Sunday, February 7, 2016

DISNEY: day six {leaving and review}

On Saturday morning, we woke up and walked/ran over to the resort's main building for breakfast. It was the windiest (making it feel the coldest) it had been the entire time and we were thankful we were not heading to a park! This was also the day it snowed back home in Sandersville. We used the rest of our quick-service and snack credits from our dining plan and shared a breakfast platter and pastries.

Soon after, we were packed up and on our way home. I kind of thought the kids would crash in the car but, other than a short nap for Joseph, they were awake the whole 7-hour drive. Too excited thinking about all the fun!

In review, I thought I would include some notes on our first trip to Disney...

One thing we found very helpful was the Disney World My Disney Experience app. We would pull it up all the time. It was our map, how we checked wait times, how we decided where to grab something to eat and know where characters were at any given time. It's accurate and easy to navigate. On the homepage, it has my plans, which would include anything we had FastPass or dining reservations for, along with any additional notes I added. 

The food throughout Disney was very good and going with the dining plan was the right decision for us. We had heard that using the credits can get confusing and the plan can be a waste of money, but we didn't have that problem. We like to eat and we didn't want to worry about paying everywhere we went for everything. If you do it right, the meal plan can save you a lot of money. 

We chose the middle plan where each person gets a table-service meal, a quick-service meal, and a snack per day. You can spend the credits however you want. For example, the meal at California Grill at the top of The Contemporary took 2 table-service credits per person. That left us with one day without a table-service meal. Fortunately for us, we wanted to eat breakfast at the Beast's castle on Friday. Be Our Guest is a table-service at dinner but at breakfast is a quick-service, so we were good. See...research pays off. :)

I left the dining plan credit figuring-out to Joe. As he's our chief meal planner at home, I thought this was perfect! He kept a note on his phone and would edit it accordingly. This was so like him - made me laugh as he'd plan how to best use our credits.

We picked an off-peak time of year to go, leaving shorter lines and far less crowds. It was perfect. And it certainly wasn't hot. To give you an idea of the crowd size, this what it looked like mid-day at the Magic Kingdom:

The weather was chilly - chillier than I would have liked for Florida, but we were prepared with jackets, hats and scarves. They all came off by lunch and the sun was mostly out. Only on Friday, our last park day, did we have bad weather. It rained on and off until mid-afternoon but it wasn't terrible; didn't slow us down at all. Again, I was prepared with jackets and rain boots! Most days, we ended up in just one layer.

Each night Joe and I packed one of my Baggu (reusable grocery) bags to take with us to the park. It held snacks, the pillowcases and fabric markers for autographs, Mouse ears, and a few other things. {On a whim I decided to bring a little coloring book and markers and that was really useful at restaurants or in line.} By the end of the day, we stuffed hats or jackets and souvenirs in there as well. We kept it in the stroller (or on the visor when both kids were riding) and it was bright turquoise making our stroller easy to identify among the other rentals when left outside attractions. We also had a small soft-sided cooler holding a few bottles of water and juice boxes. Other than that, I carried a purse.

To give the character something to hold and bear down on when signing the pillowcases, we brought Hannah's little dry erase board which she uses to practice her letters. I packed her dry-erase markers in our daily bag giving her something to do when little brother was coloring.

About the pillowcases... I wanted something for the kids to get autographs, but didn't necessarily want to go the book route. My mom got them both for the Disney Cruise. The autograph books were by Amanda at Dixie Delights. I added pictures of the children with each character in there, as well as wrote a diary laying out each day's activities. They turned out really cute and sit on the shelves in the kids' bedrooms. But we also did pillowcases, leaving them at guest services once we got onboard the ship, where they were signed by the characters (princesses for Hannah, Mickey and the gang for Joseph).

Truthfully, the kids like their pillowcases the most and love sleeping on them. I'm still glad we did the books on the cruise but for this trip, I went with just pillowcases. We weren't planning on trying to get a bunch of autographs this trip either. We met most of the characters the kids wanted to on the cruise. I reserved a Fast Pass for the Anna/Elsa meet-and-greet and planned to see Pocahontas at Animal Kingdom. Of course, we had to make sure to see Mickey and the gang! Other than that, all other character encounters were a bonus.

We ended up meeting a bunch of characters and were so excited how the pillowcases turned out.

I did not bring my nice camera and so glad. We decided to go with the Memory Maker after hearing mixed advice. Best decision. We got professional pictures in front of the castle and at other iconic places, all of the pictures/videos from the rides and any character encounters. This was great for me because it meant I didn't have to worry about being behind the camera, worried about trying to get a good shot, and could instead be in the moment.

I also had my phone and took plenty of everything else. As you could tell from earlier posts, I came back with tons of pictures of our first Disney experience!

The app also had all PhotoPass pictures that had been taken of us. And it was super fast being updated. We'd have a picture taken and a few minutes later it'd be there:

I planned and planned this trip. I asked for lots of advice and read stuff online and in The Unofficial Guide to Disney. I think some people thought I was a little silly with all the planning and booking things in advance. But, you know what? It paid off.

We did everything we wanted to do and more. We ate at all the places we wanted to eat. We were prepared and organized. But we also were flexible and allowed ourselves to be spontaneous. I think that's the big difference. I wasn't the crazy lady with the moment-by-moment itinerary and incapable of diverting from it; we did, in fact, many times do just that. And we weren't rushed.

Hannah and Joseph had an amazing time. We heard very few complaints. They even squabbled a lot less than usual. I know how stressful trips to Disney can be and have heard people say they have no interest in going or those who have gone say they don't want to go back. Thankfully, that was not us. We all got along fine and, other than a couple times trying to reach a reservation, we really didn't stress at all.

Exhaustion, on the other hand, did not escape us. How can you not be exhausted after that?! After four packed-full park days, we arrived home that Saturday night definitely needing to rest and catch up on sleep. While everyone felt fine during the week, the last night was rough and Joseph and I both were not feeling well, ending up on antibiotics for colds turned worse. We were just glad it was after the trip!

On the car ride back home, Joe and I talked about our time in Disney and what we would have done differently. Honestly, we couldn't think of anything, at least anything significant. It was just right. We had so much fun and have a ton of memories from our 6 days spent in the land of magic.

And I can't believe I'm saying this so soon, but I'm looking forward to going again in the hopefully not too-distant future!

With that, I close the book so to speak on this Disney post series. I did it primarily for our own family record-keeping but if it helps anyone else out there that's a bonus. Now I need to make a photo book while the memories and details are still fresh in my mind.

See ya real soon!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

DISNEY: day five {Magic Kingdom, round two}

Friday was our last park day and we spent a full 12 hours in Magic Kingdom. We woke up to the promise of a wet day. It was raining, but we were not going to be deterred! Off to the Castle we went and posed for a family picture before arriving for our 8:45 breakfast reservation at Be Our Guest, in Fantasyland at the back of the park.

While we covered most of Fantasyland and Tomorrowland on Tuesday, we planned to be mainly in Frontierland and Adventureland on Friday. Before leaving Fantasyland, however, we went on Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid. This a popular ride, but the wait was really short that time of the morning (and the weather probably kept some people away). Our family loves The Little Mermaid so this was a must-do.

Then off to Frontierland where Joe and the kids posed at the obligatory photo op. The last time I was there, 1995, I did the same pose and still have the picture. The kids got a kick out of it.

At Joe's request (and something my mom for sure would want to do), we went to the Hall of Presidents. It wasn't as exciting for the kids but Joe and I enjoyed it.

Over in Adventureland, we played at the Swiss Family Treehouse. That was really cool, and my kids love a club house and climbing trees. This was the most fascinating thing they might have seen.

It started to rain just as we were leaving, which was perfect timing for an indoor ride like Pirates of the Caribbean. A downpour ensued and continued from our visit to the gift store (spy glass for Joseph!) to lunch at Pecos Bill's.

I had organized the day so that we could go back to the hotel if necessary to rest after lunch, but we didn't end up needing or wanting to. I was going off of the kids' energy level and they were in it for the long haul. No wasting time on our last day here!

Off to Splash Mountain. The line wasn't bad, which is weird because what better ride for a rainy day?! Again, two rounds for Hannah.

The rain had passed in time for the Festival of Fantasy Parade. This was definitely one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. The floats, music, costumes, dancing, and obviously the characters make this a must see. Fortunately enough, while Joe and Hannah were on Splash Mountain, Joseph and I walked right up to the rope for an obstructed view along the parade route. Hannah got into her place next to Joseph just before Belle came by on the first float.

Cinderella and Prince Charming came next, followed by Tiana and Prince Naveen. Anna and Elsa were next, and let me just stop the presses here.

Anna waved right at Hannah and then Elsa blew her a kiss. I was so excited tears filled my eyes. You've got the music and merriment which is happy by itself, but my baby getting that special attention from two of her favorites and her joy just sent me over the edge.

Rapunzel's float was really cool with riders on huge swinging hammers. Then came Ariel combing her hair with a dinglehopper, followed by Peter Pan's and Merida's floats.

Now the representation from Sleeping Beauty was pretty awesome. The thorns on stilts below followed by Maleficent in dragon form. It actually breathed fire...yeah, it was super cool. I was behind Joseph so I didn't see his face, but I can imagine it. And he talked about it after.

Jiminy Cricket and Snow White among others, followed by Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Chip and Dale brought the finale. Minnie waved at Hannah, too! Funny thing... When we saw the parade on our first day in Magic Kingdom, Hannah was wearing her Minnie ears. I guess because of where we were standing on higher ground and our proximity to Mickey and Minnie's airship, it put Hannah in Joe's arms not far off Minnie's eye level. In all those people, she found Hannah and waved, then gestured with her hands on her own ears to say she liked Hannah's. That was cool - and Hannah loved it!

Such a fun time. Our location and view, the characters waving and interacting with the kids...could not have been more perfect.

After the parade we went on a Jungle Cruise in Adventureland. This attraction is a humorous take on a safari boat ride. Our tour guide was full of jokes and tales as we coasted through the water. It was fun but the wait was long. We had an extra FastPass that we should have used on this ride but when we walked up the line said 20 minutes. We waited more like 40; the time obviously hadn't been updated in a while.

Then it was TIME. Time to go to Princess Fairytale Hall and meet the duo we had been waiting to meet. The anticipation had been building and Hannah and Joseph were both overjoyed to finally get to see Anna and Elsa. Having a FastPass for this is a no brainer.

Hannah chose her Anna coronation day costume for the meet-and-greet. She really likes Anna the best, because of her personality no doubt. Anna was fantastic. She had the exact personality as in the movie: fun, youthful and excited. Hannah and Joseph laughed and played with her and had the biggest smiles on their faces. Hannah had drawn a picture for Anna and Elsa before we left. We made sure we had it ready to give them and they were so sweet about it.

Elsa, while kind and sweet is more gentle and serious. Hannah and Joseph were delighted to meet her as well.

On the way out, we stopped in the gift shop for Hannah to get her souvenir. What better way to commemorate the event than by picking out an Anna/Elsa flip doll? One side is Anna then you flip her upside down and under her dress reveals Elsa. Love a good two-in-one!

We had a FastPass earlier in the day for Thunder Mountain Railroad, but because of the rain it was closed for a while and we were free to use it whenever. So Hannah and I went for a ride and then while Joe was taking his turn with Hannah, I took Joseph to the Country Bear Jamboree. Pretty basic (and old) but entertaining enough for him.

We met up at the Frontierland Shootin' Arcade where Joe helped the kids hit their targets.

Then it was time to grab a quick-service dinner and find a place to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade and the Wishes nighttime spectacular fireworks show. While Joe waited in line for hotdogs at Casey's Corner, the kids and I posed for one last shot in front of the Castle. The parade was really cool with all the lights wrapped around the floats and characters and of course the fireworks were awesome.

The ending of our final day was just magical. As we were standing there, our little family close together in the middle of Main Street, I got teary eyed again. Just thinking about how blessed I was to have these three special people in my life, to be on this incredible trip. It was such a fun day and it had been an amazing week full of memories to last a lifetime.