I swore I’d never go to Disney World. I am not a fun mom. My kids do not travel well. This sounded like a very expensive nightmare.
But Alex prepared me mentally that someday, someday in the distant future, Disney would happen. It was inevitable.
And then this summer I realized THIS is the year. All three kids are in elementary school for this one year. It’s the best time to yank them all out of school for a couple of days, because if I had to go to Disney, I was going when the lines were the shortest and the weather was the coolest it could possibly be. Let’s set ourselves up for success, people.
I’d met this new mom friend at the bus stop last year who happened to be a Disney vacation booker, and I figured it was the universe throwing me a freaking bone, because the thought of planning this thing myself made me hive out.
Yoda: Fun you’ll have. To Disney you’ll go.
Me: But I haven’t finished my training, Master.
Yoda: The force is strong with you. Ready you are.
We kept this huge surprise locked down for months. I worked it out with teachers, packed bags without them noticing, and the anticipation grew. Even I got excited. This was going to be epic.
The biggest surprise of their lives
When the day arrived, I felt nervous anticipation. We knew we were creating one of those days the kids would remember their whole lives. The day Mom and Dad blew their minds with Disney. We would never be this fun again. This was our one shot at greatness.
I’d bought teeshirts and wrapped them. Our travel agent made a sign. And here’s what happened:
The video is so priceless to me, but if you’re somewhere where you can’t watch it, I’ll break it down for you:
Ana cried and hugged me.
Elliott sat there dumbfounded then let me hug him.
Evie had no time for hugs because she was instructing us to get in the car.
We left immediately in the van and the kids watched movies while Alex and I did one of those “100 Questions to Ask Your Partner” lists and enjoyed the aroma of sweaty feet. We crashed at a gross motel, then woke up the next day ready to head into the park.
We drove over to our home for three nights, Art of Animation, which was in the park or on campus or however you say that you can hop a bus that basically drops you off in Mickey’s lap.
First day we did Magic Kingdom and we started off with this cuteness:
This is First Day, you guys. Hold onto those images. Everything was new and magical and we were irritatingly optimistic.
The next day we did Epcot. We were already experiencing a disturbance in the force, but such is family time.
While waiting in the crowded bus line for Epcot, Evie started describing puberty.
Evie: Daddy has puberty. I saw it last night. You get these little hairs–
Me: OKAYYY, that’s enough describing puberty. Way to describe Daddy’s ARMPIT, honey. Yes, Daddy’s ARMPIT is hairy. Okay, good talk.
(Just to be clear. ARMPIT. This concluded my ability to make eye contact with any other people staying at the resort.)
Elliott and Ana enjoyed their usual hitting each other on the cram-packed bus.
Me: Guys you have all day to fight. Pace yourselves. Don’t use it all up on the ride over.
You know what they say: it’s not a family photo until someone sticks out a tongue.
Ana was posing for a photo by these bloopy water blobs that shoot from garden to garden when one bloop missed the mark and landed smack in her face. It was fantastic. Tween girls LOVE getting soaked with fountain water. Try this at home.
Despite DISNEY and RIDES, I think my kids were most fascinated by the old school pay phones all over the parks.
Them: Mommy listen. This phone is making noise.
Me: That’s called a dial tone.
We watched Illuminations at Epcot, which was beautiful and worth about two-fifths of the “how much longer” whining we had to endure to make it that late at night with the kids. Which is pretty good.
Learning the ways of the force
On the third day we went to Hollywood Studios for all the Star Wars. Storm Troopers roamed the streets and thankfully, we were not the droids they were looking for.
At Jedi Training Academy (Can that just be a regular way I start conversations now?), my kids fought Seventh Sister (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar in Star Wars Rebels, so really, if you think about it, my kids fought Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and we had this conversation:
Ana: I think she’s either Darth Vader’s sister or his girlfriend.
Me: She can just BE a Sith Lord. She doesn’t have to be attached to a man to be a Sith Lord. This is a good rule for life, girls.
Even as a Jedi, Evie experienced white girls who can’t keep their hands off her schweet braids. Look at her face. Dig deep, padawan.
Wait, Melanie. I thought Disney had princesses. Where are the princesses?
We are the worst princess parents. We are just the worst. We had fast passes for Frozen Singalong and ditched them to be in Jedi Training. The park people kept calling the girls princesses and they’re like “What.” And I told one person Elliott would like to be called Tron.
We did meet one princess, the best princess, the one who lurves books, and took photos.
There. Documented. That was nice. So sweet. Yay princesses. And now back to Star Wars:
Afterward, I asked Elliott what he thought about Jedi Training:
Me: Did you like fighting with the lightsaber?
Elliott: Kind of. But they weren’t real. It’d be cool if they were real. I’d slice open someone’s guts. But it would be gross…very, very gross.
Note to Lightsaber Keepers: Please never, ever let my son near a real lightsaber.
He likes his life real and won’t settle for phonies. I got him on one roller coaster, the Mine Train, because he’s completely into gems and minerals and I thought he’d love seeing them in the cave, despite his utter disdain for 1) fast 2) up and down 3) things he can’t control.
Me: Did you like the mine? With all the gems?
Elliott: They weren’t even real. They were fake gems.
Tough sell. He might need to work for Kay Jewelers someday.
But he’s pretty smart to avoid roller coasters. As I disembarked from my Space Mountain death pod I overheard one operator say to another “Hey, next time the ride breaks down let’s go get…” and I think he said something about food but I was stuck on the “next time the ride breaks down” part, like it’s a regular occurrence with people whizzing about in the darkness unaware of the imminent danger presented for this man’s next snack break.
I know I’m acting tough here, but that’s probably compensating for nearly soiling myself. Holy cow. That ride’s no joke. I was all, “So the WHOLE THING is in the dark then?” I used to be sooo coastery, growing up nearish Cedar Point in Ohio. Now I feel dizzy if I stand up too fast.
In Star Tours I was shrieking and laughing and tearing up. All the emotions were spraying everywhere. I was actually IN STAR WARS. I was IN IT. How could you not be emotional?!?
Ana: Mom, why are you crying? Mom, you’re embarrassing me.
Me: Oh, did you think Disney was for you? Shh, let me have this.
While the girls did Tower of Terror with Daddy, Elliott and I explored Star Wars Launch Bay. We watched a film, played some video games, and saw a ton of Star Wars memorabilia. Basically we nerded out for an hour while the rest of our family was dropped down an elevator shaft.
Sharing one happiness
We booked it to catch the Lights, Motor, Action stunt show, which was super cool and will make me watch movies completely differently now. It’s like DVD bonus features in real life. As you can see, the kids were thrilled:
We slaughtered a puppy in front of Ana right before this, which is the only explanation for why she’s angry. Or maybe the Dark Side.
No, I actually figured it out. There’s only enough happiness for one of our kids. I realized they were sharing one happiness when Ana switched from blissed out to pissed off in a nanosecond for no reason and Evie was all of a sudden happy to be alive after spending the last half hour as an evil gremlin. So they ARE good at sharing.
Law of diminishing return
I remember one thing from econ class in high school, and it’s the law of diminishing return. I remember it because Mr. Tomaskovich had us eat donuts. The idea is the first one tastes amazing, but the more you eat, the less pleasure you get from it. Somehow this applies to economics, which I don’t remember exactly, but I remember the donuts. It also applies to Disney World.
First day we are the best parents. We are the best family. Standing at the summit of the Swiss Family Robinson tree house, I’m feeling awesome. “We are the BEST FAMILY EVER!” By the end: “I don’t like any of you people. I want to be by myself in a dark quiet room for half a century.”
At one point Alex asked me if I was catatonic. I just stared off into the void. I was like Dorie in Finding Nemo when she gets drawn in and mesmerized by the angler fish and realizes where she is. DANGER: YOU ARE SURROUNDED BY STRANGERS WITH PARKAS AND FANNY PACKS.
We waited 40 minutes for a bus to take us back to Hollywood Studios one last time to see the Osborne Lights before they’re yanked down forever. They were very cool.
This is us standing in line for the bus back to the hotel for the last time:
So there you have it. We surprised our kids with Disney and lived to tell about it. Disney World, that’s a wrap.