The secrets. The planning. The missteps. The victories. The second thoughts. The financial freakouts. The insider tips. The waiting. The daydreams. The waiting some more.
They all finally led up to the glorious day when DW and I led our kids (DD19 & DS14) on their first real vacation and the greatest adventure of their lives.
To catch you up on the backstory, read this. And don’t miss the beautiful – and hilarious - moment (caught on video) when we reveal to our kids their awesome vacation surprise.
One more important detail to note; DD left for Germany last Friday to study abroad, so this vacation - wedged between Christmas and her departure - was truly the last one of her childhood.
Okay, just writing that almost made me burst into tears. I’ll be okay. Just give me a second…
I’m good. Let’s do this.
“You can read along with me in your book. You will know it’s time to turn the page when you hear the chimes ring like this: Boodiddleliiiiing! Let’s begin now.” – Disney Read Along Books
Part 1: C’mon everybody! Here we goooooooooo!
Thursday, January 8, 2015 - 5:00AM Pacific Time
In an effort to ward off any jetlag, we’d gone to bed early on Wednesday night and set the alarm for 5am. I got up, started DW’s coffee and got the magic going for the kids. One of our family traditions has been to begin a day at Disneyland by waking the kids with Disney music ringing through the house. This day would be no exception as our getting-ready playlist began with Jiminy Cricket crooning “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
With a lot more bustle than hustle, we got dressed, ate a yummy breakfast, tidied up the homestead, and then sat down to wait for “Grandma” to come take us to the airport.
When I got a text that our ride was outside waiting, DS grabbed his suitcase and stepped outside. He stopped, turned back to me, mischievously scowling, and growled, “What?”
My Cheshire Cat’s grin confirmed what he’d suspected; The limo waiting outside was to be our ride to the airport. Grandma’s cramped backseat was never part of the plan.
DD, now very curious and excited, squeezed past us to see. She squealed with delight and through a barrage of “NO!”s and “REALLY?”s, we convinced her that this was no pumpkin coach, but a real-life luxury ride to her date at a certain castle.
FUTURE PLANNERS NOTE: Our flight was out of Long Beach, which is a JetBlue hub, so less expensive than flying from LAX. The limo ride was more than “paid for” by the flight savings.
Everything ran on time. The flights were smooth and DS was thrilled to have 30 channels of entertainment in the seatback in front of him. Only one odd incident with an overly loyal flight attendant gave our flight experience a pinch of the discomfort that gives travelling with strangers its charm.
The arriving passenger experience at MCO is truly a people-moving wonder. From the one-stop monorails to the incredibly organized people corrals at Magical Express check-in, we felt like we were M&Ms in a funnel being gently shaken into exactly where we needed to be.
It was also our first chance to use our Magic Bands and everyone in the family wanted to be the inaugural swipe. DW did the honors and soon we were on the bus and off to somewhere deep inside the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
FUTURE PLANNERS NOTE: The Magical Express is an incredible mix of transportation, marketing, and propaganda. The video screens keep your attention inside the bus and off of any other competing distractions like Sea World or Universal. One bummer was the two spoilers they forced on us. First, they showed the entire ride-through of SDMT, including a full explanation of the special effects used to create the illusions, which we quickly hid our eyes from. That’s one way to ruin the magic. Second, they did a full feature on Club Cool in Epcot, specifically showing all the sour faces people make after tasting Beverly. DS and I had pre-planned how we could get those faces out of DW and DD and were looking forward to a perfect prank. Thanks Magical Express. Prank spoiled. Close your eyes and ears if you don’t want spoilers.
When we arrived at the Custom House at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, at 9:10pm we could see and hear Illuminations through the trees. That was the perfect way to arrive!
The cast member who checked us in, Fee, acted like she recognized me. I did a lot of blabbing with the call center during the planning phase, so it seemed to me that a lot of our conversations had carried over to the notes on Fee’s screen. She knew I was a former cast member and she ribbed me about her park being better than mine.
Then, she dropped the exciting news that they had upgraded us to a Pirate room!! We were ecstatic! Could it get any better? We’d find out later that an upgrade is sometimes a curse, but at the moment, we were feeling like Uncle Albert just after hearing about a man with a wooden leg named “Smith.”
She gave us four pirate swords and eye patches, plus two fairy wands for the ladies. We checked our carry-on bags with bell services and headed to a bus stop to begin our first-day plans.
Our first-day plans looked like this. Catch a bus to Epcot. Catch a monorail to the TTC. Catch the resort monorail around the Seven Seas Lagoon to see the water-reflected view of all the resorts before disembarking at the Contemporary Hotel for dinner at the Contempo Café. I didn’t want to take a bus directly to Magic Kingdom, because I wanted the family to get the birds-eye-view like I did when I visited a couple years before. Then we were going to view the Electrical Water Pageant from the Bay Lake beach.
But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. They get gobbled up in reality.
The last park closed at 9:00 that night, and being within the hour-and-a-half transportation window, I knew that we’d have no trouble getting to our destination. With transportation stopping at 10:30, I knew there was a possibility that we’d have to take a taxi back to the hotel, but I was good with that.
We got to the bus stop and waited. Guess which was the first bus to arrive? Epcot!! Exactly the bus we wanted. The doors opened. Some tired souls rolled out, and we hopped in.
“Where are you going?” the driver asked.
“Epcot!” we chimed.
“Sorry folks, Wally World is closed,” he replied.
Okay, not his exact words, but we quickly learned, to our despair, that transportation FROM the parks goes until 10:30, but transportation TO the parks ends… now.
We explained our need to get to the Contemporary for dinner. He said we’d have to take the Downtown Disney bus to catch a Contemporary shuttle.
I maturely reconfigured the plan in my head and reasoned that we could make a detour through Downtown Disney and still ride the monorail around the resorts from the Contemporary before dinner.
Wanna guess which bus came next? Downtown Disney!!
We hopped aboard, ready to go.
“Where you headed?” the driver asked.
“The Contemporary,” I replied. “Is this the best way to get there?”
“No!” he said. “You want a Magic Kingdom bus.”
“But the last driver said the buses close when the parks close.”
“Nah, they can take you. This bus will take you an hour to get to dinner. Just tell them your car is parked there.”
“Okay,” I said, and we reluctantly backed off the bus to wait for a Magic Kingdom bus.
Now guess which bus showed up next. Right. Magic Kingdom.
Doors open. We hop in. And the standard greeting, this time in an Irish accent…
“Where ye going?”
“Magic Kingdom, and then we’re walking to the Contemporary for dinner.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t take you to the Magic Kingdom. Park’s closed.”
“Um… er, the last driver said you could. Our car’s parked there. The kids have to pee. I’m radioactive… (or something like that).”
“Nope. I can’t take you. You should wait for a Downtown Disney bus.”
Stunned, I backed away from him and stepped off the bus. But then, realizing I was stranded without him, I hopped back on.
“Look, we’ve got plans to get to the Contemporary for dinner. The last two drivers told us conflicting information. Your bus is empty. If you’re going back to the Magic Kingdom, can’t you just take us with you?”
“I’m afraid not. If I take you, I’ll get fired.”
I felt like Flounder after slamming into a sunken yardarm while trying to escape the shark. I drooped off the bus, but quickly jumped back on before he could close the door.
“The last bus was a Downtown Disney bus. Is there a way you could find out if there’s another one coming soon?”
He hesitated. A glimmer of compassion passed across his face. He grabbed his radio mike and explained our situation to the dispatcher. The dispatcher, sounding nothing like the cruel despot our Irish driver seemed to fear, authorized him to drive us directly to the Contemporary.
And just like that, we had our own private ride directly to our destination.
FUTURE PLANNERS NOTE: Disney transportation is awesome, but it is a rigid system and unless you know all the ins and outs, plan to be confused and delayed for much longer than you imagine. Transportation from the parks ends an hour and a half after the last park closes. Transportation to the parks ends when the individual parks close. Lesson learned.
We arrived on the bottom floor of the Contemporary and made our way up to the Monorail platform. The building truly is a marvel of size and beauty. I personally love the Mary Blair mosaic and the way it draws together the natural, untouched wilderness and the idealistic views of the future. The kids were excited to look for the five-legged goat, but there was no time for that. Our monorail had just arrived.
We all huddled to the windows on the right to see the sparkly reflections of the castle, Space Mountain, the train station, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian as they glided by in the dark, cold night.
Brimming with fresh energy, DS started doing pull-ups from the ceiling-mounted handrails. We were all alone in the front carriage, so when we stopped at the Magic Kingdom station, our pilot, smiling sternly yet playfully, like a first-grade teacher catching a note passer, popped her head into our car and said, “I saw that.”
We were still laughing about it when we disembarked back in the Contemporary, and ready to eat. Our last meal had been in the Long Beach airport at 10:30AM Pacific time and it was now 10:15PM Eastern.
When we got up to the Contempo level, DS noticed that the Electrical Water Pageant was happening outside on the Bay Lake side. We gathered at the window just in time to see the last of the American Flag barges flick off their lights.
We clumsily stumbled through our first “meal-plan on MagicBands” purchase. It seems simple until you’re there trying to figure out what counts and what will add to your already hefty bill. DW said it was the best meal she’d ever had on paper plates.
• Me – Salmon
• DW & DD – Pot Roast
• DS – Chicken Alfredo
FUTURE PLANNERS NOTE: I am so glad I remembered our MagicBand PIN. I chose it back in September and never looked back. It’s a total miracle that the first thing that came to mind (at the corner of tired and starving) was correct. Choose a PIN you will always remember, like the one you chose for your very first ATM card.
The desserts were way too much for the time of day, but I did gorge myself on a Frozen Cupcake. I’m not proud.
With all the transportation shut down by then (10:45), we caught a taxi back to our resort.
FUTURE PLANNERS NOTE: There’s nothing like the experience of watching your taxi fare climb up and up and up when you aren’t familiar with a particular neighborhood and don’t know how near or far you are to your destination. Being so used to the proximity of hotels to theme parks at Disneyland Resort, and even though I know WDW is a big place, I guess I never expected a trip from the Contemporary to the Caribbean to cost $30.
(Reader Caution – First world problems ahead) When we arrived at our room, we were surprised that the pirate theming wasn’t all that impressive. The beds are cool, but compared to the pictures and our expectations, it fell pretty flat.
I had requested a room in Jamaica because they were among the refurbished rooms, and that meant queen-sized beds. But our upgrade to a pirate room put us in Trinidad South.
The pirate beds are full-sized - and so are my kids. And after years in a mini-van together, they kinda get on one another’s nerves in close places. That meant nobody (not even Figment) would be sleeping on this trip if they had to share a bed.
The real trouble came when we tried to fit the roll-away bed somewhere – anywhere – in the room. There were only two places where the bed could be opened up fully: blocking the door, or blocking the bathroom. Neither would work for health, comfort, or safety.
When we called housekeeping to see if they could come up with a solution, the representative stood in the middle of the room scratching his head. No solutions. We hoped they would move us to another room, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t… so they didn’t.
All we could do was take the mattress off the roll-away and put it on the floor. Without the springs, the mattress mashed to the point where DS could easily feel the floor.
But it was 12:30PM by then. We were exhausted and had a full day at Epcot ahead. We needed to be okay with it and get some rest.
To be continued in Epcot…