What ingredients do you need be a princess?
“A pretty frock, a prince… and some Crocs, pink ones, not green ones, OK? Oh, and a tiara… from a toy shop.”
Kelly, who works for Walt Disney World in Orlando, might be regretting asking our super-excited twins Martha and Gracie.
At nearly five, the pair are Disney experts and can spot an Aurora from an Ariel from far, far away – so we’ve brought them to the place of their dreams before they head to school in September and term-time fines kick in.
Being twins, they normally vie for attention, chatting excitedly, but they’re both in wide-eyed awe as we dash around the Magic Kingdom park, autograph books in hand, for an ever-increasing list of royal appointments.
Cinderella, Belle and Rapunzel come and go leaving the girls in wonder … but nothing has them more excited than meeting another pair of special sisters. They approach Anna and Elsa from Frozen with their heads down until Anna speaks to them – and then they rush over for cuddles, kisses and so much excited princess chat that we could do with a Sleeping Beauty-style kip after just watching them.
Walt Disney World is vast – with four theme parks, two water parks, dozens of Disney hotels and acres of pristine land. When we’d first booked our holiday, we’d been a bit worried that they might have still been on the young side for a visit. But seeing them all starry eyed, we knew we made the right decision.
Here for a week, we’ve got time to do a park a day, and still have time to get in a relaxing day at one of the water parks, have a day by the hotel pool and cram in a bit of shopping too.
At Hollywood Studios, they get to meet two more of their heroes Jake (of Neverlands Pirates) fame, and Princess Sofia, hold the real-life glass-slipper from the latest Cinderella move, and hook up with Anna and Elsa again in the Singalong a Frozen show which has us all blasting out the hits and ends with a magical flurry of fake snow in the theatre.
But it’s not all about meeting Princesses – our two might like the pretty frocks, but they’re also terrible speed junkies and have us on every height-appropriate rollercoaster and ride they can, from the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom to the Toy Story shooting ride at Hollywood Studios.
Animal Kingdom, the safari-themed park brings another change of pace with a jeep trip around a savannah where we get to spot lions, cheetahs, elephants and rhinos.
Our hotel, the nearby and excellent Animal Kingdom Lodge, has similar views from the balcony – minus the carnivores. And staying in a Disney hotel allows us to take advantage of special perks such as free transport between parks and Magic Hours access that lets us beat the queues by getting early entrance.
Having done Disney before, my wife Laura and I are happy to let the girls take the lead on things they want to see, and I certainly don’t miss being the official family photographer (ie not in most of the pictures) and having to lug a big camera bag around thanks to the MagicBand/PhotoPass combo.
The MagicBand is a relatively new bracelet device that stores all your information on it, from getting into your room to park tickets and even debit card details, so I can just scan the band and enter a pin to pay for anything at Disney.
Best of all it doubles as an ID bracelet for kids – lose them and their band can be scanned to help you be reunited – and you can also use it with the PhotoPass system.
Whenever you see a Disney photographer in the park – usually at the classic picture locations like in front of Cinderella’s castle or with character interactions – you get a snap taken, the photographer scans your band and the images are uploaded direct to a personal web page in minutes.
Visitors from elsewhere pay $199 for the service, but this year it’s thrown in as a freebie to anyone who buys tickets in the UK – great value as you can download as many pictures as you want.
Our down day at Typhoon Lagoon gives us to the chance to recharge and catch some sun. There’s a lagoon-style wave pool, slides galore and a lazy river – and after trying most of them out, we hire a private cabana that lets Laura and I catch some rays on sunloungers while the girls build castles in the sand.
At home, we’re normally strict-ish on bed times, but as we’re on holiday we hit the parks late on a couple of days to allow us to stay up later and watch the fabulous evening fireworks at shows such as IllumiNations at the Epcot park.
At one, we get a Disney caricature artist to sketch the girls, turning their likenesses into those of Disney princesses.
The sketches are excellent – even if he could just have drawn the same girl twice if he wanted – but it means the words of the song and just Let It Go. We’re barely at the airport before they already have us planning next year’s return visit.
This article first appeared in The Sun