Disney World 2016: The kids find out

The biggest problem with Christmas around our household is Alex’s work schedule. Being an X-Ray Tech at Rockyview means that she has to work any conceivable day of the year, Christmas Day included. Add to that a near-impossibility for her to get vacation at peak times (notably summer), and we have to wait for when Alex gets vacation.

In May 2016, Alex declared that we “were going somewhere for Christmas”. Originally, that was meant to be Hawaii, which I was all for. However, when we looked into it more, the costs were rapidly approaching “prohibitive”. I think I even joked that “Disney would be cheaper”.

My jokes have a tendency to spur thought on alternatives…

For anyone looking to go on a trip to Disney World, especially around Christmas, a piece of advice: If you haven’t booked by mid-June, you’re not going. You have to plan things 180 days in advance (think restaurant reservations), otherwise you’ll be struggling. And it’s a bit painful. Assuming you get all that sorted out, it’s pretty darn magical.

The girls’ magic started the morning of 16 December, when they were ushered out of bed at their regular 6:30am wake time, and they trudged into the kitchen to find their favourite bedtime companions sitting on the counter, dressed in new, flashy pajamas, holding Disney princess notebooks. The chalkboard behind them, which they saw, read: “WE’RE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD! WHAT?!”

It was a good minute before Choo Choo’s brain clicked in. It was nearly two minutes for Monkey, who made the rookie mistake of trying to apply rational logic to it. (Also: Monkey doesn’t like surprises. Which is exactly why I’d fought to keep it a secret for as long as we did. I would have dragged it out even further, but Alex wanted a bit more cooperation.)

Our flight departed six and a half hours later. Leg one was to Toronto, which was becoming snow-bound during our layover at Pearson. (And boy, has that airport changed since I was my kids’ age.) It also held us up leaving Canada; we didn’t depart until after 10pm.

Pearson International has changed so much from when I was a kid. On my first trip to Florida, we went out through Toronto’s original Terminal 1. I still remember the cramped spaces. The original Terminal 2 wasn’t much better. Both have since been demolished in favour of the new buildings.

We arrived at an in-field terminal building that I didn’t even know existed, had to take a long tunnel route underneath the runways to the new Terminal 1, and wound our way to the US gates to enter. We cleared security, and waited for immigration.

Until recently, that meant filling out a short form, talking to an Immigration Officer, and moving on. In Toronto (and also now in Calgary, I gather), you go to a kiosk, where you scan all your passports, fill out information for everyone while attempting to take pictures of each person (and, honestly, a horrific interface makes it nigh-impossible to capture kids’ pictures). Then you move to a new room and wait for your name to appear on a board.

Then you talk to the Immigration Officer. I utterly fail to see how this process is any better than the old one.

Dinner was at a restaurant next to our gate. Salads for Alex and I, and grilled cheese sandwiches for the girls. We were kicking ourselves for not eating before going through Immigration.

The flight to Orlando was barely three hours, easily manageable on our flight, except for one little detail: WestJet’s newer planes don’t have in-flight screens on their seats. The new system expects you to bring a WiFi-enabled device: you connect to their internal network, and stream video. Which only works if you a) Have a device (you can rent one), and b) you can download the required app. For some reason, Alex’s phone refused to download. We still don’t know why.

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