It's a dreary day here, so I think it's time to dip into my camera roll and write about our August vacation at Disney World. Sadly, we don't plan to go back anytime soon. The annual pass I bought last fall will expire at the end of November, and our move back to New Mexico is on the horizon. It's been fun living close enough to my Happy Place to visit 3 times this past year, but all good things come to an end. I'm really thankful I was able to take the boys back for a big DO ALL THE THINGS vacation before it expires. They really deserved a properly extravagant Disney vacation, especially after unselfishly encouraging me to go there solo while they waited for our family trip to happen.
They had fun when we all went to Walt Disney World in 2014, and they've wanted to go back ever since. They were 10 and (almost) 7 years old last time. Both of them were tall enough to do every ride, but Charlie was still young enough to be hesitant about things, and Tommy was still easily overwhelmed by crowds. They were 13 and 10 this time, so this was a very different experience. Based on our experience, I think Disney with big kids is super fun, and more relaxing for the grown ups. They have more stamina, have more solid opinions, and are better about realizing when they need a rest or a break. Eating on vacation is more enjoyable now too, because they want to eat more interesting things than chicken nuggets.
We planned our big family trip for the end of August. The weather in Florida is rather dodgy in late August. It's officially hurricane season, which means lots of rain and ridiculous heat and humidity. It's not much worse than the DC area in late August though, so we were acclimatized and prepared for the weather. I think late August is better for us than earlier in the Florida summer. The rain and cloud cover did cool things off occasionally and made it a bit easier for us to avoid sunburn and heat stroke. The rain was overwhelming at times, but that just made things interesting and encouraged us to slow down and relax.
Planning our big trip gave me a lot of quiet joy and distraction during our first school year here, something I really needed. Spending a year planning a Disney trip isn't absolutely necessary, but it sure is fun for someone like me. I read restaurant reviews, kept track of new developments and Disney news, polled the family periodically about preferences, and made hundreds of little decisions and changes to my plans throughout the year. I have Disney-loving friends who humored me with long conversations about options, which helped me not to feel so lonely in this new place. I really appreciate the time my friends spent chatting about Disney stuff with me. My Disney travel agent was super helpful as well. (Ask me if you want her email! She's great!)
I finalized my plans in the days before our trip. Behold the first few days of the plan...
Having a color-coded spreadsheet makes it look like I'll be super hardcore about following an itinerary, but the opposite is actually the case! Once I know the shape of the plan, and when we want to try to fit various things into our days, I totally relax. The planning is fun when I'm at home. Once vacation begins, I'm pretty chill and happy to go along with what everyone wants to do. I have answers ready for the "what are we going to do today?" questions, which helps all of us. We made a lot of changes as we went along, depending on our moods each day. I really do handle that sort of loosey-goosey stuff pretty well, as long as I have a plan to fall back on.
We left for Florida early on a Thursday morning. Our direct flight departed at 6 am, which seemed like a good idea when I bought our tickets. It wasn't fun to wake up at 4 am, but the boys handled the early start well, and we were on our way to our hotel by mid-morning.
The boys' top priority request for the trip was to have breakfast with Lilo and Stitch at 'Ohana. They wanted to do that first thing. Stitch is Charlie's favorite Disney character. An upset stomach had prevented Tommy from enjoying this same meal three years ago. He was determined to enjoy it fully this time!
While we were waiting to be seated, Tommy saw what he thought was a small sculpture of a dragonfly on a windowsill. He jumped really high when he reached out to touch it and discovered that it was alive! He didn't stop giggling until it was our turn to meet Stitch. Unfortunately, none of our group photos as a family with Stitch turned out really well. Happily, the photos that I took turned out great.
This late breakfast was a great start for our vacation. I'm sure you all can imagine how much all-you-can-eat pineapple bread, fruit, sausages, bacon, eggs, potatoes and juice my boys can devour. We just barely managed to keep ourselves from overdoing it. We had plans for the afternoon, and overly full stomachs would have been a disaster! This was the only day when we tried to spend time in the theme parks during the hottest part of the afternoon. We didn't plan a lot of things, but we did want to ride the monorail over to Epcot. Our plan was to do a few things while walking from the front entrance of Epcot to our hotel, which was just outside the back gate in the World Showcase area.
I had scheduled a FastPass for Spaceship Earth (inside the big ball) for the hour after I thought we would be finished with brunch. The timing worked out just right. Spaceship Earth is one of my all-time favorite Disney things! I've done it by myself a lot of times in the past three years, so doing it with my family again put a huge smile on my face.
After Spaceship Earth, we walked over to The Seas pavilion. The boys and I did the cute little Nemo ride, and David went straight into the aquarium. We had planned for him to spend as much time as he wanted looking at all the fish tanks, so he had a smile on his face too. The last thing we did this afternoon was a quick ride on the Journey into Imagination with Figment. The current version of this ride is a shadow of its 1980s glory, but the boys had never done it before. Charlie loved it.
By this time, we were all hot and tired, so we decided to skip seeing more of Epcot and headed straight to our room at the Beach Club for a break. I'd surprised David and the boys with this hotel choice. We'd planned to stay in a more moderately priced resort, similar to the place where we'd stayed as a family before. However, the boys have gotten much bigger and taller since then, so I was worried about making them share a bed. I saved extra funds to upgrade us to the Beach Club, and none of us regret the extra expense at all. This resort has a fabulous pool area, is within walking distance to Epcot, and has rooms available with three beds instead of two. Tommy had his own queen-sized bed, and Charlie had a comfortable day-bed to himself. This made a HUGE difference for us. They slept really well all week.
Tommy and I rested in the room for a couple of hours, and David took Charlie to the pool for a swim. This would be our pattern almost every day. Unfortunately, we'd forgotten to pack goggles for Charlie. He is extremely sensitive to chlorine, and the combination of sunscreen and chlorine hurt his eyes terribly. He was uncomfortable for the rest of the evening. Poor boy. He did take a shower, washed his face, and used some eye drops, but it took a few hours to fade.
We only did a couple of things that first evening, because Charlie's eyes were hurting and everyone was so tired. We walked through part of World Showcase in Epcot on our way to dinner. The boys did a bit of shopping in the Japanese department store along the way, but they were too tired to make any big shopping decisions. We had a great pizza dinner at Via Napoli in the Italy pavilion. Then we walked over to the Norway pavilion to use our hard-to-get FastPasses for the new Frozen-themed ride. The boys thought is was just OK. They aren't big Frozen fans. I think they would have preferred going back to the hotel after dinner, but this was one of the few things in our plan that couldn't be easily rescheduled for another time. There's no way we would want to wait over an hour to do it another time without FastPasses! They were really good sports about doing it when they were tired.
We headed straight back to the room afterwards, and went to bed early. We'd had a great day, but we'd all been awake since 4 am. I'm pretty sure both boys were soundly asleep before the fireworks booms started. They really are not late-night kiddos!
Stay tuned for more...eventually...