Welcome to those of you joining me from Return to Disney and to those of you just hopping aboard. I am the 4th stop on our Magical Blogorail.
It’s that ineffable feeling of excitement, the knowledge that you’re going to the happiest place on earth. It’s the thrill of promised magic, the glitter of pixie dust, and the chance to spend time with those you love just relaxing without worries and responsibilities. It’s the stuff dreams are made of – the count down to a trip to Disney. At my house, it goes something like this:
“So, you want to go to Disney tomorrow?”
“Dunno. I’ll check the crowd calendar. Is there anything particular you want to do?”
“I’ll think about it, and we’ll talk about it on the way tomorrow.”
“Mmmkay. I’ll set the alarm.”
Yeah…so…um…your countdown doesn’t sound like that? Well, it’s a little different as a central Florida annual passholder living about 90 minutes from Orlando. Disney magic isn’t on my doorstep – with current gas prices, traveling to Disney is still a pricey proposition – but the proximity does change the whole concept of a “Countdown” to a Disney vacation a bit. For us, counting down to a Disney vacation isn’t week after week of planning and anticipation; it’s more of a decision about what time we’re leaving or what we’re doing tomorrow…or this weekend.
So do we “count down” to our trips? In a way, yes, we do, but that way may be a little different than most. Our count isn’t really about crossing off days before a trip, it’s about making plans and counting down the miles.
So what are we doing again? One of the biggest parts of our Disney trip countdown is the decision of what kind of day we really need. Whether you visit Disney once every three or four years or once every three or four weeks, one temptation remains the same: try to do everything. And, as most Disney veterans will tell you…that’s a really bad idea. One of the most important parts of planning, or counting down, to a Disney visit is setting your imagination free while keeping your sights on the practical. What do you really want to do – what kind of day do you want to have? For us, that often means deciding that our trip will be a character-photo day (time to pre-order a photopass) where we don’t worry too much about rides and instead focus on collecting characters. Or it may mean planning a sip and stroll day where we soak up atmosphere and just wander a park, taking it easy. Or it may mean planning out what rides we want to visit and enjoy. Having a strategy is vital in counting down to Disney. It doesn’t mean you’re going commando and planning out every second, it just means that having a good idea of the kind of day you need will make your trip so much more fun!
Where are we eating? Disney food is, well, Disney food. It’s a party of flavors, cultures, and cuisines all in a 47 square mile area (there’s the answer to your next Disney trivia question). For many guests, Disney’s dining experience is one of the highlights of any vacation, and even if you visit the parks frequently, there’s a nagging, distressing sense that you’ll never be able to eat at all of the restaurants you want to try! So counting down to a Disney visit, one of the great priorities is figuring out where you’re going to dine.
That decision presents a variety of unique challenges. For Disney vacationers marking days off on an extended countdown, the 180 day mark is the time to strike – the chance to book those dining reservations and agonize over whether they need to be changed. Disney actually favors those folks – the vacationers who provide the majority of their profit margin. The problem is, of course, that for those who decide to go to Disney on short notice, there are few tables left open at most Disney dining spots. For us, counting down to Disney means looking at dining options off the beaten path: resort restaurants, dining options at the Swan & Dolphin, times when park restaurants are just opening or switching meals (check out our dining dirty tricks). Counting down to Disney, for me, means pulling up restaurant menus and picking my top choices, hoping to return to an old favorite dining experience or discover a new one.
Are we there yet? And then there’s the drive. Yeah, yeah, 90-100 minutes may sound like a quick trip if you’re coming a long distance, but trust me…when you’re stuck in a car in the Florida sun, having gotten out of bed at 5:30, hoping to get to the gates when they open, it can seem like a long drive. Disney countdowns are measured in miles and landmarks, counting down the road signs until we go through the purple gate onto Disney property.
For us, there are numerous ways to pass the miles. We mark off familiar landmarks – turning onto the turnpike, making it past the web of overpasses at Ocoee Apopka, getting past the exit for 408, turning onto I-4 and seeing Hogwarts’ towers scraping the sky at Islands of Adventure, passing the Sea World sign and the sky tower…and then the blue building at Crossroads Plaza next to the Pirate mini-golf right before the exit for Downtown Disney and Epcot. We listen to Disney podcasts to stoke the excitement, trying to glean the latest news and celebrate the history of the parks. And we play silly games, counting the Disney billboards along the turnpike and seeing if we’re going to ride any of the advertised attractions that day.
For us, counting down to Disney isn’t a matter of crossing off days or weeks; it isn’t a matter of booking dining at 180 days and piling up packing lists. It’s just a long drive across the Florida turnpike. But it’s still a countdown. Disney is more than just a place to visit – it’s a vacation destination, a world in its own right. Any trip there is anticipated and counted-down, even if that means something as simple as planning out dining or counting the miles to that magical purple entrance that lets you know you’ve arrived in a place where dreams come true.
Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail is Focused on the Magic.
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Loop should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard: