Monday, April 6, 2015

A Week of Magic

A few years ago I made a shocking confession in one of my blog posts. The gist of the post was that I had little to no desire to take my kids to Disney World. Disney always seemed like a big commercial money suckhole for people who were suckered into thinking it was a MUST to be a good parent. I could think of so many more fun family vacations that I would rather spend my money on than Disney. Basically, I was bucky because I don't like being told I must to anything. 

Long story short, Todd's mom rented a 3 bedroom condo in Florida this year (where a bunch of her siblings also stay in winter) and wanted us to come down and visit her during our spring break. Seeing as how that would take care of our lodging Todd and I figured that if we were ever going to take the kids to Disney now would be the time to do it. This way, instead of spending thousands of dollars on a week-long trip we could just buy a day pass and find out if it would be worth another trip back.

We looked into all the nearby attractions (the condo was located a half an hour from pretty much EVERYTHING- it was perfect) and the kids were most excited about Legoland and Universal's Harry Potter World and were just moderately excited about Disney. We ended up purchasing a one day pass for each of those three places figuring this would be the best way to take the kids without having to remortgage our house (although the day passes were fairly insane on their own).

We decided to drive down so that the kids could see and visit a few other states. We took the kids out of school on Friday and left at about 4:00 in the morning. The kids are very good travelers and save for an upset stomach (Tommy had to stop to use the bathroom three separate times for tummy issues, and vomited in the car once as well) there were no issues. The traffic was INSANE around Atlanta and we got to our hotel a bit later than we had planned but we were all in good spirits. The hotel was fantastic (kids eat FREE, people!) and we all got some much needed rest. The next day was more of the same (with less vomit and poo) and we finally got to our destination at 4:55 in the evening. By 5:10 the kids were in the pool finally able to get their energy out.
The condo was lovely, right in front of the pool, with plenty of room for everyone. We all slept soundly and woke the next morning, Palm Sunday, to get ready for church. We just had to take a picture of us in front of palm trees right before Palm Sunday mass.
After church we took the opportunity to relax for the rest of the day. The kids (and Todd and I too) swam the entire day until it began to get dark. Yay! for hot weather and a swimming pool.
The next morning we were up early again to make our way to Disney World. I'll admit it was pretty exciting walking into the park with my family. I was excited for them and hopeful that it would be something magical that they'd always remember.

We got to Disney just after the gates opened and were able to get on a few rides right away. We saw three parades, rode as many rides as we could, and took in the sights. By midafternoon to evening it was so crowded we could barely move. And hot. Very hot. By the end of the day we had rode every ride we could manage (the favorites were Space Mountain, Great Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Speedway, and the Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin) and everyone was exhausted. The kids enjoyed themselves and I would call it a success.

However, I still think it is overrated. I was pretty shocked at how unfriendly all the workers there were. At one point, while we were in line for Space Mountain, I had asked a worker if there was a bathroom Tommy could use. She said no but said he could get out of line and sent him down a hallway. When I stepped out of line to wait for him I was told that she had sent him outside into the park to look for a bathroom by himself. I had assumed she was letting him use an employee bathroom nearby. I ran out to try and catch up with him and was lucky enough to find him wandering around lost. It was INSANE. Of course he had no idea where a bathroom would be and he asked multiple workers who ignored him. Sending a 10 year old out into the park, no idea of where he is going or how to get back to his family still inside in line seems wreckless. Nuts, man. The people serving food weren't friendly, the workers on the rides weren't friendly. It really was a surprise. I thought it was supposed to be "the happiest place on earth". It was bizarre.

I never saw the big deal of Disney when I went as a teenager but everyone told me that going with my kids and watching their faces light up would make it more special. However, their faces didn't really light up. Grace liked seeing the princesses in the parade and the kids liked the rides a lot but this wasn't something that blew their minds. I definitely had more fun this time around, with my family, than I did when I had gone before. And, we were all happy we went, but it isn't something we feel the need to do again. We went into it hopeful and excited but my initial feelings about it were confirmed. Overrated. For our family, anyway. We were all satisfied with just our one day there.
By the time we left Disney World we were all exhausted. Our feet were practically swollen and poor Grace had fresh blisters. It was a long day. 

But no rest for the weary!

The next morning (this time we got to sleep in a little) we went to Legoland. I swear the kids were more excited about Legoland than they were about Disney. I didn't think it would be a big deal but the park was pretty amazing. It was MUCH bigger than I had expected and had far more rides and roller coasters than I had anticipated. And the lines were cake! We only had to wait for about 20 minutes, many times less than that. 
There was so much to see and do. The roller coasters were pretty impressive. The displays blew our minds. The kids got to ride their own Lego cars on a cool driving course and then got their Lego drivers licenses. 
In Lego Miniland there were replicas of famous cities and building from around the US. I have to say, this was one of my favorite parts. I think I spent far more time here than my family wanted me to but I was blown away. It was pretty amazing what was made out of Legos and how much the buildings looked like the real things.
By the end of the day the kids were very sad to leave. They all loved Legoland. And so did I.
The next day was what I had been looking forward to. Universal. I had never been to Universal before and being a huge Harry Potter fan made this a very exciting day.
Universal proved to be worth the wait. And it turns out, we didn't even get to 90% of the park. But, Todd and I did manage to get on one of the biggest roller coasters in the park, The Hulk. We had just entered the park and saw that the line was only 10 minutes. We couldn't pass it up. We took the "single riders" line which got us through even faster. Our kids chickened out on this one but Tommy did spot us and snapped a picture of Todd and I on the roller coaster with my camera that I left in his care. Nicely done, Tommy! I am in the third row far right. And Todd is in the sixth row far right. I can tell by the clothes we wore.  
It was probably a wise decision for the kids not to go on this one. It was pretty wicked. But it was awesome.

Next up, Harry Potter World.

It. Was. Amazing. 

I could not believe the scale of Hogwarts. It was incredible. And the ride inside was fan-freaking-tastic. Unfortunately, Grace wasn't tall enough to ride but she had a lot of fun waiting in line inside the castle. They had so many cool things to see and watch while in line. Dumbledore, at the balcony in his room, spoke to us. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were in one of the classrooms talking to us. There were the talking paintings, the Sorting Hat. All kinds of cool stuff. It definitely made waiting more fun.
After that we took the Hogwarts Express to London and then entered the brick wall to Diagon Alley. It was so freaking cool, I can't even tell you. I was geeking out. We all were. We went into Ollivander's and we each picked out our own wands. Or rather, they picked us. ;)  We walked around for quite a while and then decided to eat at the Leaky Cauldron. It was fantastic. Very cool atmosphere and delicious food. The best fish and chips ever. And the butterbeer? Wow. So good.

Every single person at Universal was so amazingly friendly. The workers were fantastic. They had us laughing and smiling the whole time. They bent over backwards to make sure we had a great time. When Joey had left his sunglasses on the Hogwarts train they went out of their way to find them and return them to us. They were terrific! And they were all so into playing their roles. I had set my video camera on a tray that a worker was going to take for us and he handed it to me saying, "Is this one of your muggle devices?" Cracked me up.
We had a wonderful time. It was the best. We all agreed that Universal was definitely our favorite place we had visited and that we would love to go back again and spend more time there. We bought plenty of souvenirs to remind us of our time at Universal and Harry Potter World. This is one of my favs:
After I got home I realized it was even a more relevant mug for me because of my current role as Glinda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz.  Ha!

Anyway, we were sad to leave Universal but there was more fun to be had. 

The next day we drove to Cocoa Beach. We wanted to have a nice relaxing day for our last day in Florida but we just couldn't leave without letting the kids see and play in the ocean, so off we went. It was a little further away than we would have liked (about an hour) but it was worth it.
It was a gorgeous beach with clean, soft sand, and plenty of seashells for the kids to harvest. We had a blast diving into the waves and playing in the water. It was the kids' first time seeing and playing in the ocean and they had more fun than they thought they would. The loved it. They were a little apprehensive at first, thinking of sharks, but they braved their initial fear and ended up falling in love with the ocean.

I, of course, do have a fear of sharks, and was constantly scanning the horizon. At one point I saw a fin. I froze for a second, wondering if that was indeed what I saw, and then saw a swarm of fins. It was a POD OF DOLPHINS. I couldn't believe it. And they weren't far from us. It was so bizarre. Especially since the whole car ride to Florida Grace talked about how she wanted to see dolphins when we went to the ocean. I kept telling her that you don't really see them from the beach but she just kept saying, "Well, maybe we'll see them jumping out of the water!" And we did! Awesome.
When we got back from swimming in the ocean that afternoon the kids went swimming in the pool. Little water bugs. And, oh by the way, Grace taught herself how to swim. She had forgotten her lifevest in the condo and didn't feel like getting out of the pool to go get it so she stayed in the shallow end. Next thing you know she is running over to me saying, "Hey mom! I can swim without my floatie! Watch this!!!!" And sure enough. She is doing the front crawl. ALL. THE. WAY. ACROSS. THE. POOL. I couldn't believe it. She has amazing breath support. I jumped in the pool with her and showed her how to swim under water and the next thing you know she is doing the breast stroke under water. Dang. These kids are growing up SO FAST!
It was a long day but we had decided to leave that night instead of very early the next morning to head for home. We figured it might be better to drive all night when the kids could sleep (and we could avoid Atlanta traffic) and then just drive all 20 hours in a row to get home Friday evening. It was difficult. Todd and I were exhausted. And I ended up getting a pinched nerve by my shoulder blade (that for about an hour I thought was actually me having a heart attack- the pain was so bad and I couldn't catch my breath) which made it impossible to sit for the last 5 hours, but we made it. And leaving at night and driving straight through turned out to be the best decision. The kids slept through the whole night while we drove and we were home by 3:30 on Friday afternoon.That gave us a lot more time to rest up and relax before Easter. I immediately unpacked everyone when we got home (I need order, people), made a run to the grocery store, fed the kids dinner, got our animals back from Todd's sister who was watching them, and then proceeded to crash. I couldn't even get through some of my shows I was so eager to watch.

Friday night I went to bed at 8:30 and got up the next morning around 9. Trying to make up for lost sleep, I'm sure. Saturday the kids played outside while I did not much of anything at all. I tried to move as little as possible, both from my sore shoulder and the remaining exhaustion. In the afternoon the whole family sat down to watch Harry Potter and remarked how we felt like we were really part of the movie now that we had "been there". 

Saturday night we managed to dye some eggs. That was a major feat for me. I was thinking of skipping it this year. I had so little energy to be excited about eggs, but we did it nonetheless. After the eggs we watched the Badgers' victory over Kentucky and the night was satisfyingly complete.

The next morning the kids were up bright and early searching for Easter baskets. Candy was gorged on, even Molly got a treat, and then it was off to church. It was a beautiful mass. After church we went to brunch with my side of the family. 
A good and silly and yummy time was had by all. It was a very Happy Easter.
Today poor Todd returned to work and the kids spent the day outside. I edited all of our pics from vacation and drank far too much coffee in my new Witch mug. Tonight I will attend choir rehearsal (which was rescheduled because of the big game) and then rush home to watch the Badgers in the National Championship game. We are filled with nervous energy.

Tomorrow it is back to the real world. School, and musical practices, and boy scouts, and homework, and ballet classes, and First Communion, and recitals, and meetings. But, thankfully, we will have enough warm memories (and pictures and videos, of course) to remind us of our magical week.

It was a great spring break.


Riahli said...

Oh my wow!

After reading your feelings on Disney World/Land I seriously think we would be the best of friends in the real world. ;)

Looks like over all you guys had a wonderful memory building time! But can I just say that 20 hours of straight driving with four kids is just plain insane! In a lot of ways the overnight driving really is the best way to do it though, if you are going to be crazy like that. ;)

And can I just say your whole family is so stylish! Always rocking the best outfits. :) Great Easter gear.

Tabor said...

I am old enough to remember Disney World way back when it was fairly new. The staff were trained to be super helpful and friendly and they were back then. It was clean and much nicer back then. Now they have competition. I do fear the bigger and bigger roller coasters as they have been known to create tears in the neck and brain and blood leaking which can be nothing or something!! Just an old lady talking. Love your little gals dress, she was a princess.

Mimsie said...

Loved your travelogue and your realistic report on Disney. Sounds like a just about perfect vacation, one your kids will remember for always.

Kat said...

Tabor- I do think that Disney was probably better a good 20 years ago or so. Characters used to roam around the park for photo opps and it was less crowded and definitely cleaner. My best friend was obsessed with Disney when we were in grade school. It was like a fairyland. Now they charge you for everything. There are special breakfasts with princesses that costs close to $100 a person. What the what? Not happening. And the people working there were definitely not friendly. The workers at Legoland and Universal blew Disney out of the park (pun intended).
But I am glad we went. We did have a fun time and I know the kids will remember it fondly.
If we were to do a return trip anywhere it would be to Universal and then throw in the aquarium nearby, Kennedy Space Center, perhaps Sea World, and definitely more of the beach. :)

chrissy said...

I've never taken my kids to Disney, and I think we've missed the window, and that's ok.

HOWEVER. I went to Universal with my BFF a few years ago and I LOVED IT. I wish I could have taken my kids. Did you go in the ladies' room and hear Moaning Myrtle talking? I loved the attention to detail- it felt like we really were in the movies. That was before the new section was open, I'm sure I would totally geek out about it now. I'm glad you had such a great trip!

betty said...

It does sound like a wonderful spring break! I loved all the pictures of you family all together! Sorry about the experience at Disneyworld; I've not been there but to Anaheim Disneyland and the employees were always so very kind and friendly there. Not been to Lego Land in Florida, but saw the one in Southern California, always fun with what they can make out of Legos. How fun too with all you did on your spring break! I'm sure the kids will remember it for years to come!


Naqvee said...

It is often not known what children will like or dislike after they have been there and done that :)
Overall, your trip sounds and looks exciting. I hope you enjoyed the best easter :)
Love Naqvee

Bijoux said...

Wow! Where to start? First, wasn't it glorious to see the sun?

We never took our kids to Disney either. Had planned to, but then 9/11 happened, so we stayed closer to home for a few years. Our HS marching band goes to play in the parade there every other year, so I went with them when my son was in band. We had a great time and I thought the employees were super nice, so I was surprised by what happened to you. That is a shame!

I would have loved the Lego miniature cities as well. What is the one in the very middle?

How fun to see the dolphins in the ocean! The only time we've seen them in their habitat is in the harbor near the SC aquarium.

Kat said...

Riahli- I always knew we were on the same wavelength. :)

Chrissy- I missed Moaning Mertle. I wonder if it was a very specific bathroom. I just loved Harry Potter World. I would go back again in a heartbeat. I'd like to see other parts of Universal as well. It rocks!

Bijoux- I'm not sure which one the middle pic is. I took so many miniLego pictures that I think they are blurring together. It could be Tampa. They were all cities around the US but there were so many of them I forget which is which. Their Las Vegas strip and New York City and Washington DC replicas were amazing.

Bijoux said...

I just enlarged it and it looks like there are steep hills, so maybe San Francisco? Very cool!

Krystyn @ Really, Are You Serious? said...

What a great trip!

And a huge letdown that Disney wasn't what you thought it was going to be. You know I felt the same as you in the last post, but I've also only been to Disney with my family on I'm not sure if it's different. But, you are totally reminding me to get the girls new shoes and wear them in...and how hot it is!

Universal was pretty awesome, too and your kids are the perfect age for it!

I love your Easter family pictures, too!

Wisconsin Girl said...

Wow! What a great post and such great memories you will have. Our family will be taking our first big road trip to Florida this summer...waiting to tell the kids until school is out and I CAN'T WAIT! My husband grew up in the panhandle area of Florida, so we are going there to just hang out at the beach. Driving and making a few fun planned stops on the way. Have I mentioned I am so excited?!?!? Your trip looked amazing. What a great opportunity to check out Disney. I'm on the fence about whether I'd even be interested or not, esp. considering the price. But it looks like you had a great time, despite your hesitation. And what great Easter pics! Such handsome boys and adorable Grace. You have such a beautiful family and I so enjoy your posts, esp. knowing that we are living the Wisconsin life:) I've hit more technological problems with our computer, so haven't blogged much lately, but sure do miss it! Happy Spring (come on warm weather!).

Midlife Roadtripper said...

Sounds like a memorable family vacation. We never took our kids to Disney World either. Took them to over 40 states, the Field of Dreams and many national parks. Great museums. Did do Disneyland in LA as we had family there. And we always drove everywhere. Thousands of miles so when I read you were going to drive 20 hours straight through, I felt your pain. Been there. Always good to drive when the kids are alseep.

Sounds like it very grand for you, though. Such a lovely family and so glad you shared this.

Kat said...

Midlife- Yes! Those are the types of trips I always imagined taking my kids on. Visiting different states and exploring the country. Museums and zoos and park, etc. I love that. :)

Words To Live By

Be grateful for each new day.
A new day that you have never lived before.
Twenty-four new, fresh, unexplored hours to use usefully and profitably.
We can squander, neglect, or use them.
Life will be richer or poorer by the way we use today.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could;
some blunders and absurdities crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day.
You shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be
encumbered with your old nonsense.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson