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Sure, anyone can have a good time at Disney World when the sun is shining and the kids are healthy. But what about when it’s pouring rain and both kids come down with ear infections? Is the Magic Kingdom so magic that it can salvage an otherwise disastrous vacation? The short answer: not exactly. But with antibiotics and clearing skies, Disney World can still be fun for the whole family — albeit with a lot of extra whining. My husband, Chad, an associate at a large D.C. firm, and I know there is a certain risk in taking our children, well, anywhere. We fancied ourselves quite the daring travelers when we went on vacation to Williamsburg with our then 2-year-old son, Spencer. But that was nothing. There are two of them now. Rambunctious as ever, Spencer is 312 and his baby sister and sidekick Julia is 6 months old. Usually, Julia is the world’s easiest baby, but the day before our trip, she started running a fever and pulling at her ears. The diagnosis: ear infection. Somewhat reluctantly, her pediatrician cleared her to fly. “Give her Tylenol, and expect her to be fussy,” she told us. But we were determined to go. Several of Chad’s Boalt Hall law school friends were making the trip to Disney World for a long weekend. True, we’re the only ones of the bunch who have kids, but, we reasoned, if ever there was a family-friendly reunion, this was it. The timing wasn’t so great for other reasons. Chad had a trial coming up, and to get away from the office for four whole days (!), he worked until midnight every day for two weeks. On the eve of our trip, he stumbled home at 2:15 a.m. with a three-inch stack of briefs and cases to bring along. But hey — we were going to Disney World! At the airport, Spencer was almost hysterically excited, running down crowded corridors, climbing on chairs, and poking Julia. Once we boarded the plane, though, he settled down with a coloring book, while Julia nursed contentedly. But when we reached cruising altitude, she had what her day-care teachers like to call “a blowout.” First came ominous rumblings. Then, as I cuddled her on my lap, I looked down to see a large yellowish-brown stain spreading across the back of her Baby Gap overalls. Among the facilities sorely lacking on an airplane is anywhere to change a baby, especially one who requires a sponge bath and new set of clothes. “Why do we travel with our children?” I wondered, a question Chad and I would ponder repeatedly the rest of the trip. Chad took Spencer for a walk up and down the aisle while I laid Julia out across the row of seats. The passengers in adjacent rows averted their eyes. With the airsickness bag serving as a makeshift diaper pail, I managed to get Julia cleaned up and dressed in Outfit No. 2 before we began our descent into Orlando. Our hotel, Coronado Springs, was inside the park and, at $150 a night (including tax), is what Disney considers a “moderately priced” resort. Built around a 17-acre lake in faux Old Mexico style, Coronado Springs is no doubt lovely in the sunshine. There is a spectacular pool with a water slide and five-story Mayan pyramid, hammocks slung between palm trees along the lake’s white sand beaches, boats to paddle, and bikes to rent. The room, though, was nothing special — a pity, since that’s where we spent much of our time. As we settled in our first evening, I made a rookie mistake as a parent. I fed Julia until her little tummy was bursting, then attempted to give her a dose of medicine. With the first squirt of decongestant in her mouth, she gagged and, urp!, up came what appeared to be gallons of milk. She was drenched. I was drenched. The bed down to the mattress pad was drenched. Thank goodness for housekeeping services! With Julia in Outfit No. 3, we settled down to sleep. For an hour, until Julia woke up crying. Then again an hour later. And again. After about three blissful hours of uninterrupted sleep, it was Spencer’s turn to wake up weeping. “My ears! My ears hurt!” he cried. We gave him Tylenol and patted him until it was time to get up at 7. We were still late meeting our friends Griffin, Rosie, Kurt, and Chad F. for breakfast the next morning. They’d all gone out in Downtown Disney (“a place that pulses with all the energy and excitement of the best cities on the planet,” according to the Disney Web site) the night before, while Chad and I had drunk nothing stronger than Diet Coke. Still, they fairly glowed with vim and vigor, while we stumbled in haggard and bleary-eyed. Spencer whimpered throughout breakfast and refused to eat anything but Chad’s bacon. Julia played with her feet, then had another blowout. Our friends appeared to make mental notes not to have children. Outside, it was pouring rain — a fact that only confirmed our decision that going to the park was out of the question. We needed a doctor. The concierge at Coronado Springs had the drill down cold: Call this number for a van, which will take you to a drop-in clinic, Centra Care, located in a strip mall just outside the park. Although not owned by Disney World, Centra Care seems to exist on Disney’s weak and injured, running four vans full-time shuttling people to and from the park. We took our place in the waiting room between a woman with pink eye and a little girl with a cough of tubercular intensity. After an hour or so, it was Spencer’s turn to see the doctor. Friendly and professional, she took one quick look in each ear and told us what we already knew: ear infection. Miraculously, the clinic took our insurance and, within minutes, another van had come for us. The driver took us to a pharmacy and waited while we picked up our prescription for antibiotics and ear drops. We were back at Coronado Springs for lunchtime, our third meal in a row at the resort’s “Pepper Market” food court, which features a variety of cuisine that tastes like it comes from a food court. Spencer wouldn’t eat, cried about the pain in his ears, and lamented over and over again, “I’m never going to see Disney World.” It was still pouring, and although we hated to spend the day in our hotel room, Spencer desperately needed a nap. “I’m not tired! I don’t need a nap!” he sobbed, confirming just how badly he needed one. He passed out on the bed almost immediately and slept for three hours. Chad read briefs while Julia and I did laps around the hotel’s covered walkway, watching it rain. The only people I saw having fun were two boys, both dressed in swim trunks and goggles, playing on the lawn in the downpour. When Spencer woke up at 5, he was feeling somewhat better and the rain had tapered off. We decided to join our friends, who had spent the day getting soaked at Epcot and MGM Studios, for dinner in Downtown Disney. The east side of downtown is family-oriented, with a merry-go-round, trick fountains, and giant stores selling Legos and ubiquitous Disney merchandise. The west side has a mega-nightclub called Pleasure Island, a Virgin records superstore, and the Cirque du Soleil. We ate on the west side at House of Blues, an ostensibly adult-themed restaurant featuring Mississippi Delta cooking. But like every Disney restaurant, it had crayons, a place mat to color, and a children’s menu with the usual staples of chicken nuggets and hotdogs. As for the grown-up food, the meatloaf was spicy and delicious, served with rich mashed potatoes and tender asparagus, but the ribs were rubbery and undercooked. Perhaps the best thing about the restaurant, though, was that it was too loud to hear our children fussing. The next morning dawned cold, gray, damp, and windy, but at least it wasn’t raining. After a day on Zithromax and fortified by Tylenol and ear drops, Spencer seemed more or less recovered,so we decided to hit the Magic Kingdom. At $50 per adult and $40 for kids 3 to 9, admission to the park is not cheap. I thought about trying to pass Spencer off as 2 (what are they going to do, I.D. him?), but Chad vetoed the plan. Once inside, our first stop was the Disney clothes store, to buy our children overpriced hats to protect their infected little ears against the wind. Spencer, perhaps understandably disgusted that we had come to Disney World only to shop for clothes, was having none of it. He refused all hats, until we finally found a foam Buzz Lightyear helmet, which while not exactly a hat, did cover his ears. Heading down Main Street Disney, Julia looked around wide-eyed from her stroller, while Spencer charted a course straight for Cinderella’s castle. But when we got close, he had the same reaction I did when I went to Disney World as a little girl: What do you mean you can’t go in the castle? It’s just a backdrop? “It’s not fair!” he began to wail (everything to him these days is a question of fair versus unfair), but just as he began to get really worked up, he spotted the flying Dumbo ride around the corner. We tried to explain that while the line didn’t look very long, it actually looped around and around and around. Skeptical, he began to wail again, so we waited an endless half-hour for a one-minute ride. But after that, he took our word when we said a line was too long. The rest of the day was filled with a blurry succession of little-kid rides-the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, the Jungle Cruise, Snow White’s Scary Adventure (hint: not scary), the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Spencer loved them all, especially “the ones where you spin around,” and he seemed to have made a miraculous recovery. Seeing Disney World through his 3-year-old eyes, we couldn’t help but be charmed as well. Although the park is perfect for the preschool set, at not quite seven months, Julia was more or less indifferent to the spectacle. Of course, her idea of something really incredible is the family dog. The one thing that did strike a chord in her was the It’s a Small World ride. As soon as we sat in the boat and the big-headed wooden dolls started to sing, she came alive, bouncing, and chortling all the while. Although the day remained cold and overcast, we stayed until the park closed at 6 p.m. to watch the nightly fireworks show. Julia howled in terror, concluding, perhaps, that World War III had started, but Spencer, who had missed Fourth of July fireworks, was mesmerized. That night, we headed back to Downtown Disney for dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. The food is forgettable, but the restaurant features animatronic gorillas and elephants that come to life with beatings of the chests and wavings of the trunks every 10 minutes or so. Normally, this would have thrilled Spencer, but after a day at the Magic Kingdom, it barely made an impression. Back at the hotel, Spencer, Julia, and I all fell asleep exhausted, leaving Chad with a stack of work and a dark hotel room. He set up office in the bathroom and spent a grim hour or two reading cases. The next morning was bright, sunny, and beautiful. Naturally, it was time to go home. But our flight wasn’t until 6 p.m., so we were able to spend most of the day at the Animal Kingdom. Opened in 1998, the Animal Kingdom is a sort of zoo-plus-dinosaurs-meets-amusement park. The 20-minute safari ride in a jumbo jeep offered numerous sightings of real animals (as opposed to the almost painfully fake ones on the Jungle Cruise) in a landscape cleverly constructed to hide any trace of cages or enclosures. And the Boneyard Playground provided something lacking in the Magic Kingdom — a place for Spencer to run and climb. When our friends Griffin and Rosie offered to watch Julia, we decided to skip the kiddie rides and take Spencer on The Dinosaur. He barely cleared the 40-inch height requirement, and as we took our place in the car in the dark tunnel, Chad and I began to wonder if this was really such a good idea. Bumping, spinning, and roaring through the dark, past shooting lights and dinosaurs lunging at the car, Spencer gripped the bar in mute terror for the ride’s 312-minute duration. At the end, when we asked how he liked it, the best he could come up with was, “I bravely closed my eyes,” adding, “I do not want to do that again.” But like so many Disney rides, The Dinosaur exits through a gift shop. Quickly sensing our collective parental guilt for traumatizing him, Spencer made straight for a giant, stuffed Cearadactyl. How could we say no? Cearadactyl on his lap the whole way home, Spencer fell asleep on the plane alongside Julia. And in a rare moment of peace, Chad and I discussed the trip. If Disney World is this much fun when everyone is miserable, think what a good time we could have if everything went just right. But where’s the adventure in that?

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