Friday, November 25, 2016

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party

My conference was at one of the big Orlando hotels near the convention center, but I booked us into a different hotel for the pleasure part of the trip. So when we left the Animal Kingdom we headed to our new hotel. The selling points were 1. pretty cheap and 2. fantastic water park.

The plan on Friday was to spend the early part of the day enjoying the water park, then head over to the Magic Kingdom for the late afternoon and evening. We hit up a nearby Starbucks for breakfast and a Publix for some snacks and meals to carry us through the next couple of days. Then it was pool time!

B started out with some small water slides but eventually ended up trying, and loving, this giant one! She even got me to do a couple.

After lunch, we had a nap, since we knew we'd be up really, really late at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. I was so relieved that B actually fell asleep! Our goal was to arrive at the Magic Kingdom at 4:00, which is when they start letting folks into the park on the Halloween Party tickets, and we managed to pull this off. We packed our costumes for later but stuck with shorts and tees for the afternoon.

We used TouringPlans again, with great success.
Our first stop was Aladdin's Magic Carpets:

Then the Jungle Cruise:

Then Buzz Lightyear, which B LOVED this time (she had been too scared to go when she was five).

Then the Magic Teacups.

Even the street sweepers are in on the Disney magic!

We had a lovely ride on the carousel...

...Then headed back down Main Street to pull our costumes out of the locker. It took B awhile to settle on her costume this year. She knew that she wanted to do something from Star Wars, then decided she wanted to be Padme Amidala—but that still leaves a LOT of options! We finally caved and showed her Episode 1 (we'd been pretending it didn't exist) and eventually she settled on the handmaiden battle outfit from the end of the movie.

I would just like to note that I am NOT CRAFTY. At ALL. But in August, off we went to Joanne Fabrics, where a very nice clerk helped us find a pattern that we could modify. B and I combed the shelves for the right fabrics and gold braid, and over the following few weeks I managed to piece together this costume for her. Then my mom showed up the day before we left and helped with the final touches!

We also augmented her hair with a giant skein of brown yarn!

I also found a vest pattern that I modified to make this Rey outfit from the end of The Force Awakens. Since I worked on B's outfit first, Mom was pretty much responsible for putting this one together at the last possible minute!

We were very pleased with how it all came out, though! And B was SO happy when one of the Disney cast members recognized her outfit.

The castle was lit up with special colors for the Halloween Party.

We got briefly stuck on the Peter Pan ride, which was kind of fun because it gave us more time to look around!

They have a bunch of special treats available during the Halloween Party. This one is frozen strawberry lemonade with gummy worms in it.


The lines for the rides are basically nonexistent during the Halloween Party so we just went over and over again on B's favorites. She did do a little trick or treating at the various stations set up around the park, but I have to say that she got "candied out" pretty quickly.

Then there were special Halloween fireworks.

She enjoyed them.

We tried a ride on the speedway, and B discovered that driving is a lot harder than it looks.

We also took a couple of rides on the elevated railroad in Tomorrowland, which gave B a quick look inside Space Mountain. She has no interest in roller coasters, so that's the closest we got.

Then more teacups...

More It's A Small World...

We ended the night with the Boo To You Parade, and snapped this final photo on our way out.

All in all, a big success! I don't think I prefer the Halloween Party to our "regular" day in Magic Kingdom a few years ago (and we really missed my cousin Rebekah, who was with us last time), but it sure was nice to be there at a time when the lines are so incredibly short. We definitely packed in tons of rides and were able to go over and over again on B's favorites. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Animal Kingdom Adventures

We woke up bright and early on Thursday morning, ready to head to Animal Kingdom. The plan was to get there in time for rope drop, and for once, we moved efficiently and succeeded!

The last time we went to Disney, we used the touring plan from the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World recommended (and lent to us) by cousin Bob, so back in the spring I purchased this year's book as well as access to the associated website. B and I used YouTube videos and descriptions out of the tour book to eliminate some rides as too scary (Dinosaur, which was closed anyway, and Expedition Everest), but planned to hit the other highlights. We plugged all of that into Touring Plans to get a suggested order of events to minimize time spent standing in line. 

Here's B at the main entrance:

Just inside the main entrance, we happened upon DiVine—yes, that's a person, in costume and on stilts!

Posing in front of the Tree of Life.

They let us through the main turnstiles a bit before 9:00, and we were able to pick up a Wilderness Explorers booklet (a sort of treasure hunt through the park where kids can earn sticker badges at different stations) on our way onto Discovery Island. They held us there until 9:00, when we made a beeline for Kilimanjaro Safaris. We waited for only a few minutes before we loaded up onto our safari vehicle and set off. 

This was an AMAZING way to start the day. We saw rhinos, hippos, pelicans, giraffes, elephants, flamingos, cheetahs (B’s favorite!), lions, warthogs, ostriches, zebras, and much more. Our driver stopped in a few places for us to take photos, and some of the animals (not the predators!) were quite close.

We learned that a group of giraffes is called a tower of giraffes.

Next, we made our way to Festival of the Lion King, which is a live show reprising much of the music from the movie, along with some wonderful dancing and acrobatics. Brynna love, love, loved this and we would absolutely have gone back for a second viewing if it had fit into our schedule.

We then walked the Gorilla Falls Trail, where we did indeed see some gorillas (I didn't take pictures—even in a very natural habitat I'm pretty uncomfortable with the idea of keeping Great Apes in captivity) and Brynna earned a few more badges.


Then came Flights of Wonder, a bird show. This was pretty nifty—the trainers displayed a bunch of natural behaviors and talked about conservation. The photos aren’t as good as I would like—video would have been better but I was busy trying to watch what was going on!

We then had enough time to check out one of the attractions that we were a little iffy about, It’s Tough To Be A Bug, which is a 3D show that the book warned was a little intense. B did end up enjoying it though there was one scary part and she just closed her eyes for a couple of minutes after that. Plus, there was a Wilderness Explorer badge station right outside. About bugs, of course.

Then it was time to take a break. When I was researching Animal Kingdom there were several restaurants nearby and in the park that caught my eye. I ended up making a reservation at Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We waited about 10 minutes for the Disney bus just outside the front entrance, and it was a less than 10 minute ride to the Lodge. We checked in and then wandered outside to the courtyard observation deck—where there were giraffes wandering around nibbling on trees!

The food was great. We shared the bread service with 3 mild dipping sauces, and then I ordered Chickpea Wat and Lentil Dhal on pilaf. We got B some mac and cheese which she barely touched after chowing down on the bread service and her mango lassi—oops! The highlight of my meal was the food. The highlight of her meal was the light-up Tinkerbell that came attached to her straw. It was a lovely meal, and great to just sit down in the AC for awhile.

In the main room at Kidani Village—gorgeous! I know Animal Kingdom Lodge costs an arm and a leg but I'd LOVE to stay here some day.

Practicing our giraffe signs as we returned to Animal Kingdom for the afternoon:

Once back at Animal Kingdom, we used a FastPass to jump the VERY long line at Kali River Rapids. I think we waited about 5 minutes at a time when the line was probably 30 minutes long. This was a ride that B was a little iffy about, but she had watched a video and had friends encourage her to do it, so we stashed our stuff in a locker (you can get soaked—so no pictures!) and went to try it out. She absolutely LOVED it! And we did get quite wet. We decided to try to come back later and ride again when the lines were shorter.

Next up was a walk along the Majarajah Jungle Trek: snoozing tigers and more Wilderness Explorer badges for B! (Yes, that's a tiger there. That brownish thing in the middle of the photo.)

We then strolled through “Asia” and watched the Expedition Everest roller coaster (both of us very relieved that we weren’t riding it).

Next stop was the Finding Nemo musical. It was terrific—for 10 minutes, until the show stopped suddenly, and didn’t end up restarting. Undaunted, we moved on into Dinoland and rode the Triceratop Spin on the way to the awesome dinosaur-inspired playground.

After a little time there, while I messed with the Lines app to try to figure out when we should go back to Kali and when we should plan to do sunset or nighttime Safari, we discovered that it was a GREAT time to go back to Kali. We hightailed it back across the park, stowed our stuff again, and zipped right onto the ride, no waiting at all! We were sharing a raft with a delightful family from Scotland and had a great chat about our vacations. They were looking rather drenched and were in the middle of a Kali River Rapids marathon. We tried to convince the cast member to let us just stay in the raft when the ride was over, but they said we couldn’t do that, so we all got out, ran up the ramp to the top of the loading area (there was still no line, so that was the designated turnaround spot), rounded the pylon, and came back down to all jump in a raft together again for another ride. We would’ve gone again except we had a dinner reservation at Tiffins.

Though I was definitely trying to plan three days of fun for Brynna, today’s food picks were definitely for me. Tiffins was just opening as I was starting my research, and it was getting wonderful reviews. She’s reliable at this point in good restaurants, and though she’d be perfectly happy to eat counter food all day, I thought I’d enjoy sitting down, having a really good meal and a drink, and getting a little bit of a break. Turns out that was true. The food was amazing. We shared a bread service and a beet salad (below) and some black-eyed pea fritters (all off the appetizer menu) along with some fancy drinks, and called that good. Well, plus we had dessert.

She got another light-up Tinkerbell and decided to stow them in her hair.

We were both very excited to do the Safari again at night, so once we paid the bill we headed right back over to get in line. The line was a bit long (I think it was reading about 20 minutes) and a few minutes in, Brynna started to get very nervous and teary. She was worried that the animals would be scary in the dark and that one particular part of the safari ride would be especially alarming in the dark. I tried hard to reassure her and remind her of how amazing it had been the first time, and all the things they did to keep it safe, but she was having none of it. She had a similar irrational collapse in front of the Ariel ride at the Magic Kingdom three years ago (which I actually reminded her about), also from fatigue. I was not going to force her on this ride (especially since we would have had to wait in line for quite awhile yet), so we just called it a night and headed back toward the exit to the park. We paused in front of the Tree of Life for an AMAZING projected light show, which definitely helped us end the night on a high point.

All in all—a spectacular day!