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I admit that I’m beat. That Disney World and flying cross-country on Southwest with children whooped me and that I can barely keep my eyes open four days later.

Part of me wants to get off my chest how good and fun and intense our Disney World vacation was. But the truth is, I need a vacation. Today. Or now. The kind where everybody leaves and it’s just me here. Doing nothing. Or anything. Breathing. Yes. Just breathing

The thing is we had a great time. A great fast-paced time. For five straight days in the Disney parks, Florida pulled out some of its best October sunshine, and we got to be there to feel it and come alive. We put more consecutive miles on our tennis shoes than we did this summer in the mountains. We saw. We absorbed. We experienced.

And it was enough.

For a long, long time.

From the beginning. It started with a road sign. The first tangible thing that said we’re close. I took an ounce of comfort in the fact that my dad would have taken the same picture. Only he’d have been the one driving, too.

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And there it is. The idyllic promise.

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Now my old assumption was that we’d drive under that road sign, park our car and prance into the park.

Here’s what I know now. You pay fifteen bucks to park. Someone directs you to a spot. You forego the tram which would transport you to the ticketing center thinking you can walk there faster. Heh. You do that once. And then you gladly wait for the tram all the other days.

At the ticketing center, you speedwalk to either the monorail or the ferry–both of which will transport you to the gates of the Magic Kingdom. Eventually.

At the Magic Kingdom, you get in line to have your backpack searched. And then one-by-one you press your ticket (which looks like a credit card) to a machine at the same time the machine scans your finger.

Then…

THEN…you have made it to Disney World.

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As have thousands of others.

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The guidebooks say to have a plan, and so we tried. We raced our way to Tomorrow Land first and spent a bit of time at the Buzz Light Year attraction.

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Here’s Buzz, and we get to help him by shooting at things with our little laser.

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At some point during the ride, our picture gets taken, and we can see when we exit how really into this we were…

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Or just how much we enjoyed feeling like we were ten again

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Some rides barely get going before they’re over. Like the Astro Orbiter here.

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And some give you whiplash without exceeding six miles per hour.

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When our son’s cheeks were red enough, we hoofed it to Frontierland to check out Splash Mountain.

Here we are the first time.

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And here we are a little more warmed up.

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If I were to do things over again, I would have bought my little boy a balloon. In all its impracticality, this is what he wanted. That green Mickey one there.

Ah well.

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He did get to “help” this gentleman play his piano.

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Now the tickets we bought were park hopper tickets. This meant that we could visit any of the four Walt Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) on any of our five days. If we wanted to visit only the Magic Kingdom, we could do that. Or we could start at one park and then drive or take the monorail to another park. As well, our parking pass was valid all day at any of the parks.

On our second day, we started at EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow).

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And we went straight to the Test Track attraction. Here in pairs, we had four minutes to design our own car on a screen–from appearance to power to capability. Here’s one of ours.

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And here’s another.

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Then it’s into a car–the actual ride–that winds and twists along its track supposedly simulating how our car would behave. The ride isn’t over until the car has accelerated to 65 mph, and my son has looked down to see a second seat belt.

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Now certain Disney attractions like Test Track at Epcot and Splash Mountain and Buzz Light Year at Magic Kingdom and Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom are also Fast Pass attractions.

And what that means is this: These rides have TWO lines. One for fast pass ticket holders. And one for stand by guests.

Here’s how it works: At the entrance to the attraction, two times are posted. One is the wait time you can expect in the stand by line. Say the wait time is 15 minutes. If this is acceptable to you, then get in the stand by line. However, if the wait time is 30 minutes or more, it may be wise to obtain a fast pass.

The second time posted is a range. For example, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. This means that those whose fast pass tickets say they can return to the attraction between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. may now get in the fast pass line.

Here’s what it looks like. Each person who desires a fast pass inserts his gate ticket (the thing that looks like a credit card) into the fast pass machine (the thing that looks like a parking meter in Tacoma).

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The machine then spits out a ticket that tells you when to return to the attraction.

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Why this is amazing is

1) it’s free. It costs nothing to obtain a fast pass. And. Anyone can get one.

2) Redeeming your fast pass is literally like walking to the front of a line and getting on the attraction without waiting. Or waiting very little. We noticed Disney employees give priority to the fast pass line allowing these riders to get on ahead of the stand by guests.

So what our family did in the meantime was visit other rides we were willing to wait in line for, or find the bathroom or eat lunch. Then when our time slot arrived, we made our way back to the attraction and entered the fast pass line. And in moments experienced the ride.

All this to say that Disney outdid itself on this idea.

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Still at Epcot here. About as close to space as we may ever be.

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And then it’s a park hop (monorail ride) to the Magic Kingdom where only this one could make the carousel seem that exciting.

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And where the Pirate’s of the Caribbean store was a bigger hit than the ride.

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Because everybody likes a good gun.

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Everybody.

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Now he and I…we’re not the shopping type.

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But it didn’t stop us from witnessing $37.86 counted out in coins…

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By this one. For a nightgown her heart nearly exploded for.

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Now there’s always a draw to the roller coasters. For some. Like Expedition Everest here at Animal Kingdom.

But between the three unsteady stomachs among us we figured there probably weren’t enough barf bags to go around.

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And so we watched souls with steelier insides tear down the mountain…

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Most of them too petrified to put their hands in the air.

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We also sent our daughter alone.

“Have fun!” we said.

And she did. Over and over again.

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The roller coaster that was right about our speed was back at Magic Kingdom. Big Thunder Mountain. Just loopy enough not to lose anything. And thrilling enough to want to run back in line.

Recognize those hand-raisers in the back?

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How ’bout now?!

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There may have been some that had their pictures taken by the real Mickey and Minnie. But we stuck with the shrubery mice.

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Because the real animals were at Animal Kingdom.

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Where seriously if you want to see animals in the least cheesy way, you take the Kilimanjaro Safari in caravans like these.

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And look out your open window to see animals like these.

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And these.

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And this one.

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The wares are a little bit different here, too. More, um, animaly.

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And there are real trees and plants.

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But even the fake ones are nice to look at. Like the Tree of Life in the center of the park where animals are carved into the “bark.”

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Like this owl.

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Now before it’s even hot, it’s wise to get in line for the Kali River Rapids. A completely tame ride. Almost disappointingly tame. But nobody steps from that rubbery raft dry. And some leave soaked to their underwear.

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And nothing makes people smile more than a fresh soaking.

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In the Affection Section, kids can brush goats needing a little attention…

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And pigs flopped on the ground.

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And sometimes, the pigs aren’t the only ones who’ve had enough.

Which was when we’d end up back at our resort. Cypress Pointe.

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And swap the crowds for the tubes.

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And even escort each other around in the water.

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Well.

I dare say ‘we made it’.

Survived vacation.

And came out even more normal than we left.

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Just remember now…

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