Disney. What kid doesn’t dream of a visit to Magic Kingdom and all the other parks in Orlando, FL?
Yup. Seven-year-old female extrovert who LOVES Disney Channel but just MEH on everything else. Despite our huge collection of video tapes (yes, our relationship with Disney movies and animation goes back THAT far) and DVDs, my daughter was only marginally excited when I told her we would be visiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom.
I decided that her visit intro to Disney parks should be Animal Kingdom. We had taken our oldest daughter there years back and since my youngest loves all things animals and safari and Africa, oh my, thought this would be an ideal start.
I could see her little eyes light up as we entered the gate and were greeted by some of the happiest people I have ever seen – I mean seriously – can I have some of that juice?
Within minutes, my little zig-zagger was running me from one tropical exhibit to the next in the Oasis, exotic birds everywhere, but it wasn’t until we came upon the Tree of Life that the wonder of the park hit her.
We continued our trek into the heart of Africa, where we wandered through Harame and Mombassa with stops into see elephants and the hippo who was ever so happily submersed in water, giraffes and gorillas. Of course a sighting of a mama and baby gorilla was the highlight of my daughter’s animal viewing, little cuddle monster that she is. We continued through Africa on the Kilimanjaro Safari and the Wildlife Express, giving us both a very necessary respite from the sun.
Despite the heat, the wonderful exhibits and vegetation provide plenty of shade to duck under as one works their way through the park. Once off the Wildlife Express, we eventually wandered into Asia, Everest ever present, and were welcomed by some lively Indian music and dance. I danced my way into the dancing crowd, and she was mortified. “Moooooom. You’re embarrassing”. But how could you not shimmy to the bollywood beat?? Despite the temporary state of embarrassment, my daughter became quickly engaged in all the colourful sights and sounds.
We stopped into Yak and Yeti Restaurant to help cool off and recharge over a meal and a whole lot of water. Being on a very strict diet – she gluten free and me, mostly grain, dairy, sugar and gluten free – I knew to look at our options in advance. I found throughout most of Orlando, Kissimmee and the Tampa Bay area, gluten free alternatives at most places were slim, at best and I expected the same at Disney, but knew from reviews that there were options.
So we told our server we had dietary restrictions, he brought out the chef who discussed how they could modify the meals to our needs. The mite decided on a burger wrapped in lettuce and I indulged in shrimp with some vegetables and rice noodles tossed in a gluten free soy alternative. Two bottles of sparkling water, a root-beer and a scoop of ice-cream later, we were ready for the next adventure.
My daughter loved the komodo dragon –“ no dear, that is not Mrs. Kipling” – and thrilled to see both the huge bats and the tiny ones, but the tiger was catching some zzzz’s in some shade out of our line of good sight. The last time we visited he was up front and very personal with my daughter as she leaned up against the window. Was hoping for that, but alas, not this time. Tigers. Sheesh.
And then of course, there would be no visit to Animal Kingdom without taking my monkey to see the other monkeys, and in this case, the cheeky white cheeked gibbons.
Our last stop at Animal Kingdom was DinoLand U.S.A. We rushed this bit of the day unfortunately and missed the Finding Nemo Musical as well as the Boneyard fossil play, but we did hop on a few rides and introduced my little adventurer to her first big girl roller coaster – the Primeval Whirl. She loved it. Dizzy me.
We decided to head back to our hotel for a swim and a little dinner before making our way back to Magic Kingdom at night because I knew there would be nothing more wondrous to a seven-year-old than the sights of Disney lit up.
And boy was I right. Taking the monorail to the park, with the sights in the distance, built up a level of excitement I hadn’t seen in my little girl. Step by step, as we entered the gates and she witnessed the parade, eyes wide in amazement, I knew that me little lovebug was happy. And as we cut through the crowd and turned the corner to where she could better see, there it was… Cinderella’s Castle all aglow.
My baby turned to me and said “I am so happy I want to cry”.
I of course, did.
Choking back the tears and with a crackle in my voice, I gently tugged my little princess by the arm and wandered deeper into the Kingdom. We rode a few rides and then I had to take her on the “It’s a Small World” and we bonded over the fact that I rode that very little boat when I was a girl, and we joked at how great a horror story she could write about all the funny looking characters who could come to life and freak out the passengers (yes, we roll like that). New memories… that I hope my girl will share with her daughters someday.
We quickly made our way back to the castle near the carousel just in time for the fireworks and the chance to make a wish. As beautifully orchestrated as they all were, I was breathlessly engaged in my child. Eyes shut and wishes made, my girl watched and clapped and jumped and squealed with each pop of the fireworks.
She looked up at me with her giant blue eyes, hand holding mine, and said “This is the most magical night ever! Thank you mom”.
Any guesses who cried again?
All the sweating and the walking and the heat was worth it for just those few moments where I could enjoy watching my little girl experience a little magic. We can all agree or disagree on the hype and the expense, but Disney, hands down, puts on a tremendously good show.
Thank you Disney for making my little girl’s day and etching this memory deep into our memories.