Han and Leia and Vader, Oh My!

I just wrapped up my posts on Disney this morning, and today I found this drawing in my son’s end-of-year folder from school.  I believe it speaks for itself.

 

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In other news, it looks like instead of purchasing a new vehicle, we will be visiting Disney again this fall.

Part Three, Amigos

Official Disney EVERYTHING ELSE Because I’m Tired.

I left something out of the last post!  Before meeting Aladdin we went on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.  Always a favorite.  Even before the addition of Captain Jack Sparrow, I enjoyed this ride.  Now, with Captain Jack, my son has a laugh or two.  He’s never seen the movies, as I think they are a bit too heavy for a 1st-grader, but he knows who Captain Jack is and riding this ride inspires the pirate in him.  After the ride, we were in the gift shop (of course), and a “wench” from the attached dining area began calling ot Emmett.  Her wrists in cuffs, she asked him to help her find a key and offered a reward.  He searched and found a key!  (She gave him a hint and it’s really cute where he found it, and nope, I’m not going to spoil this either.)  The grateful wench gave Emmett a “real” pirate eyepatch.  He wore it so long it left a line on his face, and he did not remove it when he met Aladdin and some of the other characters. In the photo with Aladdin posted on Part 2, Emmett’s eye patch is prominently displayed.

[Important Sidenote: There’s a card game that goes on in the Magic Kingdom called Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, sort-of like a scavenger hunt, that looks SUPER rad and I want to play one day.  We saw a father and son team getting a clue right next to where the wench had been standing and if you have a chance to play and the time to do it, I’d recommend it.  Looks fun. Joshua in our resort cafeteria, who I already mentioned, actually told us about this game as well.]

It has been months since I posted about Disney and I am SUCH a procrastinator, this is just par for the course for me. To be fair, I’ve got a job, two kids, a husband, a house, and millions of responsibilities outside of this blog. Still, I wish I had mentioned each and every Disney employee by name, as was my original plan.

Star Wars, Star Tours, and the Greatest Jedi who Ever Lived.

So when we finally got to the Star Wars part of the trip, Emmett was chomping at the bit. He had been waiting for MONTHS to be a part of the Jedi Training Academy. We woke up early and rushed through breakfast so that we could get to the park and get in line. We arrived and had to wait in a HUGE line. Once the park opened, my husband ran with Emmett over to the line for Jedi Training. By the time he got there, all the spots were filled. We’re talking maybe 4 minutes after the gates opened. We were crushed. It turns out Disney allows all kinds of rule-breaking, as long as it’s authorized Disney VIP rule-breaking. We were an hour early but some people had purchased breakfast at the park’s restaurant in order to get in early and get in line. We didn’t even know this was an option. As a mom and a consumer, I was pissed. I believe in playing fair and when the play is fair and I play hard, I’m used to winning. I don’t like it when people – or massive corporations – cheat.

I stopped a cast member who just happened to walk by. She was kind and helpful and just happened to be a higher up. She gave me the name of the director of the Jedi show and said to take that info to Guest Relations, so off I went. Once there I waited my turn between some parents who had lost a beloved teddy bear (my heart goes out to them, this can be tragic) and a little old lady who didn’t seem to know where she was or what she was doing there, though her “I Heart Han Solo” shirt suggested otherwise.

My number was called and I stepped up to the Guest Relations podium to speak with Souad. Souad is a pretty lady with black hair and tan skin. She’s from Casablanca. Yes, like the movie. Ask her how many times a day she has to talk about that film and she will smile sweetly, but I’m guessing she’s tired of hearing my lame tourist jokes the minute they come out of my mouth. The movie is nothing like the place, she tells me. Casablanca is beautiful and the people there are interesting, and the movie doesn’t do it justice. This conversation roused my curiosity and I would very much like to visit Casablanca one day. It’s on my bucket list. Anyway, Souad listened to our story patiently and then excused herself to make a couple of phone calls. She was empathetic to my mommy plight, having done everything I was told to do, early and with enthusiasm, and after all, it WAS his birthday. (Yes, I pulled the birthday card, because it was true.) Souad came back to the podium with GREAT news. We were on the list for the first show!! I hugged her with sincerity and we left, making our way over to the staging area.

To be very clear: Our entire Disney vacation was built around this Jedi show and Emmett getting to be a part of it. I nearly cried when we were given a spot. (Now, I’m not the kind of mom who thinks my kids should have things they don’t earn, and I know sometimes life is not fair, but this was an instance that I felt like fixing it for him was ok and even necessary.) So once we were in line with the other kids and he had his Jedi robe, we started walking to the stage. Emmett is 7, and for him, this is real. This is as real as we are. I think he has, on some level, an awareness that Star Wars is just a fun story, but part of him still has that wonder and willingness to believe and I’ll do anything to preserve that for him for as long as possible. In fact, I kinda hope he never loses it.

The Jedi warriors were split up into groups, given light sabers and instructions, and here we go. I joined a large crowd of parents already holding up their phones to record and photograph on the left side of the stage. The show started, and I watched with tears in my eyes as my sweet scientist, crime fighter, sensitive, courageous boy was chosen to be the first to battle Darth Vader. For us, this is fiction. For a 7 year old, this is Darth Vader, one of the baddest guys in the universe, who just arrived in a could of smoke and promised to destroy our planet. Emmett came out swinging, and I could not be prouder of his bravery. It was the coolest thing to see. My little guy has a big heart and he is already a crusader for what’s right. He cares very much about others, their feelings and their safety, and that was evident even in this moment. Once the show was over, each Jedi received a rad pin to commemorate their training and battle. It was amazing, and if there ever was an experience that flooded my heart and spirit with joy, this was it. Disney is very, very good at what they do, and my little Jedi is still talking about that day.

Don’t mind the gross kid.

See how proud he is?

The rest of our Disney trip was a blur of color, smiles, noise, and food. The teacups were, of course, the other high point of the visit, and if you haven’t tried them I think you should. We are planning our trip for this year, including some never-before-done items like character dining. Blog posts will most likely, probably, eventually follow.

Nuun, Ruuns, and Fuun

Hi Guys!

I’ve been absent for a while, I know.  Here’s a quick update:

I’m now a Brand Ambassador for Nuun Hydration and I LOVE it.  I’m currently training for fitness only and varying my running surfaces more.  Treadmill, road, and trail.  I am also using the stair machine a few times a week to gain strength in my hamstrings and glutes.  I can tell a difference after a couple of months of consistently doing this.  My legs are more powerful and I can run a bit faster.

In addition to working full-time, I have a 7 year-old scientist and a 1 year-old bulldozer who share my space (and most of my food).  Life in our home is CRAZY.  With Summer fast approaching, I hardly have 2 minutes to myself, let alone time to write.  PLEASE STAY TUNED ANYWAY!  I will be launching a series of book reviews soon, so you won’t want to miss it! (And thanks for your support.)

Also on the way: A recipe series starring my son, who is an aspiring chef/astronaut/storm trooper.

Music for the day: Anything from the Revivalists Pandora station. SO good.

Book I’m reading: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.

Thought for the week:  Let the fire inside you burn brighter than the fire around you.

MAKE TODAY GREAT!  LEAVE ME SOME LOVE IF YOU FEEL SO INCLINED.

 

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Dear Kids, When I fail…

Dear kids, Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I see that you’ve grown over night. Your face is more defined, your eyes look older. A part of me is excited and in awe; I know you have so much ah…

Source: Dear Kids, When I fail…

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Procrastination.

Christmas time!  The holiday season! Yuletide!

 

Or, as I like to call it, time to rush around all month getting SO much done that you fail to get anything actually done.  At least, that’s how it feels.  More on Disney soon, there are so many employees I want to thank and recognize, and a few mistakes I’d like to chat about.  Stay tuned!

The Saga Continues…

OFFICIAL DISNEY DAY 1: THE MAGIC KINGDOM (part 2)

(…So where was I? The Disney experience is so large-scale and fast-paced, it can be wildly disorienting. The same is true of returning to the ‘real world’. I’ll do my best to continue the story.)

Ah, yes. We had just had our photo taken.  From the castle, we walked over to Tomorrowland, one of my son’s favorites because it houses the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin.  Buzz Lightyear is definitely one of the park’s most entertaining rides, so each time we visit MK we try to ride it at least a couple of times.

This is easier to do with Fast Passes, which I learned I could both book and access on the My Disney Experience App.  Brad in Tomorrowland was helpful in booking our Fast Passes.  I’ve had the app on my phone for months, but never knew that or even read it anywhere in my research.  So, good to know.  I did also find that the app does not work, most of the time.  It worked well inside our hotel room, and it was anyone’s guess whether it might work the rest of the time.  We got our Fast Passes and continued walking through the park.

One of our goals this year was to meet as many characters as we could.  Last year we concentrated on rides and missed out on a ton of special encounters, so this year we wanted to remedy that. In Fantasyland, Emmett met with Cinderella and Elena of Avalor first. (They were in the same room together.  One line, two princesses? Good deal!)  He was quite nervous to meet Elena (I’ve noticed he has a thing for brunettes) but she was patient and kind with him, asking him birthday questions like what is his favorit ekind of cake, and sharing with him that her favorite is called Tres Leches.  (Disney Character Cast Members are remarkable at staying in character, and knowing their characters. I am convinced that they have to study up on themselves, because kids ask questions and they definitely have answers.  It adds to the experience.)  We took some photos and moved on to Cinderella, with whom Emmett was considerably less impressed.  I think this is due in part to the fact that he’s never actually seen her movie.  Joseph, the Memory Maker photographer was super nice and funny.

We walked over to the Mad Hatter Tea Party (referred to by the masses as “The Teacups”) and Alice was there!  We had to wait for her to go and take a short break, but the advantage here is that everyone else walked off so when she came back, Emmett got to spend LOTS of time chatting with her.  He liked Alice a lot!  I don’t know if it was her British accent, or just that she took so much interest in him, but he seemed comfortable chatting with her and posing for several photos.  As a mom, I cannot compliment these characters enough. I know it’s hot out there (even in November), and it’s tough meeting kids all day and having to be bright and smiley and ooey-gooey nice at all times, but for my Emmett and kids like him, it means the world.

We had Fast Passes for Teacups and it wasn’t time to ride yet so we walked on over to the Big Top tent, where we stood in line to meet Donald and Goofy. (Another two-for-one, YAY!)    Minnie and Daisy were also in the tent, and Emmett made the agonizing choice to get in the guys’ line and wait to meet the girls another time.  Even waiting in line here was fun.  In between photos, Donald and Goofy were joking around and being silly for the kids.  Just ahead of us in line was a very tall man wearing a Goofy hat, ears hanging down, grinning from ear to ear.  After a few minutes we realized he had special needs, and was visiting the park with his mom.  As he stood clutching his autograph book, he could barely contain his excitement at meeting Goofy.  Many of us in line watched him as he approached eagerly to greet his hero.  Goofy – or the Cast Member – was sensational.  He hugged the man and spent a lot of time with him, taking photos, admiring his hat, and inviting the man’s mom over to get in the photos as well.  I have to be honest here, I actually cried.

Damnit, Disney.  I’m standing inside a giant circus tent crying at the kindness of an imaginary talking dog.  And I don’t even mind it.

After, we walked around the store.  You’ll notice in Disney that nearly every attraction or ride has a gift shop attached to it, usually at the end or exit, so that you have to walk through or past the merchandise to get out to the main area of the park.  Marketing-wise, it’s very smart.  As a mom who sees her dollar bills actually growing wings and flying away, it’s very annoying.  In the Big Top Gift Shop (probably not its actual name), I found a super cute onesie for our 6-month-old, but he’s wearing 9 month clothes and I couldn’t find that size.  I asked Francesca at the register for assistance, and she went above and beyond. I’m sensing a theme here.

The next character we met was in Adventureland.  It was Aladdin!  Unfortunately Jasmine wasn’t with him, but the line was pretty short and hey, why not meet a Disney PRINCE for a change?  Aladdin bears a striking resemblance to my step-brother, who is an actor at his school and who, coincidentally, I think should work at Disney one day in the near future.  Emmett and Aladdin got along like gangbusters!  As we were in line for the other characters, I found a site online that had “secret” questions to ask the characters, so I found one for Aladdin – ask him if the lamp next to him is real.  I didn’t see any of the other kids ask him, so Emmett didn’t know what was going to happen.  I love this!  It felt like Christmas!  I’m highly excitable! (haha I just wrote that to see if you’re paying attention.)

I am NOT going to spoil this, but please parents, ask the secret questions.  It’s really cool and we got some awesome photos and Emmett felt like he was in the Disney “in crowd” after that.  Aladdin even walked over and shook my hand and James’ hand, I’m not sure why exactly, except he honestly seemed to enjoy Emmett’s company as well.  Full disclosure: I was kinda sad to walk away from Aladdin.  That experience made my heart feel full.

Alas, much more to see! Much more to do!

(continued in part 3…)

 

***ETA: I forgot to mention a Cast Member!  He was a nice young man who worked in the Big Top Circus tent, and chatted with us at length about Disney Pins.  We are not collectors, but these pins are very popular with Disney fanatics, and after seeing some of the ones for sale, I’m seriously considering starting a collection.  Juan, or perhaps Jose – I could not see his name tag clearly – from Trujillo, Peru answered all our questions about the pins and even gave us some pointers about which ones were rare and all the different lanyards.  It was truly fascinating and once again, Disney’s commitment to giving guests a magical experience shone through one of their employees.***

 

The Most Congested Place on Earth

Are you, dear reader, familiar with the scene in the film 300 that references the strategic funneling of enemy soldiers in order to lead them to slaughter?  The area the 300 Spartans want to siphon the opposition through is referred to as “The Hot Gates”.  I think that name gives an appropriate visual without me explaining any further.  We lived in a house once that had a narrow hallway we called “The Hot Gates”.  We had birthday parties and holidays in that house and I swear to you, guests would have to walk single file down that hallway.

This week, at several different times while visiting Walt Disney World, I was reminded of that scene and that hallway.  Disney, though, does everything on a much larger scale.  Disney felt like The Hot Gates almost everywhere we walked, not just while standing in line for rides, although a few of those were psychologically tough to handle.  There were so many people at our resort, so many people on the buses to the parks, so so so so so many people inside the actual parks, that a good portion of my subconscious was anticipating being attacked or trampled by Leonidas and this legendary troops.  It was like having flashbacks to a historical event you didn’t actually attend.

So, in short: Disney, man. It’s crowded.  Moving on to my review of our stay…

We (my husband, myself, and our 7-year-old son Emmett) set out on our adventure on a Sunday morning, after checking and re-checking that we had packed all the clothes and gift cards and the plants had been watered and the appliances were turned off and most importantly, there was nothing in the apartment that would cause it to smell like an animal had burrowed under the sofa and died while we were out.  I know it sounds strange, but my dad always had us take out all the trash and do all the laundry in the house before vacation, and I have adopted that habit and now inflict it on my own children.  Seriously, though, what’s worse than coming home to some strange odor?  Anyway, we loaded up in my VW Passat, and settled in for the 6-7 hour drive to Walt Disney World.

***Be warned now: This is not going to be a short blog post.  Not at all.  There’s a lot to cover and I tend to ramble.  Consider yourself warned. Continue at your own risk.***

The drive to Disney was relatively uneventful. I’m blessed with a husband who drives well and a little boy who is content to draw, read, or watch a movie in the car without complaint.  It was a nice drive on a beautiful Fall day, and thankfully we arrived safely at our destination, Disney’s All Star Music resort.

We have stayed at the Art of Animation resort before, so we chose All Star Music to try something different that was still in our price range.  Listed as one of Disney’s “Value” resorts, it is a little bit like a motel with doors outside and little extras.  We knew this before we arrived and personally we are fine with it, as we spend a total of 30 minutes a day in the hotel and the rest of the time at the parks.  It’s a good option if your main focus is the parks.  We don’t use the pools because we typically travel to Disney in the cooler months.  It’s fine for what it is.

At check-in, Stephen was polite and smiley, as Disney Cast Members tend to be.  He offered my son a “Celebrate” button, wrote his name and drew some balloons on it.  This is something Disney does for special occasions. They have buttons for First Time visitors, Birthdays, Honeymoons, and I’m not sure what else.  It’s a great and cheap way for them to make guests feel special, and I love it.  If you have young kids, you know that they love stickers and buttons and my son is no exception.  I appreciated the effort to make him smile upon arrival.

After a few minutes of typing on his keyboard, Stephen told us our room was in the Country Music section.  This was not music to my ears – not because I have something against Johnny Cash – but because Country is located WAY out in the back of the resort.  In the woods.  We’re already talking about a bare-bones resort, and now we’re talking about a half-mile trek from the front desk out into the woods on the back of the property.  I wanted to change this immediately, but nothing else was available.  (I thought booking our trip for a Sunday-Wednesday in November was a smart move, but apparently no one else worries about their kids’ education because the place was jam-packed.)

After dropping our bags off in the room, we came back to the desk to talk to a manager about the room and one other big disappointment.  We learned that the Main Street Electrical Parade (one of the things on our list of “MUST SEE” items this trip) was no longer running.  Not only that, but there would be no parades at night at all because we were unlucky enough to have booked our trip during the “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” time.  This was news to me, and a bit distressing for two reasons:  1)I really wanted Emmett to see a parade, as we didn’t see one last trip and 2) I had never even heard of the Christmas party, and we would have enjoyed going to that.  Now, standing at the desk sniffing back tears, I’m told the admission to the Christmas party costs as much as one day of park admission.  So there’s no way we can attend.

I’m a big believer in addressing issues as they arise, and not letting them fester.  Disney has a reputation for pleasing its guests and making things right, so I knew it wouldn’t hurt to ask.  That said, it had been a long day of travel.  I was tired and all my balloons were being popped before our actual vacation even got started.  What gives, Disney?  Big, hot tears were welling up in my eyes, mostly about the Christmas Party situation and about 10 percent about not wanting to be murdered in the back of the hotel property by some insane woods-dweller and never ever being found because not even the maintenance guy goes back there.

Nick, the manager, politely apologized about the room and said he would be happy to move us to the Broadway area (one building closer to civilization) the next day.  We made arrangements to do that.  I tucked my tears back in and resolved to make the best of the rest of what Disney had to offer.  We had 2 1/2 days of fun in the park to look forward to! Chin up! Let’s go to the gift shop!  [Note: The next day we inquired at the desk about our room change, and there was no room change noted or listed for us.  Nick was off that day, because of course he was.  We waited quite a while to get it moved, but at least something else was available.]

So we looked around the resort gift shop for a while.  My son decided that first night that he wanted to spend his $25 gift card on a Stitch doll.  We persuaded him to at least wait until we were in the Magic Kingdom to make up his mind, and he acquiesced.  I noticed that the resort gift shop carried baby clothes for girls, but nothing for baby boys.  I inquired about this, because we also have a 6 month old who stayed home with the grandparents, and the attendant told me she wasn’t sure why that is, they used to have boy stuff and now they just don’t.  Um… ok.  At this point I decided to start taking notes.  Positive and negative, I would record this trip for posterity and for Disney’s, and other travelers, information.  We went to Publix to grab a few snacks for the park the next day.  I’m no penny-pincher, but I’m not going to pay $75/day for meals and snacks.  Okaaaaaaaay?

OFFICIAL DISNEY DAY 1: THE MAGIC KINGDOM (part 1)

We awoke on Monday morning and walked (and walked and walked) to the resort dining hall for breakfast.  The prices give me a headache, so I tried to coach myself that this would be the only ‘paid for’ meal today so at least there was that.  I got the Bounty Platter, which is eggs (I believe this is actually egg product scrambled to look like eggs, but I digress…), 2 strips of bacon, one sausage, one biscuit, potato squares with onions (strangest thing on the plate) and a waffle shaped like Mickey’s face.  Emmett ate the waffle and biscuit, I ate the eggs and bacon.  No one ate the potatoes, and I can’t really figure out why they’re there.  The platter costs $11 so I was half-expecting some Mickey Mouse – shaped lobster chunks, but no such luck.  My husband ordered the biscuits and gravy and a coffee and said it was fine. I don’t know how much it cost. Part of me doesn’t want to know.

While eating breakfast, we were approached by Cast Member Joshua.  He told Emmett “Happy Birthday” – something that happened over and over and over again during our stay thanks to the marvelous button on his shirt – and inquired about our stay and where we were from.  He gave a few suggestions of his favorite things in the Magic Kingdom and wished us well.  This, I like.  This, I expect.  I hope that Disney encourages this kind of behavior in cast members and from what I can tell, they do.  Every time a cast member went above and beyond, whether in attitude or in service, I made a note.  They’ll all be mentioned by the time I’m done writing.

After breakfast, we boarded the bus, which was pretty standard and uneventful.  We arrived at the Magic Kingdom full of hope and expensive egg substitute, feeling excited for our day of magic.  (Last year, Emmett’s review of the Kingdom was that it was “too girly” so we tried to be more aware of ‘boy’ things in the park, like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.)

[Note: I LOVE the Magic Bands, they make everything so simple and organized, connect reservations, photos, fast passes, practically all the info about the trip is on them. we just scanned our bands and went right on in.]

Right inside the park, before walking down Main Street, we entered the Town Square Theater, where Magician Mickey was doing a Meet and Greet.  We wanted to get this most important meeting done early, so we went inside and stood in line.  It was about a 25 minute wait.  Meet and greet wait times don’t bother me as much as waiting for rides, because the character cast members genuinely take time with each visitor, hugging and joking with them, signing autographs, and posing for several photos.  The Disney photographers take PhotoPass photos and will also take photos with a guest’s smart phone.  Finally, we got up to the front of the line to meet Mickey.  Emmett was so nervous, his little clammy hand was pressing into mine.  Mickey is his guy, y’all.  He met him last year at Epcot but this time, Mickey was talking. This Mickey talks!  Right away, Emmett’s “Happy Birthday” button was noticed.  Mickey said, “This calls for the birthday song!”  My heart skipped.  What’s this?  THE Mickey Mouse is going to SING to my Emmett?  Oh boy!  And he did.  Y’all.  I was like a child in that moment, too, just soaking it all in.  Unfortunately all the basking meant that I completely blanked on taking video of the moment, but it was incredible.  From what I understand it is somewhat rare, as well.  Emmett hugged Mickey and left that meeting knowing that they were BFFs.  This, Disney.  This right here.  This is why you are successful and drowning in other people’s dollars.  Please never forget it.  Please never stop doing it.

We’re all on a high from what just happened, walking towards the iconic castle.  We got to the area right in front and while attempting (and failing) to take a family selfie, we were approached by a custodian in all white who offered to take the photo for us.  Sweet!  His name was Richard and he was from Trinidad and Tobago.  His personality was almost effervescent and we thanked him profusely.  This small act, coupled with the Mickey Birthday thing, had me feeling like I was walking on air.  This place really is magical. I was starting to feel it.

***To be continued with Official Disney Day 1: The Magic Kingdom (part 2)