Five Hidden Gems at Walt Disney World

I’ve talked about traveling to Walt Disney World before and had promised further tips. Here are five neat things at the Magic Kingdom that are easy to overlook amidst the flashier attractions.

Sleepy Hollow Refreshments – Just over the bridge towards Liberty Square from the castle lies this quick service stand. It serves waffles (with fruit or nutella), funnel cakes, coffee, and ice cream floats — great late-night desserts. Until 5 o’clock, it also has two savory waffle sandwiches, which are unlike anything you’ll get elsewhere in the Magic Kingdom. I recommend the sweet and spicy chicken.

It has outdoor seating, some of which lies behind the stand under an overhang. You’ll have to keep an eye on the ducks and birds that lurk nearby waiting for your scraps, but the location is the other reason why this spot is a hidden gem. While it’s a terrible place to view the castle and the fireworks shows, this refreshment stand sits right alongside the parade route. Get there early to grab a good viewing spot and have a funnel cake while you wait.

(You can read someone else’s more in-depth review here. Holy cow, someone has a whole blog devoted to reviewing food at Disney parks! Why didn’t I give myself that job?)

PeopleMover – It doesn’t seem like much of a ride, does it? You take a slow-moving tour of the other attractions in the Tomorrowland section of the park. There aren’t any dips or twists or surprises or animatronics. However, I’ll take it over Stitch’s Great Escape any day.

The PeopleMover’s charm is that it’s relaxing. The ride is much longer than a roller coaster, plus it’s shaded the whole time. It’s high up, so you get a good view of that part of the park. If you have great timing, you can enjoy an awesome view of the castle during the fireworks show as you ride by. Best of all, the line is usually short. It’s a great way to take a break and get off your feet for a few minutes.

Dumbo’s queue – This is brilliant. Disney should do this with every ride they can. Let’s say your kid wants to ride Dumbo. There’s a 30 minute wait, and as hot as it is, the Storybook Circus area of the park always seems to feel hotter still. But once the line gets inside the big tent, it leads to a circus themed indoor playground. You are handed a pager and get to sit down in the air-conditioning while your child climbs around. After your pager goes off, you can resume standing in line. But that break where you are out of the heat and your kid can play? Priceless.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom – This gem only pretends to be hidden, but that’s part of the charm. When you first go into the park, you may spot a sign saying, “Sorcerers Wanted” and asking such fell magic wielders to report to the Main Street USA Firehouse. There, you are given a brief run-down of the “secret” Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game and a handful of cards, each depicting a Disney character and their game stats. A map you are given shows you where to find the spots where the game is played.

Finding those spots can be a fun little hunt in and of itself. They are disguised as mirrors, shop windows, or posters but once your magic key activates them, you are treated to a brief animated segment featuring a Disney villain and their lackeys, who you will “fight” by holding up a card and using the power of the associated character. Then you will be told which “portal” you will need to access next to play the next part of the game. It’s really neat, and great fun for those who enjoy geocaching, scavenger hunts, or collectable card games.

(Here’s a good place for more in-depth information — though figuring it out yourself is, I think, part of the fun.)

Cast Members not dressed as Disney characters – Not that Mickey, the princesses, and all the other recognizable characters don’t do a great job. I can’t imagine maintaining my poise in the Florida heat wearing one of those costumes, let alone while trying to be magical for an unending parade of children. However, as a park goer you’re not going to spend more than five minutes in the company of any one of those characters and the interaction is bound to be rushed.

On the other hand, any other Cast Member at the park is just as devoted to being wonderful and magical as Mickey himself, but doesn’t have a queue to wait in and can actually be helpful if you need assistance. When I started writing this entry, I only had in mind the performers who stroll around Main Street, and their ilk. The Wife and I have gotten our pictures with Main Street’s Mayor and had a lovely chat with him and his wife. They are “in-character” enough to be fun but aren’t so constrained that they can’t have a conversation. However, even the cast members who aren’t playing a role at all can be fun to talk to, especially if you are a people person like the Wife. Plus, they sometimes have FastPasses or stickers in their pockets.

Honorable mentions

Push, the talking trash can – This little guy was unfortunately retired just a year or two ago, but was the perfect example of those little, extra-special touches that makes Disney more than just another amusement park. This robot looked exactly like the trash cans that inhabit Tomorrowland. Every now and then, you’d see it scooting around but it would usually just lurk someplace, waiting until you tried to throw something away in it. Then — surprise! — it’s a moving, talking robot.

Tom Sawyer’s Island – Easy to miss because you have to get there by ferry, Tom Sawyer’s Island gives kids a place to do something they actually don’t have much opportunity for at Walt Disney World: run around and play. I’m only giving this an honorable mention because it’s been years since I’ve set foot there. However, as I recall, it has many nooks and crannies to explore. The big feature, though, is the fort — it’s got toy guns and cannons you can’t help but train on the Liberty Square Riverboat! Between that, the mill, the caves, the whole place is an enormous stage for play-acting outdoor adventures. If your kids need a place to stretch their legs (you know, after all that walking and standing in line) and just play for a while without leaving the park, this is the spot.

That’s Why Father Time Also Carries a Scythe

RU: “How much longer do we have until we get there?”

The Dad: “About four Daniel Tiger* episodes.”

(Time passes)

RU: “How long will it be before we get there?”

The Dad: “Um. We’ve got about two Daniel Tigers.”

(Later)

RU: “Ugh! How much longer?”

The Dad: “A little more than one Daniel Tiger. We’ll say one and a quarter Daniel Tigers.”

RU: “How much is that?”

The Dad: “A quarter is the same as one-fourth. If you cut Daniel Tiger in half, and then cut one of those half Daniel Tigers in half again, that’s one fourth. It’s half of a half.”

RU: “…”

The Dad: “Maybe it’d be easier to imagine cutting an apple into four pieces. Except it’s with time.”

RU: “So how long will it be?”

The Dad: “Just one Daniel Tiger.”

*We have taken to measuring time in Daniel Tiger Units (DTUs), which is the length of one episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood**. It’s a span of time that the girls can relate to, as opposed to using “minutes” which can be awfully abstract and changeable for a kid. During rest time, for example, our girls just have to lay down quietly for twenty minutes. But if they get up or play around or get loud, we restart their time. We tell them this, of course, but the result is still that their “twenty minutes” of rest time actually lasts an hour or more. Plus, sometimes they fall asleep for a while and their “twenty minutes” is over whenever they wake up. Kids are often told that something will take “one minute” or “five minutes,” but what’s really meant is “some small amount of time — no I don’t know exactly how long.” For kids who are still learning to tell time, then, “minutes” can seem like a very amorphous concept. Daniel Tiger Units, on the other hand, offer a unit of time that their experience of is relatively fixed. Our girls have a good sense of about how long an episode is. Plus, the length of DTUs makes them a robust unit for measuring many things that kids ask about, as opposed to using minutes and hours, which are two units of time. How long until lunch? One Daniel Tiger. How long is it to Nana’s house? About eight Daniel Tigers. How long are all the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings movies? Altogether, almost 33 Daniel Tigers.

**There is some controversy over exactly how long a DTU is considered to be. Daniel Tiger episodes are allotted a 30-minute time slot in a television programming schedule. That actually clocks in at 28 minutes. To make matters even more confusing, each “full episode” of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is comprised of two distinct 11-minute episodes (no, I don’t know where the other six minutes comes from). So, is one DTU 30 minutes, 28 minutes, or 11 minutes? I have settled on using DTUs to refer to “about twenty minutes,” or one Rest Time. I don’t know which measurement the Wife uses.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

MeToo is two and a half now, which means it’s time for her to give up her most favoritest thing in the world: pacifiers.

Please don’t tell her, but her big sister got to have pacifiers until she was three, and didn’t entirely give them up for six months after that. RU’s teeth, however, were not being adversely affected by them whereas MeToo’s are. She clamps down on those things hard and chews them around in her mouth even while sleeping. And as much as RU liked her passies, MeToo likes to have them in all the time. Ever see someone who smoked so much they would even eat and drink with a cigarette in hand so they could have a puff between bites? Subtract the burning nicotine and that’s MeToo.

When RU had to kick the habit, she was older. She also had a baby sister to contrast herself with. Baby MeToo still had pacifiers but RU was a Big Girl (which officially happens when you turn three and a half, don’t you know) and needed them no longer. Explaining it that way to her was nearly all it took when coupled with making a little deal about it being her half-birthday (we usually give new pajamas to mark the occasion).

MeToo, on the other hand, is less invested in being mature and far more attached to her habit.

We timed MeToo’s de-pacification to coincide with a weekend we spent away from home. We didn’t take any pacifiers on the trip. We didn’t have any of hers around when we came back, aside from a few stragglers that keep turning up. It was close enough to her half-birthday that we could hang the transition on that, but the real trick that made it work was changing her environment for a few days. We’d mentioned to her a few weeks prior that she’d be giving up her cherished pacifiers so that she’d have some advanced warning but we didn’t say anything at all about them during the transition period itself.

It’s worked pretty well. During the trip, she asked about her passies a couple of times and we responded with a simple, “We didn’t bring any” or “You don’t have them now that you’re two and a half.” Since we’ve been back, she’s only brought them up a few times, usually when she’s hurt herself or is very upset over something.

I will admit that I’d been expecting a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth over this, and possibly even DTs. I’m still surprised with how easy it was to remove them from her lifestyle, especially as we still have plenty of pacifiers in the house for Z. I mean, this is a girl who got pacifiers for Christmas last year from her grandmother — and I’m pretty sure they were her favorite present.

So, that’s my advice for any of you with children who need to kick the habit: Give them a change of scenery and a new routine for a couple of days.

Now, what am I going to do when I decide she can’t have cold turkey for lunch anymore?

Remember, Remember, to Write in September

Apologies, Dear Reader, for the lack of posts recently. We’ve been coming and going at a hectic pace around here. Rather than writing a quick, “We’ll be right back” message, I was trying to work a couple of posts I’m not satisfied with into shape. You can see how well that (didn’t) work out.

We’ll be similarly busy for the rest of the month, but I aim to do better at keeping the blog up for you.

Fall is trying to shoulder its way around Summer, but it’s still 90% humidity and 10% insects out here right now. I’ve been stabbed by immunization needles smaller than the mosquito that just got a meal out of my arm. Soon, soon, though, there will be mild weather and pumpkin-flavored desserts.

Have a good weekend, Dear Reader. I’ll have a new post up for you on Monday.

I plomise.