Welcome to Disney World! Located in Orlando Florida, Disney World is known as the “Happiest place on Earth”. For Cassandra’s 40th birthday I knew I had to come up with something huge. Since she was a little girl in England she’s always wanted to meet Mickey Mouse. Cassandra took me to an amusement park in Australia on my 30th b-day so I could feel like a kid again and I wanted to return the favor. This March her dreams came true with a surprise trip to the Magic Kingdom!
We stayed at Disney’s Contemporary Hotel and enjoyed a room with a balcony overlooking the Magic Kingdom. The contemporary is one of three Disney resorts with access to the monorail. The monorail is the quickest and most convenient way to travel between the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, the Contemporary, the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian Village resort.
It literally stops inside the 4th floor of the Contemporary. Staying in a Disney resort allows you an earlier entrance to the park plus give you access to extended hours in the evenings. You also gain access to the “fastpass” which enables you to bypass long lines at the major attractions.
Our first night we took a 5-minute stroll from the resort to the main gates of the Magic Kingdom. We started in Fantasyland and spent a little bit of time in Tomorrowland. We spun around on the Mad Hatter’s teacups, saw glowing ghosts dancing through the Haunted House, and cruised through “It’s a Small World After All” (that song stayed in our heads the entire trip: -). We rode in a Honeypot around Pooh’s Corner, sailed above the London skyline in the Peter Pan experience and journeyed through Ariel’s world in a Giant Clamshell during the “Under the Sea” experience. It brought back a whirlwind of childhood memories that culminated in a fireworks display and the Main Street Electrical Parade.
The next day was the big 40 for my lovely wife, so we packed in as many adventures as we could. We explored Adventureland by partaking in a Jungle Cruise and sailing the rogue seas on the infamous Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Next up was Frontierland where we rode a train around the entire Magic Kingdom. We learned that day that the best restaurants all require reservations. We did not have one for lunch, so we took a bus to Disney Springs. Disney Springs is a bustling hub of dining and shopping options. We opted for the Rainforest Café and walked that off with a walk around the scenic lake. Then we took a bus to the Polynesian resort. We explored the overwater bungalows that recreated the Bora Bora, Moorea & Tahiti experience (ironically, they were just as expensive as the real deal). From the Polynesian we caught the monorail back to the Contemporary. Six months earlier I’d booked a table at Cinderella’s Royal Table Dinner and tonight the Birthday girl was cashing in! We met Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Ariel & Jasmine as we enjoyed a sumptuous feast in the castle ballroom. After dinner we walked out into the Electric Parade once again – this time we used the distraction to find a short queue for a meet & greet with Mickey Mouse – that was the proverbial icing on the cake for our birthday girl!
The next morning we took a bus to an African restaurant called Boma inside the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Having just been in Africa a few months earlier, it was great to talk to the pleasant staff from countries such as Botswana, Namibia, Zambia & South Africa. The food was delicious and the resort itself was spectacular. Many of the rooms ringed around a game-viewing area where giraffes literally walked up to people’s balconies. After brekkie we bussed to Animal Kingdom and watched the Festival of the Lion King – what a brilliant theatrical performance! We also had the opportunity to meet Mickey Minnie together and get some photos with them in their safari gear. Next we took a bus to the Wilderness Lodge and had lunch at the Whispering Canyon Café. After lunch we strolled the grounds and caught a complimentary water taxi from the lodge back to the Contemporary.
That evening we took the monorail to Epcot Center. After a trek through Spaceship Earth, we soaked in the ambience of the Flower & Garden festival that brought Disney favorites to life in various forms of fauna and greenery. Epcot has a lake surrounded by villages from multiple countries. Each country has distinct restaurants and shopping that pertain to their respective culture. We took a whimsical boat ride underneath a Mayan temple in Mexico. We made the rounds in Norway, England, China, Japan & France before settling in Morocco for dinner at Marrakesh. We savored tasty couscous and were entertained by a rhythmic belly dancing show. Hollywood studios was open for extended hours that evening for Disney hotel guests, so we took a ferry boat there after supper. We toured the Star Wars Launch Bay and were accosted by real Stormtroopers in the street (they were polite, but kept in character splendidly). We caught a bus back to the Contemporary and took the elevator all the way to the top for a visit to the California Grill. In addition to offering renowned cuisine, the California Grill is the best spot in Disney to view the daily fireworks.
On our final morning we had a wonderful buffet at the Contemporary’s Wave of American Flavors restaurant. After packing and taking advantage of a late checkout, we opted to have our final meal at the Grand Floridian Café. We’d been staring at this beautiful hotel from our balcony the past few days, so we had to give it a go. The Grand Floridian was modeled after the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego. It was every bit as elegant and even had a better pool (a giant “Mad Hatter” Hat pours water over the kids). Lunch was excellent and we took the monorail back to the Contemporary for the final time. The Disney Express service was a convenient way to get us to and from the airport. If you’re planning on a meal at the Orlando airport, there is a convenient restaurant inside the Hyatt hotel that overlooks the runway so you can look out and see the planes (also has outstanding food and an impeccably clean bathroom).
Cassandra thoroughly enjoyed her birthday visit to Disney World and I had just as much fun taking her there. With a baby on the way this summer, we’re looking forward to another visit in a few years!