Another Thanksgiving in our rear-view mirror. Family came at 2 p.m. and flying in the face of tradition, we had no contest this year. In the past we had food contests based on a secret ingredient, such as orange, chocolate or pumpkin. Contestants could enhance their presentations with costumes and props. It was always a hoot. The Christmas Story Leg Lamp prize, which is passed on to each winner, will remain in storage until the contests are resurrected.
We decided to change things up this year and suggested an open mic contest with song, dance, comedy or poetry reading. We had 25 family members for dinner and my granddaughter, Ellie, was the only person who came prepared to entertain. My family is lame. Yet, the two turkeys, sides and desserts were fantastic. Everyone contributed to the buffet and made their specialties. Yes, we had green bean casserole and pumpkin pies, but we also had three types of stuffing: pineapple, cornbread and traditional stuffing with Bell’s poultry seasoning.
After dinner there was a long walk down the trails in the woods. Then four of the guys pulled out their guitars and ukuleles and had an impromptu concert. Others gathered around the bonfire to smoke cigars and spin tales. Once it was sufficiently dark, we lit lanterns, like those in the Disney movie Tangled. The children made wishes on the lanterns as we watched them rise high into the darkened sky and then blink out as the candles died away.
Then the fireworks were next. We had purchased them at South of the Border last month and they filled the sky with bright colors and set our neighborhood dogs to barking. By 10 p.m., everyone one came inside for turkey sandwiches and more pie. By midnight, tired children were bundled into car seats next to plastic containers of leftovers and the perfect day came to an end.
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Perhaps we should discontinue travels for a while. In September we went to Nova Scotia on a cruise, hit wild weather due to hurricane Fiona and came home with COVID-19. In the beginning of November, we went to Disney World with our family and ran into hurricane Ian. We were camping in Disney and were evacuated for two days. Though the hurricane was not Disney’s fault, I do believe they have lost the magic in many ways.
When our sons were young, we spent Christmas in Disney World for 12 consecutive years. We camped at Fort Wilderness, cooked most of our meals and took advantage of park hopping and free events like the campfire with Chip and Dale. Sure, we waited in 45-minute lines as we nibbled on popcorn and planned our next ride, but we never felt slighted in any way.
Often, we’d enter at 7 a.m., went back to the campsite for dinner and then returned for the Magic Light Parade and spectacular fireworks. Sleepily riding the boat back to the campground close to midnight, you felt you got your money’s worth. It was magic!
If you traveled to Disney years ago a simple ticket would get you into a park. Now your ticket may be useless if you fail to make a park reservation for each day. Once the daily limit is filled, often weeks ahead, you could end up in your hotel unable to visit any of the parks during your trip.
Now your ticket is a wristband. Before COVID-19 the wristbands were given to you, now they are $35. Fast passes, which let you on rides quickly and were previously free, are now Genie+ Lightening Lanes and cost $15 per person for three rides. You can pay more for additional passes, but unfortunately you must pay first and then select your rides. Often the rides you want have no more available passes. Wasted money, in my opinion.
Previously, a single ticket to the Magic Kingdom entitled you to see an afternoon parade, an evening parade and the fireworks. Now there is no afternoon parade, two floats with Mickey and Minnie have taken its place. Before, many Disney characters roamed the park greeting children. Today, to see most characters a meal reservation is required.
For the Christmas Party, parade and fireworks, the Magic Kingdom closes to everyone and reopens in the evening. To enter you must purchase a new ticket which ranges from $169 to $249 per person. This is infuriating because to get into the Magic Kingdom that day, which was shortened, you already spent $109 per person.
What bothered me most during this trip was that there were free lines for the rides with posted wait times of often 120 minutes or more. Those lines were filled with what appeared to be tourists from other countries, and people with large families. I worry Disney is catering to the affluent and poor children will never get to enjoy the magic.
Donna Brown is a former Hammonton Middle School librarian and a columnist for The Gazette. To reach Donna Brown, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.