Three generations go visit Mickey

On my wedding day, I knew that as well as vowing to love, honour and comfort my husband, I was also committing to a trip to Walt Disney World. As a child, Garth had made the trek to Disney every year for nine years with his mother and father, sister and two brothers.For my in-laws, it was an extended family affair, one that included my mother-in-law’s parents, Manley and Katharine. In fact, after their family left, Manley and Katharine would stay on and enjoy Disney on their own, something almost unheard of in the ’70s and early ’80s. Today, it’s a different story.

Reliving family tradition
Last fall, we relived the family tradition, but this time, we had our sons, four-year-old Jack and two-year-old Hudson along with my in-laws, Sandra and Neil.

“Having the chance to see Garth’s reaction to the Magic Kingdom after 30 years and then seeing the same look of excitement on my grandsons’ faces, well,” says Sandra, “it was incredible.”

Over the years, there had been changes to the family. Divorce, a recent hip replacement for Sandra and her remarriage to Neil had changed the dynamics and we hoped such a trip would bring all of us cler.

We booked into the Animal Kingdom Lodge, designed to look like a huge African hut with bamboo pickets on the balconies and a lobby complete with a rope bridge joining two upper floors — “like  something out of The Jungle Book,” said Garth.

On our first day, it took us an extra 15 minutes to get to our room because we had to peel our kids — and our parents — off the glass windows lining the corridors. They were captivated by a giraffe and two zebra walking the paths that snake throughout the property.

Park guides from Africa are on hand throughout the day to answer questions about the animals.

Many more grandparents
With Park Hopper passes in hand, which allow unlimited entry to all four theme parks, we made our first visit to the Magic Kingdom. The number of grandparents accompanying their children and grandchildren amazed us.

A few of the families we met attributed this to grandparents being in better general health than 20 years ago and the need to be with family, as so many people were feeling as a result of September 11th.

Next page: Book meals ahead

Book meals ahead
Life is much easier if you make all of your meal reservations as soon as you arrive — or  before you arrive. We had investigated our options for dinners once we confirmed our trip online, but we hadn’t considered breakfasts or lunches.

If your plans include the Magic Kingdom and you haven’t booked a restaurant, it’s advisable to eat breakfast at your hotel before you head out. Otherwise, you may have to settle for a bagel and coffee at a small stand deep inside Fantasyland.

At the end of our first day, we picked up a guidebook from Guest Relations (available at any of the parks), decided where we would eat for the remainder of the trip and made the reservations.

Avoid lineups
Travelling to Disney in November, especially the week before American Thanksgiving, is a good time to go if you want to avoid lineups that can take up to two hours during busier times such as spring break and Christmas week.

Our longest wait for a ride was 30 minutes and, in many cases, we simply walked right on.

Because of Sandra’s hip replacement, we were careful to balance longer waits with attractions that involved nothing more than sitting and watching a show or going for a boat ride.

We also benefited from FASTPASS®, which are available at the most popular rides and allow you to move to the front of the line during designated times.

The parks also rent heavy-duty strollers ($8 US per day). We put our purses and shopping bags on top of the visor while the kids rode in style and comfort. It helped save our backs and made things easier on Sandra’s hip. Though we didn’t need it, there are also wheelchairs ($7 US) and motorized scooters ($30 US) available at all the parks.

Tour Hollywood
Disney-MGM Studios isn’t really geared for kids under the age of five, but it’s a great place for movie buffs. My husband and I walked through movie sets on the Backlot Tour with kids in tow, while Sandra and Neil checked out the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.

We also enjoyed One Man’s Dream, a tribute to Walt Disney in honour of what would have been his 100th birthday. The family met for dinner at the 50’s Prime Time Café, where the wait staff  treat you like a brother or sister and tell you to get your elbows off the table.  The décor is chrome and linoleum. Televisions at each table play 50’s sitcoms like I Love Lucy and I Married Joan

That night, we took in Mickey’s Fantasmic, a pyrotechnic extravaganza filled with lots of music and Disney characters. Take advantage of the many restaurants that provide vouchers for people who want to hit the show right after dinner, which guarantees you a seat. (We didn’t and ended up standing at the back for the whole 30-minute show.)

Next page: Food, wine and fireworks

Food, wine and fireworks
We were lucky to be visiting Epcot during the sixth annual International Food and Wine Festival, an international marketplace with demonstrations, tasting bars and seminars on wine, food and entertaining.

Epcot is not complete without seeing Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, a spectacular show of fireworks and laser lights set to music. The finale — a projection of scenes from all over the world on a huge iron globe celebrating different cultures and countries — left us all a little choked up.

Glamour and glitz
For a special dinner to celebrate a 50th anniversary or a romantic second honeymoon, try Cítricos at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, considered to be the top Disney World Resort. The atmosphere is elegant but not stuffy, the food worth the extra expense, and the service friendly.

The only drawback was that buses stop running at about 10 p.m. so we found it easier to take a cab back to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

During the day, though, the bus system works well, although Sandra and Neil found running to the bus could be a chore, especially when our arms were loaded with shopping bags or kids. 

We all agreed, when it was time to head home, that this trip had accomplished what we hoped it would. With no one worried about cooking or cleaning, it was a low-stress way to spend time getting closer to each other — and, hopefully, it’s the beginning of a new family tradition.