The following was produced in partnership with our friends at Walt Disney World Resort, who invite you to discover a world of magic and memories the whole family will share.
Ah, the Walt Disney World family vacation. The character-filled days, fireworks-filled evenings, surprisingly great food and drink for parents, and that joy — plastered to your kids’ faces for the duration of the trip. This last part is what Walt Disney World is really all about; awe-filled spells that are the stuff of life-long memories. Seeking to capture these moments, we sent a professional photographer and his family to the Magic Kingdom®. Jason and Teri Roth took their two girls, Sienna (“Sisi,”), 5, and Makena, 9, for one long magical weekend to document the thrills along the way for the rest of us. This much is clear — this is a trip that will have a lasting impression for the four of them.
For many parents, the best part of the entire Walt Disney World experience is the moment you tell your kids, you’re going to Disney World. This brings on a medley of expressions, frenetic thoughts, imaginations, all leading to pure, unadulterated excitement. The question is, how long do you wait to tell them? “One part of me wanted to give them a heads up to build excitement,” says Roth. “The other part of me wanted to wait until the morning of, when we get to say, ‘Girls, we’re not going to the playground today, we’re going to Disney.’ ”
The Roths, wisely, chose something in between, telling the girls exactly one week before. Seven days later at the airport, the anticipation was still at full throttle. “The amount of adrenaline and overall excitement at the airport was something else,” says Roth, describing what sounds like one of the most pleasant family airport experiences ever. “They were both buzzing pretty hard, singing songs on the way to the airport, through security, and walking to the gate. The girls were just fired up.” When Sisi looked out the window at the plane they were about to get on, she felt moved to turn around and take an excited leap.
Walt Disney World is a place where kids can immerse themselves completely in fantasy. The right costume certainly helps. That’s why the first stop on Sisi and Makena’s tour is to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where the “fairy godmothers in training” gave the girls a full makeover for their favorite characters (Cinderella for Sisi; Princess Elena of Avalor for Makena). Roth has never seen his five-year-old in particular sit still for such a length of time as during her full makeover. He’s also never seen so much glitter in one place. “We were covered in glitter the whole visit. I’m still getting glitter out of our hats, suitcases, and clothes.” All part of the magic.
Jason Roth has one tip he is adamant about for visitors to Magic Kingdom®: Rent a stroller. First of all, you wouldn’t automatically think you need a stroller with a 5- and 9-year-old, but Roth and his family of New Yorkers (all big walkers) said not to underestimate the amount of walking involved. “The stroller was needed. Even the 9-year-old was very happy to climb in.”
At Enchanted Tales With Belle, an interactive performance of Beauty and the Beast, Sisi gets on stage (playing Philippe the horse) and Makena pulls out her iPod Touch to capture the moment. Her dad, who makes his living as a photographer, helps her to capture the moment. “We’re always looking for light and where the good light is and trying to be in the moment and anticipate the shot,” he says. “I fully trust I can hand over the phone or sometimes my camera and she can snap a good picture,” he says. “Although, her selfie game is much stronger than mine.”
After visiting The Pirates League at Adventureland and spending the day exploring the park as pirates, Sisi and Makena go back to the hotel, take a bath, and then pay it forward — giving mom her own magical makeover. Using a makeup kit they received from the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, the two transform their mom.
Makena has been journaling for some time, something she had picked up from Grandma and has been practicing at home, and kept up with fervor while on vacation. Inspired by her trip, Sisi too picks up the habit when they’re resting in the hotel. “Her writing is becoming more impressive,” says Roth. “She’s starting to get into documenting her life more.” What better to document than a trip to the Magic Kingdom®? (“We got princess makeovers,” reads the above entry.)
“One of the more amazing things about Magic Kingdom® is that every single night there’s a display of fireworks and projections on the castle,” says Roth. “Everywhere, families are tired and cuddling up and there’s such heightened emotion. Then this fantastic display goes off and, well, the magic of the castle holds power.”
The Roths Enter the Magic Kingdom®: A Long Weekend Itinerary
- The Roths fly from JFK to Orlando, arriving in the evening.
- The family heads straight to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, fresh off Disney’s Magical Express. On their way, they see fireworks fly over the trees, lighting up the Magic Kingdom®.
- At The Whispering Canyon Cafe, the family grabs a late-night bite. (Ask the waiter for ketchup, as Makena did, and you can expect the waiter to yell, “Need ketchup ova here!” This is followed by a parade of every diner delivering you their ketchup bottles, one by one until there’s a wall of ketchup. “It’s a running gag, and then we got to deliver ketchup to the next unsuspecting table,” says Roth.)
- The family heads to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique first thing for makeovers and dresses.
- They then make their way to the Princess Fairytale Hall to see Princess Elena, Makena’s favorite.
- One standout ride during the day is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride. “Sisi was nervous that it might be too scary,” says Roth, “but Makena encouraged her to be brave and give it a try. It was thrilling, perhaps a bit too much as Sisi still talks about the ride. She’s proud of herself that she went on it though.”
- The family then went to Enchanted Tales with Belle. In this show, Sisi got to be part of the action, dressing as Philippe the Horse. Both Makena and Sisi got to meet Belle, and were very excited because they had been marathoning Beauty And The Beast for the past week.
- Get back to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge to journal, lounge around, and watch a marathon of Disney Junior — Elena, Sofia the First, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. (Sisi says “it’s more fresh” when you watch it at Disney.)
- On Sunday, the parents first head to The Pirates League at Magic Kingdom® to get everyone in their best pirate makeup and garb.
- Dressed as pirates, and Sisi emboldened by her previous day on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the family rides on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, shoot some aliens, and then grab lunch at The Lunching Pad.
- The family heads back to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge to weather a storm, playing games in the arcade, doing some shopping, and taking much-needed naps.
- Sisi and Makena give mom her very own pirate makeover.
- The family goes out to dinner at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, and then take in a final fireworks display at Magic Kingdom®.
- Get back to the hotel and journal.
- The family heads out to the airport, excited as when they came — but a bit more sparkly, thanks to the pixie dust.
All photos by Jason Roth