Trip Report: My Birthday Trip

I live in Iowa and have a birthday in mid-February. It is almost always freakishly cold on my birthday. Ten years ago, I said, “If I’m not pregnant on my birthday next year, we’re going to Disneyworld.” My oldest daughter turns ten in April, so I did NOT get to go on that trip. :slight_smile: But we’ve been talking about making the trip happen for nearly three years, and this was the year!

I planned for months. I set up a MemoryMaker share with a bunch of people so I could actually have photos with me in them. Then we flew away from sub-freezing temps into balmy heat. It was lovely. We started our trip by flying into Tampa and spending a night in Clearwater Beach to visit the Clearwater Marine Rescue Aquarium. (Quick aside: the aquarium is a nice diversion, but can be dull for younger children. It isn’t flashy, but it is very interesting if you are willing to ask the volunteers questions.) From there, we drove to visit some family I have near Ocala.

Disney Day 1: Arrival and Magic Kingdom
We drove our rental car to our Port Orleans-Riverside resort. We knew we would arrive too early to check in, so we dropped off our luggage with bell services, and then returned our car to the Car Care Center near Magic Kingdom.

We then took the Alamo shuttle to the Polynesian resort. This was not an originally planned stop, but I knew we’d need lunch, and the lines would be much shorter at the resort. As a plus, we could go through shorter lines at the resort security. At Captain Cook’s, we got two kids meals (hot dogs! eye rolls) and my husband and I shared the meatballs with coconut rice. Yum.

From there we hopped on the monorail to Magic Kingdom, arriving about 1pm. Hubby and I had been in Disney together nearly 21 years ago on a high school trip. We asked a PhotoPass photographer to help us recreate a photo of us taken on that trip. Here is the result. (And yes, we’re wearing old high school shirts.)

Our first stop was a walk through the Swiss Family Treehouse, which was a great way to stretch our legs after our two-hour drive. Then, I had a FPP for the Jungle Cruise at 1:30. The line was still about a 20-30 minute wait, so I was glad I had packed some wedding-size bottles of bubbles to entertain Daughter6. Daughter9 didn’t seem to mind the bubbles either. The kids seemed to really like the cruise, and I like a punny joke probably more than the average person. :slight_smile:

Time for a Dole Whip at Aloha Isle! I grabbed one pineapple and one pineapple-vanilla swirl for our family of four to share. My hubby and the youngest preferred the swirl, while the oldest and I liked the pineapple better. A great way to beat the heat.

We headed toward the Country Bear Jamboree for a view of the Festival of Fantasy Parade, but we got there a bit late and ended up watching the parade from over the crowds right at the gate where the parade started. We saw enough of the parade to be happy, with my oldest quite excited when she saw Maleficent breathe fire.

My touring plan at this point had a placeholder for us to go meet Merida in Fairytale Garden. Since it is not an attraction in the app, I had stuck in a 3:30 meal at Cosmic Ray’s, since it is right across the lane. Unfortunately, we found ourselves stuck behind the parade, and couldn’t move very fast. I changed the time of our “meal” to 6pm and we popped into the Country Bear Jamboree, which the kids enjoyed, as did the adults.

We played one round of Pirate’s Adventure. It was enjoyable, but the loud voices kind of startled Daughter6, and she is the one who had activated her magicband. It also took far too long for us to find the chest of bones in the gift shop, though I did snag a birthday button for me and first trip buttons for my two kids. We caught the raft to Tom Sawyer’s Island, where the kids were kind of freaked out by the darkness in the abandoned mine and Injun Joe’s cave, but liked the clubhouse.

From here we bustled over to the Muppets Great Moments in History. My kids LOVE the Muppets, and marked this as one of the best parts of the day. As we were walking, however, it started to rain, and fairly hard. LESSON LEARNED: Keep your umbrellas or ponchos more accessible than in the bottom of your backpack. For the rest of the trip, we kept them in the basket under the stroller.

It was time to use our Pirates of the Caribbean FastPass. Daughter9 loved Pirates, and it has long been a favorite of mine as well. I did get wet on the plunge, but didn’t mind too much. Daughter6, on the other hand, thought Pirates was a bit scary and didn’t care much for it.

Here I had my first big Liner Fail: We headed over to meet Merida and arrived about 10 minutes too late. If I had consulted my Times Guide, I would have known she was done at 6pm and would have rescheduled our “meal” to earlier in the day. Daughter9 was quite disappointed, but luckily we had scheduled a second MK day for Friday, and I promised I’d put Merida early in the day. LESSON LEARNED: Check the Times Guide for character start and end times, especially for those that are not listed as attractions in the app.

I put in a Mobile Order for the Columbia River Harbor House, which we picked up without a hitch. Unfortunately, we missed our FPP window for the Haunted Mansion, so I grabbed one for 9pm, and then visited the Enchanted Tiki Room. Daughter9 enjoyed this show quite a bit, and I think Daughter6 did as well.

Since we were planning on staying in the park, we grabbed a spot on the bridge between Tomorrowland and the central plaza to watch the fireworks. We had a decent view, and were absolutely floored by the projections on the castle. We were awfully close to the fireworks, however, and Daughter6 did NOT like the noise, but covered her ears and generally enjoyed it. When TinkerBell showed up, both kids gasped, and Daugher9 said, “I KNEW it was a zipline!” We decided there and then that, even though I hadn’t originally planned on it, we would try to see the fireworks again Friday from the front of the castle.

Instead of sticking around for Once Upon a Time, we decided to pop over to Haunted Mansion. The FPP line was quite long, so we hopped in the standby line and walked onto the ride AHEAD of a bunch of FPP holders. Haunted Mansion is one of my all-time favorites. I rode with Daughter9, and she and I both enjoyed all the sights and sounds. Daughter6 rode with my husband and was quite scared by the narrator, so Hubby started asking her about all the illusions. “How do you think they did that?” He said it helped her see that it was all a carefully designed trick instead of something real that could hurt you or that you should really be scared of. (Tonight, she was recalling the spooky voice at the end telling her that a ghost might follow her home, and was creeped out.) Ranked by Daughter9 as another highlight of the day.

We watched the end of Once Upon a Time, and then grabbed a cookie ice cream sandwich at the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor while letting the crowds disperse a bit. The thing was HUGE and we easily shared it among the four of us.

From here we rode the bus to our hotel, and I encountered the thing I was most concerned about with our plan to leave our luggage at the hotel before we checked in. We arrived at our room about 9:45pm, but we couldn’t put our kids to bed because we didn’t have their pajamas. Our luggage finally arrived about 10:20pm. We shuffled the kids to bed (Thank God for melatonin and On the Banks of Plum Creek.) LESSON LEARNED: If you are dropping off luggage and planning to close out the park, pack the kid’s pajamas in your backpack.


Great report and beautiful photographs. Thank you for sharing.

I love the photo re-creation!! Looks like y’all had a great trip!

I had never seen an ice cream sandwich from Plaza so I never ordered one thinking it would be a rip off. Now that I see that… I feel this sandwich is something I need in my life now (at least for 5 minutes until I woof it down).

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Great report

DAY 2: Epcot
We got up at 7:15am for 9am park opening. We’re not big breakfast eaters, so my husband and I made peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast for everyone to eat either in the room or on the bus. We filled our Camelbaks with water while I roused the kids. We had abundant snacks in our packs as well.

We opted to use the Disney bus system, in spite of the negative reviews against it in the guide with regard to the transportation at Riverside, and overall we were pleased. Our building was closest to West Depot, which was the first depot, and for that we were grateful. We never waited much more than 10 minutes for a bus. We may not have been first through the gates, but we were there before the park opened. Husband took all the bags through security so I could walk in with the girls. Biggest snafu was that we hadn’t remembered which fingers we had used the day before for our fingerprint scan. LESSON LEARNED: Pay attention to which finger you use when entering your first park.

Epcot is my FAVORITE park (though after this trip, Magic Kingdom is a very close second). I’ve been there three times, and I’ve never gotten to enjoy it the way I would really like to enjoy it. This trip was no exception, as with two younger children in tow, I couldn’t linger the way I’d like, and I really want to take two days to enjoy it. C’est la vie. Maybe someday.

My touring plan for today was kind of up in the air. I’d made three touring plans: one with us staying in the park all day with multiple breaks, one with us leaving for a long mid-day break, and one with us leaving for a mid-day break, but with our prioritized items in a particular order rather than optimized by the app. After how well everyone had done the day before, I decided to start with the all-day plan and juggle if needed.

First stop: the character spot, where we met Mickey, Minnie and Goofy. Minnie gave me a birthday kiss on the cheek, which the PhotoPass photographer missed. Drat.

From there, we headed to Mission: SPACE Adv. Lab to play the games. My kids were less than impressed, and we didn’t stay long.

Next came Daughter6’s biggest anticipated event: meeting Anna and Elsa in Norway at the Sommerhus. We waited for probably 25 minutes. Daughter6 is reserved, and didn’t say much to the ladies, but the look on her face as we entered the room and she saw her idols was priceless. She was just radiating excitement.

After meeting Anna and Elsa, we took advantage of our Frozen Ever After FPP that I had recently modified from 6:30pm to 10:30am. The ride was a lot of fun and very magical, though my husband and I agreed that the faces projected on the animatronic characters totally took me out of the scene. I prefer the all-animatronic characters in the majority of circumstances.

Now, I came rather late to the game of planning for this trip, in spite of knowing we were going for over two years. I felt quite lucky to snag late breakfast reservations at Akershus for 11am about 75 days out. We treated it as brunch. The kids loved the Mickey waffles, scrambled eggs and cinnamon rolls, while hubby and I tried a little bit of everything. We met Belle at the entrance, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel and Snow White. Of all the princesses, Snow White is the one that most impressed us adults for being in character, chatting with my girls about baking gooseberry pies for Grumpy. I got a free birthday cupcake and a card signed by all the princesses. I was a little astounded at the bill. I was under the impression that character breakfasts were popular because they were less expensive than lunches or dinners. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore. At $52/adult it seems that Disney just wants you to pay a bundle to meet their most popular characters, whether at breakfast or dinner.

After brunch, it was time to start our counterclockwise tour of the World Showcase. I’d bought a passport for Daughter6 on the way into the park, and she used the stickers to keep herself busy while waiting in line to see Anna and Elsa. We took our time wandering through Morocco, and then into France. There we snagged a photographer to take our photo with Eiffel Tower. Daughter9 dreams of visiting Paris one day, and bought herself a mug in the shape of Chip from Beauty and the Beast in one of the shops. We stopped to meet Mary Poppins in the UK, but she had just gone on break.

I’d read about the great ice cream in France, but the first place I found was most definitely NOT the one I was thinking of. I asked a CM and they gave us directions to Artisans des Glaces. My kids shared a double scoop of strawberry and mango sorbet, while hubby and I shared a single scoop of the Caramel des Fleur de Sel. My first taste had my eyes rolling back in my head, it was so good.

After ice cream, we went back for Mary Poppins. She was lovely, and really took the time to chat with everyone.

From here we continued our walk through the WS, not really taking much time to look around, and headed to The Seas with Nemo and then wandered through the aquarium. We really enjoyed Turtle Talk with Crush, though my girls weren’t interested in sitting up front.

We spent some time in the Imagination Pavilion, which I really enjoy, and then grabbed our FPP for Spaceship Earth, another favorite ride of mine. We got stuck on it for about 3 minutes, hanging backward toward the end, but not too badly.

From Spaceship Earth, we hightailed it over to Soarin’. Played the World Trivia game on the Play Disney Parks app to pass the time and ended up chatting with our line neighbor about music (he is a musician by trade, while I was a vocal major). The kids got bored with the line, but we only waited about 25-30 minutes and the trivia helped a lot. When we got bustled into the room, we were toward the front, but I realized that we had been directed to A1. I quickly grabbed my family and headed toward the nearest CM to ask to be seated in section B. My family thought I was a bit crazy, but I just said, “Trust me, you’ll have a better view.” We ended up in B1. It was breathtaking. Daughter6 was nervous and afterwards called it “terrifying” but still seemed to enjoy seeing all the sights. I was floored by the smells and the excitement of it all. We all walked out and said, “That was AMAZING!”

Then, another Liner fail. I hadn’t really planned for supper because I knew there were so many amazing restaurants in Epcot. Well, Daughter6 was hungry and since we were close, we ended up in Sunshine Seasons. We were sorely disappointed with the huge slice of deep dish cheese pizza (it was tasteless and mostly bread) and our desserts were dry. We washed everything down at Club Cool where I got my free birthday slushie. Everyone loved that best. We should have held off until we got into WS where we could have found something with some flavor. LESSON LEARNED: Plan where you want to eat supper, or at least, where you DON’T want to eat.

We landed on the walkway between Canada and France for Illuminations. It was a great show, but after the castle the night before, the spinning earth seemed lackluster. Loved the fire, fireworks and the lasers We all jumped when a firework shot out from a canon directly in front of us.

Bus back to the hotel.


Day 3: Animal Kingdom
We had another early start for Animal Kingdom. The bus ride took much longer than I expected, and we didn’t make it into the park by opening, but only about 10-15 minutes after.

We went straight to the Na’vi River Journey. We really enjoyed this boat ride, and the animatronic shaman proved to me why I didn’t like the projected faces on Frozen Ever After. This was so lovely and well-done, without projection.

From here we went to the Maharajah Jungle Trek. We enjoyed taking our time and seeing the birds and tigers.

We ate an early lunch at Flame Tree BBQ. I looked at mobile ordering, but was having trouble with my phone, and the line was so short when we got there that I just walked in and ordered. Ribs and chicken for hubby and I, oven roasted chicken leg for the kids. It was all very tasty, including the Mango Lemonade. Just as we got our food, it started to rain, and we had not seated ourselves under a roof. We used umbrellas to cover the food while we ate. Then the adults donned ponchos, while the kids used the umbrellas.

From there we went to Up! Bird Adventure. We enjoyed the parrots talking, the crane flying, and seeing the bald eagle. The kids enjoyed this show and the adults also did. Also appreciated that it was under a roof and we could take off ponchos. By the time the show was over, the rain had stopped.

Next stop: Finding Nemo, The Musical. What a delightful stage show! Loved seeing the puppeteers/performers and how they incorporated themselves with the puppets. The songs were great.

We wandered over to Dino-Sue in Dinoland, as I thought the kids would enjoy seeing it. We got some good photos. After this, we wandered through Discovery Island and took a ton of photos of the sculptures on and around the Tree of Life.

Then on to the Gorilla Falls trail, while doing some Wilderness Explorer stuff.

Festival of the Lion King was next. Daughter6 later described this show as her favorite thing about AK. “It was impressive. I liked the men pretending to be monkeys and catching people while hanging by their legs.” This was a fantastic show, and we all enjoyed watching and singing along. So good.

Here, we deviated a bit from the plan, which had us going to Kilamanjaro Safaris and then using the grace period on our FPP for Flight of Passage. Well, I wasn’t taking any chances of missing our FPP window, so we instead went first thing to FOP. The jets of air in the decontamination startled Daughter6, and the ride itself “terrified” her, but she was smiling as she said it. Daughter9 wanted to do it again. She didn’t want to go on any real roller coasters, but the simulator was safe, so boasted about the drops while on the banshee. Hubby and I really enjoyed the ride, and all the extrasensory stuff, but we were both a bit disappointed. The picture on Soarin’ had been crystal clear, while the 3D on FOP made the world seem blurry. If it hadn’t been 3D, I think I would have enjoyed it more and would not have been able to find fault with it. It was truly awesome.

We’d bought blacklight face paint, and painted the kids during the wait for FOP. Should have done it first thing in the morning, as it would have been cooler during Na’vi River, and due to all the running around later, we really didn’t get to enjoy Pandora after dark as we had hoped. Oh Well.

At this point, we started to head over to the Kilimanjaro Safari, but after getting in line, we were all getting cranky and hungry, so got out of line and went to Satuli for supper. Cheeseburger Pod for the kids and a Build-A-Bowl for Dad and I. The food was SO good. The kids loved the pod, and Dad and I greatly enjoyed the variety of flavors in our chicken/salad bowl.

Then we got turned around a few times, and headed to the Tree of Life for Awakenings. Which was kind of cool, but really slow, and we were tired, so we headed back to our hotel so I could pack and we could all get a good night’s sleep.

While I won’t say that we were disappointed with either the Gorilla Falls Trail or the Maharajah Jungle Trek, I wish we had gone on the safari instead. We live less than a three hour drive from one of the best zoos in the country (Henry Doorly in Omaha). While Disney didn’t do a poor job with the animal exhibits, we walked away thinking we shouldn’t have spent time with the exhibits and should have stuck to seeing the things that Disney does best: shows, rides and real attractions. We highly enjoyed the Festival of the Lion King, and the Nemo Musical, but the traffic flow around the park was confusing, we got turned around a couple of times, and we lost precious time with that, and missed one of the things we really wanted to do. No one was too disappointed, thankfully.

When we got back to the hotel, I checked to see if I could modify our next day’s super early dinner reservation (4:10pm) back, and was able to get a 5:10pm. Yay!


DAY 4: Magic Kingdom, Day 2
We got up extra early for Extra Magic Hour at Magic Kingdom. We didn’t quite make it at 8am, but we were in the park by 8:10 and headed straight to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. I had a blast looking at and shooting everything, while Daughter6 said, “Mommy, I don’t want to shoot, just look.” That was just fine. After the ride, we compared scores, and I got a “How did you do that?!?!?” from my video-game playing husband when I had racked up 79,000 points to his 52,000. (Shoot the target under Zurg!)

On to meet Ariel in her Grotto. This wait was a good 15-20 minutes with little air flow. It was quite hot in the cave. I got out the bubbles again to entertain Daughter6.

I was sort of shooting from the hip a bit with this plan. I had again scheduled a meal at Cosmic Ray’s on the plan in order for us to meet Merida, but the timing was off whenever I optimized. So since we were close, we hopped into Under the Sea, nearly walking straight onto the ride. This ride was delightful, and we enjoyed the use of blacklight. Daughter9, who gets motion sick, didn’t like the bubbles at one point, but managed okay.

We then used my FPP for Peter Pan’s Flight. Hubby and I loved this ride. Flying over London, seeing the silhouettes on the moon. I think this was the first time I’d been on it, at least that I can remember, and it was so relaxing and lovely and fun.

THEN at last, we walked to FairtyTale Garden, where we had a 5 minute wait to meet Merida. Daughter9 loves Merida. The only reason I got to see her with her beautiful curls down on Day 1 and today was because she wanted Merida to see them. We even had a custom Merida shirt made that said “Long Lost Twin” on the front and “My Mother Can be a Real Bear” on the back. Folks, the gal who played Merida was AMAZING. She was spot on with the accent and the attitude. She really took the time to talk with my kids and gave Daughter9 so many hugs and told her to never let anyone tell her her hair isn’t beautiful. I could have kissed her for that. It was so worth it. (We passed by later in the day, and the line was three times as long. Good guess on my part!)

Here’s where the app really didn’t like me for some reason. I had entered us eating at Gaston’s Tavern at around 11:30am with a fair amount of flexibility. Here it was, 10am, and it was sending us to eat at Gaston’s. Um, nope. We ignored that step, and instead and went on It’s a Small World, much to my husband’s chagrin. He has hated that ride since we went on it 21 years ago, though I think part of his hatred was a show for Daughter9.

After that, I tried optimizing again. Still telling us to go to Gaston’s. Ignored the step again and went for Mickey’s Philharmagic. OMG. This was amazing. Probably one of my favorite things in Magic Kingdom. This was obviously a precursor to FOP and Soarin’, as even though I knew I was motionless in a theatre, I would have sworn we were moving. Watched Daugher6 flinch a few times at the 3D, but overall everyone liked it.

Got on the Regal Carousel, and after that used a FPP for Enchanted Tales with Belle. My timid Daughter6 wasn’t interested in being part of the play, and Daugher9 is “too old and too cool” for that sort of stuff, so I didn’t get to see them play a part, but it was still a lovely meet and greet venue. The projected face on Lumiere didn’t bother me at all, unlike in Frozen Ever After.

NOW we went to Gaston’s for lunch. Had some okay sub sandwiches, and ate the brie from it with an apple from our backpack. The cinnamon roll, however, was to die for. We were disappointed not to see Gaston – he must have been on break – but got a photo with the statue.

Once we got the meal out of the way, the app started behaving again. We wandered around Cinderella Castle. Then we did Winnie the Pooh. Daughter9 didn’t like the motion of the car, but otherwise, we liked it. The person who designed the queue, with all the interactive activities for kids, should be given a medal.

We had a FPP to meet Tiana and Rapunzel at Fairytale Hall. That worked out great.

Then on to the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor. I loved this, though some of the humor was completely lost on my kids. My husband had Daughter6 on his lap for the show, and they got up on the video screen as the “two-headed human on the aisle.” Daughter6 wouldn’t say a word. I screwed up and managed to NOT record the interaction with my camera, though I did get a photo.

We had some time, so we did the Jungle Cruise again, as the kids could agree on that. The wait was a bit long, and I was concerned about missing our dinner, but I did some reading on the forums and realized that we shouldn’t have any trouble. I spent much of the queue blowing bubbles for my daughter and several other kids around us. One mom said, “We ought to be paying you for entertaining our kids!”

One thing the app didn’t do was allow you to put in meals and activities outside the park. We had a reservation for 5:10 at 1600 Park Fare, and I needed the plan to take into account some travel time. I had placed the Main Street Popcorn Cart at 4:45pm on the list as a placeholder to help us gauge walk time. Didn’t realize the Grand Floridian was the last Monorail Stop. Sheesh. Took a while, but we got to our restaurant and were immediately seated.

This was my favorite meal of all our meals. The food was varied and incredible, from pasta, to curries, to fruit and veggies, to tiny little desserts, to things my kids would eat, like hot dogs, pizza and mac and cheese. Everything we tasted was good. The characters were just as good. Prince Charming actually did charm Daughter6 and got her to speak to him. Cinderella was gracious. Lady Tremaine told the almost-seven-year-old next to me that “Seven is when all the silliness ends. It’s all talk about insurance and politics after that.” When she saw my “Happy Birthday” button, she wished me a happy birthday, then said, “Isn’t anybody going to wish ME a happy Shannon’s birthday?” Daughter6 was wearing the pink Cinderella dress the stepsisters destroyed. “Ah, that’s the dress that got destroyed. I didn’t rip it.” Pause. “I smashed her shoe.” Anastasia shrieked “Cheese!!!” whenever she got her picture taken. She nearly adopted my redheaded kids. Drizella was even better, with her cheeky little sneer. When I tried to help her with our autograph stuff, she shrieked at me, “I can do it!” We had a good laugh at their antics.

The Grand Floridian truly is grand, and had a four-piece jazz combo playing in the lobby on the second floor. I wandered over to show my youngest the string bass, and the bassist and clarinetist shot us lovely smiles. I actually started singing one of the songs, which I’d sung in high school, along with them for a moment, and got another appreciative glance from the bass player.

Back on the monorail, back into the park, where we got a terrific spot to watch the fireworks right at the end of Main Street off to one side, just behind the rope to the main plaza. What a show! It was a tremendous way to end our stay. At one point, a neighboring guest stopped near us, and their very large balloon floated right in our line of sight, and they weren’t paying any attention. I grabbed it and held it down until the end of the show, and I don’t think anyone really noticed. I would have liked to have stayed for Once and for the Kiss Goodnight, but we had a really early flight out of Orlando the next morning.

I had the most delightful conversation with Daughter6 on the bus ride back to the hotel, and that will remain one of my favorite memories.

In hindsight, I’d pick a hotel closer to Epcot or MK to reduce overall travel time.

Also, we did Disney HARD. If we hadn’t had family to visit in the trip, I would have given us a rest day. It was just too much. In hindsight, I wish we’d done Disney first, and then visited family to relax and recover. Before the trip, I was thinking about ending on a high note in the Magic Kingdom. Now, I’m not sure that was the best choice. But we had an incredible time, saw nearly everything we wanted to see. Big misses: Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Kilimanjaro Safaris. Other than that, we got everything we wanted.

We are already talking about another trip in 5-10 years that will include Universal for the Harry Potter world, and Star Wars.

As for TP and the Lines App: Well worth every penny my travel agent spent on them for me. :slight_smile: If I don’t use an agent again, I’ll pay for it myself.


I loved this trip report, and the picture of your daughter with Merida fully made me tear up. I’m so glad you had such a great time! (I’m not even done reading, so it might have gone all to hell shortly after that picture and I haven’t gotten there yet, it just was such a lovely story I had to reply right away).

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Great trip report. Your girls are adorable!