Friday, February 13, 2015

Hollywood Studios - W(here)TF is the Hat?

We enjoyed our morning at Animal Kingdom so much that we went to Hollywood Studios on Friday morning.  The boys had been begging to ride Rock-n-Roller Coaster, so it was time to give them what they wanted.  It was really, really cold in the morning, though.  We actually had to bring hoodies (though we did take them off around noon).

We got there a little late, though, and had to wait in the huge lines to get through the tapstiles.  That meant we had to skip Toy Story Mania in order to get to our First Time In Forever:  A Frozen Sing-A-Long (or whatever it's called) Fast Passes.  This was a concession to Fiona, since she didn't get to ride much at Animal Kingdom, and she'd also have to skip RNR, too.

While we were walking in, though, the kids were amazed to see that they were dismantling the former park icon, Sorcerer Mickey's hat.  Doug and I had heard/read about it, but I guess we had somehow neglected to mention it to the kids.  They were totally bummed and insisted I take a picture of them in front of it, looking depressed.

On our way to the Frozen Sing-A-Long, we stopped to take a picture with the giant Coke bottle (which was not misting, obviously), and also stopped to check out the golden coach from the new Cinderella movie.  Fiona was enthralled.

 The Frozen show was, at first, a disappointment.  The first time we saw it, the 'historians' were the CMs who have done Hyperspace Hoopla in the YouTube videos we've seen, and they were amazing.  Obviously, they can't do every show, so I wasn't surprised that the CMs playing the historians were different, but it was a little disappointing.  However, like last time, the show was surprisingly good.  This was mainly because the male historian got a major case of the giggles and blew a significant portion of the show.  I know, not very professional, but I enjoyed it immensely.  The kids also learned a new Frozen joke, so.. win?

RNR was next, and after making sure they got into the Fast Pass line properly, the littles and I went into the gift shop to wait for them.  Niall saw this awesome Aerosmith hat and insisted on trying it on.

It was a little big.

The boys got through pretty quickly, so we let them ride again while the littles and I sat outside and ate Fruit Loops (well, they did, I didn't).  We enjoyed hearing people scream from the Tower of Terror.

We all really want to meet Baymax and Hiro, so we got in their line next.  Unfortunately, Baymax needed more than the 'usual' 15 minutes to recharge, so we had to get out of line after waiting for a good 20 minutes, otherwise we were going to miss our Star Tours Fast Pass.  Oh well, we'll try again after Winter Break is over.

Star Tours was awesome, of course, and afterwards we headed into the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground.  It was MOBBED.  I've never seen it like that before, it was bonkers.

But we managed.  I showed the kids where I was going to wait for them, then watched them spend about 20 minutes playing in this giant spider web.  Kids.

Niall was not happy to have to leave, but again, the promise of a tram ride got him out of there.

That evening at storytime, the kids got out our Imagineering Field Guides and had fun looking through them.  The highlight was Niall, looking through the Hollywood Studios book, saying, "Oh!  We have to go to Hall of Presents tomorrow!  It's at Animal Kingdom!"

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Animal Kingdom On Our Own

After working Saturday-Monday, I needed some time to rest up before venturing to the parks.  We were feeling pretty good Thursday morning, so we went over to Animal Kingdom.  This was my first full park visit without another adult helping me (as you may recall, I did spend a few hours in Epcot alone with the kids when Doug interviewed).  I'm lucky the kids are so well-behaved; it's really no big deal taking four kids to a theme park by myself.  The only problem comes when not everyone wants (or is able) to ride the same thing.

We missed rope drop by a few minutes, but still managed to get over to Kilimanjaro Safari shortly after 9am.  The posted wait was 10 minutes, we walked directly on (it does feel like it takes 10 minutes to just walk through the queue, so maybe that's where they get the 10 minutes from).

Niall brought his Tanooki Mario along, and Fiona brought a little monkey.  I think the stuffed animals had a pretty good time.  It was pretty cool out, and I don't know if that's why, but the hippos were all out of the water and snoozing on the banks.  One was up and actually moving around a bit, too.  We'd never seen that before.

In the main savannah section where the giraffes usually are, they looked like they were doing some work.  There were no giraffes over there, so the drive through was pretty boring.  There were only three giraffes out around the corner.  After the safari, we walked through the Pangani Forest Trail.  It was a little busy, but we had a great time.  Fiona was disappointed that we hadn't thought to bring a notebook for her to draw the animals, so I think we'll make a trip soon specifically to draw different animals.  I love that we can take the time to do that and not worry about missing out on rides.

After finishing the trail, we used our Kilimanjaro Safari Fast Pass for another ride.  It was definitely busier this time, even though the posted standby wait still said 10 minutes.  We were on the truck in about 5 minutes, which included a nice little chat with the CM in the loading area who recognized us.

After the safari, we headed over to Expedition Everest so the boys could ride.  Colwyn balked at the last minute, so Lachlann rode all by himself.  He was really proud of himself.  As you can see from the picture above, Colwyn regretted his choice pretty quickly.  Thankfully, though, I was able to give the boys Fiona's and my Magic Bands so they could ride using our Fast Passes.

Dinoland USA was next on our agenda.  We stopped at the Boneyard for a bit to play - we had skipped it on our September trip because it was so hot, but the kids had fun this time around.  When they were ready to move on, the boys went on to Primeval Whirl while I took the littles on Triceratop Spin.  Then it was off to DINOSAUR for the bigs, while the littles and I sat and ate the Nutella sandwiches we had brought.

We had this creepy dinosaur for company.  Weird choice for a water feature, don't you think?  There was a little boy sitting across from us - he, Fiona, and Niall had fun looking at lizards in the landscaping.

And that was pretty much it for our morning at Animal Kingdom.  Niall was super excited about riding the tram, though, so leaving the park went smoothly.

We had to go up to PetCo afterwards to get crickets for Lachlann's leopard gecko, then we had to hit Publix.  I have to tell you - it's very strange going from Animal Kingdom to PetCo in 30 minutes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Winter Park

When we made the decision to move to Florida, we knew not to fall into the trap of thinking, "Oh, I'm sure our family will follow us."  Chances are, they won't.  We knew we had to be okay with only seeing them once or twice a year, unless we move back north.  And we are okay with that (for now).

But, of course, it would be wonderful if they did move down here.  Unfortunately, both my sister and my father have a less than favorable view of Florida, so when Kristine came down for a visit, I set out to show her that there's more to Florida than subdivisions, strip malls, and sinkholes.  We spent a good bit of time driving around Clermont, checking out the older neighborhoods.  We also went up to Winter Park for the day.

Winter Park is in the northeast area of Orlando.  All I really know about it is that it's upscale and trendy, there's a college and some art museums.  I wasn't expecting a whole lot, but boy, was I surprised.

We went to Rollins College, to the Cornell Fine Arts Museum.  Kristine is a big fan of Kara Walker, and they had a timely exhibit of her work, focusing on her Civil War pieces.  It was a good start to Black History Month for sure.

The college itself is lovely.  Lots of mature trees with moss dripping from the branches, beautiful flowers, brick streets, and lovely buildings.  We went for a short walk behind the museum, along the water.  Above, Fiona is pointing out what looks like an eye in the tree.

Here the kids are being very silly, posing in front of the museum.  It was just so beautiful.

When we were done in the museum, we hopped over to Hannibal Square and part of Park Avenue.  Kristine totally fell in love (or as much as she can in Florida).  I'm sure she can describe it better than I can, but it was definitely something I didn't expect to see in Florida.  It was definitely a trendy, more indie area.  Other areas of Park Ave have more of the upscale brand boutiques, but the areas we were in weren't quite like that.

There were dog bowls outside of lots of shops, and lots and lots of green - in hanging plants, window baskets, planters, etc.  Some of it had a bit of a Art Deco feel.

I just loved this second floor here, with all the hanging plants and boxes along the railing.  Our best guess is that they're hotel rooms, but I'm really not sure.  This was across the street from Peterbrooke Chocolatier, where we got a little snack.

I'm so glad we got over to Winter Park.  I think we nearly have Kristine convinced.  And on another note, we also saw a paella bar that has all you can eat paella for $13.  Doug can't wait to go.

Annual Passes At Last!

Kristine's visit was the push we needed - we finally got our Florida resident annual passes to Disney World!  We went to Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, the best day of the week per Easy WDW.  Kristine was a little stressed out when I told her we'd have to leave the house by 7:30am to get to the Ticket and Transportation Center by 8am so we could get our passes, take the ferry over, and get through bag check before rope drop at 9am.

We made it to the Magic Kingdom with a few minutes to spare before the opening ceremony.  I won't lie:  I found it a little emotional, finally being there after almost three months of living down here and scrounging for my Disney fixes.  The kids were very excited!

We headed into Adventureland first, with Jungle Cruise being our first stop.  We were in line before 9am, so it was nice to see that they still open the park a little early.  Of course, when I say 'in line' I mean walking straight onto the ride.

After we got off Jungle Cruise, we stopped and picked our Fastpasses for the day.  We tried to do the Magic Carpets next, but they were having some technical issues, so it was off to Pirates of the Caribbean.  Kristine didn't remember ever riding it before, so I'm glad she got the chance!  She hadn't been to Disney since she was maybe 15 years old.  After Pirates, Kristine took the boys on Splash and Thunder while the littles and I rode the train around the park.

A late breakfast was next, which of course meant Nutella waffles at Sleepy Hollow.  Mmmm.  Then we rode the Haunted Mansion, then started on Fantasyland.  It's a Small World was first, then the Carousel (skipping Peter Pan to ride with our Fastpasses in the evening).  I convinced Lachlann to ride a horse, and Niall photobombed him.  Of course.

Teacups were next, and Colwyn and Lachlann were thrilled to be able to ride in their own teacup.  I guess they think they can go faster if it's just them.  Kristine and I had a lovely tea party with the littles.

So far, we hadn't waited more than 10 minutes for any ride, and that was only for It's a Small World (oddly enough) - everything else was a 5 minute or less wait.  Dumbo was pretty much the same - we could have bypassed the play area, but we let the kids run and climb for ten minutes or so before riding.

After riding the Barnstormer, we had a late lunch at Cosmic Ray's, then headed into Tomorrowland.  We easily knocked out Buzz Lightyear, the Carousel of Progress, and the Peoplemover.  The line for Space Mountain was a little long, so we headed back to Enchanted Tales with Belle, then Peter Pan.

By then, Doug had gotten out of work and picked up his annual pass, so we met up with him just outside of Tomorrowland.  I opted to hold a spot for us on the bridge, right up against the railing so the kids would have an unimpeded view of the Castle projection show and fireworks.  While I hung around, Kristine and Doug took the kids on Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear.

The fireworks were awesome, and I'm so glad I got us a good spot.  I don't think the kids had ever had such a good view of the show on the castle before the fireworks, and Tinkerbell flew right over our heads!  Niall was especially entranced with her!  Of course, after the fireworks when I took Fiona for a bathroom break, she whispered to me, "Mommy, when we were eating lunch, I saw a rope that went out of the castle, and I think that's what Tinkerbell rode on.  Like a zip line!"  She's growing up.  :(

The park was open for another hour after the fireworks, so instead of battling the crowds, Doug took the boys on Space Mountain again and Kristine and I took the littles on the Speedway.  Kristine said Fiona had fun, and I'm sure she did, but Niall really had a blast.  He laughed his head off at his crazy driving.

We were there for about 13.5 hours, and I did pretty good until the last half hour.  Even though we brought a stroller to carry our lunch bag, the littles didn't ride in it until the last half hour as well.  Kristine held up really well, but definitely gained a new appreciation of the fact that we did that for 14 days on each of our last two vacations.  Whew!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Reedy Creek Fire Department

Okay, here's another major perk of moving to Florida.  We got to attend a tour of the Reedy Creek Fire Department, set up through our homeschool group.  For those of you not in the know, Reedy Creek is the immediate governing jurisdiction for the Walt Disney World Resort.  Basically, Disney wanted to have its own system for building codes and whatnot, so it created the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Now that that's settled.. on with the tour!

We went to Fire Station One, also known as the Dalmation Station.  The lobby was pretty cool with cutaways of fire hydrants and other.. technical.. things.

It was pretty cool seeing the inside of a fire hydrant.

Before the actual tour started, one of the fire department's safety inspectors told us all about the rules - that the fire station is like their house and to respect their house by not running, jumping, climbing on things, etc, just like if you were visiting someone's house.  She also told the kids that should they hear a call come in, they'll hear the tone and announcement, and that they should not run amok, but stand very still near their parents.

She had dispatch sound the tones and give us a welcome message, it was pretty cool.

Then we went to the fire station's living room and watched a video with Timon and Pumbaa about fire safety, then the firefighter gave us a long demonstration and Q&A session.  The demonstration of the firefighter's gear was standard if you've ever done a fire station tour (we've done several back in Massachusetts).  The kids thought the PASS alarm was really loud, but a lot of the little ones thought it was very funny how the firefighter had to keep dancing around to keep it from going off.

We also got to see where the firefighters sleep during the night portion of their 24 hour shift.  It's not a traditional bunk room, but each firefighter gets a cubicle so they have some privacy.  Sorry that this woman got in the shot.. but I wanted to show some of what the rooms looked like.  We were just walking past at the point when I was trying to take the picture, so I didn't have time to wait and get another.

We also saw where all their gear was, then we went into the bay with all the trucks.  They were fairly standard, with only a few extra things for Disney-specific situations.  Below is one of the ambulances.

When you call 911 from inside a theme park, the call goes to their dispatch which is just behind the Magic Kingdom.  They ask a series of questions and use an algorithm to determine what type of help is needed - usually the paramedics in the park arrive in a golf cart first, unless the situation is extremely serious (or if they're all on calls), in which case a team would go out from the fire station.

Reedy Creek Emergency Services has one of the best 'survival rates' (I think that's what he called it) for things major emergencies because they have so many trained staff on hand.  For instance, there are AEDs all over the parks, always with trained staff nearby to start the defibrillation very quickly, which increases the rate of survival.

Just a random shot below of a bunch of practice dummies stacked in a corner.  One of the cool parts of the Q&A was how they explained about all the specialized skills and gear they need for working at Disney.  For instance, at Soarin' they keep a scissor lift on hand in case they need to rescue people if the ride breaks down, and that they have special tools to unbuckle them.  They have similar tools for Tower of Terror, and he described a little bit of the process of rescuing people from the elevator if they're stuck, how they have ways to get on top of the elevator, etc.  

They also have a special key system that only the firefighters have which will power off a ride and lock all the ride vehicles in place so they don't have to worry about a vehicle moving on the track and injuring them or guests.  Only they carry the keys so a Cast Member can't accidentally turn the ride back on while they're in the middle of a call.  For monorail rescues, they have a special bridge that they will use for evacuating people - they line up a working monorail on the parallel track with the broken down monorail, then put the bridge across the gap and evacuate people that way.  They keep the bridge over near the Magic Kingdom instead of at the fire stations.

Above, he's showing us the hose they use in the resorts if there is a fire.  In all of the stairways, there are places where they can hook up the hoses, in case there's a fire in a guest's room or something.

He showed us all sorts of other tools, like the axes, sledgehammers, hooks, etc.  They don't really have to deal with too many fires working at Disney, because their fire detection system is so extensive, employing not only smoke detectors but heat detectors as well.  The sprinkler system ensures that fires are put out promptly, before things can get really out of hand.  They do answer calls to some surrounding areas in Osceola and Orange County, though, and will sometimes get called out to big wrecks on I4 and whatnot.

At the back of the truck, he showed us the ladders they keep in one of the compartments, including a cool attic ladder that they use in tight spaces.  He gave the example of sometimes they'll get called out to replace the fire detector batteries for the elderly, and they use the attic ladder because it's smaller.  I don't know why, but that tickled me.

The kids got turns climbing in the back of the fire truck, two at a time.

They also got to take pictures in the front of the truck, but only for a second because we were a large group.

 Colwyn above, and Lachlann below.

 Here's Fiona.

And Niall!

It was a really cool tour.  We were there for about an hour and a half, and the firefighters were all very friendly and patient with our endless questions.

I love living here!