Friday, March 7, 2014

Disney Day 1: Downtown Disney

Let's do this thing!

As I've mentioned, we left for Disney World straight from our anatomy ultrasound. The hour-and-a-half-long drive gave us plenty of time to talk about the news of the BOY joining our family! We talked names, big picture thoughts and feelings, and called some family members.

We arrived at our resort, Saratoga Springs, a little before noon. We had requested an early check-in but had no idea if they would be able to accommodate us, and we had contingency plans in place in case they couldn't. But, they didn't even bat an eye at us checking in almost five hours early. They were very helpful and friendly and gave Ellie all the Mickey stickers her little heart could desire, so we were off to a good start.

Before heading to our room we stopped at the little food court in the main building of the resort to fill up our Disney mugs with our free drinks, thanks to our dining plan. The dining plan ended up being really nice for us - for each adult for each day of our stay, it included one quick service meal (so something where you just pick up your food), one table service meal (with servers and such), and one snack. Each of the meals included an entree, dessert and a non-alcoholic beverage. Plus, we got free refills in our Disney mugs at our resort, which was nice to have drinks in our room.

All that was hooked up to our Magic Bands, which had been shipped to us a week or two prior to our vacation:


The Magic Bands were great. They essentially eliminated the need for a wallet during the whole trip. By scanning our Magic Bands, we could: enter the parks (our tickets were linked to the bands), "pay" for our dining service meals, purchase souvenirs or other goods at the parks and have them billed back to our room, and use the Fast Pass+ option for rides. With Fast Pass+, you can go online in advance and pick what rides you want to skip the line for. You pick your ride and a time frame, and then during that designated hour you just go to the ride and essentially walk right on. This was another major perk of staying at a Disney property. (It is my understanding that anyone can sign up for Fast Passes, but if you're not staying at a Disney resort, you have to go to a Fast Pass kiosk upon arrival at the park. Staying at a resort gives you the option to make your selections online in advance so you don't have to mess with the kiosk on the day of.)

Now. As great as all that was, and as wonderful as our resort ended up being (I'll get to that momentarily), in the spirit of full disclosure I should mention that we really only did all that this time (staying on property and getting a dining plan) because we have a friend who works as a Disney princess on weekends and she was able to hook us up with an incredible deal on both. If we had been in a position of having to pay full price for either of those things, we would not have done it. I mean, regular price is expensive. It ended up being very worth it for us...for the discounted price. If we go back (sans hook-up), however, we'll really have to discuss if we want to spend the money. For example, the dining plan was great, but we could have gone much cheaper a la carte - for example, I would not have ordered drinks (water is fine for me) and we almost certainly would not have gotten dessert at every meal. Sure, it was really nice to just order whatever we wanted without worrying about price, but we ate in a way that isn't our usual style. We would've been fine without those extras. So, it's hard to say what we'll do in the future.

But, I digress.

We then went to our room, a suite in the Congress Park section of Saratoga Springs. The room was great. We had wanted to stay at the Art of Animation Resort or something with a fun Disney-ish theme (all sold out for our weekend), but Saratoga Springs ended up being perfect. It was quiet, convenient and spacious. The room included a living room, a full kitchen, a master bedroom and a three-room bathroom (kind of a strange layout, frankly) with a shower, whirlpool tub and a couple of sinks. Presumably because we indicated we were traveling with an infant, the closet in the room was stocked with a Pack 'N Play (with Mickey sheets), a high chair and a vacuum. Genius! We were also within very short walking distance of the bus stop for transportation to the parks (which we ended up not using, so we could come and go on our own schedule) and walking distance to Downtown Disney, which we could see from our room. (Unfortunately we never did make that walk, as it was always cold and rainy when we wanted to go. But we could have!) The resort also had a couple of fun-looking swimming pools, but again, cold and rainy.

The exterior of our building

A little Disney welcome on the bed

The bedroom

The three-part bathroom: the tub and sink in the photo on the left are just off the master bedroom (you can see it through the window at top right), then if you continue through a door to the left there's a shower and another sink, then another door to the toilet. Lots of doors, kind of weird, but fine for us.

The closet, all stocked for Ellie

The living/dining rooms

The other half of the living room and the kitchen

A couple of "hidden Mickeys" in our room: top was on the headboard of the bed, bottom was on the supports for the little breakfast bar.

View of Downtown Disney from our balcony

We got settled into our room and made lunch. Then we put Ellie down for a nap, WHICH SHE TOOK. She is awesome at vacations.

When she woke up we decided to head over to Downtown Disney for a little sightseeing and dinner. As I mentioned, it had been our plan to walk over there (or take the resort-provided ferry), but the weather was lousy. So, we drove.

Can I go off on another tangent for a second? The weather. The weather was brutal. I checked the forecast on the Monday before our trip (we left on Thursday) and they were predicting lovely weather: high 70s/low 80s and sun. Glorious! We were planning pool days and running out the pick up new bathing suits (Ellie and I have both, um, gotten larger since last summer, so we needed new suits) in preparation for this lovely Florida spring weather. But, when I checked the forecast again before we actually started packing on Wednesday night, things had certainly declined and the prediction included much more rain, but still acceptable temperatures:

So we packed accordingly. I knew it would be chilly Thursday morning in Jacksonville, so I wore jeans (thankfully), otherwise I would not have packed them. I didn't pack socks or a sweatshirt for Ellie, just light jackets and leggings (no jeans for her either). Eric only brought flip flops but thankfully grabbed a jacket for Thursday morning. Because the actual weather? WRETCHED. Low 50s and rainy, for three days straight. At least it didn't pour on us the entire time (though we did have stretches of that), but it was just cold, nasty and wet for our first three days. GROSS. And rude.

But alas. That's vacation, right? It's all part of the story. I still remember when my family vacationed in Colonial Williamsburg when I was a kid and it rained so hard, our ponchos were an almost pointless purchase. There were literal running rivers of rainwater in the streets. Was it fun? In the moment, probably not. But it sure is memorable now! That's vacation for you - you just have to be prepared to roll with the punches.

Well, in this case, you have to be prepared to roll with the punches and not dwell on the fact that the weekend prior, it was 80 degrees and sunny every single day in Orlando. Nope. Just put that thought right out of your mind.

Anyway, upon arrival at Downtown Disney we wandered around for a bit and checked out some of the stores and scenery. Eric had been to Pleasure Island before there was such a thing as Downtown Disney, but I had never been to any part of it.


Volcano at the Rainforest Cafe (Ellie did not care for this)

Photo op!

We ultimately decided to have dinner at the T-Rex Cafe, largely because the wait wasn't as long as some other places and it seemed pretty cool. The inside, actually, was really cool.

The T-Rex Cafe

Some of the decor inside!

It took Ellie a little bit of time to warm up to the place, though. The dinosaurs were loud and rather active, which spooked her, plus every 15 minutes or so they have a "meteor shower," during which the lights dim and there's a lot of loud noise. She got pretty freaked out the first few times it happened but before long she found her bravery stride and it was no big deal. She happily donned her T-Rex hat, did some coloring and ate her nutritious dinner of pizza and french fries (that we supplemented with carrots and fruit, because there is no vacation from healthy eating, kid!). The rest of our food was yummy too, especially the dessert (thanks, Dining Plan!).

Feeling scared and cuddling into Daddy for protection

Eh, she's fine. These dinosaurs ain't no thang.

Dinner! Eric had one of the specials that consisted of steak, shrimp skewers and some sort of cheesy scallop thing (top left), I had the Wooly Mammoth Chicken (top right - chicken with sautéed peas, spinach, onions, peppers and zucchini over garlic mashed potatoes in a tomato and roasted red pepper broth), and Ellie had...well, you can see it.

Dining with dinosaurs

DESSERT. Layers of ice cream sandwich, whipped topping, fudge sauce and Heath Bar crumbles. OKAY.

After dinner we hit some souvenir shops and picked up a couple of things: a Christmas ornament and a stuffed Mickey for Plus One, continuing our tradition of purchasing a present for the new baby the day we find out the sex (we bought Ellie her pink Easter dress on such an occasion). Ellie made quite a case for a "Minnie Pindess" (Minnie Mouse dressed in a princess dress), but we opted to hold off on a souvenir for Ellie for the time being. Don't you worry, though - she would ultimately leave Orlando far from empty-handed.

Happy Being A Boy Day, Plus One!

Then it was back to the hotel to get Ellie to bed while we relaxed in our room. That whirlpool tub was just what the ol' pregnant body needed after a long day, and I made great use of it through our trip, starting that night. We also posted our Mickey picture on Facebook to share our news with the world, and then went to sleep ourselves to rest up for the rest of the weekend. Good things were to come!

Up next: Our first day at Magic Kingdom, including Ellie's first character/princess encounters and our attempt at a rainy electric parade/fireworks display!


Sarah said...

I cant wait to read all of your Disney posts :) I am a Disney travel agent on the side!

Lauren said...

Loved the little boy Mickey so cute and the hotel looked awesome :-)