Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 5

Is it really over halfway through our vacation? Already? I swear, I could stay here quite a bit longer and be perfectly happy, thank you very much. But we have just a last few precious days to go and we’re looking forward to making the most of them.

Today was our final day at Hollywood Studios. I timed things a little better this morning and we did indeed make the park before rope drop this time. Oh, and we arrived early enough to be near the front of the line when they opened the park. That made all the difference in the world!

First thing, of course, was Toy Story Mania. This has quickly turned into Carissa’s favorite attraction, even more so than Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. (Insert dramatic *gasp* of horror! LOL) We took turns playing against different people this time, yet no matter who played against whom Brian always came out on top. He has repeatedly earned over 150,000 points while I meander somewhere about 135,000 with the kids all trailing somewhere under 100,000. I know there are tips on how to earn more points in the games and now I’m disgruntled that I didn’t pay more attention to those tips when reading the disboards. Oh well, it’s still a fun ride, though I think we could all do without the extra spinning between rides. Ugh!

By the time we were done riding some of the crowds waiting for Fastpasses had died down a bit, though not entirely. Our return time wasn’t until 11:55am so we headed towards our next ride, Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster!
The line was non-existent and we were immediately herded into the preshow and then the short line to wait for a ride car. Carissa and I got to sit up front in the rollercoaster. She screamed the whole ride… and forget about putting your hands on the safety bars, she held them up in the air the whole time and loved every second of it. The boys loved it too. I think we have a bunch of rollercoaster junkies on our hands!

Next up was Tower of Terror but, given my not-so-favorable reaction to our first ride this trip, I decided to pass. Tristan did the same. Neither one of us wanted to spend the next hour feeling like we might puke at any moment. We waited in the gift shop for the others to ride. It didn’t take too long at all. They had a great time on the ride! Oh, and they found the hidden Mickey in the lights on the ride too, which they loved. Sheesh, I can’t believe Chase has us all looking for these things with him!

It was now 10am and we’d ridden all 3 of the major attractions at the park. The one other thing that both Tristan and I really wanted to do was to draw with an animator again. We headed to the Animation Courtyard and got there by 10:10am. The first drawing class didn’t start until 10:30 so we camped out on a bench and waited for it to begin. Tristan was hoping, yet again, that we’d get to draw Stitch, however we soon learned that we would once again be drawing Mickey. 2 drawings this trip and both of them are Mickey. Not that I don’t love Mickey, but I was looking forward to doing someone else. Well, the good thing was that this wasn’t Sorcerer Mickey like we had drawn before but instead was the standard face shot of Mickey. I really, really enjoyed drawing with the animator and would have loved to go back again and again. And I wasn’t the only one in our group who felt that way. But we had places to be and things to see so we moved on.

We had received a coupon yesterday at Epcot giving us a 20% discount on merchandise at the main store in each of the parks if it was used between 9am and noon. Now that it was 11 we started our way towards Mickey’s of Hollywood. We got waylaid real quick at Starring Rolls, where we picked up a cinnamon roll and chocolate croissant to share and a water to drink. The kids ate the cinnamon roll and I ate most of the croissant, sharing it with the boys at the end. We all shared the water – until one of the kids backwashed a whole bunch of pastry bits into it. EEEEEEWWWWWW!!! This reminds me why we usually get the kids their own drink. Ick!

With a little food in our bellies (at least enough to tide us over until lunch) we went shopping. We ended up just getting a few pins and Tristan’s much-coveted Vinylmation. He has been eyeing these the whole trip and finally ended up getting an Osborne Spectacle of Lights Vinylmation character. At least that way he knew what he was getting and didn’t end up with some junk character. Plus it’s a great reminder of the lights.

The kids hadn’t had a chance to go on Star Tours yet and now was just the time. The wait said 20 minutes but I think it was really a walk-on. I don’t know because Brian and I both sat out of this one since it’s a motion simulator. Instead he and I took a few minutes to peruse the Muppet and Christmas shops, buying a few little things along the way and having them shipped to our resort. My, how I love that little amenity!!! Staying onsite rocks! And now that we’ve stayed onsite I don’t know how we’ll ever visit again without it!

It was now nearly noon and we had just enough time for a showing of The American Idol Experience before lunch. I wasn’t really sure this show would be worth it but it was pretty good. The singers were all just so-so, but it was cute and fun and the stage there is amazing. They did a great job recreating the show. And if I were a singer that would be a very, very cool place to be!
Next up was lunch at Mama Melrose’s. We went there expressly for their flatbread pizza but I don’t think any one of us was impressed with it. We left lots of pizza on our plates and decided to pass on dessert too. But we did love the warm breadsticks with butter. AND our waitress suggested we add our name to the wall next to our table. We found a good spot and wrote “PIXLEY 09” on the wall, then took a few pictures.

Brian then mentioned how neat it would be when our kids took their families to Disneyworld if our name were still there. Here’s hoping…

After lunch we headed for the backlot tour. *snore* The only cool things about this were seeing Walt’s plane and some of the memorabilia in the ride queue and gift shop. That’s it. Besides that it was a colossal waste of our time. Oh well, you live and you learn.

We finally made our way back towards Pixar Place to use our fastpasses for Toy Story Mania. Man, this fastpass stinks! They send you part way up the queue and then merge you with the standby line. Sheesh! But we only ended up waiting about 15 minutes in line instead of 60 or more like the standby line was estimated to be. And the winner, again, was Brian. Imagine that! But it was fun and I really think that I get better and better at it as time goes on. The kids, of course, LOVE this ride and quickly proclaim it one of their faves this trip.

By now our day was winding down at Hollywood Studios. It wasn’t even 3pm, but we had promised the kids the chance to swim and we wanted to make good on that promise. So we waved goodbye to Hollywood Studios and caught a bus back to our resort. We quickly changed into our swim trunks and suits and then we walked around the lake to the pool.

From our room we can see the huge Mayan temple that is the identifying symbol of the pool. Unfortunately it’s a fairly decent walk to the pool, but I was able to grab some neat pictures on the way.

Brian, the kids and I all went on the water slide first. First and last for Brian and myself, as it’s nothing too exciting. We hung around in the pool a bit and then I got my camera so that I could take pictures of them on the cool Mayan temple. A little more swimming then a quick soak in the hot tub and we were done. The pool was a bit of a flop for us but now we can at least say that we’ve done it.

We came back to the room to shower and change but left Brian and the boys back at the arcade using up the 30min free game play card that came with our resort package. Once they returned they quickly showered too then dressed to head out to Downtown Disney.

We arrived at Downtown Disney just after 6pm and started out in the marketplace. Our first stop was the Design-Your-Own shirt store where we made a t-shirt for Brian’s dad, whose birthday we missed while we were here. It has a picture of Grumpy on it, his favorite character. It says “I’m Grumpy” in big letter under Grumpy and then we added “but I’m still the best grandpa ever.” We’ll be taking that home to him and hoping that he likes it.

After leaving Design-A-Tee we had to stop to get a picture with the Tweedledees on the side of the 12 days of Christmas store.

Next up was the Christmas store. I have looked and looked at all the Christmas items and just couldn’t decide what to get! I knew I wanted a souvenir as a Christmas decoration but just couldn’t decide which one. Tonight I finally decided to go with one and bought it. Unfortunately, I realized when we got back to the room that the ornament had a big mark on it. Now I’ve got to figure out how to return it before we leave and get a new one in it’s place.

Our next stop is one of my faves – Goofy’s Candy Company. Tristan had been drooling over this huge plastic tube that you could fill with all sorts of flavors of sour candy and he decided to spend some of his money on that. Chase did also while Carissa opted for a chocolate sucker instead. We held on to those because it was now time to head to dinner.

Dinner tonight was a Planet Hollywood. I thought I remember boats running in the waters at Downtown Disney but I couldn’t find any today so we hiked it. It’s a bit of a walk but it was nice to do. We got to Planet Hollywood early and checked in. They got us into a table within 5 minutes. If you haven’t been to the Planet Hollywood in Downtown Disney, it is HUGE. It’s this huge building shaped like globe and decorated to the hilt. Inside has all sorts of movie memorabilia. My favorite piece was actually outside – the “Jenny” boat from Forest Gump. Anyways, we were ushered up to the top floor, floor 4, for dinner. Our server here was fabulous, the best one we’ve had so far. The food was very good too. Brian was in heaven with a slab of ribs while I had some steak, Chase had ½ chicken and the younger two had chicken strips. If not for the fact that the restaurant is almost oppressingly loud, this would be the perfect restaurant. Our food was delivered very, very quickly and was obviously fresh off the grill, as the French fries and mashed potatoes were so hot that you couldn’t even eat them yet! So kudos to Planet Hollywood for that.

After all that food it was a surprise that we could actually eat dessert, but we gave it a try. Dessert was brownie sundaes and shakes and they were all very good.

We still had a couple of things we wanted from Downtown Disney so we headed back to the marketplace to shop. We walked through the Lego store
and Arribas Bros, where Brian got a Disneyworld pen he’d been eyeing. We also hit the big pin store

and got the kids a couple more pins for their collections, most of them at 50% off (gotta love that!!!). Then it was back to the bus stop for our return trip to Coronado Springs Resort. Very quickly we were on the road and headed to our warm and comforting beds.

Tomorrow’s adventure is our final day in Epcot, where we have to find a pickle and talk to a turtle. We’ll see how that works out…

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 4

Today was set as a “relaxing day” at the parks. It was our first day at Epcot, a park that really isn’t one of our favorites and we anticipated that we really wouldn’t need 2 full days for this park. Instead we planned to sleep in this morning, eat lots of good food and just spend the day at a more relaxing pace than our first few days.

We did end up sleeping in this morning to some extent. I woke up on my own about 7am and then went back to sleep until 8. Tristan and Carissa woke about the same time as me so I guess we all must be pretty well adjusted to East Coast time about now. Our alarm wasn’t due to wake us until 8:30am so we really just bummed around this morning. We didn’t eat much, as we had breakfast reservations, but we hung around, the kids played a few games and I curled Carissa’s hair. She dressed in the beautiful, understanded Disney Princess dress that she’s been saving for just this occasion. About 9:10 we left our room and headed to the bus stop. 2 minutes away from the room Carissa shook her hair and all the curls just dropped right out. Ugh! All that work for naught!

The bus didn’t take too long to come – maybe 10 minutes. It was a good thing it wasn’t there right away as we had forgotten Tristan’s hoodie and Brian had to run back to the room for it. We’d need it because we planned on staying out late tonight.

Anyways, the bus finally came and it was quickly apparent why I like rope drop – there’s not as many people! The buses this morning were full and when we arrived at Epcot there were huge lines for the security people and other huge lines for the turnstiles! So by the time we finally entered the park it was after 10am. Brian took 2 of the kids with him to get Soarin’ fastpasses while Tristan and I trekked all the way to the International Gateway to stow our bag of hoodies and blankets in a locker. This was a strategic move on our part, knowing that we would probably need them tonight when we stayed for Illuminations and also knowing that we’d want them in World Showcase and not clear up in Futureworld.

Tristan and I busted butt, got a locker, stowed our gear and strolled up to Akershus at 10:27. Just in time! We had 10:30 reservations for the princess breakfast. This was a treat for our daughter, who has endured 3 Disney vacations (well, 4 actually but she was only 9mos the first time) without ever having dined with the princesses. We’ve gone to other character meals but none with her favorite characters – the princesses.

They called us in for breakfast right at 10:30. It was then that I realized that I had failed to adequately prepare the boys for this. The first thing they do is take photos with a princess, in this case Belle. So, of course, one is just Carissa in her beautiful dress and with Belle. The other is a family photo. However my 11 year old DOES NOT want to be in the picture. Brian just tells him that I really want us all in the picture, but he insists he doesn’t want to be in. He’s politely told to get his rump up there and smile and he does, but it was like pulling teeth to get him there. Chase just sighed and walked up to pose for the picture. He knows the drill and he knows that the quicker you grin and bear it the quicker it’s done.

Once picture time is over we’re seated at a glorious table near the cast member entrance. I say glorious for two reasons:
1. I was able to seat Carissa at the table in a place where the backdrop included a window and a flower arrangement.

Much better than having some other family in the background of all of our pictures.
2. We were the 3rd table to meet the princesses, meaning that we were able to meet them after breakfast and then be on our merry way. No extra waiting!

Breakfast was pretty good – if you were me. If, however, you were one of the other members of my family breakfast was possibly not as good. For some reason I had the notion that they served waffles and pancakes and such here – not the case! They served a family-style tray of hashbrowns, eggs, sausage and bacon. Then there was a buffet with granola, yogurt, fruit, bagels, croissants, muffins and danishes. I ate just about everything! I had a tiny bowl of granola with raisins and pecans, raspberries, pineapple, croissants, danishes, eggs and a sausage. It was so good and filling! My picky family, however, wasn’t so impressed. They were all slightly disgruntled at my obvious lack of knowledge about the breakfast menu (namely no Mickey head waffles!) and ate much smaller amounts of breakfast. But in the end everyone had some fruits and pastries and sometimes more. We got the bill and I was sooooo thankful we were on the dining plan. $150 for breakfast??? OUCH!

I must admit that this was one of the best things we did this trip. Not for the food and not for the boys, but because Carissa was so absolutely thrilled and excited. I’m so bummed that this picture wasn’t in focus on Carissa, but it still shows how excited she was the entire meal. She could hardly stop to eat. She was watching and waiting and thrilled to meet each and every character.
She got to meet Belle as we walked in. Cinderella, Ariel, Aurora and Mary Poppins all came to our table.

We left with copies of both of the photos they had taken at the beginning of the meal and they weren’t as bad as I feared. Tristan doesn’t look too ticked off in the photo. LOL

Carissa and I made a bathroom run and while waiting for us Chase saw the Hidden Mickey’s book he’d been eyeing in a nearby gift shop. He finally broke down and bought it. He spent his whole day (edited to add: more like the rest of the trip!) with his nose in the book and reading about where to find the hidden Mickey’s in each place we visited. I think this book is going to get a lot of use in the next few days.

Since we were already in Norway we rode Maelstrom as soon as we left the breakfast. It was a walk-on, which wasn’t too surprising given that World Showcase had only opened 30 minutes before. After the ride the kids all dressed up in Viking gear to help slay the giant troll in the gift shop.
Next up was to head for a fastpass for Kim Possible Missions, which instructed us to go to Norway at 12:30 for our mission. And since we were in the area we decided to stop for a photograph with Epcot’s big Christmas tree.

We headed into Mousegears next, as Tristan still hasn’t spent a dime of his money and it’s burning a hole in his wallet! We left the store emptyhanded though, as all he really wanted was one of those ridiculous Vinylmation Mickey’s. I’ve been trying to convince him to pass on them but he seems pretty steadfast. I think we may have one of these residing in our house sometime soon.

While I was still shopping (and eyeing a very cool frame that I’m still debating on) Brian went and grabbed us Test Track fastpasses.

It was 12:30pm now and time for our Kim Possible mission. We picked up our Kimmunicator and set the kids loose. We ended up in Mexico where the kids had to save something or other from some bad guy.
I obviously don’t know much about the show and let the kids have the freedom to do the mission. All the clues were inside in the marketplace, making it a little easier for their first mission. It was pretty neat to watch them walk around trying to find all the clues. It was fun watching the Day of the Dead marionette come to life and give them a clue. There was a talking parrot in this mission too. All in all they decided that Kim Possible Missions were pretty neat.

When they were done with the mission they wanted to start another but it was all the way in France, on almost the other side of World Showcase. So we put the Kimmunicator away for a while and started moseying our way toward France. We got waylaid by the prospect of frozen lemonade. Our “quick stop” took 20 minutes and we quickly realized how fast time was flying.

We slowly walked the World Showcase and made a stop in Japan to get pick-a-pearls for Carissa and myself. She showed me up, yet again, by getting a larger pearl then mine. I got a 7 1/4mm pinkish whiteish pearl and Carissa got a 7 1/2mm creamish greenish pearl. Carissa did give me a hint on how to get a good pearl – she said to pick a bigger oyster next time. Yes, I guess mine was a bit puny! LOL

I did surprise Carissa after picking our pearls. I’d brought with me 2 Cinderella Carriage pearl cages – one for her and one for me. I took her outside and and surprised her with them. They were a huge hit!

We ended up moseying by all the counties in the World Showcase. We stopped at France where the kids completed one final Kim Possible mission. This mission had them running here and there in France and at one point they had to look at the Eiffel tower and say "Vermage", which apparently is French for "Cheese." Needless to say, the entire rest of the tirp they said "Vermage" whenever we were getting a picture taken. LOL

It was time for lunch so we headed straight to Canada, where we had reservations for LeCellier.

YUM! I don’t know that there’s much else to say about LeCellier. It all comes down to yummy food for me and this is at the top of the list. I had the filet mignon, medium-well and substituted their cream cheese mashed potatoes. Those potatoes are fabulous! They were creamy, well-flavored and just wonderful potatoes. My steak was perfectly cooked, tender and divine. Brian had the New York strip and loved it too. Chase had the filet, which he loved, and gratin potatoes, which he did not like. Desserts were smores and a chocolate moose, both of which were okay but not fabulous. Probably out least favorite desserts of the whole trip. However, after that steak, I will totally forgive them for it!

It was still pretty cool, even though it was nearly 4pm, and we knew that when the sun went down it would get even cooler so we grabbed the hoodies from our locker. We found a photopass photographer who was taking pics with the France pavillion in the background. I really love that she took the time to set us up correctly, to make sure everyone was looking and smiling. She was the best photopass photographer we ran into this trip and it really shows in the picture. It's my fave Photopass shot of the trip!

Up next was a stop in Futureworld for some rides. Journey Into Imagination was first. This was one of my favorite rides as a kid and Figment was my favorite character, however I haven’t ridden this ride since then. It was closed last time we came and we just didn’t make it the trip before that, so it had been a long time. While the ride is a bit outdated I still love the Figment character and the song they play. What’s better, Tristan really loved it too!

We stopped in the Imageworks area and the kids played around for a bit. I found a frame I wanted to buy and was glad I did, as I never saw it anywhere else.

The kids found cast members to trade pins with. By now they have all decided on a theme they wanted to trade for this trip. Chase has decided on a set of Disney characters dressed as pirates. He’s got his set pretty much filled. Tristan is trying for Club Penguin characters, which are quite a bit harder to find. Carissa found one aqua 2-tone Mickey head she loves and is looking for more like that. Hopefully they’ll find more items to trade for as the trip goes on.

Next up was Living with the Land, which was a walk-on. As always, we loved it. We spent the entire ride pointing out all the cool things we saw to one another. We were sad not to see Mickey head pumpkins growing this time.

Since we were in the area we used our fastpass for Soarin’. The park was pretty busy today and the standby line was reading 70 minutes. Ouch! We walked by most of that and into the queue line closer to the attraction. I must admit that even with fastpass we waited quite a long time for this ride – maybe 25 minutes. I thought it was a little excessive for a fastpass line, but maybe I’ve just been spoiled by all the other fastpass lines that move so quickly.

They ran out of room and we had to wait for yet another flight before it was our turn. Thankfully this meant that we got to sit up front – our favorite place to sit! Chase had read that there was a Mickey head on the golf ball that’s swung at you in the ride, but it was moving too fast to really make it out. As always, Brian breathed deeply when we were flying over the orange groves. They should bottle that scent up and sell it, because Brian would certainly stock up on it. Yum!

Our next stop was Fountainview. Brian remembered that this was one place where they serve hard scooped ice cream in waffle cones so we went inside for some. The kids actually got double scoops on sugar cones, since they were allowed to do that with their snack credits. The boys ate theirs pretty well but it was entirely too much for Carissa to eat. Brian had his much-coveted Dulce de Leche in a waffle cone. I had mint chocolate chip in a waffle cone. It was very yummy and a nice chance to sit down and relax for a bit.

We found a Photopass photographer outside by the fountain, who took pictures of us with Spaceship Earth in the background. It’s so beautiful at night with the colored lights illuminating its surface. (The pic with the family is Photopass and the pic of just the ball is mine.)

We headed to Club Cool to check out the different flavors of soda there. Brian and Chase liked lemony soda, Kinley, which is from Israel. Carissa likes Kimberly “even though fizz the pokes your tongue. Tristan liked several that he tried. I tried the lemon and thought it was ok.

After quenching our thirst in Club Cool we headed to use our fastpasses for Test Track. This was another one that’s a pretty long wait despite the fastpass. We did bypass much of the stand-by line but then you have the preshow and the ride load area after the preshow is always really full. We looked for car #23, which is supposed to have a hidden Mickey on it. We saw the car but couldn’t find the hidden Mickey as it passed. Bummer. But we were surprised when we got home and saw this picture... with a hidden Mickey in it! YEAH!
The kids wanted to try Mission Space next. Motion Simulators really mess with my stomach and Brian didn’t care about it either so we let the kids go on their own. They rode green, the more “tame” version, the first time. They loved it! They thought it was pretty tame and that they could handle orange. Since it was pretty much walk-on we decided to let them go for it. When they finally came out I could see that orange was a whole different story. They were all stark white and walking slowly. No smiles on their faces this time! Orange wasn’t good at all, they said. Way too much. As Chase says, “It feels like you’re going to throw up your insides, the skin will be ripped off your bones and you will be squished to the back of your seat like a little bug.” Needless to say they stuck with green for the remainder of the trip.

It was getting late now and we knew we wanted to line up pretty early for a good spot to watch Illuminations. We were worried about getting a good spot because the park was pretty busy and there were so many people there for the Candlelight Processional. We wandered to the International Gateway and grabbed our blankets from the locker. We started walking around the world showcase looking for a place along the rail, preferable with a bench to sit on while we waited. We still had 90 minutes until Illuminations started and no one else was lining up so we pretty much had our pick of seats. We ended up finding a bench near Germany that was right along the railing. We camped out there and were happy we’d found such a great spot. It did end up being pretty ideal, as we had a great view and didn’t have to stand the entire time we waited.
We were all pretty starving about now, as we’d had lunch at 2:30 and it was now 8pm. Tristan and I left Brian and the other two at the bench and went to get food from the Liberty Inn. The server there was so helpful! She suggested I get Carissa a regular size meal, as they don’t require you to order kids meals for counter service. She also told me that you have to request the large size drink or they will give you the regular one. We took advantage of all her good advice and had a nice, big dinner for us all with extra to drink while we waited. Kudos to Chris in the American Adventure for all those great pointers and for being such a great cast member!

After dinner I hopped over to Germany to look in the shops there. When I came back the kids all took off to Germany to look for hidden Mickey’s that were in Chase’s book. They found some and didn’t find others, but it was a great way for them to pass the time while we waited for Illuminations to start.

About 9:15 it started getting pretty busy around us and we had to guard our bench pretty fiercely. But soon Illuminations started and everyone else was forgotten.

We love this show and watched it oooooohhhhhing and aaaaahhhhhing the whole time. Tristan took some video, I took some pictures and then we just sat and watched it all unfold. They had a bit of a Christmas ending, which was a nice finale to the show.

After it was over we knew we didn’t want to be in the mass of people all trying to exit the park at the same time. We sat on the bench for a little bit talking and just enjoying the time together. Then we got up and stood in a huddle and just hugged one another, so happy to have these moments together to share and remember. As always, I could be counted on to tear up in moments like these and this was no exception.

Eventually we walked hand-in-hand through the park and made our way out. We quickly got on a bus, came back to our room, showered and headed to bed. It had been a late night but such a wonderful one! I can’t wait for whatever tomorrow will bring.