Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Last Weekend in Florida

The plan for Saturday was to go and visit my grandmother in West Palm Beach.  After Doug got ready, he had the Car Care Center shuttle pick him up and bring him to get our rental car.  I got all the kids (and myself) ready and the timing worked out perfectly - he got back just as we finished up buying our breakfast snacks.  We had a boatload of snack credits left over as well as a table service and a quick service meal each, and we had to use them by the end of the day.  The rental car was awesome - a Town and Country minivan.  I loved the camera on the back of the car to help you when you're backing up.  Doug said that the shuttle driver and the staff at the Car Care Center were all very nice and friendly.  So we loaded up the car with kids and breakfast and drove across the state.

Visiting with my grandmother (we call her Amma, which is the Icelandic word for grandmother) was lovely.  The kids enjoyed having some downtime and playing with her vintage Little People - the ones I played with when I was a kid.  Amma adored the children.  Doug and I enjoyed listening to her stories, as always.  The only bad part was leaving - we were only able to stay for a few hours, but we were just grateful to be able to spend any amount of time with her.  

When we got back, we ate dinner at Boatwright's, our resort's sit-down restaurant.  I'd head wonderful things about it and the food didn't disappoint.  After dinner, the kids and I spent most of the rest of our snack credits on things we could bring home, while Doug bought some food from the food court with our quick service credits and the remaining snack credits, so we wouldn't have to pay out of pocket for our food on Sunday.  (We were originally going to check out on Saturday but extended our stay until Sunday, so our dining plan credits expired 'early'.)

The next morning was a weird mixture of rushed and relaxed.  Our flight wasn't until late that afternoon, but we still had to pack everything up.  We took our time getting ready, though, and had our luggage checked in to the airline (love that Disney offers that service!) plenty early.  We took the kids to the playground, which was way cooler than I had expected.  They had a great time playing, there weren't many people around, and the weather was perfect.  After playing for a while, we decided to try fishing at the fishing hole.  It was actually pretty cheap, so we paid for a half hour use of their cane fishing poles.  At first the kids were very excited, but they got bored pretty quickly.  As we were getting ready to finish up, Colwyn caught a fish!  None of the kids had ever caught a fish before, so he was thrilled.

Of course, it wasn't really good-bye, because we still had to eat lunch in the food court and do some last minute shopping in the gift shop.  The CM there was awesome and loaded us up with Mardi Gras beads and stickers.  Before we knew it, it was time to board Magical Express and head home.  We loved our vacation, and Port Orleans in particular.  Unfortunately, we'll probably be stuck in the Values from here on out, since Niall will be at least 3 years old on our next trip, but we still dream that we'll be able to afford two rooms at Port Orleans.

Day Twelve

Our last day in the parks!  There was definitely a bittersweet flavor to the day, and we were determined to end our park experiences on a great note.  At rope drop we went straight to Merida's meet and greet and were about the third family in line.  Obviously we got into the first session and enjoyed the experience.  They have her area themed well and I love the archery lessons!  I thought that was really unique and a lot of fun.  Even Niall took a turn trying to shoot, which was a riot.  Merida herself was very sweet and friendly.  We commented on Fiona having the whole "three brothers" thing in common with Merida and how brothers can be pesky.

We went to see Tinkerbell and Periwinkle next.  We got a lot of mileage out of our matching tie-dye shirts there.  The CM joked with us a bit about them, and the fairies were very impressed with my tinkering ability, both because of the shirts and the autograph book.  Tink and Periwinkle were both cute and fun to meet, but Doug and I were really looking forward to our next activity - Cinderella's Royal Table for a late breakfast.  Okay, I think the kids were excited, too.  We had a great time at CRT, which we pretty much expected since it's so ridiculously expensive.  They brought out a bunch of pastries as appetizers which I thought was a nice touch - they were delicious.  But the real highlight (for me anyway) was the lobster crepes.  Absolutely amazing!  Lachlann was a little put out that he didn't get to pick anything he wanted from a buffet, but they all ended up enjoying their food.  Getting swords and a wand was a nice surprise for them, and the wishing-on-a-star ceremony was so cute!  They all wished for more time at Disney.. too bad that wish wasn't going to come true!

When we got out of breakfast, we spotted the Tremaines doing a meet and greet so we got in line.  They were hilarious, as always, and we decided to do something extra.  It was my father's birthday that day - originally, my parents were supposed to join us for the end of our vacation so he could have his birthday in Disney World and then come with us to visit his family over the weekend, but for various reasons, that fell through.  So we told the Tremaines about it and asked them if they would wish him a Happy Birthday on video.  They were awesome and hammed it up for the camera.

We got Peter Pan Fastpasses next and headed into New Fantasyland to meet Gaston.  He was fantastic - totally in character and very sociable.  He definitely had the superiority complex down.  When he signed the autograph book, he made sure to 'underline the important parts in the story' - his name!  He was really hilarious - we talked about how many eggs he's currently eating, and he told us that he's roughly the size of a barge - but not actually the size of a barge, because that would be ridiculous.  He talked to Niall for a bit while I was holding him and we got some awesome pictures, but I can't remember what he said.  I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm pretty sure I giggled in a very girly way at whatever he said.


Peter Pan was next, and thank goodness we had our Fastpasses.  It had gotten very, very busy - which was disappointing, but not really a surprise since it was the start of MLK Jr weekend.  We headed over to Tomorrowland after Peter Pan and grabbed Fastpasses for Buzz.  There was no chance of riding it walk-on several times in a row this time!  While waiting for our window to open, we rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority and Carousel of Progress.  I loved the nostalgia of Carousel of Progress - it was just like I remembered it when I was a kid.  It was time for Buzz Lightyear next - fun, but no Galactic Hero score.  They were doing a dance party on the Tomorrowland stage so we checked that out.  Stitch was there dancing and actually danced with us for a bit.

The kids wanted to do Dumbo and the Barnstormer again, so we headed back to New Fantasyland and got Fastpasses.  The window was fairly far out, so we decided to meet Goofy and Donald, then rode the train around full circle.  By then it was time to use our Fastpasses, so Doug took Fiona on Dumbo while I took the boys on the Barnstormer.  Colwyn and Lachlann loved it, of course, but Niall was funny - he looked like he was overwhelmed and a little scared, but he said he liked it.  It was getting late by then and we needed to eat dinner, but I also wanted to make sure we got a good spot for the fireworks.  We decided to get Cosmic Ray's to go and found a spot on the sidewalk near the Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street to sit and eat.  The fireworks were wonderful, and I was just thinking how great an end to our day it was, when they announced over the PA system that Magic Kingdom would stay open an hour later.  The really great part of that was that they waited a little bit before announcing it - we had decided to find a quiet spot to sit and wait for the crowds to thin.  So it was once we had already gotten past the castle, while most people were swept up in the tide trying to get out that they made the announcement.  The park was pretty much empty very quickly.

We had wanted to finish the Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom mission we were on (the portals had gone down earlier), so we waited for the fire department to give the all clear before we could head back there.  A CM explained that they hose down the castle and other buildings after the fireworks to make sure nothing catches on fire.  After we finished our game, we still had plenty of time and rode the teacups several times in a row (they weren't making people get off and get back in line, we could just stay and ride).  Doug and Colwyn got one more ride on the Tomorrowland Speedway.  We took our time leaving, used the bathrooms, etc.  In the end, we got some great video of the kids (and Doug!) dancing in an almost empty Main Street.

It was incredibly late by the time we got back to our resort, but so worth it!  It was definitely our best night of the whole trip.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Day Eleven

We were glad that we'd made Wednesday night an early night because Thursday was Extra Magic Hour at Magic Kingdom.  We made a beeline for Enchanted Tales with Belle and Colwyn actually volunteered to play a part (the other kids were still too shy).  The show was lovely, as usual, and we all got our pictures with Belle afterwards.  We had a late breakfast at Crystal Palace.  I definitely prefer doing the last breakfast seating, it worked out so well every time we did it.  At Crystal Palace, it was pretty empty and we got to see each of the characters multiple times.  It was nice that the buffet was not a madhouse, and we even had the opportunity to try some of the lunch dishes they were putting out as we were finishing up.  Of course, we were all stuffed to bursting by then.

After breakfast, the kids wanted to ride Jungle Cruise but it had a long wait, so we met Jasmine and Aladdin instead.  They were very personable and made some great jokes about Abu (Aladdin's picture included Abu as an elephant).  Niall gave them both hugs of course.  We did the Magic Carpet ride next, then headed out of Magic Kingdom to go to Epcot.

At Epcot, we took the Friendship boat directly to Germany and signed up for the Agent P mission.  For some reason, Lachlann wasn't into it so he went with Niall and I to watch the trains (huge hit with Niall) and went into Karamel Kuche to drool over all the sweets.  Seriously, that place is amazing.  I got a huge turtle to share with Doug and Lachlann picked out a (ginormous) cookie and brownie for the kids to split.  We did the Kidcot stop there, watched the trains some more, and peeked in Italy real quick to see if there was a CM manning the Kidcot table (there wasn't).  We met Snow White at her wishing well in Germany.  She loved Colwyn's Grumpy shirt!

On the way to China to meet Mulan, I spotted the bead stand in the African Outpost that I'd heard about.  Disney sends outdated park maps and other paperwork to a group of women in Africa, who roll the paper into beautiful beads.  They then ship the beads back for Disney to sell in the park, and Disney gives the women all of the profits.  The beads were just lovely and I liked the idea of having a meaningful souvenir that I could wear regularly and not have it scream, "Disney!"  While I was picking out my necklace, I had a great conversation with the CM, who was from Chicago.  It was extremely windy and cold that afternoon, so we talked about how windy it gets in Chicago, and about kids, and all sorts of stuff.  She was wonderful to talk to.

When we got to China, we were just in time to meet Mulan (and very grateful that they didn't cancel her meet due to the weather).  Fiona had an attack of the grumpies because we let one of the boys hand the autograph book to Mulan, so she refused to get out of the stroller.  Niall really took to Mulan, though, and we got a bunch of cute pictures of them, as well as the obligatory picture of Mulan trying to coax Fiona out of the stroller.  Mulan also talked to the boys about how it's good to be strong, but how a warrior's most important weapon is his (or her) brain.  We explored the rest of the China pavilion next and were very impressed with the terracotta warriors.  We found the Kidcot stop there and did that, then checked out the stores and took some goofy pictures with various hats.

We had a reservation for dinner at Akershus in Norway, which was next around the Showcase, but it was still a bit early so we skipped over to Mexico.  The mariachi band was playing outside and Niall and another little girl got really into the music.  She was a great dancer, but Niall was more interested in doing his running-in-circles-around-her thing.  We went in the temple and did the Mexico Kidcot stop, then rode Three Caballeros.  After Mexico, we had just enough time to check out the Norway museum (cool but tiny) and do their Kidcot stop before dinner.

Akershus was interesting.  The kids were disappointed in the appetizer buffet because they didn't have the traditional buffet fare, but we all really enjoyed our meals.  The princesses were all pretty chatty, especially Ariel.  It was well and truly freezing on our way out, but we still stopped and did Spaceship Earth before heading back to our hotel.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Day Ten

Wednesday was another morning at Hollywood Studios.  This time we split up so the boys would be able to do Jedi Training Academy.  I took them to sign up while Doug took Fiona and Niall to get Toy Story Mania Fastpasses.  We wanted to ride TSM standby but the line was already about 30 minutes by then, so we met Buzz and Woody, who were just starting their meet and greets.  Normally that has a long line but we were able to get in and out pretty quickly.  We had great interaction from them, too.  Woody liked that his autograph page just had a picture of him (and not Buzz) and teased Buzz that we'd left him out.  Of course, Buzz did have his own page, so we got that worked out after lots of bravado on both Woody's and Buzz's parts.  By then, our Fastpass window had opened, so we rode TSM.

And then it was time for one of the things I'd been most looking forward to:  meeting Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope.  We had all seen the movie in the theater and loved it, so I made Fiona a Vanellope outfit.  I had a dye that was a pretty good match for the turquoise she wears, so I dyed a sweatshirt and leggings, and sewed a brown skirt to go with it (weirdly, I couldn't find a brown skirt at any of the stores I tried).  It was too hot to wear a sweatshirt so we'd stashed it under our stroller until we went into the Animation Building.  The queue for Wreck-It Ralph was fun, just like I'd heard.  Nothing interactive (at least, not that I saw), but if you know video games, the scrolling 'arrivals' board is funny.  We had to wait for a little while - they hadn't started their sets yet but there were already a few people in line, so Fiona and I waited while Doug entertained the boys at the various exhibits nearby.  When it was finally our turn to meet Vanellope and Ralph, Vanellope did not disappoint.  She was so excited to see Fiona dressed up just like her, she started jumping up and down and waving her arms around like a maniac.  She rushed over to Fiona and made heart signs and gestured back and forth between them, then made sure Ralph and everyone else nearby noticed that Fiona was dressed just like her.  Fiona actually found it a little intimidating, but she did like the attention. Ralph, for his part, was funny - he and Vanellope had a bit of back-and-forth like they do in the movie.  His hands are HUGE and that got us some funny pictures.

The kids wanted to play on the Honey I Shrunk The Kids playground next, and since Doug was with us, we headed over there.  The boys had a great time, but Fiona was feeling a little clingy so we just sat with some other parents.  We did have a nice conversation with one woman about her pins and Phineas and Ferb.  Before we knew it, it was time for Jedi Training Academy.  Unfortunately, the area in front of the stage was way too sunny for us to want to stand there, so we found a spot off to the side.  It worked out well, though, because Colwyn and Lachlann ended up standing on our side.  The show itself was funnier than usual.  A very little girl who they had placed at the front of the stage simply could not extend her lightsaber.  The Jedi Master kept trading lightsabers with her, cracking jokes all the while.  That was much more funny than his scripted puns.  The boys did great fighting Vader - Colwyn hit the jackpot and got to force-push the stormtroopers, which was super cool.

After Jedi Training, we went back to the Animation Building to meet Mr. Incredible and Frozone.  I asked the kids to make muscles or copy Frozone's pose, but only Colwyn would show off his muscles.  As he was standing in the middle, I realized right before they snapped the picture that it would look like he was punching Fiona and Lachlann, and pointed it out.  We got much more genuine smiles that way.  The boys were dying for some more Star Wars fun, so Doug took them to ride Star Tours while I took the littles back to our resort (I wanted to get them fed and put Niall down for a nap at a reasonable hour).  I was a little nervous about taking them by myself, especially since I left the stroller with Doug, but it worked out fin.  As it turned out, Niall refused to nap, but we at least got a good rest.

At the Magic Kingdom, Doug and I split up - he took Colwyn on the Tomorrowland Speedway while I took the other kids on Buzz Lightyear's Ranger Spin.  We got to walk on multiple times which was so much fun.  During one ride, I noticed that Lachlann (who was riding by himself, in front of us), had somehow managed to score 999,999 - the highest score possible.  Luckily I had the camera and snapped a picture of him and his score.  He was over the moon and extremely proud of his prowess.  He insisted I mention it to the Photopass cashier on the way out (Buzz Lightyear has ride photos), and when I did, another CM happened to overhear and made him a "I'm Celebrating!" button that said, "999,999!" and "Galactic Hero!" on it.  It was very sweet of her and Lachlann was so pleased.  Doug and Colwyn met up with us after that ride, so we traded off and I took Lachlann to ride the Tomorrowland Speedway.  A few people noticed his button and congratulated him, which made his head swell even more.  It was very cute.

When we were done there, we took a quick ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority together and then called it a night.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Day Nine

We got up early the next morning (Tuesday) and head back to Epcot for its Extra Magic Hour.  This was our one unpleasant entrance experience.  We had a very rude couple cut in front of us during bag check, but karma got them when they got in line for the Room-Key Turnstiles and had to be turned away since they had paper tickets.  But no big deal in the grand scheme of things, especially when you're at Disney!  I took Colwyn and Lachlann on Test Track while Doug got Fastpasses for Soarin'.  Doug got to take Colwyn on Mission Space.  Colwyn told me much later that it was really cool, but at the end when the shuttle is teetering on the edge of the cliff, that he waited for the other people around him to get up before he did, because he was afraid he'd tip the shuttle off the cliff.

We headed over to the Land pavilion next and alternated taking the big kids on Soarin' and having breakfast with the little kids and riding Livin' with the Land.  Next we took the boat over to Morocco and explored that area thoroughly.  We were really impressed with the tile mosaics, the fountain, and the gift shops.  They did the Kidcot thing there and got little trading cards for the country.  Japan was next and I made a beeline for pick a pearl with Fiona, something I'd been looking forward to for a while.  Pearl is her birthstone, as well as her aunt's (they're both born on the same day, actually), so the idea was to get them both pearls and get matching settings later.  Pick a pearl was a lot of fun.  The girl told us how to count "3-2-1" in Japanese (it sounds like, "Itchy, knee, sun!").  We got 7.5mm pearls, both nicely white.  The giant department store was really awesome, and I kept thinking of how much my sister would have loved it.  Too bad she's 'too cool' for Disney.  We also did the Kidcot stop there before heading on to the American Adventure.

We lucked out in America because the Fife and Drum troupe were coming out just as we were finishing up the Kidcot stop.  I'd been looking forward to American Adventure least because, well, we live here.  We also live in a very historic area so I thought I would feel, "Been there, done that" but it was actually a very nice area.  We tried Italy next, but there weren't any cast members there, so we took the boat back to Mexico.  Doug took the big kids on Test Track while I headed out of the park and to Lost and Found at the Ticket and Transportation Center.  Niall fell asleep before we even left Epcot, so that was convenient.  The people in Lost and Found were really nice and helpful, though Niall's monorail had broken at some point.  I'm sure I could have complained and probably gotten a free replacement out of that (not because I deserved it, but because Disney is exceedingly nice that way), but I didn't want to take advantage.  We rode the monorail around the resort loop a few times while Niall napped, and Doug and the bigs caught up to us.

We headed into Magic Kingdom next and went straight to Adventureland.  We rode the Magic Carpets, the Jungle Cruise, and Pirates of the Caribbean.  We popped into It's A Small World real quick and got Fastpasses for Peter Pan before heading over to Be Our Guest for our reservation.  They were running a little behind so we fit in a ride on Little Mermaid, which was a very nice surprise (and much better than waiting around for an extra 20 minutes).  We did still have to wait a few minutes to be seated, but the kids entertained us with sword fights and posing for funny pictures with the gargoyles.  Be Our Guest was simply amazing.  I couldn't believe how incredible it looked inside.  They really went above and beyond there, and to think that it's even just a quick service at lunch, rather than a Signature restaurant is just incredible.  Unfortunately, our waiter sucked.  He was painfully slow and boring to boot.  The food was okay, but nothing special.  Meeting the Beast was a highlight, but it was too bad that he didn't sign.  We loved the way he walked through the restaurant as he was announced, and it was pretty comical that he barely fit through the doorway to where his actual meet and greet was.

When we left, we decided that there wasn't time to do Peter Pan before the fireworks (Colwyn was really annoyed).  We got a less than stellar view of the fireworks from the Tomorrowland bridge, but had fun with our glow bracelets we'd brought from home (and shared with some kids nearby).  We decided to let the crowds thin out and took the opportunity to call home.  By the time we headed out, the park was pretty empty and we got a nice Photopass picture in front of the castle.