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!