ORLANDO, FLA. / / Is it possible to find peace at Walt Disney World?
The short answer -- at least to most parents -- is "No!" To trek through four attraction-filled theme parks with an eager-to-do-it-all child (or two) in hand is to ask for trouble. Add in the sauna-like summer heat, the wallet-busting concession prices and the interminable waits and you have got the perfect cocktail for a parental migraine.
Unless, of course, you learn to take a break. In no particular order, here are 10 of my favorite mini escapes -- places that offer a little bit of shade and quiet and an opportunity to rest your feet:
Afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian Spa & Resort's Garden View lounge. The setting is wonderfully Victorian and just a short ride on the monorail from the Magic Kingdom. The treats -- finger sandwiches, pastries, strawberries and cream and, of course, tea -- are delicious. And there's no minimum -- you can get by with just a reasonably priced pot of tea.
The firepit at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Yes, it's hot outside. But it's cool inside the lodge -- so cool that you will be inspired to sit around the firepit and watch the dancing flames. There's an outdoor one, too, perfect for those rare chilly nights.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority at the Magic Kingdom. OK, this is admittedly among the lamest rides at Disney -- a train that makes a long, slow loop around Tomorrowland. But it's so lame, it's, well, relaxing. And the train goes indoors for a brief bit -- a cool respite, indeed.
The petting zoo / stables at Fort Wilderness Resort. It costs nothing to visit, but the interaction it affords is priceless. Unlike the petting zoos at most traveling carnivals, this one is a class act -- the animals look well-groomed (and well-fed).
Frozen margaritas at EPCOT's Cantina de San Angel. On a scorching day, nothing beats "that frozen concoction that helps [you] hang on," to quote Jimmy Buffett. And the waterfront view at Cantina makes it seem all the more thirst-quenching.
The "Villains' Room" (a.k.a. the watch department) in Downtown Disney's World of Disney. If you can sneak away from the bedlam in the stuffed-animal department, you will find the decidedly more sedate (though villain-themed) timepiece section, with watches to suit every taste (and every budget).
The fishing hole at Port Orleans Resort. Even if you don't get a bite, there's nothing better than whiling away a couple of hours at this fully stocked fishing spot. But you better not mind baiting your hook with live worms.
The boat ride from EPCOT to Boardwalk. You might call this just another form of transportation, but when you ride this ferry at night, taking in the sights along the way, you will feel as if you are cruising the Seine River in Paris.
The Writers' Stop at Disney-MGM Studios. It's so small that you can't call it a cafe (even though it serves coffee) or a bookstore (even though it sells books and magazines). But it offers enough of each experience to somehow qualify as its own Starbucks-meets-Barnes & Noble equivalent within Disney.
Beaches and Cream at the Beach Club Resort. Maybe a scoop of ice cream isn't such a bad way to take a break, especially at this retro-minded ice-cream parlor. For a totally indulgent treat, go for the Kitchen Sink, a "sundae" that combines every flavor of ice cream and every topping the park offers. After a long day in the parks, you deserve it.