Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Final Thoughts on Disney

This post is more for my own reference for the next time we go to Disney. 
Things we did right: I'm so glad we spent 2 days at the Magic Kingdom. On the first day, we were able to knock out most of the rides. So on our 2nd day there, we could ride anything we hadn't gotten to, ride our favorites again, and just take our time to soak it all in.
What I'd do differently next time: We spent a whole day at Hollywood Studios. I knew they would not have as many rides as the MK, but knowing how much Jake loves TV shows & movies, I thought it was worth it to spend the entire day there. We didn't go to Epcot any. If going back again, I'd do HS in the morning and then park hop to Epcot that evening. HS is definitely worth going to, 3 of our favorite rides were there. I'm just not sure it is worth it to spend an entire day there. 
Things that surprised me: The amount of adults waiting in line to get a characters signature. Seriously? I understand kids wanting Mickey's autograph, but a grown adult? Um, you do know that is just a regular person in a costume, right? I could put a big glove on my hand & sign your book as Mickey and it would be just as legit as that signature you just waited 30 minutes for.
Who knew?!: That Magic Kingdom had a baby center? Now, it had not been updated in 30 years, but it was clean and centrally located. They had a room for nursing moms (which is where I pumped). It was private, dim, had rocking chairs, side tables and electrical outlets. They had a room that was full of high chairs and a room full of changing tables. They had a kitchen with a sink, microwaves, etc... You could also purchase any baby items you needed, like medicine, diapers, sunscreen, etc... If you go to MK and have a baby under the age of 2, it is definitely worth noting.  
Staying at a Disney resort vs. off property: This being our first time to go, I don't have anything to compare. I'm sure if I stayed at a Disney resort, I'd never want to stay off property. But I haven't, so I can just give feedback on staying off property. It was actually much better than I thought. We had a suite verses a room and were able to stay an additional day. Our hotel was only a 5 minute drive to the parks and traffic was very manageable. I was actually surprised at how little traffic coming and leaving the park there was. Driving to the Summit shopping center on a Saturday is more hectic. Parking was $17 a day. It was nice to have our own car. No waiting for a bus to come, no waiting in the bus for it to leave. We got to come & go on our own time, which was nice. Because we were not going at a super busy time, we didn't need the extra magic hours. We did go ahead & purchase wrist bands, which made things easier. 
Meals: We did not do a meal plan. (I'm not even sure if you can do a meal plan if you are not staying on site?) Robbie did most of the planning for the trip, and I don't even know if he looked into the meal plans, but unless we could have purchased it for $10 a day per person, I can't imagine we would have spent less money doing the meal plan verses a la carte. We ate breakfast at the condo each morning. We ate lunch all 3 days in the parks. Total for the 3 of us each day was $30-35. On our first night at the park (MK), we lucked out and got a table at Be Our Guest. We knew that would be an expensive option, but since we were not doing a character meal, we were okay with it. It was a pretty neat experience and our meal ending up costing around $75 for the 3 of us. Our second day at the park (HS), because that was the emotional roller coaster of not getting picked for Jedi training, we told Jake he could pick where we ate supper. He picked Subway (that child loves a Subway!). There was one on our way to our hotel, easy enough. On our third day at the park (MK), we ate dinner at Casey's Ballpark, which was hot dogs, so that was about the same cost as lunch. All 3 days at the parks, Jake only had 2 snacks and we had a few waters. I packed snacks in my purse and he was okay with that. As first timers (in 20 years), I think the meal plan would have been one more thing to try to figure out. 
Transportation: We drove verses flying. I prefer flying over driving anytime. I get anxiety riding in a car. Especially long distances. But with gas prices so low and flights so expensive, it just made sense to drive. It wasn't that bad and I managed to only be a 9 out of 10 on the scale of annoying. (Usually I'm a 11). On Thursday, we left Birmingham after lunch, headed south via Hwy 280 to Columbus and then the interstate down to Orlando. We arrived to Orlando around 10:00 PM. On Monday, we left Orlando around 9:00 AM, and this time went through Dothan & Hwy 231 to I-65 since we had to go through Prattville to pick up Hollon. We arrived late afternoon. So the trips were not that bad.
Going in February: I LOVED going during a non-peak time, (I read somewhere that Disney is never "not crowded". It is just crowded or super crowded. I enjoyed being there at just a crowded time. Wait time for most rides was 20-60 minutes. Using the Disney app, we'd just keep our eye on rides we wanted to ride, and when they dipped to under 60 minutes, we'd go jump in line. The only rides that never got below 60 minutes was Seven Dwarfs Mine Train & Toy Story ride. The weather was also awesome going in February. It was cool in the mornings & evenings, and warm during the day. We had no rain the entire time we were there. This will probably be the only time we can go this time of year. The next time we go, Jake will be old enough in school that we won't be able to miss days "just because".
Advantages to waiting to take Jake until he was 6: We didn't have to worry about a stroller or naps (even though Jake probably have taken a nap if he had the option). Because Jake was older, we were not stuck just riding the kiddie rides. He was the perfect in-between. Old enough to ride the faster rides, but young enough to still get excited over the "magical" rides.
Disadvantages to waiting to take Jake until he was 6: A little bit of the excitement over meeting characters was loss. A few times Jake suspiciously asked if that was the real Woody or someone in a costume. I tried to just ignore the question and he didn't press too hard for answers. He also had no interest in doing the character meals (which I secretly wanted to do).
Leaving Hollon: This was the hardest part of the trip (well, after Jake not getting picked for the Jedi training). But we knew it was best for everyone. My mom sent us tons of pictures & updates. And we were so busy during the day, I didn't have a lot of time to dwell. It was nice to go and just completely focus on Jake. But I sure did miss my munchkin.   

So what was Hollon doing while we were gone?
She drooled a lot and played in her exersaucer while Nana worked in the kitchen

Hung out with her 2 big cousins

Snuggled with Gran

Visited Maw-Maw

Made Nana & Gran drag out every baby toy they have

Made silly faces with MoMo

Dressed up as Yoda to cheer up brother
Final thought on Disney: The trip was absolutely wonderful. The Magic Kingdom really is a magical place and taking my child was even more fun than going as a child. I'd love to take Hollon when she is 3 or 4. As much as I love Disney, I would not want to spend the money to go every year. I would be fine going every 3-4 years. It was a great vacation and worth every penny.

"Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever." -Walt Disney

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Disney Day 1 - Magic Kingdom

Santa brought Jake for Christmas a trip to Disney World. We've been wanting to go for the last few years, and it just seemed like something always came up that delayed us. Plus, the planning just seemed so overwhelming. Rob & I haven't been since we were kids and so much has changed (and it's not like we did any of that planning then anyway). We finally got our act together and booked our trip for February 12-15. 

Note: There are 4 separate recaps and they will each be super long (you have to keep clicking 'older posts' to keep going) & super boring to everyone but me. But this is my memory book and if I don't write this stuff now in detail, I'll never remember it. There will also be tons of grammatical errors, because evidently I slept during every English class in school. Sorry! 

On Wednesday morning, February 11th, I took our little munchkin down to Nana & Gran's to spend the next 6 days. I cannot thank my mom & dad enough for watching Hollon while we were gone. It allowed us to just focus on Jake and make the trip all about him. He has done so well with us adding Hollon to the family, he deserved a trip that was just for him! It was so hard to leave Hollon though. I missed her & that little tongue hanging out. But she was off having a great time with Nana, Gran, Uncle Billy, Aunt Leigh Ann and cousins Maddox & Marrell. Thank you guys so much for all your help and taking such good care of her!!

After dropping Hollon off, I went back to Birmingham, checked Jake out of school, Rob took a half day, we packed up the car and off to Orlando we went! About 2 hours outside of Birmingham, I realize that Jake took off his jacket inside and it didn't make it into the car. So he'll have no jacket while we are gone. Then as it was getting dark, I realized that I didn't pack him a pillow or blanket for the car ride. So we wrapped a shirt around a baseball glove for a pillow & he used my jacket as a blanket. We made do the best we could. Thankfully Mimi had packed him a tub of snack food and Nana had wrapped up 8 little gifts for him to open each hour we were in the car. Grandmothers think of everything! We finally made it to our hotel around 11:00 that night.
Last picture of my little munchkin before we left
Our hotel: We stayed at The Fountains which is a BlueGreen Resort. Where to stay was a hot topic between Rob & I while planning. I really wanted to stay on a Disney property. Robbie's parents are members of the BlueGreen time share, so they were generous enough to let us use their membership. So we would be able to stay in a super nice hotel for a great price. In the end, we compromised and I agreed to stay off site and Rob agreed to add an extra day so we could have an "off day". Once we arrived, I LOVED our hotel. It is basically right outside the gates of Disney World. When researching, it seemed like it would be better to stay on a Disney property, because they provided the transportation to the parks. But Robbie doesn't mind driving and it was nice to be on our own schedule and not have to wait for a bus or boat. And we were only a few miles away. Plus, it was a condo, so we had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathroom, a kitchen & den. Since we added an off day, it was nice not to be crammed in a little hotel room. So while I initially protested staying outside of Disney, in the end, I'm very happy with how everything turned out. Thank you so much Mimi & Granddad!!

On Thursday, February 12th, we were up bright & early to be at the park when it opened. On the way there, we passed the hotel that my family stayed in when we went to Disney when I was 8. (In typical grateful kid fashion, the thing my brother & I talked most about on that Disney trip was the hotel we stayed in with the awesome glass outside elevator. I couldn't help but laugh when we passed by it. I haven't seen that hotel in 28 years, but recognized it immediately. And recognized those awesome elevators. And immediately made a mental note to remember to apologize to my parents for taking me to Disney and not killing me when I said my favorite thing was the hotel elevator.)
The tall black lines in the middle of the hotel are the elevators
Finally! We've arrived at Walt Disney World!! I was so excited, I was about to bounce out of the car.

Waiting at the gates to get in

We took the boat across to the Magic Kingdom

Token family picture outside the train station
Both Robbie & I have identical pictures with our families when we went as kids

First ride was the Tomorrow Land Speedway. Rob rode with Jake while I took pictures. Jake liked the ride but didn't think he was a good driver.

Next up were the teacups at the Mad Tea Party. Jake loved this one!

I think this is my favorite picture out of all 4 days
The laughter and joy in Jake's eyes & smile were priceless

We hit up The Barnstormer. It is a kiddy roller coaster. We figured that it would be a good test to see if Jake would enjoy some of the other faster rides at Disney. He loved this ride!

Jake kept his arms in the air for the ride
He loves roller coasters like his mom & dad!
Jake & I rode Dumbo. This was the first of a mini meltdown. It was still pretty early so we had very little wait times. The Dumbo ride had a playground area for kids to play in while you waited to ride. Because the wait time was so little, there wasn't really any time to play. Jake got upset and after we rode, he kept asking to go play. We knew we only had a limited time early in the morning to take advantage of short wait times. We promised him we would come back and play when wait times were longer. Thanks Disney for making the waiting area more fun than the ride!

Our first fast pass ride was the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger game. Jake & Robbie shot the guns & I drove the cart. This was one of Jake's favorites. We rode it several times.

I love Robbie's face
Defeating Zurg is serious business

Next up was the Astro Orbiter. I loved this one because you had such wonderful views of the park.

A little pick me up snack
While waiting for the Peter Pan Flight, Jake spotted Nana's name. We had lots of people tell us how awesome the Peter Pan ride was. It was okay, but not Jake's favorite.

We finally took Jake back to the Dumbo ride so he could play on the playground. 

We had a fast pass to ride Space Mountain. Jake liked it okay. I don't think that he liked that he had to ride by himself, but he did ask to ride it again.

Other rides we rode that day that I didn't get pictures of:
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We LOVED this ride. We ended up riding it several times Thursday. The first time Jake rode it (he was sitting with me), he screamed the entire time. I could tell he was also laughing. After the ride, I asked him if he was scared. He said no. So I asked why he was screaming if he wasn't scared. He said he just likes to scream on roller coasters because it is more fun that way. Haunted Mansion. Jake said he liked the ride, but didn't want to ride it again. Winnie the Pooh. Jake liked the ride okay, but really liked the play area in the waiting line. Monsters Inc Laugh Floor. Jake really liked the show and he ended up doing it again on Sunday. Pirates of the Caribbean. This is one that I thought Jake would love. He said it was just okay. (This was during a time he was having "moment".) Cinderella's Castle. Jake was super excited about seeing the castle. He wanted to go explore it. We explained ahead of time, that he wouldn't be able to go all up in the castle. Unfortunately, half of the first floor of the castle was closed for renovation and the other half housed the Bippity Boppity Boutique. So the castle was a little bit of a let down for Jake.

We did not plan any character meals, because Jake didn't seem too excited about it when I showed him pictures and talked to him about it. As it got close to dinner time Thursday, we just went to the restaurant that was closest to us at that time, which happened to be Be Our Guest Restaurant. I walked up, asked if they had availability for a table of 3. They said they had 1 left and it would be available in 45 minutes. We said okay! Later, I found out that this is a restaurant that people try very hard to get reservations for and it is almost always booked far in advance. We just happened to be lucky and walked up at the right time. (Had I realized that we would only have enough luck for 1 event, I would have passed on having dinner at Be Our Guest. More about that on Day 2.) Be Our Guest is housed in the Beast's Castle from Beauty & the Beast. 

Jake and his fancy cupcake dessert
After dinner, Jake caught his 2nd wind. The Buzz ride only had a 20 minute wait, so we rode it one more time.

At 8:00 that night, they were having the Main Street Electrical Parade. We planned on taking Jake, but he said he didn't want to see a parade, he wanted to ride more rides. Since this trip was all about him, we obliged. He picked to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. 

Afterwards, we watched the fireworks show and then called it a night.

Thoughts: Jake did so good day 1. We ended up spending 13 hours in the park. He had no nap, no stroller. We didn't have any major meltdowns, just a few little pouty moments. He tried every ride and didn't complain too much about the longer wait times. (The longest we waited for any ride was 60 minutes, and that was only for 2 or 3 rides.) 
Go Figure: My child would get upset that the lines were not longer enough for him to play in the wait areas.
Jake's Favorite Rides: Buzz Lightyear & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
My Favorite Moments: His smile on teacups ride. His screams on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The excitement in his eyes during the fireworks.

Disney Day 2 - Hollywood Studios

On Friday, February 13th, we went to Hollywood Studios. The one thing Jake really really wanted to do at Disney was the Jedi training. The Jedi training was at Hollywood Studios (it's for boys & girls ages 4-12 to learn Jedi moves). He built it up in his mind that he would get to use a real lightsaber and it would be a true Jedi fight. We tried explaining to him that it wasn't real, it was just pretend. And it wasn't something we could reserve, pay for or wait in line for. It was just a first come, first picked. And he might not get picked. We warned him of this, but it went in one ear and right out the other. Thankfully on Friday, there were no magic hours, so everyone would enter the park at the same time. We were there at the time of opening and went immediately to the area where signups were. The line was already extremely long. (How did these people get in front of us?!? Did they spend the night in the park?) After about 47 seconds of waiting in line, an employee walks back to our area and says that all slots are full, but we could put our names on a waiting list. We'd be around 45th in line. We could check at the beginning of each training class and see if any of the 12 original kids picked for that time slot didn't show up. If one of the 12 didn't show up and the 44 alternates in front of us didn't show up, then Jake would be picked. So our chances were slim to none. We broke the news to Jake that he didn't get picked. His eyes started watering and his lip quivering. He was trying to keep from crying. It absolutely broke my heart. I know if that is the worst thing that has happened to us, we've had a good life. But still. It breaks your heart to know your child was looking so forward to something that he won't get to do. I had to go to the restroom so he wouldn't see me get upset that he was upset. (Poor Robbie got stuck having to calm us both down.) This is why I wished we had not used our 1 lucky chance on eating at the Be At Guest restaurant!

Thankfully, we had an early morning fast pass for the Toy Story Mania ride. This was such a cute ride! We all loved it. We would have rode it again, but the standby wait time the rest of the day never got below 120 minutes.

Jake initially refused to get his pictures made with any characters. I finally made him take a picture with Lightening McQueen & Mator.

"Geeze. This is so embarrassing mom."
We rode the Star Wars ride Star Tours. Jake & Robbie both loved it! We ended up riding it several times that day.

These are all pictures from the waiting line
You could take no pictures inside the actual ride
Afterwards, Jake got to build his own custom double lightsaber. Extended it is over 6 feet tall and there is no latch to keep it collapsed. So yes, that was as much fun to carry around the park as it sounds.

We had lunch at Pizza Planet. Jake had been very excited about that and it did not disappoint! He had fun playing the games inside the restaurant.

We got to see a stunt show

There was never an opening at any of the Jedi training classes (they had one every few hours). It really wasn't as cool as they made it sound. They basically just have the 12 kids picked early that morning that go on stage. They learn a few Jedi moves, but so does everyone in the crowd. At this point, Jake began to be okay that he wasn't picked. He still got to learn the moves, he just wasn't up on stage. But then at the end Darth Vader comes out. Each kid on stage gets to fight him for about 5 seconds. Darth Vader is defeated and then goes back inside.    

Once it was over, Jake kept asking when he would get to fight Darth Vader. We had to explain again that he wouldn't get to fight DV. So the tears started again. Unfortunately DV makes no appearances at any of the parks other than the few minutes at the end of the Jedi training. Jake's crying was breaking my heart. So after the show, I went up to one of the workers. (This is something I would normally NEVER do. How embarrassing. But for my child, I would do anything.)  I asked if there was any time DV made any appearances or could Jake please meet him. That was the one thing Jake wanted to do out of everything at Disney World. Jake was standing beside me crying and the workers seemed sympathetic. She said she would go backstage and see what she could do. I just knew that Disney magic would come through. I give her credit, she either tried or at least pretended to try. Unfortunately, DV couldn't make an appearance outside the performance. Jake was crushed. And my heart as a mom was crushed. The one thing my child wanted so badly at the happiest place on Earth and I couldn't make it happen. It was a defeated feeling, but I didn't want it to ruin our day. There was still so much fun to do. We just had to convince Jake! 

I wanted to take Jake to the Disney Junior Live show but he insisted he didn't want to go. He did at least meet some of the Incredible's. 

Jake was still bummed about DV and wanted to ride some rides. Hollywood Studios just doesn't have a lot of rides, so we took a gamble and rode the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. The coaster is inside, so I couldn't tell what type it was. We wait in line for it. We could see that it took off very fast. We kept asking Jake if he was sure he wanted to ride it and he kept saying yes. Finally it was our turn and he sat with Robbie. Within about 5 seconds after taking off, we go on our first loop. This was a coaster that went upside down, and did loops. I was terrified for Jake. He has never ridden a real roller coaster. When the ride ended, I half expected him to be crying. He wasn't! He was laughing and said it was so much fun. Yea!! It was a perfect ride to turn his mood around.
Do you see my extremely concerned face?
I was so terrified for Jake, I couldn't even enjoy the ride.
And look at his sweet face. He was loving it!
We also rode The Great Movie Ride. It was okay, but boring for Jake. We attended Muppet Vision 3D. We all loved it! That was our favorite show from all 3 days. We didn't ride the Tower of Terror. Jake said he wanted to ride it, but we just didn't think he needed to. He likes fast rides, but gets scared of ghosts. So we skipped that ride.

Thoughts: We liked Hollywood Studios, but could have knocked it out in half a day. The rides they had, we LOVED. But they didn't have that many rides. I thought they would have more shows that Jake would be interested in, but they really didn't. The whole not getting picked for Jedi training put a little damper in my book on Hollywood Studios. For little girls, you can meet princesses, have dinner with them, get dressed up like them. I wish they had more options like that for the Star Wars characters.  
Go Figure: My child would pick the one thing you can't reserve 1,025,864 days in advance, you can't pay a small fortune for, you can't wait 3 hours in line for. It was slim pickins and we didn't get picked.
Jake's Favorite Rides: Toy Story Mania, Star Tours and Rock 'n' Roll Coaster
My Favorite Moments: His excitement over building his own lightsaber and his loud laughs during the Muppets show.