Sunday, September 13, 2009

More Disney Adventures - the last installment

A couple months ago I left you (yes you, all my many readers) with the cliffhanger after our second hectic day of Disney. After being tired and getting off schedule for our Hollywood Studios day, would we catch up (and stay on-spreadsheet-schedule) for the next day - and the rest of the trip? Would Florida continue to be so frickin hot?!
We woke up on Thursday morning with a plan. Animal Kingdom day, all day. The only thing we "had" to do was a breakfast reservation at 10:20. We woke up refreshed and full of energy, the bus came fairly quickly, and we arrived at Animal Kingdom 10 minutes before opening. Which means, tons of people in line to get in. I swiftly led Jon and Lilly down the left side of the masses, where we went to Rainforest Cafe. Jon may have thought I was crazy, as we rushed through the gift shop, and out the back entrance, but then he saw it: the secret (or not so secret) entrance to Animal Kingdom. There were just 7 people ahead of us here, and a minute later they started admitting us. We walked quickly to the rope drop (where they have everyone gather inside the park for an opening show, right before the official opening), and we watched as Micky Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and a couple other characters welcomed us. So far, so good.

Our main plan of attack for Animal Kingdom was Lilly-centric. Most people who arrive first thing in the morning are headed either to Kilimajaro Safari, Expedition Everest (a big roller coaster), or Kali River Rapids (a water ride). However, we went straight to where we knew we would get the most impact: Tricera Top Spin. This ride is exactly like Dumbo, and Lilly LOVED it. I can't remember if we went on it 3 times or 10 times in a row but we sure did get our money's worth, especially since there was no line at this point in the morning. After that, we went over to the Safari to get fast passes, and went on a quick walk through of the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This trail was not so interesting to Lilly - the only thing she loved was a small aquarium; otherwise, the monkeys, birds, etc, were just not her thing. Oh, but she actually liked the laminated guide map in the area telling you what kind of bird you were looking at - that, to Lilly, was interesting.

Anyways, by this point it was a little after 10 am and 100 degrees, so we went to check in to breakfast, featuring Donald Duck and friends at Tusker House. I can't describe in words the incredible feeling of being in 100 degree sweltering heat and walking inside to 65 degree air conditioning, sitting down at a table, being immediately greeted by a cup of coffee and some kind of special juice (can't remember what it was, a mixture of a few different juices but REALLY good), having the characters immediately start heading our way, and then going up to a HUGE buffet of all my favorites plus many unique options, including lots of vegetarian dishes. This was probably one of my favorite meals, both in variety & yumminess, mixed with amazing character interation. It was Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Goofy or Pluto - and they all came by twice. Lilly got to give the ducks huge hugs, as they bent down to her height. I know I'm super cheesy but this is what Disney Magic is all about - your child's priceless expression on their face as they experience a moment of a lifetime.

An hour later, we were released back into the hot Florida heat and we decided to go ahead and use our fastpass for the safari, even though it was now about 200 degrees outside! While the Safari is always great (especially compared to a typical "zoo" experience), I think it was too hot outside, we were very tired already, and it just wasn't so interesting this time around - especially to Lilly, who tried to look when we pointed, but by the time she turned to see, we had already passed whatever animal we were looking at. And it goes without saying, that in a moving vehicle, Jon definitely fell asleep. :)

I remembered once again that this trip was about Lilly, and to make it the happiest trip for her, we needed to not push ourselves - it was nearly noon and too hot to be outside, so we went back to Coronado Springs. I'm pretty sure we went to the pool, and then lay down for a nap. Did I mention that every day on the trip, ALL THREE of us took a nap? The heat, jet lag, our nonstop schedule - we needed the rest!

We felt great when we woke up, and decided to head back to Animal Kingdom since we hadn't really done too much there yet. We arrived right in time for a showing of Festival of the Lion King, which is probably my favorite "show" at Disney. It's music, trampoline, trapeze, swinging people, fire eaters, all the favorites. At one point, 4 kids from the audience were picked to dance with the performers, and one of them was a little boy about age 5 who has Down syndrome and was in a wheel chair. Not only did he get to fully participate (they had a performer push him around with the rest of the kids), but at the end, Simba came over to him and thanked everyone for participating, and then said to the boy "and especially YOU!" Well, just as much as you know that Jon fell asleep on the Safari, you KNOW I cried at that point in the show.

Afterwards we got dinner at Pizzafari (actually, Jon went and got ribs from somewhere, but he brought them back to eat with us). Lilly wasn't really in an eating mood, so I polished off the pizza and we decided to go over to Expedition Everest, grabbing popcorn along the way so Miss Lilly could have a snack. The plan was for Jon to ride the "single riders" line at Expedition Everest; but when we arrived that line was 20-30 minutes; and the regular line was an hour. When Jon asked the cast member if the single rider line was really that long, and she saw that Lilly and I were waiting behind him, she gave him a Fast Pass to the ride so he could ride it immediately. (Can you tell that everything was going our way today?) When he was done, it was about 6:30, and we had time for just one more thing... which meant... Lilly & I were back on Triceratop Spin (multiple times!), while Jon went on Dinosaur. Then Jon came back and rode Triceratop Spin with Lilly another time. The park closed at 7, and that's when we walked out.

We were back at Coronado Springs by 7:20, and my parents arrived an hour later. They checked in, and... we had requested that they have a room near us... but instead they were upgraded to a room on the other side of the resort - but a 2 room suite! I don't think they hesitated in being so far away from us. :) It was HUGE, and it was funny because usually my parents travel with extra kids - they have 7 grandkids now - but this was the one time when they had all that space all to themselves. (We did give Lilly to them two of the next nights though - couldn't let that space go to waste!)

The next morning, all of us were up and ready to get to Epcot by opening at 9 am. Again, this trip was all about Lilly (partly), so instead of being in the packs of people headed towards Soarin and Test Track, we were in the tiny minority of families with toddlers walking to The Seas with Nemo. (Jon did split up though and get fast passes for us to Soarin, of course.) We rode the ride, looked at the aquarium, Lilly colored at the Kidcot station, and we went to Turtle Talk (Lilly still wouldn't sit with the other kids in the front, but she liked the show).

Then, we went on Living with the Land as a family, and then my mom and Lilly hung out while my dad, Jon and I went out Soarin. Afterwards, Jon went to get more fast passes (to Test Track I think?) while my parents, Lilly and I went on Imagination. Lilly liked the little room afterwards with musical carpet squares that you can jump on. Finally, it was lunchtime, and we ate burgers. We all headed back to the hotel, where we all went down for a nap.

Late that afternoon, my parents took Lilly shoe shopping at the nearby outlets (she had no summer shoes that fit, since it had been winter in NZ). And Jon and I had date night. :) We headed back over to Epcot, first we went on Test Track using the fast passes from earlier. Then, our plan was to drink our way around the world, before dinner at Canada. Well, we split one margarita in Mexico before realizing we were running late. We got to Le Celier for dinner right on time, and had a very good meal. I can see why it gets such good reviews; but I can't honestly say it was a "must do" meal every time. (Although, it was a steak house and I'm a vegetarian, so I'm probably biased - although my meal was excellent.) After dinner, we were overstuffed and needed to walk it off - so instead of our grand plans of "drinking around the world," we walked from Epcot - out the back entrance - past the Boardwalk - and to Hollywood Studios. I had never done that whole walk before, so I wasn't sure how long it was, but I knew that it was possible. It wasn't a short walk, but it was nice, especially being so full. We went straight to Aerosmith's Rockin Roller Coaster, 10 minutes before it was closing, and stood in the single rider line for the next 20-30 minutes. (Apparently once you're in line, they let everyone ride even after the park is "closed.") By the time it was our turn, they actually put Jon and I together (which is unusual in single rider line) so that was a bonus. At 9:30, we headed out of Hollywood Studios, and called my parents to check on our adorable sleeping... "What? Lilly's still awake? She's eating ice cream?" Oh well! I think we all fell asleep at 10 pm that night. :)

Finally it was Saturday. Apparently you don't go to Magic Kingdom on Saturday, because all the locals come. However, I had strategized, read various conflicting theories on the subject, and finally decided that many people arrive at Disney World for a week's stay, and arrive on Saturday or Sunday. So their first day in the parks (which, usually MK is their first park), is Sunday or Monday. Plus, the night before was Extra Magic Hours at MK and it was open until 1 am, so people participating in that were going to a) sleep in and b) not go back to the same park. I gambled right: compared to other days in other parks, Magic Kingdom was indeed relatively managable that morning. (Plus, again, this trip was about Lilly, and her favorites are not the most crowded.)

We headed straight to Jungle Cruise, then Pirates of the Caribbean, then Magic Carpets of Aladdin (which, Aladdin and Jasmine rode at the same time, in a different "car-pet"), then Haunted Mansion, then It's a Small World, then Country Bear Jamboree. She might have ridden the Carousel too, I can't remember. (Note to self: write trip report sooner than 3 months after trip.) We ate lunch at the quick service place across from Haunted Mansion, and were back to the resort in time for our nap by 1.

That night, we went to 'Ohana for dinner (best salad dressing!), and walked around the Polynesian. It's a gorgeous hotel, and I think before living in the South Pacific and visiting Fiji, I never really "got" the theme - but it really makes sense now, and now I'd like to stay there, at some point when I can afford it! Afterwards, Jon and I went back to Magic Kingdom while my parents watched Lilly, and we rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and, I'll admit it, Peter Pan's Flight (I think we had spare fast passes from earlier). The oddest thing about Jon and I when we are out together without Lilly, is that we are used to getting so much attention from when she is with us, that it is really bizarre to basically be invisible when she's not with us. I'm still half expecting people to wave and me & Jon when we're sitting on the bus, but of course we are just another random couple, we don't have a little princess on our lap commanding attention.

On Sunday, my parents left to drive back to Atlanta in the morning. Jon, Lilly and I walked over to the playground at Coronado Springs first - it was perfect for Lilly - it's for ages 2 to 6 I think, so all the equipment isn't too crazy and it's all the right height. She was so proud of herself climbing up everything!

Then we went over to Animal Kingdom in the morning. We were a little early for the first Finding Nemo show, so we walked around and came upon some musical in a little clearing. We went in and Lilly started dancing, and suddenly Pocahontas came out to read a story to all the children. Lilly sat down with the other kids, and the story began. A minute later, characters came out of nowhere and sat amongst the kids - Chip and Dale, two random bear-type guys, and a raccoon. Lilly sat right in between Chip and Dale and loved their attention during the story. This was the best unexpected surprise of the morning! Afterwards they posed for pictures with all the families.

Then on the way to Finding Nemo we came upon a band playing funny instruments on the street. Lilly danced and played these stick things - and when we left they let her keep her stick. We watched Finding Nemo, which is a broadway style musical, and it was good, but not amazing. We went back to the hotel afterwards for - you guessed it - our daily nap.

After the nap, we went to Epcot. We got there just in enough time to visit the Voices of Liberty - a beautiful a capella group in the USA pavillion. However... it was on the complete opposite end of the park from the entrance. We put Lilly in the stroller and RAN as fast as we could (in 100 degree heat), and arrived for the last half of the concert. Then we backtracked to Norway, for our princess dinner. Another wonderful character meal experience; the princesses go out of their way to make every child feel so special, and the food was great (it's a cold buffet of salads, fruit, meats, etc for appetizers, and then you order your individual entree). Lilly ate her share of cantaloupe at this meal, and I think she ate a lot of cold peas from the salad bar as well. They brought out a cupcake to celebrate her birthday (as they had been doing at most meals this week, since it was her birthday the Saturday after our trip), and our wonderful server surprised Lilly with a princess autograph book, so she could get the princesses' signatures.

After dinner, we went to England and found Winnie the Pooh & friends at the back of a little store; Lilly got to give them big hugs (and it was perfect timing since the next morning we were eating with them, so it got her excited). Then we started walking towards the front of the park, and went on "the big ball" aka Spaceship Earth. Then we found a character greeting area where the lines weren't too long, and Lilly got to give huge hugs to Mickey Mouse & all his friends. What a wonderful ending to another wonderful day!

On Monday morning, we headed out to Magic Kingdom at 9 am. We went on Astro Orbitor and Mad Tea Party, before heading over to Crystal Palace for breakfast with Winnie the Pooh and friends. This is another one of my favorite meals, and I think it's the same reason as the Donald Duck Tusker House breakfast: immediately upon sitting, they poured juice and coffee. Perfectly relaxing for busy tired parents! I think we debated what to do afterwards: I can't remember if we went on (or got fast passes for) Peter Pan; but I know we went over to Mickey's Toontown Fair and thought about standing in line for the princesses (the line was already long, so we vetoed that idea) and we started to go through Mickey Mouse's house, but it was crowded and the line is typically long to see Mickey here. I think we might have gotten on the railroad at some point as well. Finally the heat was getting to us, and the park was crowded (we try not to stand in lines if we can avoid it, and we had already done so many fun things this week), so we headed out around noon. On the way - this is the best part - a band started playing the song from Mary Poppins "Sister Suffragette" or something - and Lilly LOVED it - (she loves that song in the movie) and she started dancing to it. Then, we look around on our way out and see Mary Poppins signing autographs - so we get in line. So funny that Lilly already knows and likes her!

After our afternoon nap, and possibly a swim at the pool, we went to dinner at Chef Mickey's. Another great meal, although this one seems a little less personal, but the amount and variety of food was great, and all the main characters are there. After Chef Mickey's, we went to Magic Kingdom and saw Tiki Room and possibly used fast passes to Peter Pan. I think we caught part of Spectromagic, and once we got back to the car, we saw the fireworks as we left the parking lot. Lilly was asleep 3 seconds into it!

Last day. We went to Magic Kingdom and stood in line for the princesses, and Lilly loved Cinderella so much that she kept pointing out Cinderella to Belle. Then we went to get a haircut for Lilly at the Main Street Barber shop - her third haircut of her life, and her second at Disney World. While we waited 5 minutes for her turn, Lilly and I caught a parade outside the barber shop - perfect timing! She loved her hair cut (and just loves seeing herself in the mirror) - and it was just $14 including styling and "pixie dust" (glitter). They made a big deal over the fact that the comb and scissors were the same ones they cut Cinderella's hair with, which was the absolute right thing to tell a toddler sized princess who is obsessed with Cinderella. (Although, Zac Efron's name would have worked just as well for Lilly.) :)
We went back to the hotel, packed really quickly, and got in the car for one last stop before driving back to Atlanta. We went to Fort Wilderness, and Lilly got to see the horses.

It really was a great trip for our family. The key for us, at Lilly's age, is to research a lot so that we know where things are/what she'll like, but then when we're actually there, going with the flow so that she really is enjoying the journey of it all. And getting out first thing in the morning so that we accomplished a lot before the lines started, and then taking a nap midday and taking it easy at nighttime worked well this time around. (Remember that we were also getting used to the 16 hour time difference a week after arriving in the US, so it was twice as exhausting for us.) I'm so glad Lilly got to experience such a great week though, and can't wait for us to do it all again... soon!

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