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!


  1. hi! I am really enjoying your Disney posts (I now want to go with my 18 mo and 3 year old). I have enjoyed reading your blog for a long time, especially your recipe links and the back log of Landon related issue. my 18 mo has a curious list of illness and delays and FTT. But...other than expressing admiration for all you do and how delightful and well done I find your writing...where do you find all your pr8ncwss dress (and are they Ebates-able?!). Happy thanksgiving! Michelle

    1. Hi Michelle! Happy Thanksgiving to you too! I have found Cora's dresses from a myriad of places: our neighborhood buy/sell page (awesome for her everyday "sure you can wear that to the park/at dinner" versions), Amazon (the Loel brand makes a great Anna dress), Target (they have a Disney in-store brand that is $15-20 for each dress; they aren't as ornate as the Disney store, but they're great), and then all her fancier ones are from the Disney Store, a place I had never visited in person or online until I had a Cora, but that really has great quality dresses with real sizes that fit so much better than the cheaper S, M, L versions at Target and elsewhere. They do sales pretty frequently with the dresses 30-40% off and today they have everything an additional 20% off for Black Friday (and a 5% Ebate!). I just ordered Cora Jasmine and Ariel for Christmas :).

      (For comparison- the Belle dress she wore in Magic Kingdom was Target, the Aurora dress she wore the night of the party was Disney Store; her Anna dress at Hollywood Studios and Elsa dress at Epcot were Amazon knock-off Loel brand versions. The Cinderella dress she wore our last day at Disney - in the next post! - was also Disney Store.)

  2. Thank you for your thorough and timely response! I really appreciate it. I am giving up my hesitation with the princesses. My daughter refers to hem as her girls and pretends with them all day. Oh and Reflex by 90 degree has some good quality cute/interesting leggings (lots of details, cutouts, mesh, etc) for excellent prices and often with coupons. Sometimes you can find their clothes on Amazon with a coupon

    1. You may want to check out the little dress up shop website- their stuff looks very close to the Disney store but is less scratchy, no glitter, easier to get off and on etc. my daughter prefers those to the "real" ones since they are more comfortable!

  3. I'm also super digging your Disney posts! I'm a 33 year old woman, without kids, and I totally want to go now just for myself! I went several times as a kid, and kind of like James, I have very little recollection of much of it. Looking forward to seeing the rest of your awesome trip!