Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Disneyworld, part 5: The thrilling conclusion.

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Thank goodness for evening flights!

We had a relaxed evening the night before, and we were able to take our time in the morning. I picked up a delicious breakfast from our hotel food court (we didn't eat there very much, although it seems like everyone else did, because it was always crowded in the mornings. But the food was actually pretty decent.) and Matt took the kids outside to play while I finished packing.
Here's a pretty good view of our hotel - the resort is called All Star Sports, and each of the buildings is themed after a different sport. Serendipitously we ended up in the Tennis building, which is Matt's favorite sport. (I totally picked the Sports resort for Matt's benefit - I would have gone with Music. The truth is, though, they're all pretty much the same.) The All Star Resorts are the cheapest rooms that Disney offers, so while the rooms are more or less like a Motel 6, everything is still themed so you remember you are at Disneyworld. Plus, Betsy liked the Mickey Mouse soap.
Once we had checked out - and hooray for the airline check in right there inside our hotel - we went over to Downtown Disney, which is a sort of outdoor mall, only it's Disney. Probably not worth making a special trip, but it's a good way to fill some time before your flight. The other attraction, of course, was that I got to meet up with some old friends.
Tricia used to babysit us when we were kids, and Tracy and I were in Girl Scouts together (plus their mom was the troop leader). Much like me, they got out of Rochester a while ago. It was really fun to catch up. Tricia hasn't lost her touch with kids, apparently. (She teaches fourth grade now; she says that the Blinn kids were the best preparation for that.)
Tracy (the very pregnant one in the photo) also has a little girl who's just a bit older than Betsy. Betsy kept referring to her as "that little kid" until we convinced her that her name is Alex. The two little girls seemed to be kindred spirits and they had a great time playing with all the girly princess stuff (there is a LOT of girly princess stuff) at the giant Disney store.
Porter is actually standing next to me right now yelling, "MUSSER Tayo Head!" Just in case I forgot to write about it. My kids are Potato Head fanatics. I had bought one to keep them occupied on the plane and they spent the flights basically trading it back and forth. See, at Disneyworld you can get special parts for Mr. Potato Head. Like a Mr. Incredible costume, Mickey Mouse ears, a balloon, a camera, and yes, pirate accessories. Ask me how much I spent on Mr. Potato Head parts. Or better yet, don't.
We all had lunch together at Downtown Disney - I ate basically the best grilled cheese sandwich ever - before we had to get back to our resort, to catch the bus to the airport, so we could wait in the security lines again. The kids were seasoned travelers by this point: they did fine, and slept most of the way back. We got to our house at a little before 1 a.m. Sunday morning. Needless to say, we all took naps that day.
So, how would I sum it all up? Three words: Best vacation ever. I was actually kind of dreading the whole travel-with-little-kids thing, but they were great. We definitely got our money's worth - even more so, because of the free Dining Plan - and we saw everything we'd planned to see, and more. I did learn that some of my planning was a bit excessive. It was helpful to have a general idea of the paths we were going to take through the parks - especially in EPCOT, which is huge - but we also deviated from it a lot, because of show times or shorter lines or whatever. Also, I had brought a lot of snacks from home and we ended up not needing most of them (all my little snack sized baggies of crackers got smashed to bits) but you can never have too many juiceboxes.

It surprised me how much having the kids along actually enhanced our experience. When Matt and I were in Disneyworld on our honeymoon, we kind of had the feeling of "We'd better enjoy this while we can, because next time we come back here we'll have kids." And while I'm glad we went there when we were childless - we had the opportunity to go on the more grown-up rides like Space Mountain and Tower of Terror that we completely bypassed this time - our enjoyment this time was more centered on seeing our kids have fun. Everything is fresh and new to them, and things that we might have ignored before - like princesses, or the talking recycle bin - were totally captivating to them. We spent the days on our honeymoon trying to squeeze in every last bit of enjoyment; we went at a more relaxed pace this time around but still had pretty much nonstop fun. Also, we aren't quite as poor as we were when we were first married so I think that helped.

I know some families actually take a trip to Disney every year, and we're definitely not one of those families. I do hope it won't be another seven years before we make it back, though. I hope it will be sooner than that. We're probably going to Utah next year so that will be our big vacation for a while. Not so much with the Mickey Mouse. But I took over 400 pictures at Disneyworld, so I think that will be enough to sustain me for a while.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Disneyworld, part 4: Magic Kingdom - Rides, rides, rides.

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Our last day at Disneyworld. And although I like the World Showcase the best, I think that the most fun we had was at the Magic Kingdom. My kids were so happy, meaning it was worth dragging them all the way down to Florida with us. We decided to focus on the rides that day, since MK has the highest concentration of kid-friendly rides. There are some shows as well but we opted to bypass those. I think the kids were really sick of shows and we were really sick of dealing with them being sick of shows. But we found more than enough rides to keep them happy. And the lines were short enough that almost everything we liked, we went on three times.

(Porter, look at the camera. PLEASE.)

Because of some promotion aimed at preschoolers - I guess, who else is visiting Disneyworld when school is in session - the Fantasyland section opened an hour early that day. At eight o'clock in the morning. Fortunately Porter got me up at 6:30 so we had no trouble making it to the park within a few minutes of its opening. Fantasyland has a lot of the rides we wanted to go on, anyway. We started off with Dumbo
which if you ask me, is slightly overrated. Unlike the dinosaurs at Animal Kingdom, each elephant only holds 2 people, so the line moves very slowly. And the line was long. I think everyone wants to go on Dumbo because it's tradition, not necessarily because it's mind-blowingly great. That was one of the longest lines we had (listen to me complain, it was still only a 10-15 minute wait) so we only went on it once.
Betsy liked the topiary, though.

The kids really, really liked the Winnie the Pooh ride. It's very closely based on that 'Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day' video we watched over and over when we were kids, complete with the very trippy Heffalumps and Woozles segment. The line for this ride moves pretty fast so we went on it twice in a row, and then once more right before we left the park.

Betsy and Porter particularly liked the ending because Piglet had a birthday cake.
Next up we went on the teacups. I think that's one ride that's more fun for adults than for children. We were pretty crammed with the four of us in one cup. (I think we could have split our party up, since they were running the ride half empty.) I kept yelling at the kids not to spin it too fast, because I didn't want anyone to puke, including myself. Still, Betsy thought it was cool to go in a life sized tea party.

After we had gone on most of the Fantasyland rides (and we caught the rest of them, like Peter Pan and Snow White, at the end of the day) it was only 9:00. The rest of the park was opening by then - except for Mickey's Toontown Fair, where there's a kiddie coaster we really wanted to try. However, we were also adjacent to Tomorrowland. Now, when I was obsessively planning out our days, I always figured we wouldn't have time to go to Tomorrowland (silly me) and I thought it wouldn't be worth it, since the kids couldn't go on Space Mountain anyway. But we once again found ourselves in the slightly surreal position of having time to kill since the lines were so short.

So, we went on the Buzz Lightyear ride. Can you guess how many times?

Buzz Lightyear's face is animated and it doesn't show up well in photos; that's why he looks like that. Actually Porter always calls him Ghost Lightyear (a combination of Buzz's name and the Ghostlight, which is one of the extras on the Cars DVD) and I think that in this case the description is apt. The ride is pretty sweet: if you've never been on it, it's actually interactive. Each ride vehicle has two space blasters, so you get to shoot at targets located all over the ride, and the vehicle keeps track of your score. (Holiday World has a 'turkey shoot' ride which is very similar, and which the kids also loved.) You can also work a joystick to make your car spin around, which is mostly what occupied Betsy. The ride is continuously loading (much like the Nemo thing at EPCOT) so it only took about twenty minutes to go on it three times, and on the last ride I finally beat Matt's score.
Here's Betsy with an alien. She's into aliens right now, for reasons I can't fathom.

It was still only 9:30 at that point, so we had more time to kill before we could go on the rollercoaster. We ended up going on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority - one of those completely overlooked attractions. It's just sort of a slow-moving train that cruises around the second level of Tomorrowland. But the ride does pass through Space Mountain, so at least I can say we went on Space Mountain, kind of.

It was finally 10:00 and time for Goofy's Barnstormer. Porter was too short for the kiddie coaster at Holiday World and he was just barely tall enough for this one. He's like 35 and no tenths inches tall (with shoes on). But he was really excited to go on his first roller coaster ride, even though it was broken. According to him. Despite the facial expression, Porter really did love the ride (we went on it once, and then we went on it again, and then we went on it a final time). And Betsy has learned the fine art of screaming on a roller coaster. She was really funny.

Our lunch reservation was at 1:00 so we still had some time to kill after the roller coaster. We were planning to go in 'It's A Small World' later, when the kids were really tired, but we also stopped in on our way over to the restaurant. I remember riding 'Small World' at Disneyland when I was 5, so we have to go mostly for nostalgia's sake. (I suspect that's why most people are there.) Betsy liked the dolls and singing along with the music; Porter liked the goat, the elephant, and the giraffe, all of which were broken.

I liked the short line, and the fact that it's very relaxing (plus air conditioned). And Matt... umm, tolerated the ride. Enough that we rode it two more times that day.

We had a delicious lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern. The whole Liberty Square section is modeled after places like Colonial Williamsburg, and we actually visited Williamsburg in 2003. The Disney version is obviously more, well, Disney, but it was a fun trip down memory lane for us. And the kids got to have ice cream for dessert. I popped in the Christmas store after lunch and picked up an ornament - my usual souvenir from any trip. (Fortunately we don't travel that much, or I'd have to get a whole separate tree.)

We split up after that, because Matt and Betsy had FastPasses for Splash Mountain and Porter's too short. I took him on Pirates of the Caribbean, because he a pirate. Arrg!

The ride actually broke down shortly after we went on it (something actually was broken) so Matt never got to go on it. But I think Betsy wouldn't have liked the pirate ride. It's a lot like Small World, only scary. Porter actually didn't seem to notice: not just the scariness, he didn't notice the ride at all. (He did really like playing in the gift shop after, though.) I Think that was mainly because he was tired. Porter fell asleep while we were waiting for M & B to get back from Splash. He slept through Jungle Cruise,
he slept through the parade (now we will never know if Mickey Mouse was functioning correctly or not), he slept through the rain, and he slept through the delicious orange slushy the rest of us shared while we were waiting for the rain to stop. Sorry, buddy! He did wake up in time for the third trip on the Magic Carpets of Aladdin,
or as Betsy called it, the Jasmine ride. (Note: there was no Jasmine to be seen. She was extrapolating.) The magic carpets were very similar to the dinosaurs from the day before, complete with really short lines. Porter actually liked the ride a lot: he was mad when I took the picture because he had just woken up, bless his little heart.

We had gone on almost everything, and it wasn't even 5:00. (The park was open until 7 that day.) So we went back towards Fantasyland to hit the rest of the rides over there. Matt and Betsy went on Peter Pan because they had FastPasses. (That's one of those rides like Dumbo that has inexplicably long rides. It's similar to the Pooh ride but you don't see people standing in line for 45 minutes for Pooh. Huh.) I took Porter over to the Snow White ride which, despite being (marginally) princess-themed, she wouldn't have really liked. It was scary. As I was making our way back to the stroller, Porter spotted Cinderella's Golden Carousel.

Now, I hadn't planned on riding the carousel, because we can go on the one at the Children's Museum pretty much any time we want (we have a membership, so rides are free). Two things changed my mind: 1) There was practically no line, and 2) "MAYGWOUND!" That was Porter.

So we got in the line, but the ride was already going so we couldn't get on it right away. Do you think that sat well with Porter? No, it did not. He was full on, throwing himself on the ground, square-mouthed crying. We didn't have to wait very long before Porter was seated on his 'horshey' (at the museum, he usually rides on a giraffe; the Disney version only had horses, but he didn't seem to mind) and with still a slight wobble in his voice told me "Maygwound broken." He was one happy little boy, I tell you.

We went on the carousel one more time as a family after M & B came back, and then it started to rain again so we went and had dinner. We ate at the Pinocchio themed restaurant, which was cool because it overlooked the Small World ride. And once the rain let up a bit, we rode Winne the Pooh and Small World one last time (for a total of three). Usually I'm consumed with regret when I know my vacation is finally at an end, but really, we had done everything we'd planned to do. In triplicate. And we wanted to get in line for the bus back to our resort before 7:00 so we wouldn't have to wait as long. So, I shopped a little along Main Street as we were heading out, and we left by 6:45.

And that was that, really. It was an extremely satisfying day and the kids had a really great time. We took them back to the hotel so they could play with some of their new toys and have baths. I think we all went to sleep early that night.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Disneyworld, part 3: Animal Kingdom - Dinosaurs broken.

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Our third day was Disney's Animal Kingdom, which is the newest of the four parks. (It didn't exist yet when I visited the World for my senior trip in 1997.) It's also the one with the shortest operating hours: AK is only open until 5:00 p.m. whereas the others run until 7:00 or later, especially if it's Extra Magic Hours. But again, we had plenty of time to see and do everything we wanted, so it was all good.

I was worried about being outdoors the whole time, since you know, heat, but actually Disney does a pretty good job of keeping the place climate controlled. All the walking trails are shaded, and they have a lot of those giant outdoor fans like at the State Fair. (Except for in Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama, which was pretty hot but also extremely fun.) So it really wasn't too painful, as long as we kept hydrated. Ice cream helped too.

This is the iconic Tree of Life - it's a totally fake tree carved all over with animals. Also, Porter's belly.

From one of the two exploration walking trails - this is the one in the Africa section. Betsy isn't pouting, she's making a fish face. You can't see it but there was a freaky thing called a lungfish behind her. The cast member working this section told us it's basically an evolutionary holdover - much like the coelacanth. Unlike Betsy, who is the pinnacle of evolutionary development and does a pretty good gorilla impression as well.

Speaking of gorillas, we saw plenty of those in the Animal Kingdom too. Did you know that some male gorillas never get to mate? You can tell because those are the ones with empty pizza boxes and dirty laundry scattered all around.

Here's my favorite monkey:
I took that picture on the safari ride, which is the ride Animal Kingdom is most known for. (It's kind of like Jungle Cruise but the animals are real.) We let Betsy use one of the disposable cameras when she was riding, and I can't wait to see her pictures... mostly the inside of the safari vehicle, I'm guessing, with maybe a bit of foliage. She didn't seem to enjoy the ride that much but maybe she was just really focused on the task of taking pictures. Betsy gets like that sometimes.
We also saw real tigers, but I obviously didn't let my kids get that close! That was in the same section of the park as the walking talking recycle bin.
Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama is probably the cheesiest part of the park, and it was also my kids' favorite. It was a lot like the midway at the state fair, only you know, Disneyer. The kids really liked the flying dinosaur ride which was similar to (better than, it turns out) Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom. There are two levers: one to make the dino go up and down, one to tip it left and right. Betsy and Porter both got to do the controls, which was a huge thrill. And there was no line whatsoever - I think everyone was at the Nemo show -so we went twice. Not three times, because the kids had just had fries for lunch, and I had no desire to clean that up.
Porter really likes dinosaurs (I think it's because of the Y chromosome). How freaking cute is he in his little Hawaiian shirt? We discovered that Porter really has no fear where the characters are concerned, but Betsy tends to hold back a little, unless they are princesses.

Oh no! The kids are driving!

We had a pretty good time at Animal Kingdom, even though we didn't go on all of the rides. The kids are too small for some of them, like the River Rapids ride (getting soaked would have been nice on a hot day), the Dinosaur ride (I think Betsy would have been terrified but Porter would have liked it, shame he's nowhere near tall enough) and the new Expedition Everest (which seems kind of like the Matterhorn. I remember liking the Matterhorn when I was a kid.) That made the day go faster. We did see both of the shows. The Nemo show was truly impressive: all of the fish characters are represented by giant oversized puppets performed by people right onstage. I can't imagine how insanely complicated that one must be to stage. We had pretty good seats, too. The kids got kind of bored and antsy before it was done, though; I think it was because they were hungry.

Animal Kingdom doesn't have the same fantastic dining options as EPCOT does. Actually, I felt kind of stupid because we ended up having lunch at a place called 'Restaurantosaurus,' which was basically McDonalds with a dinosaur theme. I mean, we came all this way, had all these options to eat (for free), and we were having burgers and fries? But actually, my kids were really happy eating familiar food, and they loved checking out all the dinosaur stuff on the wall. I had to decide that it was okay to do something totally unoriginal for once.

I don't know what we did to wear Porter out, but by 4:00 or so he was pooped. (No, I didn't say he had pooped, although I'm sure he did that too.) He actually fell asleep in his stroller which was pretty convenient for us. Even more impressive, he stayed asleep while Matt picked him up and carried him

and he stayed asleep all through the excellent Lion King show, which was pretty loud.
That was our finish for the day, and I have to say it was a pretty good ending. We had dinner reservations for the Animal Kingdom Lodge, but we decided not to go back to our hotel (due to the vicissitudes of the bus transportation system, it would have taken something like an hour to get there. And it did take an hour to get home after our dinner. That was the one time I wished we had our car with us.) So we killed an hour or so riding on the monorails and eating our leftover brownies from lunch. I actually really enjoyed that: it was air-conditioned and relaxing.
The food was great, of course. But that ended up being a really long day; we didn't get home until something like 11 at night. I thought the kids would be too tired to get up super early the next day for Extra Magic Hours but they were fine, we were the only ones who got worn out.

Disneyworld, part 2: EPCOT - Princesses are cool.

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Yeahhh, I meant to update the blog yesterday, but I sewed a dress instead. Slacker. Anyway, Day 2 of our Disney vacation was the one I was probably looking forward to the most, because EPCOT is really cool. We started out the day by having our picture taken in front of the big silver ball. We only spent about 2 hours in Future World - the front half of the park - but had plenty of time to do everything we wanted. (World Showcase doesn't open until 11 a.m., and that's where we planned on spending most of our day, but like every other park we arrived at EPCOT within minutes of its opening. Porter waking me up at 6:30 or so every day was beginning to pay off.) The ride we were most excited about was The Seas With Nemo & Friends, wherein the animated characters from Nemo are actually projected into a real aquarium, and you ride in a "clam-mobile" and get the songs from the movie stuck in your head. There was no line whatsoever, so we rode the ride 3 times in about 20 minutes.
By that point we were actually getting a little sick of it, but fortunately the building housing the ride has lots of other cool stuff. You can pose inside of a giant shark
and see manatees and look through a periscope and walk inside of a giant aquarium (cool for Matt and the kids; not cool for me) and kill time until Turtle Talk with Crush opens at 10 a.m. (It was very surreal, actually having to wait around for an attraction to open - which also happened at Magic Kingdom. I was worried that we wouldn't have enough time to do everything we wanted.)

The other big attraction we did in the Future World side was Soarin, which simulates the experience of hang-gliding over the state of California. (You would have loved it, Mom - orange groves and everything.) Because you are actually suspended about 40 feet in the air, there's a height requirement, so Porter couldn't go. That was the only time in the whole 4 days that we did a 'baby swap' which basically consisted of Porter and me eating a Rice Krispy treat while Matt and Betsy rode, and Matt and Porter eating Cheetos while Betsy and I rode. (We had a lot of snack credits with the dining plan.) The ride was really cool - lucky Betsy got to do it twice - and I was able to overcome the fear of heights by reminding myself that it was all totally fake. Which I think was not what the Imagineers had in mind, but it worked for me.

After Soarin' we made our way into he World Showcase, which is probably my favorite part of all the parks. Featuring a whole bunch of countries - Canada, Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Morocco, Japan, Italy, France, American and the U.K. (did I miss any?) - it's great for someone like me who flat out can't afford to travel to interesting and exotic places for real. World Showcase has a reputation for being boring to small children, to the extent that a lot of guidebooks actually suggest that you skip it altogether. I was pleasantly surprised, because there's actually a lot for little kids. Model trains, character greetings, a whole exhibit of tin toys, street performers (the drummers in Japan were sweet), plus each country's pavilion had a little craft for the kids. Give Betsy a die cut Viking ship and some markers, and she's pretty much happy.
One of the other reasons we were looking forward to EPCOT is the food. And not just the food, but the character dining. See, at Norway's restaurant you can eat lunch with princesses. I booked lunch for Betsy and me pretty much the day we decided we were going to Disney (and unlike Cinderella's Castle, you do not need a complicated game plan to get reservations). She was really looking forward to it. I let Betsy wear her dress with princesses and her indulgent parent (hint: not me) had gotten her a sparkly princess crown for the occasion. On our way into the restaurant we met Belle, who told Betsy that their names start with the same letter. Hooray for B!
I think the princess Betsy liked the most was Sleeping Beauty (since she'd picked a Sleeping Beauty toy the day before, and spent most of the evening forcing Matt and me to pry the rubber dresses on and off with glitter-covered hands). That was the one she interacted with the most, or maybe she went into Princess Overload after the first two and couldn't handle Jasmine, Ariel, and Cinderella too. Anyway, in lieu of an autograph book, Matt had picked up a book of princess stories at Half Price Books, so that each princess had a story or at least a picture on the frontispiece where she could sign. Sleeping Beauty's signature was the best: "To Princess Betsy, Love Princess Aurora. [little heart] Sweet dreams!"
In all, Betsy got to meet five princesses at lunch. (If you are lucky enough to get into Cinderella's Castle, you only get to meet one.) She didn't really eat much of her lunch beyond a few squares of Jarslberg cheese. (I asked if they had any Venezuelan beaver cheese, but no such luck.) But all of the princesses were really sweet. They all asked her name - Cinderella asked her if the mice made her dress - and one of the princesses (I forget which one) said "Bye, Princess Betsy" when she was walking back through - we were seated by the doorway - after she had finished making her rounds of the room. Now, the princess must have met 15 little girls in 10 minutes, so I was really impressed that she remembered my daughter's name. We will definitely do this meal again if we go to Disney before Betsy becomes too old (and therefore too cool).
I loved the food. Holy cow, it was good. You wouldn't think that chicken salad with orange marmalade in it would be good, but it was the best chicken salad I have ever eaten. And the desserts... ohh the desserts. (The princesses were gone by then so Betsy had no trouble concentrating.) I'm not generally a cheesecake fan, but the lingonberry cheesecake was awesome.
While Betsy and I were swooning over princesses and smoked salmon, Matt and Porter were eating at a different venue. They went to the Garden Grill, a rotating restaurant with some of the more standard Disney characters like Chip and Dale. But I don't have the pictures yet because I had to give Matt a disposable camera for that, and it's not developed yet. Matt spoke very highly of the whole experience; he said their waiter was good, the food was Delicious, Porter was good company for once, and Mickey Mouse was broken. Actually, that last bit may have been Porter's opinion.

So, after gorging ourselves silly, we had about 5 hours to see the rest of World Showcase before gorging ourselves silly again at dinner. (I'm telling you, the free Dining Plan thing was insane. I have never eaten so much in my life. And I liked it.) I did take some time out to meet up with my Internet buddy Cid, whom I met via an NCIS website.

Cid's worked at Disneyworld for almost 20 years, so she had lots of interesting insight and trivia into the World. (Plus, she sent autographed pictures of Cinderella & Buzz Lightyear to the kids before we left, AND had personalized ears left at the front desk when we checked in. Porter likes to wear his and announce, "I Mickey Moushe!") I was really glad I got to meet her and wished we could have chatted longer. And I didn't bore Matt by just talking about NCIS the whole time.

EPCOT has lots of character meeting stations scattered throughout the parks - Mulan in China, Pooh in England, Aladdin in Morocco, etc. In the Germany pavilion we got to meet Snow White and Dopey without even having to wait in line, so Betsy got the coveted sixth princess signature for her book, and Porter finally met someone who has less hair than he does.

We had time to see and do pretty much everything in the World Showcase, like watch the 360-degree Canada film and the Audio-Animatronic tribute to America. (Nothing could be more Disney. Porter hated it, though.) One of the best experiences was when we were in the Japan pavilion, which has a great big department store instead of just a gift shop. There was a whole room of beautiful kimonos, and the adorable saleslady helped Betsy dress up in a little pink one - complete with hair comb, parasol, everything. Betsy loved it. (I would have bought her a kimono if I could come even close to justifying it, but there are only so many times a 4-year-old girl needs to wear one. Such as, none.)
We did managed to get rained on - in the evening, not in the afternoon - when we were waiting for our dinner reservation at the Rose & Crown Pub. But it had been a pretty hot day, so the rain wasn't too bad. I had gotten us a 7:30 dinner reservation in the hopes that we could watch the Illuminations fireworks show at 9 (the restaurant's patio is supposed to be a great viewing area). We were seated about half an hour late so it was no problem watching the show, which was really great - and I swear, we were so close I could feel the heat from some of the giant fireballs. And the food was, as expected, excellent. We had a cheese platter to start - I had some cheese for my English friend who is sadly lactose intolerant - and some chicken skewers, and Matt had fish & chips and I had bangers & mash and Betsy had shepherd's pie. By the time the fireworks were done and it was time for dessert, both of the kids were asleep and we were fully stuffed, so we got our fresh berry scones boxed up and had them for breakfast the next day. (They were delicious.)

We actually left the restaurant after the park had closed, which meant that everyone who had been in EPCOT that day was waiting in line for the buses. And, apparently All Star Sports was a very popular resort that week. Fortunately, Matt had done some exploring the day we arrived and figured out that we were right across the parking lot from All Star Music, which had virtually no line at the bus stop. Good call, Matt!

This was my quest when we were at EPCOT: (Because it's important to have goals in life.) I bought candy and/or cookies at every country in EPCOT. Except for Morocco - disappointingly, I couldn't find anything suitable to buy there - and in the America pavilion, because hello, I do know what American candy tastes like. And it was a very interesting quest. I learned that, for example, Mexican candy has goat milk in it. Mmm, goat milk. And I learned that Japan apparently has a sweet tooth: they had a huge display of candy, all in brightly colored packaging. I ended up settling on something called Sweet Candy (Fruit Drop"S") which came in a cute little tin. My favorite so far are the Italian fruit gems, whereas the Chinese White Rabbit candy is kind of gross (perhaps because it contains real rabbits?!) We've been gradually sampling the goods over the past week. It was a very cool souvenir, if a slightly expensive one. (I did try to keep each individual piece under four dollars. I was tempted to buy a box of Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles in the UK for six dollars, and I was glad I didn't because I saw them at Meijer this week for $2.89.)

So that was EPCOT. It was a great day, but exhausting. But there's no rest for the wicked, as that was only Day 2.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Disneyworld, part 1: MGM Studios - Porter loves the Swedish Chef

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Our first day at Disneyworld was actually our second day in Florida. We didn't try to hit the parks as soon as we hit the ground although I know that's what some families do. But the first Day One wasn't terribly interesting. My kids are surprisingly good travelers - no one threw up, hooray - and Porter fell asleep while eating ice cream at dinner. It was pretty funny but I didn't have the camera with me, so I'll have to carry the mental image of him rousing only long enough to take another bite.

So, we started out with the theme park soon to be formerly known as Disney MGM Studios, on the grounds that it's the smallest park geographically and our feet would get plenty tired as the week wore on. Also, MGM Studios is the one that has Muppets.

We made a beeline for the 3-D Muppets show as soon as we got into the park, pausing only to take some pictures outside. (I always have to have a picture by the Muppet fountain. It's just a thing I do in the, you know, THREE times I have been there in my whole life.) To my surprise, the kids didn't really enjoy the show all that much, I think because they had a hard time keeping the 3-D glasses on. (Big heads though they may have, they are not adult sized.) But that's okay, because the kids did like the gift shop.
The gift shop had stuffed muppet characters: Fuzzy Bear (no, not Fozzie, Fuzzy), Miss Piggy, Mort Mort (that would be the Swedish Chef), Meemee (Beaker to the uninitiated), although curiously no Kermit. I let Porter pick one and he had a hard time choosing between Mort Mort and Meemee (he even had them doing Eskimo kisses at one point, he said they were 'stuck') but ultimately he went with the Chef. Good choice, I think, because Beaker is skinnier and thus a lot less cuddly. So he was pretty happy with his new toy, until I dared to take it away from him so that I could pay.

Betsy had her choice between a stuffed Muppet and a princess set - little princess figurine and rubbery dresses that are really hard to get on and off, plus accessories, in a heart-shaped case - and for her it was no contest. Actually she wanted the Little Mermaid first, but I said no. (Have I ever mentioned how I feel about that movie? No?) So, she picked Sleeping Beauty, because Sleeping Beauty's case is pink, and she toted it around all the rest of the day. She even wanted to go back to the "otel" early so she could play with her new toys, but obviously we didn't go for that.

The surprise hit of the day was Star Tours, a motion simulator ride loosely based on the Star Wars trilogy (the original trilogy, you know, the one that didn't suck). Betsy made the height requirement so Matt took her on it and honestly, I thought she would be scared. She wasn't. She loved it, and she ended up going on it three times while I hung out in the gift shop (yes, every ride has a gift shop) and watched Porter play with the Yoda puppets.

While we were waiting for lunch, Mom called to say that Emily had her baby. Two nephews in one week! Can't wait to see him.

I picked our lunch venue based solely on the fact that it was a buffet (we had the free Dining Plan so we ate A LOT that week, as you'll soon see) and only later found out that it's a character meal. The characters were all from Playhouse Disney, which is on cable so we never watch it (although Charlie and Lola is another Playhouse Disney show - we discovered that one while we were on vacation once and thus had cable) so the kids didn't really recognize anything. I only vaguely knew who they were supposed to be, although the clown Porter is poking in the eye is apparently Jojo.
Any day that you get to poke a clown in the eye is a good day in my book. Also, the food was really, really good (and free). Waiting for lunch was probably the longest we had to wait for anything that day (it turns out someone stole our reservation, grrr). Even though it seemed like there were a lot of people in the park, we never had to wait very long for anything. We were able to do everything that we had planned, some more than once. (Betsy went on the Star Wars ride three times.) We saw most of the shows: Beauty and the Beast (loved it), the car stunt show (Matt loved it, I found it noisy and hot), and even the Little Mermaid show (see, I am not a totally mean mother). We actually skipped the Indiana Jones show which I think MGM Studios is most known for, because Matt and I got picked as extras when we were there on our honeymoon and we knew we could never top that experience. Plus, I don't think the kids would have liked it.

We left the park right as it started to rain - everyone says that in Florida, it always rains in the mid-afternoon, but most of the days we were there it rained in the evening instead - and gave the kids a bath so they would be ready for the next day. Also, that second night I figured out that the people who snore (Betsy, Matt) should share one bed, and the person who does NOT snore (yours truly) should get one all to herself. You know, just in the interest of fairness.


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