Ringing in the New Year at The Happiest Place on Earth

I may have just returned from a different trip (to Denver — another post soon!), but first I must recap the vacation that kicked off 2016. Walt Disney World has always been my family’s favorite destination, however this was the first time for us to experience it during the holiday season (we did Disneyland four years ago at Christmastime). With Claire and Margaret in school, my parents have taken my presence back home as an opportunity to travel like the empty nesters they’ve become. Armed with annual passes, frequent flyer miles and hotel points burning holes in their pockets, Liz and Warren often use the phrase: “Well we have to eat somewhere and you’re home to watch the cats so why not go!” At this point, I usually grit my teeth and remind myself of my rent-free existence. And you know, that their happiness brings me happiness…..

Because my parents are such frequent Disney travelers nowadays, I was shocked to discover that I, too, got to be included in their fun! Shocked because I can’t imagine that they would want to throw a wrench in their perfectly synchronized couple plans, but more importantly, shocked because it was a surprise! On Christmas morning, my sisters and I each unwrapped three gifts, from top to bottom: a Disney pin, ornament and finally, our new magic bands! Mind you, I knew about the trip before then (that Southwest Airlines “future trips” portion of the app can get you into trouble when on the receiving end of surprises), but I managed to keep it a secret from Claire and Margaret, thus making the reveal that much sweeter.

A mere five days after the grand announcement, our family boarded a plane to Orlando, eagerly beaming with the excitement of Disney upon us (okay that was mostly me doing the beaming, but everyone was pumped). After utilizing the Magical Express — Disney’s incredibly efficient transportation to and from the airport for resort guests — we checked in to the Polynesian Resort and hopped on the Monorail to Epcot. The Polynesian ended up being superb, despite our last experience’s let down. With updated fixtures and decor, a layout conducive to our family of five (hard to come by these days), and most importantly, the luxury of being just steps away from the Monorail, the Polynesian Resort was the perfect place for us to unwind — or rather crash — after a full day in the parks.

Thursday (Dec. 30th) was a fun-filled day at Epcot spent utilizing our Fast Passes and exploring the World Showcase; lunch at the German Biergarten was definitely a highlight, as well as the Candlelight Procession hosted by Amy Grant. We ended up calling it an early night because we knew the next day was going to be ~epic~.
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Ah, New Year’s Eve. Noted as one of Disney’s busiest days of the year, the Magic Kingdom has been known to reach maximum capacity (yes, they do stop letting people in) sometime in the morning (we later found out 10:00 AM). Still, we were up for the challenge.

Claire and Margaret and I woke up early to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours: a designated park open early/closes late for resort guests, so we knew today was the day to take advantage of this amenity. The Polynesian is located on the Monorail, but it is also just steps away from the Transportation and Ticket Center, which has an express Monorail service to Magic Kingdom. Feeling an extra pep in our step, we decided to walk over to the express Monorail; it was here that we got a glimpse as to just how crowded the day was going to get.

Feeling especially #blessed, my sisters and I whizzed past the hoards of people waiting for the park to open, and I LITERALLY could not contain my excitement. Just imagine me bouncing up and down on our ride to the Magic Kingdom. It isn’t hard to do. A quiet and cloudy morning was the backdrop to Cinderella Castle, causing us to pause for a second and marvel at the awesomeness that was to come. Taking a breath, we raced to Space Mountain for a 15 minute line….that short of a wait time never happens……even on normal days….. Baffled by the lack of clogged rides, we sprinted to Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain AND Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, conquering each of these in less than one hour total…..I’ll say it again, that NEVER happens!
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At this point, my parents were attempting to enter the park with the other peasants not staying at a Disney resort (I have been one of the peasants before, so I shouldn’t sit on such a mighty throne). By attempting, I mean shuffling along with thousands of vacationers trying to make it to the Magic Kingdom before the doors shut. Luckily, Liz and Warren squeezed their way through and the five of us were reunited, ready to BTHO New Year’s Eve.

And what a satisfyingly fun day it was. Despite the gobs of humanity, we really did ride everything we wanted. Sure, a lot of our time was spent playing Ellen DeGeneres’s Heads Up game in line, but the new Fast Pass system allows you to pace yourself throughout the day, which meant we were never too far from a shorter line. A delicious dinner at the Liberty Tree Tavern energized us for the remainder of the day (and subsequent morning); after riding Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin — THE Fisher family favorite ride – we were approached by cast members passing out party hats and noisemakers. This was it, folks, the countdown had begun.
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Making our way to the hub of Magic Kingdom, we took in the spectacle of 2015’s final hours. A DJ kept the crowd energized at the base of Cinderella Castle. Parade floats lined the now accessible back alleys for guests to take pictures with. Main Street USA was no longer a path but a place where patient ground dwellers staked claim on territory for prime fireworks viewing. We, too, chose a spot close enough to see the sky lit up but far enough back that we wouldn’t get caught in too much exit traffic.
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As the five of us snacked on sugary treats and waited for the new year’s arrival, I couldn’t help but think about the impact 2015 will forever have on my life. I know I already spoke to some extent about this meaningfulness, but I felt it so appropriate that arguably the most dramatic year of my life thus far (ups and downs equally represented) was ending on such a bang. And a happy one, at that….

Ten seconds to go, Mickey Mouse led us in a giant countdown before the night was illuminated in magnificent bursts of color and sound. We cheered and sang “Auld Lang Syne” as 90,000 other celebrators and I welcomed in 2016. It was overwhelmingly magical.

We spent 17 hours in the park that day, so you can imagine how exhausted my family and I were on January 1st. We went to Hollywood Studios, which was all decked out for Star Wars because The Force Awakens had just been released. I, of course, let my geek flag fly proudly, especially when we got to meet Darth Vader (as did my parents!). Margaret was even chosen as the “Rebel Spy” on Star Tours, which now features Finn! We watched our favorite nighttime show, Fantasmic! but a disappointing evening due to a disastrous dinner caused us to miss The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. This incredible display choreographs over 5 million Christmas lights to music, and coincidentally, our first year to experience it was the last year Disney was hosting it. Hence our frustration that we would, in fact, never get to participate.
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In true fashion, though, Disney came to save the day: My dad sends Customer Service a tweet explaining our situation, a Disney representative then calls him to see what they can do to help, we are granted Park Hoppers to go to Hollywood Studios again, the Fishers get to see the truly incredible Spectacle of Dancing Lights, all is well and faith is restored in the power of Disney’s commitment to their guests. A prime example, ladies and gentlemen, of the classic wisdom: ask and ye shall receive.IMG_7857.jpg

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Along with our return to Hollywood Studios, we spent the last two days at Epcot and Magic Kingdom, and just when I thought the trip couldn’t get any better, my former boss at A&M, Catharine, texted me saying they were at Disney World, as well! Her daughter, Emma, is one of my dearest friends who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing some wonderful memories with (also she just turned ten, everyone!). It took quite the effort to meet up, as our schedules never aligned. But on our last afternoon, they raced over to meet us, and we had a surprise mini-reunion!
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Within a few minutes, my family had to depart for the airport, but it was the perfect ending to a perfect trip. This really was the best Disney vacation we’ve had since my sisters and I were younger, and I’m so grateful that my parents decided to schlep us along for a New Year’s adventure. What a way to start 2016!

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