I've written before about the comforting sound of the train whistle from Magic Kingdom, which became very prominent since moving to our new house. If you were to draw a straight line, I believe that Cinderella's Castle is between one and two miles away. Even before that, we were about five or six miles down the road, but we could still hear the nightly fireworks. Now we can watch them from upstairs. The point is that we've lived in Florida for almost a year, and we've always been in close proximity to Walt Disney World.
I loved the golden era of Disney movies when I was in college (though not as fanatical as my former mother-in-law thought I was). I never really got to know the Florida theme parks though until I went with Cath for a few days. Stephanie and I once did a whirlwind one-day hop through Magic Kingdom, the then MGM Studios and the then new Animal Kingdom to bust out some roller coaster credits, but that was not what I would call a real Disney experience. After I met Diana, I came down once to shoot a ton of photos for the site MouseZoom that Walt and I came up with, but never really fully committed to. After that, Diana and I did three "real" vacations there, between four and six days each.
We had a really good time on each of those trips. The last one we did was in late November of 2012, when we left Simon with my in-laws. It was one of the most epic vacations we've had, though I'm sure part of that was just that we were long overdue for a break without our little man. We had no idea at the time that we would end up living next door in just seven months.
I had already been in Orlando for a week when Simon and Diana arrived. I had just signed the lease to our rental, but we were still staying in a hotel because all of our stuff was still on a truck somewhere. They arrived late on a Friday afternoon. The next day, not content to sit in that cramped room, we decided to use said lease to demonstrate Florida residency and bought annual passes to WDW. Had we not moved, we were planning to come down for a vacation with Simon in the next year, but plans changed, and there we were.
I have to admit that walking on to Main Street that day with Simon was a pretty neat feeling. This is a kid who fell in love with Cedar Point, and loved to take in the sights and sounds, and even at age 3 had no use for a stroller. He didn't really know any Disney characters outside of Cars, but he really loved it.
Over the next few months, we would experiment and learn all the little "hacks" to get around the resort, avoid crowds, find the better food, etc. We also learned that a kid like Simon on the autism spectrum with sensory processing issues benefits a great deal from the place. For all his issues understanding social contracts, he queues like a pro. I think all of the sound and motion (especially on the various boats, train and the people mover) really satisfies his need for steady and intense sensation. The stairs in the hotels, where we would often park, offered fantastic practice for Simon since we lived in a one-story at the time. Then pile on his desire to navigate, hear music, climb on stuff, etc., and there has been a surprising amount of enrichment activities for the kid. The playground at Animal Kingdom is just epic. It was no substitute for therapy and school, obviously, but it sure beats sitting in front of the TV or the iPad.
For us grownups, we obviously get a lot of joy from seeing Simon enjoy these environments. But you know, we've done date days and nights at the parks too, to ride stuff we couldn't with Simon, and to eat the amazing food at some amazing restaurants. The Food & Wine Festival at Epcot, while insanely crowded, is pretty much one of the best things I've ever experienced in any theme park, and that has nothing to do with the attractions. But most of all, we've had some great after-work family time, spontaneously deciding to just hang out for a bit.
So has it grown old after a year? I don't think so. I think we went more often at first, but it's still around once a week (except the holidays). If I had to guess, I probably had 50+ park entries, while Simon and Diana had a few more on visits while I was at work. We have literally made trips to get popcorn or ice cream, and I think that's pretty awesome.
There are a ton of things to do in this town, and we've covered a lot of ground. We even have SeaWorld/Busch Gardens passes. We have some favorite restaurants on the west side, and I'm growing a special appreciation for downtown now that I work there (well, twice a week, anyway). Still, you can't beat the convenience and the consistently good times we can have next door, year-round. We still miss our beloved Cedar Point (Simon asks about it frequently), but having WDW as your "home" parks ain't bad.