Animal Kingdom

Waking up yesterday was HARD … after finally getting myself and the kids to bed around 1:30am the night before, that 6:30am wake up call came way too quickly but we had early dining reservations at Tusker House, so it had to be done.   I knew we were in for another exhausting day but we would power through it because I had an easy day planned for our 3rd day.  Everyone was grumpy getting on the bus and getting to Animal Kingdom, but we arrived on time for our reservation and after a little bit of breakfast and some great character interactions, the kids were happy and ready to start the day!   Tusker House breakfast is good … everyone raves about it and yes, the food is delicious, but its pretty much just breakfast.  There’s a wide variety available – from regular breakfast foods, pastries (Krispy Kreme donut holes!) to a few more adventurous options – strangely enough, my favorite thing was the curried chicken!   The characters we saw were Mickey, Daisy, Goofy and Donald … both of the kids loved them!

From there, I knew I’d have to follow a touring plan to get stuff done … I was most excited about Pandora, but our FastPass wasn’t until later in the day.   Disney went and threw a wrench in our Animal Kingdom day but #1.  Opening the park an hour earlier than we originally planned for (our breakfast was supposed to be pre-park opening).  #2.  Both Pandora and Kilimanjaro were set to close at 6pm, another thing that wasn’t originally in the plan  #3.  Our original Safari FastPass was for the nighttime safari but Disney erased this one and replaced it with a “free” FastPass that could be used for “any experience” … they fail to tell you that both Pandora rides are excluded.  I thought we were going to be able to use it for Na’vi River but NOPE!

We were already right by Kilimanjaro Safaris and the wait time was posted as 15 minute … perfect, lets get this over with (I’m not a fan of this ride, or really any of the animal related things in Animal Kingdom).  While we were in line, the wait time went up to 50 minutes … I think we waited about 40 minutes … no one was happy about this but thankfully, we had a really fun safari experience!   We saw tons of animals and the kids both said it was worth the wait … yay!   We are off to a great start!

From there, we walked along the Gorilla trails so that Emelyn could do some of the Wilderness Explorer spots.  Hayden enjoyed taking photos with my camera while she did this.  From there, we decided to head to Pandora.  We stopped at the little coffee place for the kids to get iced coffee then at Dawa Bar to get my first drink of the trip – Lost on Safari, a delicious rum drink … yep, this is going to be a great day!

Our Flight of Passage Fastpass was for much later, but I figured we could spend some time exploring and I wanted to try and use the free FastPass for Na’vi River.  Pandora is beautiful … its so neat how they just incorporate all of the “Pandora” plant life in with the real stuff, so it all just blends in and looks like it belongs there.  This land fits seamlessly into Animal Kingdom.   We weren’t able to use the FP for Na’vi River, which was disappointing because I knew there was no way we would wait in line for it so we weren’t going to experience it this trip… oh well.   We had plenty of time to explore Pandora … we sat down and watched the drummers for a bit, which we loved!   After that show, the kids were able to play with the instruments.  We stopped for another “mama drink” (the margarita in Pandora, I don’t remember the name, but it was a fruity margarita, maybe strawberry, with boba balls on top.)  I’ve never had boba balls before  but the kids and I loved them … they are fun to pop in your mouth!   We stopped at the gift shop and Emelyn turned into a Na’vi princess … she bought braids, a Na’vi princess crown and a knife … then decided to grab some lunch.

Satuli Canteen is the quick service place in Pandora and the food was good.   Emelyn got the kid’s rice bowl, which she didn’t really like … I feel like they could have used just regular rice for a kids dish instead of brown rice mixed with quinoa, or whatever it was.   Hayden and I split the cheeseburger pods with veggie chips … the pods were ok, nothing special but the chips were good!   By this point, it was time for our Flight of Passage FastPass!

This ride is nothing short of incredible … there isn’t much more to say about it … from start to finish, its awesome!   It literally took my breath away at points … I did have to close my eyes a couple of times b/c simulator rides with 3D screens can sometimes make me sick … it could have been the mix of drinks I had right before, too!   All 3 of us went on and on about how amazing this ride is … I wish we could have done it again, but there’s no way I’d wait in a 2 hour line for any ride!

After Pandora, we decided to head to Expedition Everest to use our “free” FastPasses.   We did a rider swap and Emelyn and I went first, then Hayden and I.  Both of them liked it … I’m not sure if they LOVED it, but they enjoyed it!   We were running on fumes at this point, truly exhausted … but I really wanted to see Rivers of Light and there wasn’t enough time to go all the way back to our room, then turn around and return for RoL.   We decided to go see Nemo the Musical (it was extremely hard to stay awake through this) then we hopped on a bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge.  I thought this would be an easy way to recharge, let the kids explore a resort and grab a bite to eat.  Hayden loves searching for hidden Mickey’s, so that’s what he did while we walked around a little then went to the quick service area to eat.  After we ate, we headed back to Animal Kingdom to see Pandora at night and Rivers of Light.   I was excited b/c I thought we wouldn’t get to see Pandora at night, with it closing at 6pm (I guess there was a special event or something) but when we got there, it was dusk and very slowly, we started to see things light up.  We walked around for a few minutes and Emelyn decided she wanted to purchase a banshee.  By the time we did that, it was close to 6pm, when Pandora was supposed to close … as we were walking past Na’vi River, I noticed the wait time was down to 55 minutes … did we want to wait?  YEP!  All 3 of us decided it would be worth it and maybe it wouldn’t be that long … 30 minutes later, we were on the ride!   I’m so glad we decided to try it … its a beautiful ride and the Na’vi animatronic was incredible!!

By the time we got out of this ride, Pandora was completely lit up … this land at night, though, is DARK … its very hard to see where you are going.   We got tons of neat photos, though, of the glowing plant life and even the ground … its really beautiful!   At this point, we were done so we headed out of the park.  On the way out, we caught a few minutes of the Tree of Life Awakenings, which is also really cool … Disney truly has some amazing technology!

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Its Disney Day – Kind of …

I had been waiting for this day for over a year now, Disney Day!   Well, sort of … its more like “drive halfway to Disney Day” but its exciting, nonetheless!   The kids really wanted to be checked out of school, but since they are already missing 3 days (and quite a few tests and assignments), I had to settle for checking them out 30 minutes early … of course, Hayden was in the middle of a test anyway, so we had to wait a few minutes for him to finish.

From school, we stopped at the house for them to change, grab some last minute items and tell Wade bye … then we were on our way somewhere around 4pm.  I had pre-booked a hotel in Marianna, Florida, so I knew we had about a 5  hour drive ahead of us.   We hit a little traffic in New Orleans East, stopped for dinner at Panera in Slidell then had an uneventful drive the rest of the way.   We got to the hotel around 10pm and went straight to bed.   Between the excitement of the next day, being squished between the kids in one bed and hearing all kinds of noises, I didn’t sleep AT ALL.   Damn anxiety … I just kept picturing waking up to a broken windshield and my car being broken into (post traumatic stress from our Houston trip maybe??)

4:30 am took a long time to get here but it was finally, officially, DISNEY DAY!  We were on the road right on time with a 4 1/2 hour drive ahead of us … we had an 11:30 Be Our Guest reservation so it was important that we arrived on time.   We stopped for breakfast at Krystal and for gas and to use the bathroom a couple of times but with the time change, we were cutting it close.   We arrived at Yacht Club around 10:45am, parked, grabbed our bags and rushed into the room … no “arrival” photos or videos, we had to get to Magic Kingdom!   We changed, grabbed our park bags and headed to the bus stop.   I considered calling a Minnie Van, but the Magic Kingdom bus was pulling up when we got there, so we hopped on (not realizing we still had to make stops at Beach Club and Boardwalk).

I’ll back up just a second to talk about our room and the Yacht Club, even though at this point, we still haven’t really explored it.   The room is beautiful … 2 queen beds and a sofa bed, so we each have our own bed.  Emelyn is loving her little sofa bed!   The rooms here have been recently renovated so there is laminate flooring, tons of storage / shelf space and everything is very streamlined and nice.   There is a subtle nautical theme to the room – navy blue curtains with constellations, nautical prints on the walls and sleek, dark wood furniture.   You know how most  hotels have a shortage of outlets?  Not here!   Every surface has a built-in outlet with USB ports!   The nightstands, the desk and the dresser all have these built-in outlets … its perfect for all of our electronic charger (the kids each have cameras, Hayden has a GoPro, I have a camera and a GoPro, we all have phones / iPads plus the external battery chargers) … electronics everywhere!   Oh, and the view … we have a balcony overlooking the Yacht Club’s amazing sand-bottom pool with Epcot in the distance … last night, we watched Illuminations from the balcony!

Back to our first day on property … we arrived to the front of Magic Kingdom around 11:45 and pretty much ran to Fantasyland … the Christmas decorations on Main Street are incredible and I was so amazed, but more on that later.   I knew that we had a little grace period for our reservation and I think we JUST made it … but before we knew it, we had our Be Our Guest pre-order rose and were waiting for our turn.   I highly suggest pre-ordering …. we walked right past the long line of people waiting to get in and into the much shorter, pre-order line.   We waited about 5 minutes for our turn, then we were given our receipt and told to find a place to sit.   We chose the music box room and had our food within a few minutes (this is such a cool system, how they just know where you chose to sit and your server “magically” shows up at your table with your food!)   The food here is delicious and we all enjoyed it … Emelyn had the kids pulled pork, but didn’t like the gravy, so she picked around it.  Hayden had a turkey sandwich (he’s a “Disney adult” now) and I had the french dip sandwich …. all very, very good!   We were full and recharged, out the door by 11:25 and I quickly realized how miserable it can be to arrive at Magic Kingdom in the middle of the day … the park was CROWDED.   Wait times were up, people were everywhere and I was exhausted from not getting much sleep the night before.   My excitement quickly turned to stress and annoyance but I was determined not to let it ruin my day.  We had a couple of fun FastPasses then the plan was to go back to the hotel to rest, then to return for the “surprise” I had booked for the kids and evening extra magic hours, so I just told the kids that they were in charge and we would do whatever they wanted to do.

First stop was a Mickey ice cream bar for Emelyn, then we just wandered over to Frontierland.   We had a Big Thunder Mountain FP coming up and Hayden wanted to do Tom Sawyer’s Island … it took a ton of self-control on my part, but I forced myself to slow down and just go with the flow … Tom Sawyer’s it is.   Our Disney trips in the past have been very stressful and exhausting with lots of fighting and frustration … I didn’t want that to happen this time.  I want them to remember this as the best Disney trip ever!  We hopped on the raft over to the island and I let the kids lead me around the island, taking photos and videos of them as they explored.   They really loved this place!   The caves, bridges and forts are fun to explore!   We headed back on the raft and to our first ride of the day … Big Thunder Mountain!   I was so thrilled that the kids have finally agreed to try all of the “big rides” … neither of them have ever been on BTM before, so I was so excited for them and they LOVED it!   Yay!   Thrill ride #1 for the day was a success!

We then moseyed over to Tommorrowland for our next FP, Space Mountain.  We walked through Adventureland and the kids did one of the Pirate Adventures on the way.   We had a little more time to kill, so we went to Carousel of Progress first, which is a favorite of everyone (I’m so proud that my kids love this ride, I think it would break my heart if they didn’t!)   I wasn’t sure how Space Mountain would go over because of the way we have to sit and I was right … Emelyn wound up in the very front with me behind her and Hayden behind me … I held on to her shoulders the whole time, trying to reassure her but when it was over, there were tears streaming down her face … Emelyn is NOT a Space Mountain fan!  She didn’t like the darkness and being in the front … oh well, we are 1 for 2 on the thrill rides!

After Space Mountain, it was time to head back to the hotel to rest and get ready for our late night.   I managed to get Emelyn to take a nap and I took a short nap myself (until a man started talking loudly next door and woke me up).  Somewhat rested / recharged, we headed back to the park around 6pm.  This time, we were able to take our time and soak-in the beauty of Main Street at Christmastime!   Its really incredible … and the castle lights were already lit up so its just beautiful!  The weather was perfect as well, chilly and clear.  We headed back to Fantasyland to start getting some rides in, but the lines were still kind of long at this point.   Our “surprise” was at 7:45, so we had a little bit of time to kill.   We did “Its a Small World” first b/c the posted wait was fairly low and I figured we could just get it done quickly … its a must-do ride for Emelyn and I.  We waited about 20 minutes, Hayden complained the whole time, but we got through it without getting stuck (for long … our boat stopped for about 2 minutes at the end).  At this point, it was time for the surprise, but we still needed to get Emelyn a jacket, so we ran to the Emporium to pick up one (note to self, find out prices before getting to the register, her hoodie was $65 dollars!!!).  Then headed back to Tomorrowland for the kids’ surprise …

I had been debating on booking a Happily Ever After dessert party for months … I knew that our time in MK was limited and the last thing I wanted to do was spend over an hour to stake out a good spot for the fireworks.  In our past trips, the fireworks were somewhat ruined by people standing in front of us and the kids not being able to see well … I didn’t want that to happen this time.  So, I finally decided, why not … lets make this super special for them!  We arrived at Tomorrowland Terrace a little after 8pm and the kids were amazed – “We get to just eat all of these desserts for free???”  (Not free kids, trust me, I paid for this …).   Our server made me feel like we were late and not going to get a good spot, so I asked if we were allowed to take our desserts out to the viewing location … the answer was yes!   He grabbed us some to-go boxes and we packed them up with desserts, grabbed some drinks and headed to the plaza garden viewing area.

I’ll stop here to discuss the desserts for a second … there were all kinds of little bite-sized items – cupcakes, chocolate covered strawberries, cheesecake, brownies, fruit and cheese.   There was a kids area with cookies and cupcakes that they could decorate as well as a “do it yourself” kabob.   There is also ice cream, but we didn’t get any.  For drinks there is coffee, hot chocolate, apple cider, juice, water, milk and tea.   The kids LOVED every second of this … especially, our viewing spot!

The plaza garden viewing is located in the new area of the hub that was recently completed … we were in a gated area in front of the Plaza ice cream shop.  There was plenty of room to spread out, no one stood in front of us and we were able to relax on the grass and eat our desserts, waiting for the fireworks.  I think we waited about 30 minutes and had an amazing view of the castle, projections and fireworks.  Once they started, we stood up and the kids sat on the garden railings to watch the show.   It couldn’t have been more perfect – I cried (as usual) and even though I took some photos and videos, I made an effort to put down the camera and just soak it all in.   I watched the kids’ faces as they watched the show and sang along … it was one of those magical Disney moments that just make everything worth it – cheesy, I know, but 100% true.

After the fireworks, there was about 30 minutes until park closing, then the extra magic hours were from 10-12.   A large part of the guests head out after the fireworks, so the lines went down quite a bit after fireworks … we headed to Tomorrowland and hit Buzz Lightyear (we got stuck on the ride for a while, the lights even came on at one point!) then the PeopleMover (another one of our favorites).  Then it was over to Fantasyland to do as many rides as we could … by this point it was 10:15 so regular park guests weren’t allowed on rides … it was Extra Magic Hours!!!   They do check your MagicBands at every ride once this starts and the wait times are drastically reduced … this is absolutely my favorite time to be in Magic Kingdom!   We did Winnie the Pooh with about a 10 minute wait, Under the Sea, Haunted Mansion and Philharmagic.   I don’t remember what time it was at this point, but it was close to midnight.   We decided to check 7 Dwarves and the wait time was posted at about 30 minutes (I think).   We didn’t have FP for this ride and I didn’t really want to use party time on Friday to do it, so we decided to go for it.   The line moved pretty quickly and we were done with the ride and headed out of the park by 12:30am.   What a cool time to be in Magic Kingdom … we got some neat shots of the castle, Partner’s Statue and the Main Street Christmas tree … as exhausted as we were, our first day was a complete success!

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Easter Vacation 2017 – Mentone

Every Easter, since Hayden was 6 months old, we’ve taken a family road trip with my parents.  Sometimes its just a few hours away to nearby places such as Fountainbleu, False River or Toledo Bend and sometimes its a little bit farther like Chattanooga or Gatlinburg.  Sometimes its just our family and other times its extended family.   This past Easter was probably one of our largest groups yet.  Our family along with Aunt Debbie and her family as well as Eric and Brandy took a road trip up to Mentone, Alabama.  I always wonder how my mom finds these places, but I also always trust her, because she never steers us wrong.

We stayed in a large, group cabin in Mentone – a small town in Northern Alabama, about 45 miles south of Chattanooga.  It is a beautiful little town with lots of mountains, creeks, and waterfalls to explore.  There was a small creek that ran behind the cabin where the kids had a blast playing in the freezing cold water.  There was lots of great conversations and laughs as we spent plenty of quality time together as a family.

Our first full day was spent exploring DeSoto Falls, Little River Canyon and the Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel followed by lunch at Fontana’s and egg dying while the adults went to eat at Wildflower Cafe.

Easter Sunday, we headed to Rock City in Chattanooga, for a long day of climbing and exploring.  Mom, Mandy, the girls and I stayed later for Fairy Tale Nights, which the girls loved.  There were various fairy tale characters all around Rock City that they could stop and talk to / take photos with.

It was a wonderful trip that we all very much enjoyed and I can’t wait until next year!

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