Saturday, February 25, 2012

Disney World!

We recently returned home from our first family vacation in a long time.  In fact, during our drive down to Florida, Eli asked if he had ever been on a 7 day vacation....umm, no.  So, I started thinking back and the last time that Ezra and I took a 7 day vacation was on our honeymoon....almost 10 years ago.  Yes, we've taken several 3 or 4 night trips over long weekends, but this was a true vacation

I will admit that I spent a lot of time planning for this trip, from reviewing hotels, height requirements for rides and park maps to menus for every possible restaurant that we might eat at.  If you are ever planning a trip to Disney, I highly recommend the website

And if you want to kick it up a notch, go for the $11 annual subscription to Disney touring plans.  (My cousin let me use the last 3 weeks of her subscription so I was able to take advantage of the program).  Oh, my!  The touring plans program statistically analyzes the crowd levels at every park 365 days a year as well as the wait times for every ride/attraction 365 days a year, giving you the best possible recommendations on when to go and how to organize your day.  Yes, I used the program, and I was in "organization heaven."  However, because it is based on prior activity, there are no guarantees and you also have to consider that we were traveling with children who have opinions.  By early afternoon, we had usually put the plan aside and were just trying to finish seeing what we wanted to.  It was nice to have a printout of everything that we had planned to do, and as we completed each event we marked it off and saw what else we needed to get to.  Basically, we had a plan, but we stayed flexible as things changed.  For example, we arrived at Hollywood studios 15 minutes before the gates opened, passed through security (for our backpack) and the entrance turnstiles at 5 minutes before opening time.  Apparently they opened the park a few minutes early (it was not an Extra Magic morning), but I figured rides would start operating exactly at 9am.  We were not the very first people through the entrance, but we followed our plan and walked at a good pace directly to Toy Story Mania as recommended by "the plan."  It estimated that we would only have a 3 minute wait.  We arrived exactly at 9am and there was already a 30 minute wait.  After riding, we realized why it was so popular and decided to obtain fastpasses for later in the day to ride again.  So, by 9:45am (when the park opened at 9) we got our fastpasses that were not valid until 2:40 in the afternoon!  Everyone might not understand how fastpasses work (you can read all about it on all ears), but I was shocked at how quickly the fastpasses were going!  When we returned in the afternoon, all fastpasses for the day were already distributed.  Anyway, back to my original point, the 30 minute wait first thing in the morning, got us "off the plan" pretty early on, but we managed to still see and do everything that we had planned for that day. 

We spent 4 days at the parks and packed as much as we possibly could into those 4 days!  After the Disney portion of our trip, we then visited with my sister's family for a few days before heading home.  We did leave the 2 youngest little ones at home with a wonderful friend who took very good care of them.  After a lot of thought we decided that everyone would enjoy the trip more (including the babies) without toting a double stroller, fixing bottles, changing diapers all day.  And I must say that after seeing the double strollers trying to squeeze into the monorail or folded up on buses and exhausted, cranky toddlers, I think we made the right decision.  Matthew (4 years old) was the youngest child we took and he measured exactly 40 inches, the minimum height requirement for most of the more exciting rides.  There was usually 1 ride at each park that he was unable to ride (48" requirement), but it was nice to be able to all ride together on most rides without having to swap out to stay with younger kids. 

By the way, according to the Touring Plan, our crowd levels at each park were in the 3-5 range (out of 10), and we usually waited 10-20 minutes for most rides unless we had fastpasses.  There were a few rides where the wait was a little longer, but it was manageable.  This trip confirmed that I would not want to go in the summer (80 degrees in February was warm enough!) and I would not want to go during Christmas/New Years when the parks are packed with crowd levels at 10.

For now, I will just post the pictures, but I will be happy to share details about our experiences, restaurants, shows, rides, etc to anyone who is interested or might be planning a trip soon.

Packed and ready to go!

1st Ride!  The People Mover!

Eli's 1st attempt at taking a picture of us...Mad Tea Party

Magic Carpets of Aladdin

Magic Carpets of Aladdin

Swiss Family Treehouse

Eli's 2nd attempt....Swiss Family Treehouse

Snack break while Mama and Maggie are riding Mt. Everest

"You WILL get wet, you MAY get soaked"  Just ask Matthew...

Kali River Rapids

Jungle Trek

Jungle Trek....just after Kali River Rapids

Jungle Trek

Triceratops Spin

Tree of Life

Magic Kingdom

Royal of their favorites

Royal Carousel


Toy Story Mania...waiting in line

Toy Story Mania...still waiting in line.  At least they were outside the jail!

An entire store and sweet shop!

"I'd like a Matthew in a cone, please."

Eli finishing my Mint Bliss Sundae, after he had finished his chocolate milkshake

Enjoying her own mint chocolate chip

Working on his mint chocolate chip

Still working....
  We had a wonderful time while at Disney.  We stayed at the Shades of Green resort, right next to Disney's Polynesian resort.  It is a military only resort on Disney property with many of the same benefits of staying on Disney property.  The rooms were much more spacious than other Disney resort rooms, with a sofa bed (allowing 5 per room rather than 4) and a balcony.  While it did have its own bus transportation, we found that we preferred the 10 minute walk to the Polynesian where we then caught the monorail to either the Magic Kingdom or EPCOT.  The walking also helped justify the 3 rather large servings of ice cream that I consumed throughout the week.... We did use the bus transportation for Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.  We really enjoyed Shades of Green and would recommend it to any military family looking for a nice resort at a decent price.  I'm not sure about the Disney resorts, but the Shades of Green pool was not heated.  Of course, that did not stop my kids and husband from jumping in!  I, on the other hand, chose to watch from afar and catch up on some reading.  For four days we were up at 6:30am and going strong until about 9 or 10pm.  I was impressed that the kids managed so well with such long, busy days, including lots of walking, but the weather was wonderful and we all slept very well every night!

Favorite Attractions:
Eli - Splash Mountain, Maelstrom, Toy Story, Kali River Rapids
Maggie - Splash Mountain, Test Track, Tower of Terror, Mt. Everest
Matthew - Royal Carousel, Test Track, Extreme Stunt Show, Kilimanjaro Safari

After our stay at Disney, we visited with my sister and arranged to have a play date at a local park with a college friend and her family.  It was a great vacation and we thoroughly enjoyed it!  The kids are already talking about going back once Charlie and Cooper reach the 40" mark. 

A day at the park with cousins and friends