Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Disney Day One- Princesses Galore

Well today was our official first day at Disney! And the plan was a big one, including lots of princesses. We were all up extremely early and got out the door by like 7:40am or so to walk to the Magic Kingdom. 


Brynley had a BBB appointment for a princess makeover at 8am at Magic Kingdom.  I recommend booking a pre park appointment (or breakfast at Crystal Palace or Cinderella’s Royal Table) as you will get in the park early and can be ahead of the crowds before they come in. I wasn’t sure they would let all 11 of us in since it was only one little girl that had the appt, but they did, no problem.  If you do have a pre park reservation, there is usually a cast member at the far left with a clipboard or ipad and they will verify your reservation and let you go in early! It is always fun to explore Main Street with no one there.  And that is exactly what we did.  see how empty it is?



Since BBB won’t let all 11 of us in there to watch Brynley get her makeover, my immediate family just wandered Main St. a bit and took some photos and took it all in, the music, the smells etc. My parents went to watch Brynley become a princess.  Unfortunately Olivia was too young as they only take three and up.  While they do offer a package with a dress, I highly recommend saving your money and bringing/wearing your own princess dress from home.The MK was decorated for fall and just gorgeous. 


Look there aren't thousands of crowds around! 



After exploring some on Main Street, we headed back towards the castle, just in time to see Brynley all princess’d up! She looked adorable.  


Btw- they do have all the “lands” blocked off with ropes and cast members, so you can’t just stroll on into Tomorrowland, you are limited to stay on Main ST only and into the castle since that is where BBB and Cinderella’s Royal Table are located.  There is a rope at the back of the castle blocking entry to Fantasyland as well.  


So now that she was done, we headed for that rope and staked out a spot.  It was about 8:35am.  We parked the strollers and mom’s scooter and stood by the rope.  Princess Fairy Tale Hall where the elusive Anna/Elsa meet is, was immediately to our right, literally like 5 steps away behind the rope.  We knew we would head there first thing.  While we did have a fastpass for it, it was on our last day and my sister would have to leave for her flight before it.  So now was our chance.

I would say about 50 people or so ended up around/behind us- all folks that had pre park reservations like us for breakfast or BBB.  Way back at the front of the Magic Kingdom everyone else was waiting to get in.  All of those people were being held in the courtyard area before you enter the train station and would not be let in until 9am (sometimes a few minutes before).  So we had a HUGE headstart on almost everyone.  We were as close as you could be.  The CMs were super nice standing at the rope and chatting with us.  We learned they would lead us around “slowly” to the left of the carousel and then to Anna/Elsa.  It was a roundabout way, but they do that to force folks to not trample each other.  We ended up being in third in line as the rope came down. We literally walked right in to Anna/Elsa waiting on only  one other family ahead of us.  It was great.  



The interaction with the sisters is wonderful.  Although they no longer pose together, they are in the same room, but you miss the banter they used to have when they stood together.  Regardless, it was still great. Anna was truly adorable. We all got our pics, including some photopass shots for our Memory maker photo package and headed out. 

We found the first of our pressed penny machines! The first of many this trip and a new obsession for my son.  He loved doing this, so I highly recommend it.  My mom cleaned all the pennies for us ahead of time and I put all the quarters and pennies in a round M&Ms tube and decorated it (removed the M&Ms label).  This worked well to store our quarters and pennies.  I ended up buying him a pressed penny book as well to store his final product.  The pressed pennies are 51cents- two quarters and a penny.  There are some machines that are $1.25- and require five quarters too. These are cool since the final product is so much bigger.  Each machine has a choice of 2-3 imprints, almost every machine is different with characters, parks, resorts, restaurants and more listed on it.


So next up we hit Peter Pan really fast. The line was already getting long and we noticed how long the line was already for Anna/Elsa as we exited! Everyone enjoyed a ride to Neverland before the crowds hit. Next up, the kids wanted to do the carousel, so while it isn’t a must do early morning attraction, we did it.  Alan took Sam and William on while I waited out with Charlie- we had moved the strollers and lost our place in line with them.  


Next up was our 10:10am Cinderella’s Royal Table breakfast in the castle.  This is one of the hardest reservations to get at Disney and I highly recommend booking it at 180 days out when reservations open.  They do serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.  All are order off a menu (not buffet, not family style).  It is prepaid if you are paying for it vs using dining plan.  If using dining plan, it is two credits. Tip is included in this one whether you pre pay or use dining plan. The kids also get a sword for the boys and wand for the girls, plus a wishing star for a special ceremony. We also got a matted/framed photo with Cinderella! They are no longer offering this in 2015.  You can get the photo added to your memory maker photo package digitally, but they will no longer offer the printed photos. 


We checked in a little early at 10am or so and were told it was too early to check in.  Go figure.  I waited 5 minutes and tried again and this time she took us.  After some diaper changes and bathroom roulette with all 11 of us, we waited in line to meet Cinderella in the lobby.  This is where they take your photo.  She will sign autographs first too. Next you wait to be called and then head upstairs when called.  We were seated fairly fast, faster than previous meals here. We got a great table in the back to seat us all together and two high chairs. There really isn’t a bad table in the place, but those near the beautiful stained glass windows overlooking Fantasyland are cool.


We were immediately greeted by an awesome cast member who took our drink orders and brought out plates of muffins, mickey bread and more. The twins loved the blueberry muffins and were covered in blue on their new white onsies.  Then we all ordered.  Alan had the healthy breakfast.


The princess music and stories started as they introduce each princess individually with a back story and music.  It’s very cute. One by one they came out and started their rounds. We were able to see them all and did not feel rushed at all.  Our service was great all around. Food was good too.  They also do a wishing star ceremony where they play the song and all the kids make a wish too.  It’s very cute as well.  The kids were given their swords and wands, which they loved. I wonder how many times the servers get hit by those things? 




Everyone finished up their food and all the princesses.  They loved our custom autograph books that I created in shutterfly for about $20 each.  There are some great 8x8 templates you can google and import into shutterfly to use for specific meals, characters and more. It’s super easy, cute, and unique.  We used clickable/retractable sharpies and stored them in ziplock bags to keep dry and together.

This was Olivia and Brynley’s first character meet, as well as the twins. It was funny because Olivia was picky about which princesses she liked and would meet.  I think it was Ariel she refused to meet or hug.  But she loved Sleeping Beauty (Aurora) which is who she was dressed as.  It was so cute.

William got a cupcake for his birthday.  Be sure to note all special celebrations on your dining reservations! 


After breakfast, we left the restaurant sufficiently stuffed. Next up on the agenda? Our fastpasses! This was our first fastpass plus- Enchanted Tales with Bell in New Fantasyland.  This was a first for all of us as it was in soft opening while I was there in November 2012.  Of course I hadn’t been back since that trip since I had the twins. Our fastpass was for 11:20am-12:20pm, so we just needed to arrive in that window.  The FP entrance means you miss going in a portion of the cottage, but that’s okay.  We waited about 5-10 minutes for the next show and headed in. The attraction is extremely cute and I won’t ruin it for you, but definitely worth doing.  William was chosen as “Maurice”- Belle’s father, my dad was chosen as a knight and Brynley and Olivia were spoons/forks.  Definitely get the kids to volunteer for a part, as they will take their photo with Belle after.  Everyone did a great job with their parts and we got some cute photos.




Next was our fastpass for Ariel’s Journey Under the Sea.  This attraction was newly opened in late 2012 too.  We had a little time to kill, so we looked around the area including Gaston’s Tavern where we got William a frozen drink after waiting in a long line.  It was already pretty hot outside and lines were building at MK.  It was time for our FP, so we headed to park the stroller and ride. 

After our visit under the sea, we had a FP for Splash Mountain in Frontierland. There is a cute playground area near Splash, so we found spots in the shade near that (under the railroad bridge). My mom and Jeff ended up sitting out while the rest of us rode.  William was scared.  He had ridden it several times before, even at 3 years old, but I think the older you get, the more afraid he got.  Plus he had read something online about the drop at Splash being faster than Space Mountain, so that had him riled up for no reason.  He ended up loving it after.  I rode in front with my dad and got soaked!  

The wait for the ride was over 50 minutes I think now, even the fastpass entrance had a line a good 30 people deep.  It was getting crowded and extremely hot, even for us Texans, so we decided to head out.  It was about 1:45pm or so. We found a few more pressed penny machines and made our way out stopping at a few shops.  It was time to walk back to Bay Lake Tower for a break.  I can’t explain how awesome and easy the walk to BLT is.  If you are at the Contemporary (especially Garden Buildings), it is a little further, but BLT is so easy. Faster than the monorail in most cases.


Our first morning was a success, we met Anna/Elsa, flew through Neverland and met a handful of other princesses. The kids (and adults) were beat, so everyone went to rest. We got the babies down for a nap and then I started organizing our stuff more in our room etc.  We had an easy evening planned at Downtown Disney and I think we planned to meet at 6pm to head over by car.  

William loved opening the door every day via his band. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

O'hana Means Family.....and Family Means Nobody Gets Left Behind

We had dinner reservations for Ohana at the Polynesian at 8:30pm.  We made it for later not knowing what time we might make it in.  Remember they now charge a $10 per person cancellation fee if you are a no show for a meal or cancel under 24 hours out.  So we wanted to be safe.  Booking meals or activities on arrival day can be risky due to those fees now.  We headed over via monorail (love it!) by 7:30 or so.  The line for the monorail at the Contemporary is usually pretty long unless you hit it at an off time.  So while I love the monorail access, it isn’t always all it is cracked up to be.  Since it is the first stop after the Magic Kingdom, usually folks are on there and NOT getting off until the next stop after our hotel, the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC – the MK parking lot).  So usually the monorail is packed when it stops at our hotel and we have to cram on or wait for another, which is a pain.  The resort monorail loop goes from MK, to our hotel (Contemporary), to the TTC, to the Polynesian and then Grand Floridian before back to the MK.  So it is a LOT of stops to get to the MK and usually is jam packed.  But my son still loves riding it. My tip, when going to MK from CR, just WALK!  But we were heading to Poly, so we had no choice.


We arrived and checked in and everyone got some drinks from the Tambu Tambu lounge area.  This area is always crowded with folks waiting on their reservation, and even worse now with the construction walls up.  My mom ordered the famous lapu lapu- extremely strong drink in a real pineapple.  I had my favorite Pina Colava (pina colada with raspberry puree).  We waited and waited forever- it was now  like 8:45pm- nearing 9pm.  


We kept checking and finally they seated us close to 9pm, so just know, even with a reservation, you can end up waiting a while.  We were STARVING by this point.  We were led to a great table front and center in the restaurant with a great view of the castle/MK. 


We were served the delicious bread and butter which the babies loved.  You used to be a great salad next, but they no longer serve it.  I hear if you ask for it they will bring it still, but we didn’t.  We were trying to get the kids fed as they were really starving this late.  Another tip- you can ask for kids food here- like hot dogs, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese etc.  They won’t offer usually, you have to ask.  So we asked and waited, and waited and waited.  The server was awful and slow and never brought the kids food until AFTER the adults had been served the meat/main course.  Poor kids were starving and I was about to track down a manager.  

We were asking other servers to help even.  Usually the service is good and they bring out kids food FIRST.  Nope.  Horrible service this time.  And don’t get me wrong, I love Ohana, but might skip it next trip.  It is a tradition for us each time, we haven’t missed it in like the last 6 trips, but might next time. 

So with the salad gone, they now offer lettuce wraps, which I am not a fan of but others enjoyed it.  They also brought out the pot stickers, sticky wings and more bread.  Then the veggies (mostly broccoli) and noodles, which I love.  They brought around the steak, pork and shrimp (of which I don’t eat, but DH did).  It was okay, but not as good as in the past.  I felt the food quality was below par for past trips.  Finally they brought out hot dogs, mac and cheese and fries for the kids.  William is a pretty adventurous eater, so he had eaten some of the regular food already, but had a hot dog too. The poor kids were starving by that point, very disappointing.

The kids enjoyed doing the coconut races and the music and then the moment we had all been waiting for…..dessert! 


The pineapple bread pudding with caramel bananas foster sauce and vanilla bean ice cream is my all time favorite dessert at Disney and I usually don’t like bread pudding (too mushy).  But this dessert is fabulous.  I even bought a recipe book and made it at home once.  So I did definitely enjoy the dessert. 

I knew getting our bill paid would take forever the way service was going, so flagged him down and gave him my Tables in Wonderland card.  The TIW card is for Disney Vacation Club members and Annual Passholders to purchase for around $100 (varies) and gives you 20% off most sit down meals (and a few fast food ones) for up to 10 people and includes alcohol.  So since we are not fans of the dining plan (too much food for us and we don’t qualify for discounted dining since we stay DVC), we use Tables in Wonderland.  It works great.  There is an 18% automatic gratuity added, but we would have had that added anyways- as Disney adds that for any part of 6 or more, even if you have a baby sitting there not eating, they could as a 6th.  So we got our nice discount.  But the one bad thing with dining with large parties is that you can only pay with one method of payment when using TIW, so we couldn’t “split the check” with multiple credit cards.  Of course we could use cash for everyone to pay us back, but we ended up taking turns paying for each sit down meal and that just worked out easier. I think my parents got this first one.


We were able to catch the fireworks while eating, which was fun for the first night.  Of course from the Polynesian it is pretty far back, but still a nice view. The restaurant was emptying out and we were all beat.  It was time to call it a night.  My parents had driven over to the Poly and met us there, so they headed back out while we caught the monorail back to Bay Lake Tower, which meant a stop first at Grand Floridian and then MK.   We got everyone tucked in bed, the twins each had their own pak and play to sleep in.  The resort provides one in the room and we brought a second (we needed it for the hotel on the way there and back since driving- parents brought a second).  The resort also provides wooden style high chairs in the room for use in the villas! We requested a second one to feed the boys in the morning.


So everyone fell asleep with dreams of Disney in their heads.  What would tomorrow bring?  Princess, princess, princess!

There and Back Again.....Disney October 2014- The Journey Home

After over a year of planning, waiting and more planning, the day was finally here. My niece Brynley put her last sticker on her calendar! 

This trip would feature my parents, driving their own car following us and mom using her personal scooter to get around.  Then there is my family of course, with the twins at 14 months old and not yet walking.  We were also driving and using our own double city mini stroller from home, plus William walking.  Then my sister’s family with their two daughters, almost 4 and 2. They were flying instead (smart I tell you!). 

We had done lots of prepping- making stroller license plates, laminated itineraries and held Disney movie nights! 



We planned this trip last year around William’s school break. While they don’t have a real fall break, they do have a half day on Thursday, then that Friday and following Monday off.  So we planned that week knowing he would only miss 3.5 days of school (first grade) vs a whole week. Well then the school district released the calendar this summer and guess what, no more break at all.  They removed the days off and now we get a full week off at Thanksgiving instead (used to only get Wed-Fri off).  Oh well, so the kid was going to miss a week of school.  Good thing though, I hear that several other kids were also doing Disney that week and the principal actually was at Disney week before! So I didn’t feel so bad.  It was unexcused, but we filled out the form so the school and district were aware.

So we planned to pick up William early from school at 1:45pm.  My parents came over and Alan left work early.  We had both cars packed and ready and picked him up and off we went on the road by 1:45pm! We hit traffic early into the drive- in the first hour, before really getting out of Dallas.  Trying to take a shortcut to 20, we hit where they were paving a road and literally had the road closed so traffic could go one way at a time.  So that was a nightmare.  Cut into our drive big time.  We drove all the way to Tillmans Corner area just West of Biloxi for our stop for the night.  I had tried booking a hotel further West, but literally everything was booked up.  We ended up at a Baymont Inn and Suites which was a complete dump, but considering we were only there for like 7 hours, it was fine.  We literally had the last two rooms available.  I had called to remind them of our late arrival to ensure they didn’t give our rooms away (this has happened to me before, at the Gaylord Texan no less when rooms were paid in full by the company for a holiday party, talk about pissed!).  So we arrive at 12:30am, and those last 2 hours driving were bad, so tired! I can’t sleep in the car well and especially not when I know Alan is tired from driving.  He drove the whole way as did my dad despite my offers to drive.

Magic Bands were ready too! 


On the drive, I made sure William was loaded with fun.  We had a backpack with books (he loves to read), including the Guide to the Magic, which I purchased before the trip and he enjoyed reading up on all the attractions.  It has stickers and tips for the kids.  Highly recommend it.  I also ordered the WDW travel journal, but he didn’t use it, I think he just was overwhelmed and we will save it to use next trip instead.  We also printed out license plate bingo off pinterest and he loved that.  He enjoyed trying to find rare license plates from all over.  
Guide to the Magic- http://www.guidetothemagic.com/shopping.htm



We were up by 7am and loaded back up to continue our drive.  The babies were okay in the car, but not great.  They don’t sleep well in the car at all for some reason, so getting them to nap some was hard.  We had lots of snacks, toys and milk/water.  We finally arrive the Orlando area around 5ish, but end up missing a turn on Disney property and that takes forever to get back turned around.  We usually fly, so it was fun to drive in and see this sign!



We finally arrive at Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, our home for the next 7 nights!

Mandy and her family had already arrived earlier that morning via their American Airlines flight.  They had already checked in and requested a high floor room.  Here are Brynley and Olivia at the airport- flying on American out of DFW. 

They had started out at Animal Kingdom, but the heat, crowds and just being exhausted had them coming back early.  But not before getting in a safari ride and seeing D-vine!


We unloaded the car and some stuff my parents had driven down for my sister.  We literally used almost four whole bell carts.  One was just cases of bottled water.  Talk about “stuff”, we had a lot of it! Babies require a lot of stuff.  


The only downside of being DVC is that you don't get daily mousekeeping. With a 7 night stay like ours, you get trash and towel service on day 4 and that's it.  They don't vacuum, don't change your sheets or anything.  Just take out trash and leave more towels and stuff if needed.  We usually get more toiletries, but didn't this time.  I was going to call for more since I take them home, but never did.  If you stay more than 8 nights, you do get a full cleaning once.  You can also pay for mousekeeping if you want a full cleaning.  There is a trash storage closet on each floor where you can take out your own trash, which was important to us with three kids in diapers. Here are a few pics of the awesome dedicated (versus lockoff) 2 bedroom villa (lakeview) at Bay Lake Tower.

This room can run $1200-$1500 a night if paying rack rate.  We were using our Disney Vacation Club points and it was 315 points for the 7 nights.  Even at $1200 a night at the low end, this would have cost us close to $8500 for JUST the room, this isn't including tickets or dining or anything else.  With just four trips, we've already made up what we paid for our initial membership in DVC and we still get 200 points a year to use for the next 45 years or so!

Notice the floor has hidden mickeys?


So after unloading, we headed up to our room, our magic bands were already working. William couldn’t wait to try it and open the door.  We ended up  in room #8202 on the 12th floor. I had called and requested just like I do every year- high floor, even numbered room and north end.  Those requests are supposed to get you a better chance of a corner room that would have a partial theme park/fireworks view. We had booked a lakeview and all three prior trips we were given either the lake/pool view or a partial lake and monorail view facing the Contemporary.  I had never scored the coveted partial Magic Kingdom view while only booking the lakeview.  But this time we got it! Our master bedroom balcony had a great Magic Kingdom view with the castle and Space Mountain! 


My tip- always call a week out to the resort DIRECTLY and put in your requests.  Even as a Travel Agent, when I put requests in for rooms when I book, that is through a whole other entity, not the resort itself and often times those requests don’t transfer over to the resort or are lost in translation, so call a week out or fax them.  Also reiterate your requests in person at check in, again, sometimes your requests are lost or not noted, despite your best attempts. Often they will do their best to meet your request, but it can mean waiting for that perfect room to be ready until after 3 or 4pm (or later).  If you are willing to wait, your chances are better.  They will text you when your room is ready.  We were once assigned a low floor and I simply asked if they had anything higher and they did, so just ask. 

I found this on our bed!

There is a little area that slides open and shut where the tub is, so you can have a view out the window while enjoying a soak!



 There is a large living room with pull out couch that sleeps two plus a chair that folds out into a bed to sleep one.  There is a balcony for the master bedroom that is accessible through the living room too.  There is a breakfast area with built in seating/table which we used daily.

The second bedroom features two queen beds, private bath with tub, one sink etc. There is also a third full bathroom in the hallway- again, tub, one sink. The second bedroom has a private balcony too.  


We got settled and started unpacking and our Garden Grocer order was sent up. www.gardengrocer.com is great for ordering some snacks, bottled water and perishables for your room.  I’ve had perfect service every time with them.  They are pricey, with a $40 minimum order and $14 delivery fee, but worth it for us to avoid shopping for groceries during vacation when our time is limited (or if you don’t have a car).  You can order months before even and edit your order.  I had our order placed 2 months out- they do provide small discounts when you order early too.  We had ordered some perishables such as fruit, juice, yogurt etc. Our luggage came up too and I gave the bellman a hefty tip for unloading all those carts!

My extremely generous parents had goodie bags for everyone.  So the kids enjoyed opening those.  I got two adorable shirts, two scarves including a haunted mansion one I love! Thanks parents!!!  it was a nice treat to start off the trip. The girls got matching ELSA dresses! 



We got all organized and got the babies down for a little rest while I took William down to the pool area. Mandy took the girls down too and we all enjoyed a little fun and we enjoyed an adult beverage! 


The kids had a ball playing at the pool area.  It has a zero entry area, plus mickey shaped splash ground.  This is strictly the gated BLT pool. There is a separate pool for the Contemporary too with a huge slide we could have used as well. 


Life jackets are provided at the resort pools and they have all sizes, including baby/infant/toddler etc.  This pool is gated and while all resort pools are not yet, they soon will be as this is a project Disney is working on now.  Your magic band opens the gate.  There are free towels provided at all moderate and deluxe resorts.  At value resorts, you must bring your own towels (can bring from your room and get more from mousekeeping).  

After a short swim, it was time to freshen up for our dinner at Ohana! Stay tuned for our dinner review.