Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Breakfast with JoJo and Dinner with Remy

Thursday, April 30

We were up and at 'em early again today! We had 8:30 a.m. ADRs for Play 'n Dine at Hollywood & Vine (or as I like to call it...Breakfast with JoJo). The first time we did this breakfast in 2007, the place was PACKED - every table was full. This time, it was empty - which seems odd to me, considering the popularity of character meals at WDW. More than half of the tables were empty -- even when we left at 9:30 it had yet to fill up. The cast of characters includes JoJo & Goliath and Leo & June from Little Einsteins -- and the breakfast itself is a buffet. JoJo is no longer on Playhouse Disney - so perhaps that is one reason why the crowd was so small. I'd be interested in hearing about any other experiences people had at Hollywood & Vine.

After breakfast we grabbed a FastPass for Toy Story Midway Mania -- which I recommend for anyone who wants to ride this particular ride. The stand-by line was more than an hour wait. [I really recommend taking advantage of the FastPasses -- you can avoid waiting in line for too long and can instead enjoy more of the parks and then head back to the ride at your FastPass time]. With our FastPasses in hand, we headed back to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show.

For anyone who loves the story of Ariel and Prince Eric, this show is a must. I like to call it a "Cliff's Notes" version of The Little Mermaid - the whole story takes about 17 minutes to tell - with brief scenes from the movie shown between the live performances. [Note: you get sprayed with a gentle mist and light breeze during the show...it all lends to the magic of the show].

After Ariel, we headed back down Mickey Avenue to the "Journey into Narnia" attraction. Earlier in the week, Olivia and I had tried to meet Prince Caspian but the attraction had closed for the evening and the Prince had headed home to Narnia. So, I had promised Olivia that we would meet him today! [And yes, this was all Olivia...a few months ago she came home from preschool insisting that we watch 'The Chronicles of Narnia' and then 'The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian'. When she found out that the Prince would be at the Studios...meeting him became a mission!]

We arrived at Journey into Narnia right at 10 a.m. -- the scheduled time that Prince Caspain was supposed to be there. But he wasn't. A cast member told us that he'd be there in about 30 or 40 minutes. Around this time, cast member Shawn (from South Carolina) walked over to us and told us that Prince Caspian was having travel issues from Narnia but was doing his best to get there in time. We decided to hang out and wait - Olivia was NOT going to miss Caspian.

So, we took a seat on a bench in the shade and waited. And waited. And waited. Cast Member Shawn checked in with us every now and again, letting us know that Caspian was still trying to get to the Studios from Narnia. At one point he told Olivia that Caspian knew she was waiting to meet him (I loved that!). Then our friendly cast member left ... only to return a few minutes later with a box of popcorn for Olivia (her treat for waiting so patiently, he said -- Disney magic at it's best!).

Finally....Prince Caspian arrived! We were escorted to the front of the 'meet and greet' line and then the real magic happened. Olivia walked into the forest 'meet and greet' area and there stood Prince Caspian! He kneeled down and told "Princess Olivia" that he had been waiting to meet her and how happy he was that she had waited to see him. Needless to say, Olivia was over the moon with this royal treatment! [And it brought tears to her mommy's eyes...I will admit!]. We took some photos and Olivia had Caspian sign her autograph book and that was how Olivia met Prince Caspian!

From a prince we decided to vistit a princess...and headed over to the Beauty and the Beast show. This is a great, great show! I think I might like it better than Voyage of the Little Mermaid. It is another shortened version of a Disney movie...but the performance is great. And then, it was time to ride Toy Story Midway Mania.

Oh my gosh. What a fun ride! Walking into the ride you're surrounded by GIANT versions of childhood games (which is so cool). Riders grab 3-D glasses and board their ride vehicles and are instantly transported into a world of arcade games where you aim at the boards with your own 'shooters'. I think I ended up with a score of close to 115,000 and Olivia scored about 82,000 (not bad for a 5 year old!). This ride was so much fun! Get that FastPass and get on it!

After grabbing lunch and riding The Great Movie Ride one more time...we headed back to the resort to regroup and rest.

Later that evening, we had dinner reservations at Chefs de France. If you are headed to Epcot, you should eat at Chefs de France and look for Remy, the star rat from Ratatouille who appears four times a day to entertain guests. The food was wonderful (onion soup, beef short ribs and creme brulee for dessert)...but seeing Remy under the dome of the silver tray was the BEST part of the meal! He is adorable and really interacts with guests. Just a little more Disney magic at work!

Overall thoughts:
- Disney cast members really do go out of their way to create the magic
- I am left wondering if the low crowds at Play 'n Dine were just a fluke or if it's not a popular character meal anymore

- Make sure you see Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast at the Studios
- Yes, kids CAN eat in France -- Chefs de France is family-friendly

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Adventures at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot

Wednesday, April 29

One very important tip I have for your trip to Walt Disney World trip is this: make sure you take one day during your stay to just RELAX. Or at least try to relax. I should learn to follow my own tip...but I'd rather be at the parks. You, on the other hand, might be one of those 'non obsessed' people who actually get tired of the parks - and if that's the case...then by all means please follow my tip and have a relaxing day at the resort pool!

OK, moving on...

Today, my dad and Kevin were headed to the Palm golf course at WDW. They had a 10 o'clock a.m. tee time and so the girls and I were on our own for a while. My sister and her husband had decided they were going to relax poolside (see, they follow my tips) and my mom was going to join them (they did go to the pool...but then decided to shop and eat in Downtown Disney).

Olivia had decided the night before that she wanted to head back to the Magic Kingdom and that was FINE with me! (I should note here that I could spend every single day of my trip at the Magic Kingdom. It is my laughing place.)

And so, after a quick breakfast at the resort, I packed up the diaper bag and the kids and loaded all of us onto the bus headed to the Magic Kingdom. I wasn't sure how this excursion was going to be....I mean, I was going alone - without my spouse or any other responsible adult, with two kids in tow. Could I handle it?

You betcha! We made it through the bag check line and the ticket line without incident and as soon as we walked into the MK we saw Snow White! We lucked out and the cast member who was 'in charge' of line control let us in -- we were the last people allowed in line! [That has got to be a not-so-fun job -- this poor guy had to keep repeating "The line is closed. Snow White will be back out at 9:45. Thank you."]

Anyway, after meeting Snow White we walked down Main Street toward the castle and happened upon a performance of "Dream Along with Mickey". I love this show! Mickey and friends sing and dance along with other Disney favorites including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Peter Pan and Wendy, Capt. Hook and more. A great way to spend 20 minutes of your visit, if you ask me.

After the performance, Olivia decided she wanted to ride it's a small world again. So we did. And then we headed over to the Haunted Mansion (which was quickly becoming Olivia's new favorite ride!). We wandered through the MK for a little while until the girls decided they wanted to head back to the Wilderness Lodge for lunch and some pool time. As we were walking out of the MK, we had a chance to see the "Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It!" parade as it was going down Main Street. That was rather cool, since I didn't get the chance to see the "Celebrate a Dream Come True" parade this time (I'm still bummed about that!).

Lunch at the hotel. Then we went swimming!!!! The pool at the Wilderness Lodge is really nice. There is a baby/wading pool for the wee ones (but even Olivia had fun in there). And then there's the 'big kids' pool, completed with a water slide! For your small ones who might not be able to swim alone yet, the resort provides life vests. Head down to the beach area at the WL and at the rental shack you can sign out a vest for each child and keep the vests for the duration of your stay. Very, very convenient.

Once Kevin returned from his golf adventure, we decided to head over to Epcot for dinner. My parents were eating dinner at Artist Point at the resort and my sister and her family were going to the Studios to eat at Toy Story Pizza Planet.

If I had to rank the parks, I would definitely put the Magic Kingdom as my absolute favorite. Epcot would be second and the Disney Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom would have to duke it out for 3rd and 4th place. And right now, Epcot is looking gorgeous, thanks to the Flower & Garden Festival!

The girls still had some countries to visit to get the passport stamped and work on their Kidcot masks, so we started in Canada (EH!) and worked our way through the World Showcase. In England we ran into Winnie the Pooh and friends at the toy shoppe/bookstore. And let me just say, I could seriously eat my way through the World Showcase if it wouldn't cause me to gain 20 lbs. The fish and chips in England smelled divine!

Kevin and I decided to eat in Morocco at the Tangierine Cafe. The food here is amazing! We ordered the Chicken and Lamb combo and the Vegetable combo (and you get Baklava for dessert!!!). The food was so delish. I highly recommend this counter service. After pigging out at dinner we kept walking through the Showcase, stopping at various Kidcot fun spots so the girls could have some fun.

At some point near Italy we decided to head out of Epcot and take the Monorail back to the MK for the Wishes fireworks show. My sister and her family and my parents were still at the Studios, thinking about seeing "Fantasmic" -- however, you need to get a seat for that show about 45 minutes prior to showtime, so they gave up that plan and rode some rides instead.

We arrived at the MK just in time to find a good spot for Wishes. We planted ourselves in front of the castle, near the Hub (right by the popcorn cart that is on the Hub). It ended up being a perfect spot to watch Wishes.

I love Wishes. It is a great fireworks show. And yes, you should see it from in front of the castle. The last time we were at WDW in 2007, we watched it from behind the castle and it just wasn't the same. Hint: Watch for Tinker Bell's very magical entrance at the beginning of the fireworks.

Wishes granted, we headed back to the hotel, knowing we had to be up bright and early on Thursday for our breakfast with Jo-Jo!

Overall thoughts:
- Taking the girls to the MK by myself was so easy!
- Someday maybe I'll "eat and drink" my way through the World Showcase!

- Make sure you find the time to see 'Dream Along with Mickey' and the parades at the MK
- At some point in your trip, take the Monorail from the MK to Epcot or vice versa...it's so fun to ride!
- Passports and Kidcot fun spots are a great thing for the kids
- Take time to have some fun at the pool

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sleeping in, Spaceship Earth and Flowers

Tuesday, April 28

For the first time during the trip we were able to "sleep in" -- until 7 a.m. We didn't have any character breakfasts or appointments this morning, so we decided to eat breakfast at the Roaring Fork and then head over to Epcot.

I have to say this: definitely take advantage of the quick service restaurant at your resort. They have a good variety of foods -- and it's the one place where you can get your refillable mugs filled!

[What is a refillable mug, you ask? It's just that - a plastic mug that you purchase at your resort for about $12.99 and you can fill it as often as you want with pop and/or coffee. It's a great value. We filled ours each morning with coffee and then every afternoon and evening we filled it with pop. You cannot fill these mugs at any of the theme parks. But for the money, it's a great value!]

My favorite thing at the Roaring Fork -- the 'pick a mix' cereal bar. Every morning they had several types of cereal (Rice Krispies, Frosted Flakes, etc.) and you could get them mixed together. My choice: a mix of corn flakes and frosted flakes - yum! Of course, there are hot food selections and a yogurt/granola/fresh berry mix too. And, you can use your Disney Dining Plan here too - food items are considered either snacks or quick service.

From now until May 31, the International Flower and Garden Festival is happening at Epcot. The whole park is decorated with nearly 30 million flowers. And topiaries! The photo up top is of the "Cinderellabration" topiary. All the princesses were represented in this display. I could go on and on about the flowers, but I'll sum it up this way: if you ever have the chance to see the Flower & Garden Festival... DO IT!

The crowds at Epcot never seem as huge as they do at say the Magic Kingdom, and this day was no different. We waited a total of maybe 5 minutes for Spaceship Earth. I had not been on this ride since I was a teenager and I have to say the updates added in the 2007 renovation (including a narration by Dame Judi Dench) are really cool. The descent of the ride adds some fun for riders -- you get to essentially create your own "Welcome to the Future" video which you can e-mail home after you disembark the ride. Very, very cool! (Olivia LOVED this part!)

We also waited a mere 5 minutes for "The Seas with Nemo and Friends". Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to experience Turtle Talk with Crush -- but it is on 'to do' list for 2011.

At 11 a.m. we headed over to the World Showcase for lunch. I love eating lunch in Mexico at the Cantina de San Angel. The seating is right on the water and it's so relaxing...and the food is really good too! [A must for Mexcio -- get a margarita! They are so worth the nearly $9 price tag!]. My favorite part of most meals is dessert and at the Cantina my personal favorite is the churro! Fried dough rolled in cinnamon sugar. Oh my.

After lunch we rode the Gran Fiesta Tour inside the Mexico pavilion pyramid. It's a fun, relaxing boat ride. And the atmosphere inside the pyramid is just downright cool. Then we headed over to China - the kids were looking for Mulan. [A good tip to remember - Epcot is chock full of characters! Mulan in China, Donald Duck in Mexico, Belle and The Beast in France, Snow White in Germany, Alice and Winnie the Pooh in England, Jasmine and Aladdin in Morocco...and the list goes on!]

When we arrived in China we were told that Mulan would be out soon. So Kevin and I decided to let the girls start their Kidcot masks. Let me explain Kidcot -- there are fun stops in all the World Showcase countries and a few Future World pavilions. In the countries, at each stop your kids can get their masks stamped and have a tag added. We started in China where Olivia and Emma each got their names written in Chinese and then started the coloring of the masks (with markers supplied by Sharpie). This is a great way to get the kids interested in "boring" things like countries.

[Buying a passport for the kids is another way to make the World Showcase more fun. You can find the passports in most of the showcase gift shops. They resemble a "real" passport and in each country your child can take his/her passport to the Kidcot funstop and get a country stamp and a "welcome message" written in that country's native language. I think I had as much fun with this as my girls did!]

OK, back to China. After waiting patiently, the girls finally saw Mulan walking through the pavilion, making her way to her designated spot. Mulan spotted the girls too (they were hard to miss - dressed as Snow White and Tinker Bell)...and she stopped and asked Olivia, Emma and Madysen (my niece) if they would walk with her! Olivia and Mady were able to hold Mulan's hands and WALK WITH HER! What a princess dream come true!!!! Just another example of pure Disney magic. You just never know when you'll get sprinkled with pixie dust!

Later that afternoon....

We had a dinner reservation at Chef Mickey's at Disney's Contemporary Resort. This character meal is a MUST DO meal. Where else are you going to meet the "top 5" -- Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald and Goofy. The food is good - it's a buffet. But as with most character meals, it's all about who you meet. We had a great table -- right near the buffet -- so we were usually the first stop for Mickey, Minnie and pals. We even got two visits by Donald!

[Note: there are not buses that run from resort to resort, so if you are not a Contemporary guest getting there takes a little bit of travel. For us, we took our resort's bus to the Magic Kingdom and then hopped on the Monorail to the Contemporary. We also could have taken the boat right from our hotel to the Contemporary, but we noticed a long wait for that boat on another night. Ask your resort concierge about the quickest route to this resort.]

After dinner we decided to Monorail back to Epcot for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. This might sound silly to some, but if you want a good seat for the show you best pick it out at least 45 minutes before the show begins. We were too busy walking around the World Showcase and as it got closer to showtime we realized 'oh no, all the good spots are taken!" We ended up watching the show in a spot near China, but our view was partially obstructed by trees. But it was still a good show!

My least favorite thing about leaving any of the parks (aside from the actual LEAVING part) is when closing time is at the same time as the end of the fireworks, parade, etc. It just creates mass chaos and one would think that the great minds at Disney would eventually say "gosh, maybe we should always make closing time 1 hour after the end of any fireworks, parade, etc. We managed to get a jump start on the 'exiting' crowd on this night - but only because we left before Illuminations was over. It was still mild chaos. But we did it. And we didn't wait long for a bus.

And all in all, it was a good day.

Tomorrow....a trip to the Magic Kingdom on my own (just me and my girls)...could I do it without losing a kid or getting lost myself? Tune in and find out.

Overall thoughts:
- Chef Mickey's is a must do character meal!
- The flower and garden festival is amazing
- I didn't get to ride Soarin'...and I'm still bummed about that

- If you have kids, you really should do the Kidcot funspots (and try out the new Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. We wanted to do it but didn't have time...but it looks FUN!)
- Get your kids a passport for the World Showcase
- There are characters at Epcot - take your autograph books!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Princesses and the 50s Prime Time Cafe

April 27, 2009

We arrived at the MK a little after 8 a.m. -- Olivia and her cousin Madysen had 8:40 a.m. appointments at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. This relatively new experience is a beauty salon where your little one can be transformed into a real princess! Fairy godmothers in training style the girl's hair and makeup - Olivia and Mady both chose the "coach package" that included hair styling and makeup (style includes a crown and 'Mickey' barrette and a BB Boutique sash).

This was such a cool experience! The girls are treated like royalty...and they are absolutely adorable (beautiful!) when the fairy godmothers are finished. And there is so much hair product used that the style stays all day -- and probably longer.

After the BBB, we had a few minutes to spare before the ropes were dropped and the park was "officially" opened. In that time I watched a small group of very, um, "dedicated" parents line up behind the rope as if they were running a race...and once the rope dropped these parents literally RAN to Dumbo the Flying Elephant. And, I mean they RAN. It was amazing (and somewhat scary) to witness. Yes, Dumbo is a cool ride...but really, do you have to run?

We chose to not ride Dumbo and instead WALKED to Ariel's Grotto, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive mermaid. And we were in LUCK! We were first in line and Ariel was ready to greet her guests! [Anyone who has tried - in vain - to meet Ariel only to be faced with an hour long wait -- or longer -- can understand how lucky we were!]. The girls all met Ariel and had their autograph books signed and all was well with the world again.

Now, it was time for breakfast in the castle. Getting a reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table for breakfast, lunch or dinner is probably one of the most difficult things to achieve when planning your WDW vacation. I called on the very first day I was able to make Advance Dining Reservations -- actually, I started calling at 6:58 a.m., 2 minutes before the ADR lines open. As soon as I had a live person on the line I said "Hi. I need breakfast at the castle on any day during the week of April 26-May 2!" [Yes, that's really how you have to do it if you want to eat at the castle. Really.]

Dining at the castle is so amazingly cool. I mean, YOU'RE IN THE CASTLE! WITH PRINCESSES! It doesn't get much cooler than that. When you walk in you are greeted by Cinderella herself, as she is holding court in the lobby. You get photos taken by the Photopass photographer (these photos - one 8x10 and four 4x6 photos are 'included' in the price of the meal. If you use the Disney Dining Plan, it will cost you 2 table services. I recommend paying cash for this meal in order to save your DDP credits. Know however, that breakfast is $34.99 per adult and $23.99 for kids ages 3-9. It is pricey!]

After meeting 'Rella, you walk up the spiral staircase to the dining room - which looks out over Fantasyland, specifically Cinderella's Golden Carousel. This is a plated meal and the food is quite good - stuffed french toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, breads. And, of course, there are princesses in attendance. The princesses vary each time - our princesses were Ariel (as a human), Belle (in her blue 'civilian' dress), Sleeping Beauty, and Jasmine. [The last time we ate at the castle, the Fairy Godmother was in attendance].

All I can say about the castle is - YOU MUST DO THIS MEAL.

After breakfast we decided to ride some more rides - 1/2 the family stayed in Fantasyland to ride Dumbo. We decided to head over to Adventureland and ride The Jungle Cruise (we waited about 15 minutes) and then Pirates of the Caribbean (only a 5 minute wait!!!).

A stroller tip here: When you park your strollers around any of the WDW theme parks, you should know that a cast member might move the stroller. You can usually find a designated "stroller parking area", but sometimes you just put your stroller with a bunch of other strollers - along a wall, etc. We did that before ride the Jungle Cruise, only to get off the ride and have NO idea where our stroller was. We searched (along with many other families) for about 10 minutes before we found it, parked in a designated area close to the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. Whew!

Since Olivia's was a princess that day we didn't swim during the afternoon at the hotel. Instead, we decided to head over to Disney's Hollywood Studios early - we had dinner reservations at the 50's Prime Time Cafe.

Let me put it this way: it is a good thing we decided to go early because our bus ride took an HOUR. Yes, one hour. It was the WORST bus trip we had during the entire trip.

Buses at WDW. Yes, let's talk about this for a minute. Usually the buses run smoothly and while you might have a short wait at your resort (or a theme park), it tends to be an OK operation. Not so much on this day. We waited at the Wilderness Lodge for 30 minutes before a DHS bus even arrived. Then, we had to stop at Fort Wilderness - which added a good 15 minutes since there was a bus line up there. Finally, an hour after the "trip" started we arrived at DHS. It was not a good way to start our evening.

Dinner at the 50's Prime Time Cafe - this is not a character meal. Basically you're getting homestyle food (just like mom used to make) in a setting straight out of a 1950's kitchen. It's a fun place to dine. The food was pretty good too -- fried chicken, pot roast, meatloaf. I had the pot roast and it was delish. However, I have to say, I remember the wait staff being more fun. Our waitress was rather low-key. Perhaps our chaotic party of 10 scared her?

Dessert at PT was oh-my-goodness good. I ordered 'Dad's Brownie Sundae'...and this is what I got: vanilla ice cream on a chocolate brownie topped with M&Ms, Cracker Jack, whipped cream and a cherry. So good.

It was also Extra Magic Hours this night at the Studios (the park stays open a few hours past 'official closing' for resort guests). To me, it wasn't really worth it. It seemed very dark (compared to say Epcot or the MK) and there wasn't much to do. We rode The Great Movie Ride and that was about it.

When we arrived back at the WL, it was almost time for the Electric Water Pageant. This is a nightly display on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake -- so if you are a guest - or even a visitor from another resort - at any of the resorts on these bodies of water (WL, Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian) you can enjoy the show. I headed down to the beach with Olivia and my parents and waited for the show. It started at 9:35 p.m. (at the WL)...and was so neat to see. The best description is from allears.net: The pageant consists of two strings of seven barges, each carrying a 25-foot-tall screen of lights. The pageant features King Triton and creatures from under the sea -- turtles, whales, seahorses, even a sea monster! -- in an aquatic parade set to Disney (including "Under the Sea," and the crocodile's theme song from the film Peter Pan) and other music.

And then, it was 10 p.m. and everyone was ready to dream about our day and look forward to our next Disney adventure!

Overall thoughts:
- You must eat at Cinderella's Royal Table
- Sometimes bus rides can be horrible
- Whoever thought of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique was a GENIUS! And clearly had daughters.
- The Electric Water Pageant was very, very cool

- Make sure you park your stroller in a designated area - or run the risk of having to search for it later
- If you are on the dining plan and have reservations for CRT - pay cash for that meal. Save two table service credits for another meal. It's worth it.
- If you want to meet Ariel, head to the Grotto as soon as the gates open at MK. Otherwise, you will wait up to an hour or more

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Scrambled eggs and a safari adventure

April 26, 2009

Let me preface this post with this statement: While WDW is the happiest place on Earth, at times you will run into rude, ignorant people who think the "World" revolves around them. I was unlucky enough to run into someone like that on Sunday morning at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

OK, on to the AK. First and foremost, the AK is NOT, I repeat, NOT a zoo. It is a theme park that just happens to have live animals in residence. It is also a huge, hot, steamy park. Everytime I go to the AK, it seems hotter than at any other park. I have yet to figure this out - except for the fact that it is a jungle setting. Like the MK, the AK is comprised of 'lands', including Africa, Asia, Dinoland U.S.A., and Camp Minnie Mickey.

Having never done a character meal at the AK, I made us reservations for Donald's Safari Breakfast at The Tusker House. This is a buffet breakfast. And this is where the scrambled egg 'incident' occurred.

The buffet here is one of those 'free flowing' buffets - the staff even tells you that you don't have to stand in one line, you can just jump in wherever you want and get your food. Clearly on this morning, some people did not hear these directions! I 'jumped' in line to get some scrambled eggs for my daughters and was immediately bombarded with shouts and dirty looks from other guests. Choosing to ignore them, I moved on. And then, it happened - this man totally lost his mind and started yelling at me (in the middle of the buffet area!!!!) "It's not like we weren't waiting for scrambled eggs too!!!!!!!!!" Really? You're going to yell at me about EGGS?

In hindsight I should have piled a plate full of eggs and taken them to his table (but in reality, it just upset me and I cried. At WDW. That is not supposed to happen).

Moving on.

After the egg incident we waited a mere 10 minutes for the Kilamanjaro Safari -- this is a MUST DO ride at the AK! As always, it did not disappoint. We wandered through Asia (my brother-in-law rode Expedition Everest) and we ended up seeing Finding Nemo: The Musical. It was a cute show - certainly see it if you can.

Then, it was off to Dinoland USA where we spent a little time. We didn't make it to Camp Minnie Mickey on this day ... but that is where you want to head if you're looking to meet some characters and see The Festival of the Lion King (which we missed this time around!).

Later in the day....

After an afternoon break at the resort (naps, pool time, etc), we headed back to the MK for dinner at The Crystal Palace with Winnie the Pooh and friends. This is - in my opinion - maybe the best buffet (food wise) at WDW. Add to that the fun atmosphere and the characters (Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet) and you've got a winner for all ages! If you can get advanced reservations, you MUST eat at The Crystal Palace. You will not be disappointed.

A word about character meals: this was the first time I had done TWO character meals in one day. I'm not sure I'd do that again. Character meals are somewhat time consuming (you have to wait for the characters to 'make the rounds' and once they arrive at your table it's time for autographs and photos and suddenly you realize that you've forgotten to eat). That being said, I do highly recommend character meals if you have younger kids (or if you have older kids -- I'll be doing them forever -- even after my kids think it's "not cool"). So, you should factor in at least an hour (or 90 minutes) per character meal -- therefore, doing 2 in 1 day might have been a bit much.

After dinner we were able to essentially walk on Haunted Mansion (which quickly became Olivia's favorite ride) and It's a Small World. The Spectromagic Parade was on the schedule this night...and let me just say this: you really MUST get a spot to view the parade at least 45 minutes before it starts. Otherwise, it's just total chaos.

Overall thoughts:
- Scrambled eggs are so not worth losing your temper over

- think about how much time you want to spend on character meals in 1 day - scheduling two on the same day might be too much

Chaos, party of 10

April 25, 2009

We started our first day of our Disney adventure at the Detroit Metro Airport -- bright and early. We were going through security at 6:45 a.m. (with a party of 10 that includes 4 kids, that was a must -- even if our flight wasn't until 9:10 a.m.).

Security was a breeze.

Oh, and I must add this: I love the Northwest terminal (McNamara terminal) at DTW because they have a Westin hotel right there IN the terminal! We stayed there Friday night (they have a great 'stay and park' package -- we paid about $180 + tax for one night at the hotel and 8 days of valet parking). This is a great deal because normally you pay about $32 a day for valet parking at DTW. I recommend this choice for anyone who is (1) flying Northwest (soon to be Delta) and (2) who is in the NW Ohio/SE Michigan area.

Boarding the plane was ridiculous, as usual. Everyone lines up (as if they aren't going to get on the plane) and then we have to squeeze through the aisles with kids and bags in tow. Emma REFUSED to sit in her seat until we were actually taking off.

Then, we arrived in Orlando! Finally....let the fun begin. But wait.

First we had to lug ourselves downstairs to the Magical Express check-in desk and then stand in line for about 25 minutes waiting for the Magical Express.

Let me explain this: When you are a resort guest at a Walt Disney World resort you have the option of using the Magical Express. Basically, Disney picks up your luggage at the airport (ONLY at Orlando International Airport) and delivers it to your resort. Meanwhile, you take a ME bus to your resort. No rental cars, no waiting for your bags. The Mouse does all the work so you can play! For more details about the Magical Express, go here.

After a short bus ride, we were FINALLY at Disney's Wilderness Lodge! (See photo above). Oh. My. Goodness. What a gorgeous resort! The lobby is amazing! Wow. Just wow. Check-in was so easy (no line at all!). Our party all got rooms on the 2nd floor (which was so nice because it was really the "main" floor where the lobby was located). We had courtyard view rooms (get them if you can -- they are worth the extra $$) -- our room (2155) looked out over the pool. All rooms have a balcony -- oh how nice it was to sit out there and RELAX!

After lunch at the Roaring Fork (the quick service restaurant at the resort), we decided to take the boat to the Magic Kingdom. (From the WL you can take either a boat or bus to the MK, and a bus to the other parks. The monorail does NOT go to the Lodge).

The castle! I tell you what, seeing Cinderella's castle is absolutely the BEST sight. You just have to smile every time you see it!

The crowds at the MK were average - not too high, but not low by any means. We waited 10 minutes for the following rides: Snow White, Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Other rides (Peter Pan and Dumbo) were longer waits (45 minutes and 1/2 an hour respectively).

Dinner - hot dogs at Casey's Corner! Oh my. Love that place. It's "just" hot dogs...but they're good. And it's a fun place to eat.

A strange thing happened on our way out of the MK that night - around 7:30 p.m. when we were leaving (after being awake since 4:30 am!) there were huge numbers of people POURING into the park. I found this odd, since there were no Extra Magic Hours that night.

Overall thoughts:
- stay overnight @ DTW every time!
- always use the Magical Express - it's so much easier when you're traveling with kids!
- once you get to your resort, just go with the flow - let your kids explore, buy autograph books (these are a MUST HAVE item!), head to a park (if you've got a 7 day park hopper like we did, it only makes sense to hit a park)

1. Buy an autograph book and a big pen - the kids are going to meet many characters during the course of your trip. And characters = autographs. Know this however - some characters can't sign (a few come to mind: Goliath from JoJo's Circus and King Louie from Jungle Book)

2. Whatever park you go to first, get your photo taken inside the park by a Disney Photopass Photographer and get your Photopass card. Keep this card with you at all times! Each time a Disney photographer snaps a photo they will scan the card and then once you get home you can view all the photos online (and you can order copies).
a. Our resort also had a Photopass desk which was nice - I was able to view and order some
photos while still on vacation.
b. Take advantage of the Disney Photopass pre-arrival CD offer here. For $99.95 you can
pre-order your photopass CD and then after your trip you can add all your Photopass pictures
and get the CD with a copyright release so you can take the CD to Target for example and
print out your photos. A GREAT deal!

Next stop: Disney's Animal Kingdom

Saturday, May 2, 2009

We're back!

A short report:

Disney World was wonderful.

The Wilderness Lodge resort was AMAZING!!!!

Crowd levels were 'average' ... we didn't experience any HUGE waits. We actually walked on Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion all week. Waited 15 mins for the Jungle Cruise. Used a Fastpass for Peter Pan. Walked on the Safari ride at Animal Kingdom (about a 5 minute wait), then used a Fastpass on Friday (higher crowd level).

I will be posting a daily 'journal' in the next few days -- I have many stories to tell and a few tips to pass along.