Saturday, April 8, 2017

WDW Wrap Up

You must be thinking that surely I have nothing left to say about Disney. You would be wrong...

We dropped Alaina off at the Orlando airport in plenty of time to catch her flight and we started to make our way home. By the time Kevin got us through another round of Orlando traffic, I was so exhausted I couldn't keep my eyes open. We both wanted to make it home, but I was literally incapable of driving. My plan was to get to Georgia and stop for the night. Kevin had other plans, and hauled all of us home, arriving just before 3am. I don't know how he did it, but I am glad he was able to, because it was good to have a reset day before I had to go to work that night. Stephanie even went to school, just arriving late. I hadn't planned on it, but she woke me up at 9am and told me she wanted to go.
I have some final thoughts on Disney, and then I am closing out the Disney series and moving on to our normal happenings.
1. Meal Plans: I am the only adult that strongly considered getting a meal plan. Ultimately, it was a great choice not to. Alaina assured me that the cafeteria lines in the hotel were outrageous and we saved big time and money doing it our way. HOWEVER, if I ever flew there with the kids and didn't have as easy access to food from home, I would reconsider the meal plan option.
2. Disney PhotoPass: Who needs that, right? Alaina and I aren't shy with our cameras and are intent on capturing everything! Since we weren't leaving the cameras at home no matter what, we thought we should skip the PhotoPass, even though it came recommended by several people. Ultimately, this is my one and only true regret. I didn't know it would include so much, specifically all of your ride photos (if you scan your magic band when yours is on the screen) and they had photographers everywhere to get group shots. Alaina ended up purchasing a few a la carte, including some on Space Mountain. I love how bored Stephanie looks on her second ride (the one with me and Alaina). You can always buy the PhotoPass later, but since we didn't pre-purchase it, we didn't utilize it well, so we missed a lot of photo opportunities and thus decided that purchasing it after the fact wasn't worthwhile.

3. Weekends: We were not able to skip going to the parks on the weekend, but if I definitely would if I had that kind of time. Show up on a Sunday, spend a fun hotel/pool day and then kick off Disney on a Monday.
4. Hotel Pool: We didn't have enough time to spend much time at the hotel, which was fine by me. If we ever take a more leisurely trip, I think I would like to plan a day off of parks at the pool to reset.
5. Shirts: I wanted to get Stephanie a distinctly Disney Star Wars shirt. This didn't, oddly enough, exist at Disney. The shirts could have been from anywhere but cost a Disney premium. I ended up making her a shirt when we got home, but I wish I had known to do it before and had a few with me to give her while we were there. This is the only picture I have of her in it, from my phone. She likes it a lot more than her expression would indicate...

I think that is about it! A lot of life has happened since Disney, but I have really wanted to finish this adventure before I posted anything else. And it is done! Hooray!

WDW Day 5: Animal Kingdom

Monday was our bonus day at Disney. Alaina's flight was around 5:00 on Monday, and I had to be back at work Tuesday night, so initially we had planned on not doing parks on Monday. However, adding an additional park day ticket at this point was only about $15 a ticket, so even a partial day was a good deal. It also allowed us to get two full Magic Kingdom days in, in lieu of doing four parks in four days. Kevin and I had argued that the bonus day should be Magic Kingdom but Alaina insisted she thought a partial day at Animal Kingdom would be enough. She convinced us, and it was a good decision. You could surely happily spend a full day at Animal Kingdom, but I felt like we got to see and do a nice amount with the time we had. I think the thing we missed most by having less time there were the shows- they had lots of trained birds, and put on some pretty cool shows with them (We saw pieces of several). There is also the highly rated Lion King show that we missed.
At this point in the trip, Gwen had been running on little to no naps for too many consecutive days, and she was a bit of a handful. I had to leave a Dumbo-type ride with both girls when Gwen had a fit because they wouldn't let her ride in her own seat. Stephanie handled it like a champ, simply noting that the ride was just like Dumbo and Aladdin's Magic Carpet.
We also met our first ride that Stephanie was too small for, the Primeval Whirl. Kevin and Alaina went on it first, and when they described it as a combination of teacups and a rollercoaster, I happily handed over my parent switch pass and they went a second time. There was also a walking safari/zoo experience which I didn't feel that into- as I was starting to be done with all the walking. However, we went, and it was totally worth it. They had incredibly large bats that were so impressive- and they were from tropical climates and not nocturnal, so they were out and stretching and moving. The walk ended in an aviary, and there was an impressive number of birds. There was also an impressive amount of bird poop. Once both kids had been pooped on, we skedaddled out of there.
We, of course, did not miss the safari. We went right to it, as the animals are most active in the morning, and it didn't disappoint. Alaina enjoyed it so much, she went a second time while we took the kids to see Bug's Life.
My favorite ride was Dinosaur. I think it won me over because they really achieved the effect of the ride even when standing in line- and that was something that sold me on so many of the Disney rides.
Kevin and Alaina loved the Primeval Whirl (Aren't they lucky I let them go twice!), and Stephanie was 100% Expedition Everest.
By the end of the day, around 3:00, Gwen was toast. She took off running during a bird show, barefoot and crying. I mention this because it tells you something about Disney. I grabbed her up, knowing that her feet were going to be just filthy, as I have seen them after walking through a grocery store or even church barefoot. But her feet were totally clean! I had heard they hose everything down at the end of the day, and they must really scrub that place!
It was shortly after this that Stephanie had her first and only Disney meltdown. She misunderstood something Kevin told her and lost it a bit. BUT Alaina saved the day with a Mickey Mouse ice cream sandwich, and we headed out.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

WDW Day 4: Back to Magic Kingdom

At this point in the trip, I think we were all starting to be worn out. Kids were not going to bed until after 9 every night, up again at 7, and then having busy and exciting days, and the adults were getting less sleep than normal. But exhaustion doesn't matter when you get to spend another day at the Magic Kingdom! Seriously, except for a few minor episodes with Gwen, you wouldn't have known that all of us were running on fumes.
I was SO excited to see my planning for Super Bowl Sunday at the Magic Kingdom come to fruition, which was declared to be one of the best days to go to Magic Kingdom. If the first day was good, this day was going to be GREAT! And then we cruised up to the Magic Kingdom on the bus and I saw the enormous crowds of people waiting to get in, and it was still really early. My heart SANK! I was through security really quickly with the bags but it took forever for everyone else to get through security, and the day was feeling like it might end up being busted. BUT, we gathered our crew and started in on our plan. This time we had morning fast passes, so we knocked those out and then started scheduling our afternoon ones. They were far harder to schedule than our first day, because of the increased numbers of people, but we had held onto a few of our paper fast passes for the parent switch and used those to fill in extra time. Ultimately, we noticed that it was more crowded than our first day, but it ended up not hindering us much. It really helped that we had already had a day there and were familiar with the layout and the rides.
I really wanted to go on Peter Pan's Flight again, but that was way too popular. We did wait in line for Pooh's Honeypot ride, by far the longest we waited for any ride in any of the parks, about 45 minutes. I really liked the ride, so it was worth it and we didn't have anything else scheduled.
Also, because of the crowds, we did a few things we likely wouldn't have done otherwise, including the Carousel of Progress and the Laugh Floor. The Carousel of Progress was, well, a good time to sit in the cool dark and take a break while experiencing a very odd animatronics story of the decades. The Laugh Floor was funny and again offered some nice sitting time.
That night we ate at the Cuban Restaurant in Downtown Disney. The food and the entertainment was great! Stephanie picked chicken nuggets as her kids meal, and I was a little bummed that she went with something so boring- but they ended up being chicken bites they made there. They looked delicious.
I preferred eating at Downtown Disney for travel purposes- you can catch a bus back to any resort from there. I also thought the servings of food were larger than the other meals we had and that the prices were ever so slightly more reasonable, but that may have been unique to the Cuban restaurant and not to Downtown Disney in general.

Let's start photos with a little Battle of the Cameras-  I can't believe we got this photo with no one in the background. The first is Alaina's picture, the second is mine.

Small World ride- I think the first ride we got on that day.

After NOT getting this picture from Splash Mountain the first day, I had myself appropriately staged and finally got a picture.

Also I managed some Big Thunder photos!

The teacups... I passed, again.

Gwen loved Dumbo. There were several rides exactly like Dumbo, but none were as adored as Dumbo.

Stephanie took a few of Alaina and I.

And a nice family shot

Entertainment at the restaurant. Stephanie didn't want to do the napkin dance initially, but we insisted. She ended up really enjoying parading around the restaurant with the dancers.

One day park day left!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

WDW Day 3: Hollywood Studios

Day 3! And we were still holding up great, but we had heavy pressure on this third day to be on the move to rush the park gates when they opened to sign Stephanie up for Jedi Training. At this point, we had mastered the getting into the park situation, and I went through the bag line with our things while Alaina, Kevin, Gwen and Stephanie went through the faster no bag line. They then zoomed to stand in line to get her a Jedi training spot, which, of course, worked out just fine, since we were still crushing it.
Hollywood Studios was Kevin's favorite park. It is smaller, and part was under renovation, so we had plenty of time to get good coverage of the park. Our first ride was the Tower of Terror (Alaina AND Kevin's favorite of the day), which I declined to do the last time I was at Disney. At this point, I had come to the conclusion that I could actually physically handle all the rides, so I did it. The ride had great atmosphere. It was creepy from beginning to end. I stayed behind with Gwen initially, and I went into the area behind the gift shop that I thought they would exit from, and there was a moment that I really thought I had wandered into an area that I shouldn't be, as they kept the creepy hotel basement vibe alive even through the exit of the ride.
Hollywood Studios is well on it's way to fully owning the Star Wars Franchise, so there are Stormtroopers everywhere and we all enjoyed the multiple marches with the Stormtroopers as well as the occasional interaction with them in their persona as the police of Hollywood Studios.
The Star Tours ride was an early ride for our fast pass, and I initially thought it was a super cool and super fun ride. The ride itself mostly took advantage of 3D glasses (a bit of a theme at Hollywood Studios, as we discovered) and jostled you around a bit, but after the ride, I couldn't shake the queasiness that set in during the ride. I felt crummy until after lunch (literally closing my eyes during the 3D muppet show because even that simply felt like too much after the Star Wars ride), but lunch kicked the queasiness to the curb and I was feeling fine by noon. At that point, we had fast passes to the Rock N Roller Coaster, but I was a big NO THANK YOU after the long recovery from a fairly harmless ride. Stephanie was too small (only one of two rides in all of the parks) so Alaina and Kevin got to ride twice. When Alaina described the ride as "forcing the tears from my eyes", I knew I made a good choice to do two other agenda items with the kids. First we got to meet Olaf (which was only a 5 minute wait at the time we were walking past- because we were still crushing it!). Gwen was so excited to meet Olaf, but wouldn't go near him. I did get cute pictures of Stephanie with him though. We also went to the Frozen show. We ended up, thanks to a last minute diaper change, being among the last in the theater, so our seats were right up front at a very awkward stage angle (felt like we were crushing it less at that point), but the show was fantastic! It makes me realize that I probably missed many fantastic shows in my pursuit of all the rides- but I still don't regret pursing the rides heavily!
Stephanie also got to do the Jedi Training (you know, why we rushed into the park)- which involves going on stage with a group of about 30 other kids and being "trained" to be a Jedi. Ultimately, they get to fight either Darth Vader or the Seventh Sister. If you don't know who the Seventh Sister is, join the club. Stephanie ended up fighting her, and I was SO disappointed for her. After the whole thing, she expressed absolutely no disappointment at not fighting Darth Vader, which made me feel so much better. She just had a blast being up there for the training, which is all I needed to happen.
Next we fast passed Toy Story Mania, and I have to say this was probably my favorite ride in all 4 parks. I think this is partly because I had no expectations for the ride, and we all came off of it and declared that we all MUST GO AGAIN! So we waited in the "45" minute line (ended up being closer to 20) and then waited in line again, because we all got such a kick out of it. The line being shorter than advertised was a bonus, because that was the only line we waited in the whole time that was significantly different than the posted wait times. But hey, when you are crushing Disneyworld, I think you should expect this kind of thing!
The last big moment came as a result of my hunt for Star Wars pressed pennies. We hadn't wandered into one last Star Wars area, and we did so because I wasn't satisfied with the pressed pennies options in the other areas. It was there that we realized we could meet Chewbacca after a short 20 minute wait and then check out some Star Wars memorabilia. I would have liked to have had more time in the area, but it was time to head out for church and dinner. BUT Alaina found some excellent pressed pennies while we were in line for Chewbacca, so mission accomplished!
We drove off site that night for church and decided to eat dinner off site since we were already out. I think the most stressful part of the trip was this part- between church being hard with Gwen (no nap on Day 3!) and GPS really not wanting to cooperate with our chosen destination, it was exhausting and frustrating. BUT Alaina got to introduce me to the joys of the Fuddruckers kids meal (which is a crazy amount of food for most sdults at kid's meal prices) and we all made it back to our hotel in one piece. I like to think if it as a lesson- NEVER leave the site of Disney- Orlando is WAY less magical!

Stephanie was a little hesitant about the Stormtroopers at first. He helped coerce her into a photo...

There we go!

I love pressed pennies, but they are even more lovable at WDW- $0.51 for a souvenir that you make yourself! Woot!

Trying on some ears!

And then Stephanie did a lot of Jedi training-

And then we met Olaf!

And then begins the series of photos in which Gwen stares at Star wars characters...

Best family portrait yet? Maybe!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

WDW Day 2: Magic Kingdom

In what can only be described as a wise decision, we spent two full days at Magic Kingdom. I purposely selected Super Bowl Weekend for visiting Disney, as I had read that that Super Bowl Sunday historically had some of the lowest crowds of the year. Our first day at Magic Kingdom was a Friday, and it was totally uncrowded. We showed up as the opening ceremonies were beginning, but Alaina and I had a plan, so we lined up to head into Adventureland.  Stephanie wanted to see the opening ceremonies, and I regret not taking the time to do that. First, I was really excited to get her on some rides and I figured we would have time to catch it on our second day. With such low crowds, getting on rides was easy, and we were too late to see it on the second day, so we really should have checked out the opening ceremonies. Our first ride was Aladdin's magic carpet, mostly because it was the first one in Adventureland and I wanted to get the kids on a ride right away. As you will come to learn over the next few posts, I am obsessed with the rides. This means I likely missed much of the other things Disney had to offer. However, I don't regret missing those things, because I really loved the rides- and we rode every single ride in every single park (not every single one of us, but everyone in our party covered all of the rides)- and I count that as an enormous success.
There are several fast pass strategies, and we tried two different ones on each of the days. What would work best would likely depend on the crowds, and I think that is hard to predict. Initially, you can only schedule 3 fast passes, at least one hour apart. After you use all three, you can get on your phone and schedule another. You may schedule one at a time, but there are no limits to how long between after you use up the first three. Morning lines are fairly short, so having fast passes to those isn't that helpful, but it allows you to use up your first three by about 11am, at which point you can start scheduling more. The second strategy is to take advantage of short lines in the morning, preschedule afternoon fast passes, and not have the ability to fast pass more until later in the day. Fast passes do "sell out", so there is a chance that by waiting too late you won't get the rides you want. We tried the later strategy on the first day, and I think it was an excellent choice for a low attendance day. We zipped through a bunch of rides first thing, had some lunch and then burned through our three fast passes in the afternoon. At that point, we were literally walking onto a ride with our phones in hand, scheduling the next fast pass for 15 minutes later. It was somewhere around then that Alaina decided we needed a blog, which she entitled "". And we really crushed it. Magic Kingdom is set up in lands, and the rides are heavily concentrated, so there was much less running around than Epcot. Over the two days, we rode every ride in the park, most more than once. Another very good decision was packing our lunch in. Disney has no problem with that, our lunch was easy and available and quick. It saved time, money and decision making chaos. Once again, our little magic ticket Gwendolyn really paid off. We actually held onto a few of our "extra" parent switch fast passes (they are paper) to use on Sunday, and that was really wise, as Sunday was much busier and we used those passes to fill time when we weren't able to closely back up fast passes.
Another major time saver at Disney is to have kids that don't care about photos with the characters. Stephanie was totally disinterested- and we saved a bundle of time and ended up with no pictures with (creepy, IMO) princesses. Gwen may be a different story in a few years, but it was really nice to skip all of that, since it isn't my thing either-clearly. The last thing that helped us with time and mobility was skipping bringing a stroller. This was a non-issue for Stephanie, but Gwen could have never made it around the park on foot. I was armed with an Ergo, and did indeed tote her around in that when she did nap, but the vast majority of her transportation was on Kevin's shoulders. I know this wouldn't work for everyone, but it was great for us.
Favorite Rides: Krista= Peter Pan's Flight and The Pooh Honeypot ride. Stephanie= Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. Gwen= Barnstormer RollerCoaster (which was way faster than I expected for a "kiddie" coaster) and Dumbo. Alaina= Big Thunder Mountain. Kevin= Space Mountain
I also enjoyed the fact that I was able to do all of the rides and coasters and not be motion sick. Many offered some woozy moments for me, but nothing was too intense. Instead, Disney is good at creating interesting rides with a lot to see, which is perfect for me. A surprising number of the rides were very similar (I am looking at you, boat rides) but had totally different themes and all felt different. Also, Disney is great about making you feel like you aren't standing in line, and I enjoyed standing in line and figuring out how Disney had manipulated me into not feeling like it was really a line. It helped that we actually spent very little time in line. Also, we had spectacular February weather, which has to make everything easier and more comfortable. 
That night, we ate at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We were able to take a bus straight from Magic Kingdom, but in order to get to our hotel, we had to bus it back to Magic Kingdom and then to our hotel. It was extra travel at the end of the long day. I enjoyed the ambience and the food, but much preferred Sunday night when we ate at Downtown Disney, as the transportation was easier. We also drove into Magic Kingdom minutes before fireworks started. The timing was perfect (crushing it!) and unintentional. However, it was uniformly agreed on that we were all a bit exhausted and Stephanie was anxious to go to the pool, so we watched the fireworks from the bus as we drove away. We didn't get to do any of the firework shows any of the nights, but it is tough with such long days and little kids, but I would add it to my regrets list.   

One of our better family photos!

Okay, I take back what I said about not feeling sick after a ride. This picture almost makes the teacups worth it, but it was the last time I went on them. The rest of my party went several times, and apparently Kevin "took it easy" on the spinning for my ride. Gwen and Stephanie couldn't wait to go on them again, so hopefully my motion sickness has skipped them.

This ride was a pleasant surprise. It is on top of a little food place in Tomorrowland. There is no fast pass for it, but the line was short. You had great views of the park from up here.

Gwen fell asleep on me and we didn't get to go in the carousel. But it looks like everyone else had fun.

And back to the teacups- and this time they had a photographer.

How Gwen begged to drive the little cars. We didn't think we would have time, until we started crushing it! Seriously, we did about 4 more rides at the last minute than we could have possibly had time for. We were able to fastpass them minutes apart and zip through them.

Another favorite of Gwen's. She is still talking about riding the elephant.

Waiting for the bus for dinner.

Stephanie's special dessert treat at Sanaa.