Ancient castle ruins rock.
Mom and Dad may relish family time unplugged from workaday electronics, and grandparents admire the beauty of a rolling green landscape given over to rugged coastlines and pristine lochs, Highland ponies and paint-splotched sheep. But the ‘tween and teen set will be captivated by broken castle walls, windswept towers that harbor the perfect hiding place and the remains of a fortress that once shielded the Scottish crown jewels from Cromwell’s army and their 1649 siege.
On Adventures by Disney’s new family vacation to Scotland, an eight-night odyssey from Edinburg to the Scottish Highlands to the Isle of Lewis inspired by Disney Pixar’s 2012 Academy Award-winning animated feature film, “Brave,” kids will ooh and ah over lots of castle ruins. And all will follow in the footprints of Merida, the headstrong teen a millennium ahead of her time, to experience the magic of her homeland – and perhaps even change their fate.
A Scottish adventure comes to life
In this mystical, bonny land of bagpipes, burns and bens (the latter two the Scottish words for streams and mountains), multi-generation clans will find an adventure in storytelling come-to-life, a tour de force that casts a spell as intricate as the heirloom tapestry Merida and her mum, Queen Elinor, weave in the movie.
Practice your archery skills at Glamis Castle where the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother grew up. Ride ponies through the ancient Caledonian Forest at Rothiemurchus Estate where you’ll see the same trees Merida and her pony, Angus, gallop past. Play hide-and-seek with new friends at Dunnottar Castle – cliff-top castle ruins that inspired Merida’s family fortress in the movie. On the Isle of Lewis, cross into the circle of the Callanish Standing Stones, just as Merida does on her own journey. Magical and mysterious, the stone monument marks what is considered the most famous prehistoric site in Scotland.
This being Scotland, a visit to the Loch Ness Exhibition Center is a must. Six galleries uncover the hoaxes, eye witness accounts and illusions related to sightings of Nessie. The center, with its first-rate exhibits, interactive floor and underwater wave laser animation is a Scottish Tourism Board five-star attraction. This being Disney, the visit wouldn’t be complete without a canoe or boat excursion across Loch Ness, the deep freshwater lake where the elusive cryptid purportedly dwells. The scenery on this voyage is breathtaking, with sweeping views of forested shoreline, hills and glens dotted with sheep and mop-top Highland cattle, and the ruins of Urquhart Castle.
The ‘power of the mouse’
It is no secret that the name Disney opens magical kingdoms all over – and this is no less true in Scotland. Behind-the-scenes tours of castles. Exclusive access to places no other tours visit – like Dovecot Studios, a century-old specialist tapestry studio that has never before opened its doors to the public and where you can add some wee stitches to a tapestry depicting the characters from “Brave.” Specially arranged meals accommodating everyone’s food issues and accompanied by kilted musicians.
Another special Disney touch is the kids fun night, but the big kids are entertained, too. While junior adventurers join in a pint-size version of Highland games (Tug-of-War, a Wellie Boot Toss), the adults partake of grown-up fun, like a tutored tasting of what the Scots revere as the “water of life” – Scotch whiskey.
Tending to everything and everybody and dispensing local lore, jokes and room keys along the way are the Disney Adventure Guides. Equal parts tour director and storyteller, the highly trained Adventure Guides meet you on arrival, travel with you throughout, hand out lots of snacks on the motor coach (including the iconic and delicious Scottish tea cake, a marshmallow puff on a biscuit and covered in milk chocolate) and make each person feel like a VIP – children and adults alike.
Premium price – and adventure
Lots of TLC has gone into the planning and execution of Scotland: A Brave Adventure and it carries a premium price tag. Families are cosseted in the comfort and elegance of four and five star accommodations, like the tony Kingsclub Hotel & Spa in Inverness and the exquisite Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. Meals are more akin to events: picnic lunches on castle grounds or in an ancient woodland forest, hotel dinners overlooking cityscapes and at charming eateries favored by locals and set amidst picturesque surroundings.
The trip is worth every (British) pound and the fun begins even before you leave home, with the arrival of a Disney kit containing travel documents and backpacks for each adventurer. Every detail of the itinerary is attended to with an impeccable thoroughness and aplomb – from meeting you at the airport to whisking your luggage to your room to entertaining and genuinely caring for your kids.
And it concludes on a high note – with a twilight visit to Edinburgh Castle, perched high above the city on Castle Rock, a mountain that formed after a volcano erupted over 340 million years ago. Adventurers arrive as the day’s visitors are departing, storming the castle amidst the fanfare of bagpipe music and setting sun, for an exclusive peek at the Scottish crown jewels – the very ones rescued some 364 years ago at Dunnottar Castle – and a farewell feast befitting the royal setting.
There are lots of surprises along the way, including a visit by a certain riddle-spinning crone – the very one that confounded Merida. By trip’s end, everyone is blinged out with a lanyard bejeweled with the much-coveted Disney pins, from Mickey Mouse welcoming guests with a Scottish “Failte!” to Merida closing with a Gaelic blessing, “Turas math dhut!” (good voyage).
If You Go
Fans of the movie will have a chance to experience first-hand the history, culture, nature, legends and lore of Scotland that inspired Merida’s story on nine “Brave” departures in 2013: June 4-12; June 9-17; Jun 17-25; June 22-30; June 30-July 8; July 22-30; Aug. 4-12; Aug. 18-26; and Sept. 15-23.