The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Plans for the New Yearby Tom Richards, contributing writer
Each year, most of us make—and subsequently break—a long laundry list of resolutions. As an incentive to stick to my real resolutions—those earnest promises to make lasting, meaningful changes—I thought a list of Walt Disney World-related promises would work as an incentive and a reward for tackling the more substantial goals. More than likely, many of my readers also create lists for their upcoming vacations, and I am very interested to learn about their plans for Disney related experiences. So—after reading my plans—please add your hopes for Disney firsts or returns to Disney favorites in 2014.
Due to professional schedules and the ages of the kids, extended family vacations have to be planned for the summer months. There are many advantages for us—longer times for travel, extended hours at the parks, summer entertainment options in full swing—but there are some drawbacks. For example, some experiences are simply better in cooler months. For 2014, I vow to plan a shorter, more concentrated visit to Walt Disney World during the spring in addition to a leisurely visit in the summer. Here—in no particular order—are some of the experiences we hope to enjoy during a visit planned for a more temperate time of year.
The 2014 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival
While I have caught the tail end of this yearly even , we have yet to visit during the height of the festival. The joy of this particular event, of course, is time to linger in Epcot's spectacular gardens. The gardens of World Showcase, for example, are lovely year round. During the heat of a summer afternoon in Central Florida, however, the ability to linger and enjoy must, by necessity, be brief. Strolling through the English gardens behind the Tea Caddy, enjoying the rustic waterfalls and the formal gardens in Canada, or admiring the floral Fleur-de-lis in France will, no doubt, be even more spectacular during a temperate spring afternoon. The world famous Disney topiaries will be out in full bloom during the festival as well, and I, for one, cannot wait to see the carpets of perennials that grace the banks of the ponds around Future World. I have high hopes that several Christmas-card worthy photos will take place in and around the gardens of Walt Disney World's Epcot Center.
Disney's Animal Kingdom
The joys of this unique park are due in no small part to Disney's legendary ability to transport guests to exotic locations. The lush, tropical landscaping here is unparalleled. It is also dense, and according to cast members in the horticulture department, actually helps create a micro-climate that is even warmer and more humid than any other area on the sprawling Walt Disney World property. As a result, summer visits to this park must be planned carefully. And often, many of the exploration trails are just too hot to truly linger and enjoy. As a result, another goal we have as a family is to spend some time exploring the Oasis, the Discovery Island Trails, the Pagani Forest Exploration Trails. and the Maharajah Jungle Trek this spring. While Disney has gone to great lengths to make sure guests know that Disney's Animal Kingdom is "not a zoo," some of its most atmospheric areas do involve viewing exotic animals in beautifully realized natural settings.
Another Animal Kingdom experience that we tend to avoid in the heat of a June afternoon, Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade, is a must on our list. We saw one version of this parade in 2001, but have not seen it since. The soundtrack—available on a long out-of-print CD entitled Magic in the Streets—is one of the kids' most requested tracks during long road trips, so I know that they are ready to be "jammin' in the jungle to the rhythm of one" with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, and Rafiki.
Speaking of that lovable baboon from The Lion King, we also plan on visiting Rafiki's Planet Watch. The train there is wonderful, but the hike from the station to the attraction can be a killer in the late afternoon of a summer day. We are particularly enthusiastic about taking the kids to the Affection Section, again something that should be more enjoyable on a cool spring morning.
Walt Disney World Playgrounds
In the years before having children of my own, I never really understood the allure of traditional play areas at Disney theme parks. After all, wasn't one of Walt Disney's original goals to build experiences for children and adults to enjoy together? When the kids were very small, however, those play areas—particularly he Laughing Place under the Frontierland Train Station—were excellent places for them to romp, play, and spend some of that pent-up energy stored up during long waits in lines. There are other play areas—such as the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure at Disney's Hollywood Studios—that we have yet to explore. Most of Disney's resorts also featured nicely themed play areas for smaller children that will provide diversions if the weather is too cool for the pool.
Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom
There are several classic experiences in the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland that we cannot wait to share with the kids this spring, namely Tom Sawyer Island and the Liberty Square Riverboat. To get to Tom Sawyer Island, located in the center of the Rivers of America, guests stand on small motorized log “rafts” that transport them to the island. This entire area was inspired by the novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn written by Mark Twain. As a result, the adventures—exploring dark caves with winding passageways, crossing several unique bridges (one made of rope and another made of barrels), and climbing around an old-fashioned fort (named Fort Langhorn)—are all inspired by the famous American novels and the immortal characters found wihin their well-loved pages. These adventures require lots of climbing and running, and younger guests can spend quite a bit of quality time here exploring. The cooler temperatures and lower humidity of the spring months should offer the kids plenty of opportunities to ramble and romp in this wonderfully detailed playground. I do wish that we could spend a leisurely lunchtime at Aunt Polly's enjoying fresh lemonade and homemade peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches like we once did; at least we can still enjoy the views of Liberty Square, the Haunted Mansion, and the streets of Frontierland from the comfortable rocking chairs on Aunt Polly's porch.
The Liberty Square Riverboat, another classic attraction based on a slice of Americana that Walt Disney loved so much, is also best enjoyed during temperate weather. During the summer months, this is difficult to plan as the riverboat—and Tom Sawyer Island for that matter—open late and close early. My hope is that even at high noon, the riverboat trip will be enjoyable during the cooler spring months.
We've set some very modest goals for our next visit to the Vacation Kingdom of the World, none that require advanced reservations, fast-passes, or extra admission media. And that's one of the most wonderful things about Walt Disney World: in addition to the thrill-a-minute experiences that we all love, there are smaller moments here as well, if we just take the time to enjoy them.
Now it's your turn to share some Disney goals you've created for 2014. Best wishes for you and yours in the New Year!