Guys, hang with me. This is a long report. I will add a little everyday. http://www.wdwinfo.com/images/smilies/smile.gif
Guys, hang with me. This is a long report. I will add a little everyday. http://www.wdwinfo.com/images/smilies/smile.gif
The family of an obsessed Disney individual is always an interesting one. They have to be in order to love and embrace the idiosyncrasies that are becoming of this Disney-slanted personality. My family is no exception. Composed of a reluctant but tolerant husband and three capricious children, my family does its best to accommodate me.
I am the Neurotic Disney Mom (NDM). I wake up each morning with one purpose in life: to indoctrinate my family into Disney culture and nurture a compulsive fascination towards the Disney brand. My hope is that in time my efforts will produce a love for Disney in them that is independent of me, which—in turn—will help my loved ones achieve good mental health. To accomplish my goal, I institute various methods of brainwashing. I design elaborate Disney vacation plans and concoct rigid Disney lifestyle principles for my family to revere. I faithfully instruct my children so that their value system and academic understandings are firmly established with an explicit Disney sensibility. But most of all, I play the role of enthusiastic coach in the practical application of the disciplines for a Disney-driven life.
Sometimes my tactics are subtle such as playing Disney music, hanging pictures of Disney characters in our home and stocking our playroom with Disney toys. At other times I am more aggressive in my mission. I have been known to initiate analysis discussions about classic Disney films. I have also sprung Disney pop-quizzes on the family during dinner. And for our weekly “Family Night,” games such as Memory Game-The Disney Edition, Disney Pictionary DVD Game and Disney Monopoly are staples. As I create this instructional environment for my loved ones, I dream of passing on a heritage of Disney neuroticism that will serve as the framework for our family’s identity throughout our years together, and I am very deliberate in my work towards achieving this goal.
The path I have chosen is not an easy one. I often face obstacles that perplex me such as a limited financial budget, my children’s short attention spans and a husband whose interest in Disney only exists to preserve our marriage. However, my insatiable preoccupation with Disney persists, and I intend to prevail in my chosen battle. For this reason, I continue to creatively navigate my way around these roadblocks in the hope that one day I will accomplish the mission for which I was born.
THE DISNEY-DRIVEN LIFE :TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A NEUROTIC DISNEY MOM
THE COMPOSITION OF A NDM FAMILY
First in our family is Dear Husband (DH). DH was introduced to Disney when I took him to the Magic Kingdom® as a high school graduation present to myself. He got to experience all of Walt Disney World® in ’97 when we honeymooned there. Ever since then, I have slowly but surely been transforming him into a Disney fan. However, this process has been very long, and he still has not yet “fully arrived” as a true-blue Disney freak.
Next in line is me. I am the neurotic Disney mom (NDM). Born and raised in FL, I was birthed in Disney culture. My best family memories always took place in Disney. Couple this along with exposure to “The All New Mickey Mouse Club” as an impressionable teen, and I was hooked for life.
Dear Daughter 8 years old (DD8) is a special person in our family. This chick is my mini-me. She is already an obsessive planner in the making, specializing in Disney vacations just like her NDM. Also, her Disney trivia is nearing perfection due to regular testing by her NDM. And this year she intends to be initiated by good ol’ Mom as a scrapbooker. The subject of her scrapbook? Our next Disney vacation, of course!
Then there is Dear Son 6 years old (DS6). This guy is like no other. While his interests in Buzz Lightyear and Pirates of the Caribbean are common enough, his support of his mommy’s love for Disney takes a unique spin. He regularly reduces me to a pile of warm fuzzies by presenting me with all the money he receives for gifts and chores to help pay for our Disney habits.
And, finally, there is Dear Daughter 3 years old (DD3). She cut her teeth on Disney due to the obsessive Disney nature of her siblings and mother. As a result, she puts almost all topics of conversation within the context of Disney. This occasionally makes for amusing misunderstandings such as referring to her immature breasts as "Minnies" rather than "ninnies", and these little blunders cause DH to shake his head and say, “The brain washing is now complete.” Such a reality is paired with the fact that she is the most dynamic personality of the group. The fresh discovery of all-things-Disney along with her expressive nature is a powerful combination, and we find that she has the ability to force all other family members to join her in uninhibited giddiness or despairing gloom as she learns the inner-workings of a NDM family.
A NDM’S MISSION IN LIFE
As it is with all NDMs, I purpose each day to instill a passionate love for Disney in the hearts of my husband and children. I have a wide variety of "persuasion techniques" that I institute for this very purpose. However, in terms of developing pure devotion to Disney, nothing is more powerful than a vacation to Walt Disney World®. First, there is the entire process of planning the vacation. All the information that has to be sought out, decisions that have to be made and strategies that have to be designed during vacation planning provide excellent opportunities for building a firm foundation on which a Disney life can be built. But the second and most convincing aspect is the actual experience of Walt Disney World®, itself.
Now every NDM knows that there are seven basic tenets for conducting a “perfect” Disney trip, otherwise known as The Sacred Seven. These are laid out with the specific intention of designing the ideal vacation, which in turn creates the desired, addictive fascination with Disney. There is no better way to internalize these principles than by putting them into practice throughout the duration of a Walt Disney World® excursion, so vacationing in Walt Disney World® is an absolutely crucial element to the process of raising a NDM family. Without it failure is almost certain.
For this very reason, our family is planning a trip to Walt Disney World® this year. This is not our first time. We have been there before. But we joined the Disney Vacation Club recently, and this will be our first trip as members.
We are planning on going to the Magic Kingdom®, and this will be DD3’s initial visit to this park. Naturally, this fact brings a certain element of excitement to the trip because it is always special to watch someone experience the Magic Kingdom® for the first time.
Also, I am particularly excited about our lodging this year. We have reservations at The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. I have wanted to stay in this resort since I was a teen, but never thought that I would ever get to do it. Now I finally will, and the thought is almost more than I can take.
I have noticed that throughout the planning stage of this trip, I get a little overwhelmed with anticipation of all these “firsts.” We will be hitting quite a few significant milestones this year. And it is difficult to take it in sometimes. Needless to say, this particular planned adventure has a very heightened sense of anticipation for all in our family as we look forward to adding it to our family’s neurotic Disney history.
Two months ago, I scoured many Disney related websites in search of a list that would help me get ready for our trip. TheMouseForLess.com provided the most thorough guidance with its ULTIMATE DISNEY PACKING LIST. Since then I have acquired, organized and packed all the items that it said I must have.
The suitcases have been sitting in DS6’s room for at least a month, waiting to be loaded into our minivan. I thought my diligent preparation would eliminate the frantic running-around that happens at the last minute. But here we are--the day we plan to leave--and there is still so much to be done!
My children have a medical condition that requires them to be on a restricted diet. This complicates our departure considerably. Since I can’t risk getting to Orlando and not finding their approved foods, we have to gather our groceries prior to leaving. Unfortunately, almost everything my children eat is perishable, so virtually none of these food items can be purchased or packed ahead of time. This leaves much work for us to do on the last day.
My husband seems to be dragging his feet. I know that he is excited to take this trip, but his attitude can resemble Grumpy’s when it is time to load the vehicle. I understand that it is particularly laborious, but I am so anxious to get going that his difficult manner is irritating me beyond description. Doesn’t he know that going to Disney invokes blissful joy that overcomes all other dislikes? His apparent lack of understanding this basic principle somehow renders me incapable of entering this gleeful state myself. His contagious cranky spirit is stealing my happiness, and this irritates me further as I acknowledge the hypocrisy of being irritated by someone else’s inability to overcome irritation. I find myself in a vicious downward spiral at this point that drags me into the dark recesses that hide in every NDM’s mind.
Once packed, we have to make a 13-hour trip in one big drive straight through the night to reach our destination. I am a little anxious about having to make this drive because I know that DH will not be much help when I am ready to occupy the passenger seat. He is incapable of driving for more than an hour or two at a time. He gets road hypnosis or something and goes right to sleep, and it scares the snot out of me since he could kill us all. This obviously means that the brunt of the journey falls to me, and I find myself getting more irritated as I think about my impending duty as primary driver.
I was hoping to feed the kids, clean up from dinner and get on the road by 7 pm so that I could get a good portion of the trip covered by the time sleepiness hits me. But DH's horrid attitude is prolonging the process to an extent that makes me want to pull my hair out.
We finally get in the car about 9:30 pm and pull out of the driveway. DH then tells me we have to stop at Walmart to get some more last minute things. I am not amused. After our stop at Walmart, we finally begin our trip at 10:30 pm . . . 3 1/2 hours behind schedule! This is not a good start, and I empathize with Rabbit who is constantly unnerved when the other characters in The Hundred Acre Wood foil his best laid plans.
DH offers to start the drive. I turn him down because I know that I will have to take over for him within the hour, and that would only further frustrate me. Also, I know that my current inner-turmoil will serve us well as I tend to drive a little faster when I am cranky.
So off we go. I am conquering the road at an exciting pace. DH promptly falls asleep. DD8, DS6, and DD3 are squished but quiet and content as they watch a movie together from the lone, bench seat of our van.
DD8 is crammed up against the side of the van because the two car seats of her siblings occupy the vast majority of the bench seat. At one point DD8 whines a little about being uncomfortable. Even though her frustration is valid, she is barked at by her lunatic mom, who has not yet relinquished grudges against the vacation-menacing dad. "I don't want to hear one syllable of complaint,” I exclaim. “I am working a job for the sole purpose of financing these wonderful Disney vacations, and being cramped in the car is the only way we can get there. If I hear even one whimper of complaining--so help me--the
complainer will not go on any Disney trips in future years. He or she will stay home with Grandma because only happy people are allowed in Disney World!" In my mind, I am fully aware that if this were entirely true, I would be the first one eliminated right now. But being the NDM that I am I tend to say these hypocritical and guilt-inducing things in times of high stress. My empty threat works, and there are no complaints henceforth.
Once the movie is over, it is time to turn off the TV and allow my sweet offspring to dream away the miles between our blissful Disney destination and us. Since the car’s sound system is no longer occupied by the screen-play of “Treasure Planet,” I put on music and keep blazing a trail on the interstate.
As I immerse myself in the consuming world of radio, I begin to sing away my frustration over the challenging start to our trip. Slowly, all becomes right again. With each note I gradually evolve into the compassionate, loving, comforting, fun-filled, doting wife and mother that I usually am. So I continue to sing with a smile as I think about my now inevitable arrival in Florida . . . if I can just get through this drive.
Apparently, I hit some kind of groove and find myself driving without the faintest sign of impending exhaustion. The states go by, and I am still going strong. Around 6:30 am, I begin to feel a slight inkling of reduction in energy and my vocal chords are hoarse from the relentless abuse of an eight-hour singing marathon.
I am truly pleased as I acknowledge my Walt Disney World® driving record. I have taken us from central VA past the FL border and somehow shaved two hours off of our trip. With this badge of honor worn proudly on my sleeve, I relinquish the wheel to DH who awakes and is in awe of me. I smugly tell him that I can take the wheel back should he tire in an hour. He smirks at my snootiness and assures me that he is capable of handling the remainder of the drive.
As I snuggle into the passenger seat, my slight reduction of energy becomes complete exhaustion. I happily go comatose in an uncomfortable, upright position, knowing that in a few hours I will wake up at my friend's house in Kissimmee, and I will be only one day away from arriving at Walt Disney World®.
I wake up somewhere in Kissimmee. My DH has miraculously driven more than two hours, and I find myself totally refreshed. The sun is bright; the air is hot, and I am rejuvenated as I imagine my pasty, white VA skin transforming into a beautiful FL tan. Life is good, and it is about to get better because we are staying overnight at the home of a friend that I haven't seen since high school. Upon arrival, the plan is to feed the children, recover from the drive, catch up on 14 years in 24 hours and get "insider tips" from my friend and her husband who both work at Disney.DAY 2
THE POWER OF PIXIE DUST
Finally, the house is found. Map Quest has successfully led us to the front steps of my long-lost pal. DH and I get out of the van, stretch our legs, lovingly smile at each other and stroke our egos as we comment on a drive well done. The three restless children, who haven't moved in 11 hours, are freed from their back seat bondage. We freshen them up as best we can, considering that the conditions for freshening are 95° temps and blinding sunshine. As the humidity assaults their unaccustomed compositions, I can see them bite their tongues in an attempt to hold back objections to the weather. "After all," I remind them, "Disney World is the 'happiest place on Earth'. If they allowed cranky people to come, it wouldn't be the 'happiest place' anymore. So we need to be worthy of entrance."
I ring the doorbell with great anticipation. This was one of my best friends in high school. We recently reunited through e-mail, and I am very excited about our families meeting. We have discussed how wonderful it will be for our husbands to pal around and our children to play together, and now the day has finally come.
The door opens. We are greeted by my dear friend and her husband, who look as if they were the ones who just made the 11-hour trip. They excuse their appearance and explain that their daughter of 2 years has a flu bug and has been vomiting continuously all night.
I immediately see visions of my three beauties spending our precious days at Disney on the tile floor of our villa bathroom, taking turns puking in the commode. Is it too late to run? Can I somehow pretend that I am not actually the long-lost high school buddy that is expected but a look-alike that has mistakenly ended up on my girlfriend’s front step and must be going now? Fourteen years of friendship does not compare in value to six blissful days of Disney, so I figure if she is really offended, the loss will be worth it.
But where will we go? Is it possible to get an instant 2nd mortgage on the house to buy more DVC points, giving us a chance to add today’s occupancy of our villa to our reservation?
Quickly I realize that there is no backtracking. We must proceed into the germ-infested abode of my welcoming friend but not before I describe her daughter's condition to my little mouseketeers as something akin to the Bubonic Plague, and I warn them to stay on the opposite side of the house as the sweet, viral darling. I hold my breath, cross my fingers, heart, eyes, say seven Hail Mary’s, rub my lucky rabbit's foot, sprinkle pixie dust over each family member and humbly pray to God for protection from viral infestation as we take our first steps inside the lovely, Kissimmee dwelling. Any prior dreams of seeing my children play with my friend's children will be put on hold for another year. We will refrain from any direct contact with the child who currently poses a risk to our greater purpose for this FL visit.
WINDING DOWN AS WE GEAR UP
I am more at ease as we settle in for the day. The kids get fed, supplements are dispersed with an extra dosage of vitamin A and C, and the viral little girl does refrain from vomiting.
My friend and I laugh over old memories and relay things that have happened to us since we have grown up. She tells me all about working at Disney . . . the casting process, employee perks. And then she flatters me by affirming that I meet all the requirements for being hired as a Disney princess. "Aww shucks," I blush and encourage her to go on. I breathe in every word of Disney wisdom that she is willing to give me and look ahead--in my mind's eye--to the fun that awaits.
During this time, my kids quickly throw themselves into a tried and true Walt Disney World® trip tradition . . . consuming endless hours of Disney Channel viewing. DH goes in and out of consciousness as he nestles into the overstuffed sofa.
After awhile, the kids and I try out my friend's enormous trampoline. But when I discover that I no longer have the skill of jumping and holding my bladder simultaneously, I sheepishly excuse myself. I then suggest that we all retire for a couple hours to recuperate from our trek through the night.
We wake up in the late afternoon and wrap up the day with a relaxing walk through the neighborhood to a beautiful lake. DH and the kids enjoy a swing that someone has put up in a willowing, cypress tree, and I walk out to the end of a rickety pier on the lake. I sit down on the very tip and try to "be one" with the peaceful water, but this is a difficult thing to do for a NDM who is on the verge of entering the nirvana of Disney's holy ground. Nevertheless, I consider that there is a little merit to “taking it easy” while on vacation. And so even though The Sacred Seven dictate particular traditions—some that can be exhausting--it may be worthwhile to work relaxation around the mandatory vacationing principles.
The family joins me on the pier, and we all snuggle and watch the sun setting over the water. Then we briefly do a little fishing--a first for all my kids--which ends with lots of squeals and giggles over the wiggling fish and the huge, white heron we feed them to.
We return to my friend's home, bathe, get in PJs and drift into Slumberland, knowing that tomorrow is the day we have all been waiting for.
THE SLIPPERY SLOPE
Somehow, the kids actually let us sleep in until 9:00am or so. That overnight drive must have really done a number on all of us. But it is finally here . . . the day we will arrive at Walt Disney World® for the first time as Disney Vacation Club members.
I have wanted to join the Disney Vacation Club for about 10 years, but only recently did it actually become an option-- and that is because of great sacrifice on my account. With the current pay-rate of my new job, taken for the sole purpose of paying for membership, I have approximately 2 1/2 years of indentured servanthood until my debt is paid. And yet, in a few short hours it will all be worth it as I walk in the doors of The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge with my cherubic kiddos and dreamy husband. No more wishing upon a star for me. I will be living it, baby!
We all get dressed and eat. DH and I muddle over what time we should leave. Check-in time isn't actually until 4:30pm, so with our perishable groceries in mind, we debate the best time for arrival at the lodge.
My good friend's hubby reminds us that he works in concierge of the Pop Century resort and has "connections." Unfortunately, these connections can't get us an earlier check-in time, but they can help us figure out what to do with our immense amount of food while we are waiting for our room. A call or two is made, and we are assured that whenever we arrive, our groceries will be held in a refrigerated room until our villa becomes available.
All previous notions of taking it slow are quickly abandoned. I stress to DH that we should leave as soon as possible so that we have a better chance of getting our room request. We clean up from our meal and repack the car. Thankfully, DH is feeling more chipper today and is moving at a satisfactory pace.
While the children are slightly anxious about leaving, the mesmerizing graphics of the Disney Channel keep them from pestering us too much. Hannah Montana, Zach and Cody, and the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse gang have already begun to partially transport them to the mecca of all Disney fans, and we are able to pack in peace.
Then with a couple group snapshots and affectionate gestures (excluding little viral girl), we pile up in the minivan for the last leg of our pilgrimage. I promptly pull out my favorite CD that plays many of the soundtracks for the various rides and lands in Walt Disney World®, The Official Album of Walt Disney World. This is in accordance with the first sacred tenent which proclaims: Thou shalt play only Disney music when en route to Walt Disney World®. It is a tradition that has been in place since my earliest memories. So as ritual dictates I play the music of my favorite location, but I am shockingly affronted by DD8. "Mom," she says, "I am not complaining or anything, but you have been playing Disney music all day long, every day for many months now. Could we please listen to something else?"
I consider this truth. Since I have discovered Mouseworld Radio, Dis Radio, Sorcerer Radio, The WDW Radio Show and Dis Unplugged, I truly have been streaming Disney soundtracks almost constantly in our home. I recognize that some might say when your children are able to differentiate between Disney’s Old Key West Resort lobby music and the Adventureland® background music as mine can, it is time to broaden their horizons musically . . . but I am not that person.
"DD8," I calmly explain, "it is our tradition to play Disney music on our way to Disney World." "I know," she says in a tone that lovingly assures me that her loyalties still lie with the great mouse, "It's just that we have already listened to these songs so much that I am a little tired of them."
I take her concerns to heart, but then I recognize we are at the top of a slippery slope. If I allow non-Disney music to be played on our way to Walt Disney World® this time . . . OUR FIRST TIME AS DISNEY VACATION CLUB MEMBERS . . . this could set an ill-advised precedent. The family may want to play non-Disney music the next time and the next time and the next time until all future Disney trips are corrupted by music of the “outsiders.” Such blasphemous practices can't be tolerated. I have to nip this in the bud before we find ourselves in an apathetic state-of-mind.
"DD8," I say in a very loving but firm voice, "it is very important to play Disney music on our way to Disney World. It helps us get excited about arriving there. Think of how wrong it is to see the huge, welcoming, Disney World banner and pass under it while listening to something that is not Disney related. Now in past years, the tradition has been to play only Disney music for the entire time we are in FL. This year I have already broken that tradition. We have been in FL for a whole day, and I haven't played any Disney music. But now is the time. We are actually driving to Disney, and we must play Disney music." DD8 understands this logic and is pacified with a promise that after our vacation, I will not stream Disney radio at home for a full two weeks.
DISNEY PAST VS. DISNEY PRESENT
As we begin seeing road signs indicating that Walt Disney World® is not so far away, I flashback to past Disney trips when we have made the drive all night and arrived at the World fresh off the asphalt. Those trips involved me emerging from our minivan in sweatpants and heavy sweaters, the remnants of a colder climate. Hair would be in disarray and make-up would resemble Disney's scarier parade characters. If our room wasn't immediately available, I would have to stake out prime property in the resort lobby bathroom to change, freshen up, and (on occasion when shaving had been overlooked) take to the difficult task of removing excess hair in an awkward position near the bathroom sink. Those days of blushing and profusely apologizing to fellow guests seeking relief from overburdened bladders were gone. We had taken the higher road this year. I loved that I would now arrive stylishly, pre-shaven and immediately ready-to-roll.
And then we see it . . . the Walt Disney World® banner! Who would have thought that a concoction of paint and steel could arouse such ecstasy within a person? Immediately the volume of the minivan erupts into extreme decibels of high-pitched squeals.
At this point, my two literate children find it necessary to loudly exclaim the written directions on every road sign we pass while DD3 is content to echo everything they scream. DH finds that he can no longer remain indifferent as he laughs heartily at the grand commotion taking place in the back of our van. As I breathe in the neurotic atmosphere that is building in our vehicle, I concede that even SEVEN years of indentured servanthood would be worth this moment.
We pull into the parking lot of Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. The huge presence of this vast structure is truly awe-inspiring. The kids leap from the van in an attempt to rush the building. But before they take even two steps toward it, they hear the booming voice of their NDM, “WAIT!!!” They take on the characteristics of human statues, frozen in time, for it is a dangerous thing to cross a NDM once she has fully consummated her Disaholic personality by passing through the Walt Disney World® banner. Then, in true NDM fashion, video and still cameras are whipped out before you can say "rawhide." Once the film is rolling and the bulbs are flashing, the family receives Mommy's blessing to approach the great timbers of the breath-taking mother-of-all-log-cabins.
When a NDM is finally granted a few precious days in her motherland, it is essential to maximize every Disney minute. Efficiency is paramount. The family of a NDM quickly learns this and adopts the practice of “divide and conquer.” So, as all competent partners of a NDM should do, DH dashes to the check-in line to secure a position while I lag behind with the three short-legged persons of our crew.
“Ooohs” and “Aaaahs” are whispered as we discover the imprints of wilderness creatures embedded in the sidewalk. Then we scope out our surroundings in hopes of spotting this wild game. Suddenly, DD3 screams wildly, “Look, Mom!” We all turn in the direction of her little finger and enthusiastically run to the source of her excitement. Good fortune has decided to shine upon us today, for right in front of our eyes stands a behemoth sized-buffalo bush and her baby. We recognize the rare occurrence of viewing such animals and commence with the inevitable mini photo-shoot. Once every angle of the chia-pets has been photographed, we proceed to the lodge entrance.
Exceptionally calm and happy park rangers, who extend a welcoming gesture towards the lobby doors, greet us. The large, glass doors magically slide open when we approach, and we all join hands and enter with great anticipation.
Walking into the great expanse of the lodge lobby proves to be more difficult than we had considered. We are unable to take more than five steps in because the upward movement of our eyes along with the drop of our jaws somehow halts the forward motion of our feet. Fellow guests, hoping to enter the lodge as well, find our stricken family to be a significant obstacle in their path. But little can be done for the moment because the immense and wondrous atmosphere of the lobby has removed all consciousness of the existence of others.
A gentle, park ranger encourages us to take a few more steps so that the entrance can be free-flowing once again. This breaks the spell of the lobby, and I remember that DH is about to check-in. I quickly hurry the children to the designated cartoon-viewing area for all the lodge occupants. Then, with stunning grace, I pass all the people who are waiting in the check-in line and join DH at the counter.
I arrive just in time as the check-in lady gives us the option of taking a room that is immediately available or waiting for the room category she sees as requested. DH looks as if he is tempted to relinquish the coveted pool view, so I quickly take charge of the situation. DH doesn’t know of the many hours I invested in reading detailed reports on room categories. He hasn’t pleaded with fellow listmates on various Disney internet boards to share their experiences of The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. All this has been done so that a wise decision could be reached on this delicate matter, and I am not about to let my hard work be wasted.
I motion to DH that I will handle this detail and explain to the patient check-in maid that we will wait for the pool view on the 3rd floor to become available. She confirms that I have chosen the better option since all other views consist of inert trees. Inert trees do not allow for observing others in Disney action during the rare moments that oneself is not engaged in it, so such a view is unacceptable to a true NDM. I breathe a sigh of relief that disaster has been avoided by my timely arrival at DH’s side.
We are handed a folder containing all pertinent information for villa residents, a phone number to call periodically for the updated status of our villa, and gift bags for our angelic offspring. And then it happens. The words that I have so longed to hear are spoken. “Welcome home,” the hospitable clerk chirps. My heart soars, for hearing the official Disney Vacation Club greeting marks the realization of a long-awaited dream. I am home. I have arrived. This is real.
Armed with our newly acquired check-in tools, we are prepared to begin our wilderness adventure. Once again, “divide and conquer” is the tactic we utilize. DH treks back out into the parking lot to find capable park rangers who will help him transfer our groceries from the warm minivan to the safety of refrigeration. I gather my little ones, and we embark on an exploration of our temporary settlement.
GETTING ACCLIMATED TO OUR SURROUNDINGS
I recall from my hours of internet research that there is a tradition among the lodge residents. It involves a bear, Humphrey, who is located at the bottom of the totem pole in front of the mercantile. To make your trip a magical one, family members are supposed to rub his nose when they arrive. This, somehow, blesses your vacation and all may proceed with confidence that your Disney dreams will come true.
I pass this lore on to my children who concede that before anything else is done, we must rub Humphrey’s nose. So we stomp over to Humphrey’s location and see that—indeed--many people must have participated in this tradition, because Humphrey has very little paint left on his breathing apparatus. We all place our hands on the magical spot. In our souls, we sense the presence of all those lodge occupants who have gone before us. We close our eyes and make a wish for our Disney vacation. It is a truly spiritual experience.
The thrill of being here is palpable, and we scurry from place to place.
DD3 declares that a bridge in the lobby, spanning the width of a creek and a bubbling hotspring, is her “favorite”. She requests a photo of herself on it so that the memorable location will be secured in a family scrapbook. DD8 is impressed by the etchings on the gold elevator doors. And DS6 seems ready to set up camp near the lanyard and pin kiosk since the shiny ornaments call to his collecting instincts.
I am unable to select a feature that appeals to me above the others. There is a great, stone fireplace whose presence compliments the gargantuan rocking chairs that face it. The mercantile off to the side serves as a perfect place to beckon passers-by to purchase a caricature drawing. And not to be overlooked, carefully placed Mickey Mouse heads remind one that even in the wilderness, our great hero is not forgotten. I can’t help but love everything I see from the towering, totem poles to the boisterous noise exuding from the Whispering Canyon Café, for it all comes together in a beautiful arrangement.
The kids and I tramp through each floor. We want to see this great room from every angle. We are rewarded as each level provides new views that would otherwise have been missed. Overlooking the railings, we find animal carvings in the large, supporting framework. The carpet and wallpaper reveal small Mickey figures upon closer observation. There are cozy retreats sporadically hidden for occupants who want to read a book or take in spectacular views of Bay Lake.
We move on to discover the extending areas of the lobby. In an annex, off of the lobby, there is a table-- strategically located--which advertises the virtues of being a Disney Vacation Club Member. I conceitedly walk by since I no longer am in need of such information. I relish the fact that I already am a member. The lyrics of the club song have proven to be true. I did believe in magic, as the melody suggests one should, and now I belong. It is a feeling of great achievement, and I am grateful to no longer be “on the outside looking in.”
A few more steps bring us to an upward, sloping ramp to the Territory Lounge and Artist’s Point (an upscale restaurant). Since neither of those places is of immediate interest we take a downward, sloping ramp to the Roaring Forks (a quick-service eatery). DH rejoins us since the helpful park rangers have now assumed responsibility of our edible possessions, and we entertain the idea of having a snack.
The Roaring Forks isn’t exceptionally busy, so I check out the food options in this rustic café. To my surprise, they have a couple types of fresh produce available for consumption. Finding a fruit that is acceptable for my children, we inform the kids that they will be able to satisfy their animalistic appetites and participate in the business of an actual Walt Disney World® eating facility! This is a rare treat since “approved foods” are not regularly provided outside of our kitchen and prevent our family from dining out. I say a quick prayer of thanks to the Disney-powers-that-be for carrying a few healthier food choices than the routine burger, fries and soda. And the children ingest their fruit as quickly as their mouths allow. We dispose of our trash and decide to see what the pool has to offer.
We walk outside into the courtyard. The pool is close by, and its surrounding scenery is lovely. Huge stone formations emerge from healthy bushes and flowers. Shade trees hang over a shimmering creek that begins in the lodge but empties into a large free-form pool. Real bunnies play hide-and-seek with willing guests, and live ducks swimming in the pool enjoy their company too. Laughter is heard in the air as an endless line of adults and children take turns sliding down a slippery rock. But the suffocating heat and humidity eventually force us to recede back into the comfort of the air-conditioned lobby.
It is time to make a phone call. My little angels are quickly devolving into miserable creatures due to missing their scheduled nap. It becomes obvious that our initial exploration of the lodge facilities has ended, and we find ourselves longing for the comfort of personal space.
The entire family huddles around DH in the lobby phone booth as he converses with those whom hold our fate in their hands. Much information is exchanged, and DH hangs up the phone. He announces that we have finally been granted permission to take up residence in room #3517. Magically, my irritable munchkins become happy campers and jump up and down in celebration.
We march out of the lobby and down the path toward the area of the villas. The building we come upon is very welcoming with a beautiful, open room housing a large birdcage and some stuffed, leather rocking chairs. I note that entry to the fitness center, Sturdy Branches, is located here but it is doubtful that I will have time to experience this amenity. I will be too busy burning calories with my constant need to explore.
Off to the side of the atrium is a room with tables set up for checkers and chess. Train models, replicating those of Walt Disney’s personal collection, compliment the décor of the room too. It looks so inviting, but right now the call of our villa is stronger.
When we find the location of our room, I can’t believe how perfect it is. The kiddos are delighted that the view outside our front door overlooks the atrium, and I soon discover another unexpected perk. The view off our balcony not only provides sights of the pool but also a small walkway. This should provide plenty of opportunities for people watching, and I am so pleased with what we have been given. Of all villa rooms, we are the closest to the bus stop, the main lobby and the elevators, and yet the feeling of being “tucked away” is still preserved. I doubt that our placement could have been more enchanted.
As we familiarize ourselves with the layout of our 1 bedroom villa, our luggage and groceries are delivered. I glance at the clock and realize that there is no time to lose. We have plans to attend “Chip and Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long and Movie” at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, and it begins in a few hours. DH takes his position in the kitchen, unpacking the groceries and starting the preparation of our dinner. Like a headless chicken on steroids-- the most familiar speed of a NDM--I run between the bathroom, bedroom, living room and closet, placing all items in their designated positions for the week.
The meal is served, but the pace is rushed because the clock is ticking. We are not going to make it! “Hurry! Hurry,” I coax the family, “We still have to change.” The campfire begins at 8:00pm, so I cleverly deduce that we should put on warmer attire and bring jackets so that as the sun goes down, we won’t be troubled by the dropping temperatures. DH, DD8 and DS6 declare that they don’t want to bother with changing outfits. I try to influence them to choose wisely and not make a decision they will regret, but they hold firm to their way of thinking. “OK,” I surrender, “but don’t blame me when you find your clothes are inadequate.” I concede that some people have to learn their lessons the hard way, and I change DD3 (who is not old enough to refute my wisdom) into jeans and long sleeves.
We run out of our room, past an hourly erupting geyser and down to the marina. I am thoroughly prepared as I recall the information I have gathered from countless hours of online investigation. I know that we are seeking boats that fly the flag of blue, for these are the boats that travel between Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Making the mistake of boarding a red flag-flying sea vessel, the boats bound for the Magic Kingdom®, would be fatal to our evening schedule. So we are careful to veer to the right side of the marina, and we search anxiously for any incoming ships.
It is not long before we hear the pleasant horn of our designated boat. With excitement, we greet our skipper and pick a seat. Once the boat leaves port and we are clipping along the water, I quickly recognize that these boats will become one of the highlights of my vacation. There is something very calming about sliding across the waves with the wind blowing through your hair, as the evening sky grows dim. I know that I must return to this activity on another evening.
We reach the port of Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, exit the boat and begin our search for the location of the campfire. I briefly notice that the air is not as cool as I had anticipated for late May, but I brush the observation aside since it will certainly grow colder as the sun sets. The greater task of finding the campfire is rather pressing at this point, and climate conditions are secondary.
The family flits from place to place. No great campfire is within sight. The quick pace of our endeavor is elevating my body temperature, and I feel slightly uncomfortable. We seek guidance from a local country store and are informed that we must navigate a difficult bus system to arrive at the campfire . . . not only that but the spot for boarding the desired bus is still a slight distance away. What?! How can this be? There is no time for such inefficiency!
We leave the store with much haste. At this point, all facades of proper decorum are dropped. We break out into a run that any cross-country athlete would envy, dodging horses, carriages and unfortunately-placed pioneers. I look down at DD3, who is holding my hand. Little beads of sweat are forming on her hairline because every step that I take means she takes two or three, but I rationalize this will be justified once she is in the presence of Chip and Dale.
Somehow, we locate and board the desired bus. The tension builds, though, as our ride is halted many times en route to the campfire. Finally, we reach our destination and disembark. A quick look around shows us that our journey is still not complete, for there is no sign of a campfire. We apparently must trek further into the wilderness if we hope to enjoy the companionship of our beloved furry friends.
Again we resume our accelerated pace. I see that DD3 is now sweating profusely, looking as if someone has poured water on top of her head, and she is turning the color of a kickball. Why are the temperatures not dropping? How can I expect this child to sit near a campfire under such conditions? This is all going wrong . . . terribly, terribly wrong!
As we pass by smarter campers, dressed in as little clothing as possible, I become acutely aware of their troubled glares. DD3’s appearance gives cause for concern, and I realize that--as embarrassing as it may be--the only humane course of action is to strip her down. As DD3 goes topless, many families look at us disapprovingly. I feel backed into a corner at this point. The humidity is overbearing, and there is not even a wisp of wind. These judgmental people should be thankful that I have shown enough restraint to keep myself clothed.
The campfire area is now within sight. Amazingly, we arrive before the show has started. There is still an empty bench awaiting the weight of our backsides, so we oblige it by sitting down--half-naked child and all. In an attempt to regain some composure, I hang DD3’s shirt across her chest and tie the long sleeves around her back. She makes it known that this is not her preferred style, but I suggest
that maybe she will start a new fashion. Although DD3 continues to object, she is distracted by the song leader now on the platform.
In no time, Chip and Dale make their appearance to the delight of everyone. And after a few rounds of “It’s A Small World” and “The Hokey Pokey,” we are a little more relaxed albeit hot. We are then informed that the movie of the night is “Homeward Bound”. DH and I glance at each other and telepathically communicate that—as cute as it may be—this film is not worth enduring the breezeless atmosphere of the campground any longer. The children agree, so we make our exit.
SECRET SPECIAL MOMENTS
Once back on the boat, the wind is more available. We start to cool now that the sun has disappeared. I curse the day that long sleeves were invented, but at least the weather conditions finally allow DD3 to resume the social practice of wearing clothes.
The vessel is more full than usual, so we take our places up near the skipper. The skipper taps DS6, who is seated right next to him, on the knee and quietly asks him if he would like to drive the boat. DS6 looks around to see if anyone has overheard this invitation. No one has, and DS6 feels safe to respond. He does not speak but only nods in agreement so as not to betray the secrecy of their plan. So when the boat is launched and on it’s way, the skipper discretely explains the operation of his ship behind the view-impeding engine. Under the cloak of darkness, my little captain takes the wheel and ably takes us to the next port.
DS6 wears a smile that beams even in the night. It becomes clear that he has found his calling in life. Any previous thoughts of growing up to be a paleontologist, firefighter or Olympian gymnast seem empty. He was born to be a skipper, navigating the waters of Bay Lake.
Our boat makes a stop at Disney’s Contemporary Resort first, so we disembark once again to look around a bit. To our delight, “High School Musical” is being shown on the beach. This more mature film is appropriate fare for our DD8, who believes she is already a teen, and DS6 along with DD3 like the idea of being near the sand.
We are lucky enough to find lounge chairs right in front of the screen, so we make ourselves comfortable under the twilight. DD8 and I become totally immersed in the drama unfolding before our eyes, but the other family members quickly grow restless. It is time to fall back on the unfailing practice of “divide and conquer.”
DH gathers DS6 and DD3 and heads for the marina. DD8 and I make the most of our unexpected mother-and-daughter moment, snuggling together in a shared lounge chair while we watch on to learn the fate of Troy and Gabriella. In the distance, I see the Electrical Water Pageant on the lake. It seems certain that DH and the younger critters are enjoying that spectacle from the marina.
Gratefulness wells up inside my heart as I hug DD8 a little more tightly. These are some of the memories I had hoped we would make. As our day draws to a close, I acknowledge that it has been busy, but it was every bit satisfying. In just one day we have already had many wonderful Disney moments, and my NDM heart soars with expectation for what is still to come.
COUNTRY FOLK IN A CONTEMPORARY PLACE
Growing up in FL, I was raised to experience Walt Disney World® one way. This way resembled the German war tactic called “blitzkrieg.” Living only a few hours away and having limited finances made staying overnight in Orlando an illogical choice, so my mom formulated plans to attack Walt Disney World® faster than the likes of Dash the Incredible .
We would rise at an ungodly hour, cruise I-95 at an unethical speed, arrive before “rope drop” and then cram Disney activity into our day in a manner comparable to the way Heimlich crams food in “A Bug’s Life”. After the park closed, we would then retreat victoriously to our hometown.
In the mind of my mom, there was no other way to experience Walt Disney World®. For one, this method enabled a family to get the most “value” out of the money spent . . . a principle which reigned supreme in our home. But also, we never knew when we might return. This meant we had to take it in as if it were the last feast we would eat before entering into a period of famine.
Joining the Disney Vacation Club affords me the luxury of approaching Walt Disney World® differently, but is hard for an old dog to learn new tricks. I find that waking on day 4 without a rigid, packed-to-the-max plan of action is a bit uncomfortable. Yet I know this is a necessary step if relaxation and Disney are ever to come together for me. With this in mind I take my official first step towards vacationing like a Disney Vacation Club Member and begin my day without a specific plan.
After some discussion over breakfast, our team decides to take a boat back over to Disney’s Contemporary Resort for some exploring. There are some new developments taking place over there, and the ever-seeking-Disney-information part in DD8 and me is able to persuade the more flexible family members that this activity will be fun and “educational.”
We catch a boat and repeat the pleasurable sailing excursion that we took the previous night. The sky is clear and beautiful, but the sun is frightfully powerful today. Even with a significant breeze on the water, the heat is rather torturous. It is a good thing that all family members are minimally clothed. Any attire other than loose shorts and tank tops would be the death of us.
Upon reaching the modern-themed dormitory, we head towards the main building. But the punishing sun combined with its glare off the water makes this stroll from the pier to the actual hotel reminiscent of Simba’s walk through the scorched dessert after he flees the Pridelands. It is certain that if we do not find shelter soon, we will find our swooning bodies collapse much as his did. Therefore, anything we are “educated” about today will pertain to the interior of the resort because the exterior cannot be endured at this hour.
Once inside, the air conditioning is a welcome reprieve. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, and we move forward. As we turn the corner, we find a curiosity rarely seen by little, country bumpkins from an antiquated city in rural VA . . . stairs that move!! DD8 and DS6 have seen these new-fangled contraptions a time or two before and giggle with anticipation. But DD3’s eyes grow wide with bewilderment, and she looks at me with great uncertainty. I assure her that riding an escalator is fun and completely safe. She inches towards it in an effort to trust me but, ultimately, coils back in fear. She watches DH, DD8 and DS6 boldly step onto the perilous invention and be whisked away to higher levels. Then she decides that it would be acceptable for me to pick her up and take her on the escalator while she clings tightly to my neck with her eyes closed.
Each level of the resort reveals new places and a greater understanding of the things that define Disney’s Contemporary Resort. We find the California Grill’s hostess counter, some conference rooms, a designated pirate area for guests who take The Magical Fireworks Voyage and many odd-looking sitting areas that are reminiscent of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. But, certainly, the floor with the most appeal is the one that has numerous colorful shops and restaurants.
By this time, DD3 is feeling braver and permits me to merely hold her hand while she stands on the moving stairs. She can’t help but flash a proud smile over her sense of accomplishment, and she seems ready to go all the way to the top where the monorail makes its stop.
Riding the monorail is a rite of passage for all family members of a NDM since the second tenet of The Sacred Seven states: Thou shalt ride the monorail when in Walt Disney World®. You cannot say that you have “done” Disney if you have not been on the monorail. Any trip that excludes transportation by this iconic emblem is considered invalid in the eyes of a NDM and is not tolerated under any circumstance. So in order to validate our first trip as Disney Vacation Club Members, this event is a mandatory one.
We all pick a vehicle to occupy and take our places for this momentous occasion. DS6 insists that there is no need for him to sit. He is “big” now, and he declares that he is completely capable of standing while the monorail is in motion. DD3, who feels ready to take on anything due her escalator success, follows suit.
Our rotation along the monorail track ends up taking a little longer than usual. Apparently, the middle of the afternoon is the dedicated time for testing the monorail’s safety system. But my happy travelers are only more pleased with the frequent jostling that occurs as we “stop and go” at this elevation.
DARING MOVES THAT DISTRESS
Finally, we arrive at our original place of boarding and make our way back home. This time, DD3 will not allow me to assist her on the moving stairs at all. She has become a professional in escalatory travel at this point. So, entirely on her own, she steps confidently on the descending staircase. There is a little confusion as to her hand placement since the wall next to her does not move along with her tiny platform. But she eventually finds the progressing handrail above her head, and she does her best to reach it, resting her fingertips on it for more stability.
The bottom of the staircase quickly approaches. I, nervously, rattle off instructions to DD3 for a safe exit. She gives me an annoyed glance and tries to appear as if we are not associated. Then, with all the fortitude of an Olympian, she crouches down on her small platform and prepares for the jump of a lifetime.
I become more jittery. What if she doesn’t make it? What if this ends as a fatal escalator encounter? I decide that I must intervene. But before I am able to grab my child and save her from certain death, the nearing level arrives and DD3 leaps with both feet and sticks a victorious landing on the motionless ground. The euphoric feeling that always accompanies such great feats washes over all who witness this precious moment in time. But the euphoria is short lived as I hand DD3 over to DH so that he can prohibit future risky behaviors.
I take on the responsibility of DD8 now. DD8 never attempts any action that may pose a threat to her, so I figure my NDM nerves will bide in a more relaxed state with this child. As we walk hand-in-hand, she dreamily says, “Disney’s Contemporary Resort is my favorite resort. I hope that one day we will stay here.” I find I am impressed with her mature tastes that favor sophistication over the alarmingly huge, child-friendly monuments of the Disney Value Resorts.
We both longingly look towards the construction project that is being erected next to the hotel’s main building that we just exited. It is rumored that this tower is destined to be an addition to Disney’s Contemporary Resort; however, it is supposed that it will emerge as condos for Disney Vacation Club Members. Should it prove to be true, some time in the future I will fulfill this dream of my elegant vacationer. DD8 and I utter our shared hope for such an outcome as we venture out towards the edge of the marina.
The blue-flagged ship, once again carries us over the calm, murky waters. DD8 expresses a desire to have more “girl time” this evening. She states that she really enjoyed our exclusive moment while watching “High School Musical” and is a bit regretful that we don’t have exclusive moments more frequently. I agree that those occasions are lovely and need to be scheduled more often. So I whisper that I will discuss the possibility of “girl time” with DH, and we both cross our fingers for a positive outcome.