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All I remember is extreme heat, long lines and a vastly depleted savings account. My husband and I took our sons to Disney World when they were too young, only 1 and 3, to partake in an extended  family vacation. It was April and the place was jammed. Nobody slept and everybody got sick. I was so exhausted by the experience that it completely turned me off of “all things Mickey” and I vowed to stay far away from this commercial destination in the future. After all, my childhood had not included a visit to this über-amusement park, so my kids would survive without more exposure to Donald and Goofy, right? True to my word, we spent every subsequent vacation on a beach, collecting shells and building structures out of sticks.
“Ahhh,” I breathed, with every quiet getaway. “Much more my speed.” But, our doomed trip took place before we could recite entire scenes from “Toy Story”… before McQueen zoomed into our lives and Jack Sparrow showed us adventure on the high seas. In the years since, I have read 1,500 pages of the amazing Harry Potter stories out loud and have had long discussions about “good versus
evil,” thanks to our tortured friend, Anakin Skywalker.

As my boys grew older, I started to see what these characters mean to them. Commercial or not, they transport children into their fanciful worlds and completely light up their young imaginations.

Suddenly, the guilt crept in. “They would love it,” I begrudgingly thought, gazing at my now 6- and 8-year-olds. Clearly “my speed” shouldn’t slow everyone down and dictate all the family fun. So, with much trepidation, we saved our pennies and sprung the idea of another trip to Disney on the boys in the fall. Predictably, they went bonkers. “If we’re going to do this,” I thought,  “we’re going to do it right.” We decided to head south in late January when both rates and crowds would be at a minimum. A week? Nah. How many times do we really need to hear “It’s A Small World After All”? Four days would suffice.

But with Thanksgiving and Christmas taking up my time, the trip really snuck up on me. And, before I knew it, we were boarding a plane at 7 a.m. on a cold Wednesday morning. I must admit, I was really nervous, wondering if we were about to make an incredibly expensive mistake. We arrived to 60 degrees, clouds and mist. But our flight was smooth and the Disney folks made baggage handling and transportation surprisingly easy. We didn’t rent a car but relied solely on the shuttle and monorail. “They want it to be magical,” agrees Fara Alleyne of French’s Worldwide Travel in Newington.

They don’t want you to have to think too much on vacation.” Our home away from home was the Polynesian Resort and the sight of the 70s-inspired architecture instantly transported me into an episode of “The Brady Bunch.” The brown paneled walls and orange pleather furniture faded into the background as tiki statues glared and flower-clad employees sang out “Aloha” in true sunny Disney style. It all felt a little weird. But we decided to dive right in with a visit to the infamous Magic Kingdom. Sure enough, it started to rain as we pushed through the turnstile and entered Walt’s colorful world. Right off, we were introduced to one of the biggest pastimes in Orlando: spending money. We plunked down $36 for four plastic ponchos that were adorned with a decal of Mickey, apparently making this garment quite valuable. Swathed in our wet-weather couture, we started down Main Street.

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