Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Disney Days 4 and 5: Epcot and Animal Kingdom, with a bonus visit to Magical Kingdom

This won't be fair to either Epcot or Animal Kingdom, both of which we enjoyed very much (Animal Kingdom in particular which we LOVED), but I still have another MK day (my favorite!) and our trip to Clearwater Beach and we've been back for days and I have to work every day this week except Thanksgiving because Disney and Hurricane Harvey clean-up took all my vacation leave and my parents and brother are coming here (because of Harvey again, we were supposed to go there) and things are SO BUSY at work it's killing me and I was shopping at Central Market last night and felt comforted by how many other people were clearly doing their Thanksgiving shopping after work along with me. But we're super excited they're coming and it'll be a lovely day, even if they have to rush back for house stuff and I have to go back to work on Friday.

But before we can talk about Thanksgiving, we have to back to last week when everything was magical and decorated for Christmas! It's been a weird holiday season so far.

Day 4 was Epcot! Somewhat like Hollywood Studios, we'd heard mixed reviews on Epcot for little kids, but it is the only park where you can meet Anna and Elsa and several of the other princesses and we'd already decided we wanted to do everything, so off we went. And we really loved it!

Since we walked to Magic Kingdom every day, Epcot was our only experience with the monorail. The kids loved it and James had one of his rare childhood flashbacks (he went to Disney a lot growing up but has like ZERO memories of doing anything and was absolutely no help in planning the trip or trying to remember if the kids would like a certain ride). We got the park before it opened (high fives all around), went through bag check, and headed straight over to Soarin, a ride our planner recommended with a very short wait right then.

We LOVED Soarin.

I wish we could have done it again. You fly all over the world and it feels very real.

From there we did Turtle Talk with Crush, the Finding Nemo ride, and the Aquarium. The kids loved them all and the aquarium was surprisingly cool.

Cora spent a while "freezing" the fish in her Elsa gown. That child loves to stay in character.

We finally pulled the kids out of the aquarium and took a ferry across the lake to Italy for our very tasty pizza/pasta lunch a Via Nappoli. The pizza was amazing and this was probably the only time a Table Service meal left James full and he was very happy for the rest of the day.

We wandered around some of the countries in the world showcase. Epcot has by far the best snacks - I got a crepe in France and James got sushi in Japan. We made our way to Norway to meet Anna and Elsa and ride their ride. At this point Cora had met about a dozen princesses and chatted away with all of them, but when she met Anna and Elsa, she got completely star struck.

Elsa was trying to get the kids to make ice and the big kids were good-naturedly following along, and Cora is just standing their beaming.

One silent awkwardly long hug later and we moved on to Anna and Cora just had this look on her face like she couldn't believe this was happening. Anna tried to twirl with her but Cora still couldn't process words.

Even Claire got in to it. Elsa was the only princess she ever wore (twice; for Halloween two years in a row but never once on a day in between) and she didn't even need Cora to be excited about meeting two of her favorite characters. Cora just stood there unable to believe this was actually happening.

We exited their cute little meet-and-greet house and Cora turned to me, totally bewildered, and said, "Mom! I just did not even talk to them?!" I think she maybe blacked out for a minute while we were in there.

Their ride was really cute- mostly animatronics from the movie, but some of the best I've ever seen and surprisingly non-creepy. You're in a boat moving along the water and while there's a little dip in the end, it in no way justified the ridiculous face I'm making in this picture.

I just really love rides you guys.

We had a Fastpass for Spaceship Earth which was cool. It's not really a ride, more of a journey, but it was fun to be inside the giant golf ball we'd been staring at all day. Landon had been wanting to do Test Track, so we wandered over there even though the line was too long, but once there we discovered there's a single rider line with a 5 minute wait! I prepped Claire that she wouldn't be able to sit next to me, but she was game and we ran in. 3 minutes later, we were on the track! And the nice boys we rode with switched seats so Claire and I ended up together after all!

Landon did the single rider line twice more (5 minutes! it was our best Epcot hack of the day) and then James and the big kids wanted to explore more of the countries while Cora just wanted to talk with more princesses. We'd met most of them at our awesome crazy party night on Sunday, but talking with princesses is pretty special, so I was happy to head to Morocco with her to meet Jasmine again.

Jasmine was wonderful. Here Cora is telling her that she just doesn't have a Jasmine dress. (She's now getting one for Christmas.)

We wandered to France to wait for Aurora and Belle, both repeats, both totally delightful the second time. The big kids finished up Japan with James and headed over. I told them they could keep exploring, but they stuck around. I think both because they did a little bit enjoy chatting with the princesses and also because the magic of watching Cora chat with a princess is about the greatest thing ever.

Landon asked Belle her favorite book. #TweenFlirting

(For the curious, she "just couldn't choose a favorite," but now that she lives in Beast's castle, she "gets to pick a new one every night!")

It was getting late and we still had to eat dinner before heading back out to Magic Kingdom to watch the Happily Ever After Fireworks show from our VIP seats, so we said goodbye to another new favorite park, boarded the monorail and headed "home to our new house" as Cora dubbed it for a quick meal.

We headed back out an hour later to Magic Kingdom to find that one MILLION people were in Magic Kingdom to watch the fireworks so it was a madhouse. We slowly slowly pushed our way through Main Street, trying to get to the spot in front of the castle our Disney guest experience friend had told us to sit. It was slow and frustrating and we got separated a few times, but finally found a place that looked right. Our name was on the list and under the rope we went to watch the most spectacular fireworks show I have ever seen in my life. Twenty minutes of lasers and lights and music and animation and fireworks.

The show debuted in May of this year and while we saw it from our hotel one night, there is nothing like sitting in front of the castle and watching the projections and lasers and everything else. Even James kept saying "Whoah" under his breath over and over throughout. The kids LOVED IT and I wished we had another non-party night to get to watch it again. So great. We got to bed late, with a sleeping Elsa tucked in her stroller on the walk home.

~ ~ ~

Animal Kingdom!!! They day Landon had been looking forward since the night we told them we were going to Disney World. We were up early and at the park not too long after opening and Landon had two near meltdowns within minutes. Excitement + tween emotions are not always a winning combo. We had a chat about making this the day I knew he wanted it to be, and he was mostly stable. It's like a tightrope with that one.

But we were HERE! I'd seen pictures of the giant Tree of Life a million times, but had no idea exactly HOW GIANT it was (14 stories tall) and how incredibly intricate and detailed it was with over 300 animals carved into the trunk and branches. I just found that linked article and am so bummed we didn't know about the secret tunnel.

We immediately abandoned any attempt to ride the new Pandora "Flight of Passage" ride with its already 2-hour wait (!!) and watched the "It's Tough to Be a Bug" show inside the tree (super cute) and then headed to Dinoland to ride rides.

The DINOSAUR jeep ride was rough and fun and of course, Cora loved it, along with both big kids. James was a little green.

Cora's heart was broken when she couldn't do the Primeval Whirl and there were many tears while Landon, Claire, and I rode it 3 times in 10 minutes (no line!). She rallied for the TriceraTop Spin and James watched us do it all.

We headed to the Pandora section next for our Na'vi River Journey ride. That section is just spectacular. We could have wandered around there for hours.

The scale and color and detail is truly fantastic.

The Na'vi River Journey ride was incredibly beautiful and detailed, but I think I would have been disappointed if I'd waited in the 90 minute regular line. It was perfect for a 10 minute FastPass though!

We walked to Africa for our safari ride. Landon was SO EXCITED about this and it was just great. We saw a ton of animals, our guide was great, and we learned a lot! (It's hard to surprise Landon with new animal facts.)

Our lunch was at Tusker House in Harambe. It's a character buffet with a long wait (even though it's reservation only) and high prices (don't look; just pretend the dining plan was a great discount), but we really liked the food and meeting Mickey, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy.

The downside to a character meal is that in half your pictures someone has food in her mouth. (Cora.)

Landon nearly exploded when we told him to try a food that wasn't mini corn dogs, but soon discovered the fried hummus was delicious (like WE TOLD HIM IT WOULD BE my god). I'm not a big meats or curries person, but there was a roasted vegetable cous cous salad that was so good I ate my weight in it. All in all we were full and happy when we left.

We tried to see the Lion King show after our meal, but the 2:00 was canceled so we headed to Asia for Expedition Everest, possibly our FAVORITE ride of the whole trip.

best picture of Claire ever

I rode with the big kids. James rode with the big kids. I used Cora's FastPass and rode alone. I hate that Cora was too short, she would have loved it. So fun and fast and high and a surprise jaunt of riding backwards... it's a really great roller coaster.

We finally caught the Lion King show which was as wonderful as promised. Landon has a lot of inspiration to work on in his tumbling class and the kids were just captivated by every part of it - dancing, fire eating, gymnastics and tumbling... it's a great show.

We wandered around the zoo paths which are all wonderful (we love a good zoo) with very informative and interesting guides to chat about the animals along the way. From there we felt we owed Cora a few more rides, so we headed back to Dinoland for more TriceraTop Spin. The big kids did a few more rounds on the Primeval Whirl and then we all went to the giant playground. By now it was 5:30 and much of the park closing. We flirted with staying for the nighttime show, but Friday was our last day at Disney and we wanted to use Extra Magic Hours for Magic Kingdom at 7 a.m. and our room had to be packed and checked out before that, so we boarded the bus and headed home.

Landon says Animal Kingdom was BY FAR his favorite park, Claire ties it with Magic Kingdom, and Cora loved it despite its lack of princesses. If we ever went back to Disney, we'd definitely like to spend more time there. It's so different from the others and so special on its own merits.

Five days down in Florida, two to go!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Day 3: Magic Kingdom Magic!

Today we got to experience Magic Kingdom in daylight! After our party night on Sunday, and then our aborted fireworks trip on Monday, we finally got to really SEE Magic Kingdom and it is fabulous.

We walked to the park a little before 8 to get a few pictures in front of the castle (note everyone's Disney shirts; James and Landon each found one they liked enough to humor me for a day) before walking back to Beast's Castle for our Be Our Guest breakfast.

We even got to walk through Cinderella's castle for the first time since it had been closed for the party and the fireworks when we'd been at Magic Kingdom before. The mosaics along the inside are really amazing.

The castle is so beautiful. I really don't know why they don't use it for a Belle meet and greet (classic Belle is weirdly hard to meet at Disney World; she does an Enchanted Tales experience at Magic Kingdom where you can get a picture with her in her yellow dress but she does not sign autographs, then she is also at Epcot at certain times of the day in France where she signs autographs but she's in her blue and white early movie outfit), but you can eat there and it's great. No character meet and greets (except at dinner when you can meet the Beast), but you get great food in a very pretty setting.

I was not above a little gasp when we walked in the ballroom. I love Beauty and the Beast.

We chose to eat in the forbidden East Wing. It was dark and spooky and lightning would go off and change the prince's portrait into the Beast. We loved it. (Note that Cora made us reinsert her faux pink and blue hair AGAIN; really, the Boutique was worth the money just to watch her sigh happily and pet her long hair each day.)

Since we were way in the back of Fantasyland (and by now I had some idea of how to read the map) we followed our Planner's directions to go meet Ariel in her grotto and ride her ride.

This picture is one of my faves. Landon was actually really awesome about our princess-heavy trip, but in this moment I couldn't help but think he was both too young and too old to appreciate the Ariel meet and greet.

Cora of course was all in. So many questions. Such a long hug. Cora's princesses are real and so special to her and there wasn't a single meet and greet that didn't nearly make me cry (or you know, actually make me cry).

We did Ariel's ride which was cute if very simple. Again, Cora of course absolutely loved it. She loved EVERYTHING.

We walked by It's a Small World and jumped in line since it had a 10 minute wait. I found it less enthralling than expected (I really nothing about it except the song; I didn't even realize it was on a boat), but the kids loved it and the details were cool. Our names popped up on a sign at the end (I guess via the magic bands?) which was fun and the kids found it to be VERY magical.

Next up was a fastpass for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and we LOVED it. Loved it. Stood in the regular line just to ride it again with Cora saying over and over "This is going to be SO FUN Mom! it's going to be SO FUN!"

Even James managed to go a round.

We rode it again on our last day and I got a short video clip of Cora that I will treasure for all of my days. This is Cora at Disney, freaking magic:

We stayed in the general area, knocking out the Swiss Family Robinson Tree which I thought was very cool having watched the movie a thousand times as a kid, and which Landon and Claire loved. Landon has read the book and let us know the backstory behind everything as well as anything missing ("mom, I just can't find the grave for the dog.") or inaccurate. He's a stickler for book details.

Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride was great and I finally realized that's where we'd met Jasmine and the Genie on the party night (we just blindly followed Brandon; I had no idea where we were 99% of the time) and Landon LOVED the Jungle Cruise. I thought it was cute but noted I was glad we had a FastPass because it probably wasn't worth the hour long line. Landon disagreed STRONGLY and told me very sternly that even though the animals weren't real, they were VERY lifelike and Disney had done a GREAT job and it was VERY fun. All true. I recanted my statement.

We did Pirates of the Caribbean and realized the kids had never seen the movie and didn't know why we were trying to point out Jack Sparrow. They still loved the ride and we hung out watching the pirate show on the street for a while after.

We took a break for a hearty snack after finding seats for the Festival of Fantasy Parade. This is a GREAT parade and totally worth pausing a half hour early to get front row on-the-curb seats. So many princesses and characters and a really great scene with the dragon from Sleeping Beauty and Prince Philipp is on the ground with his sword fighting him (her?).

As always, sitting next to Cora was the BEST.

Her whole being is like, "can you BELIEVE THIS?! This is SO GREAT YOU GUYS."

Because it is so great. Everything is. Even just walking around- there's a set of (beautiful!) bathrooms made to look like Rapunzel's village from Tangled with her tower behind it and it's just so pretty. The detail everywhere is lovely. The queue's for the rides are beautiful. There's so much detail everywhere and it's all SO CLEAN. I never saw a piece of trash, food, or stray popcorn kernel on the ground for more than 30 seconds. I'm not even exaggerating. Cora dropped her popcorn tin during the Christmas parade and within 60 seconds someone in an adorable (and until then unseen) Christmas themed uniform had swooped in, swept it up, wished us a magical night, and disappeared again. It's uncanny.

We had a FastPass for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and it was a definite contender for new family favorite. (Except for James who couldn't vote because he had to sit out while still recovering from Thunder Mountain 5 hours earlier).

It's a great coaster- no flips, not super jerky, just fun and fast and awesome. Cora's 5-star review of the coaster was also her only tantrum of the day- she wrapped her arms around the safety bars and refused to exit the cart upon completion of the ride. Like refused. "I do it again! Again and again and again and again!" I finally convinced her it wasn't our turn (she understands turns) but we still delayed the takeoff of the next mine train. Apologies to those waiting- in that moment, her arms had the strength of 10 men.

I have no idea what we did for the next few hours but I know it was fun. The carousel was involved, as were the Mad Hatter tea cups. We walked and pointed and exclaimed. It was great. Tuesday was a party night, so we had to leave the park at 6. We definitely could have stayed longer, but we'd put in over 10 hours and a dinner in our room followed by a movie wasn't bad either.

This was the only day we had everyone in bed at 8:00 p.m. and though I did a load of laundry and made tea in the kitchen (they slept in the living room on the pull-out couch and chair) and the fireworks show made it sound like they was a small war happening outside our hotel room windows, I never heard a peep.

studying up for Epcot tomorrow

We had 2.5 days down and 3 to go. I remember sitting on our balcony around 9:30 p.m., eating a personal funfetti cake (snack credit!) and watching the little boat show on the lake and thinking things were pretty fantastic.