Monday, November 3, 2014

The Happiest Place on Earth

I grew up going to Disneyland throughout my entire childhood and into adulthood. I probably went more in high school and college than I did in my entire growing up even. I know the layout of the park quite well and even went on casual group dates to Disneyland. Most of my friends in Los Angeles have season passes and even go after work on Friday nights. We went on our first wedding anniversary with good friends just before we left California for our month long road trip to Illinois (then to Germany two weeks later). Here's a throwback blog post of that Disney trip. We even drove right by Disney Paris while living in Germany and on our road trip to Paris with my parents, but didn't go or even really have the desire. I might have had a different outlook if it wasn't winter in Paris when we visited.

We always swore that if we had kids, we wouldn't consider taking them to Disney World (hello expensive!) before they were about third grade because we wanted our expense and effort to pay off in memories they'd actually keep. But, when your husband has a work conference for five days in Orlando on the Disney property with a free shuttle to all the Disney parks and a hotel room all paid?

You buy two tickets to Disney World and make some of your own memories with kids who won't remember their first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth at all. Both kids were free and I know you might not believe it, but Benjamin lasted the entire 10 hours of the park exploring without tantrums or naps and totally rallied to the end. I swear they sprinkle magic fairy dust all over that joint.

It was my first trip to DW and while I definitely enjoyed it, I missed some obvious favorites that are part of DL. Though, I've never been to Epcot, Disney Studios or Animal Kingdom either, and I do believe some of those differences are evened out by visiting all of the parks... if you have that kind of time and money, of course.

Taking kids was a whole other experience. Even though it was technically a new park to me, they are very similar in layout and have the same overall rides or something equivalent to the Disney park I'm used to. It didn't feel like a very new experience. It was crazy passing by Space Mountain with less than a 10 minute wait in favor of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh instead. We went on none (except Pirates) of the rides we would normally hit up and favored the rides we would never go on before. It was actually quite fantastic seeing the park through the eyes of a small child, unlike the teenager and adult-without-child I had last been when visiting a Disney park.

We worked the Fastpass system to our full advantage while there and even used the child swap system a number of times that granted Benjamin back-to-back rides with each of us while the other hung out with Claire (which was perfect when the toddler immediately requested "again, again" after every ride... was nice to actually say, OKAY sometimes!). We used all three fastpasses early and continued to add another on immediately after, allowing us to wait no longer than about 5-10 minutes to get on any ride. When Elliot left to head back to the hotel for a the conference kickoff dinner, I stayed the final two hours with the kids and used both fastpasses (his and mine) to get on two rides immediately. I highly recommend selecting your first three fastpasses strategically and as early as you can to get rid of them so you can use more and more of them throughout the day. Plan this at home before you get there. I also recommend keeping all of the fastpasses separate so you have more flexibility to take different kids on different rides at different times. Being connected means all people 3yo+ are forced to be on the same schedule when Child 1 might want to go on Splash Mountain and Child 2 might prefer Big Thunder Mountain. If you play your cards on the fastpasses properly, you can get a lot more rides in with very little wait time.

We arrived at the park at 9:08 a.m. and left around 6:45 p.m. (open 9a-7p that day). We breaked shortly for lunch, but the rest of the time was spent walking about, riding rides and meeting characters. The entire first hour was basically devoted to meeting Mickey Mouse and making our way to the first fastpass ride. The character lines were the longest lines all day we waited for, thanks to the fastpasses and off-season!

We experienced the following rides/attractions/shows/character meetings:

Meeting Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater (a must-do! Mickey talks to you personally!) - longest line of 35min.
Barnstormer (x2) "A little bit scary, SO fun"
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (fastpass #1)
Meeting Buzz Lightyear
Dumbo the Flying Elephant (x2)
It's a Small World (x2) - more info below, but such a crazy thing happened!
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (fastpass #2)
Meeting Winnie the Pooh and Tigger - second longest line of about 25min.
Mickey's PhilharMagic - Benjamin's first interactive 3D show. It's great!
Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor - super funny!
Peter Pan's Flight (x2) (fastpass #3)
Pirate's of the Caribbean - only has one drop at DW and two drops at DL! Better at DL and significantly longer.
Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
Swiss Family Treehouse
Tomorrowland Speedway
Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover - "more escalators!"
Under the Sea, Journey of the Little Mermaid

The only rides Claire was not allowed on that we took Benjamin on were the Barnstormer and Tomorrowland Speedway. She was even allowed to ride in the Ergo on some of the rides and handled the drop on Pirates of the Caribbean just fine.

Now for the photos:

On our way to Orlando! The kids were basically perfect the first leg and the way back, decent. Just before I took that #familyselfie, Benjamin was saying, "I coming Mickey Mouse!" Benjamin caught in the act of hitting his sister on the hotel room bed. Sunset boat cruise at Downtown Disney.
We met Buzz Lightyear after our first ride (the Buzz Lightyear ride). Second longest line of the day: Meeting Pooh & Tigger. They took two "breaks" while we were in line. There was an awesome Make-a-Wish family in front of us in line and that was so wonderful. One thing is for sure: Disney does an incredible job making each child feel so special by not rushing families along and even using our cameras to take pictures with the characters.
A bit of a reverse order here, but our very first thing we did in the park was head to the Town Square Theater where we waited 35 minutes (longest line all day!) to meet Mickey Mouse. He talks, you guys! I didn't know this and Benjamin was thoroughly thrilled to meet his idol. Well worth the wait as we watched Mickey walk Benjamin around the room doing an elephant stomping dance, telling him he'd been waiting for him all day and that it was so nice getting to see him. A kid's dream! Minnie Mouse and Goofy were in Times Square as we left to the rides, also taking photos. That's a standard schedule for them.
Best family Mickey photo we managed & a washed-out photo of us on Main Street.
The first ride (Benjamin's game face!) & the only spotting of Benjamin wearing his Mickey hat. Basically ever. 
Benjamin went on the Barnstormer 2x in a row, thanks to child swap. He went on with Dad first and was apparently drinking a chocolate milk (!) when he took the photo of them going up on the roller coaster. Apparently he took the milk away right after. It was a pretty fast roller coaster and he was tall enough (35" required; he's 36ish). He did think it was a bit scary, but wanted to go on a second time. And yes, he totally has his hands up as Dad encouraged him to do! Also, Tomorrowland Speedway, which I'm pretty sure is called Autopia at Disneyland.
We all went on Dumbo twice. Once Claire was sleeping in the Ergo and they were in front of me, and a second time as a family in one elephant. Benjamin was a fan of the flying elephant. Shortly after, we had a Mickey Mouse ice cream sandwich. Of course!
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh tends to have long waits (in addition to Peter Pan & Buzz Lightyear, hence the first three fastpasses), so we hit that up with our fastpass. Dad took him on the first time and then I took him on with my fastpass the second time. All children under 3 (free) tag along with the fastpass holder on the rides. They themselves don't count. We also managed some ridiculously delicious mac'n'cheese in Fantasyland and were approached by some random (?) characters. Benjamin absolutely loved It's a Small World and that's his cheesy little grin when on the first time with Dad and his fastpass. The second time, I managed both kids by myself (fastpass use #2 so B could go twice!). In line, the woman in front of me told me she thinks she recognizes me and asked if I had a friend named Laura ____. Um, yes I do! Turns out they are friends and both live in Toronto. She remembered my face from an Instagram post of Laura's from TWO YEARS AGO! We chatted and rode the long It's a Small World ride ... how's that for irony ... and said our goodbyes. And now we're Instagram friends. More Canadian friends, check!
We caught the tail end of a few parades, but didn't manage to sit through a full one ourselves. We did see fireworks, some favorite characters and lots of dancing.
Elliot had to head back to the hotel and start his work dinners and conference, so I stuck back with the kids for the two remaining hours of the park and hit up three more things in addition to treating ourselves to a Dole Whip. We went on Ariel's Under the Sea ride, saw Mickey's PhilharMagic, went on the Carrousel & eventually headed back on the boat (instead of Monorail this time) to our shuttle bus. Benjamin loved the 3D show and kept putting his hands out to grab things. He even grabbed my leg at one point and Claire was content playing on the floor. We felt the water spray and wind, but didn't smell whatever we were expected to smell? It's not nearly as cool as the Soarin' experiences, but it's 2003 technology and was still quite fun. It made me so excited to eventually take Benjamin to a 3D movie.
A few things to look at here from the boat ride back: The boat's captain waving and the progression of Benjamin's faces. Claire is overall unamused and rightfully exhausted.
Other things that happened: We rode the Monorail just for fun one of the days because my kid loves transportation (and elevators and escalators, but not seatbelts), one of the two double stroller naps because these kids don't nap in hotels, a sleeping Benjamin at the LEGO store in Downtown Disney, and a very cute little girl hanging out with Mama near the pool.
Most stupid thing I did while there? Spent $20 on an inflatable gator at the Hilton pool. You see how big that thing is resting on top of my Double BOB stroller? So big and underused that I insisted on bringing it home to get more use out of it. He did find a friend to play with at one point and enjoyed the alligator back in the hotel room. Seriously, you guys. I thought it was a good idea to buy this to go through the lazy river (that shoots water, so baby hated it), but it turns out it's impossible to be 5'3" and manage getting off an alligator in fast moving water with a toddler who cannot swim and a small baby without capsizing the stupid reptile. I had a complete stranger help get Benjamin off and pulled a muscle getting Claire and myself off that stupid thing. Scarred for life. In that last photo, Benjamin's reciting something we say at storytime and I just thought it was too cute that I needed to share. 

And there you have it, folks. Benjamin's second major theme park (Cedar Park first) and flight # we've lost count by now. Claire's first amusement park and fourth flight, ironically, both to/from Florida. Her next flight? Whistler, baby!


Caroline said... [Reply to comment]

What fun! I'm with you on not wanting to go until they are older, but Absolutey would have gone under E's work situation. I just hope when I do take Finn to a park, he's tall enough for the rides! :/

Brie said... [Reply to comment]

I'm exhausted just thinking about the logistics of all that! Impressive, lady! And uhm, the $20 croc? I'm laughing at you. Sounds like something I would do....capsizing and all.

Ben and Katie said... [Reply to comment]

So glad you got to go! I've been to both parks but cannot decide which one I liked better! I did love how at dw you have to take a boat! We went about a month before the accident and Minnie was totally hitting on Ben (yes she spoke too) and said he was cuter then Mickie! Damn that Minnie trying to steal my man! Looks like you had a blast and soaked it all in!