Friday, May 27, 2016

Animal Kingdom

We decided to use our last pre-blackout Disney Day to explore a park we've never been to before: Animal Kingdom. To be honest, we were pretty tired from the day before and the sun was just brutally hot (needless to say, we're not exactly weeping that we won't be able to visit Disney all summer), so Eric and I were dragging a bit, but we still had a fun day.

Animal Kingdom!

Surprises around every corner. And such.

Ellie loves to check out the maps! Also, she's rocking new sunglasses that flip open and closed. They were a hit!

Ellie had been asking to meet Pocahontas, so that was the first stop on our itinerary. Then, we stopped in to meet Russell and Dug from "Up."

Ellie and Pocahontas

The "Up" folks!

Then, it was off to use a FastPass for the Lion King show, which was very high energy!

The Lion King show

Ellie watching the show

By then the kids were jonesing for some animals. Unfortunately, in our FastPass-booking, we didn't grab one for the safari, which seemed to be the best way to see lots of animals. And considering it was boasting 85-minute wait times, that did not seem to be on our agenda for the day. We hoped the train out to the petting zoo would suffice. I'm not sure it really quenched their thirst for animal-watching, but they did enjoy the train ride.

Family on the train

Petting zoo

After returning to the main park we decided to stop for some BBQ lunch. Then, Ellie wanted to dance to some live music!

Go, Ellie!

VIDEO: Ellie dancing!

Next, we used up another FastPass, this time to meet Mickey and Minnie. This was the highlight of the day! What a great interaction! The kids just ate it up. Ellie hugged Minnie for what seemed like forever, and then Minnie "commented" on Ellie's dress and laughed at her glasses. E.J. gave Mickey a huge hug and then they danced. It was just the sweetest!

Ellie and Minnie

Happy E.J.!

They loved it!

The whole bunch

After that, Ellie wanted to go to Dinosaur Land, so we went to check that out. We rode the dinosaur version of Magic Kingdom's Dumbo ride, and the kids enjoyed that. Then, we let them spend some time running around underneath the giant dinosaur figure. Ellie also liked the nearby funhouse mirrors!

Riding the dinosaurs

Photo op!

Fun with mirrors

Taking a break in the shade under the big dinosaur

By that point, we felt we had done just about all we wanted to do for the day, so we wrapped things up and headed back to Jacksonville. Until we meet again, Disney World!

Another fun day!

To view all of our pictures from Animal Kingdom, click here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Epcot & Hollywood Studios (Yes, Again!)

As I mentioned, we wanted to squeeze in one more Disney trip before our annual passes are blacked out for the summer, and we made that happen this past weekend. We're getting our money's worth over here, people!

We decided to make a full weekend trip of it this time, both to enjoy more Disney fun and to test out having the kids share a hotel room. When we travel, we have always booked two-bedroom suites to give the kids their own space and ensure better sleep for everyone. But, with the possibility of another summer road trip on the horizon, the idea of smaller hotel rooms is certainly appealing to the bank account. However, not if it means sleepless nights, am I right? So, we figured this was a good time for a trial run, because if it went terribly, the stakes weren't that high.

Anyway. We left early Saturday and drove down to Orlando to spend the morning at Epcot. We had such a nice time there during our little day trip, and there were a couple more things we wanted to see.

Back at Epcot!

Most of our morning was spent meeting characters, because that's really what the kids enjoy. I picked up a new Alice in Wonderland costume for Ellie at a consignment store the day before, and she was excited to wear it to visit Alice. She had also been asking to meet Mulan since our last visit, so we made sure to make that happen. As for E.J., he has really hit his character-meeting groove and was all about giving them big, sweet, E.J. hugs before turning around and saying "cheese" for a picture. These kids, man. Too much.

Ellie made sure to tell Alice that her name is Elizabeth Alice!

Big E.J. hug for King Louie!

Chip and Dale

Pluto licked E.J., and he loved when Ellie scratched behind his ears!

Group hug for Minnie!

E.J.'s favorite!

Mr. Smee


After lunch, we rode the Nemo ride and hit Turtle Talk with Crush again, at Ellie's request. She was so excited to sit up front and told me she wanted to ask a question this time. Sure enough, when question time came, she waved her arm in the air and got chosen for the first question! Way to go, Ellie!

The boys on the Nemo ride

VIDEO: Ellie asks Crush a question!

By that time the afternoon was wearing on and we wanted to get checked in to our hotel, so we wrapped things up. Our plan was to check in to our hotel as soon as possible, put the kids down for late naps, then wake them up with just enough time to get out to Magic Kingdom for more fun. I booked FastPasses for us for the Dumbo ride, then the nighttime electrical parade, then we planned to stay for the fireworks and meet Mickey at the Town Square Theater (another FastPass) afterwards. We figured all that would keep us out until probably 11:30 p.m., which is crazy late for the kids, but we expected Ellie to be okay even if she didn't nap (which she rarely does anymore), and E.J. should be okay assuming he takes a good late nap.

The best laid plans, my friends. As it turned out, Ellie napped and E.J. didn't.

We had said if E.J. didn't nap we would just scrap our evening plans, but I had convinced Ellie to nap by telling her we could only go out for more fun in the evening if she did. I didn't have the heart to tell her that even though she did as I asked, we still weren't going. So we basically told E.J. to man up and out we went. 

But, we altered our plans. Instead of Magic Kingdom, where the fireworks didn't even start until 10:00 and we would have a much longer park exit time and commute home, we opted to go to Hollywood Studios for their evening fireworks show, set to Star Wars music. The timing for their show wasn't showing up on Disney's website, so Eric called Disney World to confirm that they were having fireworks that evening and at what time. We were told yes, fireworks would happen at Hollywood Studios at 9:45, so we scrapped Magic Kingdom (goodbye, well-timed FastPasses) in favor of that.

Back to Hollywood Studios!

Let me tell you what, folks. We are never again visiting Hollywood Studios during the day. All the stuff we did last time that we waited 30 minutes (or more) for before? ZERO WAIT TIME in the evening. The place was a ghost town. In one hour, we met Olaf (a new attraction!), Eric and I took turns riding the Star Tours ride, and we met both Chewbacca and Kylo Ren. It was glorious. And the kids loved it all!

So excited to see Olaf!

The kids and their favorite snowman

Snowman selfie!

Ellie just loved meeting Chewbacca!

So happy!

E.J. was a little spooked by Chewie, but Chewie did win him over with a little tickling at the very end!

This guy is much more E.J.'s style. Go figure.

Kylo Ren family photo

Ellie loved the Jawas again!

By then were about ready to go watch the fireworks, but lo and behold, everyone seemed to just be exiting the park. Nothing seemed fireworks-ready at all. We quickly learned that no, there would not be fireworks at Hollywood Studios after all, despite being told otherwise when we called. What a bummer! I'm not sure if we would have gone through with Magic Kingdom anyway had we known, but it was such a disappointment to have been wrongly counting on Hollywood Studios as a suitable substitute. Ah, well. We had a nice evening anyway!

At last! He sleeps!

And, guess what else? THE KIDS SLEPT IN THE SAME ROOM. Now, it did not exactly happen under normal circumstances, because their bedtime was 2.5 hours later than normal after a very full Disney day, so they were pretty spent. But they both went to sleep with no issues and slept in until 8:20 a.m., when the woke up and started playing with/talking to each other! So, yay! It has happened! That makes our future road trip life so much easier.

Coming up next: Our first visit to Animal Kingdom!

To see all of our pictures from this visit to Epcot, click here. For Hollywood Studios, click here.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Rest of Our April

Of course, all of our Disney tripping was a big part of our month in April, and Ellie's ballet recital was a major highlight. But, we did even more fun stuff throughout the month!

To kick off the month, Grammy came to visit/hold down the fort while Eric and I went to a marriage retreat weekend that was really great. The kids had fun with Grammy, and Eric and I got to spend some time focusing on each other and our relationship without those pesky rugrats running around and interrupting our conversation to tell us really important things like that they just saw a tree or what have you (this happens daily). Thanks, Grammy!

Grammy and the kids

E.J. had another Nature's Newbies class at the zoo, and we met a baby alligator. He and I also had a little one-on-one fun at the zoo itself, including a rare ride on the train.

Hi, alligator!

Train ride!

We all went downtown one evening for Spark Walk, which was the scaled-down version of One Spark from years past. It was not nearly as cool as last year, but it still was a fun atmosphere.

With The Giant Chicken sculpture in the Hemming Park fountain

We also enjoyed our first baseball game of the year, during the Jacksonville Suns opening weekend.


The kids developed a great love for picking flowers.

So many flowers!

Speaking of flowers, we also planted seeds at storytime for Earth Day, and they are miraculously still alive under my care, so they were magic seeds.

Little gardeners

We also went back downtown to Hemming Park for the Bourbon & BBQ Festival, which is really my kind of festival.

Ellie with our BBQ feast

The kids and I also went down to the St. Augustine Outlet Mall for Feel the Wheels. The kids really enjoyed it, with the helicopter and fire truck being particular favorites.

Feel the Wheels

We also went to the World of Nations festival and had a great time. We collected stamps in our "passports," and Ellie got a henna tattoo in India and a bookmark with her name written in Japanese in Japan. E.J. requested a photo with the big Chinese dragon and fell in love with his little American flag.

Fun at the World of Nations festival

Grammy came for another visit and we took the kids to TNT Gymnastics for their open gym, and the kids really loved that. They ran around like crazies, jumped on trampolines, bounced in a bounce house and climbed around in the foam pit.

Gymnastics fun

We ended the month with a trip to the beach, which started out fun for everyone but quickly turned into E.J.'s worst nightmare. He just hated it. I have no idea why, but the girls really enjoyed themselves!

Beach Day!

At that was our April!