Our First Trip: Five Years Later

Monday, May 11, 2020

Tomorrow will be the five year anniversary of the day we first set foot in Walt Disney World. When I say it was a dream 20 years in the making, I'm not exaggerating.

I honestly hadn't thought it would be something I'd be able to do (and I never would have imagined that I would have been six times in four years), but it was sort of like my grandma's final gift to me. When she passed at the end of 2014, she left me a little money. When the estate was settled the following spring, we used part of the money to move into the rental house we had lived in for the past five years until we recently bought our new house, but I had been conflicted about what to do with the rest of the money.

Of course, the responsible thing would have been to save it for a rainy day, but we had never been on a vacation together. At that point, we'd been married almost four years and still hadn't had a honeymoon. Above all else, my grandma always reminded me how much she wanted me to be happy, and I figured there was no better way to honor that wish than to get away from the stressors of life for a week and take a vacation. I was a little hesitant to bring up the idea of Walt Disney World with Tom; after all, we were a childless couple in our mid-20s and he wasn't exactly gaga for Disney. But he knew that it was somewhere I had always wanted to go, and he knew it would make me happy, so he was open to it.

We wanted to go soon, so we ended up booking a trip from May 12-19, between our anniversary and my 27th birthday. We went into it treating it as an extremely delayed honeymoon, though it also ended up sort of being a birthday trip for me just because of when it was (I did actually end up spending my 29th birthday at Walt Disney World, which was amazing).

We experienced our first flight as a couple (I had flown a few times before we'd even met, and he had his first flight solo a year or two prior when he had some business to attend to in New York City), as well as our first flight on Southwest (it quickly became our favorite airline!). Though it's been much maligned on the internet, we both really loved Disney's Magical Express, the coach service from the airport to the resorts. Nothing quite compares to crossing onto Disney property while a little TV on the bus welcomes you to Walt Disney World.

I hadn't wanted to spend the money on a Deluxe resort (it's something we still haven't done), but I also wanted something a little nicer than a Value resort, so I booked Port Orleans French Quarter (a Moderate resort) for our first stay. It ended up being absolutely perfect, and to this day, is still one of my favorite resorts (of the resorts we've stayed at, I go back and forth between whether or not POFQ or Coronado Springs is my favorite). It's small and intimate (we were in the farthest building from main building, but it still only took us a few minutes to walk there), and it's so romantic, especially in the evening (and though it's definitely an extremely sanitized version of New Orleans, it does make me want to visit New Orleans).

We checked in, got settled, and took the boat to Disney Springs. It was still in the end stages of the Downtown Disney to Disney Springs transition, but it was still so cool. We grabbed lunch at Earl of Sandwich (which has sort of become a tradition for us, though I don't think we went on our last trip) and explored the shops. I was immediately sucked in by all of the details, but as I would soon find out, detail is what Disney does best.

The next day was our first day in the parks, and I didn't realize at the time just what a cool experience I had unintentionally set up for us. The first thing we had was a pre-park breakfast at Be Our Guest. So not only were we going to start our day by eating in the Beast's castle (something I had really wanted to do), but our first glimpse of the Magic Kingdom was a practically empty park. I'm not ashamed to admit that after I passed under the train station and entered the town square, I started crying. And I still cry when I enter magic Kingdom. It's hard to explain, but it just hits me in the feels.

We headed to Hollywood Studios the next day, and Tom was in Muppets heaven (he's a huge Muppets fan). I was bummed that they didn't have the backlot tour anymore, but I'm really glad that we were able to experience the Streets of America before it was demolished to make room for Galaxy's Edge. It was cool to see so many of the iconic sights and attractions that I'd grown up seeing on TV in person!

Our third park day was Animal Kingdom, and that's where things started to go downhill a bit. It's so spread out and hot, and at that point, we write getting exhausted from the nonstop touring and starting to get cranky with one another. We ended up cutting our Animal Kingdom day short and hopping a bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge for lunch. We did end up getting lost in the hotel trying to find The Mara, but lunch was delicious, and I finally got to try some zebra domes! We ended up spending the rest of the day relaxing. Disney vacations are fun, but they definitely don't always feel like "vacation"! We actually avoided Animal Kingdom for the most part after that (Tom hated it), but we have gone back twice now. Last year was our best Animal Kingdom experience yet (we even were there longer than we had ever been, but we weren't nearly as exhausted -- I approached it with a smarter, more relaxed itinerary, and we still got a ton done and even Tom enjoyed himself, and he swore up and down after that first trip that he hated Animal Kingdom).

It was a good thing that I had built in a non-park day for the following day. However, Tom still didn't find it too relaxing since I dragged him all over the place resort hopping. What can I say -- the resorts are all so different and intricately themed; I wanted to see as many as possible (though even now, there are still a few we've never been to). We did end up spending the evening with some friends who had moved to Florida though; we caught dinner at the Contemporary and hopped over to the Polynesian for Dole Whips and fireworks, which was an amazing night.

We went to Epcot the next day. I had been obsessed with Epcot since I was little, and I was fully convinced it would be my favorite park. I absolutely loved it, but I was surprised that Magic Kingdom just barely edged it out. I do LOVE Epcot though, especially World Showcase. And since we didn't get to see all of it, we decided to use our last, open-ended park day to visit Epcot again, and it was the right choice. Not only did we get to explore other cultures and try amazing foods, but the Flower & Garden Festival was going on, and there were new gardens and topiaries to see at every corner. Half of our trips have been during Flower & Garden -- I highly recommend it; it's one of my favorite times to go!

Leaving Walt Disney World was hard (it never gets easier, in my experience). I cried on the Magical Express as we left. But Tom told me before we were even off property that he wanted to come back every year, and until this year, we have. Disney's not for everyone, but it's definitely for us.

I went into that trip expecting to love it, but I had no idea just how much I would love it. It quickly became my favorite place in the world. And I know it's not perfect, and it's getting so freaking expensive that we probably won't be able to go as often as we have over the past few years, but there is something truly magical for me that happens when I set foot at Walt Disney World, and I've been immensely blessed to share that not only with Tom, but with our boys as well. We have created so many amazing memories there, and I know they're memories we'll always hang on to.

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