Saturday, July 31, 2010

Are we there yet?

by Great Biscuit

San Antonio has always held a special place in my heart. It was the first place in Texas that we lived after relocating from Alabama; and many of my elementary school memories center around the River Walk, the San Antonio Zoo, Castle Golf and Showbiz pizza.  It was a great place to be a kid.

A couple of years after we arrived in San Antone (as it likes to be called), we moved out to west Texas.  Shortly after the move, my dad’s grandmother grew ill and he went to Miami to spend some final moments with her. He took me along and it was my first time ever on an airplane. We had a fantastic trip and one of the highlights for me was a visit to the Miami Seaquarium. From that point forward I was fascinated with dolphins, but didn’t really have an opportunity to view them here in the Lone Star State. That all changed around the time we moved to the central Texas hill country.

In the years after we left San Antonio, the town had continued to grow and evolve. Two of the most exciting additions were Sea World San Antonio and Fiesta Texas. (The latter of which eventually became Six Flags Fiesta Texas.)

Sea World opened at the end of my ninth grade year (May 1988). The event was heralded by a TV special and a ton of local advertising. I was definitely excited to head down and check it out. We wound up going during spring break of my tenth grade year and I immediately fell in love with the place.

Many things have changed since those early days. Stadiums have been redone, shows come and gone, rides have been added, a water park was installed and the company was bought out. Yet, the park still has a familiarity to it.

Those of you who read my last trip report may recall that First Lady Biscuit also loves the ocean and sea life. I introduced her to Sea World San Antonio a few weeks before our wedding when her family came down for a San Antonio vacation. We’ve been back at least a dozen times since and usually get season passes every other year or so. The photo in my last installment was from our 10th anniversary when I surprised her with the Beluga Whale interaction. Both of our children love the park as well and get excited every time we go.

Last July, my sister in law and her family came down, and we bought Sea World one year passes. We used them again on Labor Day when we stayed at the Marriott Rivercenter with my parents and my sister's family. We wanted to get one more trip in this summer before the passes expired which meant it had to be before we left for our Minnesota trip. After looking at the calendar, we decided to go with the weekend of June 26th.

In addition, Tracy and the girls all had vouchers for a free ticket to Six Flags Fiesta Texas through their school reading program. We decided to do both in one weekend and invited my parents to join us. They had a prior commitment for Saturday afternoon, but decided to drive down Saturday night and join us for dinner. Since we had all stayed down on the River Walk last Sept, we decided to go with a hotel that was closer to Six Flags. I booked us two rooms at the Comfort Suites just four miles from the park and we were set.

During the planning stage, I decided to skip the water park and rides at Sea World, and I was irritated to hear that the new dolphin show Azul had not yet opened. I had looked at the show schedule ahead of time and come up with a touring plan that allowed us to see all the shows on our list without having to rush to anything or backtrack.

Our plan was to leave home at 11:00 AM, make the three hour drive to San Antonio, catch the shows on our list, and then meet my parents for dinner. The drive started out fine. I had hooked up the portable DVD player in the car and each girl had a screen on the seat back in front of them.  They threw in some sort of Barbie's Magical Butterfly thingy something or other and they were good to go.

Initially I planned to stop for lunch at the Culvers in the big town of Buda. Unfortunately, the place had closed so we settled on Arby’s for the grown up biscuits and Mickey D’s for the young ‘uns. We were soon back on the road and making good time. Traffic was moderate and life was good. And then we hit the traffic. We had just arrived in San Antonio when everything suddenly came to a complete standstill. For the next two hours we snaked our way through 6 miles of anguish. There was a bridge under construction and all traffic was being diverted to the access road.

I was fuming by the time we got through it. This was NOT in the plan. Had I know it was this bad, I could have gone the back way. I was going down a laundry list of shows and attractions, and trying to figure out we could squeeze it all in. My wife, being ever the pragmatist, reminded me that we had already seen the shows anyway and that we would just do what we could do.

Mercifully, we finally made it through the construction and traffic was moving once again. I was able to calm my nerves a bit, and by the time we reached the park I was mostly settled down. The parking lot didn’t look too bad and I was able to get a spot fairly close in. We grabbed our gear, stopped in the entrance plaza to get everyone properly sunscreened and headed to the gate. It had been a rocky start, but our vacation had finally gotten underway.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Home, Sweet Home is the Lesson Today

by: LaLa

Some things in life are just worth waiting for.

Seinfeld’s Season 7 DVD set.

A warm slice of Friendship bread. With butter. The real kind.

True love’s first kiss. True love’s 4,831st kiss ain’t so bad either. As long as you got the right guy. And he’s recently gargled.

Being surrounded by good friends and good food while witnessing history being made as the Saints win the DADGUM SUPERBOWL. WHO DAT BABY?!

Battle For My Wallet 18.….is it? I tend to lose count.

And…a ride aboard the newly (to us) refurbished Space Mountain.

Or, at least, that’s what we told ourselves as we stood in a kingdom that seemed pretty magical on our very first day of Vacation. As we crossed from yesterday into Tomorrow, we stopped short (NOFrankCostanza) when we saw that the wait time for Space Mountain was 60 minutes and that all Fastpasses had been distributed for the day.

Houston, we have a problem.

Now, we are not normally ‘stand in line for 60 minutes’ kind of people. We are normally the people throwing the big fat Loser sign to the ‘stand in line for 60 minutes’ kind of people as we pass them on up. Grinning. And taunting. Because we’ve gotten quite good at working the Fastpass system and knowing when to go and when NOT to go, we haven’t stood in a long line at Disney since Battle For My Wallet -5 was penned. Since county wasn’t cool. Since Victoria had no secrets.

But we were doing something we’d never done before. Going into a park on arrival day. In the middle of the day. In the height of summer. We knew things wouldn’t follow our normal pattern. So we called an audible and hopped in line. Because we really, really wanted a ticket to ride. Bad. And we were still on that ‘just arrived in Disney and we’ve got the rest of the week ahead of us’ high.

So as my husband ushered us in the door with a big, goofy, spaced out grin, I turned and asked one more time. Just to be sure he understood what he was suggesting.

“You realize the wait time for this is 60 minutes right? And you still want to stand in line? For 60 minutes?”

“Sure, it’ll be fun. And I bet it won’t take that long anyway.”

Cut to the end of the week.

We’re still in line.

At least, that’s what it felt like. Sure, they refurbished the queue area for our present enjoyment and it was VERY cool to be able to play interactive video games while we stood still. And didn’t move. One inch. In fact, we loved the additions and felt they really made the time waiting in line go by pretty fast.

Oh, who am I kidding? It went by slow. Extremely slow. Despite the cooler than cool video game screens lining the walls. Perhaps it was because we ran into a group of Brazilians along the way.


Well. Truth be told, they ran into us.

Danced into us is a much more accurate description.

As we were standing there, waiting and talking, we heard an extremely loud, high pitched sound assault our ears and the ears of everyone around us. We quickly located the source and I heard my husband groan, “Not again”.

We’d run into billions of Brazilians the year before and among other bad experiences, had a scary run in involving two different groups, two different ear splitting whistles, a whole lot of yelling and mosh pit style dancing, and an angry mob who had all had enough of the whistles and the yelling and the mosh pit style dancing. All while waiting for Fantasmic and standing shoulder to shoulder with half the world’s population, it seemed. In all the years that we’ve been vacationing there, it was the only time I’ve ever felt unsafe. Or feared for the safety of my children. It was such a strange feeling, and a complete oxymoron. Considering we were in the happiest place on Earth. The experience, unfortunately, capped our trip off on a very low note, and it was something we’d hoped against hope to avoid this time around.

But as we stood there having our ears assaulted and having men literally shimmy into us from the next line over, regardless of the steel bar separating us (and he was WORKIN’ that shimmy… homeboy put Shakira to shame!) and listening to groups alternate the chanting and ear splitting whistle blasts between themselves with no regard for anyone else around them, our mood grew sour.

I understand Disney is all about making money. And those groups bring in a lot of money. Obviously. But IMO, something has to be done to curb that type of behavior from large groups in the parks/attractions or else families will eventually get tired of putting up with it and find other places to vacation. You could see it in the eyes of every family around us. There was no magic to be found anywhere in that line that day.

Unless ’magic’ is code word for ’just waitin’ for an opportunity to pop somebody in the mouth’.

So it was this mood that hovered over us as we inched our way to the front of the line and tried to distract ourselves from Rico Suave and his crew by pointing out the differences in the attraction since the last time we’d ridden it. Our mood seemed to lift as we got closer and closer to the loading dock. Things were starting to look up. We finally made it to the front and excitedly gave our CM the number in our party and were told which numbers were ours.

We had numbers! Finally! We were given numbers! To stand on!

Stand back cause we ‘bout to get our ride on!

As we excitedly stood there on our numbers singing “I Made it Through the Rain” in our (my) head, we began to notice things. Things that told us something was amiss. The CMs were casting confused looks at each other and they weren’t loading the newly refurbished spaceships anymore.

Surely it’s not what I think it is.

We waited for a few seconds, knowing full well it WAS what we thought it was. And then came the confirmation. In the form of an announcement that informed us that due to technical difficulty, Space Mountain was temporarily closed and would no longer be boarding.

Funny dressed man with a microphone say what?

We’d already waited long enough to allow Barry Manilow’s career to come back around. Twice. But now it was over. We’d made it through the rain. For nothing. We slowly ventured off our little numbers, looking back over our shoulders longingly, and were given a set of Fastpasses on the way out. As a consolation prize.

Strike one.

But it was still the first day. We were still pumped to be there. So what if the inaugural ride was a big fat, freakin’ bust? We had the rest of the park to explore.

We explained to the kids what happened, told them we had ALL WEEK to come back and ride it, and then asked them where they wanted to head next. We’d do whatever they wanted. Because it was still the first day and we were just happy to be there.

The kids were calling the shots, and they picked Thunder Mountain.

We, as a family, LOVE us some Thunder Mountain. It really is the wildest ride in the wilderness, you know. So we quickly agreed. So what if it’s all the way on the other side of the park? A ride on Thunder Mountain and a little “hang onto your hats and glasses folks’ action is JUST what we need to get this vacation back on track.

So we walked. And as we walked, we stumbled upon an ironic reminder that it's possible for even Walt to have an 'off' day.

We laughed a little bit and made immature jokes amongst ourselves along the way. Most of them involved the word 'poop'. Before we knew it, we found ourselves at the foot of the big orange mountain.

The posted wait time wasn’t very long so we high fived each other and high stepped it on over. Time to get our ride on.

And then it happened. Just like before.

The CMs. Again with the confused looks. Sure enough, as we got closer, we were told they were experiencing technical difficulty. Thunder Mountain was down for the count.

Strike two.

This trip wasn’t starting off exactly the way we’d planned. So far we were 0-2, and like Mick Jagger, we couldn’t get no satisfaction.

It was at this point that the love of my life, seeing distress on the faces of his family and knowing he had to get us on a ride and get us on a ride now, dug deep into his bag of tricks and set about amazing the rest of us with his mad skillz.

You may remember me mentioning the fact that he was wearing The Birthday Pin. Loudly and proudly. Well, suddenly Birthday Boy turns to us and says, “Follow me and let me do all the talking.” I had no idea what he was up to, but when he gets that look in his eye, it’s best to just follow him and let him do all the talking.

We follow him straight to the Splash Mountain Fastpass line where he digs into his pocket and proceeds to pull out four Fastpasses for Splash Mountain.

From last year.

He makes sure the CM working the Fastpass line has an unobstructed view of The Birthday Pin and proceeds to tell our story. He fills her in on how we got the Fastpasses on our trip last year but were never able to use them because the ride was broken down both times we tried to ride it. He explains that we’ve just tried to ride two different rides that were also broken down and wonders if there’s ANY WAY possible we might be able to use said Fastpasses to ride Splash Mountain.

Then he dips her all the way back and lays one on her. After he just gargled.

Just in case she needs a little extra persuasion.

I’m kidding. Of course.

Or am I?

Actually, instead of laying one on her, he pulls out his weapon of choice: the big puppy dog eyes. Those big brown eyes that no woman in her right mind could resist. The same ones that have had me swimming from the moment I first gazed into them.

That and The Birthday Pin. Which he shoved in her face with an overly dramatic twist of his shoulder. Just in case she missed it the first time.

I guess you know how it all went down.

She laughed in amazement at us.

It wasn’t so much the gall of the whole thing that got her. It was the fact that we held onto a set of Fastpasses for a year that had her speechless. Without speech. Once she recovered, she even said that. “YOU HELD ONTO THEM FOR A WHOLE YEAR?!” As she quickly waved us on through. After picking her jaw up off the floor and shoving her eyeballs back into their sockets. A little worse for wear. They were rolling around on that germ ridden Disney concrete, after all. I would’ve offered her a squirt of anti-bac but I didn’t want to push my luck.

I suppose we won her over with our idiocy. Or maybe it was the honesty.

Either way, we didn't care. Daddy had hit a HOME RUN and we were about to get our ride on!


We were PUMPED and immediately high fived each other. After roughly an hour and a half trying to get our butts on something, we were finally about to experience our first ride of the trip. Right after we tossed everyone the big fat Loser sign as we passed them on up. Grinning. And taunting.

Cause that’s how we roll.

I never get tired of riding Splash Mountain. Never. Part of it is the music, part of it is the drop, part of it is hearing my husband tell the kids the story of Brer Rabbit and watching them listen intently. Even though he tells them the story each year as we make our way through the ride, they always act just as enthralled as they did the very first time they heard it. But mostly I just enjoy watching my kids’ faces as they squeal with anticipation. As we inch closer and closer to the big drop.

And I never, ever get tired of hearing the laughter of my children and husband intermingled afterwards as we float along and sing Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Da. I remember so many other times we’ve done the same thing, and that feeling, that unbridled and contagious joy, always feels like coming home to me.

It did on that day as well.

That was all it took to completely override the sour mood that had been plaguing us before, experiencing that first ride together as a family and looking forward to all the fun and excitement the week ahead would bring. With no interruptions or distractions.

That morning we had been at home. Making sure we’d packed everything in the van and getting settled for the long drive down. But that one ride on Splash Mountain, the one we’d waited all year for (literally) had kicked off our vacation in a big way. And as we passed by the beautiful castle and took in all the sights and sounds and smells, we looked around and pinched ourselves to make sure we weren‘t really dreaming.

As is necessary when you realize you’re in Disneyworld, according to our daughter.

My, oh, my what a wonderful day indeed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

by: NicoleMarie

After 15 Disney trips in five years, the NMs were finally convinced at the end of last summer that our love affair with the Mouse wasn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, it was getting even more intense with every trip under those happy arches. So with uncharacteristic financial spontaneity, without even seeing Bay Lake Tower in person, or even being in the World when we signed the contract, the NMs bought some DVC points at Bay Lake Tower and finally became members of the Best Kept Disney Secret (really?): the Disney Vacation Club. We took our first DVC trip this past Thanksgiving, stayed in a 1 BR villa at Bay Lake Tower, and loved every minute of it.

Like the full on rednecks we are, we ooohed and ahhhed over the villa and all the space it afforded our family of four. We put snacks in the cool pull-out pantry. We loaded the full size fridge with drinks. We listened to our iPod tunes through the iPod dock while we got ready. The hubby and I threw the “loser” sign at the kids as we shut the door to the master bedroom every night and fell asleep on the big, comfy king bed. We put our dirty laundry in a laundry basket in the LAUNDRY ROOM, and we came home with mostly clean clothes after our vacation. Because the Florida temps were COLD this past Thanksgiving, I’d fill up a nice, hot Jacuzzi bath when I needed to take the chill off. (After running two tubs full of water through the jets on the day we checked in. The first tub containing the entire contents of a small bottle of bleach. Oh yes Ma’am. You didn’t think I’d just get in there WITHOUT doing that did you?) The kids got ready in the mornings in their OWN bathroom, and the husband and I got ready just like we would at home – in the privacy of OUR own bathroom. Get where I’m going with this? Staying in the 1 BR villa at Bay Lake Tower was an AWESOME way to vacation at Disney World.


For those of you who don’t know us, let me give you a little introduction. A very little one just so you can get the NM family dynamics in your head. My husband and I both turned 40 this spring, and we’ve been married for 18 years in December. (!!!!) We have two children – a girl and a boy. Our daughter is 11 and going into the 6th grade (!!!!), and our son is 8 and going into 2nd. You’ll learn more about us as we go, but that’s the basics. On with the show.

So now that we own DVC, we are GUARANTEED (Lord willing and the creek don’t rise) to take – at this stage in the game – at least one trip per year. I’m sure there will come a time we’ll bank points and go every other year. Or possibly every THREE years if we bank AND borrow. But not now. Especially not this year. Because this year we had not only our 2010 points, but some leftovers from 2009 as well.

And so it was born.

A milestone trip of sorts for the NM family. A trip that shifted the NM ‘s Disney Vacation tide.

For FOREVER, we’ve taken our main family vacation in September. We’d pull the kids out of school and enjoy a week at the beach or at Disney World, paying cheaper rates and mingling with less folks.

But when the girl entered 5th grade this past school year, we felt like it was best NOT to pull her out of school for a full week, and instead, take our vacation during school breaks.

So we started discussing summer dates, and right away I thought of the 4th of July. For the last five years, I’ve wanted to be in the World on the 4th of July. Whether we were in a boat on the lake watching some not-as-awesome-as-Disney fireworks, or whether we were lighting sparklers and grilling hamburgers by the pool with good friends, or even last year, when our plane was descending into Atlanta just as really nice fireworks were going off all over the city, I would ALWAYS say to my husband that one year, I would love to watch the 4th of July fireworks at Disney World. In my mind, there would be no better place to celebrate the birthday of this great Land.

With that thought, my mind turned into a calendar and I started mentally drawing a long line starting on Saturday, June 26th, and ending on Monday July 5th. Monday the 5th was the federal holiday for the 4th - and an EXTRA day of vacation for the NMs. Oh yeah, baybee!! Go ahead and tell the office you’re gonna be off, Mr. NM. Cause we are GOIN’ TO DISNEY WORLD!!! FOR TEN DAYS!!! Our longest trip ever.

Now that the dates were agreed upon, it was time to decide resorts. I could make this paragraph really detailed and boring to read – kinda like the rest of my TR – or I can save you the grief and just give you the final outcome of the resort decision making process. We decided on 6 nights in a Kidani 2 BR, moving over to a 1 BR at BLT for 3 nights the weekend of the 4th. So now we had not only moved up from a hotel room to a villa, we were going TWO BEDROOMS.

TWO BEDROOMS? AT DISNEY WORLD? Country has come to town, my friends. Country has come to town.

We looked at online pictures of the 2 BR villa, and the kids started dancing a jig all over the kitchen as they realized they would each have their VERY OWN BED! In their VERY OWN BEDROOM! DH and I were dancing a jig all over the kitchen when we realized that there would be not just one, but TWO doors - AND a big living room - separating ours and the kids’ sleeping space for 6 nights. Oh, yes. This was shaping up to be a trip like no other Disney trip the NMs had ever taken. We might actually slow down and enjoy things this time! Sleep in! Rent some movies! Take a day off to hang at the resort! All while knowing the parks were ready and waiting whenever we wanted to be in them.

The excitement and anticipation of this seemingly "best Disney trip ever" would continue to build for the next seven months. We'd play Disney Trivia at restaurants, look at Disney websites, measure my ALMOST 48" son every month and in general, talk about our trip constantly. Until finally, the time would arrive. We would pack the bags, put them in the car, and head off to Disney World.

I promise, next installment, we'll get there.

Thanks for reading, friends.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I, I, I! Summer Fun on the I-35 Corridor!

Life it seems, is about chapters.  Some chapters, such as our high school days, are easily defined.  Others can be a bit more ambiguous.  While most of us share a common interest in Walt Disney World, and no doubt dream frequently of vacationing there, often times the stories of our lives take us in different directions.  Whether due to work schedules, family emergencies, financial constraints or obstinate spouses, knowing that there is not a Disney trip in your immediate future can be downright depressing.  If one spends a considerable quantity of time reading trip reports, as I am prone to do, those feelings can be multiplied.  While we are stuck in a world of traffic jams and the daily grind, the trip report boards are filled with scores of folks who are all heading to Disney.  Before long, one tends to wind up with a bit of Disney tunnel vision.

When Zzub first raised the idea of a non-Disney TR, I was intrigued, but wondered how in the world to pull such a thing off.  What would be the common thread?  The tie that binds if you will?  It’s easy to ramble on and on about arriving at MCO and taking the ME to the POR and hopping the bus to the MK to take the resort monorail the CR for an ADR at CM’s.  We’re all Disney nerds in one sense or another and I’m guessing virtually everyone on this Blog knows exactly what I just said.  But what about life outside of The World? It then occurred to me that even those who do an annual trip to see Mickey and friends still live the bulk of their lives in other places.

The initial concept for this segment of the blog was to remind folks that there is still fun to be had and life to be lived outside of Disney.   It was to serve as an encouragement to not become so focused on getting to Walt Disney World, that it becomes impossible to enjoy a trip to any other place.   To stop, look around and cherish the moments with friends and family and to realize that memories and magic are not exclusive to a Disney vacation.  Seeing all my fellow posters regale their trips to Disney, perhaps this series, more than
anything is being authored to remind myself of these things.

I am venturing into uncharted territory and am not really sure where this road will lead.   After all, as I sit and write this first installment in Mother In Law’s basement, our journey is still ongoing.  One thing this summer has already shown me is that no matter how we plan and organize for things, we can never fully predict how life is going to fill in the details.

Speaking of details, perhaps it would behoove me to provide a few.  Rather than one big trip to Disney this year, we are actually taking three trips and as the title implies, each destination is along I-35.  My family moved from Alabama to Texas when I was in the third grade. Over the years, we have driven I-35 countless times.  Heck, I take the thing to work every single day.  All told, I have managed to travel from one end of I-35 in Laredo, Texas to within a hundred miles of the other end in Duluth, Minnesota. During our college and early ministry years, my wife and I lived in four of the six states that I-35 intersects. And since we’ve had friends and relatives in the other two, we have spent vacation and holidays in the them as well. It’s a great road to travel and there are a ton of things to do along the way.   Each stop brings with it a mixture of tradition and new experiences.   Two of our destinations are to places that my wife and I each lived as children, while a third recreates some childhood activities.

Our travels this summer begin in San Antonio, continue in Minneapolis, and conclude in Dallas.  There will be good times, strange times, good meals, strange meals and a rather large cast of characters.  There will also be stories of penguin poo, Scooby Doo, flying laptops, family mayhem and thunderous flatulence.   In other words, it’s been a normal summer in the Biscuit household.  Since we are on the subject, let me introduce the clan.

I am Biscuit.

Hear me roar.

(I'm the one on the right BTW)
I’m a tech support guy for a telecom company and an associate pastor at our church.    I’ve had eight trips to Disney over my thirty six year lifetime, but last summer’s was my first time back in twelve years.  Our next trip to the House of Mouse is tentatively planned for 2012.  I love football, BBQ, fishing and flash drives.  But most of all, I love the Lord and spending time with my wife and two daughters.   First Lady Biscuit is a school teacher, my oldest whom I call “Princess” is going into the third grade, and my youngest who goes by “Bug” is going into first grade.   If you read my TR from last summer, you no doubt remember Nana and Papa Biscuit.   They will be along in this tale fairly soon, as well as host of other family members. 

And so it begins.  I hope you will come along on this ride as we seek to explore some of the other places in this Big Blue World.  (NoZzub’sFavoriteShow.)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Overdue and Overpacked IV: Forty Reasons to Celebrate

by: LaLa

Nine days.

Two hundred sixteen hours.

Twelve thousand, nine hundred and sixty minutes.

That’s the approximate amount of time we spent soaking up the Yellow on our latest family vacation to the House that Walt Built. And six days after our return, as I sit here in the dark and think back on it, it seemed to last just a tiny fraction of that amount.

But then again, I knew it would. It always does.

Since we booked this year’s trip, a fantastically funky fortieth birthday celebration for my husband roughly six months in advance, we had a lot of time to anticipate the things we might do. The things we looked forward to doing the most. Based on numerous family discussions around the dinner table, forty of them were previously listed here. I’m happy to report that we were able to fit in most of them. As well as a few more that weren’t on the list.

But most importantly, more important than anything that could ever be placed on any list, we felt blessed to be together. To be healthy and happy. To have God’s hand at work in our lives. We forgot about the pressures of work and the reminders that our children are growing up so fast they’ll soon be applying for social security. And getting false teeth. We kicked stress to the curb (for the most part anyway) and once again pulled out our family‘s favorite measuring stick as we watched our children grow another year older and wiser, and face fears head on, with Disney as the backdrop. We forgot about the oil spill and the threat of hurricanes. We breathed in deeply and, for a change, smelled nothing but memories. Funnel cakes and fun times. And…. chili. In places we weren’t expecting. Which was weird. More on that later. We engaged in shameless PDA, quoted offbeat movies WAY too much, danced when we should’ve walked, and laughed ourselves lightheaded. We lost track of the days, as we always do while we’re there, and allowed time to stand still.


For nine pretty dadgum awesome, if not hot and crowded as all get out days.

For two hundred sixteen hours.

For twelve thousand, nine hundred and sixty minutes.

Give or take.

All of which passed entirely too fast for my liking. Despite the time standing still thing. Or, perhaps because of it. Which is why even though I didn’t plan on writing any more trip reports, I currently plan on taking the next nine months (270 days, 6,480 hours, 388,800 minutes) reliving every last fleeting minute. Of our vacation. Here. Down to the very last, very sad drive underneath the arches. Going the wrong way. As our daughter cried and my husband declared emphatically (once again) that we would be visiting somewhere else next year.

Like Dollywood.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But to get to the end, we have to start at the beginning And this particular jaunt to the House of Mouse for our family began like most others we’ve taken over the last eight years. If I’ve learned nothing else about our family, it’s that we are creatures of habit. And every trip (even the times when we have surprised the kids) officially begins with the tearing off of the last link on the Countdown Chain. We get downright freaky and anticipation builds to a fever high pitch as the links get shorter and shorter.

And then it is time…

Time to pack the van (or, let DH pack the van) and time to get our freak on. Because we’re going to Did-neh Whirl, baby!

And on this particular day as the last link was ripped from its hold, staples and all, the kids danced around and we all did the Cupid Shuffle. One of us ( I won’t name names) took the funkified instructions a little too far. While slipping on an ice cube. To the right. To the right. To the right. Waaaayyyyy over to the right. And fell. Hard. This was no cute, semi graceful little girly fall. I used to be able to pull those off. A year ago. When I was eighteen. In my mind.

No, this was an old lady, blank confused stare for ten seconds afterwards, think I broke my arm but at least my new phone’s okay kinda fall. You know it’s bad when you open your eyes, feel nothing but pain and find your children’s faces hovering over you. Practically dripping spit into your eyeballs. Unintentionally. As they look down with mad concern in their eyes and question, “Dear sweet mother? Did you break your head?“

And their dear sweet mother, who previously thought she could Cupid Shuffle with the best of them, feels not so much eighteen. But more like 40.

Hi Mr. LaLa!

In other words: vacation had OFFICIALLY begun!

Because like the Countdown Chain, THIS is what announces the beginning of a Disney vacation to our family. Severe bodily injury. Which, at times, has been interchangeable with the following: waterline breakage, unexpected surgeries, overflowing washing machines, threatened electrocution, flooded houses (which tend to complete the circle by leading back to the severe bodily injury thing), and other assorted unexpected happenings. None of them good. It seems like every year, something happens on Disney Eve. Something unexpected. Something that’s not so much fun. And so as this nameless person lay there in the floor, wondering if this is how drunks feel (Hi Mel!), she was sure of two things: 1-choosing to protect cell phones over appendages is never a good call (no matter how cool and useful that metal detector app is), and 2- the trip had officially begun.

Literally. And figuratively.

Awww yeah.

I’m happy to report that I did not break anything that day. As previously feared. Thank the Lord above. My left side was only numb for three days (72 hours, 4,320 minutes), the hallucinations were actually fun (fireflies are so much easier to catch when they’re not real) and I was successful in finally drowning out the humming noises in my ears on the drive down with the help of some old friends.

When the man declared that we would be leaving at three in the morning in order to make it to Disney by lunchtime (because he’s a freak and it’s still all about the time…and I LOVE him for that), I was definitely down widdit. He stocked the CD player again with his extensive collection of old school mix tapes and over the long, long, longlonglong drive, we enjoyed spending some time with Willie McCoy. And Leroy Brown. Who was bad. Bad, even. Although he was much Better Than Ezra.

And after covering a WHOLE lot of miles and memories, watching the sunrise and immediately giving thanks to God for all his blessings, measuring several orange colored roads with my knuckles, kickin’ butt and takin' names in the Spot the Disney Sign Game ( I took first place this time with 168,000 points….gotta LOVE the point value for those Summer Nightastic billboards!), and swapping the 80s music for some Disney Toons, we seat danced when we looked off into the distance and saw the first (and coolest) sign that told us were finally there.

We had looked forward to a lot of things on this particular trip. The obvious things. Space Mountain. Expedition Everest. Illuminations. Funnel cakes. Time spent with family. Not necessarily in that order. But as we watched the road signs turn from green to purple (hat tip GB), found our lodging place for the night and walked into Pop Century that very first day, we were hit in the face with the one thing we love the most about arriving in Disney. Literally.

That unmistakable Disney resort smell.

If you fly your freak flag as high as we do, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t, you should get out now while you still can. It’s kind of a mixture of cold air and the smell of different varieties of food hitting you in the face. I think, anyway. At least, that’s what it always smells like to me.

And as SOON as those front doors of the Pop slid open and we shimmied on in, my husband and I immediately turned to look at each other. And smiled huge. He swiftly and openly declared his love. For the Disney smell. We were of one mind and one accord and that familiar scent got us going. It let us know that vacation had begun. All nine days of it. Which, in that place in time, seemed like it would last forever and a day.

We breathed a little deeper than necessary and listened to the kids’ high pitched squeals behind us as we sashayed over to the resort check in desk and did our thang.

Before we left, I had requested a refurbished room and notated on our reservation that we were celebrating my husband’s 40th birthday. The CM behind the desk was extremely nice and helpful and gave us the hookup with the room, handed DH a birthday pin (which he wore proudly for the next few days, if only to serve as a trap for unsuspecting CMs) and also gave the rest of us a stack of pins that read “I’m Celebrating”.

Apparently just being in the presence of my husband is reason enough to celebrate. He concurs with that assessment. Shocker. Even if you’re not celebrating the greatness of my DH, if there’s any way you can get your hands on some of these on your next trip, do it. We had fun giving unexpected answers to CMs all week as they foolishly asked us what we were celebrating.

I would NOT advise answering “A really nice Pooh” though.

Or would I?

We were pleasantly surprised to find that our room was ready so we hightailed it outta there (stopping long enough to see how many items we could identify in the 70s and 80s display boxes cause we’re cool like that) and then checked out the joint.

We’d stayed at Pop last year for one night and didn’t really fall in love with the place. The room was not up to par as far as cleanliness goes and to me, that alone can make or break a hotel stay. Among other things, we found a Hidden Mickey. In the shower. Perfectly formed by a singular small, black hair. That little sweetheart was there when we checked in.

In other words, not ours.

There was also a hole in the wall. Literally. I was a little hesitant to book here again but we were VERY pleased with the accomodations on this go ‘round. Everything seemed brand new and was extremely clean. They were bringin' the flat screen. Better to see Stacy with, my dear. Plus the 'hard carpet' was deemed THE BEST EVER to rub your bare feet on.

As per the boy.

After bringing in the overpacked overnight bag (did you expect anything less?) and getting sitchated, we grabbed our passes, threw the park bag over the old shoulder and hit the door. Ready to soak up some magic. Which is just what we did.

If “magic” is codeword for “rain”.

We experienced a whole heckuvalot of “magic” on this trip. Starting right about 3:00 every day. "Magic" was literally everywhere. So we donned our dollar store ponchos and stopped long enough to grab some grub at Everything Pop.

There’s something about that very first meal in Disney that just rocks. And the food court at Pop is pretty dang cool. Lots of variety. It's like Cosmic Ray's on steroids. Nice place to have the first meal of the trip. Plus they have Coke Zero. Which I gladly filled to the rim of my new refillable mug.

We had fun discussing our game plan for the day and once we’d finished and were able to tear the kids away from Phineus and Ferb (which was playing on the TV overhead), we hauled butt out front and caught our first cooler than cool Disney bus ride of the trip.

Another ‘first’ that we always look forward to.

There are so many things about the first day of a Disney trip that evoke happy memories and just all around good feelings for us. Because of the whole creatures of habit thing, probably. We’ve been bringing our family to Disney for vacation for many, many years. And before that, it was the place my husband and I spent our honeymoon. So as we arrived at our destination and passed underneath this sign…

…we were instantly transported back to yesterday. As we walked down Main Street, our cooler than cool twelve year old son and ‘growing up entirely way too fast’ nine year old daughter were two and five again. Unabashedly thankful and thrilled to be in their own personal happy place. The one they’ve grown to know like the backs of their hands over the years. Beside them a not quite forty year old man and his wife remembered the first time they walked down that street together. And felt like a couple of kids again.

Extremely immature adults, anyway. Which isn’t too far off the mark in normal circumstances.

And for nine days, two hundred sixteen hours, twelve thousand nine hundred and sixty minutes, we enjoyed the heck out of being in the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy. Where time seems to stand still.

Especially while waiting in line for Space Mountain.

With a gaggle of Brazilian tour groups present.

Oh Yeah.

Story at ten.