Highlights from Disney World 2013

We survived! Our family trip to Disney World, our first extended family vacation, was both fun and difficult. I’ll cover some of the challenges at the end, but first, here are some of the highlights.

The Boys’ Excitement

We visited Disney World in 2007 for our 5th anniversary and tried the vast majority of the rides and shows, so our focus for this trip was sharing the parks with our sons. As we’d hoped, they had a blast! The crowds were light, so they were able to meet many, many characters and do pretty much every ride and show that interested them. Everything at the parks and our resort was new to them, so our stay was a week-long journey of discovery. Seeing them shoot a bow and arrow for the first time, marvel at the Lion King show and the Pixar parade, meet Buzz and Ariel, kiss Merida, play in the Dinoland and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playgrounds, and ARRRRRR with pirates reminded me what the parks were all about.

Brenden’s favorites included Test Track at Epcot, the play areas, the pirate cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Tom Sawyer’s Island at Magic Kingdom, the resort’s Finding Nemo themed swimming pool, and riding on the bus, preferably in the middle seat in the back row. Jonathan’s favorites included Soarin’ and The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and the People Mover at Magic Kingdom, TriceraTop Spin at Animal Kingdom, both play areas, and hitting on any nearby princesses.

Cars Family Suite at Art of Animation

Last year Disney opened a new value resort called Art of Animation just across Hourglass Lake from Pop Century. We reserved a Cars family suite, which included a separate master bedroom, breakfast area with a table that converted to a bed, living area with a sleeper sofa, two bathrooms, two TVs, microwave, and mini-fridge, plus Cars theming everywhere. As expected, the room was amazing. It provided plenty of space and gave us the chance to have time for ourselves to relax and plan the next day without keeping the boys awake. The boys loved their “secret beds” as well as the Cars decorations both in the room and throughout our section of the resort. Check this photo album for pics of the resort. The resort overall was beautiful and well-designed. I especially loved the airline checkin service, which allowed us to check in for our flight and turn over our four bags and two strollers right there at the resort instead of lugging them around. After a tiring week and a half marathon for me that morning, dropping off the bags lifted a huge weight from our shoulders.

New Fantasyland

Disney has spent quite a bit of time and money remodeling Fantasyland. It won’t be complete until the new roller coaster opens in 2014, but the Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid sections are open and look great. Jenny got to meet Gaston (“If I sweat on you, there’s a fee”) outside his new tavern, and we all got to meet Ariel in her new grotto, neither of which we met last time. Both characters were perfectly cast. The new Voyage of the Little Mermaid ride, our primary destination on Day 1 at Magic Kingdom, does an amazing job with animatronics on the characters inside. Rides like this have come a long way from the days of the Spelunker’s Cave at Six Flags Over Texas that I enjoyed as a kid. Beast’s castle sits atop the new Be Our Guest restaurant, which offers a tasty-sounding medieval-style menu but was always too crowded for us to try. Maybe next time.

Disney Transportation

We rented a car last time and were planning to this time, but our friends talked us into trying the Disney bus system instead. We’re very glad they did because it saved us over $200 and relieved us from having to lug two carseats through the airport. Disney’s Magical Express service took us and our bags to and from the airport, and the busses carried us between our resort and the parks with very little hassle. The only times we had any significant wait came at the end of the day when many guests were leaving at the same time, but even then it wasn’t too bad and saved us from having to walk deep into a parking lot to search for our car. Even better, it’s all free.

Garden Grocer

We wanted to eat breakfast in our room for a variety of reasons – healthier food, less trouble, lower cost. A nearby grocery store called Garden Grocer lets you order food and drinks online and delivers them to your resort, where resort staff can take them straight to your room. So upon checkin, we found bags of groceries in our room filled with fresh fruit, bagels, hard apple cider, milk, cheese, and more. No, it wasn’t cheap, but it definitely saved us some money versus $25-30 for breakfast in the resort food court, and it was much easier than trying to eat there with two preschoolers.

Monsieur Paul

To celebrate our anniversary, we enjoyed an unbelievable dinner at Monsieur Paul in the France region of Epcot. Despite my forgetting four semesters’ worth of French and being embarrassingly unable to speak to our server in his native language, we enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve ever tasted from a table overlooking the World Showcase lake. French red wine, beef tenderloin, white truffle mashed potatoes, orange souffle, escargot, and more provided a welcome change from the pizza and french fries we’d been eating in the parks with the boys. They also noticed our “Happy Anniversary” buttons and wrote the greeting in chocolate on our dessert plates.

Disney World Half Marathon

I covered this race in my previous post.

Other Fun Experiences

We met up with my cousin Bryan, his wife April, and their daughter Breanna for dinner at Epcot’s Tutto Italia the night we arrived. They had been at Disney World all week and were leaving the next day, so I’m glad we got to share a meal with them and get some Disney pointers. Unfortunately, the boys weren’t quite in the mood for an upscale Italian dinner after spending all day in cars, airplanes, airports, and busses. But it was still fun to hang out a bit.

We got to meet LOTS of characters, including the Big 5 (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto) both in the parks and at Chef Mickey’s for breakfast. Other scores included Buzz and Woody, Merida, Cinderella, Aurora, Rapunzel, Phineas and Ferb, Ariel, Gaston, Mike Wazowski, and Lightning McQueen and Mater (sort of). And that’s not including the ones I met during the race. We bought the PhotoPass Plus service to get digital rights to all the official Disney photos that their pro photographers took. It wasn’t cheap, but we obtained dozens of great shots that way, including many we wouldn’t have gotten as well or at all without it. Here are links to all of our photo albums:

On our last night we took the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage from Contemporary to the Seven Seas Lagoon to watch the Wishes fireworks show. The boys were acting crazy, so it was a bit stressful for us, but the idea was great and we did enjoy it. We gathered in a conference room for a party beforehand with music, cake, snacks, and drinks plus the chance to take pictures with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee. Then we boarded our vessel and sailed out for the show. Our pirate captain learned it was our anniversary, so he had the other passengers sing “Kiss the Girl” for us while we danced in the aisle during the voyage.

Challenges

As you parents can imagine, spending a week at Disney World with a four-year-old boy and a two-year-old boy can be a bit stressful, especially with boys as active as ours. Despite the relatively low crowds and short wait times, it was still difficult to get them to act nicely in line and to stay quiet and remain in their respective beds in the hotel. We had a few instances where one of them said they wanted to ride or do something only to change his mind once we walked over to get in line. They are the kinds of challenges you’d expect with boys this age in a high-stimulation, high-structure, low-sleep environment like this. Honestly, looking back, I’m a bit surprised they did as well as they did, especially on the days when we rolled the dice and stayed at the park all day instead of returning to the room for a post-lunch nap. We probably would’ve had an easier time if we’d waited a year or two before attempting such an ambitious trip. However, we did enjoy the trip, and the boys had an absolute blast and are still talking about it. We’ll be back, just not tomorrow like Jonathan requested.

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