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Michael Barker -- January 2003 -- Walt Disney World (VWL)

Michael Barker – January 2003

  • Time of Year: Winter
  • Travel Method: Personal Car
  • Resort: VWL
  • Accommodations: 1 Bedroom Vacation Home
  • Ages Represented in Group: Toddler, Adult
  • WDW Experience Represented in Group: Veteran, DVC Member
  • Comments: Michael and Christy wanted to reward their son for his patience in being a new "older brother." Four days at Disney World proved to be just the ticket and now they've surely got a new "Park Person" on their hands.


Michael, 40 – Disney Veteran
Christy, 36 – Became a Disney Vet after our wedding
Nicholas, 2 and three-quarters - First real trip to WDW


In short, this trip was conceived as the result of a conception. We discovered that Christy was pregnant in spring of 2002. Thinking ahead, we thought that we should plan some sort of trip for Nicholas near the end of the maternity leave to reward him for being such a good "Big Brother." Wishful thinking, but it did pay off.

We are Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members, so our default resort is Old Key West (OKW). We love the setting and the extra space, but we figured that this trip would focus primarily on the Magic Kingdom (MK). That, plus our love of the Wilderness Lodge (WL), led us to choose the WL Villas. We reserved a one bedroom, requesting a non-smoking pool view. We also made a few priority seating arrangements, knowing that our plans could easily change.

Natalie's birth went just fine, albeit a month early. This put the trip the week after Christy's leave was up, but we both took vacation leave for that week. We prepped Nicholas by showing him the vacation planning videos as well as video tours of the parks. We would see how his endurance holds up, and how well he follows directions in this high-charged environment.

This trip would also be significant in that we would devote ourselves to entertaining Nicholas, and seeing what he wants to see. Christy and I were self-proclaimed "Park People," doing all the thrill rides and managing our day much differently than a trip with a toddler would require. We also like to work in a few very nice dinners at some favorite restaurants, but that would change as well.


After dropping Natalie off at Grandma and Grandpa's house, we hit the road about 8:30 am. Nicholas travels very well, so the trip was uneventful (I-95 to I-4). Our only regret for the trip down was that we did not find a fast-food restaurant with some sort of play area (we did not want to eat at McDonald's, so our choices were limited). We paid for this lack of exercise later.

We arrived at Walt Disney World about 2 pm – I don't think Nicholas really thought anything was special about the place until he saw a monorail as we drove in. I swear I heard him gasp. Our room was ready at the WL Villas, so we settled in. Room 5517 was very nice, with a great view of Bay Lake and very close to the elevators. Frankly, we have been spoiled by OKW's spacious one bedroom villas, but this room would suffice for our size group, the length of stay, and the fact the Magic Kingdom was our primary focus.

First, we rented a surrey bike and rode to the Fort Wilderness Petting Zoo. Nicholas loved seeing the horses, riding a pony and feeding the animals. We rode back to the WL, freshened up, and took the resort boat to the Contemporary. The purpose of the boat trip was threefold – first, to ride a monorail; second, to eat at Chef Mickey's; and third, to watch the fireworks from the fourth floor observation deck.

We rode the MK circuit on the monorail and then checked in early at Chef Mickey's. We were immediately seated (after the obligatory group photo), and had a wonderful time. Nicholas was not afraid of the characters at all – in fact, he seemed very comfortable around them. The food was good, but people do not go to Chef Mickey's for the food no matter how good the parmesan mashed potatoes are. We finished in time for the fireworks, but watched most of them from inside the Contemporary due to the noise bothering Nicholas.

We took the boat back to the WL. We tried to watch the Electrical Water Pageant from our balcony, but could only see the rear third of it due to the trees. After that, we turned in for the night.


We woke up early and were at the boat dock a little before 8:00 am, but we found out that the first launch to the MK wasn't until 8:30. Instead we took the boat to the Contemporary and walked the rest of the way. We went through the MK main gate at 8:15, only to discover my first misunderstanding -- Main Street does not open early. They let us through the main gate and we all gathered in front of the train station. We were allowed through the tunnels and into the park proper about 8:50, and into each land at 9 am.

Despite that miscalculation, we had a very productive time in Fantasyland, riding Dumbo (twice), Pooh, Peter Pan and the Carrousel in about 30 minutes. We went to Tomorrowland to ride Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, but it was experiencing technical difficulties. We made up for it by finding Buzz Lightyear around the corner.

We were headed to the Main Street Barbershop when Cinderella's Surprise Celebration began in front of the castle. We watched the show, then took Nicholas for his first professional haircut. While both activities were worthwhile, it took about 45 minutes out of our morning.

We headed to Adventureland where we rode Pirates of the Caribbean. Nicholas loved it once we got to the part with the pirates. We then went to the Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square to look for a stocking and ornament for Natalie. While there, Nicholas and I were able to eavesdrop on a family taking the "Family Magic" tour. It was just the three of them, and we were envious of them having "quality time" with Peter Pan and Wendy.

We rode "small world" then went to Cinderella's Royal Table for lunch. After lunch, Nicholas got to meet Cinderella (the star of one of his favorite movies), as she was in the lobby of the restaurant. She kissed him on each cheek, and he loved every minute of it. After lunch, we took the boat back to the WL for a late nap. Once he settled down, Nicholas slept like a log.

We returned to the MK about 4pm. We took the train to Toontown and rode the Barnstormer. I discovered that Nicholas is an adrenalin junkie, because he seems to love thrill rides. We played a bit in Toontown, then went to Tomorrowland and found that the Space Ranger Spin was working. We ended up riding it three times that evening (the last one via FastPass), working in a ride on the TTA as well.

We had PS arrangements at Whispering Canyon, but Nicholas decided he had to have pizza. We saw pizza only on the menu for the Plaza Pavillion, but it was not open. So, we took him to the Contemporary and had pizza in the game room. We rode the monorail to the Grand Floridian to do a little shopping, then back to the Contemporary to catch the boat back to the WL. We turned in early (see a pattern forming?).

I would have been disappointed about not eating at Whispering Canyon (for both the food and the entertainment), but I feared that the restaurant had changed. I had read that the smokehouse wasn't operating any more and the quality of the food has decreased. I cannot attest to the quality of the food, but I do know that the previously attractive smell of the smokehouse that filled the lobby of the WL was gone. I hope this is temporary.


We went to the Animal Kingdom for the rope drop, again arriving way too early on a very cold morning. Once in, we rode Kilimanjaro Safari, did the gorilla walk and the jungle trek, then headed to the Dig Site in Dinoland USA for some sliding and running around. Lunch was at the Rainforest Café – although Nicholas loved seeing the real animals, the animatronics at the Rainforest seemed to spook him. Then it was back to the room for a nap (a little earlier this time).

The afternoon was spent at the MK again, riding Pirates (meeting Captain Hook and Mr. Smee outside), Pooh (with FastPass), Dumbo, Astro Orbiter and Buzz once again. We watched SpectroMagic from the train station (Nicholas was enamored with the parade and pleased to see Gus Gus), and then went to the Crystal Palace for dinner. The food was good (on par with Chef Mickey's) and the service was great, but the character interaction was not well organized, leading to Nicholas' frustration and eventual meltdown. We missed the last launch directly to the WL, so we had to walk to the Contemporary and catch a boat there.


Although this was our departure day, we wanted to do something memorable so we signed up to be the WL "Flag Family." We met Cast Member Stan in the lobby at 8:15, who took us to the roof of the WL, and we helped him hoist the five flags that fly over the resort. We all loved being up there with the spectacular view and the fresh morning air. We then loaded the car and headed to the Marketplace for some last-minute shopping, then headed home. LESSONS WE LEARNED, in no particular order:

  • With the exception of Magical Mornings, I wouldn't bother getting to a park until about 15 minutes before the opening time. This might be an off-season thing.
  • No matter how you remember them, dark rides are really dark. Peter Pan and Pirates spooked Nicholas at first, but them he got used to the format and was asking to ride them again. I do not think of Pooh as a dark ride.
  • Live shows and character greetings eat time like crazy, so make sure and prioritize. While Nicholas liked both, I think he got more out of the character meetings.
  • Never underestimate the rejuvenating power of a nap.
  • While we always thought that a trip to WDW would be physically taxing on a young child, we found almost the opposite to be true. He was either in the stroller or wanted to be carried. This is good for a crowded park in that we did not worry about him wandering off or getting lost, but he still needed plenty of physical exercise to burn off that energy and the extra adrenalin.
  • We really didn't think that a trip to WDW would be mentally taxing on a young child, but it sure was. The sensory overload and the excitement threw Nicholas off his eating, napping and sleeping schedule. We had to make a real effort to keep him hydrated and fed so as to give him the energy he needed. I can only imagine how tough it would be if we had gone during the summer.
  • This trip was completely for him, so we were very flexible with what we saw and where we ate. We saw he really loved the MK, so we ditched a side-trip to MGM Studios. However, we still required him to behave and listen to us. Our designated "time out" spot was the baby changing area of each park (something we only had to do once). The real advantage was that the longest wait for any attraction was 15 minutes (the Astro Orbiter and Buzz), so entertaining him was fairly easy.
  • Whoever said that patience was a virtue must have been talking about parents of a toddler, because it certainly does not describe the child. This gets back to our original purpose of the trip – to make the trip enjoyable for Nicholas. This does not mean caving into every whim and/or tantrum, but instead handling things in such a way so as to avoid the tantrums. We learned a great deal about his tolerance and preferences.

I'm sure we learned more, but the rest isn't really germane to a trip report like this. To sum up, the trip was a success on many levels, and Nicholas is already saying he wants to go back.

Michael Barker


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