"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Monday, October 1, 2012

Relaxing At Disney

Is it possible? The conventional wisdom is that you need a vacation to recover after a Disney vacation. With four theme parks, two water parks and everything else there is to see and do, it's easy to run yourselves ragged trying to see and do it all. Even just touring one park can be hectic, trying to fit in all the rides, stressing over wait times and trying to maximize your use of Fast Passes. It can easily turn into a disaster, or at least wear you and your family completely out.

I will admit to being a Disney planner, but I'm in all other aspects of my life a very go with the flow, smell the roses, take the road less traveled by kind of guy. With eight days to spend in the parks, I was able to merge those two sides into what turned out to be the most relaxing Disney vacation ever. Our first full day at Disney is a perfect example of how this all worked out so well.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, well almost exactly at noon, truth be told. We ate at Downtown Disney, checked in our resort, rode the monorail around and went to the Magic Kingdom with the goal of riding the Tomorrowland Speedway and seeing the Main Street Electrical Parade and fireworks. We accomplished all this and turned in ready to rise early for a very full, very long day of experiencing the Magic Kingdom. With two ADRs, at Crystal Palace a half hour before park opening for breakfast and 'Ohana for dinner during the 9:00 fireworks, and then planning to return to the park to enjoy Extra Magic Hours, this could have been the most exhausting day of our trip. That's why I planned it for the beginning, when we'd all be fresh and excited. It turned out to be about the most relaxed.

We got an early start. A very early start. I made reservations for before the Magic Kingdom opened so we could get to walk around and take pictures before the crowds arrived. I was very excited about this, more excited than about anything else we planned to do. I was a bit nervous about getting to the park early enough to get the most out of this experience, my people not being known for their early morning vigor. So, I told them to be ready about 15 minutes before I really expected to leave to catch our bus. I was also nervous about catching a bus that early, almost two hours before the park opened. We asked the concierge the night before and she assured us buses ran just for the purpose of taking people like us to our early breakfast. I believed her (mostly), but wasn't sure they'd run very often, so I figured on a long wait at the bus stop. I turned out to be totally wrong on both counts.

Yep, I tried out the hammock :)
I woke up way too early, my normal Monday morning 4:15, so instead of lying there wishing I could sleep, I got up and dressed and walked all over the resort in the pre-dawn darkness. It was splendid. I highly recommend it to insomniacs. Having any part of Disney entirely to yourself is a rare and wonderful experience. When I got back to the room, I was shocked to find Lisa and John up and at 'em! We rolled out of the room at just a bit past seven, walked into the bus station and sat down only to have a bus for the Magic Kingdom roll right up. We rode the bus with one other family and got to the Magic Kingdom entrance by about 7:30. There were a few people milling about and some cast members stocking supplies on the turnstiles, but it was very quiet. I had read somewhere that the breakfast entrance was on the far left side, so we headed that way and saw an "Event" sign over the turnstiles and figured that looked like a likely place. A line immediately formed behind us. We laughed hoping we had guessed right, and it turned out we had. Lisa was the first ticket scanned that morning and she, John and I were the first three thru the turnstiles. We were let into a roped off area next to the little shop out there just before you enter the tunnels under the Main Street train depot. Again, the three of us were first in line. My family forgave me for lying to them about how early they needed to get up. Being the first people of the day walking down Main Street is worth losing a few minutes of shut eye. So far the plan was coming together splendidly.

It's good to be first
Our experience walking around an almost empty Main Street USA and Cinderella Castle was incredible, so incredible it deserves its own blog post. We ate the most wonderful breakfast with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger and Eeyore and Piglet at the Crystal Palace. I'll probably get around to reviewing this experience in a post later on as well, but I can tell you that this is one great time. The food is unbelievable and not just your usual Disney breakfast buffet fare. They have a puffed french toast that is out of this world and something they call breakfast lasagna that was a life-altering experience for me. The characters are really fun, too, and it was nice seeing everyone get into the act, adults and children alike. Disney is that kind of place. After breakfast, it was time to hit the Magic Kingdom.

We left the Crystal Palace about a half hour after the park opened. The throngs headed up Main Street were thinned out some and everyone was headed to their favorite rides. We had hit John's favorite, the Tomorrowland Speedway, the night before so we were taking a more unusual approach. We wanted to make sure we hit all the things we'd missed the last couple of visits, times when we were with the crowds headed to Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain and Pirates and Space Ranger Spin. We sought the path less traveled. We headed for the Swiss Family Treehouse, the Hall of Presidents, Tom Sawyer Island, the Liberty Belle steamboat, and the Carousel of Progress. We experienced no lines, no crowds and no stress. We hit other rides along the way as we saw them with little wait. We rode the railroad around the park for a lap and a half, just to see the whole thing. We got fast passes for the "mountains" and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. We ate when we were hungry. We stopped to take pictures everywhere. We wandered. We didn't stand in any line more than 15 minutes long. We knew we'd be there for the next seven days, and that knowledge allowed us to slow down and take it easy and enjoy the park without a hint of rush.

Behold! The Lapu Lapu!!
Our dinner reservations were for 8:00 at the Polynesian. There was no rush fit anything in before dinner because the Magic Kingdom had Extra Magic Hours that night and would remain open for resort guests until midnight. We had plenty of time to eat and come back, which is exactly what we did. We left the park and monorailed it over to the Poly in plenty of time to make our reservation. We put in our name, requesting a window seat,  and sat at the bar to order a couple of hollowed out pineapples full of rum (the Lapu Lapu, another life-altering experience). Before our drinks were ready our table was, and we were taken to a window seat overlooking the Cinderella Castle, just as we'd hoped. As we sat down, we noticed a man behind us playing the ukulele while a few couples danced. Lisa and I realized at the same time that he was playing Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love," so we got up and joined in the dancing. When he was through, the ukulele player asked us our names and where we were from and got all kinds of excited when we told him we were celebrating our anniversary and he had just played our wedding song. He gave us leis. Food started to arrive, lots of food. 'Ohana is a "family style" restaurant where you share a huge salad and three different appetizers before being presented with grilled meat on skewers. We sat and ate and talked and laughed and waited for 9:00 and the Magic Kingdom fireworks to roll around. As we finished off the last of our Lapu Lapus and fit in the last few bites of bread pudding we could manage, the fireworks began. The music that accompanies the show in the park is pumped into the dining room so we sat and enjoyed the show just like we would have on Main Street, but without crowds or stress of any kind. Another plan perfectly come together. (BIG thank you to our pals the Iapaluccis for the heads up on this one, and for many other pieces of advice. Let me just say that while the wings at 'Ohana are very good, they don't measure up to Jen's home made version enjoyed in the company of great friends).

We also rode the WEDway Peoplemover. A lot :)
After dinner, we hopped a monorail back to the Magic Kingdom and rode a couple favorites (including the Carousel of Progress because it broke down on us earlier in the day, which is a story in itself) then decided to leave about a half hour before park closing so we could beat the crowds out the door. It turned out to be a very long day, we left the room about 7 am and got back after midnight, but none of us were the least bit stressed or worn out or frazzled. We'd done Disney our way, the Stites way, and it was perfect.

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