For months, my wife Elizabeth and I had discussed going to Orlando and taking our son Chaim Yosef to Walt Disney World so that he could see Mickey Mouse and his friends as well as Lightning McQueen from his favorite movie — Cars. We spent quite a lot of time working out finances and started putting the plan in motion when we saw that the airline JetBlue had announced a sale — only $89 each way, quite a discount. I called my mother and told her that we were thinking about going to visit Chaim’s pals in Florida and she lovingly started asking me if we had the money to go and how it was possible that we could afford it.
After getting through the tedium of trying to explain how we had saved up money for the trip, I asked her if she would consider letting us stay in a timeshare villa — my mother is an owner of a villa in Puerto Vallarta via a timeshare company and she can exchange time there with time basically anywhere in the world that the company has villas. She was able to get us time and did so rather cleverly — with the stay starting on a Wednesday and ending on a Tuesday.
This is a tip if you are looking to save money when traveling — do not travel over weekends. If you start your vacation on a Wednesday and finish it on a Tuesday as we did, both of your flights will be during the week and being that those days are less busy as far as air travel goes, they are considerably more likely to have good prices for your tickets. Case in point — we got our tickets for about eighty-nine dollars each way. You may be wondering why we chose to fly instead of driving there.
There are two answers to this question, somewhat related. First and foremost, it would not be at all cost or time effective as it takes about twenty-five hours to get there and another twenty-five hours to come back — that’s two full days gone from a week-long vacation. Secondly, even if we would have had all the time we wanted it would still not be worth it to drive because we have a two-year old son who gets easily bored and irritated after a while in a car — imagine how fussy he would get in a car driving for that long. Indeed, we would end up taking two days to get there as he would need to take a break to rest somewhere.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, we asked him how much he would want to meet Lightning McQueen and Mater from the movie Cars in real life and he got very excited. We would then ask him if he’d want to meet Mickey and Minnie and their friends. He would again say yes, yes. We repeated this exercise a couple of times per week and started showing him different travel documentaries about going to Walt Disney World and he really enjoyed watching these every evening. When there were commercials for travel to Walt Disney World on television, he was always happy to see Mickey Mouse.
The trip started off with all of us getting up early in the morning on Wednesday and being driven to the airport. We had taken care of their cat and so they wanted to do us a solid and take us to the airport. On our way there, our friend asked us if we could watch their cat again when we came back and we of course agreed. In the last three and a half years our home has been like a bit of a cat hotel as we have taken care of two cats and had one cat that lived with us when we had a roommate.
We had a whole plan laid out as far as what days would be spent going to which parks and there was a reason for each day’s choice. The first day was for the Magic Kingdom, then the Animal Kingdom on Friday as it closed early and we needed to be back at the villa in time for candle lighting and Shabbos. After Shabbos we had plans to go to Downtown Disney. Sunday was for EPCOT, leaving Hollywood Studios for Monday. We could then wake up on Tuesday and go home happily.
When we arrived on Wednesday we found that we had a bit more time on our hands than we thought we would. We went to a Publix supermarket as we knew that it would be much more affordable, food wise, if we made our own food and snacks to bring to the park than trying to buy food in the park itself. We had some money set aside for the kosher pretzels and one kosher meal set up at Hollywood Studios in a drive-in movie themed restaurant — Walt Disney World works together with a kosher caterer to ensure that people who keep strictly kosher can eat side by side with those who do not in the same Disney environment.
Since we had the extra time, we went to the Magic Kingdom and found that since it was five o’clock in the evening we could get our tickets upgraded to have an extra day for only twelve dollars each. We stayed in the park for about four hours and so it was well worth the small upgrade fee. We wanted Chaim’s first ride in the park to be Pirates of the Caribbean as it had been when we took him to Disneyland in California. When we walked over to the area with the ride we were informed that it was temporarily closed and so we ended up going on The Haunted Mansion ride instead. I was concerned that Chaim would be quite intimidated and fearful of the many ghosts on the ride but he had a great time and laughed. I noticed that there was an update to the ride. At the end of the ride a ghost materializes in your carriage and you can see the ghost in the mirrors as you pass by them. The update is that now the ghost rips off your head!
That evening we went for a character signing, which we figured Chaim would love. After all, since he loved seeing Goofy and Donald Duck on television, how much more would he love to see them in person — ready to hug him? As it turns out, he was terrified to see the characters when he got close to them and hid behind us, only willing to get pictures with them as long as we held him.
Thursday was a long day in the Magic Kingdom, even though we had already gotten so much done the previous day. We hit up a lot of rides and then in the afternoon took Chaim to the villa to take a nap. It lasted all of about an hour before he woke up, wanting to go back. We met up with some more characters and Chaim was still a little uncomfortable to be in such proximity to the enormous representations of his favorite characters.
Friday went well, and Chaim really enjoyed going on a twenty-five minute safari in what is one of the largest open air safaris in the United States.
We found out that all of the animals are housed in shelters in the evening and are called in groups — they are all apparently trained to come in at night.
Shabbos was special for us as we are used to having a set schedule of making food and loaves of challah in advance, or going out for meals. Since we did not want to take the several hours to make our oven kosher, we made the microwave kosher — not that it helped us heat food on Shabbos itself. We were additionally a bit restrained because the villa has three different electronically locked doors which could only be unlocked via a credit card shaped key — problematic on Shabbos for those like us who are Sabbath observant.
We spent Shabbos — all twenty-five hours of it — in the hotel room. Both Chaim and I took two lengthy naps and I read a good and interesting book called “Escape” about a woman who was born and raised by members of the FLDS — Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. The escape in question was from her husband, taking her many children with her despite the risks.
After Shabbos we went to Downtown Disney, the Disney equivalent of an enormous outdoor mall. We went to a few stores and I discovered that as delicious as the chocolate is at Ghirardelli, the latte that I was served was perhaps the most disgusting coffee based beverage I ever drank. We got a custom-made shirt printed for Chaim for his first visit.
We had a fantastic time at EPCOT on Sunday, as I always do. I have always been thrilled by the idea of the concepts and inventions that people imagine for tomorrow and seeing how they are ultimately implemented. We spent a little time in the countries area of EPCOT after taking an abbreviated nap and then we took him to the villa to rest as he was extremely cranky from being woken from his nap.
Monday was another fun day with a legitimate full meal at a restaurant that had us sitting at tables that were made up to look like cars. On the large screen in the front of the restaurant, clips from 50′s movies played along with commercials from the time period. I had called on Friday to reserve kosher meals from the kosher catering company.
The waitress brought out the food — vegetable soup, vegetable lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and dairy free chocolate cake — one course at a time, and all double wrapped in plastic because that is the only way it can be heated in a non kosher microwave oven. I know you are probably thinking that it’s pretty low class to eat microwave meals in a restaurant, but it was this or no restaurant meal for us.
Thinking back on the trip, I can’t really say that there is anything I wish that we had done while on holiday other than a program at Hollywood Studios dedicated to kid’s shows on The Disney Channel such as Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse. We also found that the weather was much colder than what had been previously predicted — we had nowhere near the appropriate clothing for forty degree weather, and so we were cold quite a bit of the time.
Our next Disney trip will hopefully be either next year or the year after that and will be back in California at Disneyland. Looking back at this trip, I can say that Chaim had a largely fantastic time. He was happy to see his friends (even when he teared up getting close to them) and he will be more than happy to return to the park again in the future.