Monday, November 20, 2017

Disney Day 2: Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, and a Wheelchair

Day 2 was Hollywood Studios!

When we were planning this trip (or really, when I was planning the trip) I asked our planner/Disney expert about each park (at the time I didn’t even know there were 4) and if we should visit each or just focus on a few. “Oh they’re all so special,” she said, “I’d really try to see them all.” And I’m so glad we did. We had four full days, plus two travel days, and our general itinerary was as follows (with our on-the-fly additions in parens):

Sunday/Travel Day: Magic Kingdom for the Very Merry Christmas Party at night
Monday: Hollywood Studios (+ MK at night)
Tuesday: Magic Kingdom
Wednesday: Epcot
(+ MK at night)
Thursday: Animal Kingdom
Friday/Travel Day: Magic Kingdom
(we ended up pushing our flight to Saturday when we had to fly out of Tampa to use miles, so I booked a cheap non-Disney hotel for Friday night and then we ended up staying at the park until close and I am SO GLAD we had the flexibility to do that because it was the best day).

But back to Hollywood Studios. I’m so glad we went to this park – it was fun and unique and had some really great rides. It was also the only one we didn’t stay at for a full day, so we slept in just a little after our crazy long travel day/party night (arriving at HS around 8:30) and came home a little early (by 5 p.m., the only night we managed that) to swim and chill before randomly deciding to go back out to Magic Kingdom (we used our Park Hopper ability almost every day, so that was a good buy for us) to eat dinner and watch the fireworks.

We ate breakfast in the room (we had a full kitchen and I'd packed some oatmeal and granola bars) and took the bus, which was fine once we figured out how to fold our newly rented stroller (we’d only ever owned cheap complicated strollers and this one was a dream). We had to go through the regular bag check line and I had a new appreciation for our amazing little walk to Magic Kingdom with its own private bag check that we always just sail right through. It wasn’t a big deal, I think we waited behind 4 people, but still Contemporary Hotel FTW. I’ll note that was the only day I brought a purse. It was just a little cross body, but I quickly realized I didn’t need it. Everything is on your magic band and your phone and James had the backpack with our few other essentials. My capri leggings had a side pocket (my faves I got from Athleta, but I got these for $20 on Amazon for the trip and they were great!) for my phone and I stuffed my purse in the backpack by 10 a.m. and never used it again.

And then we were in! And got a picture! I put our Memory Maker package to excellent use.

We started by aimlessly wandering the streets of Old Hollywood all done up for Christmas (Hollywood Studios was way cuter than I expected) when a surprise pack of Stormtroopers marched by with full gear and accompanying music. That happened throughout the day and made things super fun.

Once we bought Landon a Goofy hat and James some sunglasses (someone forgot to pack his despite several reminders), we wandered over to the lake, confused about what to do first. If you’ve never been to Disney before, it is a little overwhelming to walk in and feel like you should be DOING SOMETHING but you know you have fast passes for some things and there’s growing wait times for other things and you don’t really know where any of that is and it’s a bit much. We got in the swing of it by mid-morning and I didn’t feel that way again, but if you’ve never been before, know you’ll become an expert (or at least a fake one) pretty quickly and just start walking somewhere.

We were too late to hit up our Planner's favorite ride, Rock'n Roller Coaster because the line was already 45 minutes long, so we did Star Tours, the Star Wars ride, first because we didn’t have a Fast Pass and the line wasn’t bad. I was a little nervous when we all got in our seats and put on the 3-D glasses. Cora was only barely tall enough and had never done a roller coaster or ride before- would she hate it? Freak out?

And then it was rougher than I expected and James looked like he was going to puke, and I peered at Cora and she was BEAMING. She LOVED it. ”This is SO FUN MOM!” she yelled on repeat partway through, ”I LOVE THIS!!”

And that was a theme of the rest of the trip. James looking green while Cora yells how much she loves something over and over again.

We did Tower of Terror next. Our first Fast Pass experience (awesome!) and our first time not properly preparing the kids for a ride. I blame James since he was the only one who had done it before, but suffice it to say it was “not Cora’s favorite.” I think she was okay with the ghosts and the spookiness and even the falling; it was the bouncing back up and falling again and again in pitch darkness that made her decide it needed to be over. But we made it!

We had a Fast Pass for Midway Mania, but it was broken, so we got a replacement pass for any ride we wanted and used that to head over to Rock'n Roller Coaster, which now had an hour wait. It broke Cora’s heart to be too short, but James happily sat out with her while the big kids and I jumped the line and walked right on. And it was AWESOME. My favorite ride of the day by far. I thought Claire was enjoying it next to me, but when we got to the end she had tears pouring down her face. She did NOT LIKE that it did a loop and went upside down. She did NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL.

Claire in happier times, before we went upside down and she thought we were all going to die.

Still in denial, James used our Rider Switch pass to go do Rock'n Roller Coaster with Landon while Claire and I (her happily, me reluctantly) hung out with a still depressed Cora. Landon emerged jubilant and James green while we headed over to our first Table Service lunch at the 50’s Prime Time CafĂ©.

It was cute and good, but sadly Landon started internally combusting over the excitement of Disney and the emotional instability of being a tween. He basically turned into a whiny jerk for no apparent reason and remained stuck in that mode for the rest of the afternoon. Luckily for me, we’d already decided to split up for the two 1:30 shows: Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and the Frozen Sing-a-Long, so I took the cheerful girls and James took the crabby boy and everyone enjoyed their half hour.

Cora LOVED the Sing-a-Long and it was super cute. Clips from the movie with all the songs and Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf there to chat and sing along too. Cora was wearing her Anna dress and deeply believed that she WAS Anna. “Look Mom! I’m getting bigger” she cried out during “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” “Oh I am so beautiful,” during “Love is an Open Door” and “Oh I am getting SO cold” later on during Let It Go. It was awesome. While not play-acting Anna's part, she sang every word.

Claire also loved it, but refused to sing while I belted out all the songs I very much know by heart.

After our shows we met some characters – Sofia the First!

Doc McStuffins!

and Pluto!

and then went to Voyage of the Little Mermaid which was very cute. James still looked like was going to puke over at any minute and Landon was vacillating between awesome and awful at a furious pace so at 4:30 I called it a day, skipping meeting Olaf and going to the 5:00 Beauty and the Beast play I’d wanted to see in lieu of family harmony and the promise of a margarita by the pool.

So it was a shorter day: more of a 9-5, but it was perfect for our first one after a late night and with a tired tween and what turned out to be a super motion sick dad. The shows were great and Star Tours and Rock'n Roller Coaster remained two of our favorite rides. And while not necessarily everyone’s favorite, Tower of Terror is a classic and I’m super glad we did it.

Back at the hotel the girls swam while Landon moped in the room and James lay down gripping the sides of the bed like he was drunk. Both men rallied emotionally and physically and we decided to walk over to Magic Kingdom for dinner and to see the non-Christmas party fireworks show that our best friend Brandon had told us was simply spectacular.

We wandered to Pinocchio Haus for a pizza dinner and were contemplating riding a few rides during the show when Claire suddenly gripped my wrist and cried "my stomach!" Soon she was sobbing and hunched over and clearly in intense pain. We helped her get outside and were sitting on a bench trying to figure out what was going on when an employee asked if everything was okay. "Not really," I replied reluctantly, every facet of my being wanting to say "it's fine!" and make it so. "I'll go get my manager," the Pinnochio employee said. The manager Laura came over immediately. I asked where the nearest bathroom was and she pointed the way to the beautiful and new princess bathrooms in Rapunzel's village. "I'll give you some space, but I'm going to walk behind you if that's okay. Just yell if you need anything." After a few minutes in the bathroom Claire was pale and shaky, suddenly freezing and covered in goose bumps, and sobbing. We needed help. Claire wouldn't let me leave her, so I just yelled. Laura came in and within minutes she had us a wheelchair, a nurse's aid, a bottle of water, and directions to First Aid. At that point I'd figured out that Claire just had really severe gas pains that had basically sent her into shock. She was cold to the touch and so pale, and we were pretty far back in the park. Fireworks were going off every second overhead and there were a million people between us and the gate. We pushed forward, Claire shaking and crying in her wheelchair, and slowly snaked our way through the MASS of people watching and then leaving the fireworks show. It was a really crappy 30 minutes. We looped through First Aid, but now that I was pretty confident what was wrong there wasn't much they could do for her, so we just pushed on home. Once there, a hot bath warmed her up and she slowly slowly started getting better and was eventually able to sit up and then stand up. It was not the night we had planned, but she was passed out in bed, warm and comfortable, by 10:30 and we pretty much did the same.

The next morning as we were getting ready to head to Magic Kingdom for our first full day there I got a text from a someone at the Guest Experience Center to check on Claire. Somehow they had tracked down my name (I think all they had to go on were Claire and my first names and the fact we were staying at Bay Lake Tower) and cell number and invited me to text back or call. I did and she said that Laura from Pinnochio Haus had passed on our info and she wanted to check on us and also offer us VIP seats to the next non-party-night Fireworks Show since we ended up missing it the night before. You guys, it is not remotely Disney's fault that Claire's stomach flipped out on us and they could not have been nicer or more helpful the night before, and now here they were checking in and offering us a really amazing way to see the show we missed the night before. I texted back and we were set to watch the (seriously spectacular) Happily Ever After show the next night after our day at Epcot. Disney is magic.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Disney Night 1: Magical Magicness

I started this post way back on Monday, after our first full day at Disney (Hollywood Studios!) when I still optimistically hoped to blog along the way of our trip. That proved impossible when we ended up going to each park at open and staying until nearly close and then often going BACK out to Magic Kingdom for more and I resorted to once-daily midnight facebook updates for friends and family who were interested (because I *love* other people’s vacation photos; I keep a special note on my phone with future vacay ideas culled purely from friends’ posts) and to preserve my own highlights whenever I got back to it. Now it’s Saturday night and I’m sitting on the plane ride “home to our old house” as Cora calls it. I’m hoping to at least knock out night 1 because it was magical and amazing and unique to all our others (and the only one I didn’t otherwise facebook post about). Then I’ll probably recap everything else in bullets later. Long story short- the whole trip was absolutely wonderful and everyone should go to Disney with a 4-year-old. Long story long (like super long) – here’s the first 18 or so hours:

[So I did type this on the plane, but I still had to add pictures and downloading our 1,000 photos from Disney's memory maker and merging them with the ones on James and my phones took forever; luckily Disney has trained my body to fall asleep at midnight and wake up before 6, so at 5:25 a.m. this morning I was lying wide awake in bed and finally just got up and got to it. Disney boot camp is a tough boot camp.]

~ ~ ~ ~

We're here! I'm sitting poolside at Bay Lake Tower while the girls go down the water slide over and over and I drink a medicinal margarita and wear a jacket and long leggings. Landon is in our room decompressing with a giant book until his emotions level out and he can act like a 10-year-old human who generally likes the world and James is laying down because it turns out his pretty extreme car sickness has now translated to roller coasters and he kept going on them anyway because he couldn't believe it was true until he spent our last 2 hours at Hollywood Studios sitting in various shady spots looking green with his head in his hands. Growing up is hard. For both of them.

But to be clear, Disney is fucking magic y'all. Magic. I'm going to blog it one day at a time [Editor’s Note: lolz no you’re not] so we're starting with yesterday (Cora’s real birthday!) and I'm probably going to cry 5 times while writing this post.

4 years old

But first, the travel. It was eh. Our flight left Dallas at 8:20, so we left the house at 6:05. I fell asleep about 3ish and woke up at 5ish and that was not ideal. The security line was longer than anticipated and I forgot that Southwest family boarding going to Orlando would of course be crazy so getting to the gate was stressful and then we were all split up over the plane. Landon and Claire sat together and by the word of their random flight companion behaved perfectly. I never saw or heard from them the entire flight, so I assume it’s true. James sat alone, which is probably good because he turns white during takeoff and then involuntarily sleeps the whole way. Cora and I sat together. She watched The Princess and the Frog and I watched old Office episodes. All was well.

We landed at 11:40 and had a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique appointment at 1:40 p.m. in Disney Springs for Cora's birthday. Unfortunately Disney's Magic Express transfer to the resort took FOREVERRRRR. We were sitting on a non-moving bus until it was nearly time for our appointment. I had that anxious feeling of running late that I hate but can't stop even when I know there’s nothing I can do about it. We finally got to the hotel, left our bags with the bellhop and took a Lyft straight to Disney Springs. It had started to rain and our Lyft driver was confused and we were dropped off as far away from the Boutique as possible. We ran, flat out, in rain for 10 minutes to get to the Boutique 25 minutes late for our appointment. It was stressful and humid and crappy. I deeply regretted making the appointment. It was now 2:05, no one had eaten, and upon our flushed and sweaty arrival, Cora had no interest in her princess makeover. She refused to engage with the person helping pick hair styles, would not wear a crown, and insisted on the hair style with faux colored hair that gets woven into your own which means you NEED your own hair to make it possible. Basically, she was a tired and hungry new-4-year-old. Landon only wanted to go to the Lego store we’d just run past and Claire got all weird about making any decisions and said she maybe didn’t want to do her appointment. So obviously I was super excited to see the prices next to our selected options and shove the kids through the door to the salon.

But. We got back in our little dressing room with the magical talking mirror and I surprised Cora with a new Aurora dress and she was sort of back on board. Then it was time to meet their Fairy Godmothers and sit in their salon chairs and those women are magical. They got Cora to laugh. She got into it. Claire was into it. Landon humored it all. I finally stopped sweating from the running and humidity. I still wasn't sure it was worth it for us, but I did mostly stop regretting it. The girls loved their “makeup” and face jewels and getting their nails painted. And they really loved their hair style results which they slept in and wore all day on Monday. Cora’s Fairy Godmother worked magic and got those faux braids (pink and blue, at the birthday girl's absolute insistence) into Cora's short curls and honestly, the way she petted those long faux locks all night made them worth every penny. That poor girl constantly talks about how “someday my hair will be bigger” (read: longer) and a temporary braid she could never have on her own was probably a pretty great birthday present.

I did realize when they put the drape over her to do her hair and she looked a little freaked out, that she's still never had a haircut so she'd never experienced the chair + apron + hair products combination before. She was a little tense, but handled herself, and then enjoyed the nail polish and makeup (lip gloss) very much.

Landon was adorable and chatted with his Godmother and was knighted and took it all in good humor and a bit of genuine enjoyment.

Claire loved it- the whole thing, once it got going, and probably surprised her-non-princessy-self with how much she enjoyed wearing a crown for the rest of the night.

But. It was now 3:15 p.m. and we still hadn't eaten except for granola bars on the plane. We ran around Disney Springs a bit looking for food but everything had long lines and we had (expensive!) tickets for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party that night that could get us in to Magic Kingdom at 4:00 and we wanted to take advantage of that. We had a FastPass for a ride at 4:10. We got another Lyft back to the hotel, finally connecting with the driver in the maze of Disney Springs, and got to the hotel at 4 to find the wrong bags had been delivered to our room. We had to change (I'd brought our Christmas party stuff in a carry-on thank god) and we absolutely HAD to eat. We spent too many Quick Service meal credits on a mediocre super late lunch at Contempo Cafe while watching our ride FastPass expire and our Princess FastPass, the one I was so excited about because it was Cora's birthday and she adores Rapunzel and Tiana, tick down. We power walked over to Magic Kingdom, got lost (going to a park for the first time in your whole life at dark is not the least stressful thing), and then found the princesses. Our FP expired, but they let us through. And I took a deep breath.

I need you to understand that until this year I did not have any interest in going to Disney. I wasn't mad at it, I just couldn't imagine voluntarily spending thousands of dollars to be surrounded by people and lines. I was never particularly into princesses and assumed this was a childhood experience we could skip in lieu of going somewhere else awesome like Europe or South America. SO it was a *big* surprise to me when we entered princess hall and turned the corner and saw Rapunzel and Tiana for the first time that I got choked up.

And when Cora's face lit up in awe and she believed she was meeting the REAL princesses, and she told Tiana "I love your dress" and asked to see her shoes and then showed her hers, I was really shocked to find that I was crying.

James gave me a weird look and I was like "I DON'T EVEN KNOW. Something is happening to me."


It was ridiculous. Cora was in heaven. She chatted away with each of them, telling Tiana “I love your dress” and asking to see her shoes and telling Rapunzel she was "so beautiful" and asking where was Flynn and did you know purple is my favorite color.

The big kids got a kick out of it too, but Cora was living her best life, one princess interaction at a time.

We walked over to the castle to see the Frozen Holiday Show where Elsa lights the Christmas castle. Once it was clear every adult in front of us was going to stand up and the kids couldn't see, we abandoned James to the stroller and weaved our way to the very front where Claire and Cora got a front row view. Cora's face was again just magic. I'm going to use that word a lot.

"It's ELSA!" she yell-whispered in my ear. The REAL Elsa! And Kristoff! And Anna! And Olaf! Her face glowed and she hung on every word. Magic you guys. Watching her face was magic. I probably cried again.

Then, as we found our way back to James and were holding maps on our phones and just totally disoriented by the pitch black and million people and unsure of what to do next, a Disney employee found us. "Hi there, I'm Brandon, and I was wondering if you could help me with a very special job."

He chatted with the kids, and just as I was getting anxious because it's the PARTY and our FIRST night and I've NEVER been here and we got here LATE and aren't we supposed to be DOING STUFF? Brandon asked if the kids wanted him to help make it snow on Main Street. (They did.) As we walked over, he told me, "on some party nights I get to pick a family to make the whole night a magical moment. I saw the festive shirts and necklaces and then saw the 1st Visit and Birthday buttons and thought you guys would be perfect."

Oh my god you guys. I had no idea how awesome this was going to be.

We went to Main Street and the kids got to chat away with their new best friend Brandon, a fireworks technician, while he snagged our new personal photographer Greg. The kids practiced making snow and then when they did it juuuuuuust right, snow starting falling on Main Street!

And we got pictures from our new best friend Greg!

The kids were gifted with a special commemorative Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Ornament with a box signed by Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf.

And then the magic really began. Brandon led us all around the park - backstage, short cuts, jump-all-the-lines. We went up on top of the closed train stations and got a great view and pictures I will love forever.

That’s Cora’s 4-year portrait right there.

We got to avoid the mile-long picture-in-front-of-the-castle line because of our new friend Greg.

Coming to a LagLiv family Christmas card near you

Brandon told us we should really spend our time seeing characters tonight because there were some really special ones including Moana who doesn't even stay out at Disney World anymore! She had a 2-hour line, but Brandon walked us right up to the front.

I will note, because this is my journal, that I felt a lot of guilt for cutting the lines, but I talked myself out of it (mostly)- it was a surprise bit of luck for us, we were very thankful, we were quick, and we've had our share of bad luck too. Also, it’s really Brandon’s fault anyway.

It was a magical night.

We got to jump to the front of Jasmine and the Genie.

Then Snow White and The Prince!

The princes apparently only come out a few times a year for special events, so this was a big deal. One we barely properly appreciated since we're such newbies. Cora immediately asked The Prince what his name was but apparently he doesn't have one! He said that's okay "because he's the only prince in the kingdom so no one would get confused." The princes were as in character as their princesses and Cora was just in thrall.

Princess Aurora was next with Prince Philipp. Another very special duo! Cora exclaimed, "I'm Rora too!" and compared shoes immediately. "Mine are sparkly, but yours are very beautiful too." "How old are you?" was next and "When is your birthday?"

Brandon heard Cora's favorite princess was Belle and she normally doesn't sign autographs at Magic Kingdom, so we headed over there where Cora was DELIGHTED to meet her bestie.

"Are you still friends with Gaston?" she asked. There were hugs and shoe showings and omg you guys, it was the best.

Cora hugged Belle until I called her name. I probably cried again.

From there, we headed back to Main Street where Brandon bought the kids snacks and set us in a VIP spot for the Mickey Christmas Parade! It was so great- more snow and such great decorations and music. So many fabulous character floats- the Beast, all the royal couples, Olaf, Toy Story, all the classic Disney characters, and so much more, with a Santa Claus finale float who called out all three of the kids names as he went by!

We said goodbye to Brandon (I got his address for a thank you note; which Claire had already told me she was going to write #ThankYouNotesForever) as he pointed the way to a good spot to watch the Mickey Christmas Show and then the Holiday Wishes Fireworks. We were started to flag a bit, having been up since 5 a.m. and running (literally at times) all over Disney, so I wished very much that the Fireworks were a sitting-down-kind-of-thing, but it was beautiful and special and the kids loved it.

Landon had been SO patient during all the princess meet and greets that we'd promised him at least one ride after the fireworks. Cora was exhausted, so I was going to take her back, and then Claire admitted defeat as well. James definitely wanted to, but he'd promised and we really did want to do something for Landon, so they headed to Space Mountain while I walked home with the girls, including this very tired princess who had the best, longest, most magical birthday ever.

I had the room set up and the girls in bed when the boys arrived- Landon flush with the joy of space flight and James saying "I'm not sure I can handle rides anymore" (oh SO true as we found out today), but everyone happy and in bed about 11.

It was so much. It was SO special. It was a perfect first night.