Honestly, there is just something about going to Disney World. Whether it’s the first time, the fourth time, or the fortieth time, each experience is new. Rainy days, park additions, growing little people, time of year, crowd size, my own patience level (there are only so many times I can ask my husband to slow down or my son to sit in the stroller): each aspect of every trip helps shape and mold the experience. This is why we go back. My family and I go at least three times a year. And it’s not just for the littles. In fact, my husband and I are going to swing by for a weekend at Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival this year little person free (yes, we will be accompanied by a bucketload of parent guilt, but it’s a small price to pay to saunter through a park, a beer steadily in one hand, rather than spilling it all over as I try to push a stroller with the other).
True to form, on our most recent trip to Disney World, there seemed to be so many changes and additions since our last visit two months prior. Granted, I live in a world of three little people under five, so I often don’t get to actually look at the world surrounding me. And when I do, I’m usually so mom-brained that I’m pretty much just sleeping with my eyes open. So these “revelations” of mine are a combination of those things that are new to the park and those things that I just discovered myself, even after all these years and all these trips.
- There are stand alone carts throughout Hollywood Studios that only serve alcohol. These popup carts have typically been in place in the park only during specific festivals or events like the Christmas lights. But because of the popularity of these offerings, the alcohol carts will now be permanent fixtures (and now all of the sudden Hollywood Studios has become the most popular of the four parks). Also, there is an absolutely amazing grapefruit beer. Amazing. To sip in the hot sun. Just. Amazing.
- The best time to do anything is the time of changeover. Let me explain. We are not morning people. We simply cannot get ourselves together and get out of our hotel room before 9:30 am. And if we try to, at least one of us will collapse into tears (I include myself in this.) Knowing this, we booked our breakfast at Hollywood Studio’s Hollywood and Vine for 10:30. My daughter and I like breakfast. My husband likes lunch. (My three year old eats nothing and my one year old eats anything so they’re out of this competition.) Within minutes of being there, half of the buffet was rolled over to lunch from breakfast. And with that blissful changeover, we were all dinner winners that morning. We had breakfast; we had lunch. But the beauty of the Disney World changeover goes beyond just meals. Usually we hit up Epcot in the Spring for the Flower and Garden Festival, but because we now have a Kindergartener (gasp!) and we refuse to go the week of Spring break (did it once…big mistake…huge) we were forced to miss it. We ended up going the last weekend of the new Epcot International Festival of the Arts (more on that later). And as soon as this passed, the flowers and topiaries started to pop up. So yea, I got a little taste of the Arts and a little taste of the Flower and Garden. Double win. And with that, I have learned never to underestimate the value of the changeover; in fact, look for it.
- Don’t worry if it rains. Go to Animal Kingdom and get on a Kilimanjaro Safari ride. When it rains, the animals are actually more active. We were able to see more animals in this single trip than we have on all our other trips combined (ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but honestly I had never been able to see a warthog before, so there’s that). There were elephants bathing, baby elephants rolling in mud, giraffe babies nursing. The animals were all over. And it was amazing.
- There are now Passholder Entrances at all park entrances. For the annual passholder, this is such a convenience. Perhaps this is more of a convenience for the passholder who can’t seem to get out of the hotel room at a reasonable time (just saying, not saying). And, according to three castmembers I asked, they have been trained to turn away any person in line who is not a passholder, which means even people who are friends of passholders. I didn’t ask, but I’m certainly hopeful, that if I didn’t renew my five year old’s annual pass, she’d still be allowed to get in the passholder line with me.
- Along the same line, the Disney Vacation Club has opened a new lounge in Epcot for members. This lounge can be accessed by going into the shop that is at the end of “Journey into Imagination with Figment.” They have soda machines, video games, TVs, computers, and pillows perfectly suited for little people to jump on and crawl on. It creates the perfect little spot for little people to team up and make some momentary friendships. And for parents to drink some caffeine and stare at one another.
- Right outside of the vacation club, which is located in the lost corner of Epcot near “Imagination!,” high above Figment, near the entrance to the new “Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival” are two important, yet hidden, spaces. The first is giant water area for littles (and probably a bigger person or two) to play in. It’s filled with water spouts that shoot water into the air in giant arcs. It’s a great place to get away from the crowd, cool down, and let the little people blow off some steam. Right next to this is a Visa character photo spot. Any Disney Visa holder will be allowed into the room to meet a secret, special character. It can be anyone (and, no, I won’t give away who it is so don’t ask).
- Some of the fountains found throughout the parks have been changed from fountains with water to fountains with flowers. We first noticed this in the small fountain that’s typically outside of the First Aid and Baby Care Center in Magic Kingdom. We didn’t think much of it and moved on. The next day, while at Hollywood Studios, we found that the Muppet fountain had also been turned off and filled with greenery. After asking a cast member, I was told that the construction going on in the park made the water a bit, well, less than perfect looking. So, the decision was made to temporarily drain the fountain and fill it with the greenery. (This still doesn’t answer why the fountain in Magic Kingdom was filled with potted plants given there was no construction, but, sometimes I just have to accept what I’ve been told and move on.)
- Jasmine has a high-necked, long-sleeved, full length shirt now! It used to be that when eating at Cinderella’s castle, Jasmine came to greet the guests in the outfit she wears in the movie. Her shoulders are exposed and her midsection is exposed. Apparently, after a number of complaints about her outfit, Disney was compelled to change her outfit into the sad, shiny sack that it now is.
To some people it may seem crazy to keep going back to places again and again and again. It’s been done and has nothing left to give. But that’s simply not the case when traveling with littles. The little people are growing and changing every day. And whether we like it or not, nothing ever stays the same, even in a place as classic as Disney World.