|Walt Disney World with grandkids // All photos by Maureen Stone|
|Meeting Belle as Lumiere looks on|
The Walt Disney World invitation to “Let the Memories Begin,” inscribed near the Magic Kingdom entrance, takes on new meaning in the moments after senior guests arrive with their grandkids. Among the memorable episodes in life from graduations to weddings, childbirths, anniversaries, job promotions and big birthdays, a first visit to Walt Disney World with grandkids joins the list as a family milestone worth savoring.
Older folks visiting with active grandkids of pre- or grade-school age cannot, however, expect all aspects of their days at the Disney attractions in central Florida to be easy walks in the parks. A recent July visit by two Travel Agent grandparents with their grandkids Bridget, age 4, and Rowan, age 6, provided some insights for how travel agents can help older clients enjoy this experience while minimizing some of the stress factors (See sidebar tips). A first recommendation is to choose Disney resort accommodations that are logistically convenient to the Magic Kingdom, and to the Disney character meals that will be highlights of most clients’ grandkids’ vacations.
Grandparents who prefer traditional Disney hotel accommodations have several choices, all in the Disney “deluxe” resort category, located in close monorail or water launch transportation proximity to the Magic Kingdom, the primary theme park choice for most young grandchildren. There is the 750-room Disney Contemporary Resort with some rooms offering views of the Magic Kingdom; the 847-room Disney Polynesian Resort featuring Disney character breakfasts with table service in the Ohana Restaurant; the 728-room Disney Wilderness Lodge patterned after a Yellowstone-style park lodge and featuring some bunk bed rooms and suites; and the 900-room Grand Floridian Resort, the Victorian-themed property justly considered by many the most luxurious of all Disney hotels. It features its own character dining events in the 1900 Park Fare Restaurant including breakfasts with Mary Poppins and friends, and dinners with Cinderella.
|Fort Wilderness Lodge|
The Fort Wilderness Convenience
The recommendation of friends to try the 700-acre Walt Disney World Fort Wilderness Resort as an optimum family-friendly experience proved advice well taken for our family. This Disney “moderate” resort property, situated in a lush forest of pine and cypress trees across the Seven Seas Lagoon from the Magic Kingdom, offers a combination of logistical convenience and fun kids’ activities that immediately reduces the worry factor for seniors hosting active grandkids. Fort Wilderness has 409 air-conditioned cabins delivering all the conveniences of a second home for up to six family members. There are also 799 campsites, most with RV utility hookups, which are an attractive, affordable option for the many seniors who enjoy recreational vehicles in their retirement years.
Family comforts in the Disney Fort Wilderness Resort’s log cabins include rustic wood paneling and cowboy ranch-style furniture throughout each two-room, 504 square-foot accommodation. There are peak beamed ceilings that help punctuate the spacious atmosphere. The bedroom has a set of bunk beds and a double bed, while a double murphy bed is cleverly tucked into the living room wall behind a framed wall hanging. There is enough space for mom and dad if they are invited to join the grandparents and kids on the vacation.
Each cabin has a kid-size table and chair set, an adult table with three chairs and a triple-seat bench, and a fully-stocked kitchen complete with coffee maker, microwave, electric stove and all manner of cooking utensils and cleaning supplies. It was the extras in the cabin, however, that made grandma, for one, want to own one of these little homes. Abundant towels, a built-in hair dryer, built-in counters, cabinets and closet space, a vacuum, ironing board, and flat screen TVs in both bedroom and living room, including a DVD player, were all much-appreciated family friendly amenities. Outside the side door is a raised deck with picnic table and a charcoal grill for the barbeque chef in the family.
|Outside the Fort Wilderness log cabin|
Efficient Disney Transportation
The advantages of Fort Wilderness included a remarkably efficient internal bus transportation system that eliminated need for a car during our three-day stay. Waiting times at each area bus stop were never more than five to 10 minutes, and usually less. Buses shuttle guests from the wooded camp site areas to the reception outpost for guest parking or bus connections to theme parks and other resorts. The buses also go to the “settlement” area where restaurants, pony stables, Disney western-style entertainment shows and the lagoon marina are located. And they link guests to the Meadow Pool area where a well-stocked Trading Post convenience store stands front one of the largest family swimming pools we have seen at Walt Disney World. Here grandkids Rowan and Bridget spent two happy hours, along with several new young friends, enjoying the water slide as a cooling break during their two days in the theme parks. Elders can choose to either join the swimming, as this granddad did, or relax poolside while attentive young Disney lifeguards watch the children.
In the evenings Fort Wilderness cast members offer entertainment choices of Mickey’s Backyard Barbeque, or a Hoop-Dee-Doo western musical revue or a family campfire with songs, stories and marshmallow roasting. Although Bridget and Rowan were occupied by Magic Kingdom events after dark, their favorite non-character meals were the bountiful, country-style buffet breakfasts at the Trail’s End Restaurant in Fort Wilderness, which they asked to attend a second morning after so enjoying the first.
Most rewarding for its convenience and family fun element is a Fort Wilderness marina boat launch service that takes guests directly across the lagoon to the Magic Kingdom or, separately, to the Walt Disney Contemporary Resort located nearby for monorail connections to the Polynesian Resort, the Grand Floridian or to the Epcot theme park. Additionally family golf carts, which must be driven by licensed drivers, can be rented for $59 per day for those who want to eliminate the short walks between their cabins or campsites and the bus stops.
|Fort Wilderness Log Cabin|
Magic Kingdom by Water
The “green flag” launch leaves the Fort Wilderness resort every 15 minutes and delivers guests in the same amount of time to the front gates of the Magic Kingdom. This is an exciting entry to a grandchild’s dream world as the towers of Cinderella’s castle come into view across the water. Dressed in the yellow gown of her favorite princess, the Belle of Beauty and the Beast, young Bridget agreed to bypass Cinderella’s castle because lunch was waiting at the new “Be Our Guest” Restaurant in the Beast’s castle in the New Fantasyland.
Taking a cue from her brother Rowan, Bridget decided to dine in the “Beast’s room.” The kids’ meals of chicken fingers and burgers, ordered by computer at the restaurant entry foyer, arrived soon after we were seated. The server was guided to our table by a pager shaped like a red rose, a piece of Disney magic that created much conversation. Both grandkids were fascinated by the periodic transformation of the prince’s portrait into the Beast and the iconic glass-enclosed rose whose falling petals mark the time left for the Beast to be saved by Belle. While the story characters do not appear at the “Be Our Guest” lunch as they do at evening dinner, the grandkids soon enjoyed meeting and parading with Belle herself and many other Beauty and the Beast characters in “The Enchanted Tales of Belle.” This is the interactive attraction for about 40 guests per “tale” in the library of the Beast’s castle with the children playing supporting characters. It is a highlight of Disney’s New Fantasyland, which opened last December. Bridget, who played the imprisoned Maurice, and Rowan who spent his time gazing in disbelief at “the real” Belle, were enthralled.
|Meeting The Little Mermaid|
Meeting the Little Mermaid
After enjoying Beast’s castle the grandkids rushed us to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, during which evil Ursula the sea-witch caused the most excitement. After the ride we waited patiently in a 40-minute line for an audience with Ariel, the Little Mermaid herself, in her own grotto next to the Little Mermaid ride. The meeting proved worth the wait with a lively brief conversation about Ariel’s green fins and Bridget’s yellow princess dress. There were keepsake photos captured in each character encounter in Walt Disney World, with both our own photos and professional Disney photos available online thanks to the Disney Photopass system.
Later highlights of our first grandkids’ day in the Magic Kingdom included a ride over London to Never Never Land on Peter Pan’s Flight, followed by a cruise to visit the children of the world in “It’s a Small World After All.” This brought memories to Grammy and Grandpa of our own visits to the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair where the Small World ride originated. Grandson Rowan established a pattern to his visit to Walt Disney World when he judged each ride taken as the best Disney attraction he had experienced.
Some of his contenders for best ever were Splash Mountain, the log flume ride where we all cooled off in Frontierland from the heat of the Florida afternoon, the Aladdin’s Carpet Ride and Jungle River Ride in Adventureland, as well as a climb through the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse made famous in the classic Disney movie. When an afternoon thunder shower threatened briefly, we ducked into Tinker Bell’s Magical Nook where lined-up guests enjoyed the air-conditioning while viewing animated Tinker Bell adventures on a wall screen. Bridget and Rowan enjoyed meeting the live Tinker Bell, even livelier than her animated self, along with her equally friendly sprite friend Vidia.
|Main Street Electrical Parade|
An Electric First Evening
Disney character dinners, while comparably priced to fine family restaurant dining in a big city, carry the bonus of fulfilling the grandkids dream of meeting their favorite characters. At the impressive multi-course buffet in the Crystal Palace Restaurant just off Main Street U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom there were visits to all the tables by Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Eeeyore and Piglet. While our seating, due to the popularity of the Crystal Palace character buffet, was a little late at 7:30 p.m., the timing was right when we emerged in time for the spectacular Main Street Electrical Parade. The 30-minute parade, which featured many of the grandkids’ favorite characters on their own floats, from Tinkerbell to Cinderella in her palace coach, to Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, Pete’s Dragon and a final tribute to America, the colorful parade was the perfect ending to the grandkids’ first night in Walt Disney World.
Although there were pleas to wait 30 more minutes for a 10 p.m. “Wishes Nighttime Spectacular” featuring fireworks over Cinderella’s castle, we convinced the kids that tomorrow was another day for a morning viewing of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and an afternoon and evening visit to EPCOT. There a Disney Princess dinner at the Norway pavilion and the “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth” over the World Showcase Lagoon would make up for missing the Wishes spectacular.
Thanks to the water launch from the front of Magic Kingdom directly to Fort Wilderness, where transfer buses were waiting, the grandkids were back in their log cabin bunk beds by 10:30. Visions of their first day in the Magic Kingdom and dreams of their next day in EPCOT were soon dancing in their heads.