’ll be back tomorrow with another post chock full of tips, general thoughts, and, of course, more stories.  I hope I didn’t include too many spoilers for those of you who haven’t yet been, and for those Disney veterans reading, feel free to add your perspective in the comments.

Love, Carmen

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