Trip Report, Third Times A Charm


#1

A Grand Tour, in parts.

Prologue
We visited the Worlds of Mr. Disney this year and last, but our first attempt was in the Fall of 2012. Our son was then 9 and daughter was 6, and we had planned to take them out of school for the first time to try and avoid the Saharan-like time of summer.

My wife, who is a planner as laser focused as I myself can be, had made our reservations, booked ADRs, shined shoes, designed complete meals for our drive down and other sundry tasks. I was in the middle of some large projects at work, so my own focus on that trip was a bit fuzzy.

We had visited The World together when a new couple, back in the ancient year of 1997, so we were both looking forward to seeing all of the changes and to witness our kids' first peek at the lands of wonder and magic.

Unfortunately, we had a break in the plan: in late summer, my wife found a lump and was ultimately diagnosed with breast cancer. Without bringing this thread too far down at the outset, I can say she has been fortunate in the extent of her diagnosis and the success of her surgery.

Making the call to Disney to cancel our trip quite near to the scheduled arrival date was not our favorite task, for all of the reasons one would expect. Even more fun for us turned out to be the date of her surgery: October 29, 2012 - what you might recall as the day Hurricane Sandy landed in the NYC area. We had to be in Manhattan before the storm was set to land and had to make the call whether to postpone the surgery or not.

After much guessing and worrying about leaving our kids at home with her mother as this all took place, we finally decided that postponing the surgery after all of the build up to it would be more painful than our journey there. I told her I could get her into Manhattan, and I'd be darn sure to find a way back out if there was one.

Some time after 8AM the real winds began and we sat looking at the relative calm outside of the window in her prep room at Memorial Sloan Kettering. As she later was in surgery, I spent my time surfing weather and news sites to see what was going on so I could plan our exit strategy.

All went very well, and she lay in post-op in a woozily relaxed state. The place was oddly quiet as everyone there was planning their hunker-down or run-like-heck strategies. After a bit, a nurse came in and asked my wife is she would like to rest some more or if she would like to leave.

She jumped up as much as her prescription-based-inebriation let her and stated, essentially, "I'm out of here!"

My last intelligence report from the outside at this point of the late morning had shown that the Queens-Midtown Tunnel had begun to take on water (it actually was reaching the ceiling of the tunnel by this point I believe) and that the only exit available out of Manhattan was the 59th Street Bridge. We got down to the car (the garage there was flooding), and got over the bridge about 45 minutes before they closed it. The highest wind gusts reported were 90MPH and it sure felt like that was what hit us as we crossed the East River.

That trip home was an intense blur. We made it, got my wife settled as much as possible, and BRRZZZAAAPP the power went out for 8 days.
On a positive note, I now know I can cook some excellent eggs on a gas barbecue in cold weather.
Also, kids really like eating by candlelight.
And Morphine is your friend. For a little while, anyway.

Episode II: A New Trip
As the Spring of 2013 began sproinging, the old itch returned. In a good way. We once again began the planning for a Disney Trip, but this time to start the day after school let out. How's that for a happy end to the school year? You betcha.

I won't go into the details of that trip, since I'll be reporting on our recent one. But I'll summarize:
BOOOKING BOOKING ADRS BOOKING AGAIN MORE ADRS HOW MUCH MONEY ARE WE SPENDING? DRIVING DRIVING DRIVING REST STOP EATING DRIVING REST STOP REST STOP EATING DRIVING HELLO MIAMI GRANDMA AUNT COUSIN POOL POOL POOL EATING HOLY HEAT INDEX TEARFUL GOODBYE DRIVING REST STOP ARE WE THERE YET? DRIVING PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE FUN FUN FUN HOLY HEAT INDEX PART DEUX FUN FUN FUN INANE ARGUMENTS WITH 10 YEAR OLD OVER NOTHING IN PARTICULAR FUN FUN sleep.


Then more driving. Crossed the Verrazano Narrows bridge on the 4th of July and saluted the Statue of Liberty from its awesome view.

Coming Soon to a Browser Near You: Episode III: The Return of the Goofi
With no plans to return to the land of beings with large heads and four-fingered until the coffers were once again, er, coffeyed, a twinkle returns to both the eyes of said parents. The siren call of FREEEEE DINNNIIIING and Disney Visa's PAY US BACK LATER WITH NO INTEREST IT'S NOT A PROBLEM BRO came to its inevitable end.

A new reservation, a new obsession, and all the data you can eat.


Most Magical Moment
Pre Trip Report or How I Embraced Credit Card Rewards and Learned to Love Them
#2

Nice. I can't wait to read more.


#3

Great report! Looking forward to the rest. I'm so glad your wife is doing well.


#4

Good read! Happy to hear all is well with your wife. Thanks for sharing!


#5

You are a good story teller. I'm glad your wife is doing well. I love your pictures!


#6

I see where you get your title.Your report is entertaining, Looking forward to your next installment.


#7

I love your writing style. I have only seen two of your posts but seriously, you have a knack for this.

Please post more soon.


#8

Love this! And I love that picture of your daughter. Pure delight. Can't wait to read more.


#9

Love this- can't wait to hear more about your trip! Glad to hear that your wife is doing well!


#10

Thanks all!

That photo of my daughter is our absolute favorite. Our 2nd day ever in the Magic Kingdom; she had already had her photo taken with Cinderella for the CRT breakfast, but don't think it sunk in that other princesses were coming out.

She was sitting basking in the glow of the castle, then the voice came on to announce Snow White arriving, and the realization set in. She couldn't get her signature book out fast enough. Such a nice moment.

Even now: verklempt


#11

And that's the magic of Disney!


#12

Excellent story so far! I can't imagine trying to flee Manhattan in all of that craziness!


#13

I'm on the edge of my seat! Can't wait to read more!!!


#14

Episode III
When we last encountered our heroes, they were being drawn back to the Kingdom of Magic, like Scooby to a snak. (Whoops, wrong character library. sorry.)

Earlier this year, my wife and I were on the same page - ala, "Boy, that trip last year was fun, but so is money in the bank. And cheese, that's pretty sweet too."
(Wait, I'm fairly sure that last part was just me before lunch today.)

But, you know, our kids were almost 8 and just 11, and are at a perfect point in their lives to truly appreciate both the rides and the ambience of Disney. They are huge readers, and love a good story, and just walking around them magical places is a story waiting to happen, ain't it? (He said, talking himself into it.)

Also, we missed my Mom and sister. and my Mom is 87 darn it. and she's in Miami. The kids shouldn't just see her every couple of years, right? RIGHT?

We were looking for adventure.

And trying to figure out whatever this was.

This Won't Hurt A Bit
So, when the Free Dining came back online, my wife and I said "Well, it can't hurt to book something can it?"
The second time she said it, I pulled my laptop out of my back pocket, fired up the Excel spreadsheets and started calculating the options. Value resort, 3 nights. Value, 4 nights. Moderate, 4 nights. Moderate, 5 nights. Deluxe resort, 17 nights, flying down in a private Learjet with hot and cold running dole whip and free foot massages.

My work commutes switched from listening to history and genealogy podcasts to full-on Disney cram sessions. WDW Today. BOG Podcast. WEDWay Radio. Others. ALL OF THEM. all the time. I was a machine. and I discovered a thing. a thing called Touring Plans.

We had stayed at Port Orleans Riverside last year and loved it, but free dining was not there this year. Which I think was for the best, since I would have said, "We loved that place! Let's do it again!" and missed out on trying something new.

But, oooooh, Carrrrriiiiibbbbeeeaaan Beach. and they have hammocks. and I think working cannon. Chaching. Booked.
The only issue was that we hemmed and hawed enough to miss the Disney Visa pre-public booking window, and they did not have a room available all the way from Sunday to Friday at CBR. So, I began my first clickety-clicking process of keeping a reservations tab open in my browser while at work and refreshing the page eleventy-three times over the course of a few weeks to try get get that one missing day at the end.

And let me tell you - them Pirate Rooms kept a coming and going, but no luck with anything other room availability showing up. Stupid pirate rooms. Stupid energy.

Fast Forward
Dum - da - dummm! The demise of the cancellation window has arrived. For weeks, sometimes several times a day, my wife has asked me, "So, are YOU going to DISNEY?" She wanted to go. I wanted to go. We still wanted to save more money. But no one wanted to pull the trigger either way.

Midnight is fast approaching. The kids are in bed. We sit on the couch, the television a blinding screen of nothingness as our internal debaters approach internal fisticuffs. As usual, our son eventually wakes up in a zombie-like state and asks if the plaid partridges under his table have been fed, or some other dream-nonsense. I return to find my wife has fallen asleep.

Soliloquy
Oh, that this too, too, solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a Disney decision. But, wait! I mean Hark! What if I fell asleep as well. and midnight passed O'er our heads and ventured safely into booking lockin?

Then, back to reality, my wife drowsily awakes and we give each other silent yet pleading looks for 178 minutes.
Midnight has come.
We. are. going.
To. Disney. World. via Miami.

Break out the Frogg Toggs.

It has begun.

Next time: A Surprise Scavenger Hunt


How should we tell our kids we're going to Disney World!
#15

Nice soliloquy. If you start writing in hexameter, I'm going to worry your title has gone to your head.

(Seriously though, thanks for this newest installment in your trip report. I'm really enjoying it.)


#16

First Stop: Trepidation!
I wanted to add a quick update before the Thanksgiving stupor overcomes us all, and take the advice of Mr. Henry David T. and Simplify, Simplify, Simp.

Of course it turns out - Quick? Not so much.

We have decided to take the trip. or, more accurately, the clock has run out and we are gleeful yet worried.
After all, it is a long drive from New York to Florida, and flying isn’t the best call since we’re going to visit both Miami and Orlando, and renting a car + flying = mo’ money. Thankfully, I likes me a good road trip, and our kids are very good travellers (most of the time.)

Also, last year at Disney we had obtained their old helpful Guest Assistance card for my wife, as she was only a bit post radiation treatment et al, and the long term meds she is on really takes the sails out of her jib. (I am not a sailor. Did I just insult her? Hope not.) The GA card was HUGE in helping us cut the time down for her waiting etc, and we really appreciated it.

On the downside, it was our kids’ first trip and we felt they didn’t fully comprehend how LITTLE they had to wait for most things. With the change from the GA card to the new incarnation, we weren’t sure what the future was to bring for her. That question came to naught, however. While the meds effects still are a strong issue, she did not opt to try the new system and ended up powering through. Which wasn’t necessarily the right call, as I’ll mention later. But, she’s an awesome trooper. No doubt.

Also, my wife was a bit worried about taking the kids out of school, and told me I had to deal with informing the teachers and asking for work to keep the kids on the straight and narrow during the trip. That ended up being a non-issue - in fact, post-trip we both agreed they should have given them more work to do!

So, how to tell the kids? Blank stare. We’re both creative types. But, nothing. Last year, I doctored up a Garfield Comic and inserted it into the Sunday funnies.

Scavengers All
After a few weeks, I decided a scavenger hunt was in order. First, before lunch one day I placed a pirate map-looking word jumble and mysterious-o poem thing under their placemats. When we cleaned up, I told them there was a game afoot and handed them pencils. You can reference much of the materials mentioned herein in my previous post.

Once they un-jumbled the words, they were all clues that were supposed to lead them to the goldfish bowls in each of their rooms. Taped to the back of each, so as to be magnified, was half of a web address. When they found those and figured out they went together, they found a laptop was waiting on the table.

(This all took awhile for them to sort out.)

(Aside regarding the web URL: “Que Barato!” is a family joke. There is a store in Miami called that, and the sign has a long “Nooooooooooo!” on it. We’re told it means something like, “THAT cheap?! NOoooooo!” but in a rude way. When surprised, one of us now yells Que Barato! and the rest of us respond with, NOoooooooo!)

The web URL leads to a page on my genealogy blog. But it is password protected and they had to guess what it was. When they figured it out (took a few minutes, but well done), the page opened to show a US map with a single pin. What to do? Zooooom zooom zooming in, the pin was on the exact location of… our mailbox.

A sprint from the table to the mailbox and they came back with an envelope from the Dept of State. (Here’s hoping I don’t get sent to the hoosegow for creating fraudulent official correspondence.) In said envelope: Home made passports for each of the kids, with official “Upcoming Trips” stamps on the inner pages.

Fun was had by all.

The Drive
I set our alarm clock for 2:15AM on Election Day, but voting was not the point of order. Destination: Miami, or some waypoint in between. Truck loaded, kids bolted down, out in good time, I was a bit worried about hitting commute traffic in Washington DC, but just some slowness thereabouts were experienced.

Our typical plan is make the trip with an overnight on the way, and we book two different hotel rooms: a far goal, and a reasonable one, then cancel the one we don’t use. (AAA tends to get us the best rates, by the way. My government employee discount seems to increase rates. grumble.)

As those with kids will understand, any stop at all is an immediate 30 minute arrival extension. But, again, I’m proud of our kids, and - Woohoo! we made it all the way from Long Island to just outside Savannah, GA that night.

Our kids have severe nut allergies, so we lived on Sun Butter (sunflower seeds) and jelly, and focused on McDonald’s bathrooms, which tend to be the most consistently clean ones. Hampton Inn has been our hotel choice of late, since the free breakfasts are pretty nice, the rates are good, and we have already vetted the make-your-own waffles et al for allergy issues.

Boomerang
We arrived in Miami, and great to just hang around with family. The 25 cent tour of that leg of our journey can be seen in the photos below, mostly from the wonderful (though, woefully expensive) Butterfly World, north of Fort Lauderdale. We took my Mom there, which turned out to be an excellent day - so many beautiful butterflies, surprisingly large hummingbirds (I suspect they are tiny flying dinosaurs), and weirdly evil-scientist-like cross-created flowers. I highly recommend it, even with the price point of about $120 for 5 of us. (TIP: There are $5 off per person coupons in the Florida guide they have at rest stops on the Florida Turnpike.) Also, had many benches for my Mom to sit and rest on as we worked our way through.

Up Next: “Finally!”, the Readers Say, "This Dude Got His Family To Something That is Actually A Disney Property For this Trip Report!

Have a Very Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! I’m off to make some apple pie. May all your pie be warm.


#17

This is fantastic, @JJT. Where is the rest?


#18

Thanks!

I have been remiss. The holiday and work took over, but I hope I can get back to the actual trip report soon!
Loved the pics you and your wife were posting during the trip. So much joy.


#19

Your scavenger hunt with passports for your kids was brilliantly conceived.


#20

On Site Day 1: Sunday at Hollywood Studios
or A Shoehorn! My Kingdom for a Shoehorn!

After several days of visiting with our family, we sadly had to part ways. It is funny how when family moves apart, you get into a rhythm where the lessened contact feels normal. These days, social media can help with maintaining a thread of contact in each others' daily lives, and it can be a valuable thing - knowing and sharing the small things do make a difference in how close one feels.

But when you get to actually visit and hug, and then have to leave, social media is left wanting.

After bidding our fond fondues on Saturday evening, the kidlets, wife and I awoke with early aplomb and set off from Miami as scheduled about 6:30AM. The plan was this: GO! GO! GO!.

Actually, it was bit more detailed: Arrive at Caribbean Beach to drop our bags and then skedaddle over to Hollywood Studios by 12:30PM. Try to stick to the Touring Plan, which I may have found to be the most challenging one in the whole week to balance: Turns out fitting rides and eating (YOU MEAN YOU'RE HUNGRY? HERE HAVE SOME GUM!) in between scheduled show times with a few crucial missing morning hours kept me second guessing myself.

Also, the whole tiered Fastpass thing meant I had a painful choice to make - especially one that my son may not be happy with.
Tier 1: Toy Story Mania, Rock n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror.
The latter two: wife and 8 yo daughter OUT.
My son LOVES that roller coaster. We have never ridden ToT.
One Tier One Fastpass. Urgh.

Aside: A Neat Way to Keep Track of Your Trip Movements
Or: Daddy, Why is That Satellite Following Us?

If you have a Smartphone and use The Google Location History can be your friend. I have the Google to Android feature turned on my phone so that it keeps track of where I am throughout the day. Unless I decide to take a day off for some undercover espionage, it can be interesting to see how various routes on my commute fare (Long Island traffic: UGH.), or also help me track mileage for expense reports.

It also means I have an automagic, step-by-step, inch by inch, slowly I turned record of each day of our journey. There is a certain satisfaction with looking at the location map for a day in a NY to Florida drive and seeing just how far you've gone.

When it comes to the Magic Kingdom and environs, Google Maps has pretty detailed in the park location info. (Yes, I am a map and data geek.)
Years from now I'll call up my then-grown children and shout into the phone "HEY KIDS REMEMBER WHEN WE WERE WALKING FROM THE BIG HAT TO STAR TOURS AT 12:48 PM THAT SUNDAY? GOOD TIMES. HEY YOU, GET OFF MY LAWN."

Arrival
Or: How I Learned to Love the Plan and Stop Worrying

Our travel was great - once again, my kids are great travelers and helpful when packing the car. (Albeit, with a lot of "Git yer stuff in order!" reminders the night before. And, not to mention the 7,638 things my wife had packed and ready for us each day.)

A drizzly ride up from Miami, but nothing too bad and a bonus of a beautiful sunrise in the distance. We arrived at Carribean Beach about 10:20 - early! Check in went nice and smooth, and I learned that my fax from a few days before requesting one of a specific set of rooms was successful. Very successful, in fact: I had mistakenly requested a Preferred Room when we had booked a Standard one. The CM told me of my mistake, but said they were able to help us anyway. All right!

(Detail: I had created a fax document using the TP room info before we headed down to Florida. I sent it via HelloFax online 4 days earlier. Very useful free service - I also use it to send document requests to the National Archives in Ireland when doing genealogy research - hasn't failed me yet, and you can't beat the price.)

So.. our first FastPass was for Toy Story Mania at 12:45. I figured it would be good for all if we started our week with an all-together favorite. I was a bit worried the 11yo Master Miles would rue my decision, but all were happy during the pre-trip TP report. whew
I told my son I thought it was important all of us were together for the rides we all enjoyed and that if we found time later in the day and the wait times were manageable we'd try for RnR and/or ToT - and he was good with that. He's has a great heart (of course, I'm biased) but can get ornery at times. Thankfully, this was not one of them. (There will be others...)

We had an ADR for 50's Prime Time Cafe at 1:40PM, so the original plan was to hopefully get in the park and on TSM by 1:20. But, with our early arrival at CBR, we were through the turnstiles at the park by noon. So, we had some time to wander and then hit Muppets, wave at Phineas and Ferb on the Phly and take a look at the Streets with the Osborne lights in the daytime.

The standby at TSM was up around 60 minutes, and the Fastpass wait was only about 10. My wife had somehow managed to max out Buzz Lightyear last trip with a 999,999 score, so IT WAS ON for TSM. I was able to edge her score out, carpal tunnel be damned!

A bit of Pixar fun was had by all.

Everyone was psyched for 50's Prime Time, especially son Miles, who still talks about last year's fried chicken at least once a week. As I've mentioned before, Both Miles & Lily have severe nut allergies, so Disney dining is almost pure freedom for them, since a quick discussion with the chefs makes it much easier to eat out safely than the real world.

Short wait, (dark table!), fun waiter. (Kept telling my son to "Go get it yourself, I'm tired!") Miles ordered fried chicken again, I had food envy. My meatloaf was delicious, but the portion size was small. My real complaint was our daughter's portion size: she got a mac and cheese on the kid's menu, and it was about as big as a yogurt cup. Thankfully, said son shared a piece of chicken with her.

From ADR time we had about and hour and 15 minutes before the girls had to be at their FPP for the Disney Junior show, and we boys were to head over to save the galaxy at Star Tours. Before we knew it, the girls had to run out to make it, and we stayed behind to settle up. I considered leaving my son to wash dishes for his dinner, but thought better of it.

We had awhile before the girls would be out and our ST FPP kicked in, so we wandered over to look at the Raiders gift shop (Of course: Guns! guns! guns! my son's brain said.) I noticed a cool setup on the far side of the Raiders path - a tank and explosives, so we took advantage of the opportunity.

Star Tours was great. (On our second pass there later, we waited behind a father with 3 boys under 6 with him. As he pondered his smartphone scree, the boys proceeded to climb fences and rip leaves off of bushes with nary a glance from good old Dad. Just as my DadSense started kicking in on their shenanigans, my son's Boy Scout tendency kicked in and he told the boys they should stop and be careful. They looked at him cockeyed like the Dead-End kids from the 1940s, "Hey boys, whatta we gots here, a goodie two shoes?"
But they ceased operations, and I was proud.

We hit Raiders, to make up for seeing a shortened post-rain show last year: kids loved it. Did a bit of wandering, and then heard someone calling "Yoo Hoo! Family!" and took a gander in the Frozen shop and make your own snow cone factory. (A bit too crowded for more than a peek for our kids.)

Our last Fastpass was for the Frozen Singalong, and I had heard that you should be there a bit before even with a FPP. We stopped and checked the pretzel cart for allergy issues (none!) and got some of those for the wait. We were about half way back on the Fastpass line, and munching away when the salt kicked in. I threw my son some dollars and he ran to a cart to buy some water - and they almost immediately opened the doors. Yay! He snaked back just in time, just as we noticed the Non-Fastpass line was going in too. Cue quizzical Scooby Doo sound

It all worked out, but that's one bogus FPP system, right there, even if they do make the fastpass-challenged go in the back door. All annoyance was soon washed away - nice seats, nice atmosphere, my daughter on the edge of her seat. The show was funny, and my attempts at family photos were less than stellar. But, I recorded the whole show audio on my phone, and my daughter and I sing along with it now whenever we have time to fill.

After Frozen, we took a peek at the Osborne lights: So cool! So crowded! I then queried the wonderful chatters on lines to find a FPP kiosk and scored a FPP for the 2nd Fantasmic! show later. I peaked at the line times for RnR and ToT: 60+ minutes each. Bummer. We took a quick break, looked for some snacking alternatives (None of us are enamored with the QS food choices at HS. Is it us?)

We headed back for Fantasmic (first for all of us!), once again knowing you have to be there early even with a FPP - but not realizing the only thing a FPP does is guarantee you get in. Once I gazed upon the sea of humanity all wearing lights flashing in unison, I was glad it was a "throwaway" 4th FPP. Rally not worth a FPP at all. From then on it was stop, Moo, step Moo. But, in the end it moved well and even the back row we sat in was a nice view. Kids loved the show, but I was kind of got lost in the middle, and felt it was a bit over the top on the evil side of things.

But, I think our best move of the night was to sit back after the show and let it clear out - then we headed back over to the Osborne Lights: EMPTIFIED. We all were so impressed with the dancing lights, my daughter began dancing up and down the street and catching the snow as it fell. The musical choices were pretty neat too! Found many hidden Mickeys, but never did see that darn cat.

A group of CMs got together and danced a line dance to one of the songs. I stood in the middle of the intersection by the tree with my camera taking video and just breathed in the sound and the sights and spun around catching it all. Every few minutes my daughter would run up and hug me, and then run off to see something else. My absolute favorite part of the night.

We closed the joint.

It was a very full day from Miami to Orlando to Hollywood, but we walked out the park energized by the lights and to find our car parked in an almost empty lot. Back to CBR, I checked my text messages for the room number - Aruba building 51 (refurbed!). We found it, searched a bit for the room, then realized: water view! It was beautiful, with the lights of the far buildings shimmering in the water and the geckos in tiny top hats bowing in welcome. (I may have imagined one of those things.)

We walked into the room - so nice!
The Murphy bed was an order of contention.
Our bags were supposed to be in the room, but they were not.
We collapsed on the beds.


My brother's first-ever Family Trip!