As I write, over the screen of my laptop, the Atlantic Ocean’s undulating stripes of blue extend to meet puffy white clouds on the horizon. The crashing surf breaks on the caramel sand with a boom — foamy saltwater tossing shells, sweeping the shore of tangled seaweed and erasing footprints left by beachcombers.
We did this vacation right — scheduled the endurance contest first, visiting Disney World with our grandchildren then recouping at my parents’ condo, a home away from home on Hutchinson Island enjoyed by many in our extended family.
It took a day to switch gears and adjust to the snail’s pace of beach life following nonstop fun with Miles, Reed and Phoebe at Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Thanks to their mom, Becky, we didn’t have to make any plans, just show up at the parks when they opened and for dinner shows. Becky and her husband Tim had no trouble with the pace and stayed a week to see all the sights at Disney. What fortitude — what joy!
Disney World is far different, and much larger than when we first visited, back when our two older girls were small, our youngest daughter not yet born. I recall that stay at the Contemporary. We saved and saved to pay for the room, and cut costs by eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at lunch, food we snuck into our hotel, one that didn’t even have a refrigerator back then.
These days Disney packages include meal plans, which take a doctorate degree to decipher. When Spark and I arrived, Becky, Tim and the kids were at the Magic Kingdom. That was good. We needed uninterrupted time to figure out our Disney Key to the Kingdom Card. Present it and the kingdom is yours — just charge away.
The meal thing was what tripped us up. Our food credits would be deducted from the card as quick service meals, snacks or sit-down dinners. Talk about nerve racking; we needed extra credit to cover grandparent therapy.
Our Disney adventure began an hour earlier when we checked in and requested a room close to the kids. The World is huge and the last time we came to Orlando with our oldest daughter and her family we wasted time on Disney buses because we were across the kingdom from one another.
Becky did the research months earlier and booked us at the Art of Animation, a value resort that just opened on the Disney property. Fine, we thought. New is good, and we reserved what we were told was a “non-themed room,” a suite that would appeal to grandparents.
That reservationist must have been in another world. When we checked in we found out all the rooms have themes adapted from Disney movies: “Cars,” “Little Mermaid,” “Finding Nemo” and “Lion King.” We opted for the latter to be close to our family.
“Loud” is how Spark described our suite, and he wasn’t talking about the noise level. The color scheme was lime green, aqua and shocking pink. The queen bed had a splashy headboard with huge parrots that fanned out on a wall, and the dining table that converted into a bed was decorated with a life-size picture of Simba, the lion.
Everywhere you looked there were animals and jungle foliage. It was definitely a walk on the wild side, but really roomy and perfect if one of the kids wanted to spend the night. I slept great on the table and had a perfect excuse to eat in bed.
Honestly we had a terrific time — the kids were old enough not to get too tired. Miles and Reed enjoyed Epcot, and Phoebe, now 4, was all about the princesses. It was worth sleeping with the lions to see her face light up when Cinderella swept into the Grand Floridian and stopped by our table to talk with the starry-eyed curly top.
Lots of things have changed at Disney World over the years. There are fast passes and apps for iPhones to help park-goers reduce the time spent in lines, and those darn meal plans, which we never really did fully understand. But the Walt Disney magic spread by a tiny fairy named Tinkerbell remains the same, continues to provide special moments and unforgettable memories.