Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I Drank the Disney Kool-Aid.....

But then I threw up in my mouth a little.

We just returned from a 5 day family vacation to Orlando Florida where we spent 1 day at Universal and Islands of Adventure, an hour at SeaWorld and 3 days at the Disney parks. While planning this trip, several friends spoke highly of Disney and their experiences. Many went as far to say that they start planning their next Disney trip as soon as they leave Disney. I hadn't been since I was 10 years old so my only experience was that in the eyes of a little girl whose mother got a speeding ticket leaving the park and whose older sister assured her that Space Mountain was a little kids ride and not scary at all. 

The planning for this most amazing vacation started back in April. Upon initial research I kinda knew I was screwed. Which resort to stay in? Meal plan or not? How many days? Park hopper or no? Fast pass decisions?! Reservations to which restaurants and when? "Vacation" to me means pack and go. Yes there is always planning to be done but Disney planning takes it to a whole other level. Weeks of planning. Thanks to a friend's recommendation of a Disney travel agent who seriously talked me off the ledge as I was about a day away from sending Dave and the kids and, personally, heading for the hills. By the way, if anyone tells you that it is not that bad, they are damn liars. It's brutal. The "happiest place on earth" is the suckiest trip to plan.  The countdown to what friends were saying would be the best vacation ever started.

Just a few days leading up to our trip we had a few snafus, because, well, that's how we roll. Dave booked our rental van a day later than we needed and there were no others available. So we scrambled and found one available about 20 minutes from our house in what he said was a questionable area as he voiced concern that our car may not be there when we returned the van - a chance we were willing to take. Crisis one averted. Snafu 2 was the fact would could not find a dog sitter for our puppy. Gracious friends took on the task of taking care of thy-o-high maintenance-one. Crisis 2 averted. Lastly, upon printing the tickets to SeaWorld I realized I had only purchased 7, not 8. Subconsciously I was trying to bail early on, apparently. But I got the eighth ticket purchased and printed and out the door we went.

Day 1: 5am departure from the house with 6 tired, but excited kids in tow. We arrived at our Disney resort around 4:30pm (after a 2 hour stop to watch the USA/Germany game), got checked in, assessed our room, dropped bags and headed over to SeaWorld. But as luck would have it, a storm hit as we were pulling in the parking lot. The entire place was clearing out. But the eight of us pushed our way through the rushing crowd stampeding to their cars. "It'll blow over." By God, we had our tickets and we were going to see Shamu! As we approached the sting ray petting area, it closed down due to inclement weather. All rides were closed and Shamu had taken refuge. We were left with Antartica and the indoor penguin ride. What the hell, we're here. Why not? Unbeknownst to the claustrophobic hubby, they put us in a holding room right before it was our turn to go. The doors to that room closed automatically with no exit. About 45 seconds into it, he made a bee line for one of the doors attempting to pry it open. Fortunately for all of us his timing was impeccable and it was our turn to get on the ride anyway. Fortunately for SeaWorld they avoided a grown man turning real life incredible Hulk ripping open their automatic door. Antartica was a good "break us in" first ride. We got off excited to take on the next ride only to discover thunder, lightning and pouring rain had set in for an unknown amount of time. So we left. 1 ride at SeaWorld, people. One. We headed over to Downtown Disney to discover that everyone and their mother had the same idea. We walked in the pouring rain, whining and miserable. The kids were unhappy too. We had taken all we could take, loaded up the van and headed to McDonalds for a $75 dinner at 9pm. Yes, $75. 
Day 1 assessment: Kids were amazing on 10 hour drive. SeaWorld sucked due to weather. Downtown Disney sucked due to crowds and bad moods. 
SeaWorld Antartica holding room 1 - Dave 0.

Time for bed.

Walking is so hard. 
Day 2: Epcot. We arrived just as the park opened and did what every parents do, embarrassed the kids by asking the Disney photographer to take a picture of us in front of Spaceship Earth. Cheese!! Happy faces all around and we were on our way to Test Track. We did not have a Fast Pass for this one, but the wait was only 30 minutes so we waited it out. And then it happened. We started losing kids because they were already tired of walking. We had been in the park a sum total 20 minutes.

As the day progressed, hubby and I assessed our phobic scales. Both of us are claustrophobic, but under different circumstances. And both of us are afraid of heights. We are just a FUN FILLED DUO at amusement parks, let me tell ya. I was actually fine until we did Soarin'. I was not prepared for my height phobia to catapult me into full freak out status in 0-10 seconds. Thank the good lord above that there were no Disney photo ops happening during that particular ride because it would've captured me white knuckling my seat with my eyes closed through the majority of that terrifying experience. There were 5 1/2 year olds on that ride having the time of their lives. This 40 1/2 year old wanted off and wanted off IMMEDIATELY. But I was a brave little girl and did not pass out or jump off over the Golden Gate bridge. Mission Space was next and after hearing the description of the small capsule you must ride in with my anxiety already elevated, I gracefully bowed out and hit the single rider line back at Test Track.  Eff that. At this rate, I was going to be drinking by 10am if I didn't get my sh*t together. The hubby, of course, was ahead of me in that line as well. We'd both already lost cool points on 2 separate rides and we'd only been in Orlando for 16 hours. 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7....Jacob???
We made our way through Epcot, visited the countries, took refuge in America when another late afternoon storm hit and somehow found our way sitting through a show on US History. 4 people in our group fell asleep. I will only name one because it was a trend the entire trip and that would be my oldest son. And when I say he fell asleep, I don't mean "he dozed off". He was completely down for the count.....so much so that he had a red mark on his forehead from the arm rest.....so much so that we were backing up traffic trying to leave the auditorium because 7 of us were trying to wake him. We eventually made our way to China and grabbed a fantastic dinner. For the cost of a dinner for 8, we should have scored a couple of free round trip tickets to Hong Kong, but instead we got good seating for Illuminations. I guess that's just as good. Day 2 assessment: Soarin' 1 - Kristen 0. Nine Dragons Restaurant was awesome. (Top Ramen Noodles for a month when we get home, kids!) The Disney Memory Maker photographer cropped my 16 year old out of our family picture taken in front of the big silver ball. HOW DO YOU MISS A KID THAT IS 6 FOOT 4 INCHES TALL???? And lastly we somehow had a complete lapse in judgment and sat through Captain EO. Um.. WTF Epcot!? I want that 20 minutes of my life back. We are fairly certain Michael Jackson made his doctor sit through Captain EO and that's why he killed him. Overall, Day 2 was a kind of a success.  I'm still angry over that family picture of 7 and Captain EO. 

Day 3: Universal and Islands of Adventure! We splurged for the Express Line Passes and I encourage anyone to do the same if you're only going to be there for just one day. We made our way around massive lines starting with the Minion simulator. So fun! And no freak outs from hubs and me! Wait? I doubt it's brag-worthy to say we made it through the Minion ride, but whatever.... Upon leaving that one, we approached the entrance to the Hollywood Rip Ride Rock It roller coaster that stood above every ride in the park. I pulled the "Hell no" card as did my oldest and my youngest and, of course, my husband. But 4 of our kids decided to brave it including my 11 year old step daughter who doesn't really do roller coasters, but she apparently was wearing her big girl pants that morning. She left me standing there looking like a cotton headed ninny muggins for not going. I could tell her daddy was nervous FOR her as he paced the entire time we waited. It seemed like a lifetime, yet it was probably only 40 minutes and she finally ran up to us with an exhausted look of relief. One minute behind her were the 3 brothers who were doubled over in laughter telling us there was a video that we must see. We made our way to the video kiosk only to watch this 2 minute ride in it's entirety with a birds eye view of my step daughter's terrified and frozen face. The eight of us, including her, were in hysterics laughing. She absolutely looked like she went into shock on the way up the hill and her face froze in terror the rest of the way through the ride. Probably THE funniest thing I have ever seen. The only thing that would've made it funnier would have been if her daddy or I were sitting beside her in terror as well. She is a great sport!! Speaking of great sports, I talked my 11 year old son into braving the Hulk ride with me. I had ridden it years ago, not really recalling how fast that mofo is. Yet I totally assurred him that he would be fine. We got seated next to one another and waited for the initial take off. Once it happened, I immediately felt like Child Services would be waiting for me at the end of the ride. I forgot how damn scary that coaster is. And to be his first upside down roller coaster. The hubs and I were 2 - 0 in our parenting decisions with kids riding rides at Universal. In my defense, at least I was with my kid when he nearly had a heart attack. 
Photography by Dave who knows we have 6 kids.

We rode pretty much anything and everything including the water rides and wouldn't you know it, I got completely soaked on the rapids ride which resulted in me buying a cute new dress and flip flops for dry attire. Win win! Universal was an exhausting but complete success! Day 3 assessment: The 11 year olds both scored points for taking on the big rides. The 40 somethings secure future therapy appointments for the 11 year olds. And I got a cute dress.

Day 3 cont'd: stopped for a case of beer on our way back to the resort.

Things are looking up.

Day 4: Magic Kingdom: We managed to get a picture of all eight of us on this particular day as the photographer was not on crack. Again the kids were mortified, but I pulled my mother on them by exclaiming "We're on vacation! Shut up and have a good time!"

It was hotter than 3 hells on Day 4 and while the kids complaining of being hot had gotten on my nerves the days prior to, I decided on this day to go with the adage "If you can't beat 'em join 'em." It was f*cking hot. 

We all braved Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. All were rides I had ridden as a little girl and I was particularly proud of myself for making it on Space Mountain without my childhood terrifying memory talking me out of it. They were our 3 Fast Passes and once they were done, we were pretty excited about what other options were available. Our next Fast Pass was for the Haunted Mansion. Dave and I were both a bit reluctant as they led us in a room filled with 50 people, shut the door behind us and turned off the lights. However, I found solace in the fact that the 4 and 6 year old little girls in front of me dressed as princesses for the day weren't losing their shit and I shouldn't either. We boarded our cars and off we went into the dark. 3/4ths of the way through the ride, it stopped. "We are sorry for the inconvenience, but this ride has stopped temporarily. We will resume shortly". 

Um, what the eff did you just say???

What seemed like an hour but it was really only 10 minutes, it resumed and we lived to tell about it. Whew. Those princesses are bad asses. I need to make a mental note if I pay a small Disney fortune to get my hair did with glitter and a tiara, I may have a different attitude about these rides. But I digress.

We happily skipped over to the Fast Pass kiosk excited for the next adventure only to discover options were limited. What a buzz kill. I was all hyped from surviving the big bad Haunted Mansion only to realize.....
Mad Tea Party was the only viable option. I pulled the "I really don't want to vomit" card and took pics instead. And, yes, that is my husband and one of our 14 year olds. We rode a few more rides, including Space Mountain 2 more times. As we exited it the last time, the Incredibles were having their dance party.

After my grown ass husband got jiggy to Apache with Mrs Incredible, we headed back to the resort. With the exception of one member of our party being completely torn out of the frame for not getting Disney Character pictures and autographs, it was a successful day. My dear hubby... He must come to terms that his daughter starts middle school and isn't into those "childish" things anymore. 
Day 4 assessment: Kristen and Dave - 1 Haunted Mansion - 0. 
The tides are turning!

Day 5: Hollywood Studios - our last day.

Star Tours, Aerosmith Rockin Roller Coaster, and the Stunt Show were our Fast Passes. With Dave being a huge Star Wars fan, this ride was sure to be a hit, minus the capsule they shoved 20 people in to simulate a space flight scene. Neither of us were fans of that part, but again, there were toddlers in this thing. WTF, man. Deep breaths yet again.

We all LOVED Aerosmith. We loved it so much that of all the days, this is the ride we rode the most. But that first time was a doozy for us all at take off. See for yourself: 

The rest of our crazy crew right behind us. See? Her face is still frozen!

Somewhere in the middle of all the rides, we had a late lunch reservation at the 50s Prime Time Cafe. While waiting for our names to be called, my narcoleptic son fell asleep again. I don't remember 20 being such an exhausting age???

The food was fabulous, the drinks were on point and gave me enough liquid courage to go on the Tower of Terror with 3 of the boys and my super brave stepdaughter.

Followed by more walking, more overpriced snacks, more complaining about the heat, being hungry, being tired, being sweaty, having to poop, we wrapped up our day standing in a 70 minute line for Toy Story. At least it was an air conditioned wait...and everybody loves a good Woody.


We had one more photo taken as we were leaving the park our last day...... and for proof that Jacob was with us every day. 

First full day of our fabulous Disney vacation:

Last full day of our fabulous Disney vacation:

In conclusion some discoveries were made. 

  • Florida may have Hell beat in the way of extreme temperatures.
  • Backpacks are the way to go for carrying items into the park and if you are into back sweat.
  • You may walk around a park an entire day in light khaki shorts with a stain on your butt and NONE of your children will tell you it's there.
  • If you plan to eat anything at all, it will be triple the price of food from your home town. Unless you're from New York City. Then Disney's probably a tad cheaper.
  • Dave and I are the only people who can walk 20,000 steps/9+ miles a day and STILL gain weight. Thanks a lot, Fitbit.
  • Despite the heat and the exhaustion, we were thankful for our situation of not having a Bjorn strapped to our chest, a stroller to push or a toddler on our shoulders. 
  • There are a lot of angry dads at Disney. One of my favorite lines of frustration I witnessed: "You have to go to the bathroom AGAIN?? We just spent a *explicitive* hour in there!"
  • There are a lot of tired moms at Disney. One mom threatened her son as he swung his light saber "If you don't put that thing away....I'm gonna tell your dad."
  • You may look refreshed and happy as you enter the park in the mornings yet prepare to look as if you spent an entire afternoon in a caged UFC fight when you return to your resort.
  • Prepare to FEEL like you have been in a caged UFC fight. Every. Single. Night. you are there.
  • Consider entering a caged UFC fight instead of planning a Disney vacation. It won't be as hot, you may actually break even money wise and the pain won't last as long.

In the end, we made some great memories, shared lots of laughs, and will always cherish the fun times of this Disney vacation. I'm glad we did it; heat, crowds, expense, smelly kids, claustrophobia and all.

Thanks for the memories, Walt!

***If you are currently planning your Disney vacation, don't let my sarcasm scare you into cancelling your trip! But take this advice:

1. Go off-season if you can. We have 5 kids who play sports year round. Summer was our only option. And with Fast Passes, wait times were manageable. 

2. Splurge for the Memory Maker package. It was the best $150 we spent. (minus the one pic cutting out a kid - make sure everyone is accounted for!) We only took pictures at Universal. Disney photographers were all over the Disney parks. They uploaded the pictures within an hour after taking them. We ended up with about 100 pics total.

3. Take a pool day like many advised us to do. We only had a set amount of days to go to Disney so an extra day wasn't an option. We packed A LOT in 4 1/2 days. It would've made a huge difference to have one day of R & R at the resort smack in the middle of our trip to regroup.

4. Buy Disney giftcards in advance. I bought one every other week on my pay day until our trip. CVS, Walmart, etc all sell them. If you take preteens and teenagers like we did, it's easier to manage their spending with giving them giftcards to use. It's especially nice when they're older and break away to do their own thing. They can be used in all the parks for food, drinks, snacks, and souvenirs. Beware: Most Downtown Disney stores do not take Disney GC's, but many let you scan your MagicBand to pay for things. (We did not let the kids know that was an option for fear we'd have a $3,000 credit card bill at the end of our stay)

5. Have fun. Take it all in. While I jokingly talked about the complaining, Dave and I counted our blessings MANY times while we were there. Thankful for happy, healthy kids. Thankful we could walk around the parks with no assistance. Thankful that, while things were ridiculously pricey, we could afford to splurge this once for our family. Thankful to be together. 

:) - Kristen

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