Sunday, April 17, 2016

Disney, Days 3 & 4: Wednesday, 4/13; Thursday, 4/14

Our final Magic Kingdom day was all about princesses and pressed pennies. We’d gotten a few pressed pennies on Monday and Tuesday, and L&G’s collecting gene kicked in, so we found a pressed-penny-machine map online and set out to get all the pressed pennies we could. Our concierge very nicely counted out a ton of pennies for me in the morning, even swapping out the tarnished ones for shiny ones. Disney service, right there.

The day started early, with breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, which is fun for two reasons: first, because you meet five princesses and get to eat in Cinderella’s Castle; and second, because you get to go into the Magic Kingdom before it officially opens. We strolled down a deserted Main Street and had our picture taken with the castle--and no crowds--in the background. L&G wore pink princess dresses and carried their Minnies. (Seriously, these kids loved Disney. And to think part of me was in doubt.) First, Cinderella welcomed them to the castle, and then we were shown to our table. A plate of pastries arrived. And then--princesses. Snow White, Aurora, Jasmine, and Ariel. They visited every table, autographed books, posed for pictures. L&G almost couldn’t speak, they were so excited. As if the breakfast needed any more fun, they were given sparkly wands before we left.

And then, outside the castle, we met the Fairy Godmother.

But we’d barely gotten started. Next we had Enchanted Tales with Belle, where Lucia and Greta played the parts of Mrs. Potts and Chip the teacup during the little play the children put on as a “surprise” for Belle. Then we met Ariel at her grotto, which may have been the best princess meet-and-greet of all--in a very underwater-like cavern, with Ariel in full sparkly green mermaid tale, remarking on the girls’ singing Ariel necklaces, which they’d worn in anticipation of the meeting.

We met up with Katherine, Patrick, and Thomas after that for some ice cream, and L&G threw some goldfish crackers to a few visiting ducks. Then we all went on Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, also a huge hit. After all that princess-ness, it’s no surprise that L&G wanted to pick out princess dolls at a shop, which we did before heading back to the hotel and pool.

We had a fun dinner planned for Wednesday--the Spirit of Aloha luau right at the Polynesian. Both girls were mesmerized by the traditional costumes, dancing, and music, but Lucia was totally into it--asking why the male dancers were wearing skirts, expressing her amazement at the fire dancer (“THIS IS AWESOME!!!”), remarking on the women’s beautiful dresses, etc. So observant and curious. Afterward, L&G collected some yellow flowers that had fallen from a tree on a path near our room, which Greta declared even better than the luau.

Thursday was our final day. We finished our trip with breakfast at Ohana, where we met Mickey, Pluto, Lilo, and Stitch (neither of whom we knew of). Meeting Mickey was, again, a highlight, and both the girls and their Minnies gave and received huge hugs. Then we went to our room to pack up, and Lucia began sobbing because she didn’t want to leave Disney, and both girls cried in our laps for a while. They perked up when we let them pick out another princess doll from a store *conveniently located* right in the resort. Then it was back to Jacksonville.

So, a good trip. No, more than good. Really fun. Really memorable. Really, yes, magical. We’re not going to be enrolling in the Disney Vacation Club or traveling there sans kiddos, but we’ll be back. I wasn’t sure I’d be saying that, but here we are, happy, with bagfuls of pressed pennies and armloads of princesses. For a six-year-old and a four-year-old, these three days were exactly what they should have been. They loved every moment.

In the park, before the crowds

With no one around, we took advantage of a Disney photographer and had lots of pics taken.

Oh, Disney. You know what you're doing.

Obligatory family / castle photo.

Cinderella greeting guests to the breakfast

Meeting the Fairy Godmother outside Cinderella's Castle

Enchanted Tales with Belle

Lucia played the role of Mrs. Potts

Pouring tea for Belle

Greta played the role of Chip the teacup

Ariel at her Grotto. L&G showed her their singing shell necklaces.

Collecting flowers after the Spirit of Aloha dinner
Meeting Stitch at the 'Ohana breakfast

Meeting Lilo at 'Ohana

Excited to meet Pluto

A final meeting with Mickey at 'Ohana

Disney, Day 2: Tuesday, 4/12

We were all-in on Tuesday, heading to the Magic Kingdom early enough to see the characters perform a little welcome routine before opening time. L&G didn’t mind the wait because they were coloring in their magic-ink coloring books, which were easily the best Disney-prep purchase I made. When the park opened, we quickly headed right to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which L&G had said they wanted to do and which we didn’t have a Fast Pass for. It was a misstep. This was a real roller-coaster, tame by coaster standards but definitely an overwhelming choice for kids who’d never ridden one before. Greta was enraged by the tight lap bar, and Lucia was alternately screaming-happy and completely terrified. I hate roller coasters and was glad when it was over.

We needed a break after that grand beginning, so we got cinnamon buns from Gaston’s Tavern and found a little table in the shade. This was eerily calm and quiet, right in the middle of the park--a perfect little rest. We went on the Winnie the Pooh ride next, and then had our first princess meet-and-greets with Cinderella and Rapunzel at Princess Fairytale Hall. Lucia was so excited she was actually jumping up and down, and when it was their turn to meet Cinderella they asked to see her shoes and gave her huge hugs. They were even more excited to meet Rapunzel. These meet-and-greets are incredibly well-orchestrated. Only a couple of families are let in at a time into the small princess room, which is dim and fancy and really feels like you’re getting a private audience. The princesses took a few non-rushed minutes to ask the girls questions, sign their autograph books, and pose for pictures. L&G were beyond excited.

Then we rode the carousel again and went to see Mickey’s Philharmagic, a 3D movie. Here’s where a six-year-old and a four-year-old diverge: while Greta was annoyed by the 3D glasses, Lucia was all-in, reaching out to grab the 3D objects in front of her and bowled over by the whole experience. By the end, Greta was enjoying it too, and both girls were scream-laughing over Donald Duck’s antics. 

Our next ride was Peter Pan’s Flight, the girls’ favorite (non-princess) activity of the trip. Then we had lunch at the Friar’s Nook, by which point Lucia was so hot and sleepy she could barely sit at the table. We revived them enough to do It’s a Small World, bought some Ariel costume jewelry, then called it a day and went back to the hotel for some swimming by 1:30pm.

We’d decided to make the rest of Tuesday unplanned, so we swam for several hours--L&G went down one of the waterslides a bunch of times, Greta improved even more dramatically at swimming, and they had a blast. We ate dinner at Kona, right at the resort, then walked around the torch-lit paths for a little while before bedtime.

Getting pressed pennies

Pressed pennies
They asked to see Cinderella's shoes

Lucia was literally jumping up and down with excitement

Meeting Rapunzel

Disney, Day 1: Monday, 4/11

We embarked on our Disney vacation with skepticism, which was mostly rooted in the inherent difficulty of planning a first Disney trip--so many weirdly specific logistics, so much required advance planning. There are resort reservations, Fast Pass reservations, meal reservations. We planned six weeks in advance and were told we were much, much too late.

But we got our bookings, and off we went. Along with the skepticism, we went with openness and a willingness to be surprised by the fabled magic of Disney. And I’ll say this: magic was in abundance with our four- and six-year-old traveling companions. They were the perfect ages for Disney. Lucia, especially, was the kind of child for whom Disney was made. Greta had a wonderful time but was, in my opinion, still a bit too young; but I’m glad we went while Lucia was six, because six is the perfect Disney age. I’ll go wild here and say we’ll have to go back when Greta is six, just to give her that same experience.

We kept our trip princess-focused and didn’t stray much beyond our three daily Fast Pass selections. We stayed in the Magic Kingdom, primarily Fantasyland--we didn’t rush around, didn’t try to see too much. By 1:30pm each day, we were all Disney-ed out and were ready for swimming at the hotel. In the posts that follow, I’ll give, a day-by-day rundown of our trip.

Disney: Monday 4/11

We drove from Jacksonville to Disney and checked into the Polynesian Resort. Our rental stroller was waiting, and we left our bags with the hotel and went to the Magic Kingdom. 

First up: meeting Mickey at Town Hall, our first glimpse of the sheer joy that would characterize these meet-and-greets. Next we went to Adventureland and climbed up the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, and then went on the Jungle Cruise. We had a hot-dog lunch at Casey’s Corner (chaotic and crowded, no Disney magic in evidence), saw the tail end of a parade (magic in evidence as the girls waved gleefully at all the characters), and then went on the Magic Carpets of Aladdin. Greta was underwhelmed. But both girls were extremely excited when we let them pick out plush Minnie Mouses at a shop. They were our constant companions for the rest of the trip.

After some Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, we went back to the Polynesian, checked into our room, and headed to the pool. For Greta, this was easily the most magical experience of all. After eighteen months of swimming lessons with virtually zero progress, she jumped into the resort pool and proceeded to swim like a little fish. Diving underwater, swimming short distances on her own, ecstatic that she was actually starting to keep up with super-swimmer Lucia. “I’m diving for things!!” she shouted at one point. “This is amazing!!!”

Then it was time to change for dinner--Frozen Fever Elsa dresses for the girls--and head back to the Magic Kingdom for the Be Our Guest dinner at the Beast’s castle. Greta nearly fell asleep at the table as we waited for our food to arrive, but we got through the wait with magic-ink coloring books I’d bought for the trip. Both girls rallied after dinner, when we got to see the enchanted rose and meet the Beast in his study. Then we rode the Prince Charming Carousel, and the girls ran around with their Minnies for a while before we finally called it a day.

First character meeting with Mickey
Jungle Cruise

Meeting the Beast at the Be Our Guest dinner

Playing with Minnie Mouses