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In praise of the afternoon break

Friday, April 11, 2008

At the risk of sounding like a shameless fangirl, I must say once again that my experience of the Disney Parks changed radically when I started taking the advice of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.  For example, on the last trip I took before I read the UG, in 2000, I stayed way way off-site (ie, spent hours in traffic), got to the parks a couple hours after opening (ie, waited in 2-hour lines for Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin), and figured I’d decide what attractions/parks I was interested in once we got to Orlando (what, I hadn’t heard of the interwebs? Oh yeah, I set up my first web page in 1994. No excuse). To say the least, I learned my lessons the hard way.

Now, I must say that not everything I’ve learned from the UG has been perfect . . . my devotion to lumbar packs has earned me endless teasing from my more fashion-forward BFF. But one of my favorite UG tips is the afternoon break: Leaving the parks around lunchtime to catch a little downtime while the sun is hot, and the crowds fierce. And (gasp!), I’ve even occasionally taken a half-day off from the parks when our energy was waning, especially if the day before was just far too long.

Most of the time, we’ve had the luxury of a hotel room to collapse in (even if “luxury” is relative . . . we are, after all, budget travelers). Sometimes, we’ve even had a one- or two-bedroom condo, which quite frankly is ideal. There’s nothing like a nice hot Jacuzzi bath in the master bedroom after a long morning walking around Epcot, especially when you know your kid is super-happy putting together his new Lego kit in the next room. Or a studio room with a balcony is also great; my son could relax and watch TV while I sat on the balcony writing, or calling home to catch up with my spouse. But even in a straight-up single hotel room, we can read or watch TV together, or even take a nap.

There have, however, been a few times where we didn’t have that luxury. At Disneyland Paris, for example: We were staying for just one night, so on our second day we didn’t have a place to crash before getting on the train that evening, heading back to the City of Light. It was rather convenient that Downtown Disney was just a few steps away from the parks; we had a nice quiet lunch in the air-conditioned Annette’s, the only table-service restaurant we indulged in during that trip. Given the exchange rates, I probably wouldn’t have spent any time at a sit-down meal at Disneyland Paris at all . . . but I’m glad our “afternoon break” philosophy forced my hand. After lunch, we had to pace ourselves carefully, having had only a brief break, and took in the shows at Walt Disney Studios before venturing back into the intensity of Disneyland Park.

There was also a day last summer at Walt Disney World, in July 2007, when our reluctance to take a cab back to our off-site hotel made us try to take our afternoon break on-site. True, the boat ride from Epcot to the Boardwalk was very relaxing, but far too short . . . and our lack of conviction about which movie to see proved fatal to our entertainment plans. Plus, I was so wiped out by a hot, busy morning that I couldn’t think straight about our options. We relaxed for a while in the gorgeous lobbies of the Boardwalk, and then took a bus to Downtown Disney for a little time at the Lego Store. Were we refreshed at all by this break? Maybe so . . . I suspect things would have been worse if we’d pressed on, and hadn’t left the parks. But I will say that when I look at the pictures of us taken at Magic Kingdom that evening, it’s the least happy I’ve ever seen us in the parks.

Now, our next trip will be a challenge. It’s a super-budget trip; I had to cash in a lot of hotel points to make it happen. The result is a brutal itinerary: We’re staying in 4 different hotels over the course of just 5 nights. As my regular readers will no doubt have surmised, I’ve already got a spreadsheet set up with the check-in times of the various hotels, and certainly will try for early check-ins when I can, but chances are good that we’ll have at least one afternoon where we can’t get into a quiet, air-conditioned hotel room until 4PM, well past our usual expiration date. But at least we’ll have a car, so we can always crash in the hotel lobbies for a little while.  Will this change our touring? Most likely, yes. It’s entirely possible that there will be an evening when we just can’t get back out to the parks.  And I’m glad to say I did in fact figure out how to use the interwebs for research, so by the time I leave my spreadsheet with be well-stocked with Disney fan favorites for a quiet little downtime somewhere, a quick reference for the tired, high-noon brain of this busy, Disney-loving mom.