Unexpected Delights: Accidental Memories and New Family Traditions

by Alice McNutt Miller
AllEars® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the April 10, 2012 Issue #655 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Alice MillerWe love going to Walt Disney World over and over again because we know that Disney has thought of everything to make our vacations magical. There are great attractions in the parks, beautifully themed hotels with all of the amenities, and a dizzying array of dining choices. We have also found in many visits over the years a number of unexpected delights that have come our way that have amused our children, made us smile, and have become family traditions each time we visit. The very best thing about these myriad delights is that most of them are either free, or have minimal cost attached to them.

1. Riding the parking trams. On our first visit to Disney World, when the kids were toddlers, we stayed at an offsite hotel, and drove our rental car to the parks every day. It became quite evident during the trip that one of the girls' favorite rides each day was the parking tram ride from the parking lot to the front of the park. Now that we mostly stay on-site, I must say that the buses don't have quite the same charm or evoke the same frisson of excitement, and we still enjoy the tram rides on occasion.

2. Playing in the water features. During that same trip, I took our older daughter on a few rides that we thought the younger one wasn't ready for. While he waited with her, my husband let Daughter #2 play in the old water play area that used to be located behind Dumbo in Fantasyland. It was February and a bit chilly, so there were no other kids playing there, but when Daughter #1 and I returned, water-soaked Daughter #2 was having the time of her life, and was entertaining a few amused onlookers. Luckily we had a change of clothes for her in the backpack.

3. The Electrical Water Pageant. During what I think was our second trip to Disney World, we were staying in a room in the Wilderness Lodge that faced Bay Lake. My husband and I had just gotten the kids to sleep, and we went out on the balcony of the room with glasses of wine to relax. We could hear tinkly music coming from the direction of the lake, and had no idea where the music was coming from. We looked through the trees toward the lake could just see the Electrical Water Pageant barges going by. The next day we got the details from the front desk, and kept the kids up long enough to walk down to the beach to watch the parade. We love the nostalgic simplicity of this evening display, and still make a point to watch it whenever we can.

4. Finding Hidden Mickeys. On an early trip, we happened to see Steve Barrett's Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World's Best Kept Secrets in one of the park gift shops, so I bought it in an effort to find things to do to keep everyone happy while standing in long lines. Since then, with or without the guide in hand, looking for Hidden Mickeys has become a favorite activity for our family.

5. Eating mini donuts. My kids LOVE the Walt Disney World water parks. If we travel to the World during warm (or warmish) weather, a visit to either Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon is often in order. We usually get to the park early, play all morning, have an early lunch, play a bit more, then leave early in the afternoon. The kids are usually hungry again by this time, and in need of a snack. Both water parks have kiosks that sell freshly made mini donuts near the park entrances. They are served warm and can be gotten "naked," slathered with chocolate sauce or dusted with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. We get a big bag with sugar and cinnamon for the walk back to the car or bus. Yummy!

6. Browsing in the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Epcot. This has become a tradition much more recently as my girls have become teenagers. This shop, in the Japan Pavilion of Epcot, is packed full of amazing objects. From Hello Kitty gear to the latest in Japanese street fashion to traditional kimonos and ceramic tea sets, if it is Japanese, this store most likely has it. There is also fun entertainment at the pearl counter, where guests choose an oyster to buy, and one of the lively ladies behind the counter opens the oyster and presents the extracted pearl to both the excited new owner and the applauding crowd of observers.

7. Searching for turkey legs. For Daughter #2, no visit to Walt Disney World would be complete without at least one lunch including a turkey leg. For instance, we know where to find the turkey legs in Frontierland in the Magic Kingdom, but they have been found in other locations from time to time, so we are always looking for the closest turkey leg purveyor to wherever the rest of us are planning to have lunch. Daughter #2 has been known to walk all the way to Frontierland then back to Cosmic Ray's to join the rest of us, just so she could have that turkey leg.

8. Spotting indigenous Florida fauna. On our first trip to the World, our girls were delighted to see a number of tiny lizards running around just about everywhere. Each of these was lovingly named "Lizzie." We continue to delight in spotting Lizzie on subsequent visits. We have also enjoyed seeing great blue herons and snowy egrets on the various waterways throughout the resort, and the ever-present ibises in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom. Our favorite animal sighting happened one sunny day on the lawn in front of the canoe rental hut in the Fort Wilderness Campground, where we spent a good half an hour observing the antics of a group of amazingly cute armadillos.

I am a compulsive planner, and like to make sure that each of our days at Walt Disney World is carefully orchestrated to ensure that we beat the crowds, ride lots of rides and eat at our favorite restaurants, but I've also learned that the best moments can come along quite by accident. The unexpected delights of our visits have now become our best memories, and our new family traditions.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was ten years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney Parks all over the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

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Electrical Water Pageant:

Hidden Mickeys:

Japan Pavilion at Epcot:

Read some of Alice's other writings for AllEars.Net…

… in our Guest Blog:

Northern European Capitals Cruise:

Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian:

… and in our Newsletter Archives:

The Existentialism of Walt Disney World:

How to Do a 3-Day Weekend:

The Tyranny of the Spreadsheet:


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.