“God is in the details,” the saying goes. Walt Disney certainly knew this when he planned the first theme park. The principles he set in place still help determine how the magic is made here. It’s why I love doing Disney. The attention to detail makes it magical. Anyone who had a bad time at Disney, I assert, certainly made rooky mistakes. (Sometime I’m certain to write a blog on this. I have a calling to help people do Disney right!)
We began our trip not at the Happiest Place on Earth but at another nearby park—Universal Studios. There was another bit of magic we needed to take in. The way they have brought J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter masterpieces to life is phenomenal. It’s the closest Universal comes to Disney quality. Seriously the last time I went I encountered a Scottish woman in tears, overwhelmed. “It’s like we stepped into the pages,” she sniffed.
Our first night we stayed at the Nickelodeon Suites with only two things on our agenda—enjoy their great water slide pool and eat at Chik-fil-a. Chik-fil-a was fantastic. The pools, however, were a huge letdown. They closed at 7 pm. The only thing left open was a simple kiddie pool. Seriously it was the only reason we stayed there. I would not recommend it. Jarod summed it up best: “I’m glad we stayed here first. Compared to Disney this is disappointing.”
In the morning it was off to explore both Universal Parks. We had plans to drink butterbeer and pumpkin juice in Hogsmeade and enjoy a Lard Lad donut in Simpson’s world. We laughed until it hurt on the Simpson’s ride and the Despicable Me ride (twice each). We trekked with Shrek and whirled through the streets with Transformers. We entered Seuss Landing and walked in the rain and though we had fun agreed it just was not Disney.
At the end of the afternoon it was off to St. Petersburg to join my sister’s families and stay at my mom’s new Florida house (now that she’s splitting her time between Kentucky and Florida). We enjoyed a delightful weekend that shall appear in another blog.
But through our Universal experience, something was missing. I started to doubt this trip was a good idea. I started to feel worn and worried I’d made a mistake trying to do this with four kids and no husband to help—especially with a whole week in front of us. What had I done?
Then we arrived at Disney’s Art of Animation Hotel and everything changed.
Smiles got bigger. Energy increased. The colors, the music, the smells, the smiling cast members greeting us at every turn lifted a curtain we had been unaware hung over us. The awe of wonder filled all our faces.
Disney does wonder well because Disney understands details. Our hotel wasn’t a collection of rooms with a pool and underpaid employees. Our hotel was an experience celebration the art of animating. Walls were pages filled with early sketches of favorite characters. Our room was a Lion King Family Suite in a building with music and carpets and larger-than-life statues beckoning us to enjoy Hakuna Matata. The ceiling lights were clouds, the lamps tropical flowers, and the carpet a color-filled representation of a jungle floor.
You do realize we are excited and awe-struck and we haven’t even made it to the amusement parks yet, right?
The hotel pool was Finding Nemo themed with an underwater sound system. The cast members greeted us coming and going. The grounds were immaculately groomed and the food court options plentiful and tasty. And this is a “value” resort—aka “the cheap seats.” Disney even does the cheap seats with care.
Attention to detail is everywhere and once you notice it, you cannot help but be impressed. Finding Hidden Mickey’s in each park was a game my children loved. They are in the architecture, the paving stones, hidden on costumes, and more.
Which brings me to my favorite detail this time—a simple button that read “Happy Birthday Jarod.” If you are celebrating a birthday, anniversary, family reunion, or first visit, you get a free button to wear. Cast Members everywhere greet you in response to them. We arrived the week of Jarod’s 16th birthday. This detail made him smile and put a spring in his step. All. Week. Long.
Last year his birthday fell 11 days after his father’s sudden death. Last year I had to throw away funeral flowers so they would not remind us of what we couldn’t forget. Last year his birthday celebration was forced and sad. If any of my children deserved this detail, it was Jarod.
He was greeted by name hundreds of times. He was brought on stage during a luau with other birthday celebrants and taught to hula. He was serenaded by cast members on our last day at a restaurant. Each time he beamed.
So thank you, Disney staff, for making all those details combine to put smiles on my children’s faces. Thank you for helping my eldest son feel celebrated after surviving the hardest year of his life. Thank you for each time we returned to the hotel to hear, “Welcome home.” And thank you for caring about the details. It helped lift our spirits and make our memories amazing.
More Disney adventures coming in the next blog.