Day 3 - January 25, 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014


I love the Magic Kingdom, love it to the depths of my soul. When we were planning this trip, I considered eliminating Animal Kingdom from our itinerary for a variety of reasons; Connor was really into Star Wars, we suspected Caroline would be really into characters. To me, it has always been the hottest park and the one with the most bottlenecks making it feel extra crowded. I kept hearing it referred to as a "half day park." I only had four park days, why would I spend one of them at a half day park, right? Wrong.

I love Animal Kingdom, love it to the depths of my soul. If we had longer to spend on property, I would have gone BACK to Animal Kingdom for a second day, that's how much we all loved it. Yes, the animals are fabulous, but they were somehow more fabulous this time. The safari was by far the best one I have EVER taken. The kids loved the atmosphere, they explored more here than any other park (because it is designed for that!), we lost one for a brief moment of time, but I will get to that scary bit later. Caroline's second favorite attraction is here and she would ride that almost as much, if not more, than her beloved Big Thunder. Steve found his turkey leg. Connor had a churro. We all ate popcorn. It was almost relaxing.

Almost.

Any day that starts with an impromptu character meet and greet is going to be a good day. We have had great luck meeting characters out front at this park. Last time we stumbled onto Timon just as he stepped out and this year, Rafiki. Funny story here is that we saw him coming from backstage while we were milling about and Caroline was dancing up a storm. We dropped everything and raced over, with one of his handlers waving us on, and jumped right over to him just as others caught sight. The first handler let Caroline meet him, but the second handler gave handler one a tongue lashing because we had not cued up properly. (you can see her using her hands to illustrate her point in the video below.) To be fair, we saw him and followed him over to where he was meeting. We were told to go on up, and really, no one had lined up yet in the designated spot anyway. As Mighty Men of Mouse would say, "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat." You have never seen a mother react so quickly to get her kid with autograph book in hand to a character. BAM!

RAFIKI!

(as with all poorly shot videos I post here, you must also endure my endless commentary. I think it is endearing, you can think whatever you want)

 
 

 
 
How could the day honestly get any better from here?
 
We made a quick stop over to the Kiosk by Disney Outfitters (that link won't be needed for long as all guests, on property or not, will have advance booking access to the Fast Pass Plus system beginning March 31st). The line was pretty fast and here is a terrible photo of our selections which they once again recommended I take. We had access to our schedule through My Disney Experience, but again, could not alter it from the app.
 
10:30 - 11:30  --- Kilamanjaro Safari
12:40 - 12:55  --- Finding Nemo
1:55 - 2:55  --- Primeval Whirl
 
Caroline had one thing and one thing only on her mind: Everest. My seven year-old daredevil was excited to get on this ride, meet the Yeti, and conquer another mountain. On route to Asia we saw a relatively short line to meet Mickey and Minnie and ducked in. To get a sense of how chilly it was this day, please note my husband is actually wearing a COAT. You know how well this little stop went over with Connor.
 
 

Caroline was leading the way now, chanting "yeti, yeti, yeti," and I was beginning to think this was not the best idea as the ride came into view and the screams became audible. I took this shot just outside to prove to DCF that she DID in fact want to ride, should they come knocking.
 
 
She was thrilled through the entire cue and the line was not long which gave me less time to consider what an epic disaster this was going to be. We jumped on with my cousin behind us and she immediately put her hands in the air, big smiles all around. "This is not like Thunder Mountain," I told her, "this is a ride that Mommy screams on and you are definitely going to want to put your arms down and hold on tight." She was cool all the way until the part where the tracks ends, she waved at the Yeti, told him she wasn't afraid and then we went backwards. I didn't think this would be her undoing, but when we were about to head deep into the scariest downhill of the ride, she announced, "I'm going to throw up." She was clammy, breathing heavy, and I believed her. This was a ride where I needed to manage my own screaming and when your kid is terrified and ready to vomit, you can't even let that scream out. It was all I could to reach over and offer my hand to her.
 
 
We told her she could get ANYTHING she wanted after this. Don't judge. She chose a Yeti pillow that she now sleeps with every night. This kid was one brave daredevil and even if she hated every second of it, I was so proud of her for trying. I don't think we will be going back on Everest together for a long while.
 
After that scary experience, we tried to calm her down as best we could and headed to the Safari for our FP+ return time feeding her Goofy gummies the whole way until her color returned. She was unhappy, scared still, and not feeling well. I felt we had made a terrible error and was feeling awful about letting her go on, but in hindsight, she wanted to do, it wasn't nearly as fantastic as she thought it would be, but she did it! I stand behind it DCF, come and get me. I worried the day would be lost to this one bad decision, but she recovered quickly once we hit the cue for the Safari.
 
We had the BEST Safari. The kids saw elephants, rhinos, giraffes, hippos, lions and even Connor's beloved cheetah. I knew if we didn't see one he would be incredibly disappointed, but this kid's day was made (and admittedly, mine too) when he exclaimed from my lap, "I see it, I see the cheetah, Mama!!"
 
 







 




  
 







 some video snippets









The kids LOVED the Safari and we wasted no time heading right over to the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail after we disembarked. I embarrassed my husband by shouting to the driver that this was "the best Safari EVER!" I do things like that.

Families, DITCH THE STROLLERS for these trails. They are windy, narrow, crowded and your stroller is enormous. We didn't get to do the trails last time we visited Animal Kingdom, probably because the kids were so much younger and would be stroller bound. The trails are designed for meandering exploration and our son was not yet two, not yet ready to really dive into this experience. We made the HUGE mistake of rolling the stroller right on it, which mostly meant Steve had to deal with the bottlenecks and finagling it through tighter spots all while, you guessed it, Connor rode on Mommy's head.

The absolute highlight of this trail is obviously the gorillas. We easily could have spent another half hour just watching the silverback. He was impressive, strong, and just amazing to watch... from a safe distance. This is exhibit A for why I came to love Animal Kingdom. You could really just explore and not feel like you NEEDED to go from one thing to the next and keep up with an itinerary.


 


We realized we were all hungry as we exited the trail and stopped at Tamu Tamu in Harambe. This was probably my favorite lunch. Steve was reluctant at first, skeptical of my choice, but he really enjoyed his lunch and I still suspect he had a few bites of mine while I took one of the kids to the restroom. The kids each grabbed a Power Pack Lunch here which I cannot say enough about. I love the flexibility it offers, with kid friendly options that aren't the same ol' same ol'. They each ate some and stowed the rest for later. It was nice to have some options for snacks as we waited for the parade and they both announced they were hungry. The dining area here offered some cover above and we were able to listen to the live music happening in the streets of Harambe just beyond our lunch spot. RELAXING.

We neglected (I forgot) to stop on the way in and collect a Wilderness Explorer book at Discovery Island for the kids. Caroline would have loved to have earned some badges while we walked through Pangani, but we didn't have the book. PARENT FAIL and boy, did she remind us about fifty times that she didn't have the book. So back towards the entrance we went to collect our book and say the Wilderness Explorer Pledge. It wasn't too far out of our way as we were already in Harambe and on our way towards Dinoland for Finding Nemo.

I want this guy's job!



Our eager Explorer was off to find some badges, but instead spotted Doug and Russell.

 


We were headed to Findng Nemo and making good time, when what did we see? A meet and greet with Pooh and Tigger (down a trail across from Flame Tree Barbecue. Tigger is my favorite and a quick glance at the watch told us we had just enough time, maybe? We headed down the path and the Cast Member told us that Tigger would be right back, but Pooh was still meeting friends down below. This was my Magic Moment. Just as we reached the corner to head to the cue, Tigger came down the path behind us. I gasped and covered my mouth and told him, "You are MY favorite." He took my hand and off we went. I love Tigger. Love.


 
 




We booked it to Nemo, our second Fast Pass of the day, and got seats second section, center, first row to get an up close view of the performers who run in and out during the show. We love Nemo, so our kids really enjoyed this. Connor loved Squirt and Caroline loved Dory. Steve loved the air conditioning. It was the perfect time of day to take a break. Tonight at bedtime my son looked at me and imitated Dory's "do you, do you, do you?" which had me in absolute stitches. This kid.

Then it was off to Dinoland, USA. We had one more Fast Pass left and it was for Primeval Whirl. This was a 48 inches and up only ride, so we did a Rider Switch with our son. While my husband rode with Caroline, Connor and I walked around Chester & Hester's. We briefly, very briefly, considered taking a twirl for him on Triceratop Spin, but the line was SO long that even Connor was blasé about it. It was warming up and there seemed to be nowhere to hide from the sun over here. So we went on a Turkey Leg expedition. I thought I remembered Steve getting a leg last time over here, but couldn't remember where. We took some cute photos because Connor couldn't believe the dinosaur's foot was bigger than him.


By the time Steve and Caroline were done with their turn on Primeval Whirl, we were still legless. I switched with Steve, suggested they grab a churro we had seen for my churro loving boy to pass the time for our turn and continue their hunt for the turkey leg.

Caroline was super excited to ride this a second time, more so because we had a Fast Pass. This is about the time I realized my daughter was feeling pretty entitled with her Magic Band. She breezed by the Standy By line with a huge smile. I am not sure why, but I wasn't expecting her to be this excited about this attraction. She hadn't been tall enough last time.


Caroline absolutely LOVED this ride. She loved it so much she asked me to video the entire thing. So I did, with hilarious results. I love this so much because we are all giggles and joy. You can see Connor on Steve's shoulders (shocking!) with his churro at the beginning. This is what Disney World is all about. I will always remember riding this with her because it was just fun. She felt like the pro who told me when the hills were coming, when to watch out, when to put my arms up at the end to get out. These few short minutes made a lifelong memory for us.


 
When we met up with Steve and Connor, Steve was STILL not holding an enormous turkey leg. We grabbed a popcorn and explored a bit more. The kids wanted to spend some time in The Boneyard, so I once again sent Steve on his hunt solo. I heard there was a pretend dig site inside and I knew the kids would love that. I told the big to keep close to the little, the little to stay with the big and they climbed up, up, up together. My big was fearless, pushing on, but my little looked instantly afraid. He was too far from me to come back without me losing sight of my big, so I urged him on and reassured that I would keep my on him the whole time. They reached a point where he could climb down to me and she could continue. She sent him down and took off. By the time I had him in my arms, she was GONE.
 
Gone.
 
I tried not to be frantic. I traced various paths above to seek out her little body, trying to recall her Merida shirt. My pulse quickened, I called her name once quietly, then again louder. I found her suddenly, racing around completely panicked herself. She saw me and collapsed into tears. We had both been equally afraid. The kids played a bit longer, but she was more unsure, tentative. Steve showed up on scene a few moments later and we called it a day in Dinoland, it was hot and we wanted to catch the parade before heading to dinner.
 
Just as we crossed the bridge, I spotted a woman holding a turkey leg. Let's recall how incredibly embarrassing I was on the safari. "best safari EVER!" I employed the same embarrassing forwardness when I boldly approached her to ask WHERE she had found this wonder of poultry. We were at Flame Tree. Big huge duh. May I present, the happiest man in the world.
 
 
We debated It's Tough to be a Bug. Actually, Steve told me we were doing it and I told him a million reasons why we maybe kind of shouldn't because SCARY. The kids loved the idea of this show, but in reality, were absolutely terrified. Once the place when dark, that was it for both of them and when the smoke started I thought Connor was going to climb under the seats to hide. Definitely our second gross error in parental judgment of the day. Steve stands by his decision. I recommend other parents of youngish kids think twice.
 
I wasn't sure of the parade route, but the lines were present on the walkways making it fairly obvious where we should stand. We were able to snag a pretty sweet spot beside Drinkwallah over the bridge to Asia, across from Flights of Wonder and Yak & Yeti. The kids dug into the remains of their Power Packs and I snagged two frozen lemonades for the grown ups. The kids had front row seats and got lots of "happy birthdays" from the performers. By the end, our daughter was standing and waving to the characters.
 





 
If we hadn't had dinner reservations at the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Boma, we would have explored the Maharajah Jungle Trek or headed back to Dinoland. The parade was a good way to end our afternoon at Animal Kingdom, but I think we were all wishing we had more time here. Animal Kingdom was so special that I cannot even believe we considered skipping it. Don't make the same mistake we almost did.
 
 

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Water on Water Rest Stops - How? When? Where? Why?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

 
Imagine this not so unlikely situation, if you will.

You are at the happiest place on Earth (for me it is Disney World so shhh on the Disneyland biz, okay?) about to hop onto a ride your kids have been excited about since you showed them the ride through on youtube. Suddenly, the potty dance, a complete freak out, and a NEED TO FIND A RESTROOM IMMEDIATELY. Or even better, imagine a once in a lifetime experience on the roof of a gorgeous hotel with the most special view of Wishes ever and your son is practically holding his breath to keep from peeing all over himself and you. True story.

Convincing your kids to take a restroom break is probably challenging on a normal day. My four year-old has had accidents because he doesn't want to miss a single moment of an episode of Dog with a Blog that he has seen fifteen times. Sometimes these "please.go.to.the.bathroom!" conversations are just ridiculously bang your head on a wall frustrating. No one, including an adult, wants to take a bathroom break when they don't need one. It goes against human nature to stop doing something fun or to break away from planned actions to address a need they don't necessarily have.

When you imagine a life with kids, I am pretty sure no one expects to earn stripes as a bladder monitor. "Do you have to go?" "Are you sure you don't have to go?" "You had all that water, I think you should go." "Why don't you just try?" Parents are SO annoying, aren't we? It doesn't end when the potty training is over. I am pretty sure I will be leaning into my son on his wedding day, pretending to pin his boutonniere to his lapel, and it will just slip out. "Did you go to the restroom before getting dressed?" I don't know about you, but I would rather spend more time having fun and less time taking on an emergency seek and find mission with a restroom.

Mark my words, restrooms WILL be an issue if you are traveling with kids. How can you best manage this frustration?

Set Expectations

Don't expect your kids to go along with ducking into every random restroom you see. Discuss your expectations in advance and reinforce that message. Warn them that taking restroom breaks is something we are ALL going to do to prevent any accidents or emergencies. Tell them that you want them to try even if they don't need to go. Remind them that it is pretty hot outside and you are going to be asking them to drink A LOT of water today. What goes in, MUST come out. Acknowledge that it isn't fun or how you want to spend time at Disney World either. Reinforce that if the group gets through this experience quickly, you will be back to the fun faster. If your kids are still in the lovely "squirrel stage" of distractability, you can try the ol' "let's try to go and then we can...." I thought my son was still very much in the squirrel zone, but this did NOT work with him (age 4).




Be Realistic

Understand that you are going to have unhappy people trailing behind you into a restroom. More likely is that you will be carrying an unhappy person forcibly into the restroom while they assertively announce to everyone around you that they "don't have to go!!" Breathe deeply, this too shall pass. She who hears the sound of water hitting water laughs last. In most cases of forced restroom breaks, the kids would look up at me with forlorn beaten expressions because look at that, they DID have to go after all. Praise them for trying, thank them, trip over yourself with all the compliments for them being so agreeable and putting up with your utterly ridiculous request. This went a long way with my kids. I tried to always end our tenure in our forced break with excitement about what we were going back to. "Ok, now let's go meet Ralph!" This made Connor groan, so I would say, "You can ride on my shoulders, big boy!" To think I wondered HOW he ended up on my shoulders all the time.

Have a Plan

I am in NO way recommending a full study of restroom locations at Walt Disney World. Rest assured, you are never far from one, but finding them can take some time. It is sort of like an airplane, look both ahead AND behind, the closest one might not be in front of you. Look for a restaurant, if there isn't one inside, there is likely one close by. Larger restaurants will probably have their own dedicated restroom. If you find yourself in an emergency situation, ask a Cast Member who I assure you will be able to point you in the right direction in no time, with two fingers. The updated My Disney Experience app with it's GPS mapping capabilities has a restroom feature allowing you to see locations in your proximity right now. With these tools, you are sure to get there in time.

Accidents

Accidents will happen. Kids get excited and involved and suddenly the panic sets in and they need to go RIGHT NOW. Bringing an extra set of lower body clothes is a good idea for young kids. Shove a pair of mesh shorts, underwear, and even socks into your bag. If you are prepared, you probably won't need it, or at least that is how the universe works for me. If you are caught off guard, perhaps by a child you never would have expected to have an accident, there are plenty of places to replace their soiled clothing, however, $$$. I was this kind of kid, the one who realized we were waiting for something special and didn't want to disappoint anyone by sharing that I sort of maybe had a situation here. If you can quietly (and with respect for your child) alert a cast member in one of the merchandise locations to your situation, they can assist you in finding the things you need to get through this much faster than if you search racks for sizes and hunt for underwear. This is a FAMILY park, they are used to these kinds of things and you are in no way the first family to come to them with this issue. You never know where a little Disney magic might strike. While I would never ever say that the mouse will make it all better, they will certainly do what they can to right the course of your day.

Times to Consider Taking a Break

Hopefully you aren't just passing by a restroom and suggesting it. I think Moms have a built in, "we haven't stopped for a restroom since clock." You know your kids best and you know when they will be most tolerant of this interruption in their day. A stop on their way to their favorite attraction is probably not a good time to suggest a break. Before you determine where to go next, think, "do we need a break first?" Sometimes you may be presented with a situation that warrants a quick stop to PREVENT an impromptu potty dance. Anytime you have just watched your kid down a large drink is a good time to make a stop, that's a given.


  • Consider a restroom break before
    • getting into a long line
    •  riding a bus, monorail, train, or boat
    • an attraction or show that has a longer duration
    • exiting (your hotel room, your resort, the restaurant, the park)

Staying one step ahead is a big part of successful parenting and Walt Disney World is not the place to let your guard down. Be prepared, silence the whining in your head if you can, those two minutes and the sound of water on water will ensure you have a great day.

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Be Our Guest - Review

Monday, March 24, 2014

Be Our Guest is one of the most difficult "gets" in all of WDW right now. Though I obviously cannot say for sure, I would guess that this might be as challenging as Cinderella's Royal Table for Breakfast with the Princesses. It probably also rivals O'Hana's very popular dinner feast. There is just ONE table service meal at Be Our Guest served each day, making it all the more impossible to snag an ADR. 

This was a meal that I lost sleep over. I would literally wake up in the morning, retrieve my phone, and try each of our Magic Kingdom days for dinner for weeks and even months leading up to our trip. I was determined and eventually the stars aligned and I had snagged one about a week and a half before. If you haven't had luck, don't despair, with the new credit card hold dining policy, there are sure to be last minute cancellations/openings for you to slide into if you can be persistent and also a bit neurotic.

As I stated above, there is just ONE table service meal served each day, but you can also enjoy a different menu and experience at lunch when this location has a modified quick serve set up. Easy WDW has a very detailed review of his experience, nice photos of meal options, and the how to on his site. I have also seen links and heard mumblings about a Quick Serve Fast Pass for this meal, but can't provide more information about that at this time.

Why so popular?

The Décor

The restaurant is incredibly well-themed and detailed. With three unique dining experiences and an invitation to explore the other dining rooms after your meal, even non-Princess lovers would enjoy poking around in this place. I think my kids might have been a little nervous in the West Wing at least initially due to the darkness and spook factor, but I'm sure they would have ended up enjoying the effects and the enchanted rose under the bell jar dropping petals. The Rose Gallery is a bright room with a large music box topped with the Beast and Belle dancing from the iconic scene in the movie. This room is not technically a "scene" from the movie like the other two options, but is full of details and portraits of other characters like Chip. We dined in the Ballroom which was large, a bit noisy, but so gorgeous. We were seated towards the rear of the room, close to the floor to ceiling windows where it was "snowing" outside. Connor was quick to point out that it was "just pretend," and we were all grateful for that since it was really snowing at home.

My phone and our point and shoot did not do so well with photos in this space. Here is the rose napkin we were greeted with when we arrived to our table.



Check these links for some much better photos of these truly beautiful spaces.

Disney Food Blog Tour of Be Our Guest
WDW Magic
Disney Dining

The Menu

By far the fanciest of the table service options at Magic Kingdom, Be Our Guest is also the most expensive option for dining without the presence of characters. When I reviewed the menu, I was a bit concerned about the kids and even my husband finding something they would like.

This may be the trip where we discovered our son's love for steak. I would not be one to order steak for a four year-old, but he is a total carnivore and we have found we have more success ordering this for him than anything else. Who knew?

Connor had the Children's Grilled Steak, with seasonal vegetables and fruit. It came with a choice of milk or water for $10.99.

        
Steve ordered the Grilled Strip Steak, served with garlic-herb butter (that he was unsure what to do with at first, we are fancy aren't we?) and he substituted veggies for the pommes frites for $32.99. Here is the best photo I could get, admittedly not a good shot, but you get the idea.


Caroline was deeply entrenched in vegetarianism this day, which of course varies day by day. Her love for bacon rivals her disdain for chicken. I can't make sense of it either, but we roll with it. She chose the Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup served with seasonal vegetables for $8.99. Her meal came with a drink and dessert included. It was presented really nicely and she was pretty excited about it.



I went off the beaten path a bit and went with the Layered Ratatouille. After such a long day, I felt something lighter was in order. It was layers of eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes and caramelized onions over quinoa with a yummy bell pepper sauce. At 17.49, it was the bargain of the meal and I loved every single bite. It was surprisingly filling and I felt full without feeling like I needed to be rolled out of the restaurant. Remember, we had quite a run ahead of us at this point.

 
 
Our meal, including alcohol, tax, and tip, was $108.35. It was not even close to being our most expensive dinner, but it was one our favorites. My husband wouldn't put this on the top of his list, but I loved the atmosphere and it felt very special.

The Alcohol

See those tall glasses up in those terrible photos? After a long day running here there and everywhere, you have never seen a happier parental pair than Steve & I enjoying an ice cold beer at the Magic Kingdom. It felt a bit naughty. The availability of alcohol here makes it all the more enticing. I love beer, I prefer it to wine, cocktails (even my extra extra dirty grey goose martini). I couldn't recall who ordered what until I did some googling.

Steve chose the more well-known Hoegaarden for $6.25 and I shouted, "I'm on vacation," and ordered a Belgian style Saison Dupont for $8.25. It was an excellent choice.

The Beast

The Beast is your host for your meal, he walks through the restaurant several times during dinner and is available for photos AFTER your meal is complete. He is very tall and quite imposing, but it is certainly a treat to get to meet him before exiting the castle. They will remind you SEVERAL times that his meet serves as your exit from the castle, so be sure you have seen all you want to see before cueing up for him. Connor again sought refuge on my head, but was open to a high five and Caroline didn't bat an eye and sidled right up to him for a photo. He will not sign autographs, how could he with those paws?!

 

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