There’s no place like home

After Barrak superglued his flip-flop together, we departed Orlando ahead of the thunderstorms that roll through the city every day around 3:30 p.m. As soon as we landed, I texted my sister – our tradition as skittish fliers. I also told her I couldn’t wait to sleep in my own bed. The bedding at the Contemporary was always heavy and damp with humidity. Ugh.

We’re happy to be home. Here are some parting shots:

Greta couldn’t wait to ride her scooter around the driveway in her Ariel wig.

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Here’s a picture of Minnie Mouse’s autograph from one of the kids’ books.

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And here’s the picture that would sum up a central theme of our trip. It was supposed to be a beauty shot of our room at the Contemporary. But you’ll notice Barrak off to the right tinkering with the thermostat. That was just the beginning of a war between man and thermostat. Our room had 80% humidity no matter how low we turned the AC.

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Waiting to go home

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One thing I love to do at airports: peruse the racks of glossy magazines and books.

Another essential: a tall Starbucks – especially when you’ve been somewhere that didn’t have good coffee. Starbucks has locations at MK and EPCOT but it didn’t taste the same.

For Barrak, getting a beer is usually in the cards.

For the kids, it’s snacks.

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We had a great time at Disney and made lots of memories. But next year, we’ll take a more low-key and less expensive driving vacation. In fact, we’re hoping to get our parents and siblings to go together for a week in Destin, FL. Same condo, separate units, maximum sanity.

And Barrak’s flip flop just broke. Vacation is officially over.

 

 

 

 

Day 6 – Dinner at Downtown Disney

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This is the first time we’ve been to Downtown Disney, or as Barrak was calling it, Downton Disney. It’s essentially an outdoor promenade of restaurants and shops. All the restaurants feel independent but they all take the Disney Dining Plan.

It was nice to explore a new part of Disney but the place seemed lame – smaller than I pictured and not a lot of excitement or energy. A lot of it is under construction so you ended up just walking through streets looking at privacy walls that say ‘pardon our dust.’ It looked like they were redesigning the entire layout.

We heard Raglan Road, an Irish Pub, was good but they didn’t have anything Greta would eat. So we ate at Fulton’s Crab House – which had no wait and lots of things the kids will eat – and it was a classic vacation dinner. It’s exactly the kind of seafood place you want to eat at least once while vacationing in Florida: raw oysters with hot sauce, fried calamari, Florida grouper, crab cakes, lobster bisque, with a view of the water. White tablecloths but with white butcher paper on the tables for kids to color. It was a splurge but a good memory.

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Day 6 – Last day in the park

Before coming to Disney World for the first time last year, one of the things I stressed over most was how to structure the days. Do you go to the pool first or the park first? Do you go back to the park at night? What is the plan??

This year, we’ve done it different every day. Some days we go to the pool straight away. Some days we get up and go to the park but at a leisurely pace. Today, we had the alarm set for 6:45 a.m. and we were on a mission.

Our plan was to be at the gates of the Magic Kingdom by 8 a.m. They have “Extra Magic Hours” where one of the parks is either open early or late, and you can only take advantage of it if you’re staying at a Disney property (or maybe it’s if you have a Magic Your Way package, I’m not sure).

We wanted to get there at the crack of dawn to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train one more time. We rode it once using the fast pass Barrak reserved months ago. But this week, it’s been sold out so we couldn’t reserve any more fast passes. And the stand-by waits have been around 75 minutes.

We also had fast passes for Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain — two encore rides the kids requested — and Peter Pan.

Anyway, it was fun being at the Magic Kingdom when the gates opened. All the characters rolled up on the Disney train to wave at the horde gathered outside the gate. We made a B-line straight for the Seven Dwarfs roller coaster and still waited about 35 minutes.

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It’s kind of hard to see but all the Disney characters go past on a train to welcome everyone when the gates open.

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It was gloriously empty first thing in the morning.

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Greta on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, an encore ride today.

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This year, it’s all about Elsa and Anna from Frozen. So we only had to wait about 15 minutes to see Cinderella. This was just an impromptu thing we popped into.

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Rapunzel was also in the Meet & Greet hall with Cinderella. You get to meet them both.

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At Greta’s request, we rode It’s a Small World for the 4th time.

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We bumped into Alice and White Rabbit doing a Meet & Greet under a shady tree. The characters (especially the ones stationed outside) take little breaks every 40 or so minutes. If you’re at the front of the line when they decide to take a break, you have to stand around and wait for them to come back.

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Peter Pan is one of those cute, leisurely rides that always has an inexplicably long wait time – like as long as the popular roller coasters – so we had a fast pass for it. Mag was looking forward to this one since he fell asleep in line last year and was down for the count.

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The Tomorrowland Speedway was kind of a fun surprise. There was hardly a wait and we were looking for some things to do in between our fast pass “appointments” (with fast passes, you get a range of say 11:40 – 12:40 and you have to show up during that time; there’s a fast pass entrance and a stand-by entrance, and you have to scan your Magic Band and get the ‘green light’ to be admitted. You can arrive five minutes early but no more than that; they will turn you away).

The Speedway race cars straddle a track so the kids can drive and not veer far off. The parent can work the accelerator. That’s Mag’s little blonde head in the driver’s seat in the red car above (the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, European style).

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They do shows in front of Cinderella’s castle throughout the day and we stood and watched one to kill time before our fast pass window for Splash Mountain. Standing in the hot midday sun among a crowd of cranky people, with absolutely no breeze — for me, this was #1 on our Top 10 hottest moments of the vacation. We were dripping sweat and pouring bottled water on ourselves. Sounds fun, right?

Other Top 10 hottest moments included the Speedway (see above). Holy god was it hot on that track. For Barrak, #1 was sitting in the breezeless, packed bleachers watching stunt cars and explosions at Lights! Motors! Action! at Hollywood Studios.

Day 5 – Animal Kingdom

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After having breakfast at ‘Ohana yesterday, we took a bus to Animal Kingdom. This is a shadier park, and it doesn’t feel quite as hectic and jam-packed as Magic Kingdom. And I love the authentic African feel of the park.

The key things to do here: Kilimanjaro Safari, a safari tour through a wildlife preserve where the animals roam free; Khali River Rapids, a river rafting ride where you are likely to get soaked; and Dinosaur, an indoor dinosaur-themed thrill ride. It’s pretty rocky and herky-jerky. You’re riding in a jeep sort of like the ones they tooled around in  in Jurassic Park, and you travel back in time in search of a particular dinosaur. The kids thought it was too scary. We thought it was harmless fun. In fact, it was probably my favorite ride at Animal Kingdom.

We had fast passes for all three rides. Barrak loaded all our meal reservations and fast-pass times in his phone calendar so he could easily check our schedule as we ran around.

People were waiting for hours for Khali River Rapids. We were through in 10-15 minutes. It’s such a short ride too. I can’t imagine waiting hours for it. They have free lockers for stashing your stuff before riding the Rapids. You do run the risk of getting soaked. Some people in the raft get it worse than others.

I didn’t carry a bag to the parks. Instead, we just carried essentials in Barrak’s small technical backpack. Essentials: visors & hats, sunblock sticks, autograph books and pens, our phones, wet wipes, Cortaid. When we’d ride rollercoasters, we’d also stick sunglasses, bottles of water, and the like.

We ate our quick-service lunch at Flame Tree Barbecue. Like last year, we sat on an outdoor patio with a view of Expedition: Everest. The kids are too young/small to ride this coaster yet.

Here are some pictures from the day!

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Greta and Mag in front of the Tree of Life.

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The kids met Pocahonas just past the Tree of Life, on Discovery Island Trail. She gave them the third-degree on where they were from (“Ohio”), what we have in Ohio (“corn and football”) and how you play this strange game called football (oh, these girls really get into their characters). It was pretty funny hearing Greta explain to her what football is.

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Mag and Barrak got the most soaked on the Khali River Rapids raft ride. The ride wasn’t scary at all, and was actually shockingly short.

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A great view of the Expedition: Everest roller coaster across the water from the outdoor sitting area (there’s no inside, it’s just a food counter) where we ate our Flame Tree Barbecue. They have smoked turkey and ribs, smoked chicken, cole slaw, and of course, Uncrustables. We learned that Magnus really likes baked beans. He ate the whole cup.

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This is the outside of the indoor Dinosaur thrill ride, which is inside Dino-Land. It’s very dark and frenetic, and animatronic dinosaurs growl and snarl as your vehicle careens past.

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My boys on the bus ride home. Little Magpie, he’s had a rough week. He fell out of the bed our first night here, peed the bed twice (he’s recently graduated from Pull-Ups but apparently so exhausted here that he couldn’t hold it), bonked his head on the side of the water slide, and got his little fat knee stuck in the railing while waiting in line for Chester & Hester’s Flying Dinosaur ride at Animal Kingdom.

 

Day 5 – Breakfast at ‘Ohana

Yesterday, we had an 8:30 a.m. reservation for breakfast at ‘Ohana, which is the signature restaurant at the Polynesian, where we stayed last year. It was fun to go back to the resort we loved so much.

‘Ohana does a character breakfast with Lilo & Stitch. They were there, and so were Mickey and his usual posse. They make the rounds to every table, sign autographs, give hugs, take pictures. They know the routine. Then they do a parade around the restaurant with all the kids. It’s cute.

You don’t order from a menu. Everyone gets a basket of Hawaiian sweet rolls, coffee, a mango-OJ, fresh fruit, a big community platter of scrambled eggs, sausage & potatoes, and all the Mickey-shaped waffles you can eat. This, for $100. You’re down a table service after eating here.

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Day 5 – Dinner at Wilderness Lodge

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This is one of the other resorts I’ve always wanted to stay in. It looks like something you’d find in Colorado or Alaska: a massive, all-wood hunting lodge with red Western rugs, a big roaring fireplace in the lobby, and lanterns hung on posts all around the grounds. The big drawback has been that it’s not on the monorail, which is so convenient when you have little ones who can’t tolerate monorail-to-bus station walks after a long day at the park.

We had to do a quick-service dinner last night to save our last table service for breakfast at ‘Ohana. All the resorts have at least one really nice table service restaurant, a casual table service restaurant where you still get to sit down and be served, and a bargain-basement quick service option that’s usually like a cafeteria.

Well, we’ve seen the one at the Contemporary (pretty crappy) so we decided to take a boat over to the Wilderness Lodge to check out their quick service (also pretty crappy, it turns out). But the boat ride over was fun, and I got to nose around the Wilderness Lodge. People eat at the other resorts all the time; it’s not a big deal since they’re really not in true competition.

I’d love to stay here another time.

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