Travelling with teenagers is not like travelling with small children: they are much more independent, they are even more strong-willed, they are basically vampires (they sleep most of the day, then they wake and want food) and they have no concept of time, or urgency. So when my niece Harriet and I set off for our Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise adventure a few weeks ago, I decided to tell her that the taxi would be arriving for Gatwick at 8.45am, half an hour before we needed to leave; and I also told her to pack light so she wouldn’t have to check her suitcase in.
She arrived at 9.15am, moments before the cab was really due to arrive, with an insanely large overstuffed suitcase. But she was so excited to be going on our Orlando adventure that of course I couldn’t be cross and by the time we’d got into departures we were both shrieking and giggling like schoolgirls.
Not only was it Harriet’s first trip to Walt Disney World; it was also her first trip to Florida – and for that matter, America. I couldn’t wait for her to see and experience everything that I love about the US, and of course the House of Mouse.
Our press trip group were staying at the rather fabulous Disney’s Beach Club Resort, right by Epcot, which is elegant but also friendly and homely – exactly what you want after a transatlantic flight.
After a delicious dinner and a very good night’s sleep in the super-sized beds we woke up early and very hungry. Fortunately one of the best things about our stay was breakfast – not only because of the Mickey Mouse waffles, but because of the character appearances.
She may be 19 and at uni now but Harriet’s still a kid at heart, and she couldn’t wait to have her photo taken with Donald Duck.
And then it was time to set off for the parks. One thing I hadn’t counted on was how cold it would be in January in Orlando; I should have remembered from when No 1 Son and I stayed there one December that you can’t really get away without a jacket and jumper, even thought the sun’s shining and the sky was that incredible blue (this is the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, isn’t it beautiful?). So it was still fine to walk around, or wait for the transportation system, just a little chilly.
Now this was the first time I’d used the Fastpass+ system, which is basically an app that you use to fast pass the more popular rides – a virtual version of the original Fastpass. There’s free wifi throughout the Disney Parks (how brilliant is that?) which should in theory make everything go smoothly; but there were a couple of hitches. Firstly, we’d left it a little late to reserve the rides we wanted to go on, and it seemed it wasn’t possible to fast pass rides at different parks – you had to choose the same park (I guess because it presumes you’re going to be there longer than a few days). Eventually we managed to work out three rides we wanted to Fastpass+ at Magic Kingdom, at times that seemed to work, and decided to go off and go on some other rides while we were waiting for our allotted times (for Pirates of the Caribbean and so on).
However, there was a hitch. And here’s why visiting Walt Disney World in January is a little unpredictable: because as we discovered, when the temperature drops below a certain point, the mechanics on some of the rides seize up. It wasn’t *that* cold (not like in the UK at the time) but it was probably around 11C. So Everest at Animal Kingdom wasn’t working; Pirates of the Caribbean wasn’t working; It’s a Small World wasn’t working (*sobs*), Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast wasn’t working, and there were a few more rides we tried to go on that simply weren’t working: they were Frozen (sorry). Now the Fastpass+ system did send us a helpful email to tell us that Pirates of the Caribbean wasn’t working, and therefore we could choose an alternative ride. However, the email arrived in my inbox after we’d already arrived at the ride, all excited about seeing Captain Jack Sparrow and friends. Ah well.
Fastpass+ and the cold weather/mechanical breakdowns aside, it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for going on as many rides as we possibly could during our short time at Walt Disney World before leaving for Port Canaveral to board the Disney Dream for our cruise. What did dampen us, quite a bit, of course was Splash Mountain, which is still one of my all-time favourite rides (Harriet loved it). We followed this up with Big Thunder Railroad (so much fun) and after a brief pit stop for a giant turkey leg as big as my head (we shared it and still couldn’t finish it) and churros (delicious) it was on to Hollywood Studios.
There we went on Tower of Terror and the Great Movie Ride, which is such an enjoyable experience. We also did a lot of shopping (Harriet was desperate to buy a cool Star Wars-themed toy for her brother, which involved a lot of perusing. She ended up buying a rubber Yoda, with hair. No, me either.) Sadly my absolutely favourite ride, Soarin’, was closed for a refurb (another reason to go back).
That night our entire group went for dinner at Disney Springs, which used to be Downtown Disney and is a fab place to hang out, with lots of places to eat, live music and a really good vibe. I really love Walt Disney World at night – when the fireworks are going off everywhere it’s just so pretty and well, magical. But before we went into the restaurant we were treated to what I think is one of my favourite things I’ve ever done at Walt Disney World: a ride in a real vintage Aquacar. These beauties were made in Italy in the 60s and they’re worth a whopping $150,000, and basically it’s like being in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: you get into the car on dry land, and then it drives ONTO THE WATER, and suddenly it’s a boat!
…our driver/captain was very funny and charming and even though it was FREEZING out on the lake it was an absolutely brilliant experience, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
So that was how we spent our few days at Walt Disney World; we both loved every minute of it, and I know Harriet will want to return as soon as she gets the chance. But the next part of our Disney adventure, our Disney Dream cruise, was still to come…
*We travelled to Walt Disney World as guests of Disney Destinations International