Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Magical Night...

After a quick nap, we headed back to the Magic Kingdom for dinner reservations at The Crystal Palace and to catch the evening fireworks.

Tip #5 -- If you are staying at the Shades of Green resort, ask the bellhop to drive you down to the end of the driveway.  They will gladly strap you into their golf cart (stroller and all!) and zip you down the driveway to the Polynesian Resort.  It easily saves 5-10 minutes of walking.  Georgia loved her nightly "ride" in the golf cart!  Tip them a few bucks and save yourself 10 minutes and 1/4 mile.

Speaking of walking... make sure you have your most comfortable footwear packed, broken in and ready to go.  Nick bought new sneakers a few weeks before our vacation and I made sure he wore them a few times before the trip to break them in.  I wore my running sneakers with my custom inserts that I normally save for my treadmill runs and races.  According to my FitBit, we walked 7.3 miles on our first day at the Magic Kingdom.  My mom also wore a FitBit and she was within that same range (we are convinced the woman must walk laps in her sleep because she beat me daily --- and we were walking around the same places together!!).  Disney is not the time or place to experiment with new shoes, flip flops or heels.  Yes, I saw all three, including a pair of super high wedge sandals on a crazy woman who looked like she was going to topple over at any moment.  We made sure we had band aids on us at all times and a small first aid kit, which we luckily never had to use!  For those nights that my piggy toes just had to be free (it's Florida, I HAD to wear my flip flops at some point), I always kept my sneakers in the stroller and I would inevitably change into them before the walk out of the park/back to the resort.

Back to our return to the Magic Kingdom...

Georgia took monorail safety extremely seriously throughout the duration of our stay.  When the automated voice told her to "hold onto the pole," she immediately complied... every single time.

Did I mention that she also made other people comply with the direction?!?  Mimi was a good listener too.

Our dinner reservations were for 6:00pm and when we arrived a few minutes early, they informed us that they were running at least 15-20 minutes behind for the evening.  So, Mimi and I stayed with the pager in front of the restaurant (and I even managed to bump into a friend and her family - it truly is a "small world" at Disney) while Nick headed out to explore a bit with Georgia.  They managed to stumble upon the Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It Street Party, which was an excellent accidental way to kill 30 minutes while we waited for our table.

I sent Nick a text at one point to ask whether or not Georgia liked the street party.  His response was classic, "Nope and yes."  So, typical Georgia!  He managed to snap the perfect selfie to accompany his quote...

What a sour face!

When we finally got seated in the restaurant, we were told that Winnie and all his friends would be visiting our table shortly.  Georgia, still not 100% sure of these giant life-like creatures, wasn't too impressed and was way more interested in her coloring book.  

Tip #6 -- Pack lots of "to-do" activities for waiting if you are traveling with a toddler/young child.  We had our diaper bag/backpack stuffed with coloring books, our iPads, books, etc.  Mimi also had a few little distractors on her too.  We only needed to access them a few times during the trip (mostly while we waited for food), but they were a great distraction when we needed to buy ourselves a few minutes or we needed to prevent a meltdown.

Again, a chef immediately came out and walked me through the entire buffet to explain what she could/could not eat.  This time, I asked lots of clarifying questions and double-checked on items.  Georgia had several bread, fruit/veggie, and chicken/fish options.  I was really impressed with the lack of peanut products.  Disney doesn't use any peanut oil in their facilities and peanuts/peanut products are primarily only used in their desserts.  Dairy was a little tougher to avoid, but there were always options.

Tip #7 -- In my opinion (and my traveling companions), the buffet at The Crystal Palace is much nicer than the buffet at Chef Mickey's.  We all agreed that we enjoyed our meals much more this night than the previous night.  We had many more options, including some new and interesting choices that we really enjoyed (like Mediterranean Chicken!).

The first character to hop on by was Tigger!  Georgia gave him the stink eye, so Mimi did her best to convince him that he really was just a big ole cuddly friend...

Big hugs for Mimi

Tigger tried his best to entice Georgia into a hug.  She did her best to ignore him!

Her bread was much cooler than Tigger!

Piglet was our next little friend to swing on by.  He took one look at Princess Grumpy and knew to not even try it!  But the rest of our table wanted a pic with the pink guy!  Interestingly enough, even though G didn't want to spend any time with the characters, she wanted to make sure they signed her special autograph book!

Tip #8 - Buy your autograph book ahead of time.  They were selling for almost $10 in all the Disney stores.  I bought our Little Mermaid notebook in the $1 bin at Target before the trip.  I had also read a great tip somewhere along the way to bring your own Sharpie pen with you.  Since the characters' hands are covered by their costume, their dexterity isn't the best . The Sharpies are easy for them to hold and maneuver.  I read that the click/retractable Sharpies were better than the Sharpies with the cap, so I bought those at Target too.  All the characters seemed to be able to handle those quite well, no matter the size of their "paws."

Getting a squeeze from Mimi

Yes, my sun-burned chest may have matched Piglet's fur color!

And then, it happened.  The man of the hour arrived at our table!  He even managed to sneak up and surprise Mimi...

As Mimi was having her picture taken, I may have mentioned to Winnie's "handler" that Georgia was still a tad suspicious of all these costumed friends.  He immediately turned to me and said, "Don't worry - he's amazing with the little ones!"  He was spot on.  All it took was for Winnie to pay some special attention to Georgia and she completely cured her of all her fears for the rest of the week.  If I could have personally tipped Winnie-the-Pooh, I would have done it.  He was amazing!

I love that Winnie played peek-a-boo with her and that was just enough for her to realize that these characters could be fun to interact with off the tv screen!  Her giggles were priceless and worth the entire cost of the trip.

Tip # 9 -- If you have a little one who is a tad bit hesitant of the characters, let the handlers know.  That was the first time that I told the person accompanying the character and I think that helped with the situation immensely as he was able to let Winnie know that she was a bit scared.

As we waited for our final character to come around, the waitress brought out dessert for Georgia - Enjoy Life cookies!!  We all know how much I adore this company, so I was beyond thrilled when I heard that their products were served in the Disney parks.  Georgia's eyes lit up in delight when she spotted these chocolate chip cookies.  She inhaled not one, but two packs within minutes!  Mimi mentioned to the waitress that Georgia loved the cookies, so she brought out even more for her.  We all know that Georgia could survive on only Cocoa Loco bars (which we brought with us) for months, but it was nice to have some cookies too!

Dessert #1

Dessert #2 - A whole platter of Enjoy Life cookies!  Love, love, love this company!!

Finally, Eeyore made his way around to say hello.  Georgia loved waving to him!  But, she had cookies to eat.  Priorities!

Nick & Eeyore

Giggling at Eeyore

Waving to Eeyore

We finally wrapped up dinner and hustled over to the TomorrowLand Speedway.  Since we didn't use our FastPass+ that we had earlier booked for Enchanted Tales with Belle (because we were able to walk right in during the quiet morning hours), we re-booked for a night ride on the speedway.  Georgia was sooooo excited and it was great to bypass the long line, use our FastPass+ and get right into a car.  Georgia thought that she would really be driving her hero, Lightning McQueen!

Ready to drive!

One of my favorite pictures from the day!

Tip #10 -- Layers, layers, layers!  Even in mid-April, we were surprised by the wind and how quickly the nights cooled down.  We often started our days wearing jeans/long sleeves, stripped to short sleeves/shorts for mid-day, and were back in long pants and sweatshirts for after dark!  We also brought our own ponchos and umbrellas from home.  We never needed the ponchos (we happened to be back for nap time during the one thunderstorm while we were there), but we pulled out the umbrellas for a few quick bursts of misty showers on different days.

After our trip around the track, we hustled back to Main Street to figure out a good place to stand and watch the fireworks.  We were amazed at how early people claimed spots hours and hours before the show.  We found a decent place on the bridge to TomorrowLand and enjoyed the Celebrate the Magic show and then the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks.  We had a fabulous view of Tinker Bell's flyover, but one lonely tree managed to block our perfect view of the fireworks.  Luckily, we were able to slide over a bit to see most of them.  

Georgia liked the music, but wasn't a huge fan of "the booms!"  

Tip #11 -- Disney never passes up an opportunity to make a quick buck.  Before the fireworks, all sorts of light up devices were for sale all over the parks.  Luckily, both Mimi and I had gone to the dollar stores and bought all sorts of light up wands, necklaces, glow sticks, etc. before leaving home.  Spending $10 before the trip provided us with nightly entertainment all week long!  During nap time, I would re-stock our diaper bag and sneak a few toys to whip out later while we waited for our nightly entertainment.

What a day!  It took us quite a while to make our way out of the park, along with the tens of thousands of other people who left after the fireworks.  Again, the monorail convenience was fabulous and soon enough we were back a the resort and prepping for our next adventure - back to the Kingdom tomorrow!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Magical Morning...

I officially need a vacation from our vacation. Case in point -- our wake up call for our first morning at the Magic Kingdom was 5:15am.  Since the park had extra magic hours starting at 7am for Disney resort guests, we had to be on the shuttle at 6:30.  I had read horror stories about lines, lines and lines during spring break weeks, especially the week of Easter, so away we go...

Tip#1 -- For guests staying at Shades of Green, skip the morning shuttle bus and just walk to the Polynesian Resort.  It will save you about 15 minutes.  We learned that lesson for day #2.  The bus brings you to the Transportation Center, which eventually arrives at the Polynesian for pick-up.  Might as well cut out that first step and just go to the Polynesian.

We arrived at the Magic Kingdom via the monorail about 2-3 minutes after the gates had opened.  I always love the scene of hundreds, if not thousands, of adults and children running down Main Street aiming for their first destination of the day.  We joined the hoard and only stopped for a few attempts at a family photo.  Georgia still wasn't quite awake.

Georgia was still confused as to what exactly was going on this early in the morning!

Tip #2 -- Know the new Disney FastPass+ system before you walk into the park and have a plan.  I spent weeks before our trip reading numerous blogs, tips, the Disney frequently asked question pages, etc.  I double-checked what rides Georgia could go on with her height, which rides would be open during extra magic hours, etc.  People with a plan were moving fast and adapting as they went.  Those without a plan or those who did not go online prior to their visit to book their three FastPass+ reservations had to stop and figure things out and wasted valuable time.

Our morning plan was to head directly to Fantasyland and get in as many rides as we could before the big lines formed.  For later in the morning, we had our FastPass+ reservations already booked and our iPhones ready to make changes, if needed.  Our FastPass+ plan for the day was:

  • 9:40-10:40am - Peter Pan's Flight
  • 11:00-12:00pm - Splash Mountain for Nick & I
    • 11:45-12:00pm - Parade VIP seating for Georgia & Mimi
  • 7:15-8:15pm - Enchanted Tales with Belle
I would say we were one of the first people to hit Fantasyland, so we headed right to Dumbo and pretty much had the ride to ourselves...

Nick flying solo

The benefit of being at the park when it first opens = private Dumbo rides!  Later in the day, there was a 60+ minute wait.

Taking flight

After Dumbo, we quickly hammered out rides on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Mad Tea Party, Enchanted Tales with Belle (we originally planned to use our FastPass+ after dinner for this little show, but we got in early before a line formed, so we rebooked our FastPass+ for another attraction), It's a Small World, and Prince Charming's Regal Carousel.  

Happy on her horse!

The faster, the better on the tea cups!

We managed to get quite a few things accomplished all before 9am while the park was still quiet.  We didn't run into a single line.  We still had a few minutes before our FastPass+ reservation at Peter Pan, so we even managed a quick run into TomorrowLand for a few rides.  

Time to chase some bubbles???  

We convinced Mimi to take a ride with us on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin

Enjoying Buzz's ride!

One of the most entertaining parts of getting off most rides these days is checking out the action photo that was taken of you/your party while you were on the ride.  You quickly learn if you are a screamer, a hide-your-face type, etc.  We learned that Nick takes his shooting games very seriously...

On the other hand, I looked utterly disinterested!

Mimi managed to shoot both guns as Georgia wasn't quite tall enough to do it on her own!

Three generations relaxing on the PeopleMover in TomorrowLand

By 9:45am, we walked over to Peter Pan's Flight and used our FastPass+ to skip the 60+ minute line.  Perfect!  By 10am, the park seemed to have exploded with people.  You could barely walk on paths that just an hour before were completely empty.

We spent the rest of the morning exploring FrontierLand before grabbing an early lunch at Peco's Bills.  As soon as I informed the cashier about Georgia's allergies, a chef came right out and walked me through her food options.  He went and made her turkey sandwich and fries personally before walking it out himself and handing it to us directly.  Disney definitely has their food allergy plans in place and ready to go.  Each restaurant has a book with all their ingredients, allergens, etc. and they know their stuff!

Tip #3 -- If you or anyone in your party has a food allergy, send an email to Disney ahead of time.  They will reply with a list of "safe" places to eat, as well as lists of food that are allergen friendly at each of their parks.  I knew ahead of time where I wanted to eat most days and some options for Georgia at each park.  For each of our formal lunch or dinner reservations, our party was already flagged and our ticket had ALLERGY stamped in red across it.  A chef came to talk to us within 2-3 minutes of walking into every restaurant.

After lunch, we split into two groups.  Nick and I went to use our FastPass+ to get right on Splash Mountain and Mimi and Georgia walked to the castle to get into the VIP Parade area.  Since Mimi doesn't ride many fast rides, we used her extra FastPass+ reservations to book parades, character visits, etc.  It worked perfectly!

Tip#4 -- Any child under the age of 3 doesn't require a ticket to get into the park, so they are "free."  They also use your FastPass+ reservations. Since we had 3 adults, we had a total of 9 FastPass+ selections for Magic Kingdom each day (3 per person).  For rides that we all wanted to go on, we had to use all 3 tickets to link to the same ride.  However, if you have an adult (like Mimi)  who wants to skip a thrill ride or two, use that FastPass+ to book characters or VIP parade seating!  My mom pointed out that if Georgia had been more interested in the characters, she could have easily given high-fives to most of the passing characters that were on foot walking the route. 

Our Splash Mountain selfie

We'll never know what type of face Nick made on the Splash Mountain drop because his head got blocked by the hand of the rider in front of us.  We learned that I, not surprisingly, am a screamer!  I love the look of horror on my face.

Check out that back row!

By the time we made it off the ride, we rushed over to the castle area to see if we could spot Georgia and Mimi.  We managed to squeeze into some space directly across from them.  Luckily, they had arrived early and managed to get front row seats to the newest Disney Parade, Festival of Fantasy!

We got to see all our favorites - Cinderella, Ariel, Belle/Beast, and even Anna/Elsa/Olaf!!

Spying on Georgia & Mimi from across the way!

Even more friends - Peter/Wendy, Donald/Daisy, Merida and Georgia's beloved Tinker Bell!!

Checking out the action, but still not 100% sure of all these characters!  One of the little devils from Chip and Dale came over to touch her nose and Georgia thought he was the best!!

The parade wrapped up with a giant dragon (from "Sleeping Beauty") and everyone's favorites, Minnie and Mickey!

By the end of the parade, the sun was shining bright and we all needed a wee bit of sunscreen (too late for me - my chest was fried!).  

Mom and I in front of the castle

We were going to head directly back to the hotel for nap time, but Georgia rallied for a quick ride on the railroad...

Lots of giggles with Daddy

Nap time for Georgia & Nick = happy hour time for Mimi and Mommy back at the hotel!  Cheers...

Enjoying the Shades of Green lobby cocktails and views of their golf courses!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Heading to Mickey's House...

We did it!  We officially survived Disney World with a 2 year old.  Yes, it took 3 adults, but as The Hunger Games proclaims.... "May the odds be ever in your favor!"

We have to send out a huge thank you to Mimi, who flew down to DC to join us on the flight to/from Orlando and bought us all our tickets and got us into the Shades of Green Resort for our trip.  Not to mention that we abused her Fast Pass+ throughout the trip.  Having three adults was key to everyone's sanity.

Be warned, I took close to 300 photographs during the trip, so you know the next few posts will be very picture/video heavy as I recap our trip and do my best to provide you all with a few tips we learned along the way!

Our first drama occurred the morning of the trip when we woke up to torrential downpours in DC.  It took close to 2 hours to get to the airport and when we arrived, parking was limited to the top of the garage.  Meaning, someone was going to get soaking wet as they parked the car.  Nick dropped Georgia and I off so we could sprint into the airport.  And by sprint, I mean, drag a toddler, a stroller, 2 carry-on bags and a suitcase down a set of stairs to avoid getting soaked to the bone!  Nick joined us in the terminal with the other suitcase and some very wet jeans a few minutes later.  After checking in the bags and dragging said toddler, stroller and carry-on bags through security, we were more than happy to just hang out in the terminal for a few hours and wait for Mimi's plane to arrive.  Drama #2 - Mimi's plane was circling DC waiting for the rain to end and was minutes away from being re-routed to Philly!  Luckily, the weather cleared long enough for her plane to land or we would have been trying to reconnect with her in Orlando.

But, the sun came out and off we went.  Orlando or bust...

Nick's reward for parking the car in the downpour was his own row for the flight to Florida!  On a flight with Disney bound families, that must be good karma working for him.

Who even needs to go to Disney World?  Orlando's airport tram was more than enough fun for G!

I hadn't been to Shades of Green since January of 2002 and the resort had been fully renovated since that time.  While we were there, we were reading up on the history of the resort and the purchase of the resort by the Department of Defense for military family use.  It was great to hear/read that their occupancy rate is almost 100% each year!  Georgia immediately took a liking to the giant Mickey statue in the lobby...

American Mickey

After a brief nap, we were off to the Contemporary Resort for our first character dinner at Chef Mickey's.  One of the best parts about Shades of Green is the quick access to the monorail across the street at the Polynesian Resort.  It was a walk that we came to know well during our week long stay.  Since the Contemporary is on the monorail system, we jumped on for the quick ride around the lake to dinner.

In the Shades of Green lobby waiting to head to dinner

Again, who needs the parks when there are free rides like the monorail???  Georgia loved everything about the monorail train ride.  Each day, she waited to see which color train would show up.  As we rounded the bend from the Grand Floridian Resort to the Magic Kingdom, she would scream, "I see the castle!!!"  

Mimi & Georgia on the monorail heading to Chef Mickey's for dinner

One of the things that I was most looking forward to on the trip was the food.  All you hear about on allergy blogs is that Disney is the mecca for kids with food allergies.  For each of our reservations, I marked our entry to notify the chef that Georgia had milk and nuts allergies.  I couldn't wait to see how they handled that at these restaurants.  As soon as we checked in at Chef Mickey's, the waitress informed us that the chef would be right out to chat with us.  When the chef came to our table, he immediately took me on a tour of the buffet and pointed out all the options that Georgia could eat.  Overall, I was fairly impressed.  She could eat a variety of fish, chicken, etc. and he would even make her a personal dessert.  So, I quickly grabbed a plate for her with some sausage, chicken, pasta and broccoli.  I ran back to the table as I saw the first character approaching our table.


Georgia pretty much crawled under the table.  The kid was all talk!  She was so excited to spot her beloved Donald Duck across the room, but as he approached the table, she was utterly terrified!

Hiding from Donald Duck

Luckily, Donald took the cue and shook his tail feather out of there!  It didn't get much better as Pluto headed our way.  At this point, I was thinking about cancelling the rest of our reservations for the week.  If she was going to be terrified of everything, then we could eat at McDonald's and save ourselves a whole lot of cash!  

Georgia might not have liked Pluto, but he liked ME!!!

However, once he bent down, Georgia showed a moment of interest, especially in his giant whiskers!

Note the roll in her hand - I'm fairly certain she ate her body weight in dinner rolls during the week!  Thank you, allergy-free bakery!

Georgia had no interest in Goofy when he swung by the table, but Nick seemed to enjoy the tall guy...

Interestingly, it was at this point that we noticed that although Georgia didn't want to "visit" with the characters, she definitely was interested in them and wanted to know where they all were at all times.  One would leave our table, Georgia would come out of hiding and promptly declare, "Who's next?!?!"

And then everything changed... and Minnie arrived!  Guess who instantly perked right up???

It was at this point that I was getting myself food at the buffet and noticed a sign over the pasta that stated "noodles with butter."  Ummmm.... butter?  As in, made from dairy butter???  I immediately ran back to the table and ripped Georgia's plate out of her hands.  At that point, she had eaten maybe 4-5 noodles.  Thankfully, she was still loving her bread too much to eat anything besides that.  Mimi had been sneaking bites of food into her, but she hadn't eaten many items yet.  The chef failed to mention the butter on the "safe" noodles that he had pointed out to me just minutes before.  I flagged down our waitress who retrieved another chef from the kitchen.  He came out and confirmed that there was butter on the noodles.  He apologized profusely and offered us Benadryl.  Luckily, Georgia seemed her normal self and I didn't spot any redness/hives and decided to wait it out.  However, I was not very pleased with our first Disney dining experience.  I kept a close eye on her skin for the remainder of the night and kept my fingers crossed that she hadn't eaten enough to cause a reaction.  

Lesson learned - Ask lots of questions!!  

The chef did send out a special cupcake treat for Georgia.  Her face was priceless when the waitress handed her a big chocolate cupcake just for her.

We thought G was over her fear of the characters after Minnie visited, but check out Princess Grumpy Face when Mickey Mouse happened to join our table during dessert...

Oh well, you can't win them all.  It was a long day of travel and only a brief nap, so perhaps throwing her right into the world of Mickey wasn't the best decision.  

Overall, I'm not sure we'd do Chef Mickey's again.  I thought the food was the weakest of all the restaurants we ate at during the week.  The buffet had a lot of options, but none blew me away.  It was the easiest reservation to get, though, so I can see its appeal.  It was also easy to get to with being on the monorail and not in a park.

We headed back to the hotel for the earliest bedtime possible knowing that it was going to be an early wake-up for our first day at the park and a long day ahead.

Up next... Magic Kingdom!