Monday, February 24, 2014

Disney World 2014

Beware - this will be a long post with LOTS of pictures from our recent trip to Disney World. 

What an amazing family vacation. I had doubts about doing this trip because I figured it wouldn't be the best bang for our buck. Ellie has been asking to go for over a year now (mainly from hearing from friends at school) and we finally made the decision that we'd give it to her for Christmas. She even was in on "saving" for Disney by finding spare change and saving her birthday money. She had a calendar that she marked down every day... As the week neared, I happen to check the weather just make sure I was packing correctly for Orlando weather. It showed "cold" temperatures in Atlanta for the day we were leaving, but no precipitation. I continued to check daily (or multiple times a day) as we were getting closer and the talks of "major winter weather" was popping up. Jay had a conference in Orlando (Universal Studios) 2 days prior to our trip that he'd be driving for so we decided to forgo our flights (swallow $400+) and drive with him. This ended up being the smartest decision as our flights were canceled (thank you Delta for our money back) and we got an extra day at Disney and free trip to Savannah after Disney! It all worked out for an extra long vacation!

Day 1 - Magic Kingdom 
We were told by several "Disney-goers" to allow 2 days at MK. I am so glad we did. We were able to knock a lot of stuff out the first day and enjoyed small crowds with beautiful weather! First ride of the day was Buzz Lightyear - which we ended up doing twice. We tried to do Haunted Mansion but were escorted out due to EMT's responding to call on the "ride". Not sure what was going on but we decided we wouldn't return for that one! We also knocked out Monster's Laugh Floor and the Stitch ride (Ellie was not a fan). We did Story Time with Belle (definitely worth doing if you have a girl), Ariel's Grotto, Winnie the Pooh, the Carrousel, Mickey's PhilharMagic Show, and Princess Fairytale Hall where we met Rapunzel and Snow White. We'd be returning later in the week with our original plans for Peter Pan, Dumbo, Small World, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (not my favorite) and others. We went into this day with "no plans" and it was actually one of our best days!
Day 2 - Hollywood Studios 
We started out with breakfast with our cousins at Hollywood and Vine. This is where they can meet Disney Junior friends and was one of my favorite meals. We had the Deluxe Dining Plan (3 meals and 2 snacks per day) so we had MORE than enough food. I was pleasantly surprised by the food - it was really good. Great portion sizes, good variety, but very unhealthy. I liked the ability of having "sit down" meals to get out of the chaos each meal, but we could have survived on a smaller plan too... We had lunch at the Sci-Fi Drive-In and it was okay... I could have definitely missed this lunch. It was a cool atmosphere but didn't hold Ellie's attention. You eat in cars and watch a movie (similar to a drive-in). We wouldn't do this one again. We did Toy Story (another favorite for Ellie), watched a Disney Junior Live show, watched a live Beauty and the Beast, and the Voyage of Little Mermaid (not a favorite). Wish we had time for the Muppets 3-D but we opted to head back to the hotel for a nap before dinner at Chef Mickey's that evening. Naps were needed a couple of days, especially when we had late dinners.
Dinner at Chef Mickey's - definitely one that we'd do again! Great meal and the main Disney characters. Service was great! They make sure every character gets around to your table.
Day 3 - Epcot 
We started with breakfast at Ohana's and this was Jay's favorite meal. Ellie loves the movie Lilo and Stitch so we knew this was a must on the trip. We left Ohana for a day at Epcot. I was told by "Disney-goers" that Epcot was boring and pointless for our trip, but I wanted to check it out. We LOVED it! I wish we would have spent more time there, but headed back for the Wonderland Tea Party with Alice in Wonderland (waste of time and money - don't do it). At Epcot, we enjoyed Soarin', Nemo and Friends, and Journey into Imagination (another waste of time). We made it through a few countries but I wish we would have do all of them. We had lunch in Norway at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Ellie's favorite) with Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, and other princesses. Glad we made this reservation super early as this one fills up fast! The food was great and of course meeting the princesses was a highlight for Ellie. I don't have pictures (yet) from Alice in Wonderland's Tea Party because Ellie participated by herself and you have "purchase" those pictures... again waste of time and $$$ in my opinion. We ended the night with dinner at Chip 'n Dale's Harvest Feast at Garden Grille. This was just okay for me... Jay liked it a lot, but I was kind-of burned out on heavy food at this point. I enjoyed the mashed potatoes and chopped salad :) We stuck around for fireworks at Epcot which were amazing! Again, next time, we will spend more time at Epcot for the countries.
Day 4 - Magic Kingdom 
We were back at Magic Kingdom for our fourth day. We thought we'd made a mistake by booking this day in MK because it was Saturday and a holiday weekend. We arrived early for our breakfast with Cinderella and no one was in the park. It was strange. We were able to ride Peter Pan and Small World - twice without our fast passes because there were no lines. We had breakfast at Cinderella's castle (which was good - but I think a little over done), met up with our cousins for Swiss Family Treehouse, Magic Carpets, Pirates of the Caribbean, met Jasmine and Tiana, rode Dumbo and the train around MK. We had the BEST lunch at The Plaza - hands down one of our favorite meals. That afternoon Ellie had an appointment at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I am not a huge fan of this place. I know it's a "must do" with girls and Ellie did love it, but I hated the whole hair and make-up thing... I wanted them to just put was pixie dust (glitter) in her hair, paint her nails, and call it a day - BUT it's much more than that! They let the "princesses" pick their hairstyle which involves A LOT of gel (especially when your daughter's hair is short), hairspray, bobby pins, etc... Ellie really did love it and we did the lowest price package... We brought our own dress instead of purchasing the "real" deal for the cheap price of $250! This was a highlight for her as she comes home everyday to find her "make-up" from the boutique. We knocked out Buzz the Lightyear ride again while waiting for our dinner reservations at The Crystal Palace. This was dinner with Winnie the Pooh and friends. It was okay and probably would have been really good if we hadn't had so much to eat by this point. Service wasn't great here, but we can check it off the list!
Day 5 - Animal Kingdom 
Jay's favorite park - This was a great park and was very laid back... It was crowded but I felt like must moved at a slower pace. We LOVED the Kilimanjaro Safari and were able to see lots of animals close up during our ride. We took the Wilderness Train to Rafiki's Planet Watch to see the petting zoo animals and visit with Chip 'n Dale. We also stuck around for the Animal Kingdom parade and had front row seats... Ellie loved this parade because a lot of the characters walked up to give high fives. We had lunch at Tusker House with Donald and Daisy. We met Baloo from Jungle Book (didn't know who he was), met Pocahontas, tried to do Bug's Life (Ellie had to leave due to screaming in the middle of the show when the bug "spits" at you). I thought it was great, but too much for her. We didn't make it to Nemo show due to early dinner reservations. Thanks to our fabulous Disney planner, we booked dinner that evening for just of the two of us at Jiko (Animal Kindgom Lodge). Ellie enjoyed some downtime at Simba's Cubhouse at Animal Kindgom Lodge (babysitters on Disney property). We will definitely take advantage of this again! THE BEST DINNER I have had in a long time. We also had drinks before dinner (or Jay did) and walked though this awesome resort. We'd love to stay there in the future. The same animals on the safari live outside the guestrooms. Your balcony opens up into their world and it's amazing. It's pretty $$$ so, we may stick with just dinner there!
So, that's it! Truly an amazing vacation for all of us. We went in knowing Ellie was love it, but we loved it just as much. I now know why so many families go back year after year when their kids are this age. We loved our resort - Port Orleans Riverside and would definitely recommend others there and stay there again. We spent the extra $$$ for a Royal Princess room and Ellie loved it. We honestly didn't spend more than 8-9 hours in our room each day (sleeping) so I can see why others spend less $$$ in this area of a trip. There were plenty of things to do at our resort. We booked a carriage ridge the last night around our resort and loved it. The food in the quick-service was good and counted as snacks on our meal plan. The staff there were so nice and very helpful. We didn't mind the bus rides to the parks - average 15-20 minutes to the parks. The buses were always on time to the parks and picking up at the end of the day. Glad I can check Disney off Ellie's bucket list for now... I know we'll be going back - probably sooner rather than later! If you are thinking about going, my advice - GO! It's worth every penny you'll spend!!!

Sorry - left this pic out of Hollywood and Vine!