Friday, October 24, 2014

{Disney} Animal Kingdom I

Because we had enjoyed our breakfast at Tusker House, located in Animal Kingdom, during our December 2012 trip, I naturally wanted to secure an ADR for this trip. I was booking our dining reservations late so it took a few weeks of sporadic checking and eventually an opening at 9:40 popped up for this particular day. The late time was to our advantage as it allowed us (most especially the girls) to sleep in. Our park arrival timing was perfect, somewhat due to us having our own transportation, and we checked in right on time. During our last visit, photos were taken outside the restaurant, before being seated inside, with Safari Donald. There was a PhotoPass photographer but a cast member offered to take some using my camera. (As you know, I refuse to buy PhotoPass photos.) This time, a cast member attempted to shepherd us into a photo line but when we saw that there was no character, we said no thanks. This change left a sour taste in my mouth, as did the hostess who I kind of felt was treating us like cattle.


Ah, but the theming is so good.

After we returned from this trip, I discovered that Disney had Tusker House in some sort of trial mode while we were there which resulted in the cutback of characters at this meal.  I'm going to be honest here and say that it was a disappointment. Instead of the usual four characters (Donald, Daisy, Mickey and Goofy), there were three. Goofy was MIA. What was also disappointing was how rushed the character meetings were, which was due mainly to the handlers. We know that we need to have the autograph books open to the correct page and ready to go. The girls always have their books ready to go. One handler/cast member/vacation rusher suggested that I place the books in a pile on the edge of our crowded table, which was covered with condensation from our glasses. She was super pushy, grabbing at the books. I eventually took them and told her that I would hold them and give them to the characters the second they reached the table. She wasn't going to be the one dealing with the aftermath of a kid finding water smudged autographs later on.


I'm thinking I should have switched to my wide angle lens.





The food (the most important part, right?) tasted okay. I admit that I was a bit frustrated with how long it took us to actually get our food from the buffet, which may have affected my taste buds. Tusker House has what they refer to as an "open buffet" which means that you don't have to wait in line, but instead can just walk right up and get what you want. Well, that's all fine and dandy unless there are people waiting in a line and someone cuts you. And that someone is a cape-wearing three year old with no parental supervision. I know we all parent differently but I was annoyed. My kids are seven and they tell me what they want and I put it on their plates.  They also know how to wait in line.  I've never met a teenager who says she doesn't know how to do buffets because her parents didn't let her when she was little.  I also witnessed a girl about the same age as mine, man-handle a plate and then return it to the clean plate pile with her parents standing right there watching.  They said nothing.

After our meal, Rich said that he would be fine if we never ate there again and Rich is a pretty laid back person. Much more laid back than I am.


Rich had awesomely booked FP+ for the safari to coincide with our breakfast ending. We were a few minutes early so we checked out a gift shop.



The safari was enjoyable, bouncy and full of animal sightings. The girls always seem to like it. Next was a bathroom break and then we joined the line for the Festival of the Lion King.


My poor attempt at an outfit shot.  Should have used the wide angle.

Festival of the Lion King was in the new theater and had changed a bit from the show we had seen in earlier years but it was as entertaining as before. When we left the theater, we discovered that it had poured while we were inside. Everything was wet, but quickly drying. We made our way over to It's Tough to be a Bug, which is a show we hadn't seen in the past because I didn't know if the girls would be afraid. They weren't. Anna was sitting next to me and I laughed for most of it because of how she kept jumping. Because of my awesome eyesight and lack of depth perception, the 3D thing didn't really work for me but I did think it was highly entertaining.

When we left Bug, it was moderately raining and the sky was completely cloudy. After the rain we had experienced the day before, this was not a welcome sight at all. We headed over to Flame Tree Barbecue hoping that the rain would pass. Our usual plan of attack at quick service restaurants is to decide what we all want and then leave Rich to order the food while Grammy and I find seating with the girls. I then return to help Rich carry the food back to the table. Allie had to go to the bathroom so Rich was left to juggle the food by himself. Thankfully, there is covered seating here because it freaking poured rain.


I order the same thing - the chicken - and it never fails to satisfy.

Coming up - Animal Kingdom II. Will the rain ever end? Sob

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

This never-ending search for balance

Last Monday, Columbus Day, Anna was scheduled for medical testing at Children's Hospital Boston. This was a holiday for Rich. It was a regular workday for me. Regardless, I went with them because I wanted to be there for her and I knew that she would want me there. In addition, she needed to be there for 3+ hours and at some point, Rich was going to have to use the bathroom. So, yeah, it was just easier if both of us were there. Thankfully, we have the luxury of a Grammy who can watch Little Cats A and C so childcare was not a factor in our decision.

After the appointment, Rich and Anna dropped me off at the office. It was lunchtime and I pulled together some snacks to eat instead of spending time leaving the office for food. October 15th is a big filing deadline for me and I had a 5 hour meeting scheduled for the following day, so wrapping up open items was my priority that afternoon.

As with typical fall weather here in New England, it was chilly that day. Allie and Emily had visited a playground with Grammy while we were at the hospital and, I swear this happens every year when the weather turns, Allie began coughing the next day.  It's her asthma cough. She didn't seem to have a cold. Although later in the week, she sounded more congested but not with a full blown cold. We had to give her puffs from her inhaler for a few days. As Allie started to feel better over the weekend, Emily and Anna appeared to have developed minor colds.

Sunday morning, Emily puked. And then she puked again, and again and again. And then it stopped. I held my breath. Two hours later, she announced that she was hungry and ate half an English muffin. Almost an hour later, I gave her the other half. Thinking it was just a fluke, I carried on until she puked again. And then again and again and again. Now she couldn't keep anything down and she had a fever. It lasted all afternoon into the night. As Emily was vomiting, Anna decided that she had a cough and proceeded to spend the remainder of the day coughing. Do I think some of it was exaggerated? Yes. (Sorry, buddy.) I checked several times and she did not have a fever. So now I've got one kid puking and on the verge of dehydration and another who may or may not have a cough and I'm supposed to be at work the next morning.

Very early Monday morning, I decided that I could not, with a good conscience, leave Grammy alone with the girls, especially if Emily was still throwing up, and go to work that day. Thankfully, this is probably the only time of the year where I am not OMG busy at work so it wasn't that big of a deal but I had already taken a half a day a week earlier for Anna's appointment. Monday morning, I deemed Anna healthy enough to go to school, despite her protests. She wanted to stay home because I was home. Emily still couldn't keep anything down so off to the peditrician we went. There was talk of an ER visit for an IV but thankfully, Zofran worked and she began her recovery. She's a skinny mini (and a light eater) to begin with and I was saddened to see she had lost weight. She was down to 36 pounds. I see lots of ice cream in her future.

At 10:12, while comforting Emily as we waited to see the doctor, I checked my Blackberry for work email. I had been invited (last minute) to a meeting that was scheduled for 11:00. I didn't have time to respond until after we left the doctor's office and I couldn't just say, "Sure, I'll call in," because we didn't arrive home until after the meeting began and I kind of felt that getting a sick kid settled and taking care of pukey clothes that Grammy accidentally threw out was more important.

In the end, I didn't feel comfortable with the situation.

I hate having to choose between my kids or work because that's what it feels like to me. A choice. And I fear being judged for my choices. For some reason, I've been incredibly stressed out over this lately. It's hard for me to see it as balance when others may not.  It all seems so draining lately and it's at the point where I feel like I need a bit of a break from the daily grind and chaos.  Maybe feeling burnt out is making me extra sensitive.

I do have some vacation days to use by the end of the year but I'll most likely take them as random days for school events or Anna's appointments, instead of taking blocks of time off.  Which is all good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

{Disney} - Day 2 - Magic Kingdom, it's electric

After breakfast at 'Ohana, we returned to our rooms for outfit changes, bathroom breaks, etc. This was the only day where the girls had an outfit change.  For reasons no one can remember, we decided to take the monorail, instead of the boat, over to Magic Kingdom.  As we were heading out of the lobby to the monorail platform, another guest walking in the opposite direction told us that the monorail was down.  What?  WHAT?  Just then her husband came running up behind her.  "They just announced that it's back up and running." We took our chances and fortunately, did not have to wait very long.

We did have some FastPasses booked for the day but unfortunately, none were for Anna & Elsa. We tried but that one was never available and at some point, you realize you are wasting far too much time checking to see if any have become available and you give up and accept the fact that you will be waiting in the stand-by line. (Or convince your husband that you will be waiting in the stand-by line because 7 year old girls cannot go to Disney and not meet Anna and Elsa.)  We had two main goals for our first full day in Florida:  meet Anna & Elsa and to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade.


We arrived at Magic Kingdom not too long after it opened and headed back behind the castle to check out the Anna & Elsa line. But then we spotted the Fairy Godmother and we had to stop because she's only out in the morning and it's not something you can just come back too. Plus the line was fairly short. While we waited in that line, I checked out the nearby Anna & Elsa line, which was marked at 60 minutes but the line was pretty long and snaked through temporary roping set up out front. Hmmmm.



My first thought after meeting the Fairy Godmother was to just get into the A&E line but it was already long and the girls wanted to do some rides. I have a line app on my phone and I had been checking it here and there in the weeks prior to our vacation. I noted that the wait time for the stand-by A&E line seemed to shrink slightly after all the rope droppers made their way through. We rode It's a Small World and Peter Pan, took a bathroom break and then stepped into the Anna & Elsa stand-by line, which was now shorter but still had a long wait time. 70 minutes. The girls never once complained.



The one thing that I have to commend Disney on is the attention to detail with respect to theming.



Total wait time was (oh, you better believe I timed it) 95 minutes. What I found interesting was that there were two Anna & Elsa meet and greets going on at the same time. I know this because after waiting in line for 95 minutes, you become friendly (hopefully) with the guests waiting in front of and behind you and when we were finally ushered into the room with Anna and Elsa, those guests were no longer in line with us.





Next up was Splash Mountain. I'm not a huge fan of this ride but I didn't complain too much as it was hot outside. We don't subject Grammy to torturous rides and lucky for us, this is one that I can ride with two kids. The girls really, REALLY wanted to go swimming so we decided to eat lunch and then head back to the resort for a few hours of downtime before returning for more fun and the Electrical Parade. 

We were walking past Pecos Bill and Rich suggested that we check it out. One of my planning downfalls was winging our quick service meals. I think that there were better options that we didn't explore. At this point, it had started to lightly rain and it was well past our normal lunchtime. We quickly (regrettably) made our food choices and left Rich in line while we attempted to find a table. Emily did not like the seating area. It's dark and CROWDED. Thankfully, a table opened up on the end, which gave us a little bit more space. The tables are TINY as well. Grammy and I ordered a taco salad to share, not realizing that they were going to give us a taco shell with a layer of meat and we would be expected to fill in the remainder of the salad at the fillings bar. Not exactly the taco salad of my dreams.

After lunch, we took the boat back to our resort







and then made our way over to the "quiet" pool after stopping by the rooms to change clothes. The main pool at the Polynesian was under construction and I had been fearful that the quiet pool, being the only pool available, would be packed. This turned out to not be the case. The resort was offering complimentary tickets to Blizzard Beach, one of their water parks, so I'm not sure if that helped keep the quiet pool so quiet.


We were at the pool for all of five minutes when it began to pour. Thankfully, the pool area has some table areas that are completely covered so I was able to stay dry with all of our stuff. We could hear thunder in the distance and after 15 minutes of swimming, I pulled the girls out. They were bummed. As we were leaving the pool area, the lifeguards closed the pool due to nearby storms.


Rich and I left Grammy and the girls in the rooms and returned to the main building to purchase rain ponchos. We also stopped by the front desk to ask how we would know if the Electrical Parade was canceled. The response to our question was, "They want to have the parade as much as you want to see it. Sometimes they won't make a decision until five minutes before." This was not the news we wanted to hear. We returned to the rooms with the rain ponchos and eventually headed over to Captain Cook's for dinner. It was freaking POURING rain. I didn't bring my camera because of all the rain but I can tell you that I shared a flatbread pizza with Emily for dinner. It was pretty good. My only complaint is that the bottom was a bit soggy in the middle.


So now came the great debate. Do we return to Magic Kingdom in the rain not knowing if the parade will be canceled or do we just say forget it, we'll see it Wednesday night? I had scheduled Monday and Wednesday as Magic Kingdom days because the Electrical Parade was slated for both nights. (We don't do Park Hoppers.) I figured that if the kids were too tired Monday night, we could just catch it Wednesday night. I never thought about it being canceled due to the weather. We eventually decided to head back over to the park and keep our fingers crossed that the rain would stop.

We arrived around 7:00 and found a spot on the sidewalk in front of the candy shop. If you're not familiar with the park, this is fairly close to the entrance/exit. We were able to hang out under a covering so at least the kids weren't sitting out in the rain. A few other hopeful guests had secured spots around us. At 7:30, it was announced that the parade was canceled and a mass exodus began. As we were leaving, I thought to ask a cast member if the fireworks at 9:00 were also canceled. She said no. We returned to the resort and got the girls ready for bed. At 9:00, we heard the first boom marking the beginning of the fireworks. There was a beach area untouched by the construction next to our building and we were able to watch the fireworks and light show around the lagoon from there. Thankfully, the rain had finally taken a break and we were able to enjoy the show without getting soaked.

Up next - Animal Kingdom

Sunday, October 19, 2014

{Disney} Day 2 - 'Ohana Breakfast

'Ohana is a table service restaurant located at Disney's Polynesian Resort.  Breakfast is a character meal with the food served family style, all you can eat.  This means that a platter of food are brought to your table and replenished as necessary. Booking a meal here seemed like a no-brainer seeing as we were staying at the Polynesian and the girls love character meals.  The popularity of this restaurant was evident when I tried to make my ADR.  The only time I could find was 7:50 in the morning.  I searched other days and there was no availability.  I had considered a dinner ADR but couldn't find one.

We arrived to check in right on time and had to wait approximately 10 minutes to be seated.  Rich had run back to the room to grab the forgotten video camera and I was afraid that they wouldn't seat us without him there, as this is the case with some other (Disney) restaurants.  We were seated without issue at a table in the far right corner, against the windows.  Other reviews that I had read prior to our trip stated that (fake) leis were handed out prior to being seated.  That turns out to not be the case any longer.  We were given (fake) leis when we checked into the resort and Allie and Emily had worn theirs to breakfast.  One of them pointed out that no one else in the restaurant was wearing one.


The character line up includes Lilo, Stitch and "friends."  Their friends on this day were Mickey and Pluto.



When Lilo spotted herself on the girls' tops, she pointed and jumped up and down.  She was also very excited to see her own page in the girls' autograph books.  (Grammy had made the girls customized autograph books through Snapfish.  Unfortunately, while they looked awesome, the binding fell apart after a few days.)  




Stitch was very entertaining, especially when he spotted his page in their autograph books.


Breakfast starts off with breads (pineapple, cinnamon raison, etc), fruity juice (guava blended with some other fruits, it was delicious) and a beverage of your choice.  My choice was diet coke.  The platter contained scrambled eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon and biscuits. The Mickey waffles were brought out after and added to the platter.  Maybe to keep them from getting soggy.  They tasted fresh.


  • Fun characters 
  • We were not rushed at all when the characters were at our table
  • Food served quickly, good service
  • Yummy
  • Well, there's only one negative and it's really not a biggie.  The restaurant itself was really dark.  We were sitting in the corner with windows on two sides of us and I still needed to use my Speedlight.  

Our server pointed out our wonderful view.  Of the construction.  If we should like to look at that sort of thing.  (Her words, not mine.)


The photo looks blurry due to the condensation on the window.  

After breakfast, we detoured on our way back to our rooms to take some photos.  




Can you see the castle in the distance?


Yes, Anna did have a tropical skirt (and headband) but she decided to wear shorts instead.  I don't argue.  She's so cute, it doesn't matter what she wears.  

A special thanks to Grammy for the skirts and headbands!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

{Disney} Day 1 - Magic Kingdom


Our first stop upon entering Magic Kingdom was Guest Relations, located in City Hall, which is just inside the park's entrance. Allie and Emily hung outside with Grammy and took in the sights while Rich, Anna and I waited in a shortish line. Our goal was to take care of one of Anna's needs related to her spina bifida. (I am planning to write a separate post detailing our experience visiting Disney with a child who has spina bifida.)   When we exited City Hall, we spotted a Sleeping Beauty meet and greet taking place in that little patio area to the left of City Hall. There were only two groups in line so I thought that the line had been closed but when I asked, I was told that it was still open.  Woo hoo!  It was sooo nice to start off with a meet and greet that essentially had no line.


Dear Mr. PhotoPass Photographer, please stay out of my way.  I have a "fancy" camera and I don't plan on purchasing your photos.  Thank you.


Marie, who is one of Emily's favorites, was holding her meet and greet in that center area right inside the park entrance. The line looked long (it really wasn't) and the girls were eager to go on a ride but I convinced them to wait instead of trying to meet her later. I knew that there was a chance we wouldn't see that M&G again during our trip.  We only had to wait about 15 minutes.



The weather was a bit odd for us at this point. There was considerable cloud cover, which helped to keep the heat bearable, but once those clouds parted, the heat and humidity became almost oppressive. Especially to those of us who had just experienced an extremely mild summer.

We left it up to the girls to decide what they wanted to do next. They all agreed on a ride and I can't remember who suggested it but Pirates of Caribbean became our destination, even though the wait time was 30 minutes long. Ack! We've never seen it that long and later we determined that the "scary" rides had longer wait times due to the Halloween party that night. After Pirates, we checked out the Swiss Family Treehouse, which was our first time. The girls liked it, even though it wasn't a ride. And then it came time for a bathroom break. Now, I should note that for some reason, we didn't have any FastPasses booked for this day. Because we were staying at a Disney resort, we had Magic Bands and the ability to book FP+. When our window opened to do so, I was extremely busy with work and feeling overwhelmed with sewing and all the other planning, so I had asked Rich to book the FastPasses, which he did. For some reason though, we both overlooked this day.  Oh, well.

The girls enjoy parades and as we were leaving the First Aid/Baby Care Center area, they caught a glimpse of the 3:00 parade through the crowds lining the parade route. The girls were kind of bummed that we had missed it. We did pull up as close as possible and held them up but they didn't see much. I promised them that we would carve out time to see the afternoon parade at some point during the week. With our dinner ADR fast approaching, we decided to check out the gift shops on Main Street.

I had booked an early dinner reservation knowing that we would probably want to get the kids to bed somewhat early after a long day. During the planning process, Rich and I had discussed and opted for a table service restaurant over quick service for dinner on this particular day. Unfortunately, because I was making my ADR well after the 180 day mark and there was a Halloween party that night, my options were severely limited. My only option really was The Plaza at 4:05. We'd never eaten there (and I actually didn't even know where it was located) but after checking out the menu online, it seemed to have a fairly decent selection of items that weren't outrageously priced.

We checked in a few minutes early and had to wait for about 3 minutes before we were seated.  I was a bit surprised at the size of the restaurant.  It's pretty small.  Grammy and I decided to share a sandwich.  I debated over whether to order the grilled reuben or the vegetarian sandwich.  We ultimately went with the grilled reuben.


Eh.  It was okay.  Maybe we should have ordered the vegetarian.  I've had better reubens at chain restaurants.  In my opinion, the meat wasn't cut thin enough and the sandwich was too dry.  I like more than a smear of dressing on my sandwiches.  Rich had the cheese steak sandwich.  He said it was "okay."


By this time, folks attending the Halloween party that evening were steadily filtering into the park and there was a lot of people watching going on.  We didn't expect to see so many costumes.

The girls wanted to ride Haunted Mansion so we headed over there.  Unfortunately, the stand-by wait time was 25 minutes, which is the longest I've ever seen it.  I promised them that we would ride it another day, when it had a more reasonable line.  Rich suggested The Hall of Presidents because it was right there, the girls have a good understanding of what it means to be a president and it was an attraction we had not yet experienced during our previous trips.  We missed a show by a few minutes and had to wait almost 15 minutes for the next one.  While we were waiting inside the lobby, the sky opened up and it poured.

The girls sat and watched the show with interest.  Well, some more so than others.  Near the end, Rich suggested leaving early but Allie didn't want to.  As we were exiting, Anna announced, "That was the most boringest thing ever," which caused laughter from the couple behind us.

We headed back to Main Street and stopped for ice cream.  In hindsight, we should have just eaten dessert at The Plaza as they have an ice cream based dessert menu.  It continued to rain (thankfully it wasn't heavy) while we ate and my photo taking came to an end because I didn't want my camera wet.  Everyone was pretty much exhausted and we wanted to have the kids in bed early (especially seeing as we had an early breakfast ADR the next morning) so we left.  Unfortunately, the return trip to our resort was not so magical and took almost an hour.  This began my dislike of the monorail.

[Arrival Day outfits courtesy of Grammy.  She found Emily's and Anna's Minnie shirts in a consignment store.  She sewed Emily's Minnie dot skirt and Allie's purple dress, featuring Minnie.  There was also a pink Minnie dot skirt for Anna but she didn't want to wear it because she hadn't asked Grammy to sew it.]  

Coming up next - Day 2 - breakfast at 'Ohana and more Magic Kingdom.