Monday, August 30, 2010

Gettin' Sitched...

So there we were. FINALLY at Disney World. The trip that had been planned, talked about, anticipated; planned some more, talked about some more and anticipated some more, was here. Ain’t nothin’ like it on the excitement scale. And even though we had already had a fantastic morning – from meeting the LaLas to initiating ourselves with a ride on Soarin’ – my MOST favorite moment of the Disney vacation had not even happened yet.

We hadn’t checked into our room.

In this case, for the first time ever, our two bedroom DVC villa.

To say my expectations were high is a big, fat understatement. They were Mt. Everest high. See-the-whole-entire-World-from-the-peak high. Because if there’s a skill I have in life, it’s looking at the pictures of a hotel room or condo online, and being able to tell if it’s a dump dressed up with some good photography, or if it’s legitimately a nice place. You can’t fool me.

And every single dadgum picture I had ever seen of the 2 BR at Kidani Village showed that sucker lookin’ FINE. And trust me. I’d seen plenty. I’d even seen some virtual tours on You Tube, and the place STILL looked great. Perfect, even. (Except for that stinkin’ BLANK wall in the kitchen. Can’t they hang a big basket there or something? The wall is just so…empty.)

This is a great walk-through if you're interested:

Now, before you start thinking we’re such rednecks that we think the AKL is a Conde Nast Gold List resort, we are. But we don’t. But I did expect it to be the biggest and newest and most enjoyable resort stay we’d ever had at WDW. And I expected a wow factor when we walked in for the first time.

So it was with great anticipation that we got off of Soarin’, pulled a FP for Test Track for later, and headed out of Epcot via the International Gateway. DH pulled the car around, and the ridiculous giddiness that has come to be commonplace when the NMs are at Disneyworld, was in full force. We were all smiling, chatting, laughing and listening to Disney tunes as we followed purple signs over to the AKL.

We arrived at the guard shack, rolled down our window, showed our DVC card to the attendant, and he said very humorously, “Welcome home, Mr. NM! Go right in! You own the place!” We all laughed as my DH rolled up the window, and then gloated all the way to the lobby of Kidani Village. “Oh yeah! Make way for the NMs! Good thing that CM knew who he was dealing with. Here we are, People! Don’t ignore the VSI! “(Vast Sphere of Influence…yes, Roger is an idiot.) But despite all the antics of my mature in age, but immature in actions DH, the thing that cracked us up the most, was that we know the deal. We absolutely don’t own the place. Or even a fraction of it. We prepaid for vacations for 50 years. That’s it. Nothing more. But the fact that this sweet elderly man at the guard shack chose THOSE words to say to us, instead of “Have a magical day!” (which would have been great, too) or “Here’s your car permit. Please put it on your dashboard for the duration of your stay” (which would have been lame, but acceptable) was just a fun way to start the vacation.

Once inside the lobby of Kidani, which is MUCH smaller than Jambo house, but really cozy and intimate, we all walked up and gave the check-in girl our name. She found our reservation quickly, and confirmed that we were booked in a 2BR standard view. I nodded yes, and my DH immediately piped up with the “but if you have a savannah view, we’ll be glad to go there” line. Bless this CM’s sweet heart…she said she would see what she could do. What she DIDN’T know, was that DVC doesn’t do upgrades. Or at least that’s what the person she called on the phone told her. They said we had a contractual agreement for our stay, and an upgrade would be more points and it was something that wasn’t possible.

You never know until you ask, I reckon.

It was about 2pm by this time, and since DVC check-in time is 4 pm, we were pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to get in our villa and start “gettin’ sicheeated.” We were correct. The villa wasn’t ready, but she took my cell phone number and said they would text us when it was. She showed us on the resort map where the room would be located, and she gave us our packet of happiness, our room keys, and bid us a magical vacation.

Armed with six nights worth of snack credits, we went straight to Jahori Treasures to check out the snack options. I’m sure I will say this more than once during this trip report, but the Kidani Village CMs are the most friendly and helpful CMs I’ve ever encountered at WDW. They are so proud of the resort, and really seem to WANT to make DVC members glad they purchased a membership. DH chatted it up with the cashier CM there as the kids and I discussed ice cream choices, and he found out there was an EXTENSIVE library of DVDs free to rent for DVC members. We all filed that away for later, and in my mind I thought we’d never actually take the time to make use of the DVD rental. I was happy to be proven wrong several times throughout the week. We finally picked out four ice creams of different varieties, and sat down on one of the cool-as-all-get-out couches in the lobby and ate ice cream and formulated a two hour plan. On the one hand, we were BEYOND giddy. But on the other hand, we were feeling that post-lunch crash and needed a little pick-me-up in the form of a bed to lie down on for a few minutes. Knowing that wasn’t possible at this point, we decided we’d just explore the resort and wait for our text.

We finished the ice cream, which was a pretty good pick-me-up for all four of us, and we set off to explore Kidani Village. We started with the location of our room. We were on the lobby level, close to the exit to the buses, and close to the lobby. It was an IDEAL location. After checking that out, we noticed we were also very close to the arcade. So we walked in and were immediately sucked in. The little NMs could have spent the whole afternoon there! They loved it. We filled a card with some credits for them, and while they played a full on COMPETITIVE (Hi DS!) game of air hockey, DH and I played the Galaga/Ms. Pac Man machine. GOOD. TIMES. I even thought I caught a whiff of some Love’s Baby Soft as I was gobbling up blue ghosts and pieces of fruit. (Level 10, Baybee!!)

After we’d used up our five bucks worth of arcade credits, we walked across the hall to Community Hall to see what they had to offer there. The little NMs thought it was an impressive mix of video games, crafts, board games (that DVC members could also check out and take to their villas) and sporting equipment that could be checked out and used on the sport court. One thing we were quickly noticing to be the case about Kidani, was that it was a TRUE resort. You could vacation there and never have to go to the parks at all to have a great time.

My daughter and I pondered our board game options, decided upon something I’d never heard of, and got the game set up. About that time, my “your room is ready” text came in. We had the rest of our trip to play a board game. But right now, there’s a 2BR villa waiting on us to slide our key in the door, walk in and make the place our home. Let’s roll!

We walked down the hall toward our room and the kids fought over who would actually open the door. DH settled the argument by saying that HE would open the door. He did, and the little NMs burst in around him as soon as it was cracked. All four of us dispersed ourselves throughout the villa “ooohhhing” and “ahhhhing” and exclaiming “This is AWESOME!!!” and “Look at THIS!” We were checking all the different rooms out, opening and closing doors, cabinets and drawers, sitting down on the sofa, squishing the mattresses (all THREE of them!) for softness, and opening the drapes to see our view. (Which wasn’t great, but was what I had expected.) The place was as big and spacious and comfortable and well appointed as I had expected it to be, and I couldn’t wait to move right in. I was full on impressed, and my expectations were absolutely met. This was gonna be a great place to stay.

We wrapped up our initial gushing over the place, and headed out to pull the car around to our garage parking area and take our stuff up via the Timon elevator. (We could have used bell services, but chose not to. I don’t remember exactly why, although I’m sure it was because the elevator was so close to our villa and we didn’t want to bother with waiting on someone. The garage parking and the elevators from the garage are a HUGE plus if you have a car at WDW.)

We were on cloud nine as we walked down to the car, pulled around to our section of the garage, and decided that although Kidani wasn’t our home resort, that as of that moment, it was our favorite. We had been wowed, and wowed good. Which is exactly how you want to start off your vacation.

Everyone got a bag and we were back in the villa unpacking in no time. We had placed an order with Garden Grocer and I called down to have it delivered. (Aside: Garden Grocer provided EXCELLENT service. Not only did they make a phone call to confirm my online order the day I placed it, they called TWICE on delivery day. Once to tell us the order had been delivered and was being held at Kidani Bell Services, and then again to assure we had picked it up and were satisfied with the contents. Highly recommend Garden Grocer!) Our food arrived from Bell Services, we were unpacking and getting sitched, and man, oh man, was life good for the NMs.

We were in our happy place. We were in Disney World.

I titled this TR The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same.

And this day was a perfect example of how that would be the running theme of this Disney vacation. Things certainly had changed over the years and over the course of our Disney trips. The kids are so much older now than they were on that first visit. They have changed in SO many ways, and I could write an entire trip report just about that. But the most obvious is their physical growth. We can now tour the parks as a family unit instead of pairs because everyone is FINALLY taller than 48 inches. We’re spread out in a villa because of the DVC membership, instead of being all together in a hotel room for the whole week. Which is a good thing with a pre-teen daughter. (And don’t get me wrong: I always loved the cozyness of that hotel room. It worked for us then, and would work just as well now if we hadn’t taken the DVC plunge.) We regularly partake of the Dining Plan instead of winging it with our meals, and as a result, I’m always too full to have my evening Mickey head Rice Krispy treat. Bummer. And finally, after years of saying we’d do it, we really did slow things down and enjoy it this trip.

But there are those things that were the same. Just like they always are when the NMs are at Disney.

We whooped and hollered as we rolled under the Arches. We acted silly and giddy as we arrived on Disney property and drove to our resort. Roger immediately shifted from Type A, business owner, got-a-million-things-on-my-mind Daddy, to Disney-Daddy. The one that is all fun, all the time. I shifted from laid back, NON Type-A, it’ll-all-work-out-don’t-stress Mama, to Disney-Mama. The one that all of a sudden IS Type-A, and works by lists, itineraries and ADRs. (Although the itinerary was a little more laid back.) The kids remembered all the things they like about one another, and took great joy in settling into their shared room for the week. They immediately became best friends with a love of Disney World in common, instead of a boy and a girl with totally different personalities and interests in real life.

Yes, it was a perfect illustration of that very common phrase.

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

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fun with Mammals

By: Great Biscuit

It had been a longer than expected drive, but I finally found myself pulling into the gates of Sea World San Antonio. It was warm, but not oppressively hot and there was a smattering of clouds that day which offered an occasional reprise from the Texas sun. Winding through the drive from the gates to parking area is always a fun moment. The trees provide a natural canopy of shade and the walrus crossing sign always makes me grin.

Of the many benefits which are bestowed upon annual pass holders, perhaps the most rewarding is the free parking. I’ve always had an inner hatred for being forced to pay to park at a theme park. Such pettifogging rankles my innards. Upon surrendering my pass for inspection, we were waved through to the parking area and set about the task of locating an empty spot. Sea World San Antonio has two main parking areas. Preferred, which is closest to the gate, and general, which is where the rest of us dregs park. It’s actually not all that much further away to park in general parking and in fact, it’s all one giant lot which has been augmented with some concrete barriers.

In short order we, managed to get everyone squared away and headed up to the entrance. Our unplanned delay on the access road of loop 410 necessitated a stop at the facilities just outside the gates. While I waited for the girls to finish up, I felt it prudent to take a few shots of the entrance plaza. I’m not really sure why that is. I take a picture of the gates EVERY time I’m there. Yet, it seems that just as I am incapable of completing a trip to Walt Disney World without stopping in Pinocchio Village Haus, I am equally incapable of taking a trip to Sea World without taking a photo of the front gate.

This Trip

Last Trip

We made our way through bag check and then did the hand scanner thing. As soon as I made it into the park, a random guest stopped me and handed me a $5 merchandise voucher. SWSA does this funky thing with their locker rentals in the water park where they give you back a $5 merchandise credit when you turn the key back in rather than offering an actual $5 refund. Turns out this family was leaving and didn’t want to use it. I thanked the guy and then thanked the Lord for reminding me that it was time to relax and enjoy my family.

I grabbed a show times guide and took a couple of minutes to re-formulate The Plan. After looking over the remain show times and factoring in the distance between shows, heat, humidity, barometric pressure and the number of quarters in my left pocket, I was set.  One of the things the girls really wanted to do was to feed the dolphins. So, we headed left.

If his honor will permit a sidebar, I would like to digress a moment. If you ever find yourself in Sea World San Antonio, and are standing in the entrance plaza, it may be a bit confusing as to which way to go. You can’t see anything BUT the entrance plaza at that point. (Think The Oasis at AK.) The entrance is offset on the left hand side and 95% of the park will be to your right. The only things you will find to the left are Dolphin Cove (which is a petting pool, and not the actual dolphin show which is to the right), the Coral Reef and Shark building, and some shops. When the park first opened, there was a one acre map of the US over there that was labeled with a dizzying number of locals. Apparently the upkeep got to be too much and that area of the park was closed. (You can still see the outline of it on Google Earth / Google Maps.)

Sea World San Antonio has changed much over the years.  The first time I went, the dolphin show was called "Friends" and featured four different types of marine mammals.  (Bottle nose dolphins, pacific white sided dolphins, Beluga whales and false killer whales.) The stadium was only partially covered and as it faces south, it was always scorching hot, but the show was focused completely on the animals.  Now the show is called "Azul" and while I haven’t seen it yet, I hear it is similar to last year’s show "Viva!"  There are now only pacific dolphins and Beluga whales, and about half the show focuses on high divers and acrobats.  The stadium is fully covered and is certainly cooler in the Texas heat than the open plan it began with, but I miss the old show.

Another show that was around the park first opened was called Wheels.  The performers were all on roller blades, bikes and motorcycles and as a teen age boy, I LOVED it.  It was loud, rocking and hoot load of fun.  Now, that theater serves as a concert venue and is only occasionally utilized.

Of course not all the changes have been bad.  Numerous thrill rides have been added, and the waterpark is a fantastic feature on hot summer days.  Both serve to up the cool factor for teens while making the crowds at the shows much more manageable.  There’s even a couple of 4D movie flicks that serve a similar brand of cheesy entertainment as Muppet Vision 3D, but with the interactive features of Mickey’s Philharmargic.  And while neither of the Sea World shows holds a candle to Philharmagic as far as sheer entertainment value and wow factor, they are still fun and offer an enjoyable air conditioned break.  (Oh and if you’re trying to find them, they are in the back of the park near the Sea Lion stadium and they both share a theater.) 

Okay, digression over.

After passing by some outdoor shops and the ice cream joint by the park exit, we headed down the hill to the back corner of the park. We were a bit too late for the 4:00 PM feeding at Dolphin Cove, so we made our way over to the Coral Reef & Shark exhibit. As far as these types of things go, this isn’t too bad a joint. However, don’t go in expecting a super cool underwater shark tunnel or blow you away reef. The exhibits are nice, don’t get me wrong. And we do like to come in and take a gander at them. But don’t expect to spend a lot of time here. We killed 20 min this time around and that was actually moving pretty slow for us.

With our fish viewing skills properly honed, it was time to return to Dolphin Cove and queue up for a chance to spend more money to feed the dolphins. This is another thing that grates on me a bit, but I get over it because the girls LOVE to do it. If there is anything that will convince me to part ways with ten bucks for a couple of trays of dead fish, it’s having my daughters bat their eyes, say please in their drawn out way, and talk about wanting to say hi to their dolphin friends.

The girls feeding their friends.

My youngest daughter and her "friend" talking. 

This time was actually our most successful feeding to date, as both girls were able to touch a dolphin. Upon washing the residue from everyone’s hands it was time to lay some tracks. We needed to book it over to Sea Lion Stadium for the 5:30 showing of The Cannery Row Caper. We only had fifteen minutes to get there so we hadn't any time to dally. We set out at a brisk clip and I eventually picked up my youngest daughter to speed the process along.

We arrived in the stadium with about 8 minutes to spare and after getting the girls situated, I headed to the snack bar they have at the back of the joint. It was time to utilize the second best benefit of an annual pass, the 20% discount on food, drinks and merchandise. We always order a souvenir cup and then refill it throughout the day. Even though we were only staying a few hours, it was still hot enough out to warrant such a purchase. (Plus I bring them to work every day in order to fulfill our “All cups must have a securely attached lid” mandate.) Thanks to the AP discount and the merchandise card from our random friend at the front gates, I was able to score two souvenir cups for a couple of bucks.

I was one popular pappy when I returned with the drinks and not long after being seated, the show began. I always enjoy this show as it’s quirky humor cracks me up. Things were going pretty well until about ten minutes into the show. That’s when things got…well…interesting. One of the tricks the sea lions are supposed to do is to swim out to the glass wall at the front of their tank and perch their front flippers on top of it. The first sea lion did great, but the second built up too much momentum and when she got to the top of the wall, she kept right on going and fell over. Suddenly there was a sea lion in the stands. The crowd gave a collective gasp, the trainer had momentary look of shock, a couple of employees came running in form the sides and everyone stood up. Was the creature hurt? How would they get it back in the tank? What soda did Biscuit order in those refillable mugs?

Tune in next time for the answers to these and many other questions you didn’t know you were going to ask.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Good Idea

by: LaLa

Although our first day of Vacation had gotten off to a slow start (kinda like this trip report), once we finally shook off the sour mood and got moving, we didn’t stop. For quite awhile. Among other things, we treated ourselves to a few of these ‘never to be Elusive again’ little beauties….

… went to infinity and beyond with this guy….

…stumbled upon a lovely bunch of coconuts….this fascinated me enough that I had to take a picture of them. Coconuts are the new “Wish you were here”. Who knew?

Tried adjusting to the look of things to come…

And finally, decided to grab one of these….

….and head back to our resort du jour.

When we headed out from the Pop earlier that day, we’d initially planned to stay in the MK for just a couple of hours. In order to ease ourselves into the groove. Our gameplan for this trip was to slow down the pace. Take it a little easier. Relax a little more. To not go commando and to not be so ‘us’ all the time. And maybe, just maybe, feel what it‘s like to be ‘them‘ a little bit. Oh, we had good intentions alright. But even the best laid plans of men (and women, especially when it involves mice) can go awry.

Or …something like that.

By the time we decided to call it quits that day, our ‘just a couple of hours’ had turned into approximately six. Six hours. Even though we said we were going to shut it down early, once we got there and got in the groove, we just couldn’t tear ourselves away.

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

Seems like I’ve heard that before. Somewhere.

Heh Heh.

We’d gotten up at 2:30 that morning and had been traveling all day. So by the time our butts found a resting place on the coolest and most comfortable bus of all time and we were headed back to the Pop, our backs were breaking and we were so drained we felt as though we’d never be able to move again. I do remember taking a few shots of my family on that bus ride and in every single one, everyone’s eyes were closed and they were dozing off. Sitting straight up. Well, except for the girl. She was wrapped around her Daddy. And Daddy did NOT seem to mind.

And although I was dog tired like everyone else, I couldn’t seem to sit still. I couldn’t WAIT for the next day to come.

Because I had a secret.

One that I had been dying to share with my husband for the past six months.

Back when we decided to celebrate my husband’s birthday with a trip to Disney, I came up with an idea. A crazy cool, fantastical idea. One that would take a good bit of planning and scheming, severe restraint, a little bit of pixie dust, and more than one set of tight lips in order to pull it off.

As long as we have been going to Disney, my husband has longed to stay in one particular resort above all others. For one reason or another, we never have. But this trip was something special. It’s not every day that you turn 40. So while my husband was under the impression that we were staying somewhere else entirely, I booked his dream resort, paid the difference myself, and began the six month long charade that became known as “Project Surprise Mr. LaLa”.

Not really, but if I’d thought about naming it, I might have called it that.

Or not.

I have to say right here and now that this was the HARDEST secret EVER to keep. At times I would be busting at the seams and wishing I could talk to him about it. But we, as a couple and separately, love to surprise the people we care about with things they wish and hope for but are in no way expecting. And I knew in the end, the surprise would be worth it for him. So I kept mum.

To him.

And instead brought the boy into the circle of trust. Even though I knew full well at the time that this was a risky decision on my part. Considering this is the same child who told my parents one Christmas (as they were opening our gift of a new digital camera), “Whatever you think it is, it’s not a camera.”

But that was a long time ago, and as I learned, he has matured tremendously since then. And after many hushed, completely giddy, long one on one conversations (and more than a few inside jokes thrown around between us) along with his heartfelt statement, “Mom, I’m really glad you felt like you could trust me with this”, I knew I’d made the right choice in letting him into the Burns Family Circle of Trust. He enjoyed it so much that I believe he's following in his Dad's footsteps as far as the mad appreciation for surprising others goes.

Over the years, my husband has made a practice of surprising me with trips for my birthday and anniversary, with over the top Christmas gifts and other various cool stuff. Each and every time it’s happened, I can honestly say that he has caught me completely off guard. Homeboy knows how to keep a secret. But turn around is NOT fair play. Not in this house. I can’t get ANYTHING by him. The latest example of that includes his “surprise” fortieth birthday party. The one I threw for him prior to our leaving for the World.

I had planned and schemed for months and thought I had everything worked out. But on the way to the restaurant that night, he nonchalantly assured me that he’d “act surprised” when he walked into the private room I’d reserved. And then proceeded to recite the ENTIRE GUEST LIST (correctly) to me as he deftly snaked in and out of traffic. With a cocky expression on his face.

Dang man.

And it was THIS turn of events, this last straw that broke the camel’s back, that made me even more determined to keep mum, not to arouse his suspicions about ANYTHING, and actually pull off the surprise on the day of his birthday.

It was this sneaky little secret that I’d worked so hard on keeping sneaky and secret all those months that stirred the butterflies in my stomach on the ride back to the Pop that late afternoon. I'd envisioned the moment in my head several times over and I wanted it to go perfectly, I wanted him to be completely caught off guard the next morning. But more than anything, I just wanted him to be happy. To be pleased.

Would he be? Or would he rather stay where he THOUGHT we were staying all this time instead? I couldn't be positive and the thought of that was making me nervous.

We'd decided to clue the girl in on it at the last minute so we (the boy and I, aka: The Board Members) gave her the skinny the day before we'd left. Reason being: my husband can get ANYTHING out of our daughter. Without even trying. All he has to do is look her way and she'll spill EVERYTHING. Including, but not limited to, even the neighbor's secrets. Or else she grabs the video camera and gives a running narrative. Of our ENTIRE plan. For posterity.

Awwww yeah!

Notice she’s bringing the, “wiff a big pool with sand on the bottom and a giant slide” at the end.

Because really, isn’t that all you need for a great hotel stay anyway?

My husband wasn't around for this little video production. He'd actually gone on a 'broke my sunglasses, have to go buy another pair for three times what I'd pay for them at home' run. But when I realized what she said on the tape, it made me nervous. Er. For one: because he came in shortly after and I didn't have the time (or the heart) to destroy the evidence. And two: because one of our favorite Disney pastimes is watching video tape from the days' events while we unwind in the room at night. Laughing at our goofy selves and digging into the snacks. If he watched the clip, we were sunk. Right before the trigger was pulled. I stressed for a little bit, with visions of the surprise slipping through my fingers, but then realized that hearing that sweet little voice break the news would be a pretty cool reveal in and of itself. Not a bad way to find out.

But as it turns out, he was too tired to do anything other than hit the hay when he came back in. With his cheaply made insanely expensive new sunglasses.

Proof that it pays to walk around a theme park for six hours when you’ve already been awake for 72.

Second winds worn off, we all collapsed into bed early that night and before we knew it, the next day was upon us. It was time to pack up, move out, and … it was also time for the big (ish) reveal.

We all gave Daddy some big time birthday lovin’ that morning and showered him with gifts. One of which included the REAL vouchers for our hotel stay. The one that informed him we would be staying at the place he'd longed to stay for the last eight years. The one with the big pool with sand on the bottom and a giant slide. But like most highly anticipated reveals, the initial reaction wasn’t quite what we’d (I’d) pictured in our (my) minds for the last six months.

The three of us watched closely (while being a little giggly) with my camera trained right on DH’s face. Zoomed in on the right nostril. Mistakenly. Looking for any sign of reaction.

What we would witness is a man caught completely off guard.

For a change.

When he opened the larger than necessary package and saw the paperwork inside, his right eyebrow shot up. He may have frowned. Ever so slightly. Maybe he was expecting a red Mustang, I don't know. Then as he picked up the paperwork and began to read it, his reaction changed to one of confusion. And it stayed that way for the next three minutes. Until I convinced him that it was no joke and that we were ACTUALLY checking into the Yacht Club that morning and staying there for the remainder of the trip. At that point, once it sunk in, the man became FULL ON GIDDY. It was very cool and oh so fun to watch. He was in shock, but he was loving it.

At least I think he was.

Because he kept looking at me in awe and saying, “I can’t believe you did this!”

Which, I realize, could be either good or bad. But the expression on his face and the way he was jumping around, laughing at nothing and urging us to get our butts in gear because we were wasting daylight told me all I needed to know.

The idea was a hit and all the work it took to pull it off had been completely worth it.

And if all of that didn’t convince me of that fact, the second we rounded the corner and spotted this baby for the first time (and immediately fell head over heels in love with the place)...

...there was absolutely no denying that we were in for a good week. And that a good idea had been done right.

If I do say so myself.

Hold whatcha got, YC- country done come to town. You ain't never gonna be the same again!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Let's Get This Show on the Road...DISNEY WORLD OR BUST!!

by: NicoleMarie

If you're like me and you can't remember what you had for lunch yesterday, much less where I left off in this trip report, let me get you back up to speed. It's the beginning of December 2009. We have just come back from our first DVC Disney vacation: Thanksgiving at Bay Lake Tower. We've booked a Kidani Village 2BR and a BLT 1 BR for our summer 2010 Disney vacation, and I'm excited that we'll finally spend the 4th of July at WDW.


Time moved really fast, but at the same time really slow for the next seven months. We celebrated Christmas, enjoyed the kids’ basketball seasons, tolerated the arrival of mine and DH’s 40th birthday, took a Spring Break trip to Lake Tahoe, celebrated the boy’s birthday, the girl’s Baptism, and finally wound down the school year with parties, 5th grade graduation (sniff…) and more baseball than you can shake a stick at.

All of a sudden June was here, and it was Disney month.

School was out, and all the busy-but-lazy summer fun was upon us. Friends in and out swimming, more baseball, VBS, yada yada yada. It was among all of the summer hoopla that I checked my email one day and realized it had come.

The email.

With an Excel attachment.

I opened the attachment, and lo and behold, a bright light came down from Heaven and illuminated my computer screen with a golden glow as I heard angels singing in the background.

DH had sent me the pre-trip checklist in all of its columned glory. It was a masterpiece of pre-Disney organizational delight.

There was a column for each of our four family members, and rows and rows and rows of things to organize, take care of before leaving, shop for and ultimately pack. It was go time.

I pulled the suitcases up from the basement and got jiggy with the packing. We had everything from clothes and shoes, to Frogg Toggs in four different colors, to medicine for any ailment that might strike one or all of us, to matching American flag shirts to wear on the 4th, to every small electronic in our home – along with its charger, case and accessories packed in the bags. And finally, after a week of taking care of pre-trip errands, shopping and packing, it was TIME TO GO TO DISNEY WORLD!!!

So with the car packed full of everything we’d need for the next 11 days, and me looking at my watch and realizing that if we left RIGHT THAT MINUTE we could get to Orlando by 7 pm, DH called everyone into the kitchen. He sat the family down and pulled out a devotional.

God love him. People, I was ready to get on the road. And my man was bringin’ the sermon.

However, knowing that a vacation would not start off well if lightening struck the car and it erupted into flames as we pulled out of the driveway, I did not shun - nor even comment on - the timing of the family devotion time, but sat down with the three people I love most in this world and we talked about and prayed over our trip. Despite my initial internal hesitation, it was a great way to start the vacation.

Even if it DID shave 20 minutes off of The Time. (Hat tip, Mr. LaLa.)

Soon enough we were squealing out of the driveway on two wheels and blaring the Illuminations soundtrack as loud as we could get it. We didn’t have a hotel reservation for the evening, because until the moment we pulled out of the driveway, we weren’t sure when we’d leave and how far we’d go. In fact, we STILL weren’t sure. But if everything went according to plan, we would be in Orlando by 8 pm.

Knowing that night’s hotel reservation wasn’t secured was actually a fun feeling. We’d known for seven months that we’d stay at Kidani Village and Bay Lake Tower. And we (read: I) had done insane amounts of research on both places. But throwing in a one-nighter at somewhere random, and – yep - possibly off-property, was kinda exciting. On the way down to Orlando, as we basked in the “our vacation has started” glow, we had the additional fun of deciding where to spend our first night of vacation. We considered the Poly. We love it there, and with DVC, probably won’t stay there much anymore. We considered our favorite off-site resort, Grande Lakes. That place is sublime. But we really had a hankerin’ to try something new. With an 8 pm arrival and an 8 am departure tomorrow morning, there wasn’t much to lose if we didn’t like our new find. That’s when I remembered Frick had stayed a couple of weeks earlier at the new Hilton at Bonnet Creek. Like us, it was a pre-Disney one nighter, and they had loved it. Frick sealed the deal by sending some pics of the Hilton pool to my cell, and we called and booked our non-refundable room for the evening.

And so it was. The Hilton at Bonnet Creek.

Frick made a good call. The Hilton was an AWESOME first night resort. The pool is fantastic with its lazy river, zero entry and slide. There was a “Dive In Movie” offered that night at dark, and we literally spent every minute from the time we arrived, until we showered for bed, at the pool that night. My son even ate two full buckets of popcorn as he sat in the zero-entry area watching a movie and making sure his popcorn didn’t get wet. The place was a HUGE hit for the little NMs, And Mama and Daddy NM loved it, too. It was a great way to get the vacation vibe rolling.

But as fantastic as that night was, I was REALLY looking forward to the next morning. Because it was then that I was FINALLY going to meet up with LaLa and her family. So I went to bed that night happy in every way. I had driven my car under The Arches to arrive at the hotel I was sleeping in. My family was healthy and happy and sleeping soundly beside me. We had ten full Disney days ahead of us. And the sweet friend that I had met in the most unusual way I’ve ever formed a friendship, was about to make the switch from a voice I’d heard on the phone, and a two dimensional image I’d seen on a computer screen, to a real person I could give a big hug to and share a meal with. I fell asleep exhausted and happy.

I woke up the next morning, and surprisingly wasn’t a bit nervous about meeting LaLa and her family. We’ve been “friends” for about four years now, and I didn’t expect anything about her to be an uncomfortable surprise. I knew she and her husband were funny and fun, and that our families were the same in most every way – and ALL of the important ways.

So it was with great happiness that we checked out of the Hilton at Bonnet Creek (which my son, while admitting it was a great hotel, said it didn’t feel Disney-ish.)

The plan was to meet the LaLas at the International Gateway entrance to Epcot. The LaLas were going home that day, and they had one more CS credit to burn. They had spent the morning floating for the last time in SAB, and walked over to meet at our designated time.

We were waiting in the gift shop (trying to get as much cool air as possible) when I saw the LaLas come walking through the turnstiles. I poked my head out of the door and flagged them down before I rounded up the NMs and we all met outside. Many of you have already heard the deets of this meet, so I won’t spend too much time on it now. But I will say that it was exactly like I expected it to be. Just like meeting up with a friend I hadn’t seen in forever. LaLa and I shared a hug, noticed that we were dressed almost exactly alike, and chatted like best girlfriends as we walked over to Sunshine Seasons to have lunch. Our kids hit it off right away, and our husbands are eerily similar. Mr. LaLa is easy on the eyes, and his bride is a beautiful Southern Belle. The two little LaLas look just like their parents. We enjoyed a meal, and lingered talking and laughing as their trip came to an end and ours was kicking off. Despite the relaxed pace of our time together, the LaLas had many hours of travel ahead of them that day, and they needed to get on the road. Parting hugs were exchanged and off they went.

After they were gone, my husband asked me if LaLa was like I expected her to be. I said she was. She was EXACTLY like I KNEW she would be. Funny, sweet, beautiful, an awesome mom, and – last but not least, and what brought us to that same message board at that same time in our lives – a full on Disney Geek. Which is the icing on the cake.

When we first walked into Epcot that late morning, my husband had immediately bolted across the park and secured some FPs for Soarin’. Our hope was that the FP window would come up right after lunch since we’d be right there in The Land. The timing worked out just as we hoped, and as the LaLas headed up the escalator, we walked over to the Soarin’ FP entrance, flashed the four golden tickets, and made our way down the long queue.

The Soarin’ music is almost at the top of my list of favorite park music, and it was a great soundtrack to the elation I was feeling at that moment. I had just had lunch with one of my first “Disney” friends, my family was hopping on our first ride of our Disney vacation, and we had 10 full days of fun waiting for us once we walked off the ride. There are a lot of things in life that make me happy.

But my friends, I was beyond happy. I was full on giddy.

Soarin’ to Tower: we are ready for take-off…