Adventures with Uncle Deej - A Birthday At Disney

In the nearly five years since MJ and I were married, there are numerous benefits to the arrangement which I've come to appreciate. My white clothes are nice and bright now that I've learned about pre-sorting, award show season is one of my favorite times of year, and dogs have even become tolerable - well, at least one anyway. And then there's the best perk of being Mr. MJ - the one that I've come to love more than any other: my niece, affectionately known as "Bug."

As I mentioned in last week's post, MJ and I flew Bug down to celebrate her 10th birthday in Orlando. It was her first time flying solo, and our first time going to Disney as "parents." On many levels, this terrified me.

You see, although the Orlando theme parks are easily our most frequented travel destination, we visit a Disney that is very different than the one seen by families. We rarely set foot in Fantasyland and laugh at those stuck in the 90 minute line for It's A Small World. We enjoy our favorite libations while they argue with Little Johnny over whether he wants chicken nuggets or a hot dog. And we scoff, with thinly veiled content, at the parents that push their kids ahead of us to view the Main Street Electrical Parade - if only they'd ask, I'd gladly switch places. Surely not all parents are resigned to this fate, yet I've often wondered if most even enjoy their trips to Disney. Something told me that during this weekend with Bug, I would find the answer.

My first "parental" responsibility was picking Bug up from the airport while MJ finished her day at work. This sounds like a fairly straightforward task, but given my tendency to go Sheldon Cooper in unfamiliar settings, I found myself feeling strangely nervous to be at the airport. Perhaps it was the three iced coffees I had between 7am and her arrival at 11am - either way the concern was unfounded. She emerged from the plane - unaccompanied minors are the last ones to exit - and after literally signing for her life, we were off to the House of Mouse.

Bug has always been the smartest kid I know - OK, every uncle probably says that, but in her case it's really true - and that intelligence often manifests itself in the form of rapid fire questions. The assortment of "Uncle Deej, can we (fill in the blank)" helped the 20 minute drive to Disney to pass in about 45 seconds. Meanwhile, I had agreed to squeeze about 3 weeks worth of activities into 2 1/2 days - I couldn't blame her, she was excited and so was I for that matter. As we arrived at the Yacht Club Resort I decided that Bug needed a job to help focus that inquisitiveness, so I made her the official photographer for The World of Deej. All of the pictures throughout this post were taken by her.

This bought me about 4 question-free minutes.

Suddenly random billboards became photo ops.

We had just one rule for Bug over the weekend - if she wanted to do something, all she had to do was ask. Dangerous, right? Well, in the next 6 hours before MJ arrived from the bullpen, I found myself in the Yacht Club gift shop, the Beach Club gift shop, the Beaches and Cream Soda Fountain (where it went against every grain in my body to tell her she couldn't have the free birthday hot fudge sundae), and finally, the Yacht Club's famed Stormalong Bay pool.

"Wait Uncle Deej! I have to take a picture first."
So proud...

Under normal circumstances, MJ and I would find a nice shady chair, order a couple of adult beverages, and huff at the kids flinging water every which way as they run past for another trip down the slide. Soon, I was that kid, plunging into the water only to jump out and run alongside Bug to do it all over again. I had to decline a 4th trip down the slide - half the pool had wound up inside my ears - but I'm not ashamed to say that I loved every minute of it.

Oddly enough, I have a nearly identical photo.

After a quick nap and iced coffee to recharge Uncle Deej, we were off to Downtown Disney to meet MJ and enjoy the first surprise of Bug's birthday weekend: Cirque du Soliel La Nouba. We had debated whether to take her to the show, because all of the sights and sounds can be a lot to take in even for an adult, much less a little kid. The number of whoa's and holy cow's heard during the show told us we made the right decision. We capped the evening off with the long promised ice cream sundae at the Splitsville bowling alley, before calling it an early night. There was a long day waiting for us tomorrow...

The view from Splitsville.

By 10am the next morning we were walking down Main Street USA, with no intentions to leave for a solid 12 hours. The new Starbucks at the Main Street Bakery would make this a little easier, but still this was no easy task for MJ and I, who are accustomed to staying at a park for just a handful of hours at a time. Would I turn into one of those sour faced parents by 6pm and have to give up? Only time would tell.

Naturally, we had to start Bug's day off in the absolute best way possible with a visit to Cinderella's Royal Table. This is one of those things where you're really not paying for the food, but the experience - although the food was pretty good too. Bug was able to meet all of her favorite Princesses, all of which wished her a very happy birthday. For parents, dining in Cinderella Castle doesn't come cheap, but the smiles it brought to Bug's face were worth twice the tax paid to Her Royal Highness.

She might make a great travel blogger yet.

As we emerged from the Castle we asked Bug where she wanted to go next. "Can we find Merida?" Thanks to the handy My Disney Experience app, I was able to see that Merida was right around the corner - although I still had no idea who she was. I can't tell you how many times MJ and I have felt sorry for the unfortunate souls baking themselves in a ridiculous line to meet a character, and yet today I was right there with them. In the end, I was happy to be introduced to Merida from Brave - that crazy hair and accent have officially made her my new favorite Disney princess. Sorry Jasmine, we had a good run.

I mean, would you look at that hair!

After nearly 4 hours in the park, it was finally time for some rides. Space Mountain didn't go over so well, but I was a proud Uncle when she enjoyed the People Mover. She dubbed the Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain combination the "Wash and Dry cycle" and proclaimed "70 minutes for Its A Small World? What am I, crazy?" - told you, smart kid. Finally, for the first time in 25 years, I visited the Tomorrowland Speedway and came away with a nice layer of exhaust soot. They really should introduce a hybrid version of the vehicles.

I'm winning in the car ahead.

For dinner, it was back to another place MJ and I would never choose to go on our own: the Crystal Palace. Here we dined with Pooh, Tigger, and the rest of the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood. OK, "dined" is a bit of a stretch. "Tore into baked chicken like a caveman" would be more appropriate. It had been a long day, and Uncle Deej was running on fumes, but a heap of animal protein and another iced coffee had me right back on track. Just in time to go find a seat for the Electrical Parade and fireworks.

The wonderful thing about Tiggers...

Whenever I've watched the Main Street Electrical Parade, I often feel sorry for the poor people stuck behind some dad with a kid on his shoulders. I mean, how on earth is a kid supposed to see over a grown human, much less one with his spawn on top of his back? As the circa 1972 parade rolled down Main Street, I heard those dreaded words "Aunt MJ, I can't see." We had scoped out a great spot, but alas we were behind that parent. And so it was that MJ and I took turns hoisting Bug on our shoulders. If you were stuck behind us, please accept my sincere apologies - I can assure you, it won't happen again.

As the parade concluded, we were in a great spot to view the Wishes fireworks show, however 10 minutes before it began we were hit with yet another unfamiliar issue of theme parks with kids: the ill timed bathroom break. Main Street, by now, was a zoo, and Uncle Deej doesn't hold seats - can't handle the stress - so we left MJ and navigated the swarm between us and the nearest bathroom.

I waited outside the bathroom, pacing back and forth, wondering if we'd be able to get back to our spot in time for the show, frustrated that we had to leave it in the first place. It was then that I realized I had fallen into the trap - I had avoided it all day, but now it was here. I was that parent - frustrated with my kid, ready to leave, and forgetting that this experience was supposed to be about her, not me. She'd hopefully remember it for years to come, and the last thing I wanted that memory to be was of Uncle Deej getting frustrated that she had to go to the bathroom. I took a breath, looked around, soaked in the scene, smiled, and soon guided Bug back to our spot, just in time to see Tink take flight.

Seriously, the guy that invented "Glow with the Show" Mickey Ears
needs a big raise...

I was completely and utterly spent as we shuffled our way down Main Street towards the exit. It had been an awesome day, and somewhat to my surprise I had survived it remarkably well. Of course, I had to muster the courage to do it all over again the next day at Sea World, but for the time being I was content with the dream of my comfortable bed back at the Yacht Club. Then again, that dream would have to wait...

"Uncle Deej...Can we go in the candy shop?"

"Of course we can Bug. Of course we can..."

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