Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Independence Day

I had a lot of mixed feelings leading up to the Fourth of July this year.  We had definite Fourth of July traditions when we lived in Massachusetts, and the Fourth was one of my favorite holidays.  I have such fond memories of celebrating with family.  With this being our first year not being able to participate.. well, I was worried that I'd be totally bummed out all long-weekend.

Thankfully, it turned out really great.  Doug had Friday, July 3rd off since the 4th was on Saturday.  Since the 3rd is our anniversary, it was really nice to get to spend the day with Doug.  We mostly just relaxed around the house, but around 5:30pm, we headed over to Magic Kingdom.  The plan was to have Doug and the kids use Fast Passes for some rides while I found and held a good spot for the fireworks - Magic Kingdom does their Fourth of July fireworks on the 3rd, as well.  We've never been in the park on a really busy day, so I wasn't quite sure how it would go, but we figured we'd give it a shot.

Well, we found a nice spot in the grass right when we walked in, so I parked the stroller, spread out some things, and sat down - Doug headed off to do some rides with the kiddos.  As I was sitting there, however, I noticed huge, black storm clouds moving our way.  After a bit, I started noticing lightning.  Over the next hour, the storm got closer and closer, and the lightning was starting to worry me a little.  Finally, the skies opened and everyone bolted for the nearest covered areas.  I managed to fight my way through the Tomorrowland Terrace area, then met up with Doug and the kids in Auntie Gravity's for some ice cream.  We slowly made our way closer to the hub, stopping under whatever shelter we could find.  Finally the rain slowed to a sprinkle, but the lightning continued.

We decided to go snag a spot in the hub again, and found a good spot in the grass.  We waited there in the rain until 8:50pm, when they announced that the fireworks were delayed.  We waited through two more delay messages (it seemed like they were doing them every 10 minutes or so), before finally giving up.  We got Chick-Fil-A on the way home, as consolation for missing the fireworks.  They finally did them around 10pm, just as we were nearing home.  It turned out that the lightning show made a lot of news sites, which I found kind of strange because there are thunderstorms all the time down here.. I guess it was just the right timing for a news story?  Great pictures, though!

(photo from @mego_rex)

We had friends over on the Fourth, though, which was so much fun.  Their anniversary is the 5th, and the husband was out of town for the weekend, so we thought we would be lonely together.  We kept it pretty simple, but I did set out some fun snacks.  We had chips, queso, and salsa, boxes of Cracker Jacks, and I made some whipped cream (oh my gosh, homemade whipped cream is the best, isn't it?), berries, and graham crackers to make flags.  I'm not a big fan of graham crackers, but these were delicious.

We also did our red, white, and blue punch but I forgot to take a picture until most of the blue was gone.  I love this trick, mainly because guests are always super impressed with it.

Mainly the kids played inside and swam in the pool, but the girls also made wind socks with cardstock and crepe paper.  

Burgers, hot dogs, sausages, and more fruit and chips were what we had for lunch, and everyone was pretty satisfied.  It was so nice having company over to distract us and remind us that we're not 'all alone' down here, because I think it would have been a pretty sucky Fourth without friends.  

After dinner, we decided to try going to watch the fireworks again.  Plan A was to try to park at the Poly and watch them from one of the resorts on the monorail loop.  Plan B was to park at the TTC but watch from one of the monorail resorts.  Plan C was to go up behind Magic Kingdom to the cast member parking lot and watch from there.  Obviously, we had to go with Plan C - the resorts were only letting guests staying there or with dining reservations park, and while we could have gotten into the TTC (Magic Kingdom was closed for capacity, but they still let passholders in), it was raining again and I didn't want to stand out in the rain while waiting for a tram.  The cast member parking lot worked out really, really well.  There were plenty of other families doing the same thing, but it didn't feel crowded.  The fireworks were really close, and we even had reflective surfaces to add to the wow, thanks to the puddles.  I was also smart enough to queue up last year's show on YouTube so we could listen to the music with my phone.  And the big bonus was being able to hop right in the car and be home a half hour later.

All in all, it was an awesome holiday weekend!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Fiona's 7th Birthday

Fiona turned 7!  I was so, so excited about her birthday, because we planned a mother-daughter overnight in a Royal Room at Port Orleans!  There wasn't much prep for this birthday, but I did have to stay up until 1am to book Fast Passes for the weekend (we wanted some hard-to-get ones), and I had to spend a fair bit of time researching Disney World birthday cakes, then spend some time corresponding with the cake people to get that settled.  The big thing was sewing Fiona a Cinderella dress.  It actually gave me a lot of trouble and I may have had a temper tantrum or two, but it got done in the end.

We headed over to Port Orleans to check in on Saturday, the day before her birthday, around lunch time.  We ended up getting delayed because I forgot my license and had to turn around - which wasn't itself a problem because I realized early - but the road going in the other direction was closed due to an accident, so we had to take a detour that took nearly 45 minutes, instead of what should have been maybe 5-10 minutes.  But we got there in the end, and the cast member that checked us in was super nice.  I had booked a pool view room but they were booked, so they gave us a refund and a garden view room.  She handed Fiona a scroll and told her that she was very lucky, because she was going to get to stay in the very room that Tiana uses when she invites the other princesses over for sleepovers!  Fiona totally believed it and was thrilled.

The room was in the mansion section of Port Orleans, which we had never checked out before.  The room itself was absolutely amazing.  I can't believe such an elaborately themed room was at a moderate resort!  We had so much fun looking at all the details.  The story goes that each princess gave Tiana something special to furnish her room with.  So there's dinglehoppers in the bathroom, a magic carpet on the floor, a carved wooden mirror from Snow White, a genie's lamp for a faucet, etc.  The really cool bit was the headboard, which lights up in a dazzling fireworks display.

We took a quick dip in the quiet pool, but couldn't spend too long because we had a date to meet the boys at Epcot!  We experienced some amazing timing and came through the (separate) bag checks at exactly the right time, so no waiting around for either of us.  First up was Spaceship Earth, then we met Mickey and friends at the Character Spot.  Goofy noticed Fiona's Happy Birthday button and began 'conducting' so his photographer serenaded Fiona with a lovely rendition of Happy Birthday.  She was incredibly embarrassed, but pleased.  We had time before our Soarin' Fast Pass, so we hit Club Cool, then went over to Mexico to ride the Gran Fiesta Tour.  The kids absolutely love that ride, for some reason.

Soarin' was fun, as usual.  We also watched the Circle of Life movie, mainly to rest our feet and kill a little more time.  Everyone was getting hungry at that point, so we went back to Port Orleans for dinner.  Doug and I love their pulled pork sandwiches, otherwise we probably would have eaten in Epcot.  We swam in the pool for a while, then headed back to the room to change so the boys' could go home dry.  Niall was really upset that he couldn't stay, the poor thing.  I stood by what I had promised Fiona, that it was just a mommy-daughter thing, but I really felt like I had set Niall up to be disappointed (hey, come swim at our awesome resort, and hang out in our amazing room.. then bye-bye!).  Well, Doug handled it wonderfully, and Fiona and I really enjoyed cuddling and watching some TV before going to sleep.

We didn't have to be anywhere in the morning, so we took our time getting ready - which included manicures and pedicures for both of us.  The boys met us in our room right before check-out and we all headed over the pool after loading the car with our luggage.  We spent a good two hours or so swimming, then ate lunch in the food court again.  Doug took the boys home to change and rest a bit (and play with Luna).  Fiona and I spent a good bit of time browsing in the gift shop, then drove over to the French Quarter to check that out (we'd never been before).  It was pretty cool, but not really my style.  We sat in the lobby for a bit trying to decide what to do next.  Fiona said she wanted ice cream, so I told her we could get ice cream there, or go to Magic Kingdom early, or go back to Port Orleans, or even go back home.  She said she was tired, and just wanted to go back to Port Orleans to get some ice cream and color (they have a coloring area and TV set up in the dining area of the food court).  We killed a good hour or so doing that, and then tried to give a picture she'd colored to the CM who had checked us in the day before.  Unfortunately, she'd gone home for the day, but we had a lovely conversation with a different CM about the Royal Rooms and she promised to deliver the picture.

So we headed over to Magic Kingdom for the big celebration.  We took some pictures of her with Cinderella's Castle in the background, then rode the carousel.  We have got finding Cinderella's horse down to a science - Niall and I got to it first and 'held' it for Fiona - she was so pleased.  After the carousel, we did Journey of the Little Mermaid, another of her favorites.  We were getting quite close to our ADR at Tony's Town Square so we hustled in that direction - until Niall got a gusher of a bloody nose.  We had to sit down and deal with that for a good 10 minutes, which put us quite close to being late for our reservation.  Our kids are troopers, though, and we made it to the check-in desk just in time.

The waiting area at Tony's was mobbed.  It was crazy!  I've always heard less than favorable reviews about the place, so I wasn't expecting it to be so packed.  The kids really liked being able to watch a movie while we waited (Lady and the Tramp is one of Fiona's favorites, which is why we picked Tony's), and Doug and I were just happy to be in the AC with free ice water.

Our waitress was super nice, and the food was actually pretty good.  Fiona devoured her food, so she must have really worked up an appetite.  I loved the atmosphere of the restaurant the most, though, with all the Lady and the Tramp pictures and the fountain in the middle.  The highlight, though, was when they brought out the cake.  Fiona was not expecting anything special (I just told her it would be a plain cake), and while we didn't spend a lot of money on a fondant cake from Disney, or a lot of time on a fondant cake from me, she was over the moon about this cake!

The gel layer was pretty gross tasting, but it peeled off easily and the cake was fresh and tasted good.  From my reading online, I learned that if you order a yellow cake with vanilla frosting or a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, you usually end up with a stale, frozen Sara Lee type cake, so I ordered a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.  When describing the image I wanted on top, I said I wanted Ariel, preferably as a mermaid, not cropped from a group shot of all the princesses, taking up the entire top of the cake.  I figured that would eliminate the few 'wrecky' ones I'd seen (a small square photo on a big round cake, or one cropped from a group photo with other princesses elbows and what not in the picture).  We ate about half of it and they put the rest in a box for us to bring home.

After dinner, our timing was a little tight.  We had to get behind the castle for our Fast Pass to meet Anna and Elsa (the boys had never met them), then get to the Fast Pass viewing area for the fireworks.  The princesses were both sweet (Anna moreso, as usual), and then we practically ran out of there.  Thankfully, there are always lots of Cast Members to direct people in the hub before the fireworks, because we had no idea where to go to get into the viewing area.  But I have to say - this was a wonderful use of a Fast Pass.  We got to sit in the grass, nobody was in our way, and we were able to have a (mostly) unobstructed view of the show on the castle before the fireworks.  Tinkerbell flew pretty much right over our heads.

We didn't dilly-dally afterwards, like we've done other times.. we were tired and just wanted to get home.  The cake made it home in one piece and the kids were able to enjoy it the next day.  It was a really awesome weekend, and Fiona said it was the best birthday ever.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Time Flies

Life with a puppy is chaotic.  We're slowly getting used to it, especially since she's getting older as we go and not peeing inside quite as often.  Luna is adorable, obviously, but wow, did I forget how exhausting raising a puppy is.  It's like when you have a baby after having a few years without having to deal with diapers and bottles and everything (wait, I don't actually know what's that like.. oops).  Having done it all before, you know what it entails, but it's not until you're actually IN IT again that you remember how much you would long to be able to just go to the bathroom whenever you want, without making care arrangements for a small creature who may get into untold amounts of trouble if left alone.

The extra company at night is welcome, though.  She mostly sleeps starting around 9pm.  Her preferred sleeping position is somewhere under one of us, though, and she spends the whole evening trying to get there.

Luna is surprisingly catlike, though, which I wasn't expecting.  Should I lie down on the floor with a book, she will bring over a bone and lie down on the book, as if paper and a hardcover is the ultimate in comfort for a growing dog.

She is eager to learn, though.  Sometimes we'll watch videos our browse websites that go along with our lessons from the floor, and she has to be included.  She especially liked learning about trade in the ancient Indus Valley cities.

The littles remain the most smitten with her, though.  No matter how often she nibbles on them or jumps at them, they keep coming back for more.  Don't get me wrong, the big kids love her, too, but because they spend more time walking her, feeding her, and generally supervising her, they're happy to give Luna her space.  Not Niall and Fiona, though!  They will literally just lie down on the floor next to her while she sleeps or chews on a bone and just watch her.  Niall uses his cutesy baby voice and coos at her.  So cute.

The cats are slowly forgiving us for getting a dog.  They still avoid Luna for the most part, but the will occasionally come say hello to us if Luna is asleep.  At night, Moxie will follow me into the bathroom when I get up, and rest in the sink until I get back into bed.

In non-animal news, I gave Fiona a haircut!  It's not perfect, but better than going to the hair salon.  I really should have waited until after her birthday, but she asked me to, and she's so much happier for it.  She can actually brush her own hair now (her hair is super thick and hard to brush).  She looks a bit more grown-up now.

Doug and I have been taking it in turns to spend one-on-one time with the kids, usually at one of the Disney parks.  When we take the littles, they are more talkative than usual, and really thrive on having our undivided attention.  I especially liked taking Colwyn, though - and not just because I got to ride the roller coasters for once.  I haven't gotten to ride anything with Colwyn for years because I always have to sit with the littles.  It was such a different experience riding even the family rides with him and hearing his jokes, rather than the littles'.

We usually get them a treat while we're out (Lachlann below with a Dole Whip), but other than that, we don't spend money there.  We could conceivably not spend anything, but come on.. how can you go to Disney and not get a treat?

Doug took Colwyn and Lachlann to Star Wars Weekends one morning recently.  They were home by mid-afternoon and Doug couldn't stop talking about how insane the crowds were.  I think they enjoyed it, though.. they caught the parade and one of the Rebels shows.

We went again the other evening to catch the fireworks as well as the Obi Wan and Beyond show.  Doug took the big kids to that while I took the littles to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show.  We'd never seen it before, so Fiona had no idea what to expect.  It starts with puppets (like in the Finding Nemo show), but when the live-action Ariel came onstage to sing, Fiona was just awestruck.  The look on her face was just priceless, and she even leaned over to whisper to me, "Should we wave?" while Ariel was singing.  Such sweetness.. and I really don't ever get to see that kind of awe and delight on her face anywhere other than at Disney.  That makes it sound like she's depressed or something, and that's not what I mean.. just that Disney brings it to a whole 'nother level.

We also watched the Frozen sing-along again, and it turned out to be a really good show.  The audience was very enthusiastic and engaged, which obviously makes it better.  But the hosts were great, as always, and Fiona laughed her little head off.  Doug and I enjoyed it an awful lot, too, but we really enjoy bad jokes and puns.  Then it was time for the fireworks, which were amazing.  We got a great spot near 50's Prime Time - couldn't see the stage show, but we didn't care about that anyway.  The timing or choreography or whatever was excellent (it's all set to Star Wars music, obviously), and there were some fireworks there that I'd never seen before.

Moving on from Disney news.. the kids have been really enjoying their lessons lately.  We've been having fun with ancient world history, using the Usborne Internet Linked Encyclopedia of World History as our framework and bringing in other books and activities (and obviously websites) to supplement.  Above is a shaduf that they made - above all, they really loved yelling "Shaduf!" in various weird voices.

Science-wise, we've been spending time on geology and earth science in general.  I already had a bunch of minerals and fossils, so we identified those, then we found a mineral store at Old Town, Kissimmee and got some geodes to break open.  They enjoyed that activity immensely and have been talking about careers in geology.  Which, of course, will pass as soon as we go on to the next topic, but it's really sweet.

We've been getting a taste of summer heat, but it's not terrible yet.  We've been spending a lot of time in the pool and sandbox.  Luna really enjoys the sandbox, which is funny.  Niall loves when I bring the waterproof camera in the pool, because I let him fool around with a bit - that's his first selfie above.  What a funny kid.

That brings us up to the present, and thank goodness, because this weekend is Fiona's birthday and we have a LOT of fun stuff planned, so hopefully I'll manage to blog about that relatively soon after it all happens.  Okay, don't hold your breath.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Niall's Birthday, Part Two - Legoland

We headed down to Legoland for the first time today, as part of Niall's birthday (he skipped having a birthday party to do this). I had a hard time finding good, solid info ahead of time, so I was really worried about how it would go, but it turned out awesome.

We got there a little late. We were just getting out of the car at 10am, and we had to stop to pick up our homeschool tickets (an amazing deal, btw, if you homeschool). We were going to do Lego City (Driving School and Boating School - Flying School was closed), but the maps suck and by the time we found ourselves in the Technic area, we decided to just do those rides instead of doubling back. We rode Project X twice (walk-on both times), Wave Racers twice (didn't even get off the after the first time), and only waited through one cycle for Technicycle. 

Then we went into Lego City (oh, after stopping to buy flip flops for my Fiona, as hers broke). It was probably close to 11 by that point. There was no wait for Boat School or the Jr Driving School, but we did have to wait about 10 minutes for Driving School. Rescue Academy was the first ride we weren't too thrilled with (though it was a walk-on, at least). Way too much work for just a simple ride!

The Jr Driving School was too hard for the littles, and the regular one was too boring for the big kids, so we'd probably skip those again.

We went into Land of Adventure next, and rode Coastersaurus, Safari Trek, and Lost Kingdom Adventure (skipped Beetle Bounce). Fiona was really scared about riding Coastersaurus, but went on anyway and did great.  I will note that as a bigger woman, Coastersaurus was uncomfortable and my husband had to actually help push in the restraint enough for it to unlatch when the ride was over.  Super embarrassing, and made me appreciate Disney all the more.  The kids also played in Pharaoh's Revenge and had an awesome time. The only thing we had to wait for was Safari Trek because it loads so slow, but that was only about 5-10 minutes.

We got food at Castle Burger. OMG, is the food there overpriced.. even moreso than Disney. We read up beforehand and saw that you can bring snacks into the park, so we brought a small cooler with Gogurts, cheese sticks, and granola bars to cut back on our food spending.

After eating, we rode the Royal Joust, played at the Forestmen's Hideout, then rode The Dragon (Fiona and I skipped it), and Merlin's Challenge. The Dragon was the only ride that had a wait - maybe 10-15 minutes. After that, Doug took the big kids to do Quest for Chi while I took the littles to Duplo Valley. They still play with Duplo a lot, in addition to regular Legos, so my littles LOVED Duplo Valley. We rode the train, played in the barn (oversized Duplo stuff to climb on/play in), and rode the tractors. 

My boys showed up part-way through, completely drenched. They wanted to ride Quest for Chi again, but Doug didn't, so we sent them off on their own. We took the littles over to the splash pad and THEY got drenched, while the big kids rode the Chima ride four more times. At least one or two of the rides, they were the only people in their boat. We spent about 10 minutes in the big store on the way out, and were back in our car around 4:40.

So.. we skipped most of Miniland, though we saw it a bit while walking through. We also didn't do any of the shows or other non-ride attractions, and we skipped Flying School (it was closed), the carousel, Beetle Bounce, and Island in the Sky. We didn't even go into the Imagination Zone. However, all they wanted to do was ride rides (and play at two of the playgrounds), and they got to ride several of them multiple times. Since we're local, we'll be able to go back and check out the other stuff another time, especially with that homeschool discount.

But I can't imagine doing everything in the park in a single day. However, if you've got bigger kids, you could easily skip the younger stuff to make room for the shows and Mindstorms thing.. and if you've got littles, you'll have plenty of time to do the stuff geared toward them. Trying to fit every single thing in one day, especially if you go on a busy day, seems too stressful to me. We had an awesome time, though.. got lots of stuff done without rushing, and spent very, very little time waiting in line.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Niall's Birthday, Part One - Hollywood Studios

My baby turned five, can you believe it?  Such a strange mix of feelings with that.. lots of nostalgia and bittersweetness, but also just lots of sweetness.  Look at this adorable little guy!

Our day started out with chocolate chip pancakes, of course, and then we stayed at home until around 4pm or so.  It felt weird not going out and doing something during the day, but he was so happy to just get to play in the sandbox and have screen time.  I'm proud of myself for consciously letting Niall do what he most wanted to do, regardless of what I felt like we "should" be doing to celebrate his birthday.

Mainly that was because we did have a big evening planned!  We got to Hollywood Studios (riding the tram, above) maybe an hour and a half before our dinner reservation.  Niall wore his birthday buttons - I made him two (one with Spiderman letters, and one with a train).  We did MuppetVision 3D which we hadn't seen before.  It was alright.. some of the kids liked some of it, but I don't think we'll be in a hurry to see it again any time soon.  Doug met up with us then, and we rode Toy Story Mania, which we hadn't done since our vacation in September.  After that, it was dinner time!

For Star Wars Weekends, Hollywood and Vine has been having Star Wars character meals, where you can meet the classic Disney characters dressed up at Star Wars characters.  Pretty fun, right?

The character interaction was pretty awesome.  Goofy, being so tall, was a little intimidating, but he was really sweet, tousled Niall's hair, etc.  We got into a funny on-going conversation with Chip, Dale, & Donald when we asked Chip if they could take Donald in a fight, since the Ewoks beat the stormtroopers in Return of the Jedi.

Obviously, Donald did not like hearing that, and nearly got into a brawl with Dale, right in the middle of the restaurant!  You couldn't get the characters' autographs, which was okay with us because we weren't planning on getting them anyway.. but given the price of the buffet, I'd have been pissed if I was on vacation and they wouldn't sign.  The characters all came around twice, so I don't understand why they wouldn't have time to sign an autograph at each table.

The food was alright.  Nothing to complain about, but nothing fantastic.  Maybe Applebees quality.  The kids absolutely love buffets, though, so that's where the value came from for us.  They were thrilled with it.  Everything was labeled with some sort of Star Wars name, which added to the fun, too.

The dessert station was over the top and really fun.  There was a Light side and a Dark side, and all of the desserts were themed accordingly.  Niall got a bunch of cupcakes and cookies, but I think his favorite was the plain old soft-serve.

Fiona couldn't figure out where to start, or where to put it all!

We gave Niall the option of staying for Fantasmic, but he didn't want to.  So after dinner, we rode Star Tours, then headed over to one of the gift shops to get his birthday present.

He has wanted one of these Disney World trains ever since we started coming to Disney World.  The reviews say they're not that durable, so we tried to hold off as long as possible.  This year, the ONLY thing he asked for was this train, though, so we gave in.  He was beside himself when we got it.  Look at that face!  How could you not buy this kid whatever he wanted?

We got home pretty late, but we had a cake waiting for us.  Niall requested chocolate cake, Nutella frosting, and sprinkles, M&Ms, and chocolate chips on top.  We only ate a little bit, but it wouldn't have felt complete without a cake and singing Happy Birthday.

Niall had a pretty awesome birthday, I'd say.  We all had a lot of fun, too, and the dinner was only slightly appallingly expensive.  Considering we will never wait in line to meet these characters at Star Wars Weekends, the price felt somewhat justified, especially since we got better interaction with them than we would have at a regular character meet and greet.

The birthday celebration will continue with a trip to Legoland!