Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day Eight

We returned to the parks on Monday, starting with Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom in the morning.  We rode the safari first, and it turned out to be the best safari of our whole trip.  It was really foggy, and the savannah and animals were especially lovely in the fog.  Plus, a giraffe tried to eat our truck!  The driver stopped to let him cross, but instead of crossing, he nibbled on the hood of the truck, then on the canopy that covered the truck.  We also saw another giraffe that was pestering a wildebeest (no idea if it was actually a wildebeest or not, but it could have been).  The driver told us that specific giraffe had been doing that a lot recently, that for some reason he decided he wanted to be best friends with this much smaller wildebeest.

After the safari we did the Pangani Exploration trail, then booked it to Camp Minnie-Mickey to meet Pocahontas.  They open later than the rest of the park and we made it just in time for their rope drop.  When we got to the meet and greet area, Chip and Dale had signs for different characters and were pointing people in different directions, holding their signs upside down, and just generally were being funny.  Pocahontas was pleasant but a little bland, but we had to make sure we got all the princesses' autographs.  We were just in time for a showing of Festival of the Lion King, so we decided to head in.  The show was amazing, and definitely something I'd see again.

After Festival of the Lion King, we went to meet Russell and Dug.  That was probably the best meet and greet of the whole trip.  They loved the autograph book, they loved the stuffed dog Colwyn had brought (and loved that his name was Chocolate Milk).  Doug joked with Dug about having the same name, and Niall gave Dug huge cuddles.  When we finally got around to taking a group picture, Doug suggested we say, "Grape Soda!" instead of "Cheese!" and Russell and Dug loved that.

Niall zonked out in the stroller soon after that, so Doug took Colwyn and Lachlann on Primeval Whirl while I took the littles into Restaurantosaurus to have lunch.  I was very excited to find Pomegranate Lemonade there, and couldn't find it at any other restaurant we went to.

We headed back to our resort for a short break, then went to Epcot for the afternoon.  We did the Kidcot stops in Canada and the UK and as we headed towards France, we spotted a booth for Agent P's World Showcase Adventure, so we stopped to sign up.  Doug had to go to the Boardwalk to use their business center, so he took Niall via the International Gateway while I did the Agent P mission in France.  I definitely got the better deal there, as Doug had a very unpleasant time on his errand.  Poor guy.

After meeting back up with Doug, we took the boat back to Canada and ate at Garden Grill.  That was a wonderful character meal.  I got bonus points with Chip for knowing which chipmunk he was.  Pluto and Niall had a fun conversation about our dog, Maddy.  Lachlann was very excited to show Mickey his Duffy, and Fiona insisted on making sure Mickey knew she had a Duffy, too, but that he stayed in our room.  We got a fun picture of Colwyn and Dale, with Colwyn making chipmunk cheeks.  The food was good, too, but it was definitely the characters that made it a great meal.

We decided to head out fairly early, just fitting in one more ride on Spaceship Earth before heading back to our resort and our beds.  We did stop to take a picture in the Seas pavilion, as it had been too sunnier when we were there before.  There was a custodian who was happily taking pictures for people so everyone could be in the shot.  We waited for the people in front of Marlin and Dory to clear out, and he offered to take our picture so Doug and I could be in it, too.  We didn't actually want to be in the picture, so we turned him down.. but then it occurred to us to ask him to get in the photo.  I guess we were just impressed with his willingness to add a little magic to other people's vacations, even when it was something not remotely in his job description.  Here's Gerhard from the Netherlands.

Day Seven

Sunday started off with another lazy morning.  It was definitely a relief to not have to get up at 6:30 and rush us out to the bus stop.  We decided to try out Fantasia Gardens, one of Disney's two mini-golf courses.  We picked that one because using Disney transportation to that one sounded easier than the other.  What a joke we had played on us!  Getting there was a huge pain in the ass.  We had to take a bus to Downtown Disney, then transfer to a bus going to the Swan.  From there, we had to walk to the mini-golf place.  The directions had made it sound like it was just across the street, but it was about a 15 minute walk on sunny (read: hot and glare-y) sidewalks behind the hotel.  When we got there, the kids were hot and hungry, so we got them a snack and hung out at the shaded picnic tables for a few minutes, not realizing we had to sign up for a tee-time and couldn't just head onto the course (it looked empty).  So after we were ready to start golfing, we found out we had to wait another 20 minutes.  The golf course itself was themed well and was entertaining, but it was very hot and sunny, with very little shade.  It was a mostly miserable experience, and we contemplated cutting it short several times.  The only thing that kept us going was that we knew the last two or three holes had fun water features that threaten to soak golfers, and we wanted to try that.

So after that misery, we still faced the long walk back to the Swan bus stop.  We hopped on the first bus that arrived and went to Animal Kingdom to transfer to a bus heading to our resort.  There was a bit of good luck in that the bus we were on stopped directly across from a bus heading to our resort, so we only had to walk 10 feet and get right on another bus - which was very welcome since Niall had fallen asleep on me during the ride to Animal Kingdom.  The bad part was when we left Niall's new and much-loved monorail toy on the Swan-AK bus.  Thankfully the bus driver that took us to our resort was exceedingly nice and used her radio to find out if the driver had found the toy, and he had.  She offered to take us back to AK to get it, but we told her we'd just stop by Lost and Found in a day or two.

We had some downtime and relaxed before heading to dinner at 1900 Park Fare.  I was disappointed in that meal, even though I'd been really looking forward to it.  There wasn't a whole lot of food I found appetizing, and the Stepsisters, who we had been most eager to see, were 'out sick' and the Fairy Godmother filled in.  It was still nice to see Prince Charming, since he's not elsewhere in the parks, and we did have great interaction with Lady Tremaine.  After dinner, we checked out the gift shop near the monorail station and both shopped for and traded pins.  I almost enjoyed that more than dinner!

Day Six

Saturday was our first day off, a chance to rest our poor, aching feet.  We were also looking forward to getting a chance to explore more of Disney World instead of focusing just on the parks.  We took our time getting up and headed to the pool to swim.  It was mine and Niall's first time in the pool, and we had a great time.  The boys finally went down the water slide and that quickly turned into pretty much the only thing they wanted to do in the pool.  We brought lunch back to our room for the kids so we could get dressed and so Niall could have a nap.  We also got our laundry done.  The laundry facilities were nice, though it's annoying at how much it costs to dry clothes.  We ended up bringing one load back to our room only half dry, so for a day or so we had clothes strung up all over the room drying.

After naptime, we took the boat to Downtown Disney.  The boat ride was pleasant, but the capacity of the boats is so low that it was a really long wait to board, even at a slow time of year.  Doug and I still hadn't eaten lunch yet so we grabbed sandwiches at Earl of Sandwich.  I'd heard great things about it and the food was good, but I was a little disappointed with how long it took to get our food.  After eating, we went shopping.  We hit Once Upon a Toy first, where Niall got a monorail and some Disney buses, Fiona got some Little Mermaid figure, Lachlann got a Duffy, and we all filled up a box of Mr. Potato Head pieces.  I'd read a tip to bring your own Potato Head so you don't have to waste space in the box on that, and it was a great idea.  We got a ton of unique pieces.  We headed towards the Lego store next and checked out all the impressive Lego displays.  The kids had a great time posing for pictures with them.

Dinner was at T-Rex, which was a lot of fun but also easily the loudest restaurant I've ever been in.  Fiona even used her noise-canceling headphones the whole time we were there.  Like I said, though, it was a very fun restaurant and our waitress was fantastic.  She explained how we could make the Dining Plan work so we could get the Chocolate Extinction dessert (even though we were stuffed from our meals, we wanted to get it just for the chance to see it).  It was really impressive - four huge slices of chocolate cake, eight scoops of ice cream, Butterfinger crumbles, and in the middle, a big dry-ice volcano.  Super cool.

After dinner, we actually went into the Lego Store.  The kids were in heaven, and even Doug and I had fun.  We were most impressed with the Digital Box display.  You pick a Lego set - the sign says it has to have over 250 pieces or something, but we found that not all 250+ piece sets worked.  But anyway, you pick a box and hold it in front of you while you stand in front of a video screen, and all of a sudden you see your Lego set come to life and enact a little skit on top of the box you're holding.  We all loved it.  We also looked around in World of Disney and got some souvenirs for family back home.

By that point it was dark and the dance party had started, so we found a spot and the kids had a good time dancing.  Well, all the kids except for Lachlann, who refuses to dance when anybody's watching.  But it was fun and the DJ was entertaining.  We were getting pretty tired, though, so we headed towards the dock and specifically, Goofy's Candy Company.  I had printed out coupons for the kids and stuck them in the giant gift bags of Disney stuff we gave them at Christmas, so they were really excited to go.  The candy store was overwhelming with a huge array of treats.  Everything looked delicious and we all had a hard time picking out just one thing.

It wasn't that late when we got back to our room, but we were pretty tired so after a few nibbles on our treats, we pretty much just crashed.  For a day off, we'd still been pretty busy!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Day Five

Friday was the day of our only real goof, planning wise.  The itinerary I had printed out said that we needed to be at Hollywood Studios for a 9am rope drop.  However, Doug decided to verify that the night before, and when he checked on his phone, he said Hollywood Studios had AM EMH and would be open at 8am.  So we did our usual routine of getting up at 6:30am, were at the bus stop around 7:10, and were at Hollywood Studios at 7:40.  I know that's early, but there should have still been a sizeable crowd - and there was nobody there.  So we checked again, only to find that my itinerary was right - the park wouldn't open until 9am.  If only Hollywood Studios did a family of the day, we would have been it for sure!  The CMs were really nice and friendly, though, including giving us lots of stickers (with characters other than just Mickey, which we didn't see anywhere else).  They also scanned us through the RFID 'turnstiles' early - the result of all which was that we were first in line, and first into the parks.  We went straight to Toy Story Mania and got to ride standby twice with very little wait.  After our second ride, the wait was up to 45 minutes, so we pulled some Fastpasses and headed over to Tower of Terror.  Lachlann was brave enough to ride with Doug and then again with me.  After Tower of Terror was Star Tours for Doug and the bigs, while I took the littles into Writers Stop.  That was a really neat little store tucked into a corner, with a yummy snack bar and a great selection of books.

We had reservations at Sci-Fi Dine-In for lunch, which was right next door.  That was definitely a unique experience.  We ate in a regular car, with Colwyn and Lachlann 'driving' in the front row, Niall and I in the middle seats, and Fiona and Doug brought up the rear.  The sci-fi movie clips were really fun, and the food was decent.  We splurged and got the kids souvenir glow drinks as a surprise.

After lunch, we headed back to Toy Story Mania to use our Fastpasses.  We me Mike from Monsters Inc, but Sully must have been on break.  We noticed that we were near the AFI store so we looked in there, but were sadly disappointed.  My family is Icelandic and the word for grandfather is 'Afi'.  When I was 16, we went to Disney with my grandparents, and my Afi bought a hat that said AFI on the front.  When he passed away, the hat was given to my dad, who was by then an Afi himself.  Lachlann wears the hat now, and we were really hoping to find something (anything!) that said AFI on it for my dad.  Unfortunately, there wasn't a single thing in the AFI store that had the AFI logo.  After that, I took the kids into the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground while Doug made a phone call.  We were having a good time, and I was watching the littles like a hawk since there are so many hiding spots and hard to get to areas in there.  Well, when I turned to lift Fiona down off the giant ant, Niall disappeared.  Thus ensued the worst five minutes of our vacation as I ran around like a maniac, got the boys to search for him, and finally found him on the other side of the playground.  Niall and I were both hysterical (him visibly so, I was holding it in), so we high-tailed it out of there.  Colwyn and Lachlann were really disappointed, but took it well enough.

We thought the Cars meet and greet with Lightning McQueen and Mater would cheer us all up, but Niall was overwhelmed at first, and as soon as he was ready to actually check out the cars, our turn was up and we had to move on.  That was a little stressful, too.  We were back in the Star Tours area by then, so I took Colwyn and Lachlann on with our Baby Swap pass.  It was definitely an improvement from the last incarnation, and the boys were thrilled that there are different versions of the ride.  Doug had taken the littles back to Writers Stop while we were riding, and Niall zonked out in the stroller.  We didn't want to stay too much longer, we just wanted to meet Handy Manny, Jake, and Phineas and Ferb.  So we headed back to the Animation Courtyard and woke Niall up, which was probably a bad choice - he was way too groggy to appreciate Handy Manny and Jake.  Phineas and Ferb were a lot of fun, though, and the kids (and Doug) had almost as much fun with the Ducky Mo-Mo statue as they did with the 'real' characters.

By then we were all tired and hot, so we called it a day and headed back to our resort.  We had a nice dinner in the food court and went swimming, then went to bed, anticipating a nice two-day break from crazy park touring.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Day Four

Thursday was our first morning at Magic Kingdom.  We got there in time for rope drop at 8am and headed straight to Enchanted Tales with Belle.  We were all impressed with Belle's new show, and New Fantasyland  redeemed itself.  The theming of Maurice's cottage was really impressive.  The kids really liked comparing themselves to Belle's growth chart.  And the animatronics were very well done.  The show itself was cute, but the kids weren't interested in participating.  Oh well.  They did get up for a meet and greet at the end (super nice of the CMs to let all the kids meet Belle, regardless of whether they had a part).  Doug took Niall up and Belle asked him to take her arm, and there was some confusion as Doug wasn't quite sure of the protocol.  It was funny, and Belle joked that she had to teach Beast, too.

Speaking of Beast, he was doing a meet and greet outside of Be Our Guest when we finished with Enchanted Tales.  I hadn't heard of him doing that, so we were fairly impressed - unfortunately, it was incredibly sunny and he was facing right into the sun, so we skipped it (having previously tried to get a Photopass picture in front of Maurice's cottage looking into the sun - it was impossible).  We got fastpasses for Little Mermaid, but the line ended up being short so we rode it standby.  The kids all loved the new ride, it was very cute.  The queue was interesting and had interactive elements, which I'm sure are appreciated when the waits get long.

After riding, we went to go meet Ariel.  Her new meet and greet area is nicely done, too, and her fins are impressive.  The kids talked to her a little, but overall I thought the interaction was kind of lacking.  We thought about using our fastpasses to do the Little Mermaid ride, but we decided we were out of time and needed to get to 1900 Park Fare for our reservation.  It was fun walking out of the park and seeing the hoards coming in, knowing we had already done Belle's and Ariel's part of New Fantasyland.  On the way out, Doug had to stop and get the Photopass pictures from Enchanted Tales added to our card, so the kids and I walked ahead to the monorail.  As Doug was exiting a little while later, the CM we had passed a few minutes before spotted him and said, 'The rest of your party went that-a-way!" - we were all wearing our tie-dye shirts and I guess it was pretty obvious that Doug belonged with us.

1900 Park Fare was okay - not spectacular, but not bad.  Some of the characters were kind of 'blah' - specifically Alice, Mary Poppins, and Pooh.  Tigger was energetic and fun, and of course the Mad Hatter was, as well.  Fiona was intimidated by his loudness, though.  Whenever he came to a table where someone was up getting food, he would start hollering for the missing person - so there were lots of screams of "Dad!" or "Grandma!" in the Mad Hatter's funny voice.  When he got to our table, though, we were all present, so that was a relief for Fiona.  Niall especially seemed to connect with the Mad Hatter, though he was a little skeptical at first.  He eventually started cracking up right along with him, and the Mad Hatter said Niall was his type of kid.  We also asked him if he'd ever figured out how a writing desk is like a raven, and he said he had, but he forgot.  Like I said, overall the meal was alright - the kids were thrilled because they love buffets, and I really liked the picture we got before the meal (love having all those pictures included with Photopass Plus).  Our waitress was personable, too - the norm for Disney World, though there are some exceptions.

After lunch, we headed to Epcot.  There was still plenty of Fastpass availability for Soarin', so Doug grabbed those while I took the kids into Club Cool.  Lachlann made a great face (on video) when he tried Beverly, but the rest of the kids, and eventually Doug, were disappointingly non-reactive.  Once we had our fill of foreign sodas - which happened pretty quickly - we headed to the Seas pavilion to ride Nemo.  We got lucky and the dolphins passed by really close a few times.  When we got out, we explored the rest of the exhibits and caught Turtle Talk with Crush.  Turtle Talk was a lot of fun and something I'd wanted to do for a while, so I was glad to finally get to see it.

Even though we all think Journey into Imagination is 'eh,' we did that next.  For some reason, Fiona decided that Figment was going to murder her, so she screamed pretty much nonstop on the ride.  The kids were dying to do Three Caballeros, so we crossed over to that next.  I can't really figure out why we love that ride, but we do.  It also holds some sentimental memories since we'd last rode it a few times with Doug's grandmother, who has since passed away.  After Three Caballeros, we tried out Maelstrom.  Fiona was not a big fan of the ride, but everyone else liked it.  By then our fastpass window for Soarin' had opened, so we headed over there.  Doug and I took turns riding Livin' with the Land with the littles while Colwyn and Lachlann got to ride Soarin' twice, once each with Doug and I.  Love that Baby Swap.  Soarin' was better than I had expected, but still not worth the huge standby waits that you see a lot of the time.  Livin' with the Land was enjoyable, especially since we're all interested in gardening and sustainability.

Dinner was quick service at Yorkshire fish, which we had all really been looking forward to.  Again, we had eaten there last with Doug's grandmother, so there was some bittersweetness to it.  Their fish and chips are great, though, and Doug and I treated ourselves to a beer each.  Between the good food and drink, and our great dining spot right on the water (we found a lower terrace tucked out of the way), it was a lovely meal.  We were only a little tipsy heading out of the park, and most of it had worn off by the time we got to Spaceship Earth.  The boys were dying to ride it and since it was a walk-on, we went for it.  It was another big hit, probably mostly because of the interactive 'build your own future' thing as you descend at the end of the ride.  Colwyn at least paid attention to some of the animatronic scenes, though - when we got home and were doing a history lesson about Gutenberg, he pointed at a picture of two monks hand copying a book and said, "Hey, that's like Spaceship Earth, except that guy should be asleep!"

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Day Three

Another early morning at Animal Kingdom - getting anywhere by 8am is a tall order for my family, but it's so worth it at Disney World.  We headed straight to Dinosaur at rope drop and Colwyn and Doug got a whole car to themselves.  While they were riding, the other kids and I took some goofy pictures with the dinosaurs they have stationed all over the place.

Colwyn and Lachlann wanted to ride Primeval Whirl, so I took them on that while Doug took Fiona and Niall on Triceratop Spin.  Primeval Whirl was fun and I'm not quite sure why people call it Primeval Hurl.. it seemed relatively tame to me.  It was completely empty so when we got to the unloading area, the CMs told us we could just stay on again if we wanted.  Lachlann was all for it, but Colwyn wanted to move on, so I had Doug take Lachlann on again while the other kids and I wandered around Dinoland.

We headed to Everest again, trying to convince the boys to go on it.  They refused again, so Doug and I took turns riding by ourselves.  I got to ride in the very front row all by myself, which was so awesome.  There's nothing in the front of the cars, so in the front row it really feels like there's nothing there 'protecting' you, especially as you're hurtling through the dark.  After that we got ready to watch the Flights of Wonder bird show.  We caught the pre-show with Rosie, a bird who flew really low over everyone's heads.  The crowd gave the 'bird guy' on stage a wide berth, except for Niall who apparently doesn't follow social cues.  He stood fearlessly in the wide open space, right up in front of the CM.  It was pretty cool to see the bird swoop so low over his head.  The show itself was pretty entertaining, and was a much appreciated break for my feet, which were really starting to hurt.

After getting to rest for a bit, we decided to tackle the Maharajah Jungle Trek.  It definitely lived up to our expectations, with up close views of komodo dragons, tapirs, huge fruit bats (we learned that they pee on themselves to get clean), flying foxes, Bengal tigers, blackbucks, Eld's deer, bantengs, and all manner of beautiful birds.  The theming was just lovely.  You almost felt like you really were in India.

On the way to get snacks in Harambe, we saw Devine.  She was pretty cool, but the kids were begging for food so we just snapped a quick picture.  Isn't she beautiful, though?  She would have totally blended into the foliage, if it weren't for the huge crowd surrounding her.  Full of popcorn and a ginormous Rice Krispie treat, we wandered down some animal trails on Discovery Island, then went to Camp Minnie-Mickey.

We met Chip and Dale first, and they LOVEDLOVEDLOVED the autograph book.  They took the time to read their pages, and Chip brought the book to his handler to make him read it.  When he signed his page, he also wrote, 'Luv the book!"  Dale liked the acorns on his page and said those were his favorites.  We teased him about Chip always having to rescue Dale when he gets in trouble.  Then we met Donald, Baloo, King Louie, and Minnie.  Everyone got big hugs from Niall, but Baloo got the biggest.  He probably would have stayed cuddled up to that bear all day if we'd let him.  My feet were unbearably painful by that point, so I made us stop in Pizzafari for lunch while Doug took Lachlann on Primeval Whirl yet again (and also to look for his Goomba hat, which he'd left on the ride earlier).  I don't know if it's because Colwyn, Fiona, and Niall were so well behaved and cooperative in line, or if the CM pitied me for having three kids and a giant double stroller all by myself, but she gave the kids free cupcakes.  After eating, we headed back to the resort to rest.  I was seriously considering renting an ECV by that point.

I guess the idea of dinner at Narcoossee's was enough to get me up onto my feet again, though, because after a nice break, we headed to the Magic Kingdom.  We picked up more Sorcerers cards and completed our first mission on Main Street, which was fighting Cruella.  We only had a little while until our reservation, so we spent a little while trying on practically every hat in Le Chapeau, then headed to the monorail.

Narcoossee's was amazing.  The view from the 'porch' that wraps around the restaurant was beautiful - the Contemporary and Magic Kingdom all lit up, the reflections in the water.. lovely.  Our table was excellent as well, with another great view of Cinderella's Castle.  Doug got the strip steak and lobster tail ($72 but still allowed on the dining plan!) and I got shrimp scamp with lobster.  My meal was delicious, and Doug said that the lobster was the best he's ever had - like it was butter poached in butter.  We all got desserts, of course - most notable were Lachlann's smores and Fiona's gigantic Nemo cupcake.

After dinner, we were just in time to watch Wishes from the Grand Floridian dock.  It was completely wonderful - the lack of crowds and general ambiance making up for the slight off-centeredness and un-castle-centric view of the fireworks.  We took the boat around the lagoon and back to the Magic Kingdom, then took the bus back to our resort.  The bus was completely packed; Fiona and I had to split up with an older couple in between us.  They kept an eye on her and we chatted - they were their by themselves because their grandson, who they normally take with them, was in Italy playing soccer.

Day Two

Our second full day in Disney World meant making it to Epcot for Extra Magic Hours Rope Drop.  We quickly settled into a routine of me getting the stroller completely packed for our next day and then showering while Doug put the kids to bed.  Then we'd get up at about 6:15, he'd shower and I'd get dressed, then we'd get the kids up and we'd all be out the door by about 7:00.  Doug and one or both of the boys would stop in the food court to fill up a few of our refillable mugs while I took the littles to wait in the lobby.

So anyway, we got to Epcot just before rope drop and got to watch some lovely older CMs dancing to the opening music.  We headed straight to Test Track, which I rode with Lachlann, after obtaining a Rider Swap pass.  I'd heard that the new version of Test Track left a lot to be desired, but I really enjoyed it.  The interactive queue and designing of your own car definitely improved it in my opinion, and the actual ride was pretty cool.  After our ride was over, I took the littles to do some shopping while Doug took Lachlann and Colwyn on Test Track.  Fiona picked out a Mickey ears hat with Cinderella's slipper on top, which I thought was kind of goofy, but she loved it.

Once we were done with Test Track, we decided to head into Innoventions to kill some time.  We had a reservation at Ohana and didn't think we'd have enough time for Soarin' or Mission Space (in hindsight, we probably would have).  We played the Fire Hazards game in Innoventions and had a pretty good time.  You get special flashlights to identify fire hazards on big screens meant to look like different rooms in the house.  Afterwards, we took a group picture in front of a fire truck and got to add lots of virtual stickers to them and email them to family.

On the way out of Epcot, we went on Spaceship Earth.  I can't recall ever riding it, though I suppose I did when I was really little.  The kids really loved it, mainly for the interactive "Build Your Future" thing on the way down.  We took the monorail over to the Polynesian where we had one of the last seatings at Ohana.  It was pretty empty and we got plenty of character interaction, making it one of our favorites.  As usual, Niall just adored the characters.  He was especially lovey to Mickey, and I heard Mickey say, "Awww!"  Pretty sure he's not supposed to do that, so I felt proud that my son was cute enough to make Mickey break character.  ;)  We had a great conversation with Lilo about Stitch and Niall being long lost cousins, due to Niall's trouble-making.  Stitch goofed around with the boys, loved the autograph book, and played around with Fiona's new hat.  Breakfast itself was really good, too.  Even though the family-style meal meant less variety than a buffet, it's really nice not having to get up and down all the time to refill everyone's plates.  We had a great view of the castle from our table, too.

Once we were all stuffed to bursting, we headed over to Magic Kingdom.  We got straight on the train and rode it around to Fantasyland.  We grabbed fastpasses for Dumbo then got in line to meet Daisy and Minnie.  Poor Niall fell asleep in line, and poor Doug had to hold him the whole time.  Daisy was very cute with Lachlann, who wasn't especially enthusiastic.  She played with his face, trying to make him smile.  When we moved on to Minnie, I committed a huge faux pas and called her Daisy.  She told me off and I was suitably apologetic.  She loved the autograph book, though, and danced for us like she is in her picture.  Minnie blew sleeping Niall a kiss and made us promise to bring him back when he was awake.

The Dumbo area of New Fantasyland unfortunately made a bad first impression on us.  For one, it was hot and incredibly sunny (presumably because all of the deciduous trees had dropped their leaves) - which was a big shock after the cool and overcast day we'd had at Animal Kingdom the day before.  But we also had trouble with the Barnstormer breaking down.  After meeting Minnie and Daisy, our fastpass window wasn't open yet, so we rode Dumbo standby so we could play in the new play area.  That queue is fantastic and, just for the record, every other attraction should use that system.  The only problem was that there was a lot for the under 18 month old set, and a lot for the 5+ set, but Fiona and Niall were a little bored - which seems weird since I figure they're really the target audience for Dumbo.  Anyway.  After Dumbo we grabbed fastpasses for the Barnstormer, then used our Dumbo fastpasses to ride again.  By then our Barnstormer window was open, but just as we were about to get in line, it broke down.  So we headed over to the teacups - a pleasant surprise since they were supposed to be closed for refurb.  The carousel was next, then we grabbed fastpasses for Pooh.  We managed to convince the kids to ride the Haunted Mansion, which they hadn't done before.  They liked it okay, except for the part where we got stuck in the crystal ball room for about five minutes.

We ate lunch in the Columbia Harbor House.  I had the lobster roll while Doug had fried shrimp.  We were all happy with the meal and the break from the sun and heat.  We tried to use our Pooh fastpasses next, but once again - the ride broke down right after we entered the line.  They advised us to leave the queue and that they'd honor late fastpasses, so we headed back over to the Barnstormer.  Thankfully it was operating this time.  Colwyn and Lachlann absolutely loved it.  Niall seemed a little iffy, but told us he really liked it.  Fiona was pretty terrified during the ride itself.  As we pulled into the unloading area, I asked her if she liked it.  She said she loved it, so when I asked if she wanted to ride it again, she screamed "NO!" in a very horrified voice.

Pooh was back open when we went by again so we rode that, then tried to pull the sword from the stone in front of the carousel.  We got in line for Tiana and Naveen next, and while we waited, Doug and the boys went to check out the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom booth over there.  They signed up and got a little demo on how to play.  Tiana and Naveen were great and we had some great conversation about the autograph book.  I apologized to Naveen for making his picture be of when he got mixed up with the Shadow Man, and we joked about bringing up sore subjects.  We decided to get some Dole Whips next - Niall and I ate ours while Doug took Colwyn, Lachlann, and Fiona in the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, then we let Niall run around while they had their Dole Whips.

We headed back to the resort early that night after such a long day.  Doug took Colwyn, Lachlann, and Fiona to swim in the pool while Niall helped me ice my feet in the bath tub.  He had so much fun splashing around that I ended up giving him a bath.  Doug and the kids showed up with a large pizza and four desserts, which was a great deal at just two QS credits, since it fed us all.

We were all exhausted, but 'finally' walking into Magic Kingdom was wonderful.. and we really were so pleased that the Christmas decorations were still up.  I mean, how can you beat this view?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Traveling to Disney World & Day One

Traveling to Disney was very exciting, and not nearly as stressful as I'd imagined, considering we have four young kids.  Doug and I did almost all of the packing and loading of the car the night before we left since we had a fairly early flight (10am).  Each of the kids had a carry-on packed with some toys, an activity book, earbuds (since we fly Jet Blue), and a bag of trail mix.  Even though our kids are normally up early, we actually had to wake them up.  We left Niall 'til last and let him sleep until we were all literally ready to drive off.

Security was easy, if tedious.  While we were waiting in line, we made sure the kids didn't have anything in their pockets.  We had them wear slip-on shoes, but it turned out that they don't make kids under 12 take their shoes off anymore - except for Fiona, whose fancy boots set off the alarms.  We briefed them on the procedure - be quick, don't goof around, put your bag on the belt and move it forward, then go through the metal detector.  It was a snap.  The only thing that was mildly annoying was loading the stroller up again afterwards.

The flight was fairly uneventful.  Colwyn and Lachlann sat with me, so I had some free time on my hands.  I did help entertain Niall a bit because he got a little antsy.  As usual, Magical Express was wonderful and one of the big reasons we stay on-site at Disney World.  Not only is it such a relief to not have to worry about our bags, but the ride itself on a big motorcoach, with a welcoming video to watch is pretty fun.  It did take a bit of time - we were the last of four or five stops - but thankfully we made it in plenty of time to get checked in and head over to the Contemporary, where we had dinner reservations at California Grill.

I can't say enough good things about California Grill.  It was an incredible way to start our trip.  First thing:  you check in on level 2, even though the restaurant is on the top floor.  We got our stroller valet parked (fancy!) and a special CM personally escorted us to the 15th floor in an elevator that only services California Grill (even fancier!).  We were a little early, so we went out onto the observation deck.  The view was amazing!  You could see all of Magic Kingdom - the mountains were easily identified, as were a few of the other big attractions.  Obviously, Cinderella's Castle was gorgeous, all lit up in the holiday lights.  There was a slight hiccup with our pager not working, but the CM who valet parked our stroller came and found us, which was super nice.  Our waiter was wonderful and very helpful in explaining the dining plan, which we hadn't used before.  We knew the basics, but he helped us get our money's worth.  The food was fantastic.  We ordered the cheese board as one of our desserts (thank to the waiter who gave us that tip), Doug got the fillet, and I got scallops - the hugest scallops I've ever seen.  The kids got mac and cheese and pizza, which came with 'fruit cups'.  These fruit cups were actually lots freshly sliced fruit neatly arranged on nice plates - simple but nicer than what 'fruit cup' sounds like.  Our table was great - we could see the castle all lit up, and the observation deck proved a nice distraction when Niall tired of sitting in his seat.  After our amazing and huge dinners, we were all too stuffed for dessert, but our waiter very kindly advised us on which desserts travel best (chocolate cake and Rice Krispie 'sushi') and packaged it up for us.  We got back relatively early and went straight to bed.  Surprisingly, neither Doug nor I had trouble falling asleep at 9pm.

The next morning, we got to Animal Kingdom in time for rope drop at 8:00am (Morning Extra Magic Hour).  The first thing we did was stop by the camera center to sign up for Photopass Plus.  The CM there was wonderful, asking Colwyn and Lachlann questions, and pointing out must-see's on the park map.  After that we headed to Kilimanjaro Safari.  Niall was very excited to see all the animals.  After the Safari, we headed over to Expedition Everest, expecting the boys to ride with me (I didn't get a chance to ride last time).  Well, the kids balked and after a bit of fussing by everyone, I decided to ride alone.  The ride was great, and I was amazed at the view at the top - you could see Spaceship Earth, the Swan hotel, and Tower of Terror.  Unfortunately, the ride broke down as we were just outside the unloading area.  We had to sit and wait for a little while as CM after CM walked past us, up into the mountain, assuring us that someone would be along soon to get us out.  Finally our 'evacuation team' showed up and while the train unloaded back to front (I was in the second row), the CM said that there were three or four trains behind us, and some people might have a very, very long walk down.  We all got a 'free' fastpass to use any time.  Once I reunited with my family, we headed over to Tusker House.

Tusker House was great!  Our waitress loved our autograph book; we loved her jungle juice.  Daisy loved the book, too, and since the illustration we had of her was her on the phone, we teased her about not getting to make a lot of phone calls while on safari.  Niall thought Daisy was amazing and giggled for her.  Mickey was just 'eh' - which was kind of disappointing.  Goofy was much better, though, and got HUGE laughs from Niall and the kids.  This was the first buffet we'd been to since the last time we were at Disney, and the boys loved that we let them go get their own food and that they didn't have to stay with us.  The food itself was pretty good - not anything amazing, but definitely tasty and satisfying.

After Tusker House, we grabbed fastpasses for Kilimanjaro Safari and rode the train to Rafiki's Planet Watch.  We decided not to take the stroller, so after we got off the train, we put Niall's harness on.  Now - we don't call it a leash, we don't treat him like a dog when he wears it, so we were very surprised when, after it was on him, Niall said, "Niall be doggie now."  Oops.  We got a good laugh out of that.  We stopped to do an activity where the kids had to find plastic creatures that could conceivably live in their backyards, and they got activity books for completing it.  Inside Planet Watch, the kids had a great time looking at all the exhibits.  We saw a CM holding a Harris Hawk and asked her a few questions, then talked to another CM about a bird next exhibit.  Next up was meeting Rafiki - he absolutely loved the autograph book.  He pretended to be a big star, flipping his hair over his shoulder, then held the autograph book up just like Simba (which was the illustration we had for him to sign).  Niall thought he was hysterical.  After that, we checked out the petting area with goats and sheep and whatnot, but it wasn't that different from any other place where you can pet goats.  We headed back to Harambe and the Safari - on which Niall fell asleep on Doug's lap.  After riding the Safari again, we headed back to Everest so Doug could ride using the Rider Swap we had picked up the first time.  While waiting for Doug, the kids and I went to the Boneyard, a huge play area themed like a dinosaur dig site.  That was a big hit with all the kids.  We hit Triceratop Spin real quick before heading over to Flame Tree BBQ for lunch.  The queue area was kind of cramped, so Doug took the big kids with him to get our food while I hung off to the side with the stroller and the littles.  Luckily, I had read ahead of time about how the lowest terrace is the best seating area because it has the best view of the lake and Expedition Everest, and that it's usually the least busy.  Both proved to be true and we had a great lunch.  Colwyn wasn't too thrilled with the chicken sandwich he ordered (not the sandwich's fault, that's not normally something he'd eat), but the other kids devoured their hot dogs and Doug and I split the ribs/chicken combo.

After lunch, we managed to catch the parade.  There weren't that many spots available so Doug and I stood back a bit with the stroller so the kids could sit in front, behind some other kids.  I was a little unhappy about the number of people who tried to squeeze in front of us (even though our stroller was practically touching my kids' backs), but the parade itself was fun.  Lachlann had just bought a stuffed zebra, and we were all wearing our zebra Mickey Head shirts.  Well, the zebra stilt walker spotted us.  She got very excited and shouted, "Zebras rule!" to Lachlann, then noticed our shirts.  She hurriedly pointed us out to another stilt walker.  We all thought the attention was fun.

We fought the crowds back toward Dinoland so Doug could take Colwyn and Lachlann on Primeval Whirl (which they loved).  I took Fiona and Niall to meet Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger.  The kids loved the characters - Niall especially gave them super long hugs, which became his MO when interacting with characters.  We even got a bouncing lesson from Tigger.  At that point, we decided to head back to our resort.  On the way out, we looked at Ring Tailed Lemurs and saw an ant-eater.  We noticed the ant-eater's long, very furry tail and asked the CM there why he needs such a distinctive tail.  She said he uses it as a blanket - he lies down and flips his tail over himself.  She said a good joke is, 'Hey, we saw an animal today that has a two foot long tongue and uses its tail as a blanket - what is it?"

One really nice thing that we were totally not expecting was that the Christmas decorations were all up for the first week we were there.  It did feel a little weird - like we'd rewound life a bit, but a very pleasant surprise overall!

Once back at our resort, we ested in the room a bit, had some cake, then headed to dinner in the food court.  On the way back from one of our many restroom breaks, Fiona participated in the Riverside dance and got a Mickey Head straw, which the boys were very jealous about.  Again, a pretty early night, in anticipation of another early morning!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Preparing for Disney World

If you know me at all, you could probably guess that I wouldn't just throw a few t-shirts and shorts into a suitcase and head to Disney World.  Oh, no, that would be way too easy.  See, Disney is magical.  Really magical.  But can I leave it at that?  No, I want to add to the magic.  I want to make a Disney vacation as totally-freakin'-awesome as I possibly can.

Our planning began over a year ago.  Actually, it really began as soon as our first Disney vacation ended.  I started thinking about things I might want to do differently, or what worked really well.  I knew I wanted to do a different kind of autograph book and took a time to come up with my idea of a perfect autograph book.  I started selling them on Etsy because I loved them so much, and because our vacation was ages away.  For our trip, I created two books - one with all the girly characters (princesses, Marie from Aristocats, etc), and one with all the other characters (everyone from Mickey and the Gang to Phineas and Ferb).  When I sell an autograph book, I embellish the pages meant for photographs with coordinating patterned paper, but I left ours blank so I could make sure the papers match the colors in the photo instead of just the illustration.  I didn't get any before shots of the books, but here's Pooh signing his page:

The other big project was our clothing.  On our first trip, I was a novice at Mickey head tie-dye, but we still really enjoyed wearing our shirts.  Now, two years later, I've much improved on my methods.  I sell a lot of tie-dye shirts in my Etsy store, including the color combination I picked for our trip.  Here's a picture of the kids wearing their shirts - my husband and I wore matching shirts as well.

Unfortunately, we neglected to bring a matching shirt for the Mad Hatter.  Oh well, maybe next time.

I didn't leave it at just tie-dye, though.  Another thing I love doing is freezer-paper stencils, using my Silhouette Craft Cutter.  I came up with this design, which I have yet to list in my Etsy store, though I will offer it as soon as I get a new shipment of grey t-shirts (the grey ones at AC Moore are too light, in my opinion).

I think the bears are just adorable!  They're based on the baby brother bears from Brave, and it worked out perfectly that there are three bears in the movie, and I have three boys as well.  In that picture, Fiona's wearing a t-shirt that I sewed an embroidered patch onto - I bought it from the Etsy shop, MyHoard.  I also got her a Belle Mickey Head and I got Niall Buzz and Woody Mickey Heads.  They're super cute and well made.

Of course, the boys had to wear two of my favorite designs that I've offered in my Etsy shop:  Here Comes the Smolder and Clone Troopers Go Commando.  Here's Lachlann wearing his Flynn Rider shirt.

Fiona's wearing a shirt I picked up from Target and then embellished with rhinestones.  It was fairly painstaking, but I really loved the way it turned out.

I upcycled three other shirts for Fiona, too.  The first was a light blue shirt that I added an apron to so it would look like Alice in Wonderland's dress.  I figured that by upcycling shirts to a character theme, Fiona could dress up like her favorite characters without having to be uncomfortable in a giant polyester dress all day.  Here's her Alice shirt, and for what it's worth, I do have a few listed on Etsy.

Another upcycled shirt was a plain purple t-shirt that I turned into a Rapunzel shirt with some tulle and ribbon.  I also bought a patch on Etsy from The Pinpoint Shop and ironed it onto a pair of jeans to complete the look.  I really wish I could have sewn it, and I might try to hand stitch it a bit because the adhesive is coming off a bit.  But there's no way to machine stitch it to such a skinny pants leg.  Anyway, here's our Rapunzel.

The boys are wearing shirts I made for them based on the Agent P Missions in Epcot.  The front has a simple "Where's Perry?" in Phineas and Ferb front, but the back (which I don't have a picture of, unfortunately) has "Raum World Showcase Tour" and a list of all the countries in the World Showcase, sort of like a concert t-shirt.

And last but not least was the purple ruffled shirt I found in Target.  I used three different types of Disney Princess fabric to turn it into a twirly dress.  It was really easy and Fiona loves it!  Here she is on the observation deck at California Grill.

Not all of our 'extra' magic was stuff that I made.  On, there's a whole community of people who create amazing things in Photoshop.  I found a whole ton of invitations that you can customize for your dining reservations.  We printed one out for every table service meal we had planned and after the kids were asleep, we set the next day's out to look like someone had slipped it under our door.  The kids never caught on and were always excited every morning to see what 'mail' they'd gotten.  Here's one I came up with myself, since Be Our Guest is a new restaurant and I couldn't find a pre-made one.

We also printed out Thank You cards - little business cards with cute pictures that said things like, "Thank you for making our day magical!"  We handed them out to anyone we had a great interaction with, even guests.  The kids loved it, and everyone we gave one to seemed quite pleased.  Here's one that I really liked, which I got from a Disboard user named Natalie.  Most of our invitations came from her as well.

The last really big thing we did was to create Epcot Passports.  In each of the countries in the World Showcase, there's a Kidcot stop manned by a native of that country.  Kids can pick up a cardboard Duffy or Agent P to color in, and the cast member will stamp them with their country's flag.  You can buy a passport at Epcot as well, and they'll write something in their native language for you on the page they stamp.  As I was browsing Natalie's files, I saw her beautiful passports and decided to make them for each of the kids.  I bound them the same way I bind the autograph books, and they came out fantastic.

Oh, one last thing, I swear.  We also decorated our window at our resort.  Using my trusty Silhouette Craft Cutter, I cut out a bunch of Mickey heads and we strung them up in the window using 3M Command Hooks.  Pretty simple, but it was fun.

So why do I bother with all this stuff?  Is it necessary in order to have a good vacation?  Absolutely not.  Some of it is simply a way to 'kill time' before our vacation.  I'm a really impatient person and the lead time before a vacation just kills me.  So doing crafty stuff like this makes the wait a little more bearable.  And the other reason is that it really does add to our vacation.  Whether it's creating conversations we wouldn't have otherwise, giving the kids something to look at during a wait, or making them feel extra special, it's worth it to me!