Florida - September 2011

Day 2 - Magic Kingdom

Tuesday 20th September

Day 2 was a long day and tiredness must have caught up with us finally, as we all ran out of energy and were asleep by early evening last night and I find myself writing this blog entry retrospectively on the morning of Day 3, having just got up at 10:00 a.m.

The jet-lag must have been slightly more present that we had first thought, since nearly the entire family were up at one point or anther in the night trying desperately to get back to sleep. Everyone did manage to get back to sleep and it was only the subsequent alarm clock that woke us again at 06:30 a.m. Since we were all in the middle of a deep sleep cycle by this time, our morning rousing was a slow and lethargic affair. I was the first up and left Sandy and the kids where they were whilst I set about preparing sandwiches, snacks and fruit for what I predicted would be a full-on day at Disney’s Magic kingdom. Having made the character dining reservation last night, we had high hopes of making this a special day for Jennifer in particular, who turned 5-years-old today.

We had the kids up, dressed and were all ready to go by around 07:30. Saying goodbye to the house temporarily, we set off in the direction of the main Walt Disney World resort area, where we were to park the car at the main Magic Kingdom car park. A very nice ‘cast member’ at the car park main entrance relieved me of $14 for the benefit of parking the car and directed us to drop the car off as directed and to walk over to the Polynesian resort, which is just walking distance from the car park main transportation terminal. This is the hub where you transfer from your car to either a bus, monorail or boat - the later two of these transport options will whisk you over to the Magic Kingdom main ticket entrance, whilst the former will take you to pretty much anywhere else within the Disney resort area. It just so happens that this transportation hub is walking distance to the Polynesian resort itself. Instead of following the crowd, we were directed to use a cast member shortcut, since we were toting two kids in strollers and heading off in a different direction to everyone else anyway.

Our destination within the Polynesian resort was a restaurant called Ohana’s. If there’s one thing that Disney does well, it’s theming. Although I’ve never been to Polynesia, I would imagine that I now have a good indication of what to expect from that part of the world for having wandered around the Polynesian resort, which is quite a large complex of buildings set within a very lush, not to mention very humid, tropical environment complete with palm trees and other jungle-like greenery everywhere you look.

When we finally found Ohana’s restaurant on the second floor of one of the main buildings, I knew that we were going to have a good time. The staff there, I should say ‘cast members’, as this is what Disney staff are referred to as, are really very good and took very good care of all of us. The very first thing they did was to present both Joey & Jennifer with birthday badges and a birthday card each that was signed by all the Disney characters. Instantly, this put the kids into a good frame of mind and the day generally went very well from this point forwards.

We were seated at our table and the cast member explained that Ohana meant ‘family’ in Polynesian. All our food would be brought to the table and the whole ‘family’ would be taken care of. There were fruit platters, bread platters and ‘Stich Juice’, which turned out to be a blend of various rather nice fruit punches (the Disney characters that we would see today included Stich from Lilo & Stich). Our main breakfast meal was a huge tin bowl of very hot scrambled eggs, sausages, potato wedges and bacon strips and was absolutely divine. Jennifer took a particular fancy to the bacon slices and ate almost nothing else. Lilo, Stich and Pluto arrived at our tables very shortly after we did and the kids loved them. Joey was a bit skittish at first but soon warmed up to Pluto, who he really got a kick out of pulling his whiskers. The characters made their rounds around the various tables and eventually visited us three times in total, so that was good. It wasn’t long before the end of our breakfast that a cast member brought both Joey & Jennifer a birthday cake each in the form of a chocolate cup-cake with a candle. It was a really nice touch but the kids had eaten by this time and neither really ate the cup-cake. For the rest of the day, they did wear their birthday badges and just about every cast member we encountered for the rest of the entire day specifically wished them each happy birthday and called them by name. It was a very nice touch and really made the kids feel special all throughout the day.

Since the Polynesian is one of the resorts that the monorail stops at, we wandered over to the monorail terminal, not 30 meters from the restaurant, and rode over to the main Magic Kingdom entrance. Our bags were inspected and we registered our fingerprints to our entrance tickets and were soon inside. Our first port of call was the guest services building, where we picked up a special ‘guest assistance’ pass on account of Joey’s condition. This pass would grant us access through the fast-pass return entrance to most attractions. At this time of the year, this shaved anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour off each attraction wait time. The only attraction that this wasn’t usable for was the photograph with characters attraction on Main Street and at around 10-15 minutes wait, this was the longest time we had to wait in line for any attraction. This guest assistance pass is good for our entire stay and at all the Disney theme parks.

Remembering from three years ago, Sandy insisted we get onto the train, which circumnavigates the entire park, so as to make it over to Mickey’s Toontown. Alas, the train got as far as Frontierlnd before the conductor announced that the train’s next stop would be back at Main Street USA again. Looking somewhat bemused, we got off the train at this point and asked about why the train would not stop at any of the other destinations. It turns out that some of the Magic Kingdom is being renovated and upgraded. Oh well, so much for that idea.

Whilst in Frontierland, we decided to give the Thunder Mountain Railroad a go. It’s a gentle rollercoaster ride and we thought this would be a lot of fun for the kids. Alas, it seems that rollercoasters are not going to be Joey’s thing. He didn’t really like it much so we’ll have to be wary of this for the rest of the holiday.

Throughout the day, given that it was a special day for both Joey & Jennifer, we decided to let them pick out some toys that they wanted as we navigated around the park. Joey and Jennifer being Joey & Jennifer, this effectively meant adding yet more soft toys to our already substantial collection. However, we both decided that it was worth relaxing the breaks on this a little just for today.

This time of year is just about the best time of year to visit the Orlando theme parks. The heat of Summer has cooled off significantly and the park visitor numbers is at its lowest. It’s still very hot and humid and we all made sure to be fully coated with sunscreen and took advantage of shaded areas as much as possible. I even spent $30 on a new hat, even though I had a perfectly good one that I had left in the car, which was effectively unreachable given that it would have cost me a round trip of well over an hour to go and retrieve it.

It has to be said that although very tiring, we had an absolutely fabulous time at the Magic Kingdom. Having said this, however, it was for me a day that was tinged with a slight sadness. It was a rare occasion for me to spend an entire day with the kids and I saw in Joey some behaviours that, if I had not known Joey, I would have considered to be autistic in nature. Although I understand that he has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism), he had always simply been Joey in my mind’s eye and this diagnosis was little more than a label. I think I saw in Joey today the true extent of his condition and this was a little bit of an eye-opener for me. We brought with us some noise-cancelling ear-muffs that Joey has been wearing recently in school assembly and wore a few times on the plane also. He wore them several times throughout the day today and this, I suppose, is another indication of his difference.

All throughout the day, Sandy was on a mission to get as many photos taken of the kids with the various Disney character as possible. Unfortunately, this was at odds on occasion with the goal of avoiding standing in long queues in the heat of the sun and this disparity was causing a little more stress than would have been preferred. We did manage to find the right balance in the end and so that day was not overly stressful.

We spent a good chunk of the afternoon in Tomorrowland, where Joey particularly enjoyed the Buzz Lightyear attraction. We went into the Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor attraction as much to avoid the looming and quite predictable afternoon downpour and to rest our weary feet for a bit - it was a sitting down attraction.

One of the nice things about the Disney theme parks is that there are photographers all over the place who will readily take photos of you and subsequently scan you ‘photo pass’, which you can then use to pick up an entire disk full of all these photos for a reasonable price at the end of your stay. We did this three years ago and it was very good value. They will even take photos of you with your own cameras also, so there’s no pressure to sell.

It was around five’ish that we decided we’d gotten out of the park what we wanted to and so we made our way back to the car, this time using the boat as our means of transportation. In doing so, the kids got to experience all the modes of transportation offered.

We were all very tired by this point and so we picked up dinner on the way home. After polishing this off, Sandy and the kids all took a dip in the hot and inviting pool and Sandy even managed a bit of relaxation in the hot-tub. I showered the kids and got them ready for bed. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before they were asleep.

We were relaxing on the couch, watching a slide-show of our camera takings for the day, when the house phone went. It was the property manager wanting to inform us that they will be coming in sometime this week to install a new TV and do a couple of minor repairs around the place. I had been e-mailing back and forth with the owner earlier this week about one of two minor things. Nothing significant enough to affect our enjoyment of the place but the owner wants to make sure everything is in tip-top condition so that’s fine. It seems we have been using someone else’s wireless internet connection since we got here. Not that I’m complaining, as it’s a super fast connection at that.

I managed to write up a few brief notes to help remind me what to write in this blog before my body gave up and we finally went to bed - rather earlier than we otherwise would have anticipated. Today was a very good day, if a little more tiring than expected.

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