Monday, July 23, 2012

April 2012: Animal Kingdom

We closed our Disney week with what was my first (Adam's second) trip to Animal Kingdom. Since Adam had previously spent only a half day at this park, there was much to discover together. Here is our cute little family in front of the park. The two stroller system was quite marvelous. Our trusty Graco on the left has been around since Spencer was born. Many times during the week (and on other family adventures) it bore two children, sometimes both riding in the seat, other times a child perched atop the handlebar. It's a great, sturdy stroller and pushes easily despite our exceeding whatever load limits exist. The other one folds compactly but still holds a boatload of stuff below (unlike the traditional umbrella stroller). We were so happy to have these two strollers amongst our luggage; so were the kiddos and all those who stowed bags in the shade of the strollers' umbrellas while we were on various rides. 

Our first ride of the day was the Safari. We had heard that the animals are liveliest in the morning. The lion was perched in regal stature atop what Uncle Dan informed us is an air-conditioned rock. I think I would hang out there all day too, if I were the lion. The giraffes crossed in front of and round about our vehicle - closest I've ever been to such a large animal, and it was nothing short of majestic. 

The Tree of Life.

I loved these Tibetan prayer flags that were strung near the park's Mt. Everest. It made for such a pretty scene. This was my favorite area in the park.

Here are Emma, Uncle Dan, and Papa waiting to get on the Everest Expedition. Little did we know this would become Emma's hands down FAVORITE roller coaster. If memory serves, I believe she rode this one 4 times. 

Another group of Everest adventurers. From L to R: Trina, Sarah, Grammy, Celeste. 

The boys going for a Primeval Whirl.

Towards the end of the day, we discovered the dinosaur playground. My kids could have spent ALL day there.

In fact, once we let them into the play area, they passed the remainder of the evening there. Papa watched our cute little munchkins dig for dinosaur bones while Adam and I went on one last Dinosaur ride, which he had missed out on earlier the day. After that, we snuck in one last ride (or two) on Everest. It was a great way to close out a fantastic week. 

Kilimanjaro Safari - A great way to start our day. The animals were on the move, and the line was minimal. Even though it is a theme park ride, it had an authentic feel since the animals were moving freely along the road our jeep was using. 
Wildlife Express Train - A bit of a mistake. I'm not sure where we thought this was taking us, but we ended up dead-ending at the Conservation Station.
Conservation Station - After we spent a few minutes exploring the exhibits here and petting the bunnies and snakes, we were back to the main attractions. 
Expedition Everest - Hands down FAVORITE coaster. Love going backwards. 
Finding Nemo Musical - BEST show we saw. We had phenomenal seats, too. The puppeteer/actors were very engaging, had amazing voices, and the staging of the show was so clever. 
Kali River Rapids - Uncle Dan has a pretty awesome video of what went down on this ride. I was getting more fast passes to Everest with John for company while the majority of our group rode this. When we met back up and I was to take a turn, I was sure to wear my poncho since Sarah and Celeste were soaked!
Dinosaur - Sort of terrifying. There is one point where the T. Rex looks like it is going to eat the riders, and of course that is when they snap the photo that you look for as you exit the ride. I had picture proof of my motherly instincts since in the photo I have pushed Spencer's head down into the jeep and am covering him with my body. Nobody messes with this mama's cubs!
Festival of the Lion King - A fun, colorful show. This movie had some of the best music of any Disney film, and I never tire of hearing it.
It's Tough to be a Bug (3D) - This one TERRIFIED Emma. Note to self: put young daughters on laps before scary grasshoppers come out and bugs try to run under your seats. Apparently my sister Michelle had a similar response when the fam went many years ago.
Primeval Whirl - This was a fun mix between a carnival ride and a roller coaster. It was twisty and fun. At the end of the day, some of our group rode this time and time again.
Triceratop Spin - Adam took John and Emma on this ride (similar to Dumbo) while the rest of us were on the Primeval Whirl.
The Boneyard - The kids closed out the day digging for dinosaur bones in pebbly sand and running up and down the attached playground to explore all of the slides and passageways. This was a GREAT place for kids. 

And that, friends, brings us to the close of the Disney recap. 
It's been a fun walk down memory lane. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

April 2012: Magic Kingdom Part 2

Thursday, while the Cummings fam passed the day having a Hogwarts adventure, we headed back for some more fun at the Magic Kingdom. We opted for a very leisurely pace, taking time for lots of pictures with characters. Goofy was waiting for us at the town square on Main Street.

Emma is quick to spot any and every Minnie and asked for a photo to be taken with this lovely specimen. 

We made time to meet the real Mickey and Minnie too. (Hurrah for fast passes!) As we approached, John was a bit nervous; Spencer was pretty chill; Emma was all excitement. She loved that Minnie pantomimed to show that they were wearing the same type of dress. Mickey and Minnie really took their time with our little group, making each of the kids feel really special. They loved getting the autographs, and John even warmed up enough to give Mickey a high five at the end. 

We had explained to the kids that our trip to Disney World was the birthday gift to our entire family this year. That also meant that Spencer and Emma got to pick out souvenirs to be opened on their birthday. (Don't worry...John had other gifts). Emma opted for matching Minnie and Mickey dolls. Spencer chose to make his own light saber at Hollywood Studios. Kicking myself that I didn't have my phone with me to take pictures. It was pretty awesome. He ended up with a double-sided purple light saber. 

No leisurely day in the Magic Kingdom would be complete without visiting some Disney princesses and procuring their fancy signatures. There is a lovely little studio set up where Cinderella, Belle, and Aurora greet their waiting guests. Each has pleasant points of conversation. Cinderella asked Emma if she could hear better with her mouse ears on because Jacque and Gus tell her that they can hear really well with their mouse ears. 

Here's a family photo with Belle.

John charmed a smooch from Princess Aurora, the outline of which he wore proudly on his cheek until his face got wiped down after lunch. 
*Magical Disney moment: There was a sweet little girl with some severe handicaps in line ahead of us. Her leg was in a cast of sorts with pins protruding out of it. Her sweet little face had some irregularities, but when she approached the first princess with the help of her mom, her face lit up into a HUGE smile. I was tearing up watching the scene unfold. 

For lunch we met up with Harley Wentzel, who served in Adam's same mission. Adam and Harley were never companions, but they shared an apartment and had a great time together. Harley now works for Disney (under the carousel, actually), so he popped up to pass an hour with us on his lunch break. 

The rest of the day, we spent exploring the low-key aspects of the park. Here are a few photos of the Swiss Family Robinson tree house. We had the kids watch the movie on the way down so they could be properly impressed. 

Adam and the kiddos.

Climbing up the treehouse...with pizzazz, if you're Emma. 

We also watched the afternoon stage show that is performed in front of the castle. I jerry-rigged some shade for our group by putting a tarp between our two strollers so the heat was bearable, and the kids really enjoyed the show. Afterwards, we snapped this classic family photo.

Emma on the Carousel.

Try as they might, Spencer and Emma just couldn't get that sword in the stone to budge. 

Spencer gave it all he had, since Adam told him whoever gets the sword out becomes king of Disney World. Strong incentive!

Other Rides we Enjoyed During our Day of Leisure:
Jungle Cruise - again, this time with an awake John.
Boat Driving - this little game is found right by Jungle Cruise. S and E both loved to drive the boats, hard to remember to take turns, though.
Goofy's Barnstormer - cute roller coaster; S and E rode it twice, once with each parent.
Frontierland Arcade - Adam is sure never to miss the Frontierland Arcade, and the kids love it too!
Prince Charming Regal Carousel - John surprised me by loving the up and down of being on a carousel horse...once he got over the actual process of getting on the horse, which was a little unnerving. 
Swiss Family Treehouse - A classic favorite.
Walt Disney Railroad - A fun way to get across the park, and a throwback to Disney's love of railroads. 
Murals under Cinderella's Castle - I didn't know these existed, but we had fun looking at them when we explored the underside of Cinderella's Castle. Emma kept asking where the other princesses sleep at night. She was especially worried about Sleeping Beauty whose castle is in Disneyland. Hopefully, Cinderella is nice enough to put all those princesses up for the evening during their stay at Disney World.

Monday, July 16, 2012

April 2012: Magic Kingdom Part 1

To start our walk down Magic Kingdom Memory Lane, I give you my single favorite photo from the entire vacation. 
Papa with his Mickey hand, Lovie in her Minnie dress and wedding mouse ears. 
Could there be a cuter pairing?

My dad had purchased the wedding mouse ears for me to wear on my birthday. A few folks asked when the wedding was and, while it was kind of fun to explain that it was nearly nine years earlier, things did get a little simpler in that regard when Emma took ownership of the Minnie ears. Papa bought the prettiest ones in the store, and they sure looked lovely on this little lady. 

Also important for the sake of showcasing captured memories are our Mad Tea Party groupings. Our numbers worked out nicely so that there were three to a cup. 

Papa, Grammy, and Aunt Celeste

"The Girls' Cup" - Trina, Emma, and Sarah

"The Boys' Cup" (known to spin fast and furiously) - Spencer, Uncle Dan, and Uncle Joel

Marie, John (aka Snickerdoodle) and Adam

Of course, we made time for the most iconic Magic Kingdom rides. Here, Spencer and I are about to take flight on Dumbo.

And get a load of this cuteness. I ask you, does this boy belong on a Disney commercial, or what?

Our group on The Jungle Cruise. 
Celeste, Adam, Joel, Trina, and Sarah are the visible members of the party.

Adam was "pathing" up a storm from Disney World. This is one of the artistic photos he composed and then shared with the extended family via that clever little app.

Remember our trick to keeping the children happy? Lots and lots of snacks and water. Here, Emma and John are waiting outside Space Mountain and enjoying a little string cheese and some sandwiches. 

While the menfolk braved the long lines to retrieve the famous Dole Whips, the rest of us sought some seating and snippets of shade. You can see Lovie in full retreat within the shadow of the stroller. 

The heat was pretty intense during our Magic Kingdom day and, as expected, the crowds were thickest here. The kids and I took a little mid-day respite from the park along with most of the Cummings fam. We came back to the park after naps and dinner. Aunt Celeste was kind enough to stay back with John, who was SO good during the entire trip but deserved a night of normal sleep. He went to bed at a good hour while the rest of us returned for more fun and fireworks. 

Adam's coworker shared this secret with us: Nutella waffles topped with fruit. Delish! They can be found in a little shop near the castle. We had a lovely time eating (devouring) them just before the fireworks. It was a perfect evening treat. 

The firework show was truly spectacular. The castle turned all sorts of colors during the program, and there were even pictures of the days' visitors projected onto its surface. We snagged a spectacular spot by waiting near our waffle shop to watch the Electrical Parade and then closing in on the available street space near the castle as soon as the parade had ended. I led the charge for best viewing position, and Mom said I reminded her of Grandma Bezzant.  

Post-fireworks turned out to be a fantastic time to catch a few late-night rides. We basically walked on Small World, which had been swamped earlier in the day. Emma loved it, of course. We got a few other rides in and savored a late night in the park with some pretty fun kiddos. (Missed you, John-John). 

While we were not up for closing down the park, which was open until 1AM, we did manage to sneak a lot of fun into one very full day.

Rides and Attractions We Enjoyed:
*Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin - We started the day here. Adam achieved some crazy number of points...120,000, I think? Spencer and I thought we were pretty sharp shooters until we saw that. 
*Space Mountain - My favorite coaster in Magic Kingdom. This one never disappoints. Emma had a last-minute opt out when she saw that we couldn't sit right next to each other. Spencer rode it, but we discovered that he likes to know where he's going.
*Splash Mountain - Emma was pretty nervous about this one because from her view, she saw lots of people going into thorns. It wasn't the drop that made her nervous, it was the briar patch. When I told her (many times over) that we went UNDER the briar patch, she finally thought it sounded like fun. Spencer and Emma LOVED this ride. I can't remember now if they rode it 3 or 4 times. 
**Sadly, Thunder Mountain was under renovation during our trip. 
*Mad Tea Party - A classic! 
*Pirates of the Caribbean - John was a bit nervous when we sailed between the battling ships, but he just watched wide-eyed and snuggled up.
*Bear Country Jamboree - This is where John caught his little nap for the day. I may or may not have dozed off during one or two of the numbers as well. It was SO nice and cool. 
*Dumbo - So fun to fly with the elephants! I love that they hand you a "feather" to count out how many groups they can accommodate. 
*Jungle Cruise - A classic. We went twice. 
*Carousel of Progress - How have I missed this gem on earlier visits? "It's a great big, beautiful tomorrow..."
*Main Street Electrical Parade - Hasn't changed in years, methinks.  
*"Wishes" Firework Spectacular - Truly extraordinary. Emma loved watching for Tinkerbell, although her flight is more impressive at Disneyland, where she goes back and forth above the castle. 
*Winnie the Pooh - Super cute! Another Disney first.
*It's a Small World - Top of the list for Emma. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

April 2012: Hollywood Studios

Tuesday was Hollywood Studios day. We were there near the opening and headed directly toward Star Tours, which tops the list of for the Star Wars fans in the family. As we ventured that way, there was a small sign and a cast member recruiting for Jedi Training. I had no idea what that consisted of, but we had seen that it was an option, and Spencer was excited to participate. We ventured in and got S and E signed up for the 5:30 show. It was a great moment of serendipity because I had no idea how quickly the slots would fill and just assumed we'd get around to it later in the day. After that, we were back on track and off to Star Tours. 

While the rest of the fam rode Star Tours, John and I ventured down the movie set street. He kept glancing around, wondering where the traffic noises were coming from since there were no cars in sight. After he got his bearings, he claimed the street as his own, chasing a few pigeons and running up and down a ramp that leads up to the Muppet attraction. 

Manly Star Wars pose in front of the AT-AT walker. (Did I get that right, Spencer?)

Here's a family photo on what Spencer tells me is a speeder bike. 
(Adam, Marie, John, Emma, Spencer)

When it came time for Jedi Training, Emma had decided that she was not really wanting to fight a Sith and opted to watch instead. She did take the opportunity to collect a few signatures for her autograph book. This is Maggie, who helps with the Jedi training. Emma was thrilled that she would sign the book, and I think Maggie was thrilled to be asked since she asked to have her photo taken with Emma. (Usually that works the other way around.) I was just happy that Emma was content to get the signature of the cast members on hand since we hadn't yet had time to secure any character signatures. 

Spencer answered many questions as part of the Jedi Training, including one that stumped the other Star Wars fans. "What type of creature is Jar Jar Binks?" asked the cast member. 
"A Gungan," Spencer cooly (and correctly) replied. He hasn't been poring over that Star Wars Dictionary for nothing. 

Spencer wore his Lego Star Wars shirt and was looking good in his jedi robe. First, the Jedi Trainers ran the kids through a basic light saber routine. Then, Darth Vader and some storm troopers appeared along with Darth Maul to add a little excitement. Spencer got to fight Darth Maul, who proved to be quite menacing. He stared down several members of the family and was quite the picture of intimidation. Spencer waited his turn and stepped up for his battle. He had been instructed not to leave the blue dot and, ever the rule follower, his feet did not leave that little circle. He got some good light saber moves in regardless and was victorious in his battle against the Dark Side.

One happy Padawan with a certificate of achievement for his success in the Jedi Training Academy. 

Picture proof that Emma was tall enough to go on nearly every ride.

And this...the Hollywood Tower of Terror...was her absolute FAVORITE of the day. She rode it twice (thank you, child swap) and couldn't stop talking about it the rest of the day. (For the record, I covered her eyes for the creepier parts of the Twilight Zone.)

Sadly, Emma was not tall enough for the Rock 'n Roller Coaster (Spencer's favorite). She stayed outside with John and Adam coloring paper records. She was on the verge of a minor meltdown when her pony tails came loose. (Emma does not do well in sweaty conditions; it makes her itchy and miserable). However, she had a "Tangled" moment when a mother with several daughters came to the rescue. Seeing Adam's distress at Emma's hair situation, she said, "Oh, I have some girls who would LOVE to do your hair." And so it was that our very own Rapunzel had her hair done by a group of lovely ladies in the town square. A fairy tale moment and happy ending for sure. 

Here's a photo taken in the "Honey! I Shrunk the Kids" movie play land. John spent some good time roaming around here while others rode the "big" rides. He was happy for some shade and fun places to explore.

Since it was my birthday, I got to wear this handy birthday button all day. It was fun to be greeted by cast members with a cheerful "Happy Birthday, Marie" throughout the day. A great way to pass the celebration of another year. 

Rides and Attractions we Enjoyed:
*Rock 'n Roller Coaster - Spencer's absolute favorite. He rode it twice, back to back, and loved the upside down parts.
*Star Tours - Spencer was randomly selected as the Rebel spy - twice!  I'm not sure how many rides we racked up during the day, but Spencer and Emma both loved this ride. 
*Jedi Training Academy - A smash success. Spencer is now a fully-trained Padawan, and we had a great time watching him battle Darth Maul. Jedi Spencer had a good-sized crowd rooting for him. 
*Tower of Terror - Emma's favorite. That girl loves a thrill! Spencer was happy to take just one turn on this ride, but Emma couldn't wait to get back in line for a repeat adventure. **An important addition. Grammy just reminded me that while on this ride, Emma exclaimed, "Whee! This ride makes my bum float!"
*Lights, Motors, Action! - FANTASTIC stunt show. We all loved seeing the precision stunt driving and found that the bleachers were also a perfect place to enjoy our picnic lunch. 
*Indiana Jones Show - Thanks to the "It's her birthday" shout-outs from my mom and dad, I was picked to be the giggly girl cast member. It got even better when my brother Dan was selected to be the "Ba-da-boom-ba-da-boom" walking, pose-striking cast member. We dressed in costume and ran around the stage while things blew up around us. What a blast!
*Beauty and the Beast Show - Super cute. A favorite of Emma and John. Lots of colorful costumes and a classic fairy tale story.
*Little Mermaid Show - John was less than appreciative when the mist started raining down, but after we retreated to the eaves of the theater, this proved to be the perfect place for him to take an afternoon nap. 
*Honey! I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure - GREAT adventure land for kids. I kept feeling like my children were lost, but as long as we kept meeting back up by the Play-Doh container, things turned out okay. 
*Fantasmic! - Adam took the kiddos home around dusk so they could gear up for Magic Kingdom. I stayed with the Cummings clan and watched Fantasmic, which was a fun water/light/projector/boat show. 
*Walt Disney's "One Man's Dream" - While Dan (and Mom, if I remember correctly) snuck one last ride on Tower of Terror, the rest of us checked out the museum and theater that tell Disney's story. LOVED this! It was so fun to learn more about the man behind the dream and also proved a nice, low-key way to close out the day.