Many consider the moment they step on Disney property the start of their vacation but it really starts months earlier when you begin your preparations for your trip and continues from the moment you leave your home to travel to the place where dreams come true. This is my family’s story from the day we left our home to the day we arrived at Walt Disney World.
What started out as a normal work day for both me and my wife Michele ended up as anything but. We were already packed for our long anticipated Disney World vacation. My son Bret (17) was out and about in his brand new used car and my daughter Haley (14) was at a friend’s house. I worked half a day and went home to wait for my wife to pick up our car rental for the trip.
In seeking out a car rental we were looking for a reasonable price preferably a van, and a rental through an agency whereby we could return the vehicle on Disney property. It took some doing but lucky for us we found everything we were looking for. The drawback was there is only one location for the car rental agency that shall remain nameless in the State of New Jersey. So, we had a bit of a distance to travel to get the vehicle.
Off we go to the car rental place. It takes us a little under 40 minutes to arrive there. It’s located inside a hotel in a tiny room off the lobby with just enough space for one agent and one customer. Someone was ahead of us so we had to wait and wait and wait. Our turn finally comes, we sign the paperwork and the agent takes us outside to the vehicle. It’s a Dodge Caravan! My wife had a Dodge Caravan when our kids were small and if you would stare at it long enough things will begin to fall apart. As we look over the van for any pre-existing damage I notice the vehicle is still made the same as in past years, very cheaply. Everything though seems to be okay and after all it is just a rental. We drive it back to our house and arrive just in time for dinner. By now our kids are home and hungry.
We eat dinner, take care of some last minute preparations, and make sure everything is ready for our neighbors who were most kind enough to take care of our cats while we were away. Its now early evening and we decide to get some sleep before starting our journey at 2 A.M.
Finally it’s go time! I make sure we have all the snacks for the car ride, water bottles for Disney, our GPS, and most importantly my iPod Touch loaded with my favorite Disney podcasts. We load up the van and we hit the road. My wife is driving the van and I’m following along in her car as our first stop is the Atlantic City Airport which is an hour plus south of our home. We decided to drive to Walt Disney World because we were first attending our friends son’s Bar Mitzvah in Charlotte, North Carolina. We arrive at the airport and put my wife’s car in long term parking. I get behind the wheel of the van and we’re on the road again.
I get on the Atlantic City Expressway and after about 10 minutes my wife starts to ask if I’m okay. Then, she starts asking me if I’m starting to get sleepy. Even if I wanted to go to sleep I couldn’t because we were stopping every few minutes to pay a toll. We finally get out of New Jersey into Deleware and my wife starts to see the signs that I’m tiring. I keep readjusting myself in the seat and start to play with the hair on the back of my head. She asks to drive and at first I resist her request but then I realize she just might be right, so we switch.
The next thing I remember is waking up and having the sun in my eyes. I look behind me and the kids are still sleeping. I turn my head to my wife and asked her where we were. She said we were in Washington D.C. and I slept through all the morning rush hour traffic. It was now my turn to ask her if she was okay driving. She said “yes” and we continued on. When we got to Virginia we pulled into the first rest stop and gas station that came along in order to fill the gas tank, switch drivers, and wake the kids to see if they need to use the bathroom or if they were hungry. They both said no and went right back to sleep. After driving a while I was starting to get hungry. All of a sudden in the rear view mirror I see both our kids heads popup with a look of bewilderment. They wanted to know where we were. Just as I was about to answer I saw this great big sign rise from the ground out of nowhere. It was the answer to my prayers. It was the sign for Waffle House! This would be the first time any of us ate there. As we waited for our food my kids commented about how the place looked like a dump but, I reminded them of an old saying “never judge a book by its cover.” The food came and it lived up to everything I’ve heard about the place. We all cleaned our plates, even my daughter who never finishes anything but candy.
Onward we go as I drive through Virginia into North Carolina where we stop for gas, lunch, and a change in drivers. Oh, and our kids fell asleep on and off again for the remainder of this leg of the drive. They were in great spirits and they were getting along great as we reached our first destination, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Rather than bore you with all the details of our stay in Charlotte I will highlight the events:
- Friday afternoon checked into hotel. The room was big.
- Went to our friend’s house for dinner Friday night.
- After sleeping like babies we went to the Bar Mitzvah ceremony Saturday morning where we slept some more. Only kidding!
- Went to Pei Wei for lunch.
- Back to hotel to rest up.
- Went to Bar Mitzvah reception at Maggiano’s Saturday night. It was good!
- Got up very early Sunday and checked out of hotel.
With the van loaded up again I got behind the wheel for the 8-plus hour drive to Walt Disney World. To our amazement the kids continued to get along great. Things were so good between them I let them listen their favorite hip hop music through the van’s speakers. I drove the first 4 ½ hours making our way through South Carolina and then Georgia before succumbing to drowsiness and a near empty gas tank, as well as, hungry children.
After I filled the car with gas we stopped at a Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch and now my wife took over the driving for the remainder of the trip. As we made it into Florida and just past Jacksonville these vicious clouds came out of nowhere and started dumping buckets of rain down upon us. We couldn’t see 2 feet in front of us and although I urged my wife to pull off the road she insisted on moving forward. Nothing was going to stop her from getting us to Disney World. She got into the right lane and started slowly following the car’s lights in front of her keeping a safe distance from the vehicle. Within a half hour the skies cleared and it was smooth sailing from there.
The drive down I4 was both exciting and exasperating until we came upon the sign to enter the gates of heaven “Walt Disney World Where Dreams Come True” and we all knew then and there we were finally home in the place we belong.
The long drive my wife and I dreaded wasn’t so bad after all because the kids got along so much better than expected. Although it did help having the kids sleep most of the way down, as well as, breaking the drive up with a short stay in Charlotte.
The best advice I can give parents making a similar trip is that you leave in the early morning hours like we did when your children are accustomed to sleeping. If need be break up the trip and spend a night in a hotel along the way. Most of all stay alert, drive safely and have a magical Disney vacation!
Contributed by: Stuart S. (NDD #47). Stuart is our resident Disney geek and creator of Disney Geek Dad.