It all started with the Orlando Airport.

We had every intention of taking all of your fantastic Disney advice, but Orlando’s airport did us in.

Okay, really it started with the Birmingham airport, but I have fonder feelings toward my own airport than those of other municipalities, so I think I’ll begin the blame at the Orlando airport.

Us, looking optimistic upon arrival at the Birmingham Airport.

Our flight was delayed slightly, thanks to the lovely weather that plagued the south for the Fourth of July weekend. We were supposed to leave Birmingham at 6:05 (Central) Wednesday night and arrive in Orlando at 8:35 (Eastern), giving us a decent window to get a rental car and make it to our hotel in time for the kids to get a good night’s sleep before an exciting day at Disney.

But our flight was delayed.

The bad thing about this was that it gave Noah the opportunity to collect every germ in the Birmingham Airport.


The good thing was that he was not able to wait long enough to achieve what I know he had been waiting for, the pinnacle of toddler success, something I predicted (albeit with a typo) to a friend earlier that day:

He tried to wait. But alas, thanks to the flight delay, he managed to only succeed in being an airport pooper, and not join the Mile High Poop Club.

We landed in Orlando around 9:15. Which still didn’t feel too bad, and the kids were so excited about flying that there was no malaise to be had.

Exciting Plane Ride

But then we walked to baggage claim.

Which appeared to be a refugee camp. Or the Super Dome during Hurricane Katrina.

People strewn everywhere, looking as if they hadn’t eaten in days, groveling on the floor and loudly exclaiming how horrible the Orlando Airport was.

We quickly gathered that the baggage ramp had been closed approximately a half-millennia due to lightning.

(But yet our plane flew. Unsettling.)

At the one carousel to which we were assigned (out of the dozens of carousels in operation), there were NINE flight’s worth of passengers camped out, doing rain dances for their luggage, opening military food rations, and considering which one of the other passengers they planned to skin first when the food ran out.

Also, there was the guy with the unbelievable ear hair. A thick, impenetrable forest of black hair engulfing the entire outer rim of his ear. There is no possible way he could have heard through that ear bush, so the only reasonable assumption was that he had been waiting so long for his luggage (which housed his military-grade razor) that he’d grown dual EarBeards.

Chris quickly realized that he would be fighting with many of these people for rental cars as soon as that carousel started spinning, so he took Noah and left me with Ali and my friend Amanda (who travelled with us) to wait for the bags.

We staked out our spot at Carousel 12 with the rest of Gitmo and watched hopefully. After about thirty minutes, the first bags came around. There was palpable hope in the air, as people visualized what the outside world must look like.

Fifty or so bags made a loop, with very few people claiming them. I hypothesized that their strength was too weak to retrieve them.

And then the carousel came to a halt.

Groans and screams of death filled the air.

Ten minutes later, a voice on the intercom. “We regret to inform you that Carousel 12 is having problems. We are trying to get it restarted. Please bear with us, and if you are standing on the carousel, please get off.”


I saw no one standing, but about a half-dozen people sitting. On the Carousel. The very Carousel that offers us freedom. If only they would MOVE THEIR BUTTS.

Intercom. “We can see you standing on the carousels. Please move so we can restart the carousel.”

The sitters didn’t move.

I looked wildly around for the voice so that I could teach them the difference between sitting and standing, because clearly these people were staying on a technicality.

More trudging minutes passed, with people still sitting upon the broken carousel. Please recall that I was trying to keep hold of and entertain a six-year-old amidst the writhing throngs of malcontents.

Intercom. “For those waiting for luggage from flight 34 from Birmingham, please go to Carousel 14.”

We hauled off to an also-stopped Carousel 14, which housed five more flight’s worth of passengers, looking not quite as pallid as Camp 12, but definitely on their way.

A few minutes in, Carousel 14 began moving luggage. People were actually finding their bags! And leaving Airport Hell! We had hope.

Then, 14 stopped.

Our wait once again became interminable. At one point, I sprinted Ali out to Circling-The-Airport-Chris, because she was DONE.

Finally, finally, FINALLY, we got our luggage.

But it was too late. Literally.

By the time we got to our hotel, it was past midnight. And midnight for two small children is no easy feat to overcome.

So we decided to let them sleep in, and we would Disney as casually as possible the next day. And hey! If we went late enough, maybe we could stay late for fireworks.

So the next morning, we all got going quicker than I expected. We knew the park opened at 10, it was inexplicably a “green” crowd day (considering it was the 4th of July), all of the park apps showed light crowds and short waits, so we headed to Disney at 10:45, after letting the kids have a clueless, groggy breakfast.

We had never told Ali we were even in the city that housed Disney World. She’s never been, she’s wanted to go, so we knew she’d be excited.

Even as we were driving, I wasn’t sure at what point to tell her. But as we approached the huge “Walt Disney World” arch, I knew it’d have to be then. After all, she can read.

So I did what all parents do and recorded the moment.

…Forgetting that she doesn’t like being made a spectacle of when she’s excited.

We arrived at the parking lot of the Magic Kingdom and exclaimed to each other how beautifully short the lines were. It was going to be a good day.

Until we pulled up to pay for parking and the lady told us the truth.

“The park is maxed out for the day. We’re sorry.”

And we were speechless, as BIG FAT FAILURE PARENT was stamped on our foreheads.

Yes, you all had told us to be there when the park opened. But midnight…and young children…and we thought we would be safe being 45 minutes late.

And so we had to explain to our daughter, one and a half minutes after telling her that we were going to Disney, that we weren’t, after all, allowed to go to the Happiest Place on Earth.

But never fear! We have a backup plan!

…after an hour of driving.

Again, I asked her to read the sign.

(Without recording it this time.)

“….Uhhh….Ruby Tuesday?”

“No! The other sign!!”

“Oh. Legoland!!!!!”

And so we spent the rest of the day at Legoland, about which I will write in another post.


This post is about Disney. So let me bypass that for a minute and continue.

According to all of the crowd calendars, it was only going to get severely worse as the weekend progressed. So that had been, as outside-the-compound tourists, our one decent shot at getting into the Magic Kingdom. But fortunately for us, Ali had no concept of what she was missing, so we decided to go to Downtown Disney and soak up some edge-of-the-park magic.


And we were right. We ate at Rainforest Café and visited the gift shops, buying out of our guilt. She loved it, she thanked us for not making her walk even more, and she declared it to be “THE BEST DAY EVER!!!”

But at Downtown Disney, they have a fantastic balloon ride. It’s a helium balloon that lifts 29 people, which tells me that the movie Up is not as improbable as we all thought.

I so desperately wanted to ride it.

I love heights and I love good views.

So the next day, after giving Ali the option of attempting Disney again or going to the hotel pool, she very hurriedly chose the pool (where we realized that both we and our kids were much more relaxed and happier than walking around a theme park), then we planned our afternoon around going back to Downtown Disney and taking a balloon ride. There was no direct phone number on the website, but the balloon had been going up and down all day, so we assumed we could just show up and ride.

We arrived, found a parking place, got the whole family through the massive crush of people, only to read the sign.

“Temporarily closed due to thunderstorms in the area. Please try again later.”

I mourned my loss and we moved on, hopping onto the Monorail to give Noah the bliss of a train ride around the park that we couldn’t manage to gain entrance into.

Both kids were thrilled to see Epcot,


And to see Cinderella’s Castle from afar, in the air conditioning. With no walking or sweating required.

The next morning, as I let the kids play in the hotel, I watched the balloon go up, down, up, down, taking happy tourists in the air of Orlando. So once again, I drove to Downtown Disney, this time only with Noah and Amanda, as Ali had decided that she had no interest in flying.

As we pulled into the parking lot, the ride was coming down. It seemed hopeful – maybe we could get on the next ride up!

But it was also…very sideways.

We ran through D.D. once more, arriving as the balloon touched down Oz-Style.


But then they started roping the Balloon down. And the screen scrolled a message.

“This ride is currently closed due to high winds. Check back again later.”

We had missed it by that much.

Again, denied by Disney.

Three times rejected.

Left to lick my theme park wounds.

Left to acknowledge the fact that Disney is made for those who stay on-site, not for us steerage citizens, sinking on the Titanic of Theme Park Wannabes.

But my good husband was insistent – it had perhaps become a personal vendetta on my behalf. So the morning on which we were leaving, he encouraged me to rush to Downtown Disney.

And so Amanda, Noah and I headed off for one last attempt at Disney Glory.

We watched the balloon all the way over there. It was in the sky, seemingly happy.


We parked, we ran, and we achieved payment.


Early Bird Pricing even!!!!

The balloon landed to allow us entrance. We didn’t waste any time.


We hopped in and the ride took off, very wobbly and jerky.

We got up to 400 feet.


And it was beautiful.


Noah waffled between asking to jump in the lake, asking to get back on the ground, and enjoying the view.


I fumbled to take pictures through the rope while holding a two-year-old and not dropping my phone.


Chris texted me a picture of Ali watching safely from the hotel balcony.

Balloon Ride

After about ten minutes in the air, we came back down, feeling exulted and victorious.


Disney had tried to deny us at every opportunity, but Disney had failed.

We ended our trip sticking it to the mouse.

39 thoughts on “In Which I was Rejected By Disney.

  1. I LOVE that mine is not the only family who would rather swim than brave Disney! We went to Orlando last March and my kids generally preferred to stay at the house we rented and swim in the pool. We did manage one day in the Magic Kingdom and one at Epcot but they were most excited about Gatorland! Live and learn :) (Mine are 10 and 12 which may explain them being too old to wait in line for hours for a princesses autograph)

    1. Yes. And although Ali did marginally want to see princesses, she made it clear that she had NO interest in meeting them. She’s way too shy and risk-averse for that kind of foolhardiness.

  2. I’m so glad you got your balloon ride!

    I should have warned you….we always carry everything in carry-on bags when we go to Orlando. We have a condo with a washer and dryer so we re-wear outfits. It is a hassle managing the carry-on bags with a 4 year old and infant but it pays off by not waiting at baggage claim.

    Did you stay at the Sheraton Vistana Villages on International Drive? Our condo is next door!

    Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Legoland! PS – My son likes Legoland better than Disney.

    1. We stayed there in March! Actually Justin Bieber was there too. Let’s just say it was weird and a bit surreal. Anyways, we went to Universal and there was no lines for day 1, and day 2 we waited maybe a half hr. Day 3 was insane b/c we didn’t show up when the park opened, so we left. It just cost us the price of parking. I really don’t want to go to Disney if I have to do ANY of the planning. It’s not worth the price for all the lines and headaches!

      1. Agreed – you have to be a professional planner to really make a go of it, it seems. I’m going to have to work on my pre-planning skills before trying again!

  3. We’re going over Labor Day (pulling the kids out of school in favor of shorter lines and free dining – NO SHAME). I didn’t know about the balloon ride. That looks like a great post airport/hotel check-in activity.

    We were debating the $25 charge to check a piece of luggage and avoid carry-on hell with two kids, but now maybe that is the better option.

    Any idea what the “non-early bird” rate for the balloon ride is?

    1. I think the balloon was normally $18 for adults and $10 for children (Noah was free, so I’m assuming two and under are free?)

      And yes, apparently the Orlando Airport can often be “tricky” – carry-on might be the way to go.

  4. Disney isn’t really my favorite place either. I guess as a native Floridian it is a been there done that feeling. I can take it but if I had a choice I wouldn’t go. I know that the magic kingdom is the main reason people go but one time when I went on New Years Eve (Don’t ever do that) the Magic Kingdom was closed so we went to the Animal kingdom for the day and then by mid afternoon took the Monorail over to the Magic Kingdom because some people had left and it wasn’t at capacity anymore, but we had a 3 park pass. I liked Animal Kingdom better but I am not a ride person so the magic kingdom doesn’t offer me much.You are braver than me going up in the ballon. I am too afraid of heights plus I would be so aggravated I would have given up.

    Can’t wait to hear about Legoland. I want to go to there.

  5. Our family did a whirlwind Orlando trip a few years ago. We gave the boys a choice of 2 days at Disney, 1 at Sea World or 2 at Sea World, 1 at Disney. They all three chose Sea World (a rare 3-way agreement for them!) and still say that Sea World was their favorite part of the vacation. Just too many people at Disney!
    Glad you finally got that balloon ride!!

    1. My Mom said that’s what we did as kids, too, but I only remember Disney, not SeaWorld. Then again, I was three, so it’s amazing that I remember anything.

  6. Can’t wait to read about Legoland! Also, EarBeards…YUCK!!! And I noticed how you spelled “travelled”, very Downton ;-)

  7. EARBEARD. I was rolling!!

    This whole story smacks of Griswold but I love it!. I hate that you didn’t get to experience the magic of Disney, but I can say from experience it’s a heckuva lot more magical when the park isn’t at capacity. Try October– it will be much easier then!

  8. I was relaying your adventures to my husband on the fourth (he being the Disney Expert in our family) and he said that, as I’m sure you gathered, people staying on property get first dibs. So yeah… I didn’t even think about that, just the general insanity of the Fourth.

    glad you had fun anyway, Downtown Disney is pretty cool.

  9. My husband refers to going to Disney as “going to visit the big, expensive, rat!” He has a hard time being in large crowds, so I assume, Disney World is one place my kids will never visit, unless daddy stays at the hotel pool.

  10. Hey, maybe the folks at Disney will see this and give you a week’s worth of free passes and entrances to all the parks and rides!

    1. I seriously doubt it. I actually assumed that writing this post would forever blacklist me off of the Disney Social Media Moms Conference. Then again, it’s fairly exclusive, so I figured I didn’t really have a chance anyway.

  11. Oh no! You have to try it again sometime, during off-peak is best. We had our luggage sit out in Orlando on our return flight in 2011. When we got home on of our suitcases was completely soaked through. Was glad it was on the return and not arrival.

    We always divide and conquer for luggage retrieval/rental car pick-up (and turn it into a sort of race too!). My son and I take all the carryons and get the rental car while hubby gets the checked bags. If all goes well, we pick him up curbside with the big stuff.

    We are going back again in September over Labor Day. Hoping to not run into the maxed out park since we will be cruising Thurs-Sun, then debarking the ship and driving to check in at All Star Sports and heading to the Magic Kingdom. It is an EMH (Extra Magic Hours) day and my son is quite excited to try and stay there until 2:00am! We have never made it to rope drop (opening) though on our trips there, but generally shut the parks down at night. I was regretting that as we left the Halloween party last year and I had to carry a sleeping Peter Pan (age 5 at the time) from the bus to our room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and we were very far away from the lobby!

    I don’t have the risk-averse child though. Mine is the one that was in tears on his tippy toes at Expedition Everest in 2011 crying “See Mommy, I AM tall enough!” He has since conquered all the ‘mountains’ (Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and the Matterhorn) at both Disneyland and Disneyworld. I think we did that to him by sliding him through to get onto Soarin’ when he was barely three and still too short, but he loved it!

    1. We will definitely try again, but it won’t be until at the earliest Fall of 2014. Noah is just not ready, and really, neither is Ali.

  12. OK, so really? I knew of many places where you could have parked (for free) when Magic Kingdom lot was full. But you would not have had fun with the crush of crowds. Fourth of July and the week of Christmas through New Year’s are the busiest at Disney.

    I advise buying the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World for the best trip-planning advice, published by Birmingham’s own Menasha Ridge Press!

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I’m a terrible planner (don’t make time for it anymore) but my husband is a planning addict. I’ll buy it for him. :-)

  13. Let me just tell you Rachel from having TAKEN a 5 year old to Disney….be glad you missed it! My daughter, when, you ask her about it to this day, (and she is 21 now) tells you that she has NO MEMORY of it at all!!! She does remember the ENDLESS walking and heat, but is glad we went back later (in her life) and she had tons of fun laughing with friends and family and then we went and did a whole day at Universal after her 20th b-day and she had a BLAST!!! It was a family vacay with her, her fiance’, myself and my husband…..we laughed until our sides hurt!

    You’ll make Disney someday, but don’t worry…that mouse, he’s gonna stick around!

    1. That second trip sounds like a beautiful memory! Thanks for the vote of confidence that we’re not missing Ali’s “ideal Disney window”!!

  14. Since you home school I would highly suggest going at an off peak time. Took our daughter when she was 4 she hugged and got autographs of all the characters. the princess magic holds special memories for us parents. Took her again at 6 and she was tall enough to ride some additional rides but by then had developed shyness with the characters… Took her again at 10 and she could ride everything and we all had a blast.

    It is the only amusement park I go to,…at off peak times.

      1. Absolutely agreed! We just had three days to do SOMETHING, and we chose Orlando for that time filling. Perhaps not the best strategic move. Next trip to Orlando will definitely be in October or November.

  15. Awesome post! I was so nervous for you as I was reading the beginning of your travels and all the missed opportunities — but so glad you ended up making some lemonade with those lemons!

  16. Wow, I can’t believe it was full! It’s probably a good thing you didn’t get in or you wouldn’t have been able to even walk around with those kind of crowds! When we went up to the parking gate/ticket window there was no one. We drove right in and no one was next to us in line either. I can’t’ imagine it being that crowded! For Magic Kingdom they told us it’s best to take the bus (which we did). I guess if you park you have to take the ferry across the water and it takes almost an hour just to get into the park. I hope you get a chance to go back during the off season!

  17. I’m so glad you ended up enjoying your trip anyway, but I am a little sorry you didn’t get to see the Magic Kingdom. What matters most, though, is that the kids enjoyed the trip! And they did, so I’d say you won. And there are many more years for going back, and now you can save the money you didn’t spend on Park tickets for next time. :-)

  18. Hi, I saw the comments saying you might try again, at a supposedly less busy time of year. Were you, perchance, planning to go in October of this year (2015)? I ask because I’m going myself- the second-to-last weekend of October, the 24 and 25 to be exact. Maybe our paths will cross. Either way, I’m so going to try and squeeze in a ride on that balloon.- didn’t even know that was there until I found this.

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