I recognize how long overdue this is, seeing as we visited the happiest place on Earth back at the end of March, but I wanted to spend some time kicking it around for a while in my mind before writing it. There is so much I want to share, so you're going to have to indulge me as it's going to be a long post. But hey, it's my blog, and there's only 3 dedicated readers of which I'm aware (feel free to prove me wrong in the comments).
I've been wanting to go to WDW as soon I became a parent really, but it was cemented during a business trip to Orlando I took when Hannah was only 4 months old. Since she was so little, Marc and Hannah came along. During an afternoon off, and after lots of discussion, we spent an afternoon and evening at Epcot. We had a fabulous time, and I couldn't wait to go back.
But we did wait, almost exactly four years. We don't get a lot of vacation time, and a great deal of it is spent managing gaps in childcare schedules, so it had been a while since we took off a chunk of time for anything other than visits with family. Marc gave me the okay to start planning in December. Thanks to Julie and Mike, who bought us both the official and unofficial Disney guides for Hanukkah, I was able to dive right in.
I actually didn't use the official guide much, but the unofficial guide was priceless. Not only was it incredibly thorough, it also included access to additional features on the book's website. While I didn't follow one of the touring plans it provided, it helped us to determine what we wanted to see and do in each park, and really managed my expectations of the trip. Some of the details were just crazy (where to stand to get the best picture of your kid on Dumbo – hello, I wanted to be on Dumbo myself!), but some really did pay off (buying glasses strings for our sunglasses, since they need to be removed so often, which Hannah and I both enjoyed). At any rate, if you're planning a trip, get the book.
Before we did anything else, we made dining reservations. We knew we wanted a meal at Cinderella's Royal Table in her castle at the Magic Kingdom, and reservations here are very difficult to get. We made a lunch date with the princesses, and then also booked dinner at Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary Hotel. With the dates finally nailed down, we booked very early flights leaving Boston on Wednesday and returning home on Sunday. We rented a car, figuring the additional cost was worth our peace of mind at having access to one, and then found our hotel.
Through poking around on hotels.com, I stumbled across a hotel that featured family suites. A little more digging revealed that the All-Star Music Resorts, one of the Disney Value hotels, featured these suites that included two bathrooms, a small kitchen area, and a separate master bedroom. The most amazing feature was the price – hotels.com offered the suite at 45% of the price offered booking it through Disney. So our hotel ended up being one of the cheapest parts of our trip, seeing as the flights and park-hopping tickets cost us more.
Hannah was so, so, so excited to be going to WDW. She made her own version of Mickey Mouse hats for us about a month before the trip, and she worked hard to get Max excited too. This trip really was for her – she'll remember so much of it. She is already getting past her princess phase, but when she was there and in the moment, it was all so real. Hannah didn't complain as much as I had expected, and was a real trooper regarding all the walking we did. I think it also helped that she couldn't read yet – there was no fighting about rides she couldn't go on, since she didn't really know that there were things she missed.
Obviously, Max had no idea what was going on, and parts of the trip were hard on him. At 15 months, he wanted to walk everywhere, and got very frustrated about waiting in lines. He would pull off Marc's hat and glasses, fight and struggle against the stroller, and wait too long between diaper changes. Naps were irregular at best. But there are moments that I know he really enjoyed, and even though he can't remember them, I hope that somewhere he retains the memory of our first trip as a family of four.
Thanks to my BlackBerry, I was able to send emails each day that detailed our adventures, so I'm not just drawing on memory here. Again, it'll bore the rest of you; this is more for my own re-reading pleasure down the line. (And apologies if I get any of the names of things wrong!)
On Wednesday morning we got up and left the house around 4:30 to make our 6:50 am flight. The kids were up and excited, and had fun playing in an area near the gate before we boarded. It was Max's first flight, and he slept the entire flight sitting next to me. Six rows away, Hannah peppered Marc with a million questions for the entire flight. We splurged and used a skycap to help us get everything to our rental car, which was a big red boat (Chevy Malibu) that Hannah helped pick. Hannah was fascinated with everything just driving out to WDW – she loved everything about Florida. We changed the kids into summer clothes and then boarded the ferry over to the Magic Kingdom, and suddenly our vacation had begun. Marc wanted to buy a new hat, so we went straight to the hat shop and Hannah designed her Mickey ears – purple cap, Hannah Montana sticker, pink jeweled ears. While waiting for the embroidery, a parade began outside. Marc and the kids got swept up in it, and I eventually found them dancing with Donald Duck and Goofy on Main Street USA. What a way to get started with the Disney experience. We had lunch in Tomorrowland at Cosmic Ray's, and while Max finished Marc and Hannah rode the Motor Speedway car ride. Next Hannah and I rode the Astro Orbiter, a very high space-themed ride, and she screamed her head off but totally loved it. Then all four of us used our first Fast Passes on the Buzz Lightyear ride (ALWAYS USE FAST PASS WHEN YOU CAN!!!). Next was the Monster's Inc. show, which incorporated people in the audience, including Max! Mike (the one-eyed monster) asked if anyone wanted to see something cute, and they flashed Max's image on the screen. He was wearing an Izod shirt with large letters, and Mike yelled "look at this baby named Izod!" One of the funniest parts of the show for sure. Next we walked over to Toon Town and toured some of the character houses. Hannah also got an elaborate face-painting done, which turned her into a mermaid. Next Hannah and I rode the tea cups, which we both really enjoyed, especially because we got a pink cup. Hannah then played in a little water area outside Ariel's Grotto while I waited in line for her turn with the Little Mermaid. Hannah loved meeting Ariel, and thought she was incredibly nice. We finished our afternoon at the park with the scary Snow White ride, and then hopped on the monorail to the Contemporary Hotel for our dinner at Chef Mickey's. We had a long wait since we'd arrived an hour before our reservation, but it was good to be out of the sun a bit. Our dinner was fun – both kids loved meeting the characters, especially Max. The food was okay, but I think we were all pretty tired from such a long day. We finally made it to our hotel around 9, and after getting settled Marc went back out for a diaper run and a little exploring. A jam-packed but amazing first day.
Thursday was similarly busy. We started the day at the food court at our hotel, along with several hundred high school students. We had read that our hotel was often used for school trips, and it made the food court a nightmare. I waited in a huge line to get Mickey waffles for everyone. Fortunately, that was the only time we were barraged like that, as we went to the food court a little later the following morning. After breakfast, we headed to Animal Kingdom, which none of us had been to before. I had read that it was a smaller park, and as expected, we finished everything we had wanted to see around 2:30. Since we were there right after the park opened, we went right into a character greeting with Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore and Tigger. Then we headed to the dinosaur area, and went on Triceratops Spin twice and poked around a bit before Nemo: The Musical. This show was definitely one of the highlights of our trip, and was truly fantastic. The costumes and sets were very well done, and we all enjoyed this show. We went a short train ride, had lunch and then used our fast passes on the safari. Hannah got into it, thinking there really might be poachers and that we needed to keep the animals safe. Seeing animals living in a set-up like that was really interesting. The last thing we did there was the Lion King show, which included some amazing gymnasts and was a lot of fun. We then headed back to the hotel for a swim break. I'd read over and over how beneficial it would be to take a break from the parks in the middle of the day, and it was. Max had his first official swimming experience in the baby pool, and we each took turns with Hannah in the giant guitar-shaped pool. Her swimming skills have really improved over the last year, and she enjoyed making new friends as she played around. After we dragged the kids out of the pool and got dressed again, we arrived at Epcot around 5. They had an amazing topiary display at the entrance with all the princesses made from flowers, which was very cool to see. We made a beeline for the Kim Possible game, which had been heavily promoted on the Disney Channel. Unfortunately, the timing of the game conflicted with our dinner reservations in Morocco, so we promised to come back the following day. We went into the Living Seas exhibit and Max seemed to want to dive in with the sting rays. We saw Turtle Talk with Crush (Hannah was too shy to ask a question), but she liked it so much that she bought a stuffed turtle. Our Moroccan dinner was good, but Max had a meltdown there which seemed to entertain some nearby guests. After we got some very good pastry in France, and then Marc and Hannah took in the Canada film while I sat outside with a sleeping Max. Hannah bought a cool Sleeping Beauty light toy, and Max awoke just in time for Illuminations. Watching the fireworks reflected in their faces was one of the trip highlights for me.
Friday began with a much easier, later breakfast (no lines!) and we still made it to Hollywood Studios just as it opened. We immediately went to the Playhouse Disney show, which combined four of Hannah's preschool show favorites. Even Max got up at the end and danced around in his toddler ways. Then we saw the High School Musical 3 "Block Party." Hannah sat down near the front, and as the show ended I waved frantically to "Troy," who saw me and waved back to Hannah. She was so thrilled about that. We next went to the Beauty and the Beast show, which had some amazing costumes. The only downside to all of these shows is that Hannah kept asking when they'd start. My answers of "when you see people on stage" didn't seem to appease her much. We saw a quick movie on Prince Caspian and then the Little Mermaid show. After lunch we went to the new American Idol Experience show. We got taped in the waiting area outside the theater and got to see ourselves incorporated in the show later. Hannah really liked voting for her favorite teenage girl singing a song from "Camp Rock!" even though she didn't win. We then went back to Epcot, as we'd promised Hannah, but it was a disaster. The Kim Possible game wasn't available until the park was nearly closed, and that caused a lot of tears for Hannah. We convinced her to go on Spaceship Earth by promising to leave right afterward and get dinner at McDonald's. We followed through on that by going to a McDonald's we'd seen on the Travel Channel. It was definitely tricked out, with tons of games and lots of different food options, but it was so tacky that we left as quickly as we could! We headed back to the hotel for more time in the pool, and Hannah stayed out quite late, playing in the water while High School Musical 3 was projected on a giant screen. I think swimming at the hotel was really her favorite part of the trip. Max enjoyed the line dances they organized poolside as well - he tried hard to dance along, especially to YMCA and the Macarena.
Saturday was the last day of our trip, since our flight home on Sunday was around 6:30 am. I brought breakfast back from the food court to our room, unfortunately spilling Marc's coffee just before I got there. He refilled his cup on the way to take Hannah for one last swim, this time in the piano-shaped pool. We headed back to the Magic Kingdom later in the morning, this time taking the hotel shuttle. This worked really well for us, especially at the Magic Kingdom since it avoided the need to use the ferry or monorail to get in to the park. We went straight to Fantasyland and got in line for Dumbo, which I took both kids on. The wait for this ride was one of the worst - it took a long time, and you're not in the shade for a lot of the wait, and then it's a pretty short ride. But still, it's a must-do. Then we went on It's a Small World, which has a faster moving line but was very challenging for Max. Once on the ride, he calmed down, and Hannah really loved it. She tried hard to identify all the different countries as we wound through it. We then used our fast passes on the Peter Pan ride, and then moved on to Belle's Story Time. Just Hannah and I went, since it was in a tiny alcove of the park, but it was great. Hannah got to meet Belle afterward, and I think that was possibly the cutest picture of the trip. Hannah and Marc then rode the carousel right before our lunch at the castle. Now, if you've got someone in your family that loves the princesses, I cannot underestimate how wonderful this experience was.We first got to take a family picture with Cinderella, and multiple copies of it were included with the price of our meal. The decorating throughout the castle was beautiful, and included small details like a little Jaq and Gus (Cinderella's mouse friends) hiding out on a ledge. The waitstaff was incredibly attentive and gracious, and the food was very good. Marc had salmon, I had a beef pie dish, Hannah had chicken fingers and Max some pasta. The kids meals were served on giant Mickey plates, and Hannah even ate some of the green beans that came with hers! Hannah was given a magic wand, and Max was given a sword (which we had to confiscate almost immediately). They both got little stars for a special "wishing ceremony" as well. Snow White, Belle, Sleeping Beauty and Jasmine all visited our table, and Max flirted with all of them. Sleeping Beauty was so taken with him that she left a big lipstick kiss on his forehead. The whole experience was just wonderful. The afternoon was more rides: Haunted Mansion, Aladdin's Magic Carpets, the Enchanted Tiki Room (the one time we had to remove Max from an attraction), and Pirates of the Caribbean. We had a nice relaxing dinner at Pecos Bill's (relaxing since Max slept through it!), saw the Philharmagic show (a 3-D movie featuring a lot of the characters), and then Hannah and I went on our last ride, Winnie the Pooh. We saw the SpectroMagic light parade and the fireworks, then took the bus back to our hotel. The kids didn't want to go to sleep, but we had to since we'd be getting up around 3 to head back to the airport.
Poor Hannah didn't want to go home and cried a bit the next morning. We tried our best to explain that we can't always be on vacation, that we're so fortunate that we even got to go, and she seemed to understand. She told me, "it was a really good four days, Mommy." We arrived back to cold and rainy Boston, and were lucky to have most of the day to unpack and get our lives back in order, but it was a tough transition.
I can't express just how much this trip meant to me. Even though there were difficult moments where someone was upset or frustrated, the vast majority of the time was fun and entertaining, and I loved getting to be together as just the four of us. In the hectic day-to-day life we live, we don't get a lot of moments to just be with each other. There's always some distraction. I'm sure a trip anywhere might have yielded similar results for me, but knowing how much fun Hannah had, and the bonding time we had with Max, it might not have been accomplished some place else. It'll be a while until we can get there again, but I can't wait to go back.