We spent our final full-day at Disney World in Epcot. As I've stated before, I'm not a huge fan of Epcot, so originally I planned on skipping the whole park. But then my neighbor mentioned how much her children enjoy Soarin'. Further, a man we met told us about Epcot's Holidays Around the World Festival, featuring storytellers from all of Epcot's countries. So I decided to give Epcot another chance. And fortunately, we really enjoyed it this time, partially because the lack of shade isn't a problem on a 75 degree overcast day.
First we boarded Ellen's Energy Adventure, which was a little blah and dated, I spent most of the ride whispering to Dan "wow, she looks so young" and he kept looking at me like "what does that have to do with anything?"
Then we decided to check out Spaceship Earth, which Epcot has updated since we last rode it 8 or so years ago. Anyways, the girls LOVED the ride, especially the end where you can take a quiz which results in a "personalized" video about your sustainable future. F enjoyed it so much that we rode twice (another benefit of no lines).
We then meandered over to Soarin' (where we needed fast passes, which Dan and T got as soon as we arrived, while the girls and I stood in line for chipmunk photos). Claustrophobia usually keeps me from enjoying virtual reality-type rides, but there is something sort of amazing with having your feet hang in the air as you "glide" through Imax images of the world around us. So far, Epcot was looking better (though it will always be my least favorite park).
Next stop . . . the WORLD!!
But first we needed a random swordfight.
First country - Norway, where we picked up a secret agent phone that took us on various missions throughout the grounds. F found this part of the trip nothing short of "awesome." We'd just point the phone at a specified object and bravo something amazing would happen - for example an ordinary troll turns into a robot. I never quite figured out how the whole "mission" came together, but does it really matter? The phone created magic and that's good enough.
The Monkey King told stories of Chinese New Year. I didn't follow the whole plot, but his antics entertained us.
In Germany, Helga spoke of Christmas traditions and the Nutcracker while Dan and I drank various alcoholic beverages. Turns out Epcot can be quite pleasant on a 75 degree day. I think Dan sampled beer from almost every country. We're so cultured.
T fell in love with the soldiers. Obviously.
Free origami in Japan, which made my kids love the whole country. And, of course, more secret agent missions.
Morocco was quite a success, thanks to drums and dancing with Taarji.
Unfortunately we missed the end of the world, as the kids grew exhausted and the rain started to fall. Dan asked "well, I guess, we finally pushed them to the limit?" To which I replied "is there any other way to go?" I love this place.
On our final morning, we spent a few hours at the Magic Kingdom (I NEEDED to tour the Haunted Mansion and T couldn't leave without flying over Neverland) and then drove to the airport for our flight home (beware - security at the Orlando airport takes forever. As in HOURS!).
Here's our trip in summary (for what it's worth):
LEAST FAVORITE RIDES:
F (age 7) - Space Mountain
P (age 6) - Space Mountain
T (age 3) - "I like all the rides" [this is a lie, he cried during a lot of them, especially tramatic were - The Great Movie Ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, Ellen's Energy Adventure (the dinosaurs terrified T), Star Tours, Soarin' (which he seemed to love during the ride, then he cried for 20 minutes after it ended), and the Kali River Rapids
Dan (age 35) - The Great Movie Ride (we couldn't understand the gangster that guided our tour) and the new Ariel ride
Me (age 36) - Ellen's Energy Adventure (long and boring) and The Studio Backlot Tour
F (age 7) - Pirates of the Caribbean, Spaceship Earth, Soarin', Storytime with Belle, Epcot's Secret Agent Phones, and Toy Story
P (age 6) - Storytime with Belle, Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear, and the Haunted Mansion
T (age 3) - Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Playhouse Disney Live, and the Triceratops Spin
Dan (age 35) - Toy Story, The Lion King, and the Kilimanjaro Safari
Me (age 36) - The Haunted Mansion, the Lion King, Mickey's Philharmonic, Star Tours, Epcot's Storytimes Throughout the World, and the Kilimanjaro Safari
I hope you all had a good holiday week, thanks for reading about our trip. Next week, back to random life in Arlington (where it even snows sometimes :)!! HAVE A WONDERFUL WEEKEND!!
Places to Go (Vacation) - Disney World 2012 - Part IV - The Magic Kingdom (Finally), Including the New Fantasyland
Finally, for our third day at the parks we made it to the Magic Kingdom, which THRILLED the kids. Up until this point I pretty much loved staying outside of Disney, as sometimes it's nice to take a break from park overkill. But when you arrive at the Magic Kingdom via the parking lot, first you have to take a shuttle to the gates. And then from the gates you have to ride either a ferry or the monorail to the park. On our first visit, this took about an hour, which (in my mind) is a decently long travel time for theme park arrival.
Once we entered the kingdom we meandered somewhat - checking out the Xmas decorations, watching a performance on Main Street, and stopping so that Dan and T could swordfight every few yards (we bought T a new sword and he decided to give his old one to Dan, as a fellow musketeer).
Eventually we headed over to Futureworld for Buzz Lightyear fast passes. Luckily, again, lines were non-existent. So we kept circling back and riding again and again until T finally said "time for a new ride."
After days of debate the girls decided to tackle their first "real" roller coaster, Space Mountain. Luckily, the ride requires sitting in a single file arrangement, so I could enjoy the twists and turns without worrying about the girls' reactions. I learned that things went badly when the woman who helped us exit the car turned to F and said "oh honey, it's okay. it's all over now." Tears. Lots of tears.
Deciding we needed to exit Fantasyland, we headed over to the Pirate Show in Adventureland, where two of my three children (F hid behind me, terrified of going on stage) received apprentice pirate certificates from a Johnny Depp look-a-like (is this really a good thing? Somalia isn't kidding around). Then we boarded a ship in Pirates of the Caribbean, which has been (somewhat) remade so that the ride now centers (loosely) around Jack Sparrow's character. Although this is an improvement, I felt nostalgic for the complete randomness of the old ride. Oh well, the pirates still refuse to become PC. P asked about the women for sale (which F remembered in detail from our last trip) and T wondered why we had to go on the "mean" pirate ride.
Everyone seemed somewhat exhausted, so we decided to break for the afternoon and return at night for fireworks and the new Fantasyland.
One of the ducks had an injured leg, so much sadness. I kept hoping some magical Disney veterinarian would fix everything, but no such luck. Though the duck's mom did slow down quite a bit so the he/she could catch up.
The boat ride to the park was crowded and slow, but I rather enjoyed the return trip. It felt nice to have a little time to decompress and enjoy the views.
Cinderella's Castle at night is always rather breathtaking, but this trip it seemed especially so.
After reentering the park, we decided to check out the brand-new Fantasyland (as most of the rides are for little kids, I hoped that crowds would be less prevalent after dark). After a quick ride on Winne the Pooh (always a fave), we headed towards the new princess corner of the park and boarded a clamshell to enter Ariel's world (the ride basically retells the movie's story). I'm not a huge Ariel fan (why would any woman ever give up her VOICE for a chance with some guy she barely knows? plus, don't two people need to talk to fall in love?), so I can't say I loved the ride, but it's mild and easy for little kids (i.e. T did not cry), so that's a plus.
After Ariel, we grabbed a table outside at Gaston's Tavern and waited for the fireworks to begin, while we drank random non-alcoholic drinks with whipped cream (yum) and ate giant turkey legs. Finally the lights in the sky appeared, absolutely beautiful.
For our last stop of the (very) late night, we attended the new storytime with Belle, which was nothing short of amazing (F and P said it was their favorite part of the whole trip). After watching a magical mirror turn into a door (awesomeness), a surprisingly life-like talking wardrobe informed the audience that we will be reenacting the story of how Belle and the Beast met (which, I must note, is NOT the world's most romantic story, as he did keep her locked in a dungeon). Every child who wanted one was guaranteed a "part" in the production. Finally, the doors opened into the library, where Belle waited, eager to hear her story. After the performance, Belle posed for pictures with her very happy fans and gave everyone a bookmark. The girls could not stop smiling. A total win.
And this is when I realized that the night had definitely come to an end.
Dan and I really love Disney's Animal Kingdom - best summarized as the world's coolest zoo with rides. Unfortunately, when I told P we planned to visit on Sunday she immediately said "not the BORING place, with all the animals." Sadness. Last time we visited, she seemed to like it well enough, but then again it was 90 degrees and super crowded so none of us quite felt the magic.
As soon as we arrived, we went straight to Africa, where I ran to acquire fast passes for the Kilimanjaro safari and Dan searched for coffee. While I was gone, Dan and the kids all explored a stall full of African instruments - they loved it. And turns out we didn't even need fast passes as the wait times were under 10 minutes. So we hopped on our safari, which fascinated all of us. Every turn lead to a new animal up close and due to the cooler weather they were actually DOING STUFF, rather than lying around in the shade. We even had to stop for a few minutes when giraffes blocked the road. P turned and said "wow, this is amazing mom. I was wrong about this place."
After visiting more animals in Africa, we meandered into Asia and the Kali River Rapids ride, where Dan and a very very sad T became sopping wet. After laughing at her brother's misfortune P begged to ride again and she too became drenched and very very sad (is this how they learn empathy?). As two/thirds of my kids begged to leave, I thought we might have to call it a day. Then came Dinoland. Oh, Dinoland. Whereas most of Animal Kingdom is subtly beautiful, Dinoland consists of over the top kitsch. My kids loved it. We road triceretops, dug for dinosaur bones, raced down slides, and drove a stationary jeep. Happiness.
Since everyone seemed rejuvenated I talked them into attending a performance of the Lion King, which was absolutely gorgeous. From the costumes to the acrobats, all five of us couldn't take our eyes off everything. Amazing.
Finally, we ended the day by camping on the side of the "road" and watching Animal Kingdom's Jingle Jungle parade, which, though lovely, became a little repetitive after awhile. So it goes. All in all a wonderful day.
I love that Minnie's security detail carries a holster for hand sanitizer; T didn't really dance during the Disney Channel live show, he just sort of lingered; F brought Cybil Lily (my old Cabbage Patch Kid) with us everywhere, she kept asking if I ever took Cybil to Disney World with me, but, sadly, I can't remember.
We originally planned on spending our first day at Disney in the Magic Kingdom, but the incredibly knowledgeable Disney aficionados in the hot tub (they visit once a year and buy ten day passes) advised against visiting the most famous park on a weekend, so we decided to check out Hollywood Studios. Plus, the hot tub crowd told us that Toy Story was the best ride in all of the parks (they were right).
I was a little nervous that we'd run out of things to do at Hollywood Studios, as most of the rides are geared at older children. But never underestimate the power of Disney to keep everyone entertained. After grabbing fast passes for Toy Story, we watched a gun shoot out on the Great Movie Ride (T cried the whole time, then hopped off the ride saying it was the "coolest thing" ever), caught gold doubloons falling from the ceiling at Playhouse Disney Live (T collected as many as he could), attended Little Mermaid Live (Ariel is my least favorite of all the princesses and, sadly, she is all over Disney World lately), climbed and ran in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground, and clapped along to various live performances outdoors.
After all of that, we (finally) played virtual carnival games during the Toy Story Ride and chilled out during the (somewhat boring) studio backlot tour. Not a bad morning.
And lines? With the exception of Toy Story, lines were pretty much non-existent. Combined with 75 degree temperatures this made life pretty darn good. But the best part of all? F decided she likes vacation again, she even said "thank you, mom. thank you so much for this."
Ride a giant insect? Check!
T was SO excited to meet Jake that he ran to hug him (after waiting 10 minutes in line). Then he started to cry, alot, apparently because Jake was "too soft." Two weeks later and he still keeps asking me, "but why Jake soft, mommy? I don't understand. But why?"
Not the best picture, but a great reminder of what lines would have been like had we visited at another time.
After some much needed afternoon pool time, we returned at night to watch the Osborne's Festival of Dancing Lights (both beautiful and crowded) and to ride Star Tours (which was incredible, except the life-like effects terrified T). Poor T, it's hard to be 3 years old and stroller-less at Disney World, but those feet were made for walking (plus, I'm so glad that after 7-some-years strollers are finally a thing of the past for us).
MERRY XMAS EVERYONE!!!
Okay, so if it seems like the blog this year has been a series of vacation post after vacation post, I get it. And if it seems like we've taken A LOT of vacations this year, well we have (though most have involved road trips to visit family & friends). And we thought the year of vacations had come to and end, but then Dan received his yearly hours report and learned that he billed over 2700 hours last year (without travel time or pro bono). Most corporate lawyers average around 2200 hours, which means that Dan billed more than 500 hours over the median. Think about 500 hours - that's over 20 days of one's life. Anyways, what I'm trying to say is Dan worked all the time and we didn't see him a lot. On the upside, we're lucky he has a job he enjoys (or really, that he has any job at all given the current economy). But we missed him. A lot.
So when Dan called from Michigan after being away from home throughout Hurricane Sandy (he missed the great basement flood) and Halloween, P said "Daddy, I never ever see you. I think you should take me to Disney World so we can be together." Then an incredibly crabby me grabbed the phone and said "um, I think you have a really smart daughter."
We originally planned on going after Xmas, but turns out that Disney traffic peaks during the holidays (as in "full capacity", two words that really scare me), whereas the first weeks of December are some of the park's emptiest times. So we took the kids out of school for three days and found incredibly cheap flights to Orlando. This is also the first time we've ever flown all together as a family, which means one sad random person had to deal with being the only non-family member in row 16.
Last Disney trip (you can read about it here), we stayed on property in a villa at the Wilderness Lodge, which was awesome. But this time we wanted a more budget-friendly vacation. So after considering the options (5 people in one hotel room just seems crowded), we decided to rent a car (actually, the car was free - one of the perks of a husband who travels for work) and stay at a townhouse in Windsor Hills Resort (about 10 minutes away from the parks). Three bedrooms for only $99 a night seemed like a good deal to me.
The kids' first ride in Disney World was a grocery cart. So it goes. Originally we planned on going straight from the airport to the parks, but the flight and vacation anticipation exhausted everyone. So we stopped for food on the way to the townhouse. One of my favorite things about Disney is that they let you bring your own food into the parks.
The townhouse was nice enough, but the big hit was Windsor Hills' huge pool, complete with a small splash area, a HUGE waterslide, and a secluded hot tub. They even have a game room and ping pong. Swimming in December just feels so wonderful.
The townhouse came with its own private pool, but I didn't pay to have it heated since the resort pool only resided about a two minute walk from the property. I thought the lawn area looked so odd with the its seemingly infinite line up of pool filters.
SO MORE ON DISNEY TOMORROW!! HAPPY ALMOST XMAS!!!
Just some links for your weekend. I'm thinking about making this a semi-regular thing (maybe biweekly?). Please let me know what you think.
And if you're looking for something to do this weekend don't forget MY HUGE WINTER SURVIVAL GUIDE OF THINGS TO DO AND PLACES TO GO (recently updated to include more activities)!!!
*100 Gifts for 100 Cultural Icons. I'm really sick of gift guide overkill, but this one is pretty awesome/funny/clever.
* Fake holidays. China's Minsk World Military Theme Park sort of creeped me out as did Jesus on the Cross at Orlando's Holy Land Experience. The photographer's quote is especially poignant - "After working for about eight years on this project, you’d think Riedler would have endless anecdotes to share about his explorations. But surprisingly that’s not the case. “When I came home to my family (especially after long trips to China or Japan), I found that I had a lack of stories to tell,” he said. “It was strange because normally my trips are all little adventures, and I meet many interesting people with great stories and so many things happen. I learned that in leisure parks there were stimuli but no content. I realized the hollowness of these places. … I didn’t meet any people. There were no (real) adventures; there was just consumption.”
* Combine equal parts Oprah and Martha.
* The 50 Best Couples in Fashion History.
*Dan O' Day's photographs are beyond amazing. How does he do that?
*Wasteland to wildflowers. Quite a walk. What do you see on a daily basis that you barely register is there?
* "In 2004 an unconscious man was discovered behind a fast food restaurant in Richmond Hill, Georgia. He had no belongings, severe sunburn, and was nearly blind from cataracts. The man also had absolutely no idea who he was. After months of ongoing evaluation from doctors and psychologists it was determined he was suffering from dissociative amnesia. He adopted the pseudonym Benjaman Kyle and has embarked on a search for his true identity sparking massive amounts of media coverage and even a short film, Finding Benjaman, by John Wikstrom. He is the only citizen in the United States officially listed as missing despite his whereabouts being known. One strange aspect of this predicament is that Kyle now lives completely in limbo: for the past 8 years he has been denied the ability to obtain a new social security number which in turn prevents him from opening a bank account or having a credit card. The government argues that he already has one, but despite the efforts of fingerprint matching, DNA tests, and exposure on television, he simply cannot determine his true identity." Wow. More here.
* The books that made the most "Best of 2012" Book Lists. Sort of a cool summary of summaries.
* I love Billie Marmelade's (very) random coolness.
* The 25 funniest autocorrects of 2012. You won't be able to stop laughing. Really.
HAPPY SOLSTICE EVERYONE!
How Should A Person Be? - I practically inhaled this odd, quirky "novel" by Sheila Heti. In order to write this book, Heti taped conversations with her real-life best friend attempting to answer the questions that plague us in daily life, mainly what is bad art? how is a person supposed to act? how to approach sex with jerks? Sometimes the book is so self-indulgent and overly personal that I cringed (literally), but I really admired Heti's attempt to cut human relationships down to some sort of core, to figure out why we appreciate the things we appreciate. And the writing is good, really good, though perhaps a little too flippant at times.
Lives of the Artists - This book consists of ten interviews with some of the most critically acclaimed modern artists of the last twenty or so years***, whose work sells for millions of dollars. If you've ever entered a museum and asked yourself "why is this on the wall?" then here is your answer. The writing is great, but the most interesting thing about the book resides in the discrepancies between the artists themselves - a few seem to float through their careers on clouds of charisma and conceit, while others, particularly James Turrell, seem almost clinically obsessed with elements of their art (since 1974 Turrell's life has centered on turning an extinct volcano in northern Arizona into a light-centered viewing space). Even if you're not "into" modern art, this books makes a great read, both as a profile of how people see the world and of how people become famous.
*** The artists profiled - Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Julian Schnabel, Richard Serra, James Turrell, Matthew Barney, Maurizio Cattelan, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, & John Currin.
Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story - The Paris Review asked twenty of the "top" modern day authors to pick twenty short stories that somehow influenced them. The resulting collection is pretty impressive. Some stories, such as James Salter's Bangkok and Mary-Beth Hughes' Pelican Song are so hauntingly perfect that I read them over and over. Whereas others, such as Jorge Luis Borges' Funes, the Memorious, I I would have overlooked without the well-written introduction by Aleksandar Hemon. Either way, I was sad when the stories came to an end.
Wild - I almost quit reading this book after the first few chapters, as the author spends a lot of pages lamenting the fall of her marriage, even though she committed multiple acts of infidelity and chose to divorce her husband. Not that anything is wrong with needing to find one's self, but I'm becoming a little sick of the Eat, Pray, Love style of ditching one's mate in search of some sort of higher truth. (Plus I can't help but wonder if the public would embrace such memoirs if males were writing them). But then Strayed (the author's chosen name) starts talking about her life hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and I began to thoroughly enjoy her story. Long ago, back when I lived in Denver and had no children, I used to backpack with my girlfriends on weekends, this memoir brought back the sense of accomplishment that comes with carrying all you need on your own back. It also made me realize how much I miss that feeling. All in all, a well-written book about life on the trail.
The majority of the time the fact that the girls are only 13 months apart in age has worked as an unplanned godsend for our family. Their childhood has become a perpetual playdate and taking them places is usually relatively easy because developmentally they're always at similar stages. But then comes birthday party season. Ugh. Within, literally, minutes of F's birthday party ending, P already started asking "can we talk about my party now?" (I make it a rule that we have to finish one party before we can plan the next).
For P's 6th birthday she really wanted a huge sleepover. Luckily, most other children and their parents said no before I even had a chance to quash the idea. So instead Dan invented the "stayover" (which all my kids now think is a real word). For a stayover, the kids arrive at night wearing pajamas and they stay until bedtime, when their parent arrive to cart them home (exhausted and high on cake). This sounded easy enough, except that when you plan a party that starts on Saturday night, you're never sure to what extent the tired kids will rally - anything is possible.
We started the night out with Nutcracker sticker scenes from Oriental Trading Company (until all the kids arrived), then the girls decorated pillowcases (I bought these in bulk) with paints, markers, and various felt stickers (that stay on in the laundry).
It's always important to bring your sword to a pajama party. Of course.
After the pillowcases became masterpieces, we cranked up the tunes for a glowstick dance party. In case you're wondering, the kindergarten crowd can DANCE. Seriously, these kids have MOVES. I bought each girl one of these - LED Foam Light Stick Baton Supreme - Multicolor Color Changing - and they were quite a hit (I've had multiple parents ask me where they can buy more - obviously Amazon, as I don't shop in stores anymore).
The girls could have danced all night, but I was exhausted - so time for a movie and popcorn. P wanted to watch McKenna (the American Girl movie), which seemed innocuous enough for a large group. Some girls became bored during the movie, so I kept art supplies on all the tables.
Finally, the girls ate My Little Pony birthday cake from the Safeway bakery, which P asks for whenever we grocery shop. Then P blew out all her candles and the fun started to end (thank god). A group of girls went home to sleep, as did I - grateful for the finish of 2012's birthday party season.