Fewer people adds a lot of magic at Disney World

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk

For years I struggled with putting a trip to Walt Disney World on my “must do” list.

That’s a very strange reaction to the “happiest place on earth” from someone who has Disney princesses, villains, mice, castles and numerous other sculptures all over her living room credenza. I love most things Disney – movies, songs, cartoons, collectibles and cruises.

But the park? I took my boys once when they were evidently too small to remember, as they swear they never went as children. I have been to Disney Village by myself a couple of times when I had some time to kill in Orlando. But I have not been to the Magic Kingdom in three or more decades.

The reasons why changed through the years. Disney didn’t happen when the children were small because two big vacations a year were out of our reach financially and, for me, the beach always won that battle. Later, the boys just weren’t that interested in the Magic Kingdom. Universal Studios probably would have been more in tune with their love of rides.

Once the grandchildren came along, the reasons became age/health related. I have some rather limiting mobility issues, especially with a lot of walking. “Going to Disney with me will be gut-wrenching for you,” I told my sweet children, when they would seek to include Gigi in their plans. “I’ll be stopping every 20 steps. Disney is a power-walk, and you don’t need me slowing you down.”

But, last February, I booked a Disney trip for a friend of mine and her husband. They were joining their sons and families at the park for five days. My friend also asked that I book an electric scooter for her husband, who walks about like I do.

They had a truly magical week. “I’m telling you truthfully,” my friend told me. “You can do this. Disney may be for kids, but they make it easy for us older folks.”

Grandson King held the trump card: He was spending his sixth birthday at Disney. His parents kept it a secret from him until the day before they left, but they included Granddaddy and Gigi in the planning. I decided to take the plunge.

Well, not exactly a plunge. Neville and I drove down to Orlando and stayed at the park for two nights. We met a very surprised King at the restaurant in Disney Village on his birthday night and went to Epcot with the family the next day. I had a scooter waiting for me when I got to the hotel, and we were able to take it with us on the free Disney transportation – buses from our hotel – to the Village and to Epcot and also Hollywood Studio, where Neville and I went after the young folks wore out at Epcot and went back to their hotel!

Gigi, Mickey Mouse and King at Epcot in Walt Disney World

True, some things were missing – fireworks, traditional character meet-and-greets, hugs from Cinderella and most of the water attractions, for example. But it’s hard to miss what you never knew, so we thought everything was great.

I bought a Minnie Mouse shirt, and I’m hanging on to my Princess Magic Band. I want to go back, with a few caveats. I will not go in the summer, holidays or any of the most popular weeks. I hope for good things for Disney in 2021 and certainly 2022 and realize there may never be another time when they operate at 35 percent capacity. We hit the sweet spot, and it was amazing. No waiting. No throngs of people.

The cost is still also amazing – and not in a good way. We had discounts for the rooms because of a January special, and I had some park tickets that I had purchased as part of a charity auction package. Even with those discounts, it was an expensive couple of days.

But really, what is the cost of piloting the Millennium Falcon these days?

(Sorry, Han. I crashed several times…)

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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