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Real Men Love Disney
by Tony Kemp
AllEars® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the May 11, 2010 Issue #555 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to celebrate many visits to the eduamazimagical Walt Disney World with my wife, daughter and son. And even though I am the one who does the researching, planning, mapping, and driving, I wouldn't trade the memories for anything! My wife tolerates my "habit," my 9-year-old daughter tells me I'm sometimes a "little embarrassing," and my 6-year-old son just thinks I'm "crazy," but we have shared countless hours of attractions, food, shows, walks, discussions, resorts, parades, shops, and characters together.
And when an opportunity arose for another type of Walt Disney World adventure, I jumped at the chance! Much to the dismay of family members for very different reasons (the "extra expense" from my wife and the "I-can't-believe-you'd-do-this-without-us" from my children), I accepted an invitation from a best friend and colleague to take a weekend trip to the World. Just us. The guys.
My friend, Andy, is an even bigger Disneyphile than I, and we had always talked about how much fun it would be to do a trip where we could just explore at a semi-leisurely pace, talk trivia without fear of retribution from family and friends, and eat our way through the parks. When our work and family responsibilities allowed for a short break (not to mention that the value of Andy's Disney Vacation Club points was incredible at a non-peak season!), we planned the longer weekend for the end of January. (I should also mention that he did a fantastic job of taking the lead on making the reservations -- and securing some "prime" experiences -- for everything we accomplished during this relatively short visit.)
Exploring the Man Caves
Family trips have always included on-property accommodations with various experiences at each of the value, moderate and deluxe levels. Although the season and "deal of the day" usually played a part in the exact location, I have rarely experienced deluxe accommodations (and the number of times has certainly diminished since our family has grown), so I can certainly "Disney rough it" with the best of them at a value resort!
Not this trip!
A brief overnight stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge with a savanna view, and a two-night stay with a fun view of Space Mountain at the Grand Floridian, were definitely stand-alone highlights. With more time to reflect on the experiences, it is conceivable that I could choose a "favorite," but both resorts offered enough advantages to outweigh any negatives that I might stretch to list.
The darker decor and amenities of the Lodge were definitely a welcome sight after the six-hour drive. Everything about the location promoted rest and relaxation (with the possible exception of the frenetic pace of our meal stops at Boma) without an excessively fluffy feel. (And, yes, we really had a variety of animals outside of our second-floor room in the evening and next morning!)
In contrast, there were no Ankole cattle to be found at the Grand Floridian, but there was also no shortage of opportunities to continue a low-key, non-heavily-scheduled experience. We both felt very much at home in this "dated" environment. The turn-of-the-century background music, intricate tile work inlaid with subtle and not-so-subtle Disney touches, and yellow and blue room decor helped promote the posh aura that I had only imagined before this trip (from the view from countless rides on the monorail).
The health club was fantastic and despite my not actually using it (I was very content to spend time on my balcony before leaving for a mid-morning park excursion), I am happy to have visited it to see how it worked. (Andy said the workout facility and Gentleman's Lounge were incredible ways to start the morning.) The walking trail from the Grand Floridian to the Polynesian Resort also proved to be a great way to enjoy the area as we made our way to the Polynesian resort for dinner on Saturday.
I could definitely get used to spending more time with the deluxe accommodations, but I also think it's important to really be able to "experience" these resorts instead of simply retiring in the evenings after full days in the parks. We were able to explore at a semi-leisurely pace without feeling too rushed for any one particular thing.
Devouring the Grub
Chicken fingers, cheese pizza and cheeseburgers continue to be the staple of my Disney trips simply because of my kids' "sophisticated" palates, but a slightly more adventurous dining experience highlighted this trip. Andy loves the dining experience at the World probably as much as the place itself, so he took it upon himself to make reservations at some of his favorites since he knew my well-rounded experience with quick-service food and beverage.
Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Chefs de France in France at Epcot, and Le Cellier Steakhouse in Canada at Epcot were fantastic introductions to a non-chicken-finger world! While I did step out of my comfort zone slightly with foods that I tried for the first time, these restaurants provided a nice balance for those who are not as adventurous when it comes to eating. But we definitely ate -- and sometimes for more than an hour-and-a-half per meal (which would be almost unheard of with my children)!
We also experienced a few character meals. Yes, character meals -- without children! Cinderella's Royal Table at Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom and the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian were definitely fun (and loud). I think the excitement over eating in Cinderella Castle for the first time and Major Domo's Pie overshadowed any bit of reservation I may have had. (And I have a smashing photo with Cinderella to prove it!) Because my family and I are not large-breakfast people, we had also never eaten a sit-down meal in the morning, and 1900 Park Fare did not disappoint. While the pace and noise level were frantic at times, the made-to-order omelet and strawberry soup (not to mention Mary Poppin's jolly disposition) made it worthwhile.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the Spirit of Aloha Polynesian Luau. The front-row seat was spectacular, the show was fun, and the food quantity was overwhelming. (I'd love to still be eating the pineapple bread!) I almost felt like I had fallen into an old Elvis Presley movie, especially afterwards as we explored the Polynesian Resort itself. (I am so thankful that the sometimes-heavy rain we had been experiencing decided to leave at least for a little while so that the show could literally go on!)
It's A Guy Thing!
Looking back at this trip, I was reminded of the reasons I have loved Disney and Walt Disney World for many years now. While I may not be an expert on many things, I am very comfortable with my knowledge of making the most of my Walt Disney World visits, and this guys-only trip allowed me to reflect on those things that continue to make it special.
1. Discover your personal "magic kingdom" each time you visit. Although the attractions are memorable (and I want the three-times-in-a-row ride on Tower of Terror as much as the next guest), it is even more fun to do something you were not able to do on the trip before. Even if it's literally traveling a different path than what you are accustomed to using, it can be such an exciting "first" for all of those involved!
2. Enjoy the company of other guests. Part of the fun and newness can be your interaction with other park and resort guests. Strike up conversations about your favorites or share something interesting that you have experienced. You'll be surprised at the types of memories you'll make from this relatively easy task.
3. Find your "Laughing Place" -- and stay there! With crowd levels still seemingly reaching larger numbers at various times throughout the year, the World can sometimes be a very grumpy place if you are not prepared. Sure, finding the happiness in the situation is extremely cliche and Pollyana, but it always beats the alternative of spending a nice amount of money to be miserable at various times throughout the trip!
4. Ask Cast Members for assistance or advice whenever you don't know. You might occasionally find a Cast Member who isn't on top of his or her game (especially if you have been traveling to the World since before they were born), but their knowledge and helpfulness can sometimes save you time and your sanity. Also, it's always fun to hear their stories of how they wound up where they are.
5. Love it like it's your first visit with each visit. Although numerous people ask me why I don't choose to spend the same amount of money and travel to numerous other places besides the World, I am always comfortable in saying that I discover something "new," "different" and "fun" on each and every trip.
What an incredible January experience! Who says that it has to be all about the princesses and the fairies? Bring on the power walk from Epcot to Hollywood Studios, and the Fufu and Zebra Domes from Boma! Certainly I owe my family a debt of gratitude for allowing me to travel without them (as well as my great friend Andy for designing the experience), but I wonder if I can now invoke the "man rule" and decree that it's
going to become an annual event? Somehow I think I will probably need to work on that...
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tony Kemp currently works as a university administrator and adjunct faculty member, and was bitten by the Disney bug at an early age. Although he didn't travel to the World during his younger years (five brothers and sisters!), his wife and two children believe he has made up for it since! Tony worked for more than seven years as a part-time Cast Member with Disney Store in two states, and still attempts to spread the magic with family and friends every chance he gets.
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.