When I was a little girl, it seemed like everybody got to go to Walt Disney World except me. Technically, “everybody” was my best friend, and a few lucky classmates a year, but it felt global. As a parent, it has sometimes felt the same way, especially at spring break, when it seems like all the other families have been invited to the world’s most splendid ball, while we stay home, sweeping out the cinders, and singing to our talking mice.
I know, I know. Missing out on a theme park vacation hardly qualifies as hardship, then or now. I had lots of great vacations as a child, and we’ve taken plenty with our own boys, near and far. But there was a sense of urgency to the Disney World dream– fear that the window of time for us was closing, had perhaps already closed for our older kids.
I could not have been more wrong about that. This year, my mother brought us to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios as part of her 70th birthday celebration. It was the first visit for me, age 43, my husband, 49, and our boys, ages 14, 12, and a few weeks shy of nine. Visiting Disney and Universal with older kids was an incredible experience. Magic, it turns out, is timeless.
Not only was it not too late for us, but I think we were right on time. Watching parents push strollers, wrangle busy toddlers, and manage overwrought pre-schoolers, I had trouble imagining the parks being nearly as much fun for us or our kids when they were small. There were a few instances in which I felt bad for the wee ones, and wondered who their vacation was really for. In fact, an Orlando theme park “vacation” is an oxymoron. “Expedition” would be more accurate. It’s an intense experience–emotionally exhilarating, logistically challenging, and physically exhausting. And one of the most fun family adventures we have ever had.
All this week, I’m going to share our memories, and my recommendations for visiting Disney and Universal with older kids, or as a first time visitor at any age. Since some of my blogging friends and colleagues have just come back from Disney’s Social Media Moms Celebration, I’ll clarify that this series is not in connection with that event (though I would love to attend some year–Mickey, Minnie, call me). Our first-timers’ itinerary took in two Disney parks–Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom; a day at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, with a separate evening dedicated to World of Wizarding; and a side trip to the beach.
I hope you’ll enjoy, and chime in with your own insights and questions.