Sunday 27 October 2013

WDW Day 4

Let's get back to what we got up to whilst on our latest visit to where were we?  Ah yes Day 4...

...and it would turn out to be a day of firsts for us!

Our day started as most of our days did with breakfast at the Wilderness Lodge, sat outside enjoying the serenity and sunshine.  Then we took a quick boat ride over to the Contemporary Resort ready for a pre-booked activity...this was the day Simon and I would try parasailing for the first time - eek!

But the day started with a little hiccup!  Simon as technical support was in charge of all the videoing of our vacation; he had a GoPro camera which he was going to strap to his chest so we could have a first person view of the experience and we also had our usual video camera to film what was happening from the safety of the boat.  But the video camera decided to react to the cold air inside the hotel and then the very warm humid air outside by fogging up!  We'd had this problem before and knew that moisture had gotten inside and that the camera would need to 'dry out' before we could use it again.  So on the way over to the Contemporary and whilst waiting for our turn we had the camera open and were desperately hoping that it would resolve itself in time!

Whilst Simon tried to get the camera working me and the kids went and explored the Contemporary Resort as it was our first time visiting here properly rather than whizzing through on the monorail.  The plan was that if there wasn't room on the boat for the kids they were going to spend their time in the arcade, so off we went to find the arcade and hatch a plan so that we knew where to meet up afterwards.  When we got back to Simon the video camera still wasn't working but then with literally moments to spare the camera powered back into action, much to everyone's relief.  We then also discovered that there was only going to be Simon and I pararsailing so there was room on the boat for the kids too - woohoo off we went!
About to get on the boat!!
The parasailing takes place out on Bay Lake behind the Contemporary Resort and is organised by Sammy Duvall's Watersports who were fantastic.  From booking it online and answering questions, to the staff on the reception looking after us on land, to the guys on the boat everything was perfect; they couldn't have looked after us any better.

We had decided that Simon would go first and then me.  We both got strapped into our harnesses and life jackets and then Simon took up the position and within 30 seconds was up in the air!  I watched him get higher and higher and tried not to think too much about the fact that in about 10 minutes it would be me up there!  The guys on the boat were brilliant; so friendly and made you feel so at ease but also that it was OK to change your that would have been the easy option but I was determined to do this.

Before I knew it Simon was back on the boat and grinning from ear to ear, and then it was my turn.  I was hooked up to the parachute and told to sit down on the back of the boat...
Me just about to go up in the air!
...the next thing I knew I was quickly leaving the boat behind and in what only seemed like a matter of seconds I was soaring above the boat, getting higher and higher and taking in the world around me.
Up, up and away
Can you see me? I'm that tiny spot in the sky!
To say the views were spectacular would be an understatement.  It was a beautiful day and you could see all around Bay Lake and beyond and could spot the familiar sights of Space Mountain and Cinderella's Castle and more.  It was surprisingly quiet and almost serene up there at the end of a 450 metre rope and whilst I enjoyed every minute I did find myself holding on to the straps for dear life and was quite glad when I could feel myself getting winched back towards the deck of the boat.  The landing was very simple I was guided into the back of the boat and told to just stand up as my feet touched the deck, I was unhooked from the parachute and then got out of the harness to enjoy the boat ride back to shore.

When we got ashore I have to admit to needing a sit down, as the adrenaline kicked in I could feel myself coming over a bit woozy and a bit shaky and quickly suggested to Simon that I needed a coffee and a cake!  So we went into the Comtemporary Resort and whilst the kids went to play in the arcade Simon and I were able to nip into the Contempo Cafe for a coffee, cinnamon bun and a chance to reflect on what we'd just done and 'come back down to earth'!!  And this was our view whilst we relaxed; part of the Mary Blair mural inside the Contemporary Resort.
Mary Blair mural as seen from Contemo Cafe
Once we felt more 'normal' we took advantage of being child free and did a little shopping; I bought a couple of car antenna toppers, a car decal and a bracelet.  Then we received word that some friends were in the Magic Kingdom and so we agreed to meet them over in Fantasyland.

This was another first for us and something that became a trademark of this vacation - meeting friends old and new and being able to share the magic of Disney with them.  We dragged the kids out of the arcade, jumped on the monorail and headed off to the Magic Kingdom.  Our first stop was Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe for a spot of quick lunch before heading over to the Mad Tea Party to meet our friend Michelle, as well as fellow WDW Radio fans Jeff and Kris.
Me and Michelle (of The Minnie Minxes fame!)
It was whilst we were chatting and swapping stories about our vacations so far that we had another first.  The kids were getting bored with all the adult chat so they decided to ride a couple of attractions, initially they dragged Simon onto the Tomorrowland Speedway but then they ventured off on their own for the first time to ride Big Thunder Mountain.

After a couple of hours chatting we all went our separate ways and we finished our day off at the Magic Kingdom with a little Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom, a ride on Pirates of the Caribbean and a stop at the Sunshine Tree Terrace for a Citrus Swirl...
Mmmm yummy :)
Then came the question of where to eat that evening...I then remembered talking earlier with Michelle all about the Grand Floridian Resort and in particular Gasparilla Island Grill so we decided to once more jump on the monorail and give it a try...another first!

Although it was a little tricky to find Gasparilla's when we did we all had a lovely meal and despite it being a quick service restaurant all the food was cooked to order and brought over to you at your table, brilliant service and amazing value.  Our eldest said it was the best burger he'd ever had and the apple crisp I had for dessert was simply divine!
Grounds of the Grand Floridian Resort at dusk
For the third time that day we jumped onto the monorail and headed back to the Contemporary Resort to get a boat back to the Wilderness Lodge.
Dock at the Contemporary Resort
Once back at the Wilderness Lodge Simon and I got ourselves a hot drink and then sat in the magnificent foyer whilst we uploaded the GoPro video from our parasailing earlier in the day and posted a few photos to Facebook for friends and family to enjoy.

Now that was a very good day :)

Halloween Time

So once again we approach that time of year when the ghosts and ghouls come out to play!

Or in our case it's time for our annual Halloween party.  Now this year we were in two minds as to whether we would actually host a party...the most obvious weekend to hold a party was the weekend after the 31st but we had other plans. So although the weekend before felt a little 'early' for Halloween antics I really couldn't resist the idea of throwing a party.

So last night we had our party.  An evening of cool costumes, good food, great company and an odd Cosmopolitan or two!

Simon drew our party invite as usual and this year we decided on a vampire theme...
Although the final outfits turned out a little different with more of  punk/new romantic vampire meets zombies affect...

I even ended up wearing my new steampunk Mickey ears at one point...

And talking of Disney whilst we were at WDW this year we did have the privilege of seeing the Halloween decorations appear on Main Street, USA
Halloween decorations, this was at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom but these could be found all the way down Main Street, USA - beautiful
Main Street, USA
Town Square, Magic Kingdom
Happy Halloween everyone!!

Wednesday 9 October 2013

WDW Day 3

Well here we are at day 3 of our Disney vacation.  After a busy day at the Magic Kingdom on Day 2 where should we go today??

Well the day started very early again for us..ok for some of us.  Simon decided to get up and beat the heat and go for a run.  Yes you heard me right whilst on vacation Simon got up at 6.00am for a 5 mile run.  To be fair Simon knew that he had to find some time during our vacation for running as he was scheduled to run a half marathon at the end of September (only 3 weeks after we got back from WDW).  And I had said that I was going to run around Lago Dorado at Coronado Springs...but we weren't at Coronado Springs...

From a running point of view Simon was really pleased with our change of hotel as he was able to run from the Wilderness Lodge to the Fort Wilderness Campground, around the campground and then back again, a total of just under 5 miles in about 35/40 minutes.

Once Simon was back from his run we all made our way to Roaring Forks for yet another breakfast in the sunshine.  We decided that we would try having a snack for breakfast (lovely choice of pastries and cupcakes) along with our refillable mug courtesy of the Quick Service Dining Plan which worked out really well as this left us with two quick service meals each for the remainder of the day, if we so wished.  I will do a post all about the Dining Plan at a later date.

Now I have to admit that both the children were not as quick to move this morning as Simon and I so it was 10.00am before we arrived at Disney's Hollywood Studios and consequently Toy Story Mania had a stand-by time of 85 minutes and Fastpasses were being issued for late evening.  Now as we didn't know how long we would be staying at DHS and as we have a 45 minute cut-off for stand-by lines we had to give this ride a miss but vowed that we would be back another day!

So off we went in search of rides with Star Tours our first destination...I actually can't remember how many times we rode it back to back but suffice to say with a mega short stand-by time (10 minutes...more like 5) it was more than once!
Me and Molls proudly wearing our Start Tours Relaunch Limited Edition T-shirts!
We then decided to ride the Studio Backlot Tour.  Now we've ridden this ride a lot over the years and have to confess that many years ago when movies and in particular animation was being produced at the studios it was a really popular and interesting ride.
Earful Tower
Nowadays it has been scaled back big time but we decided to ride it purely for the Catastrophe Canyon element of the ride.  Rumours are abound that this ride maybe on it's final outing and maybe replaced by newer more exciting attractions, so we wanted to make sure we got one last ride in before it disappeared.
Catastrophe Canyon - dry!

Catastrophe Canyon - wet!

We then managed to sneak in a ride on The Great Movie Ride as well as Voyage of the Little Mermaid before stopping for food at one of our favourite counter service restaurants; the Backlot Express, where I decided to go simple and just have chicken many did I get?  I think I counted 10...suffice to say I was well and truly stuffed!  Although nuggets and fries is really just an excuse to indulge in some sauces, in particular the honey & mustard sauce that we just don't seem to get over here in the UK.
Nuggets, fries & sauces all lined up :)
The afternoon saw us having a wander around the studios with a number of visits to various shops...scoping out the merchandise on offer so that I could make some informed shopping decisions later in the vacation! We took a little breather early afternoon to partake of a frozen lemonade on Sunset Boulevard whilst watching some of the 'Citizens of Hollywood' street performers hamming it up three stooges style.
Enjoying a frozen lemonade
The kids then decided that as we'd not been able to ride Big Thunder Mountain yesterday (it had been down for most of the day) they wanted to see if we could ride it today.  So off we set for the Magic Kingdom. As the bus took us to the Transportation & Ticket Centre (TTC) we decided to take the ferry over the Seven Seas Lagoon to get us there...
Ferry boat, the Richard F Irvine
As we arrived the 3 O'Clock parade was just in progress along with a short downpour. Now this is where we started to have some unusual experiences!!

Firstly we decided that it was raining enough to get our waterproofs on, and being British we always come prepared.  So we delved into our bags to get out said waterproofs but in doing so Ethan managed to pull his out of the bag with such force that he hit me in the eye!  And boy did it hurt, Simon noticed that my cheek was starting to turn red so we quickly bought an ice cold bottle of water that I then held to my face hoping that any swelling and potential black eyeness could be avoided.  So whilst I recovered we headed for the Country Bear Jamboree, another one of my favourties :)

After I'd recovered we headed over to Big Thunder Mountain...and yet another incident involving our eldest, who it should be pointed out is much taller and slightly heavier than Simon!  So off on the wildest ride in the West we went having a fantastic time until I heard Simon yell out...Ethan had slid sideways into him with full force causing Simon to crash into the side of the ride vehicle.  We got off the ride and it was Simon's turn to be in pain...our Ethan was not having a good afternoon!  Thankfully after a short walk Simon began to feel better and so we headed off into Fantasyland in search of food.

We settled on Columbia Harbour House for something to eat and this is where yet another incident occured; thankfully though this time it had nothing to do with Ethan!  I had ordered our food and was waiting patiently in the queue when a woman seemingly barged her way through and nearly knocked me off my feet.  I turned round instinctively to see what was happening and saw the lady slump to the floor.  It transpired that the woman was newly pregnant and was struggling with very bad morning sickness; the Disney staff were brilliant and they swarmed round her to make sure she was OK.  A friend of the lady was just in front of me in the queue so whilst she helped her friend I entertained her children (like being at work!!), the staff then quickly ushered all of their group into a roped off area and sorted all their food for them.  This just epitomises that nothing is a problem when in WDW everything is manageable and no-one is left to feel unwanted or a problem.

After we had had our food the evening was drawing in and four very tired people decided to make our way out of the park and back to the hotel, so whilst we stood waiting for our boat we watched the Electrical Water Pageant make it's way across Seven Seas Lagoon in front of the Grand Floridian Resort.
Another good day :)

Thursday 3 October 2013

WDW Day 2

Let's get this trip report well and truly underway with the happenings on our first full day at WDW!

One advantage of travelling 4500 miles and numerous time zones means that with our bodies still being on UK time we all awoke early Orlando time.  This meant we were able to make the most of our first full day...

We started off with breakfast at Roaring Forks...and what else could I have but Mickey waffles...a staple of any good WDW vacation.  So by 7.30am we were sat outside eating our breakfast.

Views whilst eating our breakfast :)

We then headed, as is both a tradition and a must-do, to the Magic Kingdom; our first day park of choice. One of the great things about staying at the Wilderness Lodge, as we soon discovered, is it's proximity to the Magic Kingdom and what better way to start the day than with a boat ride...

So over Bay Lake and then Seven Seas Lagoon we went to get to our destination.  We arrived just after 8.30am and headed to the entrance via the 'bag check'.  Now all of us except Ethan (our eldest) had bags that needed to be checked, so we dutifully took the bags off our shoulders, opened all zipper compartments (we know the drill) and with a smile said 'good morning' to the security guard.  He checked our bags and as he was finishing Simon's bag he looked up at Ethan and said 'Are you with these people?'  Ethan looked nervous and mumbled (as teenagers do) 'yeah'..'how old are you?' asked the security guard..'15..' mumbled Ethan.  At this point the guard refused to give Simon his bag back instead passing it over to Ethan saying 'well then you better have this then as it's your job to carry it!'...we all laughed except Ethan who wasn't too sure if the guard was being serious or not, suffice to say Ethan didn't carry the bag!!

We then headed over to the new RFID Mickey 'turnstiles' just as the 'Welcome Show' was starting, which was a great way to start our first full day in the magic.  We then proceeded through using our 'Key to the World' cards and our trusty fingerprint; this was so much easier than the old turnstiles and made the whole getting into the park much smoother.

Now, the plan had been to get our Photopass+ sorted and then follow the Touring Plans guide for the day...but we got a little sidetracked.  Simon saw the signage for 'Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom' and we promptly went over to the Firehouse and signed up - I shall do a separate blog post all about playing this game as it really deserves a post all to itself.  Consequently we ended up playing the first few parts of the Sorcerer's game and sorting out our Photopass+ before heading off into the park.  I shall talk more about Photopass+ in a later post.

Without going into a lot of detail 'Touring Plans' allows you to plan the most effective way to get around a park and do all the rides that you want to do; so with a bit of thought before getting to the parks you can plan your day to make the most of your time.  So over the course of the day we managed to ride all of the following before late afternoon;

Pirates of the Caribbean
Splash Mountain
Haunted Mansion
It's a Small World
Peter Pan's Flight
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
Space Mountain
Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid
Mickey's PhilharMagic
Mad Tea Party

We even had time to catch the 'Celebrate a Dream Come True' parade, with a quick dash for cover at the end as the heavens opened!
A bit of rain didn't stop the parade :)

We also managed to squeeze in our first bit of shopping; some earrings for me and pins, lanyard, t-shirt and a bandana for our daughter.

During the late afternoon we decided to explore the new Storybook Circus area of New Fantasyland, and after a fun filled ride on Dumbo in the rain (I think we got wetter than when we went on Splash Mountain!) we wandered over to Big Top Souvenirs and in particular Big Top Treats...
Just some of the tasty treats on much choice!!
The smell was amazing the minute you walked into this fantastically themed shop, so much so that our two kids couldn't resist and had to buy something sticky and sweet and sickly!  Whilst the kids were buying their treats Simon had got talking to a couple of cast members working in the shop; they were so lovely wanting to know all about our vacation so far and chatting about working at the Magic Kingdom.  Then McKenna asked if we all liked marshmallows...well 'yes?'...she then said 'wait here I have something for you'.  A couple of minutes later she re-appeared saying 'only a minute or so they're being made fresh for you'..well the next thing we knew was McKenna and Morgan coming towards us holding four marshmallows on sticks; dipped in white chocolate and covered in red sugar sprinkles!

They were amazing and such a lovely surprise and so unexpected...yet another bit of Disney Magic at work.

Me with aforementioned marshmallow!!

We rounded the day off with dinner at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe...because as everyone knows you just can't beat the fixin's bar here!  And as we strolled around the park as dusk fell we decided to have another ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, one of our all time favourite rides.
Early evening on the TTA
We then took a leisurely boat ride back to the Wilderness Lodge, chatting to a lovely family from Toronto.  When we got back to the Lodge around 9.30pm our youngest decided that she'd like to take a dip in the pool.  So Simon and I grabbed a hot drink, sat by the pool surrounded by ducks whilst Molly splashed about and we listened to the sound of the Electrical Water Pageant passing by...perfect :)