A Year of Disney Magic - New ToC, March TR updates, Dec ADR countdown

Discussion in 'Pre-Trip Reports and Plans' started by Colleen27, Oct 23, 2012.

  1. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    I think the best place to start this PTR is with a quick lesson on the importance of precise language for effective communication. This is especially important when dealing with a Disney addict and seasoned planner.

    Why, you ask?

    Because when my husband and I planned our January '12 trip, we agreed that it would be our last family vacation to Disney World for a few years. The kids are getting older, my husband's options for vacation time recently got much more flexible, and there are many other places we'd like to go. So reluctantly I agreed. Our next big Disney adventure will be southern California with a few days at Disneyland in 2014, and we wont go back to WDW as a family until 2016 at the earliest.

    But that stipulation was about our big, annual, whole family vacation. No one said anything about weekend getaways or winter escapes, right? ;)

    We have a long standing precedent of mini-trips with just part of the family. My mother & I took the kids to the Beach Club for a birthday while DH stayed home to work, I took my girls to Flower & Garden in 2011 and then back again for a Girl Scout event over Memorial Day weekend this year, DH takes DS hunting every fall and canoeing in the summer, DH & I go away for a night or two every year around our anniversary. So I got to thinking... :idea: What if this year we make Disney World the theme of those short trips?

    Brilliant, right?!? :rolleyes1

    I wasn't so sure DH would appreciate my genius and I prepared myself to do some serious persuasion. It was a bit of a letdown really... I approached him with budgets and dates, geared up to plead my case, and he actually liked the idea. He didn't raise a single objection! It totally took the wind out of my sails! :faint:

    But with that hurdle cleared a plan began to take shape.

    Ive taken my girls before but always as a unit. Between sports, school, and DS's generally less enthusiastic view of Disney Ive never had a chance to do a mother-son Disney trip. And DH and I have been talking about a child-free trip since our very first Disney vacation back in '05 when we got just a taste of the Food & Wine Festival and decided we had to try it again without little ones in tow.

    So the planning is on, and boy is there a lot of it!

    Right now, there are 3 fairly well defined trips in the making:

    1) April 12 to 15. Just me. Solo, during the Flower & Garden Festival. Truly a dream come true. :hyper: This one started as a what-if conversation with a group of ladies I connected with on another Disney travel forum years and years ago. We've long since taken our conversation to a private e-mail loop and Disney is only a small part of what we talk about these days, but we've never met in person. So were planning an April meet. Because of the meet, these dates are more or less carved in stone.

    Solo in the Garden:
    The Itinerary
    The Trip Report:


    Cancelled - 2) May 24 to 27. My son and I. Hes 14 and way too cool for Disney, of course, but while I was planning the Girl Scout trip with my girls he caught sight of some of the Star Wars Weekend info and expressed an interest. That in itself is such an unusual thing that I wanted to make a mother-son trip happen. These dates are pretty well set too, since Memorial Day is the closest thing we have to a school break during SWW and we prefer to minimize missed days. A nice bonus is that my birthday is also that weekend and as I learned this year, there's no better place to celebrate.

    3) Sept 26 to 30? A romantic weekend for DH & I at the start of the Food & Wine Festival. :love: Our anniversary is in early September, a date chosen for beautiful weather without giving much thought to how hard it is to fit a celebration into the back-to-school madness, and we're used to celebrating late. The dates of this one might shift a bit, but for right now I chose them to line up with the Tower of Terror 10 miler because I've been wanting to run a Disney race.

    And 2 more that are a little fuzzier:

    4) We have dates! Nov 30 to Dec 4!. This could be the kick off to my Disney year or the finale, but I would like to take my youngest to see the holiday festivities at Disney World. Her very first trip was just before Christmas in 09 and we had a blast, and I know she'd love it even more now. And because the girls have more or less been a unit all their lives I'd like to plan a trip just for her, to take it all in at 4yo pace rather than fitting in our special moments around the older kids' commando habits.


    5) Sometime in August... March 1 to 9 This is the long shot of the bunch because it hinges on factors outside my control. I'd actually hoped to do this for my older daughter's 13th birthday, but since I'll have an annual pass when she turns 12 it makes more sense to push it up a year. I would like to take DD11 and her BFF, who is basically part of the family and has been since they were in preschool together, to WDW together.

    Maybe August becomes Early March:
    The Itinerary
    The Trip Report:
    Day 1 & 2 - Miles & Miles
    Day 3 - From Manatees to Mammoths
    Day 4 - Hollywood Thrills and <brrr> Chills



    So that's the outline for my year of Disney.

    I have no idea how I'm going to keep the planning straight with several trips in the works at the same time. I've never done that before! I didn't even start thinking about our May trip until we were home in January. And that's where this PTR comes in - as a rolling planning journal for what promises to be a very magical year of adventures, to help me keep it all straight if not in my mind than in black-and-white to look back on when I just know I'm forgetting something vital. :surfweb:
     
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  3. rebeccaariel

    rebeccaariel DIS Veteran

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    You really are a genius! What an amazing year you're going to have! I'm really excited to follow along and hear how your planning progresses!
     
  4. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    So, I go to start work on an introduction and I discover something unfortunate... My usual photo host, Webshots, is changing over to a new paid service and they seem to have disabled the resizing feature already. :(

    Usually my trip reports are more picture than text so right now I'm migrating some of the pictures I know I'll use.

    In the meantime, I may as well start with the intro that will have the least photos attached... Mine.

    Not only am I the master planner and Disney nut of the family, I'm also the keeper of the camera. As such there aren't many photos of me from our adventures and truth be told I kind of like it that way. The camera adds 10 lbs that I just can't afford, if you know what I mean. :rolleyes: I'm working to remedy that, though. I'm down 24lbs since our May trip :yay: and hoping to make that a nice round 50 by my solo trip in April. :goodvibes

    Still, I'm sure I can find one or two to dust off, just to put a face to the name.

    This is an oldie, my now 14yo son and I on the Magic Behind Our Steam Trains tour on his 10th birthday in January of 2008.

    [​IMG]

    This one is more recent, the whole family together at Animal Kingdom in January 2012.

    [​IMG]

    I'm a stay at home mom to three great kids, ages 14, 11, and 4, and I plan to stay that way forever. Someone needs to hold down the fort and with the crazy, unpredictable hours DH works it sure isn't going to be him. :confused3 I work as a freelance writer from time to time and do a couple of craft shows each fall to pad the holiday budget, and that along with the kids' activities and volunteering keeps me busy enough.

    My hobbies tend to the creative, and you'll see one showcased as the trips with the girls get rolling because I make them custom outfits for all our trips. I learned to sew when my youngest came along because it is all but impossible to buy matching clothes with the size/age difference between the girls, and it kind of snowballed from there.

    Photography is a bit of a fascination too, and one of the things I'm most looking forward to about traveling solo is no one rushing me when I wander off after a shot that I just have to get. I have a tendency to take pictures of random details, because to me it is the details that really set Disney apart from anywhere else I've ever been. Like this:

    [​IMG]

    Or this:

    [​IMG]

    Because of that tendency, Epcot is my favorite park but Animal Kingdom is a very close second. The themeing at AK is top notch and there are so many wonderful little details to discover.

    While we're talking favorites, it seems like a good time to share a few of mine...

    Favorite Disney restaurant: California Grill. Great sushi, great view. What more could I ask?

    [​IMG]

    Favorite Attraction: Tower of Terror. Perhaps the single most impressive testament to Disney's attention to detail, the ride is so much more than the mechanics alone.

    [​IMG]

    Favorite Resort: The Beach Club. A beautiful resort with a fabulous pool, I look forward to getting back there soon but can't justify the expense for winter or commando trips.

    [​IMG]

    So there you have it... The entire cast of my April Disney adventure. ;) I'll have intros to the rest of the crew once I get the photo situation settled. In the meantime, apologies for the massive photos... Photobucket doesn't seem to offer the resizing options that Webshots did. I'm off to check out Flikr next. :headache:
     
  5. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    :welcome:
     
  6. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    Sorry to go MIA just as I was getting rolling but things have been pretty busy around here. Halloween, the end of football season, and the start of cheerleading all sort of piled on this year! This week is actually looking a bit calmer, even though I'm a single mom for the week while DH is away on business, and I'm sure I'll have plenty of late-night planning and updates because I always have a hard time sleeping when he's gone.

    I've been doing some resort homework and have started narrowing down my options. It is really fun to pick just the right resort for each trip, and I suspect it'll end up being 5 different resorts for 5 different trips.

    April :
    I'll be solo and won't spend much time in the room. I'm a rope drop to EMH close park commando and don't plan on slowing down enough to enjoy resort amenities. So for my solo trip, price is the main consideration. I'm still playing the AP rate waiting game but my top choice is...

    [​IMG]

    Pop Century!

    Actually, I'd prefer Art of Animation but so far the Little Mermaid rooms have been excluded from all discount offers and were so overbooked for next month that they're offering free upgrades to lure people into switching to a suite or to another resort. And I'm not willing to pay rack rate to stay there by myself. But Pop is the next best thing. We've stayed there twice and enjoyed it, and I can take a stroll across the bridge to look around and grab a bite at the AoA food court.

    May :
    This one is probably a long shot because cost will be a factor and I'm not quite ready to book yet even though that would give me the best shot at a price I'm willing to pay. But DS has a clear favorite Disney resort that is in the perfect location for a Star Wars Weekend trip so I'm going to do what I can to get....

    [​IMG]

    The Beach Club. Ideally I'll rent points for a studio at the Beach Club Villas, but a room-only booking is possible too if a discount is offered and there's no DVC availability. It is a holiday weekend so the rates are higher than I'd like but we're only going for 3 nights so I think I can swing it.

    August:
    A trip that is looking more and more possible by the day. This is the most exciting of all the trips I have in the works for my AP year because we all want so much to take DD's BFF to our "happy place", but we do need to keep the budget in mind. To that end, we're actually considering our very first off-site stay at...

    [​IMG] (photo from Wyndham's site)

    Wyndham Bonnet Creek. I haven't stayed here yet but hear very good things about it, and where else could we get a 1 bedroom suite for around $100/night? We really want a suite for this trip so the girls can have their space and DH & I can have ours. Free dining is the wild card for this plan, though, because if it is offered a suite at All Star Music or Art of Animation becomes cost-competitive.

    September:

    Now this is the trip that is up in the air, because taking DD's BFF is something DH really wants to be in on and he might not be able to get away from work twice in such a short time. But that'll likely mean pushing back to the end of Food & Wine rather than the beginning, not cancelling altogether. But whenever it happens resort choice is a no-brainer.

    [​IMG] (photo from Allears)

    DH and I both loved the quiet, romantic atmosphere of Port Orleans on our first trip, so what better place to spend our anniversary getaway?

    December:

    Another easy choice, because there's one resort I think my 4yo would love more than any other and with her a value resort is just perfect.

    [​IMG] (photo from Allears)

    I'm hoping by December the standard rooms will be available with discounts, but if not I'm willing to pay rack rate or, if my mother ends up joining us, bump up to a suite. I'm that sure that DD4 will love it. She absolutely adores Pop Century but generally prefers zero-entry pools and loves splash pads so Art of Animation is perfect for her - all the colorful, lively theme of a value resort with a more fully featured pool area and better variety at the food court.

    So that's the resort wrap up as it stands right now. Be warned, I tend to change vacation plans like I change clothes so any and all are subject to change based on availability, discounts, my mood, and the phase of the moon, but at this precise moment these are the resorts I have in mind. :hyper:
     
  7. akayek31

    akayek31 DIS Veteran

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    I asked a CM on the phone when LM rooms would be available for discounts and she said June 2013. But you never know it could be sooner. I would love to stay there in Feb but my kids voted me down :rotfl:
     
  8. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    Boy have I been neglecting this pre-trippie. In my defense, I started college full time this term and seriously underestimated the workload, and life has gone topsy-turvy again which has had me a bit down on my Disney planning.

    But I'm back because I'm working the lemons-to-lemonade angle for all it is worth! DH's company is in some trouble, and he's looking at what should be a temporary layoff while they renegotiate the contract that they hired him to work on. The dark cloud - unemployment is less than half his working take home, and he might very well end up job hunting in the near future. Silver lining - we've got enough savings that the financial hit isn't a big deal, and we've decided to make the most of his time off.

    So, DD11's BFF trip is no longer an August "maybe". It is a March reality! Time to introduce the cast...

    [​IMG]
    DSC05044 by Cam5279, on Flickr

    Shanna and Kaylee. Shanna, in blue, is my actual daughter but Kaylee is my "bonus" daughter and is practically part of the family. They've been best friends since preschool and Shanna has been bugging me for years to take Kaylee with us to Disney. Kaylee and her mom recently moved in with her grandmother, after her grandmother had a stroke, and she's had a hard time adjusting so DH & I got to talking and decided this would be the perfect time to do something extra-special with the girls.

    [​IMG]
    DSC02802 by Cam5279, on Flickr

    Also coming along on this trip is DH, Ken. He's a big kid himself and both girls (actually all four girls - DD4 and her BFF too) are total "daddy's girls" so leaving him behind on this trip was out of the question. That's the biggest reason behind the change of dates; if he does end up changing jobs he likely won't have much if any vacation time to take in August, and even though we've traveled without him before Shanna was adamant that for this trip he had to come.

    There was some epic waffling about dates, as first academic olympiad and then science fair and finally a milestone birthday party got in the way, but at long last we found a week that works for both of our super-busy middle schoolers and the real planning is underway.
     
  9. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    So, I've discovered something about myself in the planning of this last-minute adventure. Even with every possible obstacle to staying off-site removed, I just can't seem to bring myself to do it. I had every intention of booking Bonnet Creek for our trip with Kaylee, so that we'd have a little more privacy and room to spread out. After all, we'll have a car so transportation to the parks won't be an issue. I'll have an annual pass so paying for parking won't factor in either. But somehow I still found a reason to price out some on-site options, and the next thing I know I'm booking the AP rate at...

    [​IMG]
    Disney's Coronado Springs Resort by X40985, on Flickr

    Coronado Springs.

    And we decided to splurge on their new business class/club level too. Between the perfect room location - building 9B, close to both the feature pool and the main building - and the continental breakfast and evening snacks in the lounge I figure it is worth the price. With the AP discount it cost $30-something/night more than a standard room.

    I think the girls are going to love the pool and slide, and the lounge gives us a place to relax without sitting around in bed.

    I've also started putting together a rough draft itinerary, and I am very excited about it.

    The plan is to leave home on Friday, March 1 right after school. We'll have to deal with some traffic in the Detroit area but after that we'll have night and weekend on our side through the other cities on our route. It is I-75 all the way, about 18 hours total, and we're planning on driving straight through.

    That will get us to Crystal Springs, FL in the early afternoon. We'll take a couple hours to look around the state park and enjoy the wildlife, then check into a hotel in the area for a good night's rest before the highlight of the stop - an early morning snorkeling tour with the manatees.

    Shanna absolutely loves manatees and has wanted to go swimming with them ever since she saw her 2nd grade teacher's pictures of it. But more than that, she wants to see some of the "real" Florida - as far as my kids have seen, all there is is Orlando International Airport and WDW. So I think it'll be a really fun couple of days and a great way to start the trip.

    The manatee excursion is super early in the morning, so even with a little time to relax afterwards we should make it to Disney by 2 or 3 in the afternoon.

    I never plan anything for arrival days except rest and pool time, and this trip is no exception. If the weather doesn't cooperate for swimming we might pop over to catch a movie at Downtown Disney. We don't have fork-and-screen theatres in our area and Oz the Great and Powerful opens that weekend, so it is our "plan B" for a cool or rainy evening.

    [​IMG]
    DSC08900 by Cam5279, on Flickr

    Our first park day will be March 4, a Monday, and we're going to start at Studios. I'm bucking the "best park" guides here because Shanna loves evening EMH, and because it just works better for our schedule. And despite the generally poorly reviewed dining options here, this is the one day when I have two ADRs - Sci-Fi Dine In for lunch and 50s Prime Time for dinner.

    [​IMG]
    DSC03069 by Cam5279, on Flickr

    On the 5th, we'll head over to Animal Kingdom with an early dinner at Tusker House. After park closing we'll hang out around the resort if it is warm or head over to Downtown Disney for some shopping, bowling, or a movie if we didn't do that on arrival day.

    [​IMG]
    DSC01284 by Cam5279, on Flickr

    The 6th will be spent at Magic Kingdom, all day. I don't have any ADRs booked yet, but when it opens up I'll be booking the Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party. It'll be a first for all of us; since we've had the dining plan for most of our trips we've never managed to fit it in before.

    [​IMG]
    DSC03678 by Cam5279, on Flickr

    And our park time will wrap up with Epcot on the 7th. I left it for last so that we can be there after Flower & Garden Festival opens. We've been for the Festival once before and Shanna thought it would be nice to see again, plus she liked the sound of the new-for-this-year food booths.

    Our departure day plan is still up for discussion. My first thought was to sleep in, swim, and then load up the car to head north. But then the Tigers announced their spring training schedule and I saw that they'll be at home that day. So now I'm tempted to leave Disney a little earlier and head down to Lakeland for their 1pm game before getting on the road back towards home. Shanna and I caught a spring training game when the Tigers were playing the Braves at Wide World of Sports in '11 but Ken is a huge baseball fan so it would be nice to squeeze in a game on this trip too.

    Either way we'll drive as far as we can on Friday night, then get a room for the night and make the rest of the drive on Saturday so the girls have Sunday to recover before they have to go back to school.
     
  10. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    With just 3 days left to go, my planning mojo seems to have vanished. I haven't even starting packing, and I'm still waffling on hotel choice for the Crystal River part of the trip!

    The weather forecast has me a bit down. We decided to cancel the manatee swim in favor of a kayaking trip because the forecast high is only 60° for the day we have available there, and I was really looking forward to nice, warm FL not 40 degree lows! But we'll make the best of it, we always do.

    I think the biggest thing is that there's just so much to do! Between packing and prepping the house for my mom to come stay with the other kids I'm a bit overwhelmed, and the fact that I have a full time courseload to manage this term isn't helping matters any.

    However, I did add the dessert party as intended and after pre-ordering Photopass+, which includes the restaurant and attraction photos as well as the usual PP shots, decided to add a character meal or two as well. So we've got Akershus at 8am on our Epcot day... Talk about a score, less than 2 weeks out and a pre-opening time popped up! And we haven't booked a breakfast for our departure day but are considering either Ohana or Cape May, both of which have enough times available that we'll leave it to the last minute to decide.

    And on the April planning front, I scored a great deal on airfare - $178 r/t - so my dates are now carved in stone: Thursday, April 11 to Monday, April 15. :cheer2: Next step is to call and find out if the Gardens of the World tour is being offered on a day that works for me.
     
  11. CluelessDisFan

    CluelessDisFan DIS Veteran

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  12. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    :welcome:

    I've sort of been neglecting this PTR... Normally I'm more chatty and post a ton more pictures. This school year is kicking my butt, though! My girls are new to private school and the parent time commitment involved is 10x what I was putting in in elem, plus I'm back to school myself.

    I lucked into catching a great Airtran sale... Delta was running $300 even for those dates but A/T had $89 each way. I can't wait until Southwest takes over A/T's routes from DTW. Free bags would be awesome but I'm not willing to change planes in Chicago to fly SW now.

    Ken has let me do a few trips without him and it has always been a lot of fun. This will be the first time I'm solo, though; usually I take my Disney-loving girls and leave DH and DS home. They're once-a-year types and my girls and I can't get enough so it works well to go without them every now and then. And since my mom is divorced, doesn't like traveling solo, and loves Disney I usually have a second adult along too.

    I need to get busy with my camera and post some creation pics before I pack... We made Mickey head tie-dyes a couple weekends ago when Shanna had her BFF over for a planning session, and I made Key to the World holders for both girls to attach to their lanyards. I also made myself a Mickey wallet, then got sidetracked with school clothes for my youngest who just had to have special dresses for both Valentines Day and Sesame Street Live. Hopefully I will still get the matching purse done, but right now I have a Cat in the Hat dress to finish first because Dr Seuss's birthday is Friday and Katie's preschool class will be celebrating. :lmao: I figure I should enjoy this while I can because she'll be in uniforms next year.
     
  13. CluelessDisFan

    CluelessDisFan DIS Veteran

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    That's right enjoy it while you can! My DS wears uniform, I guess for a boy it's just not as big of deal. My ODD is a Disney lover, and we have the baby on the right track.

    At what age did your DS fall off the Disney wagon? I'm worried it's already starting with my DS who's about to turn 8. He no longer likes Micky Mouse, because his little sister watches MM Club House he says it's for little kids. But he does still love our Disney trips.
     
  14. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    Sebastian never really got on the Disney wagon. He was 7 on our first trip and enjoyed it, but never felt the "magic" the way the girls do. But he was also the sort of kid who saw through Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy by 5 years old so I think it is mostly a matter of personality. He's not interested in magic unless it is in the Arthur C Clarke sense ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"). He's actually more into Disney now that he's thinking about the behind the scenes, how to make magic technology than he was when he was younger and unaware of that complexity but old enough to doubt the "Its magic" explanations and doubt the reality of costumed characters.

    We did the steam trains tour when Sebastian was 10 and that really caught his attention. He's looking forward to being 16 and taking some of the "real" behind the scenes tours because he's just dying to see the utilidors, but he's never been one to get excited over Mickey.
     
  15. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

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    So I'm home, have been for a while, and finally getting around to starting the trip report for our March adventure. And an adventure it was!

    Day 1 & 2 - March 1-2

    Our trip got off to a very rough start. The plan was to leave as soon as Shanna got home from school, pick Kaylee up, and get on the road. Driving straight through we'd make our destination on the Gulf Coast early in the afternoon.

    About a hour before we were scheduled to leave my mother called. My brother was in an accident in her car and without a car she didn't feel comfortable coming over to stay with the kids. I tried to sway her; a neighbor and good friend offered the use of his mother's car, since she's almost 90 and doesn't drive anymore. Another friend offered to handle getting Katie to and from school because her DD is in the same class. But my mom just wasn't having any of it. She doesn't respond well to stress and I think she was afraid to leave my brother alone, even though he wasn't hurt, because he has a history of concussions and back issues. And my MIL was out of town so we couldn't ask her. So there we were, an hour from our scheduled departure, without anyone to keep the two kids that weren't coming along for the trip.

    Disappointing the girls was clearly not an option, so Ken put his foot down - he didn't feel like he could manage the trip without me so it had to be me to take them while he stayed home. :sad: After rearranging so much about this trip just for him to be able to join us, I really didn't want to agree. But after an hour of phone tag and moments of wanting to throttle both my mother and my brother, I came around to seeing things his way. There was no way we could both go, and he never travels without me so I was clearly the better choice to manage the two girls solo at WDW. I did invite Kaylee's mom to come in Ken's place, but she's the only daycare arrangement her oldest son has so she couldn't get away at the last minute like that. I was going to be on my own.

    All of the drama resulted in only a very brief delay. By the time we picked Shanna up from school things were settled, the car was loaded, and we were ready to head out. We picked Kaylee up around 4, just a half hour behind schedule, and got on the road around 4:30.

    The first leg of the drive was tough. We were all disappointed Ken wasn't there and it put a damper on the usual on-our-way excitement. But by dinner time the girls were pretty much over it, completely distracted by the idea of posting live updates to Facebook from every state's welcome center. Well, every state except Ohio. They don't really have a welcome center like the other states on the I75 route do, and besides, the girls have been there so many times it isn't exciting in the least.

    Kentucky, in a terrible late-night cell phone pic:
    [​IMG]
    KY Welcome by Cam5279, on Flickr

    We stopped for the night around 10:30pm near Berea when we hit a patch of really icky driving weather. Not heavy stuff, but enough snow/rain mix to make the roads too slick for driving so late.

    In the morning we were up by 7 and on our way shortly thereafter. The snow was still hanging around but it wasn't so bad in the daylight on a decent night's rest.

    On the road in Kentucky:
    [​IMG]
    Somewhere in Kentucky by Cam5279, on Flickr

    Tennessee Welcome Center:
    [​IMG]
    Tennessee welcome center by Cam5279, on Flickr

    Once we were going down more than up, the snow changed to rain and then fizzled out, though the grey skies remained. The drive was completely uneventful with only a couple of quick stops for meals along the way.

    In the mountains of southern Tennessee:
    [​IMG]
    North of Chattanooga by Cam5279, on Flickr

    Georgia Welcome Center:
    [​IMG]
    Georgia welcome center by Cam5279, on Flickr

    And finally, Florida:
    [​IMG]
    Florida welcome center and the first bit of sunshine of the trip by Cam5279, on Flickr

    Crossing into Florida was like something out of a cartoon. After two days of clouds, the sun burst forth and the skies cleared as though the sun itself was vacationing there. :rotfl: The rest of the drive was gorgeous.

    My GPS routed me some stupid crazy way down to Homosassa, but it took us through some very pretty country. I've never really traveled in Florida outside of the Orlando metro area and it was love at first sight.

    The only minor hiccup was the deer. Just after sunset on the Suncoast Parkway there were deer all over the place! It was a little nerve wracking, doing 65mph down completely unlit road with small herds of deer grazing on the shoulder. But at last we reached our hotel, safe and sound, around 7:30pm.

    I agonized over our hotel options for this night. The selection in the area we wanted to be in isn't exactly plentiful and it is mostly Econo Lodge quality. But I came across an independent bed-and-breakfast that got almost universally good reviews so I decided that was the way to go. It was a great choice. The Chassahowitza Hotel was perfect! It is off the beaten path in a residential neighborhood, as B&Bs often are, and so very peaceful. Just the thing for relaxing after a very long day in the car.

    The hotel has about a half dozen units but ours was the only one occupied that night so it was very quiet. Our room was very large, with a double bed and two twins along with dual dressers, perfect for a family. The common areas of the hotel included an upstairs lounge with a television and overstuffed seating group, and a downstairs living room with a bigger flat-screen TV and ample seating. The whole place feels very homey and Florida, with ocean-themed touches to the decor and country-warm colors.

    Downstairs living room:
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    Our room:
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    Upstairs lounge:
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    The bathroom:
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    I got us checked in and settled, asked the manager for a restaurant recommendation, and headed out again. It was later in the evening but I'd promised the girls a chance to try some Florida food - gator and seafood - so I was willing to drive up to Crystal River to find the place that both Jeff at the hotel and several travel sites suggested as the best in the area.

    Getting to dinner was quite the adventure - the restaurant, Peck's Old Port Cove, sits at the end of a very long, very dark, very winding road that borders Crystal River State Park. Have you ever seen In The Mouth Of Madness, where he's driving into the creepy town that he just can't leave and all the scenery on either side of the road melts away into the darkness? That scene was playing through my mind the whole time! I kept expecting to see the creepy kid on the bike around every curve. :lmao:

    Finally we did get to the restaurant, which was just the sort of place I was expecting - a nautical themed bar/restaurant that was far more hole in the wall than fine dining. There were some people sitting in the waterfront parking lot fishing, even though it was probably 9pm at this point.

    This girls had to take this picture for my FIL, who is a fishing charter captain:
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    Peck's Old Port Cove by Cam5279, on Flickr

    The food was good. Not knock-your-socks-off great, but the kind of good you'd expect of a restaurant that gets rave reviews from locals. We ordered an impressive selection of fried seafood, starting with gator tail nuggets (which really do taste like chicken) as an appetizer and continuing with fried shrimp, scallops, clams, fish, oysters, deviled crab, and hush puppies.I love the rock shrimp and Gulf scallops that are served down there, and the hush puppies were perfect. It is very hard to find good hush puppies in Michigan. Shanna's favorite was the gator and she pretty much filled up on those. Kaylee ordered chicken strips because everything else sounded "weird". :rolleyes:

    After dinner, we made the creepy drive back to the hotel though it seemed shorter and far less creepy on the return. When we go back down there, a trip we're already planning for Feb '14, I want to make that drive in the daytime. It must be really beautiful with nothing but swamp, river, and bay on both sides of the road for so much of the way. We had the hotel to ourselves when we got back because they don't staff overnight. That led to a few jokes about The Shining but was actually really nice. The girls watched TV in one sitting area while I caught the local news in the other. I took a long shower and headed to bed, with the girls following suit not long after. We had an early morning ahead of us and a very cold weather forecast for our kayaking trip.
     
  16. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    17,326
    Down to single digits on my April trip and I still haven't even scratched the surface of the March report! Shame on me. :guilty:

    But before I head on to day 3 and our long-anticipated arrival at Disney, I thought I'd share the rough itinerary I've thrown together for my solo trip.

    I've never been to Disney solo so this is a huge deal and I didn't want to overplan. I'm planning a lot of going where the mood strikes. But it isn't in my nature not to have a "rough draft" of sorts so this is what I have so far.

    April 11 - Land at MCO around 5, check in at Pop around 6. Dinner at Territory Lounge where I might meet up with a friend, then on to the Magic Kingdom to meet several friends for Wishes and MSEP.

    April 12 - Gardens of the World tour at Epcot. I figure lunch will be snacking at the Flower & Garden booths, and I'd like to take the Behind the Seeds tour at some point as well. Dinner solo at Bluezoo.

    April 13 - Sleeping in a bit. Late breakfast at Kona then monorail over to Epcot. Meeting friends for late lunch/early dinner at Via Napoli followed by drinks at the Bellvue Lounge. Play the evening entirely by ear, maybe Illuminations, maybe a swim.

    April 14 - My crazy park hopping day. Studios for rope drop, Animal Kingdom during the day, Magic Kingdom for evening EMH after dinner. No idea on meals, maybe lunch at Studios if I'm there when Brown Derby opens or maybe at Epcot - I've been wanting to try Tokyo Dining. For dinner, maybe Yak & Yeti or maybe the Kona sushi bar. I'm sort of debating the merits of a four park challenge a friend at the girls' school mentioned, basically hitting the headliners in all four parks in a single day - he did it on a kid-free trip with his wife and said it was a lot of fun, so if I'm feeling up for it I might give it a try.

    April 15 - Get up at the crack of dawn to hop a ME bus to the airport and fly home to my family.
     
  17. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    17,326
    Day 3 - March 3

    I was up before my alarm and way before the girls, so I packed up as much as I could, cleaned a little of the mess of a thousand mile drive out of my van, and settled in on the lovely balcony to enjoy a morning caffeine fix before starting our day.

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    Old Florida charm at the Chassahowitza Hotel. by Cam5279, on Flickr

    The view from outside our room was nice, so very southern with all the Spanish moss. I could almost forget that it was so cold I could see my breath.

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    Now I'm afraid I go pic-less for a while. When I went back into the room the girls were awake and getting ready. We headed down to the kitchen for breakfast, where we were greeted by the most friendly staff you could imagine and a very nice continental breakfast spread of pastries, yogurt, fruit, oatmeal, and cold cereal along with fresh-squeezed FL OJ and coffee and tea. I'm not a breakfast eater so I just had tea, while both girls enjoyed cereal, yogurt, and orange juice. While we ate we chatted with two hotel employees about the area and where we all were from; it turns out one was originally from not far from where we live in Michigan.

    After breakfast we packed up our overnight bag and headed out. It was still quite cold and I was half hoping Shanna would decide finding a place to watch manatees from land would do, but no such luck. She had her heart set on kayaking so kayaking we did. We launched from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, which was a lovely location because of the restrictions on motorized watercraft and the easy route down the river. We used Paddling Adventures for our equipment rental because they're located at the park itself, though the launch is outside the gates so you don't have to pay park admission if you're just going to kayak.

    Unsurprisingly, given the weather, we were the only people there. The display on my van read 39° when we parked and headed in to get our boats. The girls took a double kayak and I took a single, and after a short safety spiel we were off. The river was lovely, shallow and calm and so much warmer than the air. Because it is spring-fed the water temperature stays around 72° year round, which is why manatees are drawn to winter in the area. The trip was about 3 hours long with the manatee viewing at the end, just a few hundred yards before the pick up. It was cold out there but still very nice, and we saw a lot of unusual birds and tons of fish.

    When we got to the manatees, I was genuinely shocked at the size of them. I've seen them in captivity, of course, but that doesn't really prepare you for being in a kayak looking down at them through the clear water and realizing they're bigger than the boat you're sitting in. The girl at the kayak rental counter warned us that they can be playful and sometimes tip boats, but they didn't seem all that interested in us. I think the cold air discouraged any unnecessary time at the surface. But they were coming up all around us to breath, close enough to reach out and touch them. We stayed there for a long time watching them swim. Shanna was thrilled but disappointed at the same time, because she had really wanted to swim/snorkel with them. Still it was a wonderful experience and something we all agreed we were very glad we did.

    Within a few minutes of leaving the manatees' hole we were on dry land and in a well-heated van heading back to the launch. We all changed into dry clothes and piled into the van to head off to Disney World. On the way we stopped at a roadside stand to pick up some strawberries. We won't have in-season berries here at home for a couple more months so getting fresh-picked berries was quite the little luxury and we snacked on them all week in the room.

    The drive to Orlando took just under 2 hours, and soon enough we were greeted with this happy sight.

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    I took Sherbeth Road in so I still don't have a picture of the big welcome sign... Maybe next time! :rotfl:

    It didn't take us long to get checked in. We stopped for a few pictures, then moved the van around to the parking lot closest to our room and unloaded a few things.

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    Our room was in a fabulous location, on the ground floor facing away from the resort's central lake but overlooking a smaller pond and landscaping rather than a parking lot. We were very close to the main building and bus stop, and just around the back of the building from the lounge.

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    The girls were getting hungry, so we didn't even take the time to settle in before hopping a bus to Downtown Disney for a late lunch/early dinner. I hadn't made plans for our arrival day since I had no idea what time we'd get there, so we headed for one place I know is easy to get a walk-up: T-Rex. I'm a Landry's Select Club member, which gives priority seating, but we really didn't need it. Within about 5 minutes of checking in we were seated at a table in the underwater area of the restaurant.

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    Both girls ordered the Boneyard Buffet, which is rotisserie chicken and ribs with two side dishes. It was a ton of food and they both had leftovers. Shanna loved the ribs but didn't eat much of the chicken. Kaylee loved the chicken but barely tasted the ribs. So later on in the room they swapped leftovers and each had more of their favorite item.

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    I ordered the nachos, which I knew would be too much for me but are just too good to pass up. This was the third time I've ordered the same dish at T-Rex and it didn't disappoint.

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    While we were at Downtown Disney I upgraded my ticket to an annual pass and got my Tables in Wonderland card so we'd be ready for the busy park day we had ahead of us. Then we headed back to Coronado to check out the lounge, unpack, and watch The Walking Dead.

    The sun was setting by the time we got back to the resort.

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    Sunset at Coronado by Cam5279, on Flickr

    I took the girls down to the lounge, where we had the only little hiccup of our resort experience - our keys wouldn't open the door. A quick trip to the check-in desk corrected the problem easily enough; apparently they've had some issues with the new business class not coding properly when the keys are printed, but the cast member was able to reprint our keys and get us squared away in just a few minutes. Then I took the girls back to the lounge where they played Wii for a while, and headed off to finish unloading the van and unpacking our things. I rejoined them in the lounge around 8pm and relaxed with a book until it was time for The Walking Dead to start.

    The lounge offerings were quite nice. Each evening the spread was pretty much the same, with several types of chips, pita bread, and crackers with a trio of dips - salsa, a creamy leek dip, and roasted red pepper hummus. There was also a tray of cheeses, a vegetable platter, pretzels, and a snack mix. One night there were cookies, another there were chocolate covered pretzels. And there were plenty of cold drinks; cans of soda and bottles of water on ice and beer, wine and sangria available upon request.

    The best part about business class, though, was having a place other than the room to unwind in the evenings. It was so cool while we were there that we didn't do a ton of swimming at night, and it was wonderful to have a space with comfortable chairs, televisions, and internet access rather than laying around the room on the beds. That first night we watched The Walking Dead, on other nights we sat and chatted with other guests or watched the local news, and the girls used the lounge computer to check in on Facebook with their friends and family back home.

    The lounge closed at 10pm, just as our show ended, and we headed back to the room to get some sleep.
     
  18. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    17,326
    Day 4 - March 4

    We woke up to a beautiful day. It was still cool, but brilliantly sunny and comfortable once we got moving.

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    Morning at Coronado by Cam5279, on Flickr

    It was finally our first park day! I set my alarm for 7am but didn’t need it – I was up by 6:30 and the girls not long after. By 7:30 we were all showered, dressed, and ready.

    I realized that I like the sliding doors at Coronado much more than the curtains at the other resorts; they do a better job of blocking the bathroom noise and light when someone in the room is still sleeping and were the perfect amount of privacy for getting dressed in the morning.

    Before long we were ready to head down to the lounge for breakfast. The morning offerings were perfect for us – yogurt, both Dannon in cups and a flavor-of-the-day (mango) in a bowl to serve yourself, granola, a few types of cereal in the individual bowl packaging, bagels, danishes, fruit, milk, OJ, water, tea, coffee and cappuccino. We’re not big breakfast eaters so that sort of continental assortment is all we want in the mornings. I had strawberry yogurt with granola, the girls both had cereal, and we all had bowls of fresh mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries). The fruit was fresh and cold, and everything else was the quality you’d expect from the familiar pre-packaged brands. They had a good selection of teas too, an orange pekoe that I liked as well as Earl Grey, English Breakfast, and a few herbal/decaf choices.

    By 8:15 we were at the bus stop where we only had a very short wait for a Studios bus. I’d heard that the main building bus stop was undesirable in the mornings because it is the last pick-up before buses leave for the parks, but the bus that arrived was little more than half full and we had no problem finding seats. There wasn’t much of a line at bag check and it went quickly. When we got to the turnstiles, cast members were directing traffic – guests with RFID tickets to the lines on the right, guests with annual passes, group tickets, or other old-style passes to the regular turnstiles on the left. I hadn’t added days to the girls’ tickets yet so we all went through the old line together one last time.

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    It was about 8:35 when we got into the park and we headed straight for Toy Story Mania. We rode twice with very little wait and then pulled FastPasses for later on our way to hit the other headliners. At Rock & Roller Coaster the wait time was posted as 15 minutes, but we it didn’t take us that long to ride and be back in line again. I left the girls to their second go-round while I headed back to the photo center to trade in the Photopass Plus voucher for the card so I could add our ride photos. It only took a minute and the special card is a nice touch, on its own cord-lanyard for ease of carrying.

    I never noticed this billboard before.

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    When I caught back up with the girls we added the Rock & Roller Coaster ride photos to the PP+ and headed over to Tower of Terror.

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    The wait was posted at 10 minutes, but just as we were going into the TV part of the queue an announcement was made that due to technical difficulties the wait would be longer than expected. Kaylee found the whole place really spooky, and I think the little extra bit of wait time gave her too much time to think because she decided not to ride. I wasn’t going to let her wait for us alone since she’d never been to WDW before, isn’t used to traveling, and isn’t very comfortable on her own, and Shanna didn’t want to ride by herself so none of us ended up riding. We took the chicken exit and headed off to the next adventure.

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    With the headliners out of the way and a half hour before we could use our Toy Story Fastpasses, I let Shanna take the lead.

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    We went on the Great Movie Ride, which is one of those quirky favorites that she always really enjoys, then used our TSM FPs almost as soon as the window opened, headed over to the Singing in the Rain umbrella for our traditional photo, and got back around to Sci-Fi just in time to check in for our 11am lunch.

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    Lunch at Sci-Fi was nice. The food there is nothing special, just Chili’s type American food, but the atmosphere is really cool! We had just a few minutes’ wait for our table because our reservation was right at opening time, and were seated in a teal-blue car that only had room for 4 so it was just us. The girls took the front seat, of course.

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    They each got an order of the BBQ wings, which are on the appetizer menu, and shared a side of fries. It made for the perfect sized meal for them, with just enough room leftover to share a sundae for dessert.

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    I got the Reuben with fries, which didn’t leave any room for dessert, and we all ordered cherry Cokes (diet for me). Real cherry Coke – Coke with added flavor syrup, not the pre-mixed stuff – is one of my favorite treats and I love that Sci-Fi serves it. It is so perfectly in keeping with the restaurant theme.

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    Our waitress was great, very attentive and quick with the refills, and she offered to take a couple of pictures of us with my camera.

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    She also brought us a special treat – she said we were in the “magical moment” car for the day and gave us each a Sci-Fi souvenir cup full of caramel corn. The cups are super cute, plastic sports-style with a lid and straw, and the cup itself is made from a glow-in-the-dark plastic! She also gave the girls honorary Sci-Fi drivers’ licenses. All in all it couldn’t have been a more perfect first Disney meal for Kaylee, and at $58 bucks including the tip it wasn’t terribly expensive either.

    After lunch, there really wasn’t much else the girls wanted to do in the park. We had to see MuppetVision 3D of course – Shanna just adores The Muppets, and has both the original Muppet Show and the new movie on her iPod.

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    And we rode Star Tours a couple times to see some of the different combinations. And I picked up a carrot cake cookie to snack on later in the week – it takes me 3-4 days to finish those things!

    Shanna was being just a little silly!

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    Then we left the park, deciding to take advantage of the warm afternoon weather for a swim since it looked like most of the evenings would be too cool.

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    At this point, I did something really strange... I left the camera in the room for the rest of the day!

    The girls swam for a couple hours while I fooled around on my tablet and did a little bit of homework. At some point they decided they were hungry and the lounge hadn't yet opened for the evening service, so we headed over to Pepper Market. Shanna got a build-your-own salad and Kaylee got chips and salsa. I really don’t like the set-up there, with having a waitress bring your drinks. Ours brought the first round and then disappeared so we didn't get refills, and none of the food was all that impressive. The salad was fairly good, but the chips with the salsa weren't good at all – they were thick corn chips, not the thinner tortilla chips we’d had in the lounge the night before and certainly not the fresh chips we’d have at Maya Grill later in the week. Plus we had to wait around for a few minutes to check out because in the middle of the day no one was at the registers – someone came over once they noticed we were waiting, but there was one other family there too who had been waiting longer than us so the staff really wasn't as attentive as they should have been with that either. The bill, including the 10% eat-in service charge, came to $22. We didn't go back to Pepper Market again – we liked both Cafe Rix and Siestas better, but it is nice that CSR has so many options to choose from.

    After our snack the girls swam a little more before getting changed into dry clothes for the evening. We left for Studios about 5:30 and arrived in plenty of time for our 6:30 dinner at 50s Prime Time.

    Re-entering the park was very slow for me, though, because all but two of the old style turnstiles had been switched over to exits and there was a high school marching band (in matching t-shirts, so it was easy to tell) in front of me in line. I’d upgraded the girls tickets on the way out of the park before our break so they had the RIFD tickets and breezed through their entrance with enough time to check out the pin shop before I caught up with them.

    We checked in for dinner a little bit early and were seated right on time. I didn't care for our table location, right next to the door to the kitchen, and our waiter was far less fun than the waiter we had last January when we tried 50s for the first time. We all ordered the same thing – Mom’s Sampler and cherry Cokes (again, diet for me). Everything was good and we ended up swapping around a bit because we all had different favorites. Kaylee loved the fried chicken, I adore their meatloaf, and Shanna really enjoyed the pot roast. Shanna ate all her green beans, most of Kaylee’s, and a few of mine. I had all my collard greens and some of both girls’. Kaylee “ doesn't like” either veggie and was relieved that we were willing to eat some of hers so the waiter wouldn't give her a hard time about dessert, because Shanna had warned her about that. The girls ended up sharing a brownie sundae and I got a chocolate shake in a to-go cup.

    50s is really one of those places where your server can make or break the experience and I just wasn't impressed this time; the food was still good, solid, American comfort food and the shakes are wonderful, but without any real antics from the server it is just another restaurant and not one I’d be likely to choose for the food alone.

    After dinner, we headed back to Star Tours. The wait was posted at 10 minutes but it was really a walk-on, and we rode three more times to see the different combinations. Then we headed over to the theatre to get our seats for Fantasmic. It was chilly and breezy for the show but the girls didn't want to miss it, and Kaylee was impressed. I don’t think Shanna knew quite how to describe it so it was mostly a surprise. But between the cool temperature and the fact that we got misted during the show because of the direction and strength of the wind, even though we were only about a dozen rows down from the top, by the time it was over the girls were ready to head back to the hotel rather than staying to enjoy the evening EMH.

    We got back to the resort too late to stop in at the lounge for an evening snack, so we hit Cafe Rix instead. The girls each got a Krispy Kreme donut and we headed back to the room. The girls hooked the iPod up to the TV and put a movie on and they were both asleep before I got out of the shower.
     
  19. Tinker326

    Tinker326 DIS Veteran

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2006
    Messages:
    1,784
    I am jealous of all your little trips to Disney this year!! How fun!!

    That kayak with the Manatees sounds AMAZING.

    Great TR with your daughter & her friend. I do the same with my kids. Little trips just one on one. I think kids really need that-

    Looking forward to seeing more! :)
     
  20. wiigirl

    wiigirl DIS Veteran

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2012
    Messages:
    15,980
    Love the pics! :)
     
  21. Colleen27

    Colleen27 DIS Veteran

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    17,326
    I'm having a blast with my AP, that's for sure!

    The manatees were really great. We're already talking about leaving right after Christmas to go back down as a family, so we'd have 10 days to play with to get a day suitable for actually getting in the water with them.

    I really like doing the one-on-one trips with my kids. With the age difference between them family trips involve a lot of compromise, so it is really nice to plan the occasional trip that is all about one child's interests and pace.

    Sebastian decided to give up his Star Wars Weekend trip, :sad1: but only because there are other things going on that he cares more about. We have tickets for a 2 day music festival on Belle Isle the first weekend in June, then the next weekend we'll be in Cincinnati to pick up DS's best friend for a visit (he lives in Nashville, so Cinci is half-way), and then two weeks later we're meeting his friend's parents in Kentucky for a few days of camping and sightseeing before D goes home. Disney on top of all of that, all in a month's time, was just too much in terms of both time and money. There's a chance he'll still get his trip later in the year, though. It'll just depend on finances and his football schedule; between football and track it is getting very hard to find time to travel with him!
     

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