Special to The Herald
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — You’ve survived the in-laws, taken back that ugly sweater Aunt Gertrude gave you, and the Christmas tree is in the chipper.
What are you gonna do now?
Go to Disney World!
Less than a six-hour drive from Albany are all the Walt Disney World theme parks and resorts — Mickey and Cinderella at Magic Kingdom for the kids, and Jack Daniels and a little Cirque Du Soleil at Downtown Disney for the grown-ups.
Granted, Disney has been relegated to the position of “summer destination” in the popular imagination. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that most people associate “Disney” with “kids,” and most kids are out of school and free to travel in summer.
But Disney, to paraphrase an old Tropicana ad, ain’t just for kids anymore, and, really, when you think about it, it doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to go to Disney during the summer.
First thing: Florida is hot.
Even on a recent December day, while Albany was chillin’ with highs in the low 60s, the thermometer was tickling the belly of the 80s in Orlando. While temperatures in the 70s make for good walking-around weather in the winter, that same temperature differential can make things downright oppressive in the summer. Why leave the summer’s heat and humidity of Southwest Georgia for the higher heat and humidity of a crowded Central Florida destination?
That brings us to the second thing: Disney World is crowded in the summer.
In the winter, yes, it can get crowded at certain attractions — the Magic Kingdom when they’re about to set of the nightly fireworks, for example — but the volume of people can be about half to a quarter of what you’ll encounter during the peak summer months. And just imagine the summertime aroma you’ll be treated to as you’re pressed against the flesh of international visitors who haven’t yet discovered the joys of antiperspirant.
The third thing is, during summer, you’re paying full price for the privilege to fight the sweaty horde and stand in long line after long line in the Florida heat. It winter, the crowds are thinner, the waits are shorter, and, from December through February, the resorts and hotels are on sale. A recent three-day stay at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside, for instance, cost just under $400, a 30-percent discount off the regular price.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a regular hotel room at those rates, let alone one that offers free transportation every twenty minutes or so to any of Disney’s theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Downtown Disney and the water parks.
So, if you can get the kids out of school (or better yet, you can travel without them) here are some tips to make the most out of your wintertime stay:
— Avoid the Magic Kingdom from Thursday afternoon to Sunday. Even during the winter, the park is packed during anything that looks like a weekend, and the frequent parades and the fireworks show draw tons of people. Navigating your way to Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion is especially complicated by the high volume of strollers pushed by parents who don’t mind using their young-uns as battering rams.
— Visit Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Downtown Disney, or Hollywood Studios instead. The newer parks tend to be the less-crowded parks, even on the weekends, and tend to have more attractions aimed toward adults. The Expedition Everest roller coaster at Animal Kingdom and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios can be a little extreme for the tots, and it’s just plain cool to have ein bier or two at the German pavilion at Epcot.
— Bring your swim trunks. Yes, it does get cold in Florida now and then, but the coldest part of the year usually isn’t until late February. So, even in mid-January, you can make use of Disney’s water parks. You also might want to consider donning swimwear for water rides such as Kali River Rapids in Animal Kingdom or Splash Mountain in Magic Kingdom. The signs for those attractions warn prospective riders they could be soaked, and those aren’t just empty threats.
— Stay in one of the Disney resorts. Especially during the winter, the resorts are just as cheap as any of the hotels in nearby Orlando. You also get free transportation to the parks, and on a rotating basis, you get to show up earlier and stay later in selected parks.
Wayne Partridge is a native Floridian and a former editor at the Albany Herald. He is an assistant professor of English at Darton College.