Q: “Doing Anything to Celebrate Your Birthday?” A: “I’m Going to Walt Disney World!”

Last Friday, the top “Ask Me” question I received from my coworkers was: “Doing anything to celebrate your birthday?” To their surprise, I answered, “I’m going to Walt Disney World!”

One day after the Magic Kingdom celebrated its 40th anniversary with special merchandise, a character cavalcade, a sing-along and other events, we began our four-day visit to Disney World.

Epcot was our destination on Sunday. Thank goodness “Spaceship Earth” was open again! During our last visit in 2007, this favorite ride about advancements in communication was being renovated, and we were sorry to miss hearing Walter Cronkite narrate the journey and being able to chant the newsboy’s cry, “Extra, Extra, New York Daily!,” for the rest of the day. Now, it ends with a clever interactive experience where you can create a future for yourself.  Taking in the ride from a librarian’s perspective this time, however, I realized that there was much more to “Spaceship Earth” than I had thought. From the burning of the library at Alexandria to monks illuminating manuscripts to Gutenberg’s printing press, it’s the story of recording information!  If you’re a librarian, you should make a pilgrimage to the 18-story geodesic sphere that’s the symbol of Epcot.

Between trips to Europe, Epcot hits the spot. Shopping for British goods makes us appreciate our tartans and teapots we’ve acquired on previous visits to the United Kingdom. Norway’s Maelstrom, the “Spirit of Norway” movie and the troll in the shop make us want to plan our long-awaited return to Scandinavia. And the beautiful night sky in the Mexico pavilion is a welcome respite from the crowds. This time, we revisited “Impressions de France” and remembered how much we love the music and photography. For the first time, we shopped in Japan, where I wished I could bring home everything in the Mitsukoshi Department Store. Best of all is Club Cool, a great place to take several swigs of Coca-Cola products from other parts of the world. We’re partial to Mezzo Mix from Germany, but Israel’s Kinley Lemon and Mexico’s Lift Apple were pretty tasty too.

We timed our visit to coincide with Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, which was something to see. Just for the occasion, Ocean Spray created a real-live cranberry bog.

We spent Monday at the Magic Kingdom, where we encountered more people than we’d ever seen before. In Adventureland, we loved the recently renovated “Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room,” where “all the birds sing words and the flowers croon.” After Claude and his loquacious cousin, Clyde, entertained us as we waited in line, we heard tikis chant and play drums and enjoyed solos from birds of paradise. With encouragement from José, Fritz, Michael, Pierre, Colette, Suzette, Gigi, Fifi, Mimi and the rest of the 200 performing Audio-Animatronic birds in the show, it wasn’t hard to hum “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing” for the rest of the day!

Waiting in line to board our “Doom Buggy” at the Haunted Mansion, we were treated to a great new expanded cemetery. The queue winds between four new crypts, some of which are also interactive. One pays tribute to the organist from the ballroom scene, while another is in homage to Captain Culpepper Clyne. More clever new gravestones appear outside the fence beyond the new crypt area.

On our way to the “Country Bear Jamboree,” followed by a ride on the Liberty Square Riverboat, we picked up a new Mickey pretzel at the Frontierland Pretzel Wagon, between the Diamond Horseshoe and Pecos Bill Café, next to the cart that sells all those turkey legs it seemed like everyone was gnawing on this week. It’s still in testing phase, but we hope it’s there to stay!

We certainly ate well on the Disney Dining Plan. For our Epcot dinners, we ate salmon at Les Chefs de France and surf and turf at the Rose & Crown pub. At the Magic Kingdom, we ate “Lady and the Tramp” spaghetti and meatballs at Tony’s Town Square; we enjoyed a family-style Thanksgiving dinner, with Craisin-studded “Johnny Appleseed” cake for dessert, at the Liberty Tree Tavern. Snack points got cashed in for sweet pretzels at Norway’s Kringla Bakeri Og Kafé, and for croissants and apple turnovers at France’s Boulangerie Patisserie.

No visit to Disney World is complete without “Muppet Vision 3D,” “Voyage of the Little Mermaid,” and “The Great Movie Ride” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, two new surprises were in store for us. First, we found ourselves in the Tree of Life’s root system for “It’s Tough to be a Bug!,” where we loved the stink bug’s appearance and the fun final surprise at the end of the show. Then, “Finding Nemo-The Musical” was quite the stage show, mixing puppetry with live performances that made my mouth drop in amazement!

Before we left, we couldn’t resist having our pictures taken first with Pooh and Tigger, then with Minnie and Mickey at the new Town Square Theater’s “Backstage Magic with Mickey Mouse,” in the very same place as my first picture with Minnie in 1974.  I also picked up the perfect souvenir that was just what I wanted: a Dooney and Bourke wristlet in a special Disney World 40th anniversary print.

A newly revamped, super-appealing-sounding Fantasyland is in the works for next year, so hopefully it won’t be long until our next visit. One of us, though, might need some convincing. A vexing Comedy of Errors ran through the entire duration of the trip.  That led us not only to appreciate the durability of L.L. Bean’s washed Oxford shirts, but also to realize that we’re more at home at the Grand Floridian, the Wilderness Lodge or the Polynesian.

If you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary, special occasion, or any other “personal triumph,” Walt Disney World is the place to go!

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