I've been to Disney World a few times in my life. Once back in 2006 with Chris and Simon and a few other times when CKU events were held in Orlando. This past week we made the trip again - this time with Aaron, Katie, Simon, Anna and Audrey. You can read about our 2006 adventure here.
Magic is a word that tends to get thrown around a lot, but really and truly there is a whole lot of magic in that place.
But before we get to that, let's start at the beginning:
Katie and I flew to Orlando before Aaron and the kids and I taught five workshops at the awesome She Scrapbooks. Loved being back in a real-world scrapbook store again - such a great, relaxed environment for workshops. There was a lot of laughing, and a bit of crying (good kind of course), and lots of stories being told. Big thanks to Stephanie and her staff for making our stay so enjoyable.
After finishing up the workshops Stephanie drove Katie and I to our "home" for the next five days: Disney's Art Of Animation Resort.
It was a really great choice for this trip - especially in that we were able to get a "family suite" that fit six people staying all together.
Art of Animation is in the budget category of Disney lodging (previously in 2006 we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge) and it was honestly perfect for this trip. The rooms were clean, the food was fine (we did the Deluxe Dining Plan), the pools were fun and we were able to use the Disney buses for transportation to and from the parks (never had to wait longer than 10 mins).
Aaron flew across the country with Simon, Anna and his daughter Audrey. They made it one piece with only a few minor hiccups along the way (par for the travel course). Before they arrived we did a bit of shopping at the Disney store in Downtown Disney and picked up some t-shirts and lanyards and pins to surprise the kids when they got to the room.
We stayed in the Cars section of the resort and loved the Cozy Cone pool. It was HOT and humid (hot here at home while we were away too which is crazy) and the kids loved swimming in the pool the first night and a few other times as well.
In terms of cameras for this trip I ended up just using my iPhone. I brought my DSLR along but ended up not wanting to carry it because it's heavy and I was already carrying a backpack of kid-related stuff that was enough.
Before I get much further, our goal was simply to have fun. It wasn't to see every single thing (just crazy) or ride every ride as many times as we wanted or make sure we didn't miss a single thing. We're a pretty go with the flow group of travelers but we did have a general plan mapped out in advance of which parks we were hitting on which days. For our trip we choose a 3-day Park Hopper pass (I love being able to go from park to park on one day) knowing that some of us would be spending at least one day of our trip at Universal Studios to visit Harry Potter World.
We started with Magic Kingdom because it's still the favorite. One of the first things we did when we got in the park was get both girls a dress - they ended up wanting to get the same one (Belle from Beauty and the Beast).
The Disney World app is awesome and we used it regularly - if you are going you should definitely download it for all kinds of reasons (fast passes, information, maps, etc).
One of our first stops was Splash Mountain. Simon wasn't interested (he wanted to do Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom - more about that in a minute) so Katie took him to work on that and the rest of us waited in line (about 30 minutes) for Splash Mountain.
This was the first time for both girls on this ride (both first time at Disney World) and they LOVED it. Both were shouting "Again, again!" at the end of the ride.
It wasn't long before it started to rain/thunderstorm on that first day. We had lunch reservations at the Liberty Tree Tavern which ended up being perfect timing when it really started to pour (even though the four of us that rode Splash Mountain were already soaked and got completely drenched as we made our way over to the restaurant).
Simon, not generally a fan of rain (which is tough when you live in Oregon), did pretty darn well with the poncho.
So Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom - this was something I had no idea about before this trip. Simon found it via the app as he was researching and it ended up being one of his favorite things. It's basically a scavenger hunt throughout the park. You start at the Main Street Firehouse to learn how to play and pick up a set of spell cards and a map. From there you follow the clues on the map and use the cards to defeat evil villains that appear in various hidden locations. He was seriously all over this - loved it.
On this trip he was definitely less interested in the rides and more interestd in scavenger-hunt sorts of activities in each of the different parks.
One of the best parts of this trip was having a one-child to one-adult ratio. Having kids that are far apart in age (seven years with some special needs thrown in to the mix) can be a bit of a challenge on a trip like this with the varied interests. Because we had more adults on hand we were able to split up when necessary which made for a better overall experience for everyone.
In the afternoon Katie, Simon, Anna and I headed back to the hotel for a rest while Aaron and Audrey kept going. Anna immediately fell asleep on the bus of course. We met back up later in the evening at Hollywood Studios for the Frozen Sing-A-Long.
The photo above, though blurry and grainy, perfectly captures the awesomeness of that show.
We stuck around for fireworks and a popcorn snack before heading back to the hotel.
On Tuesday we started the day at Epcot (I don't think I took any photos there) and ended the evening with fireworks and rides at Magic Kingdom again.
Before the fireworks and Main Street Electrical Parade we ate dinner at The Crystal Palace - a character meal featuring Winnie The Pooh and Friends. I wasn't sure if the girls were going to be into this one or feel like they were "too old" but they loved it.
We did utilize the Disability Access Service Card that Disney World offers (similar to a Fast Pass but this allows you to not have to wait in line and rather come back at an assigned time). This proved very helpful as we couldn't always plan ahead for how Simon was going to be doing/feeling at a particular time. It gave us just enough flexibility (and the freedom to move around while we waited for a particular ride). We rented a wheelchair for Simon on a couple of the days (which he was truly so, so happy about) and a double-stroller for the girls - having both those options really made a difference in their overall ability to enjoy the experience (especially in the crowds and heat). It's a lot of walking for anyone, but particularly challenging for someone with less stamina.
On Wednesday the girls and Katie had a pool day while Aaron and I took Simon to Universal Studios to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The girls didn't really care (and it's expensive for the two park pass) and Katie was ready for a hang-out day so it worked out just right.
I might have choked up getting on the train between Hogwarts and Diagon Alley.
Simon, of course, was over the moon.
Movies live in Simon's head. They are on repeat in his mind and seeing a favorite storyline come to life was definitely magic. He's read a few of the books and seen all the movies multiple times. It was rad.
We started at Diagon Alley - because you have to get your school supplies before you go to Hogwarts.
First thing we did was go to Ollivanders and buy an interactive wand so he could walk around and practice spells (another scavenger hunt style of activity). He did some of those and then we ate at the Leaky Cauldron and tried butterbeer (of course). We rode the Gringotts ride - liked it - and then walked around doing more spells
Next we made our way via the train over to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. We also used a similar Disability Pass at Universal which cut down the wait time for the big ride: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Once was enough for me on that one (the 3D and 4D visual effects + the motion of the ride = not great for me) but Aaron and Simon turned right around and rode it again.
Simon picked up a chocolate frog (Rowena Ravenclaw on the card) at Honeydukes.
We also rode the Flight of the Hippogriff a couple of times as well. Love seeing Simon smiling and happy. We really took our time and let him set the pace - another thing that was nice about being able to take him on his own. And, as he will gladly tell you, he's not a fan of glitter so it was a nice break from those glittery 6-year-olds.
After getting his fill of Harry Potter stuff (he easily could have stayed there multiple days just playing with the interactive wands) we explored a bit more or Islands Of Adventure which basically meant we rode every water ride they had available and go completely soaked: Ripsaw Falls, Jurassic Park River Adventure, and Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges. Water rides are my favorite. I had brought along his swim trunks and water shirt to change into because I knew from past experience (not a good one) that going on any water rides would require that.
And yes, on Thursday we got wet again. This time at Animal Kingdom where we started our day. Girls loved it too.
In the afternoon it was the girl's turn for some magic which included going to the Bibbity Bobbidi Boutique for princess makeovers. Anna did this when she was three at Disneyland and she still talks about it.
Simon and Katie stayed at Animal Kingdom checking out the animals and other attractions. Simon ending up riding the Expedition Everest roller coaster on his own and got stuck on the ride when there was one of those emergency stops that results in everyone having to evacuate the ride. As serious luck would have it he was right at the very end of the ride and Katie was able to be right there to help him exit. They then got a free fast pass to the front of the Safari line because of the stopped Everest ride.
We met back up at Epcot for a princess dinner at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (in Norway). We tried getting reservations for dinner at Cinderella's Castle a few months ago but it was all booked up. This ended up being a great option.
This day also represented the most challenging in terms of kid meltdowns. It had been building up and one by one they were all reaching their point of no return. Somehow, miraculously, they all made it through dinner. Katie took them all back to the room after dinner and Aaron and I got to run around Epcot and then over to Magic Kingdom for a few more rides on our own. We didn't last too long - we were tired.
On Friday we had a late flight out of Orlando so once we were all packed up we spent some time at the pool before boarding the bus to head to the airport.
Love Simon photobombing in the background.
It's a 5.5 hour flight (or so) from Orlando to Seattle. Anna looked like this most of the time. I slept. Simon slept. Aaron and Audrey each did a bit. Katie never sleeps on planes.
Coming back into Seattle looked like this. So beautiful.
We got into Seattle around 10pm and our flight to Eugene was supposed to leave around 11pm (putting us home right around midnight). Unfortunately they ended up canceling our flight after maintenance delays around midnight (for us by that time it was 3am since we'd been on East coast time). They put us up in a nearby hotel and we took a flight mid-day on the 4th of July (that's the short version of a much longer story that includes me crying when talking to the gate agent in the morning when we got back to the airport to do it all over again).
It was a good trip.
Magic, yes. Fun, yes. Challenging, yes. It felt rushed but I'm just not sure there's another way to do Disney World when you live on the opposite coast. We missed a few rides I generally would never miss - Tower Of Terror being one - just because it didn't work out - which was fine because it wasn't all about me. Totally worth it.
We'll definitely be back again in another few years.
It was the best feeling to get home on the 4th in time to take a nap before heading over to our friend's to celebrate.