Friday, April 21, 2017

The Last Disney World Post (I Think)

Our trip was wonderful.  It was absolutely everything I thought it would be and more.  Seeing the girls and their reaction to everything was just magical.

When I was planning our trip (and oh, did I plan!) I read everything I could get my hands on--reviews, blog posts, anything with any information or opinions about experiences.  I want to do that here as well--give my thoughts on everything about the trip in hopes of helping someone who is planning theirs.  *Disclaimer: This post is long, and will probably be very boring unless you're planning a trip or just appreciate random information. :)

Resort
If there's any way possible, I would stay at a Disney World Resort.  Outside may be cheaper, but the convenience of staying inside makes it completely worth it, in my opinion.  We stayed at Pop Century this time.  Our room was just a regular, very standard hotel room.  It wasn't large, but it served it's purpose.  A lot of people had told us they were only in their rooms long enough to sleep and shower, and that was true for us.  We did make the decision to upgrade to a preferred room to be closer to the lobby (which held the food court) and the buses.  This was a good decision.  The walk from our room to the lobby was two or three minutes, whereas some of the standard rooms had a ten to fifteen minute walk.  Our room was on the back side of the building--meaning the opposite of the pool--and faced a courtyard and wooded area.  The other side was much louder than ours, so it was perfect for afternoon naps for the girls.  Touringplans.com has a list of rooms rated by noise, location, etc. and also provides views from each room.  It's a really neat resource.  As soon as Disney texted our room number, I checked it out there to make sure it was what we wanted.

You can also have packages from the parks sent back to the hotel if you're staying on property.  This was really helpful for some large items we purchased since they would have been a hassle to lug around with us.

Transportation
We parked our car after we checked in and didn't touch it again until the day we left.  I had been a little leery of the bus system, mostly because I'm a bit anxious in tight places with lots of people and germs and breathing the same air, or in situations where I'm not in control.  (I am fully aware that's a little crazy.  I'm better than I used to be though!)  Like everything else at Disney, the buses were very clean...which made me feel a lot better about things.  We rarely waited more than ten minutes for a bus.  It's a large resort (Maybe the largest? I'm not sure.) so it has it's own buses, meaning that you go straight from Point A to Point B without having to stop by another resort to pick up or drop off other guests.

Disney Dining Plan
I know this is a hot topic among Disney enthusiasts and bloggers, and everyone has a different opinion.  Because we were doing character meals every night, we went with the dining plan.  We came out ahead because character meals are expensive, but without those, it probably would have been cheaper to pay for meals out of pocket.  We had the standard dining plan--one quick service, one table service, and two snacks per person every day.  Harper was free.  It was too much food, and by the last day we still had fifteen or so snack credits left.  So my advice here is to do the math, and think about the types of meals you're planning to have before you decide on the dining plan.  There are several websites with calculators that help you compare costs.  Keep in mind that gratuities are not included, except for Cinderella's Royal Table, so you'll still be spending anywhere from $20-30 depending on the restaurant.

Our dining plan also came with refillable mugs to use in the food court.  This kept us from having to keep drinks in the room, but it wouldn't have been nearly as convenient if we were farther away from the lobby.

The neatest thing about Disney (compared to other theme parks I've visited) is they allow you to bring in food and drinks.  If you don't have the dining plan, this can help you save a ton of money, especially on snacks and drinks.  It also gives you options if you have picky or light eaters who may not want a full meal at a restaurant.

Quick Service Restaurants
-Pop Century Food Court: We ate here a few times during our stay.  There were lots of different options, and everything was pretty good.

-Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe: We all had burgers and fries here.  They had a great toppings bar .  It's an indoor restaurant, which is always a plus with small kids on hot days.

-Yak and Yeti Local Market Cafe: This was a really good quick service meal at Animal Kingdom.  You can use snack credits for chicken fried rice and egg rolls, so that's a smart snack choice based on price and value when using the dining plan.  The only downside is that all the seating is outdoors.  It was covered and there were ceiling fans, but on a really hot day it may not be the best choice.

-PizzeRizzo: This restaurant is new at Hollywood Studios and is themed after the Muppets character.  The personal pizzas were served with Caesar salad (Disney loves some Caesar salad, let me tell you), and they were just okay.  On the bright side, it's a two-story air-conditioned restaurant with a lot of seating.

-Be Our Guest: Be Our Guest is the restaurant inside the Beast's castle at the Magic Kingdom.  At dinner, the Beast is there and the meal is table service, but it's open as a quick service restaurant for lunch.  It was fantastic.  The food was great and the restaurant itself was just beautiful.  It was easily our favorite quick service meal (and one of our favorite meals, period).  Reservations for both lunch and dinner are hard to come by, so make those early if you're planning to dine here.

**If you're on the dining plan, when it comes to quick service meals they only count credits, not types of credits, meaning that a child could order from the regular menu.  At table service restaurants, children have to choose from the children's menu choices.

Table Service Restaurants: Character Dining
-Cinderella's Royal Table: Insanely expensive, but so, so worth it.  The food was delicious and the atmosphere was just perfect.  Again, make reservations early.  And just close your eyes when you pay the bill.

-Tusker House, Minnie's Springtime Dine at Hollywood and Vine, and the Crystal Palace: I'm grouping all of these together because they're all buffets and served basically the same foods.  There were small differences, but that's it.  All of the restaurants were great for meeting characters, but the food was just okay.  You're definitely paying for the character experience, not the quality of the meal. Minnie's Springtime Dine was our favorite.  The layout of the restaurant was really good, the servers were super friendly, and the characters spent a good bit of time at each table.  The Crystal Palace was really pretty and would be a great spot for watching Wishes if you had a late reservation and could be seated at the window.  Also, the character rotations here were long...as in, they told you upfront to be prepared to spend about ninety minutes there.  Tusker House was really loud, but the characters made multiple passes by each table so that was nice.  Reservations are a must at all of these as well.

Snacks
-Gaston's Tavern: I liked the LeFou's Brew, but no one else did.  The cinnamon roll was huge--all four of us shared it and we still threw away a lot of it--but I was a little disappointed in it.  It was okay, but not as great as people had said.
-Sleepy Hollow: We had ice cream cookie sandwiches from here as we watched the parade.  They were huge, and really good.  Again, definitely something to share.
-Dole Whips, Mickey ice cream bars, Minute Maid frozen lemonade...all of those were a good use of snack credits based on price.
-Best snack option if you're on the dining plan? Any size drink at Starbucks, including lattes, frappes, everything.
-Our favorite thing was something that wasn't on the dining plan: a refillable popcorn bucket.  It was $10 and then you could refill it at any of the parks for $1.50. (You could use snack credits to pay for refills, but it wasn't a good value for the dining plan.)  Aniston is a huge fan of popcorn (she gets that from her mama) and so this was great for us.
-The snacks were the hardest thing to use, I think.  We definitely wouldn't have bought most of those things if we didn't have the dining plan.  To make the most of the plan, you had to spend around $4 per snack...otherwise, you were wasting money.

Disney World with Kids
-Be flexible.  I had a step-by-step plan going in, but my plans were often thwarted by a random character meet and greet I hadn't expected or by Aniston wanting to ride a certain ride as we passed it.  Our best experiences were when we just went with the flow and focused on what the girls wanted to do in the moment.
-Utilize the baby care center.
-Take a good quality stroller or rent one.  We researched this a lot before we went.  Most websites recommended having a stroller for any child under the age of eight.  That seemed a bit ridiculous to me, having never been to Disney World before, but I completely understand now.  Even if your child does well at theme parks, you have to consider that you'll be walking that much every day for several days.  There are several rental companies that will deliver and pick up strollers from your hotel, and Disney rents strollers as well (even though those looked pretty uncomfortable).  We knew we needed an option for Aniston, but thought renting a double stroller was just a silly idea, and also wouldn't be easy to maneuver in crowds.  Before we left, we bought a Chicco Bravo for 2, a sit and stand stroller.  It worked perfectly, not only for giving Aniston short breaks when she got tired, but also for keeping up with her when the crowds were heavy.
-Set a budget for souvenirs.  Aniston is really great about not begging for things--she always has been.  She had saved money to take with her, so we allowed her to have free reign over her purchases...while still providing guidance, of course.  This was wonderful because we never had to say no, and I think she learned a bit about the value of things and budgeting.
-Take time for naps.  When I was planning the trip, I felt like going back to the hotel during the day was just a huge waste of time.  It still felt like that every time we left the park, but it was necessary. The one time we didn't go back (on Tuesday because of the parade), we were all tired and grouchy by late afternoon and even considered cancelling our dinner reservation.
-Before we left, Aniston decorated envelopes for our mousekeeping tips.  This was a good way to involve her in the trip planning process, and also taught her a little about being kind.  Our mousekeeper was really grateful, and I like to think it gave her a smile when she saw an envelope every day with pictures and stickers on it.
-The train is a great way to take a break when you feel it's needed.  It takes roughly twenty minutes to circle the park.


Must Do's
-See the welcome show.
-See Wishes. Make sure to look for Tinkerbell. (This is the last month for Wishes, but I'm sure the Magic Kingdom's new evening show will be just as good.)
-If you're debating on keeping kids out late for Wishes vs getting them up early for the welcome show, I'd definitely go with the welcome show.  Characters are more entertaining than fireworks, hands down.
-Make sure to watch the Festival of Fantasy parade.  It's at an inconvenient time (3:00 pm) since that's usually during naptime, but it's really good.
-Plan to have a rest day in the middle of your trip.  We didn't do this, and it was a mistake.  By day five of visiting the parks, everyone was tired.  A day in the middle to visit the pool, go to Disney Springs, or explore the resort would have been nice.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Disney World (5): Magic Kingdom

We used our last day of park tickets to return to the Magic Kingdom on Tuesday.  It was HOT. Temperatures were in the upper eighties and it was so humid.  By this time, we were all pretty much exhausted from the week.

We rode several rides we had missed earlier and went back to some of Aniston's favorites.  Remember when I said Harper hated Winnie the Pooh and The Little Mermaid on our first day?  We rode The Haunted Mansion and she didn't make a single peep.  Explain that, right?  I have a huge bruise on my knee from knocking it against the side of the doom buggy as we got off.  Stupid moving sidewalks.  I understand that it saves time loading and unloading guests, but for those of us who are slightly challenged in the coordination department, it's a bit much.

Aniston and I met Merida.  Merida is not the luckiest princess because her venue is outdoors.  If I were her, I would complain.  Although maybe she's just happy because she's a princess, not a character.  Bless those poor people.



The highlight of our day was seeing the Festival of Fantasy parade. The girls loved it!  Harper kept saying, "Wow!" and "Whoa!" Aniston loved seeing her favorite characters, especially Belle and the Beast.

We lost multiple pacifiers and bows during the week because Harper would throw them out of the stroller when no one was looking.  By Tuesday, we were down to one paci and she lost that one sometime after lunch.  Along with losing the paci, she lost her mind.  She was tired and hot and losing the paci was just the straw that broke the camel's back.  She put on a great show for everyone, flailing about and screaming.  Out of sheer desperation, I told B that surely a place that caters to families and children sold pacifiers somewhere and we quickly headed to the baby care center.  

We didn't use the baby care center at any park until Tuesday.  Mistake.  There were large, spacious changing tables with disposable covers, areas for kids to cool down (Disney DVDs were playing), rooms for nursing (not that we needed that), and a small store that sold every baby item you could possibly need.  Formula, baby food and snacks, bibs, diapers, wipes, infant and children's Tylenol, and so much more--including pacifiers!  Hallelujah!! The guy was apologetic for only having boy colors (I told him we could care less) and was hesitant to charge me $4.25 for a two pack.  At that point, I would have paid anything, but I thought $4.25 was a steal anyway given where we were. Everything is expensive at Disney, and I expected the baby care center to be too, but it wasn't at all. The prices were extremely reasonable--cheap, even.  We'll definitely use it next time.  It was a life saver.

We had dinner that night at the Crystal Palace with Winnie the Pooh and friends.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Disney World (4): Hollywood Studios

We spent Monday at Hollywood Studios.  It was one of our favorite days!


The shows were fantastic.  We saw Beauty and the Beast, Disney Jr., and we did the Frozen Sing Along.







Harper was hilarious during the Disney Jr. show, which was set up like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. She danced, clapped, and squealed her little heart out!  They used Toodles and the Mouskatools to turn the giant storybook pages and solve the problem (planning a surprise party for Minnie).  The Clubhouse characters were all there, plus Doc McStuffins, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Sofia the Fist.  


B rode one thing, but otherwise we just saw shows and did a lot of character meet and greets.  We watched The Muppets in 3D, which Aniston thought was amazing even though she had no clue who the Muppets were.  We had to do a lot of explaining and I don't think she was very impressed! Generation gap problems, I suppose.



Jake was Harper's favorite.




That night, we had reservations for dinner at Hollywood and Vine for Minnie's Springtime Dine. Aside from Cinderella's Royal Table, this was our favorite character dining experience.






 After dinner, we met Olaf.  Olaf had a pretty long wait, and a group of ten or so teenagers were behind us.  It was at this time that B noticed--possibly for the first time--that we were no longer young.  He pointed out that we were parents of two kids and in our thirties.  How does time pass so quickly?  And how can you be so much older than you feel?



Our dinner reservations had included preferred seating for Fantasmic, a nighttime show, so we waited around for that to begin.





Fantasmic was a little scary at times for the girls because it's about Disney villians taking over Mickey's dreams and turning them into nightmares.  Of course, Mickey takes back his dreams and there's a happy ending, but things are a little dark at times.  It's a water show. The princes and princesses float by on individual boats, as well as some other characters, and at the end everyone is on one very large boat with Mickey as the captain.  It was really neat.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Disney World (3): Animal Kingdom

We headed to Animal Kingdom on our third day.




We had fastpasses for Kilimanjaro Safaris at 9:20, which was perfect because all of the animals were out.  Our tour guide was good--really funny and a great storyteller.




As we were walking into The Lion King, a castmember stopped us and asked us to follow her.  She led us through a side door and gave us front row seats!  B passed Harper off to me at exactly the wrong time for him (and the right time for me!!) and he was chosen to participate.  He's always such a good sport! The show was really good.  We saw Finding Nemo later on that day, and it was good, too.



We had dinner reservations for Tusker House with Donald Duck and friends.







Monday, April 3, 2017

Disney World (2): Aniston's Birthday

When we decided to visit Disney World this year, we chose March based on weather and timing (not right after Christmas, not too close to third grade EOGs, etc.).  Once we settled on the month, we thought it would be fun to celebrate Aniston's sixth birthday there.

Our second day of park tickets was spent at the Magic Kingdom again.  We rode rides, met characters, and enjoyed our day.  We visited Gaston's Tavern where we had LeFou's brew (frozen apple juice with marshmallow creme and passion fruit) and a cinnamon roll.



I had made reservations for us to have lunch at Be Our Guest, the restaurant inside the Beast's castle. It was just magical.  There are three seating areas.  We sat in the grand ballroom beside the windows (as snow fell outside!), but made sure to visit the rose gallery and the Beast's west wing.  The attention to detail was amazing, and the food was delicious.  We tried The Master's Cupcake, which was topped with the grey stuff Lumiere sings about in the movie.  "Try the grey stuff, it's delicious!  Don't believe me, ask the dishes!"  It was a mousse-type icing.  Lumiere didn't lie--it really was good.











We returned to the hotel after lunch to let the girls (and, honestly, us too!) rest and to change for dinner.  We had reservations at Cinderella's Royal Table inside the castle for dinner.  This was the most amazing experience!  The girls wore princess dresses.  (I ordered them from the neatest shop in Texas.  They're comfortable--no itchy fabric--meant to be worn in the heat, and are well made.  They're also machine washable, which is awesome.)  We entered the castle, met Cinderella, then went up for dinner.  As we ate, princesses visited our table.  That night, the visiting princesses were Aurora, Ariel, Snow White, and Jasmine.  The girls LOVED it!  (And, truthfully, I think I loved it just as much.)  The girls both got wishing stars and wands.  We had a fantastic time!








All of the princesses were very nice, but Ariel was wonderful!  She spent a long time interacting with the girls.  On our trip, Harper learned the word, "no" and used it repeatedly with Ariel.  Once Ariel realized the answer to every question was going to be "no," she kept going.

Are you having fun? No.
Am I your favorite princess? No.
Are you a sweet girl? No.
...and so on.

Aniston just shook her head and told Ariel it was Harper's favorite word.  Of course, Aniston is learning that when you have a little sister like Harp, you just have to go with the flow.


Or spend a lot of time being embarrassed.

Harper and I watched the Wishes fireworks show at the front of the castle while B and Aniston saw it from the back as they waited in line for The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train again.  We were able to see Tinkerbell fly from the castle at the beginning of the show, and the fireworks were set to familiar Disney songs.  And then, Harper crashed.  Hard.



It was so funny to watch Aniston ride rides in her princess dress!  She went on a bigger roller coaster--Big Thunder Mountain Railroad--and loved it!  (Even though she said she could barely raise her arms on it--that's the way she judges how intense a ride is, if she can raise her arms or not. Ha!)



Throughout the day, Aniston declared several times that it was the best birthday ever!  I'm not sure we'll ever top this!