Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Water, Sparks and Empty Parks

By: Great Biscuit

It’s funny how vacations can teach us things about one another that we never knew. As we stood in line waiting to board the gondola style Ferris Wheel, I learned something new about my mom. She had never been on a Ferris Wheel. EVER. In fact, she let it be known in no uncertain terms that she would not be boarding one now were it not for the puppy eyed pleadings of her grandbabies.

At Six Flags Fiesta Texas, the Ferris Wheel opens later than the rest of the park. Thanks to our ride timing, we were right next to it when it opened and were the first ones aboard that day. Another family hopped into the adjoining car and we were soon on our way. Hailee held Nana’s hand so she wouldn’t be scared and after a couple of rotations, Nana declared it to be a nifty thing. Once our ride was over, we got back on and went around a second time.

After that, we did a few kids rides in the form of a carousel and kiddie coaster before heading for some chow. We settled on Sangerfest Halle in the Spassburg section of the park. It has a German architecture and features a food court with several different types of offerings. (Tex-Mex, Papa-John’s Pizza, and German.) The dining area is built around a stage which features a show with the Looney Tunes characters. We settled for Papa Johns and were soon seated and eating.

It occurs to me that this would be a good time to give a discourse on the joys of refillable park mugs. Both Sea World and Six Flags offered them and both advertised you could bring them back all season. The difference is that at Sea World, you pay a buck for refills from the point you buy it on. At Six Flags, you get a wrist bracelet that gives you unlimited free refills on the day you purchase it and they are a buck on each subsequent visit. Oh that Disney would adopt a similar policy; if for no other reason, than the riled up flaming it would cause on a number of discussion boards.

Our afternoon activities focused solely on the water park which is included in admission, but first we had a slight detour on The Road Runner Express. This is a coaster which is fairly comparable to Big Thunder as far as speed and such goes. Nana and I took the girls on it and while my oldest was not thrilled, my youngest is a definite coaster junkie, making me one happy biscuit.

The rest of our day consisted of multiple floats around the lazy river, zooming down various water slide, and bobbing in the Texas shaped wave pool. (Texas shaped icons are quite popular down this way.) Nana and Papa left at six, while the rest of us stayed until the park closed.

There was some potential drama as the girls decided they wanted to go to the Jordin Sparks concert that evening in the park’s amphitheater. We had seen posters for it all day and seen the tour busses, but I had hoped to escape without partaking. However, the girls wanted to at least drop by, so after my parents left, we took them over and were advised there were still plenty of seats available on the grassy area. This actually worked out perfectly for us as we were only taking a brief detour through the area.

When we arrived, the girl doing the opening act was completing her set. At first I thought Jordin had lost a lot of weight as this girl seemed to be a skinny mini-me. But as she concluded her session, a boat load of roadies showed up to re-set the stage. There was about a 10 minute pause and then Jordin Sparks took the stage. We sat through one song. And that was being generous. Note to the idiot tour manager: when your opening act looks and sounds better than your headliner, you are not doing your job.

After the inaugural song, the girls were content to depart and we headed out to conquer some more rides. As the concert effectively drained the park of patrons, everything was a walk on for the next two hours. We re-visited many of the same attractions from earlier in the day and when at last we headed out to the car, the girls were tired, but happy. After we got all our crap stowed back in the trunk, we wished Six Flags a fond farewell and headed off. I pulled through Taco Bell to get properly caffeinated for the drive home and pointed the car back up I-35.

Perhaps the best insight into just what a great weekend it turned out to be can be found in my Facebook status when we returned: Back from San Antonio. Got stuck in traffic, smelled some penguin poo, touched a mammal, ate a nifty late night feast, got gas, went to sleep, ate a biscuit, rode some coasters, floated in a river, heard some music, drank mountain dew, ate a burrito and got more gas. All in all, I'd a say a near perfect weekend.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Preparing for Summer

By NicoleMarie

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “preparing for winter?” When I hear it, I have visions of Ma and Pa on Little House on the Prairie. Good ole Charles busts into the warm house, snow and wind coming in all around him, and he slams the door closed against the wind and smiles at Caroline. (I loved me some Michael Landon!) She has a hot meal waiting and a warm fire burning in the fireplace. Mary and Laura sit down with their Ma and Pa and eat some dinner from the crops that they grew and put away last summer. Everyone is happy and healthy because the family prepared for winter.

At my house, of course, it doesn’t really go down quite like that. Here, preparing for winter means we turn on the heat for the first time – usually in November – and wait with bated breath, praying we feel some warm air coming from the vent. If we don’t, we sleep cold that night and get the repair man over the next day. I shop at the grocery store for our winter meals, and the mall for our warm clothes. On an “as needed” basis. Except for the slight change in temps, winter is pretty much business as usual in Macon. In other words, there’s not much to “preparing for winter” around here.

But “preparing" for SUMMER? Now that’s a concept I can understand. Thinking about summer vacations, sleeping late, hot weather and humidity is easy stuff in February. It can’t get here soon enough when the trees are bare, the temps are chilly and the grass is dead. And preparing for summer at Disney World? Well, that’s even better.

I know I’ve already gotten us to Disney World in this trip report, but you’re gonna have to put it in reverse and work with me for this installment, okay?

Back up to February in Georgia, and lo and behold, Macon is getting some snow. It happened late one Friday afternoon in mid-February, and for about 18 hours, it was pure giddiness at the NM house.

To add validity to the “wintery-ness” of the situation, I have provided some pictures of said event for your viewing pleasure. (If there was EVER any doubt that we’re rednecks, it’s about to be removed. I’m sure there wasn’t, but just in case…)

Here’s what happens when the first flakes start falling from the sky. All the neighborhood kids end up in our yard bringing anything that will work for a sled. Nevermind that there’s not really any snow on the ground. And yes, the NMs are the little dorks with the laundry baskets. I’ve since heard I should have sprayed the bottoms of the baskets with Pam.

It’s obvious the sleds were a bust – because of that whole “no snow on the ground” thing – so let’s do what we do in nice weather: swing. Somehow, it’s more fun with snow hitting us in the face.

Finally, we get a little bit of accumulation, and the little NMs make a shout-out to The Mouse. Let’s call her Poly Minnie since she’s wearing pink Mouse ears from the Poly.

The sun finally sets, and with the promise of a teency bit more accumulation during the night, the little NMs head off to bed with visions of sledding in their sweet little heads.

Morning dawns and it’s actually very beautiful. I take a few pictures from the warm safety of my dining room and kitchen windows, and before too long, the kids are awake and ready to ride.

Oops. Doesn’t really work any better this morning. I can’t imagine why.

(This sad sledding sight is why the NM family boarded a plane to Lake Tahoe at Spring Break, while the rest of the world went South for some warm air. THIS is how you sled down a hill, peeps.)

Hmmmm. I’ve moved around so much that you might not remember where you are. It’s February 13th, a snowy morning in Macon, and I’m curled up in front of the fire with my laptop.

Preparing for summer.

How do you prepare for summer? Well, if you’re going to Disney World over the busiest week of the already busy summer, and there’s an opportunity to score some VIP Fastpasses that might make your park touring a little bit better, THAT’S how you prepare for summer. You get busy on that opportunity.

Through some conversations with LaLa, and then subsequent research on the Disney World website and the Disboards, I found out about a volunteer opportunity that was in the Macon area and would work for my family: Project Linus. As LaLa has already explained, it’s making blankets that will be given to children during a time of crisis. Not only did it appeal to my “sewing” side, (yes, I own a sewing machine and I know how to use it!) it was one of very few opportunities that accepted volunteer children as young as my 7 year old son.

Within a couple of hours, I had spoken with the Project Linus coordinator in Macon, and I had my marching orders for 8 blankets. The only problem? They had to be turned in by tomorrow.

Say what you want about the DIS, but there was a whole thread devoted to making no-sew fleece blankets, and I was sure that the NMs could knock this project out on this cold, snowy afternoon.

I took off to Walmart, bought the fabric for my eight blankets, came home and got to work. The NM Family Assembly Line didn’t really take off at my house, but my daughter and I got it done in one afternoon.

By the next day, the snow had melted, we had gone to church, we’d watched my son’s ball game, and we were within minutes of missing our “due date” for the blankets. We pulled into the driveway of a tiny little house in Macon. The Project Linus coordinator was a grandmotherly woman whose ENTIRE HOUSE was filled with stacks of blankets. The Disney partnership had given her more press than she had ever experienced. Blankets were everywhere! There wasn’t a single place to sit. This sweet woman and her husband welcomed us into their home, took our information, and shared with us a little bit about Project Linus. They were extremely grateful for the volunteers that Disney’s promotion had brought their way, and they congratulated my kids on their upcoming trip to Disney World. (My kids were – thankfully – gracious and did not say this was their 13th trip in five years.)

We left the Project Linus house excited and thankful. It was fun to prepare for summer in the middle of February. It was even more fun to do it in a way that wasn’t totally self-serving.

I can’t imagine how many people were blessed by the GAD promotion. The house I went into was filled to the brim with blankets for hurting kids in Middle Georgia. And that was just one project of many, in just in my area. These things went on all over the country. I think the whole promotion was a great idea.

An idea that ended up being REALLY great once summer finally came and we were hanging here.

With these crowds.

With VIP Fastpasses in our pockets. Those Fastpasses made the difference in our trip. We rode twice as many rides as we would have without them, and our pace was much more relaxed.

Yes, we prepared for summer. Who doesn’t want to do that? It was worth every minute.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Little Love Goes a Long Way

by: LaLa

Over the years, Disney has come up with a lot of different promotions. Some better than others. A few have reeled us in, but I don’t think any has ever had an effect on us like their Give a Day, Get a Day promotion this past year.

It was back in February, when we were in the midst of planning our trip, that I realized we might be able to participate in the promotion and be able to do some good for someone else…. while also doing pretty good for ourselves.

Let me stop right here and sheepishly admit that in the beginning, it was ALL about the Fastpasses.

Since we didn’t need a one day pass, once we completed our volunteer opportunity, we would opt for the Fastpass Exchange card. What is the Fastpass Exchange Card, you say? A little piece of plastic heaven, that's what it is. It’s basically a little like Universal’s Express Pass system, only COMPLETELY different. With way more restrictions. But still cool. And from the moment I read about it, I knew it would come in VERY handy on a summertime trip to Disney. We’ve been to Disney in the summer before and we knew from experience that the lines in June would be much longer than they are in October, the time period we had grown accustomed to over the years. And the more I researched and the more I contemplated, I was sure of two things. One: the Fastpass Exchange cards were the bomb diggity, and two: I would make it happen.

After doing a little more research, I registered our family for a volunteer opportunity through Project Linus. In case you’ve never heard of them, Project Linus is a non profit organization that takes in and then distributes hand made blankets/quilts to children who are going through a tough time. They are distributed on a local level through first responders/hospital staff, etc. It may be an illness or a surgery that they’re experiencing, the death of a parent, an accident, fire, any number of things. Obviously a blanket doesn’t come close to making up for any of that, but if those kids are anything like my kids, having someone who cares give them a soft little sump’nother, especially if some Disney characters are featured prominently on it, at a time when they’re feeling low, would be a very welcome gesture.

In other words, it was a project that felt right. One we could really get into.

So we set about shopping for material (which turned out to be a lot of fun, actually…I caught myself imagining the child who might wind up with our blanket and spent some time trying to pick out the perfect fabric for them) and turning our home into a makeshift no sew fleece blanket assembly line. We had eight blankets to make and while I did most of the cutting, everyone else chipped in and did their part. No free rides here at Chez LaLa!

While we were working, we took the opportunity to talk to our children about volunteering and helping those who need a little help. They loved being able to do something for someone else, someone that they would probably never meet, and it ended up being a great teaching moment for our kids. They really got into it. When the smoke finally cleared, we were now sure of two MORE things. One: our hands were MOST DEFINITELY made of hamburger meat, and two: it was all worth it because we were DONE, and well pleased with our accomplishment.

Of course, the Girl being who she is, wouldn’t dream of sending those blankets off to their destination without first including a proper note for each blanket’s future owner. …

After attaching the notes, we spent some time praying for the blankets’ future owners, whoever they may be. And whatever their situation may be. Then we packed them up and shipped them off to their destination. And in that moment, as my daughter sat pondering who might receive her handwritten notes and what more she could do to make a total stranger feel better, and what other places we may be able to volunteer, as much as I had been looking forward to getting my hands around those Fastpasses, all of that seemed trivial. Secondary. It was just icing on the cake. We really enjoyed our volunteer opportunity and made a pact to do more projects like that, together, as a family, in the future. It felt good to be able to help brighten someone‘s day, even if it was in a very small way.

And once we received our vouchers (redeemable at any Disney Guest Services window…for some kick butt Fastpass Exchange cards…enough for four full days of passes for everyone in our family, thankyouverymuch), it felt EVEN BETTER.

Awww yeah!

It was these vouchers that were burning a hole in our pockets that morning after Hurricane Lola swept through Disneyworld, leaving everyone in her wake pruned and craving ice cream.

So we got up the next morning and did the Happy Dance when we pulled the curtains back and realized the rain had moved out and that our day would be bright and sunny.

Yellow, even.

It was back to the Magic Kingdom and we couldn’t wait to get our ride on.

After pausing in the lobby that morning to let the kids do a little pin trading, we headed out front and caught the first bus we saw to the MK.

One of the things I was concerned about before we left was transportation to the parks from YC. Like most things that I worry about, it turned out to be all for naught. I don’t ever remember having to stand on a bus or having to wait more than a few minutes for a bus the entire week. The actual rides never seemed long either.

In short order, we were in the park and headed to Guest Services to redeem our vouchers.

The actual process didn’t take long at all and within just a few minutes, we were kissing those long awaited Fastpass cards hello and heading down Main Street while pinning on our Miss Piggy Honorary VoluntEAR buttons, ALONG WITH DH’s Happy Birthday button and our “I’m Celebrating” buttons.

We may as well have just cut to the chase and said, “We're desperate. Somebody please give us a free cupcake. Let us in the front of the line. Allow us to cross blades with Captain Jack Sparrow, although we don‘t think it wise. Pick us to bang on some bongos before Philharmagic (again) because we are so over the top desperate for ANYTHING you may throw our way that we’ve consciously decided to actually wear these….ridiculous things….hoping that some kindness may perchance befall us.”

But we didn’t say any of that. Because although we may look like dorks, we're not really. We just pinned stuff wherever it would fit and proceeded to walk down Main Street and take it all in.

Which ride did we hit first?

Well Space Mountain, of course.

There would be no waiting an hour or longer for us this time. No ‘no soup for you’ broken down ride announcement as soon as our feet graced a number. No loud Brazilians to spoil our mood. No, this time we simply handed the attendant our Fastpasses (the set we received the night it was shut down due to technical difficulty…no need to waste a pull on the ole Fastpass Exchange Card when we already had a set in DH’s pocket) and boarded.

We were on within about three minutes and I was quickly reminded why I love that ride so much.

After the ride was over, we stopped in the gift shop long enough to allow the Girl to purchase a cool as all get out Space Mountain pin for her lanyard. This was the ONLY thing she had said she wanted before we left.

A Space Mountain pin. After riding Space Mountain. She’s entirely TOO hard to please, that one.

I’m sorry. Is sarcasm not allowed here too? Just put it on my tab.

Over the last couple of years, our kids have really gotten into pin trading. It adds another fun element to a trip to Disney for us. I think it’s the thrill of the hunt that gets us. Plus we’ve discovered that pins make some very memorable souvenirs.

The rule in our house is that once someone conquers a ride that they’ve been previously either too small to ride or too afraid to ride, they get a pin from that ride in the gift shop immediately following the adventure as a reward. They look forward to scoring that pin almost as much as they do riding the ride, and it’s really fun to pull out their lanyards and look back over the pins they’ve acquired and reminisce about the circumstances that surrounded each pin coming into the fold. They remember EXACTLY where and how they got each and every one, and will tell the story for DAYS. Wearing a smile from ear to ear as the memories wash over their little minds.

Because the Girl conquered Space Mountain before we started collecting pins, she never received a pin for it. And on a dreary day in March she suddenly decided she MUST have one. And spoke of her need for it for the next three months. Until the day came that she finally rode it again. So we paused afterwards to let her pick out the perfect Space Mountain pin, add it to her collection on her lanyard, and then we rounded the corner. Not to move on. Dot org. But to move back where we came from. Dot com.

We were ready to get our ride on again.

Because we could.


This was our first experience redeeming the Fastpass cards and sure enough, as soon as we inserted our cards into the special FP machine set aside for us and us alone (and all the other honorary VoluntEARS, apparently), four beautiful little instant Fast passes (good for that exact time), shot out into DH’s waiting hand.

We jumped up and down and acted like idiots.

Then we hoofed it on over and rode again.

THIS time, the Girl and I were seated in front of a teenage girl who had, obviously, never experienced Space Mountain before. Throughout the ENTIRE ride, she scream laughed at the top of her lungs. The VERY top of her lungs. I have never, EVER heard anyone that loud on a ride and it was one of the funniest dadgum things I have ever heard. I will normally laugh out loud on most rides, but I laughed so hard I literally thought I was going to pee on myself on that one. Every time she’d start up, she’d make ME start up. And then I’d hear my daughter’s scream/laughter behind me. Then I’d start laughing again so hard my stomach cramped up and I involuntarily began to stomp my foot on the floor of the spaceship…car…thing. Without breathing.

We must’ve looked like a bunch of straight up lunatics. If the lights were on. But thankfully, they weren't so it didn't matter.

But if that’s how much fun lunatics have on a daily basis, I’m starting to think maybe it’s not such a bad gig after all. Sign me up for the loony bin.

After hitting SM twice, we decided to spread the wealth and ended up riding nearly everything in the park.

I think we were sitting behind ZZUB in this picture. Dude. From now on, PLEASE don't take off your Vote for Pedro shirt before the drop. You'll make everyone think something really weird was going on when they have to put the screen up over our ride photo because of your goofy self.

Luckily, we were able to ride most rides without wait because of our system. We had it down to a science.

When we first arrived in the morning, while the standby lines/Fastpass lines weren’t very long, we operated the way we normally would if we didn’t have the Fastpass card in our possession. By doing this, we were able to save our Fastpasses on the card (each one is only good for a total of six Fastpasses per day) and pull out the card when there were either really long lines or no Fastpasses left for the day.

Because even when all the Fastpasses for the day were distributed, we could still get them and get our INSTANT ride on.

I heart those Fastpass cards.

After making the rounds, we decided to grab some lunch at Columbia Harbor House. AKA: our new favorite CS place in all of Magic Kingdom.

The air was cranked up high, the food was delicious (best salad I had all week), and the help entertained our children with a game of checkers while we waited for our order. At one point I walked over to the table to see who was winning and the CM informed me, with a bemused expression on her face, that my son had been smack talking her.

Smack talking a random CM dressed in prairie clothes. About a game of checkers.

That’s my boy.

After lunch, we got hot on the Jungle Cruise then cooled off on Splash Mountain, grabbed a Dole Whip (what I’d give for one of those babies right now…) and decided to call it a day.

We were deliriously giddy as we left, for some reason. We were all soaked to the bone from our last stint on Splash Mountain, and since we hadn’t been able to get our picture taken in front of the castle yet, I knew it was now or never. It’s a tradition, you see. We HAVE to have our picture taken in front of the castle each and every time we step foot in front of it. To my husband's chagrin. So even though we were all soaked and sweaty and it was the end of the day, he humored me and we paused for a picture or two in front of the castle. Oddly enough, those are some of my favorite pictures of the whole trip because even though we look like a hot mess, we also look SO dadgum happy in those shots. Three of us in our matching red Mickey tees, and the fourth sporting anything but a matching red Mickey tee. All grinning from ear to ear.

We soon found our way back to the bus station and were on our way back to the resort. After a short but blessedly cool bus ride, we wound our way back up to the room and were taken aback to find a surprise waiting on us.

Some good friends of ours had arranged for a bag full of snacks to be delivered to our room, and we were all blown away by how cool it all was. There was a very cool Mickey cooler bag with our last name embroidered on the front and all the snacks were loaded inside it. Our friends were even thoughtful enough to include drinks with the salty snacks. Who thinks to do that? Not me, that’s for sure. If you haven’t figured it out yet, our whole family loves us a surprise and this was a VERY cool thing to ‘come home’ to after a full day in the parks. Besides the fact that the bag was cool as could be, there was TONS of stuff. We dug into the goodies as the kids shouted heartfelt thanks at the top of their lungs to our very sweet and thoughtful friends. Who may or may not have heard them. They were pretty loud. When they weren’t stuffing their faces with Mickey rice krispie treats and poppin’ open a cold drank. It was the perfect way to cap off a stellar day in the World.

As we kicked off our shoes and sat around snacking and relaxing, I felt very Yellow indeed. And in that moment I was sure of two more things. One, I was extremely grateful for good times and good friends, and two: unlike a lot of things in life, the Fastpasses HAD been all they'd been cracked up to be.

And with a full night on the agenda, I couldn't wait to put them to the test once again.