Sunday, January 27, 2008

Liz's Birthday Dance

Today (Jan 27th) is Liz's birthday. So the kids decided to do a little dance for their mother on the occassion of her big day...

Disney Trip, Day 7


Okay, okay...I know those of you that have followed our Disney Trip through my blog are probably wondering what happened on the last day. All apologies for the delay as work has kept me pretty much distracted from important things like blogging since our return.

The last day was probably our best day at Disney of the whole trip, although it had a good chance of being disastrous since we knew that we couldn't go home in the afternoon if the kids got tired. We pretty much had to stay at Disney until we left for the airport around 5:30pm for our 8:00pm flight home.

The idea was that we'd let the kids sleep as late as possible and then leave the townhouse right at 10am, our check out time. Of course, they were up at 7am wanting eagerly to go to the Magic Kingdom one last time, so that plan was shot from the very beginning. We got everyone ready to go and headed out. Even with some extra traffic from the Disney Marathon that morning, we were off the monorail and at the front gate just as the park was opening at 9am.

Again, there was almost no crowds and we walked right straight onto most rides. The longest wait we had all day was about 35 minutes to meet Ariel in her Grotto, but that was basically because they cut the line off just before us and we had to wait for a "character exchange". Apparently, it's not as easy for the mermaids, complete with fins instead of legs, to quickly slip away and be replaced when their shift is up. Most of our waits the rest of the day were basically the length of time it took to walk back and forth through the queues to the loading area. Because of that, we saw more attractions in one day than any other time.

Here's my recounting of what we did on Day 7, approximately in the order we did it:
At this point it was about 4:15pm and getting close to leaving time. We asked the kids what the one ride they wanted to do again before we left was. I was definitely thinking it was going to be Dumbo or Buzz Lightyear, but both of them adamantly demanded that we ride the Tomorrowland Transit Authority again (go figure!).

After circling Tomorrowland one last time on the TTA, we made our way back to the forecourt of Cinderella's Castle just in time to see a performance of Dream Along With Mickey, a character lead stage show which the kids loved. The show turned out to be the perfect way to end our week at Disney and after the grand finale, complete with pyrotechnics, we ambled down Main Street USA toward the exit. Along the way, we stopped in the Emporium and bought the kids their choice of Mickey Ears as souvenirs and saw the flag retreat in front of City Hall before boarding the monorail for the Transportation Center.

An hour later, we were at the Southwest gate at Orlando International Airport, exhausted and ready to come home. If we'd realized that when we landed, it would be almost 40 degrees colder than it had been that afternoon in Orlando, we might not have been so eager to return :)


Day 7 was probably my most memorable day of the whole trip and a fabulous way to end our week. I took many, many pictures the last day, including some of my personal favorites from the whole week. I also took a lot of pictures of the character show in front of the castle. One of my pictures from the show even was awarded a Diamond Award on Flickr! You can view all the Day 7 pictures here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Disney Trip, Day 6

I realize it has now been about a week since the 6th day of our Disney Trip...return to a busy week of work has distracted me...but now I return to blog the rest of the trip for posterity's sake.

We had a really hard time deciding what to do with our 6th day. With all 4 theme parks done at least once, and a clear vision that we would spend the last day at the Magic Kingdom, it came down to a decision between Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios. Max (and me too) really wanted to see the stunt show again and Max wanted to try to get picked for the Jedi training if we went back to the Studios. But other than that, there was very little for the kids at the Studios. Seeing as how they tended to enjoy rides more than shows, we opted for Epcot.

Monorail & Spaceship Earth at Epcot

When we got to the park, it was the day of Disney's Half-Marathon. From the parking lot it looked like it was going to be really busy, but most of those people it turned out were there for the race, not the amusement park. When we got inside the park, it was about opening time. Strangely enough, we had to cross the marathon course to get from the front gate to our first destination...Soarin' and that took about 10 minutes. But the nice part was that the small breaks in the runners metered the crowd so there was no mad rush to the first attraction. Max and I ran ahead and rode first while Molly and Liz took their time. Then we did the Listen to the Land boat ride and then Max and Liz did Soarin' again. We then hit the Living Seas with Nemo & Friends but the kids didn't want to do Turtle Talk again.


From there we did Journey Into Imagination and then headed for our regular stop for lunch at the McDonald's. I refused to eat french fries and nuggets again and held out until we walked around the World Showcase and grabbed a bratwurst in the Biergarten at the Germany pavillion. We breezed on around from country-to-country as there is little of interest to kids there until you get around to Norway and Mexico where we rode the Maelstrom and Three Caballeros boat rides.

Before we did the Mexico ride, we caught Donald hanging out next to the pavilion. Seeing Max's "Dash Incredibles" shirt, Donald challenged him to a turns out that running with web feet is not very efficient and Max literally beat the pants off of him!

From there, we split up and I hit two "adult" rides, Test Track and Mission: Space, while Liz took the kids on Ellen's Energy Adventure. After that, I thought Liz would enjoy the space ride so I suggested she do that while I took the kids to hang out in "Mission Control" where we played a big interactive video game with about twenty other "mission controllers" until Liz's mission was complete. From there, it was a final ride on Spaceship Earth and head for home, having seen almost the entire park (at least the part that interests children) in a little less than 6 hours! It seems we were getting to real pros at this and with practically no waits anywhere, we were covering some real ground quickly.

Back at the townhome, the kids enjoyed one last evening in the pool and we began to pack up knowing that we'd have to check out before heading to the Magic Kingdom on Sunday for the final day of our Disney adventure.


It seems that I must have been a bit photo-weary on Saturday, as I took very few pictures. The ones I did shoot, however, are posted on Flickr.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Disney Trip, Day 5

Day 5 of our trip to Disney was designated for the Animal Kingdom. Last time Liz and I visited Disney was just a few months before the AK opened so this was the first chance we had to visit the park. Honestly, I don't think any of us were that excited about it as once you take out the thrill rides (which Molly was too short for), you've basically got a zoo...and we have a very good one of those in NC we can visit anytime. But we felt obligated to do it since we never had...and we had 7 days to spend among the parks.

When we arrived just a few minutes before the gates opened, we headed straight for the "Africa" area and took the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. It's basically a truck ride through the natural wildlife habitat. Although it was a neat setting, most of the animals were obscured behind rocks or in the grasses and the ride was soooo bumpy that I couldn't get too many pictures.


After the safari, we walked down the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail which was more like a traditional zoo, with us walking along and looking at animals in their habitats. After that, Molly decided she wanted to have her face painted and chose a pretty butterfly/flower combo from the options. She was so proud of her face paint the rest of the day.


Before leaving "Africa", we rode the Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki's Planet Watch and visited the Affection Section (aka, the petting zoo). After that, we got some pictures with Rafiki and Pocahontas.


After the train ride back, we crossed over to DinoLand U.S.A. and took in Finding Nemo - The Musical, which is a broadway-style musical and massive production with actors, puppets, and lots of effects. It was by far the most elaborate production number we've seen this week involving characters (i.e., not counting the stunt show).

After the musical, we ate lunch at yet another McDonald's-hosted restaurant, we rode the TriceraTop Spin, which is basically a Dumbo ride, but with dinosaurs, and the kids played for a while in The Boneyard, a big playground.

By that time, we were all exhausted and not too enthusiastic about plowing on into "Asia" and "Camp Minnie-Mickey" just seemed like yet another chance to Mickey (which we'd already done twice). Plus the Honey I Shrunk the Audience 3-D movie at Epcot the day before had traumatized Max to the point we didn't dare go see the Bug's Life-themed 3-D movie at the Animal Kingdom. So we headed home for a swim and to rest up for Day 6, a return to Epcot.

Although I didn't take nearly as many photos as on the earlier days, I did post some pictures from Day 5 of our trip on Flickr.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Disney Trip, Day 4


Day 4 was our visit to Epcot. I was a bit worried that we would have trouble entertaining the kids at the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, but all in all, I think they had fun.

For the first time this week, we arrived early enough that by the time we were in the park, we had to wait at the rope line for the official opening. As soon as the they said GO, Max and I hurried ahead to Soarin', a new attraction since the last time I had visited and one that Molly was too short to go on. Soarin' is one of the most popular attactions at EPCOT, and rightfully's a magnificent motion simulator combined with an IMAX-like projection system that really makes you feel like you are flying in a hanglider. Max and I were quick enough that we were in the first sortie of the day and met Liz and Molly at the exit after our flight.

I was a bit worried that it would scare Max, not having done it before myself, but he loved it. In fact, as we exited, we grabbed FastPasses so he and Liz could do it again a little later in the day. While we were in the Land pavilion, we also took the "Listen to the Land" boat ride (Molly loved the greenhouses and giant vegetables) and saw the Circle of Life conservation video before Liz and Max returned for their flight on Soarin'. While we waited on them to soar, Molly and I headed out to the Character Spot and met Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and Chip n' Dale for another round of pictures.

Amazingly, Liz and Max met us just as we walked out of the exit from the Character Spot -- perfect timing -- and we headed to the Living Seas pavilion to visit with Nemo and Friends. After taking the clamshell ride into the aquarium, we caught a really cool interactive exhibit called "Turtle Talk with Crush" starring the turtle from Nemo. They asked the kids to ask questions of the turtle and he would respond. Max bravely raised his hand and asked "Where do turtles live?" After answering him, Crush brought out something he had found on the beach -- a bikini top -- and asked Max if he could tell him what it was. Max said it was a "bra" and when Crush asked him what you do with it, he said "You wear it". He then pointed out that HE didn't wear one though! It was hilarious and both Liz and I were very relieved the word "boobies" didn't get mentioned during the exchange! Unfortunately for Molly, she didn't get called on and she was VERY upset about it. She wanted to ask the question "What do turtles do?". I guess now we'll never know.

After the Living Seas, we had our longest wait of the day...for McDonald's Chicken Nuggets at the Refreshment Port. We have been so relieved to find the golden arches when the kids are tired and cranky. Nothing has calmed them down so much as their comfort foods from home.

After the early lunch, we did the Journey into Imagination ride, tinkered in the ImageWorks' interactive exhibit, visited with Figment, played in the jumping fountains, and saw the Honey I Shrunk the Audience 3-D movie. The 3-D movie was a little much for both Max and Molly and by that time they were fried.


With only half of Future World explored, we headed for the gates. On the way out, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Spaceship Earth was operational. The Disney website had listed it as closed for refurbishment but since it was open, we literally walked straight onto the ride for a quick spin before heading home.

At home, the kids and I went for a swim in the pool (ironically, too tired to tour EPCOT does not equal too tired to play in the pool) while Liz recharged with a nap. About 5pm we decided we might just be brave enough to venture back to EPCOT for the evening. After tanking up at IHOP, we went back for the evening.

Max and I rode the Test Track (once again, Molly was too short) while Liz and Molly did Ellen's Energy adventure. We also rode the boat rides at the Mexico and Norway pavilions and then made a trek to the UK pavilion just in time to catch Alice (of Wonderland) and Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger in the toy shop for photos before they headed back the Hundred Acre Woods. At that point, Liz and I were ready to leave, but both Max and Molly were drawn to the Beatles tribute band playing on the bandstand outside the shop. While Max reenacted his favorite parts of Guitar Hero III when "John" soloed on Revolution, Molly shook her booty for all sitting along the curbside to see. After the performance, a retired couple who said they had seen the band play almost every night this week told us that Molly had danced with more conviction than anyone all week!


Exhausted, we all finally headed home for a very late night getting the kids to bed, but with a pretty good one-day tour of EPCOT in the books and only the Animal Kingdom left unvisited.

Pictures from Day 4 of our trip are posted on Flickr.

Spaceship Earth at Night

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Disney Trip, Day 3

So after a great first day and a fantastic second day, would the third day be a charm?

Well, not exactly...Molly woke up at 6am, essentially guaranteeing that we'd all be cranky by mid-afternoon. We headed out to Disney Hollywood Studios (it seems they are dropping the MGM name) and arrived about 20 minutes before the gate opened, got in line, grabbed some maps, and started to plan our day.


I started to get cranky immediately when the the turnstiles we were queued for quit working for about 5 minutes while we watched everyone around us stream into the park ahead of us. I guess it really didn't matter as we never really saw another line all day. The crowds again were super-light.

Our first order of business was to hit up some character photos while the lines were short. We got pictures with Goofy, Chip n' Dale, Pluto, and Stitch first thing in the morning, then later in the day the kids got to meet Woody & Buzz.


The first ride we went on was the Great Movie Ride, which kind of set the tone for the day. Most of the movies featured in the ride were not kid-oriented and the kids were both bored and a little frightened by some of the gimmicks/noises. At least when we came out of that ride, we caught something the kids were into...the High School Musical 2 street performance. I still don't get why the HSM franchise appeals to kids Max's and Molly's age, but both our kids were riveted to the performance, even getting up to dance on cue with the actors.

We then caught a performance of Voyage of the Little Mermaid, a combination movie/live-action stage performance which both interested, but startled the kids a few times. The show started with an excellent black-light theater performance of Under the Sea which was pretty cool.

When we came out of Ariel's show, we had to explain to the kids why they couldn't go see the big Playhouse Disney show that was directly across the plaza. The one show at Disney Studios that is uniquely geared towards their age was closed for refurbishment, our biggest disappointment of the trip so far.

Instead, we took in the Jedi Training Academy, which was very similar in nature to the Jack Sparrow show we caught yesterday...except with lightsabers and Darth Vader! Molly was absolutely livid that she didn't get picked to be a padawan, and I thought we were going to have our first real meltdown of our Disney experience. I managed to distract her by playing on an Imperial Speed Bike while Max enjoyed the show and eventually she calmed down enough to watch the show.


After some refreshments, we saw the MuppetVision 3-D movie which probably saved the day for us. Molly turned from whining to hysterical laughter when she saw the 3-D movie. It was definitely the biggest hit for her so far.

We grabbed lunch and did the Backlot Tour, which I must say really pales in comparison with the Universal Studios (California) tram tour. Max was frightened by the earthquake canyon but managed to survive. Afterwards, we piled into a massive stadium for the 1:30 showing of the Lights! Motors! Action! stunt show.

With the exception of Molly, I think we can all say that the stunt show has been one of our favorite attractions of the whole week so far. It was an exceptional live demonstration of the stunt driving you see in many action movies, complete with jumps, gunfire, and explosions. And of course Max was in heaven with so many cars and motorcycles whizzing by in rapid succession. In addition to being something really interesting for even adults, it was also a photographer's dream to shoot. I got some really great shots with my 300mm lens that I luckily had brought along in my bag.


By the time the stunt show was over (around 2pm), Molly was done. There were a few attractions we hadn't done yet, but most of the bigger rides at the Studios weren't geared towards kids anyway. We figured it was best to call it a day before it not only ruined Wednesday, but future days as well. I ended up having to carry her on my shoulders most of the way to the car. I even think she fell asleep at one point sitting atop my shoulders with her head resting on mine.

After a refreshing swim back at the townhome, Molly perked up, but I bet she'll be asleep early tonight. That's good, because we're off to Epcot first thing tomorrow. But I expect it will be a short day tomorrow too...I mean, how long can you keep kids interested in songs/rides about hydroponic agriculture?

Full pictures from Day 3 are on Flickr.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Disney Trip, Day 2

Day 2 of our trip to Disney was FANTASTIC! (pictures here)

We weren't sure it was going to be when we had to bounce the kids out of bed at 7:15a because we had an early breakfast appointment with Cinderella. They were practically sleep walking when we left the townhome! We arrived at the park about 10 after 8, 50 minutes before the Magic Kingdom officially opens. I must say its nice to park so close that there's no need to "tram it" to the Transportation Center.

Since we had breakfast reservations, we managed to get in before they opened (Technically, our reservations weren't until 9:15a and I THINK we were supposed to wait outside...but somehow we slipped through the cast member dragnet). As a result, we got to head down an almost deserted Main Street USA and I snapped this amazing picture of the kids running towards Cinderella's Castle that looks like we had the whole park to ourselves.


Although our reservation wasn't until later, they went ahead and took us at 8:30a which was great, as we got to the rides earlier than expected. But first, Molly got her wish of finally meeting Cinderella. After a getting pictures made, we went upstairs into the castle for breakfast. I'm pretty sure it was the most expensive breakfast the kids never ate, but to see the looks on their faces (even Max's!) when Cinderella's "friends" (the other Disney Princesses) came around to greet them, I have to say it was probably worth it (I'm not sure though as Liz has never told me exactly what we paid for that experience).


After breakfast we got into the park and immediately hit the rides we didn't get to yesterday that we expected would have long waits...Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean. It turns out we needn't worry. The crowd was much lighter than Monday and we had little wait for most rides. We literally walked directly into the stretching room of the Haunted Mansion and straight onto Pirates. A FastPass made the wait for the Jungle Cruise less than 3 minutes for us (when the overall standby line was about 20 mins) and Liz and kids got on to the Magic Carpets of Aladdin (while I took pictures) after only a single ride cycle.

One of the themes of the days was seeing many of the attractions that I had never done in the many times I had visited Disney. I'm not sure why I'd never been to the Enchanted Tiki Room, Swiss Family Robinson Tree House, or Tom Sawyer's we made sure to do those while in Adventureland.

As we made our way to Frontierland, back past the Pirates of the Caribbean, we caught a street performance of Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Training that saw Max and Molly drafted into Sparrow's crew. We also caught a performance of the Country Bears' Jamboree before riding the train over to ToonTown.


In ToonTown, we visited Mickey's house and got the kids' pictures made with The Mouse. From there, it was off to Tomorrowland where we rode the Tomrrowland Transit Authority, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (twice!), and the Carousel of Progress.

At that point, Max decided it was time to go. Mainly because he was dying to play the PlayStation2 that is in the rental house we have, but it worked out great as the kids were tired, but not quite cranky yet. On the way out, before catching the ferry back to the Transportation Center, Molly got a very cool double balloon that she can't stop playing with. I hope on Sunday she remembers what I told her when we bought it tonight, that she could not take it back with her on the plane.


So after all that, can you guess which ride Max cited as his favorite? Believe it or not...the Carousel of Progress! Apparently it really intrigues him that the entire audience moved while the stage stood still.

After a quick dip in the heated pool at our rental home, it took the kids about 5 minutes to get to sleep once we got them down tonight. I hope they sleep well, for tomorrow it's off to Disney Studios...

Full pictures from Day 2 are on Flickr.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Disney Trip, Day 1

After months of waiting, our Disney Trip is finally under way. We flew down this morning. It was a great trip and completely quiet at the airport -- only 41 way people on the plane from RDU to MCO. We picked up a rental car and headed straight for the Magic Kingdom.

After parking, and riding the monorail, we got into the park around 2pm and promptly sat down for lunch at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe. After lunch, we road It's a Small World, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Cinderella's Carousel, the Mad Tea Party (video below), and the Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacres Farms (who knew both Max and Molly would love roller coasters!). Crowds weren't too bad most of the afternoon although at times it got a bit dizzy. The longest wait we had was for Pooh, about 30 minutes, which isn't too bad.

While we were standing in line for at Minnie's Country House to get our picture taken with Minnie, a thundershower opened up and soaked us all good. It was almost 7pm by then and all of us were starting to drag so we grabbed Walt Disney World Railroad back around to the transit center to head home (our rental townhome about 2 miles from Disney), but not before stopping by IHOP to replenish our carbs for tomorrow's trip.

Over dinner, it was clear the kids were exhausted, from only about 5 hours at the park. Liz and I looked at each other and thought...only 6 days to go...we're in trouble!

Pictures are on Flickr, a slideshow and videos below.