Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stitch Fix #2 Review

I had originally scheduled my second Stitch Fix shipment for mid-May (after receiving my first in mid-January), but then I kept pushing the date further and further up until it was finally in mid-April. I really hoped to get some nice summer clothes and since temperatures here tend to hop from 45 to 75 overnight, I figured the early the better for receiving some new options!

So for any newcomers, the gist of Stich Fix is this:

1) You register for Stitch Fix and fill out an extensive fashion and style profile.
2) When you are ready to receive a shipment, pay a $20 styling fee.
3) When your box arrives, try on the five items they send, decide which to keep and send any rejected items back in the prepaid shipping envelope.
4) Check-out online to pay for your purchases (the $20 styling fee goes towards any items you purchase. If you choose to keep nothing, you forfeit the $20). If you keep all five of your items, you save 25%!

Neat, right? Especially for someone like me who basically needs a whole new wardrobe thanks to both post-baby weight loss and lifestyle change (as a stay-at-home mom).

This shipment was originally scheduled to arrive on Thursday, but tracking info suggested it would arrive on Wednesday. Then I went out to get the mail on Tuesday and it was sitting on my front porch. Definitely a nice surprise for it to arrive early, but be warned since you only have three days to return unwanted items! Don't schedule your Fix to arrive around a time you are planning on being away or too busy to try things on! Luckily my schedule was wide open this week so I had all the time in the world to pour over the contents of my box.

The first thing I noticed about my second Fix was that I had a new stylist. I was a little disappointed about that: I feel like Megumi really got my style the first time and while ultimately I only kept two things, I really did like all five things included in my box. See my first review here. I had left really detailed feedback (about the delicate nature of the applique cardigan and that I didn't need two tops so similar in the same Fix) and had hoped to see where Megumi would go while preparing my next Fix.

Alas, I got a new stylist, Anna, who for the most part sent me things that I liked, but weren't really practical. I'd wager a guess that most of these stylist aren't yet moms (just because Stitch Fix stylist seems like a trendy just out of college job), but just by looking at the style cards I felt like Megumi had really nailed the easy yet put together style I was looking for whereas Anna maybe struggled a bit more. Despite these initial misgivings, I eagerly unpackaged my Fix and started inspecting the offerings.

Leya Thermal Knit Short Sleeve Top by Tart ($54)

First impressions: This top was the item that most caught my eye when I opened the box. I love a striped top and red is not a color I tend to wear a lot so I own no summer clothes like this. I had specifically asked for no white, but I was willing to give Anna a pass on this because it's technically not all white and I love striped tops so much! When I lifted the top out of the box, I was immediately struck by two things. One, which was good, was that there is a neat keyhole opening in the back which makes this top a lot more interesting than just a plain basic tee. Second, which was bad, is that this top seems very delicate. It's called "thermal knit" but the fabric seemed to stretch far more than any thermal I've ever encountered and seemed prone to snags. Obviously not a good thing when I've constantly got a two year old pawing at me!

I'm an idiot: ignore the price tags peeking out of the adorable keyhole! In my defense, it was 33 degrees outside when I took these pictures! 33 degrees! On April 16th! That is ridiculous! I'm wearing sandals here, people! All so I can write about my Stitch Fix experience! For you! You're welcome!
After trying on: Meh, this top completely underwhelmed me once I got it on. The knit just clung to my (smaller but still) post-baby tummy and the scoop on the hem did absolutely nothing for me. I liked the keyhole back, but really nothing else about this top. If it had just been a plain cotton t-shirt with the keyhole back, I would have kept it in a heartbeat! Such a disappointment.

Verdict: RETURNED

Wrenn V-Neck Jersey Top by Pomelo ($44)

First impressions: This top has been making the Stitch Fix blog review's circuit for a few months now in a variety of colors. My mom even received a Stitch Fix a few months back and this was included in a teal shade. Although it's just jersey, the style of this top seems overly dressy for a stay-at-home mom. Even the two outfits on the style card appear to be a work outfit and a going out outfit. No casual option to be seen! The one thing about this top that did peak my interest is that it's a lovely shade of royal purple, but even that strikes me as more of a fall/winter color. We'll see how it looks on, I suppose.

The only thing I changed about these two looks were the jeans.
Jeans: Just Black (from my last Stitch Fix)
Capris: Old Navy
After trying on: This is not a very forgiving top: I can see the tops of both of the jeans I'm wearing above and I hate when that happens. I also had to take about ten pictures to hide all the lumps and bumps and if I'm being completely honest - I'm probably sucking in a bit in both these shots. The neckline just feels so formal to me. If I were still working I'd probably keep this one in a heartbeat, but for just hanging out on the playground it's a pass.

Verdict: RETURNED

Erie Mini Reversible Crossbody Tote by Street Level ($48)

First impressions: Oh crap, did I not check off "No handbags" on the style profile? I immediately ran to the computer to check only to discover that there is no "No handbags" option so I just have to remember to type that 100 times in my comments from now on. Now I'm fully aware that this is going to come off as snotty, but if I'm going to invest in a handbag, I want to invest in a handbag. I learned my lesson several years back when I purchased a cheap handbag from Macy's and just months later, it was a mess: strings everywhere, stains, no shape. A disaster. One of my Coach bags, on the other hand, lasted 6 years as my everyday work bag. It lugged enormous files, water bottles, and everything in between and yet looks like I just bought it yesterday. So strike one against this bag is that it's $48 and obviously not real leather. Sorry, but if I'm buying a handbag, I'm investing in one that's going to last me more than a few months. Strike two is that I think handbags are really personal: some people like big pockets, some don't, others like crossbody, others don't. It's just too much of a gamble and the style profile asks ZERO questions about handbags. Strike three is that this bag is labeled "mini" and it totally is: it's like a little Barbie handbag. I could barely fit my wallet and phone in here, let alone diapers, wipes, snacks, water, Band-Aids and the other 300 things I must bring when we leave the house. Big fail on this one.



After trying on: I didn't even bother trying to figure out how to attach the strap.

Verdict: RETURNED

Ben Mixed Stripe Jersey Maxi Dress by Mystree ($78)

First impressions: I'd hoped that they'd send a maxi dress, but didn't want to specifically ask for a maxi dress because I didn't want them to send four. I figured for a summer time Fix, it was a given that they'd send at least one dress. I'd actually seen a review that included this dress earlier in the week so I'd seen it before. I'm least excited about the color palate of this dress: Anna wrote that the dark colors will "hide any dirt" I encounter, but a bright color in a washable fabric would have worked too! There are so many gorgeous corals and mints and radiant orchids out there right now, I would have loved some of that. And I'm pretty sure I included in my style profile that I'm pear shaped so I'm not sure why extra ribbons of fabric crisscrossing my already wide lower half is a good thing. Maybe Stitch Fix should consider not publishing reviews until items are out of circulation. It might just be me, but even if I love this dress on, I'd still be a little sad that it wasn't a total surprise when I opened the box.

Ugh ignore my beastly arms: I haven't been to boot camp in a month due to a pinched nerve in my back!
After trying on: One thing I hate about maxi skirts/dresses is I never know what the length is supposed to be. Short people whine about maxi dresses touching the floor, but then tall people complain when they don't. Which is it, people? Am I going to look like a freak wearing this thing out when I've got a good 6-8 inch clearance between the dress and the floor? I specifically said that I have long legs so I'm sad Anna didn't select a dress that had a longer length (like my beloved Megumi did with my black jeans from last time around). I'm also not sure the neckline is doing me any favors. It just seems very dumpy and frumpy and the dress itself is hugging every single curve I've got. Yikes. I can find a much better maxi dress out there!

Verdict: RETURNED

Lila Chevron Panel Knit Tank by Loveappella ($54)

First impressions: I liked that it was chevron without being chevron all over. That's a trend that may be on its way out the door, but this tank I feel like I could get away with when it's long gone. The blue and teal were nice colors and I liked how, despite having a razorback, it also had regular straps so it can be worn with a regular bra. It did look rather enormous though. This is another sizing issue: when something runs so big, how do you know when it's the style and when it's too big? This is a Medium, which is my true size, but maybe I need a Small when something is so big like this. I don't want to look like I'm wearing a sack! Granted, it would be a pretty teal chevron sack, but nonetheless a sack!

Styled for summer and fall.
Shorts: Old Navy
Jacket: Athleta
Pants: Just Black (from my last Stitch Fix)

Pretty back but no special bra needed! Yay!

After trying on: I like this top. It doesn't look like anything else I currently own, but goes with the type of "easy but stylish" vibe I'm trying to give off this summer. The style card suggests white pants and a denim jacket or an A-line knit skirt. I'm more likely to go with the former look just because I think with a wide hemmed shirt like this, I need a thinner bottom to balance out my lower half. I think it would look nice with shorts too.

Overall, this Stitch Fix was a bit of a disappointment. I felt like Megumi really got my style, my figure, and my lifestyle last time around and with Anna, not so much. The fact that my mom and I got even one item in common is a joke: I'm a 5'9" stay-at-home mom who asked for easy summer outfits and she's a 5' retiree who wanted nicer items to wear on her South Pacific cruise. The bag, in particular, was a big disappointment. That's a whole extra article of clothing that I didn't even get to try. Granted I didn't specifically say "no bags" but I had said no to all other accessories so I feel like it maybe should have been inferred. Bummer.

I've got some referral credits so essentially I'll get the chevron tank as well as my next Fix free so I'm definitely trying again. I also started a Pinterest board which I'll pin too next time around to give them a better idea of my specific style. And, of course, detailed feedback is a must. While I'm a tad disappointed, it does seem like your first few Fixes can be hits or misses while they try to figure you out. Perhaps because my first Fix was so spot on, this Fix seems to be more of a miss than it actually was. If I received this Fix first, I might be more excited about everything, but short of a time machine there's no way of ever knowing!

If you do want to sign up (and you still totally should because it's still fun to get a box full of unknown goodies on your doorstep every month!), please use my referral code. I'll get $25 to use towards my next Fix and once you sign up, you'll get your own referral code to share with friends.

Stitch Fix referral code: https://stitchfix.com/referral/3142615

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Disney Dining with an (Almost) Toddler

Prior to our recent Disney adventure, I'd heard mixed advice about how to eat at Disney World. Some folks swear by the meal plan and others say, "No way!" The complaints of the latter group seemed to completely vary too: "the meal plan isn't enough food!" "the meal plan is too much food!" "it's too expensive!" "the options for children are limited!" Everyone has an opinion and good luck convincing them otherwise!

So upfront I'm going to say it: we got a Disney Dining Plan and, for the most part, our group was very happy with it.

Disney Dining Plan is available to guests staying at Disney Resorts. To take advantage of the Dining Plan, you must purchase your tickets as part of a Magic Your Way Package. That basically means you are paying for your hotel, food, park tickets, and some small extras (i.e. a refillable drink mug) in advance. The thing about these packages is that you get meals for each night you are staying at a resort, not for each day you are visiting a park. So we were staying seven nights (Thursday-Thursday) so we got seven day's worth of dining (even though we only purchased five days worth of park tickets). I note this because you will need to arrange your meals within the parks accordingly: you can't schedule six meals at park restaurants if you only have a five day park pass so you'll need to check out some of the restaurants at the Disney Resorts.

We ultimately decided on a Dining Plan because we knew we wanted to do character meals and we knew that they were pricey! One character brunch alone can set you back close to $40/person and we did three! For us, even if we didn't eat all the allotted snacks, we made our money back with the table service choices we made.

The menfolk at a buffet breakfast -
this was a table service credit.
So what does "table service" mean? Well, it turns out there are several different types of Disney Dining Plans and that all the restaurants on the Disney property are categorized into three separate types of restaurants: table service, quick service, and snack. Table service restaurants are just what they sound like: you walk in, are seated, and order food which is brought directly to your table. Buffets are also included in table service restaurants. Quick service restaurants are like "fast food" restaurants: you order at a counter and then take food to your seat. Snacks can be found on the menu at certain quick service restaurants or at separate snack stands in the park.

The meal plans vary in the variety of each type of restaurant which is included. For example, there is one plan that is two quick service meals each day and one snack. You may notice that Disney offers "free" Dining Plans occasionally throughout the year: nine times out of ten, this is the Dining Plan that they are offering. The downside of this Dining Plan is that it does not include any table service credits which means no character dining. Another Dining Plan includes three table service meals each day! I guess some people like fine dining, but sitting around waiting to eat for 3+ hours every single day was not our idea of a good time...and I doubt our stomachs could have handled that much food either (especially before Splash Mountain!) Ultimately our Dining Plan was called the Magic Your Way Package Dining Service Plus and included one table service meal, one quick service meal, and one snack per person per day.

Children under three do not need a Dining Plan. Disney advertises that they can eat "free" but that requires some clarification. If we went to a buffet, Baby O was "free" to eat whatever he wanted off my plate, but if we were at a table service or counter service restaurant, we had to pay for a kid's meal. By the end of our vacation, however, we realized that my dad and grandmother were subsisting on merely our table service meal so we started using quick service meals for Baby O's lunch.

Disney Dining Tip: There is no distinction between children's quick service meals and adult quick service meals. If you have 49 quick service meals available (as we did at the start of our trip), you can use those credits to purchase meals for any member of your party. So if a member wants to eat light and chooses a kids' meal: no problem. Or if you want to use a credit so you don't have to pay for a kids' meal with cash: do it. Obviously this only works at quick service restaurants because one person is at the counter ordering. A waiter might give you a hard time if you were sitting in a restaurant trying to order filet mignon for a 5 year old using his meal plan!

Okay so we have our Dining Plan and we're ready to just start showing up at restaurants, right?

Oh my gosh, no!

Disney Dining Tip: Reservations to table service restaurants can be made up to 180 days in advance. Get out a calendar and count back 180 days from the start of your trip. On this morning at 7am EST, you must be either on the phone or at your computer if you have any hope of eating at some of the most popular Disney restaurants.

Disney will let you book meals for your entire vacation that morning (i.e. you don't have to call back every day all week), but some things are going to be booked already so have several workable plans in mind and try to be as flexible as possible. Remember, while you are hemming and hawing over whether you'll take a 5:15 reservation instead of a 5:30 reservation at Be Our Guest, the last reservations for the day at Cinderella's Royal Table were just snatched up. Here is a link with some of the most popular Disney restaurants (and alternatives if they are already full).

Disney Dining Tip: Use the Disney Food Blog website to figure out where you want to eat. The bloggers have been to Disney an enviable amount of times and have dined nearly everywhere and tried nearly everything! This website was a great help in figuring out which table service restaurants were worth visiting!

So my mom called and got reservations at our preferred restaurants at almost our preferred times. The restaurants we chose to eat at during our stay were: Mickey's Backyard BBQ (Fort Wilderness Resort), Coral Reef Restaurant (Epcot), Crystal Palace Character Lunch/Dinner with Winnie the Pooh and Friends (Magic Kingdom), 'Ohana Restaurant (Polynesian Resort), Chef Mickey's Character Breakfast with Mickey and Friends (Contemporary Resort), and Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom). Phew!

Character Dining:

Mickey's Backyard BBQ at Fort Wilderness Resort:

The "gang" does their musical number.
We went to this dinner on our first night at Disney. We hadn't even gone to a park yet, but we made a very conscious effort to schedule this dinner first. Why? Because it was a character "experience" and show. What's the difference between a character "experience" (my totally made up word, not Disney's) and a character meal? In an "experience" characters don't come around from table to table. They are there at the meal, in this case out on the dance floor dancing and posing for pictures in predetermined spots, but they don't just show up behind you unexpectedly. We booked this meal first to gauge how Baby O was going to react to the characters. If this experience had gone poorly, we would have cancelled our other two character meals.

If you haven't ever been to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, it's worth visiting for a meal at least once if only to confirm that you will never ever ever stay there. We arrived at the resort via car only to find out that we had to load onto a bus that would take us deep into the woods where the BBQ was taking place. As we drove, the accomodations became more and more frightening: first, there were "cabins" (i.e. actual built structures), then we saw trailers and I swear by the time we were pulling into our stop (literally 25 minutes later - be sure to build that extra travel time into your schedule), there were just folks pitching tents. A little too woodsy for my blood!

Now because this was a show and a meal, it costs two table service credits. In real money that's equal to anywhere from $36 to $59.99/person. Zoinks! However, as Husband pointed out NUMEROUS times, unlimited beer and wine was included in that price. And the show. And a buffet. And, most importantly, a chance to determine if an almost two year old was terrified by Mickey Mouse.

Now the show itself is cute. It's a little rodeo with a band and two hosts. There is a cowboy who does rope tricks (with an audience participant). And the characters come out to do a little performance before joining the crowd to dance. Baby O was not really into being on the ground yet with the characters (who could blame him, it was very crowded), but he seemed to have fun as I carried him and bounced him around. At one point we spotted Minnie dancing in the corner with a smaller crowd and he was willing to dance near her. Finally, we saw Mickey and Minnie doing a photo opp right behind our table so we lined up. I held him, he smiled and said, "Hi," , we got a photo and he didn't scream or cry hysterically. All told, I'd call it a win.

Mickey bars were a hit.
The food here is barbeque food. I've seen reviews complaining that it was too "backyard" but it's not like Disney is hiding the ball here: it's called Mickey's Backyard Barbeque. There were ribs, chicken, burgers, and sides like macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and cornbread. Dessert was a Mickey bar. Don't show up expecting it to be a five star dining experience and you won't be disappointed. Was it the greatest food I've ever had in my life? No. Was it the greatest food I had during our Disney trip? Not even close. Was it the perfect way to start our vacation and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Absolutely!

Crystal Palace Lunch/Dinner with Winnie the Pooh and Friends

I call this a lunch/dinner because we had reservations at 2:45 and were seated around 3pm. This was also intentional on our part: there's a 3pm parade that runs past the Crystal Palace every afternoon. We lucked out and got a window table with a decent view, but unfortunately it started drizzling so everyone came up onto the covered patio portion of the Crystal Palace and blocked our view. No worries though - we got an amazing view of the parade on our last day (read about that here). It was also lunch/dinner literally: we went through the buffet the first time and then our waitress told us that they had switched over to the dinner options if we wanted to go through again (we did!)

Piglet took time to come see Pops.
This was our first character meal of the trip and not surprisingly, Disney runs these things like clockwork. I couldn't figure out how the Cast Members could keep straight which character had visited which table, but lo and behold somehow despite our ten person group taking numerous trips to the buffet and the restroom, the characters taking breaks, and new people arriving to be seated, not only did all the characters come to our table, but they brought them over in order of a child's likely interest (i.e. Eeyore first, Piglet, Tigger then Pooh). The characters were delightful. Seriously. They interacted not only with Baby O but with other people in our group too and, of course, were completely in character the whole time: Piglet was sweet and wanted to acknowledge everyone, Tigger was full of energy, and Pooh was very kind and gentle to Baby O, who was thrilled with the whole experience!

Food-wise, buffets really are a great value on the Dining Plan. This was also retails between $36-$59.99 and while the food was good, I would have had a heart attack if I'd gone to a restaurant and gotten that bill (especially since there were ten of us at that point!) Baby O ate free which meant that my first trip to the buffet was to fill a plate with anything that looked appealing and possibly not unhealthy. Then my second trip was for my own plate. Because he's an almost toddler, Baby O was much more interested in my plate than his (even though it contained some of the same things!) The Crystal Palace also does a character buffet breakfast, which is also very popular.

Overall, this was a good meal. We got to meet Pooh and Friends, which Baby O loved and it was a nice midday meal. We split some quick service meals that evening for dinner and were all satisfied. The location is prime: right off Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. This one is popular so be sure to make your reservations ahead of time: there's no walking in off the street for this restaurant!

Chef Mickey's at Contemporary Resort

We ate here on our gloriously perfect last day at the Magic Kingdom. That being said, I don't know if we were biased at all, but everyone agreed that this was an amazing character meal. There is both a breakfast and a dinner option. We chose breakfast and got 10:30am reservations. That actually worked out perfect because we arrived at the Magic Kingdom just as it opened (accidentally catching the morning show outside the park!), rode a few rides at Tomorrowland, met Buzz Lightyear and then hopped on the Monorail for the 5 minute ride to the Contemporary Resort.

As we waited for our table, the Cast Members lined us up for a photo opp with a Mickey statue. Later they come around to your table and give you the option to buy the photo. It's about $30 for a 8x10 and two 4x6. Overpriced? Yeah, probably, but it was our last day and it was a rare full group shot so we splurged. We got a big table against the back corner of the restaurant. Our waitress came right over, took our drink orders and sent us away to the buffet.

Oh my goodness, this buffet. My dad (Pops) is a huge breakfast fan and he definitely looked like he was in heaven. The options were endless: savory (breakfast pizzas, sausages, omelets), sweet (pancakes, Mickey waffles, about 300 types of Danishes), and healthy (fruit platters, granola, yogurt). I filled about four plates and still hadn't gotten one of everything! Baby O was a fan of the Mickey waffles and Danishes, but we managed to get a banana in him as well. I was just tasting everything and it was all delicious!

Baby O joined in the napkin twirling fun.
After we had our plates filled, the fun started. The vibe in this restaurant is straight-up Mickey nostalgia. As a child I had this little record player and a Disney 45 record that I played nonstop. Those were the songs playing at this restaurant!  Songs like Digital Duck and Mickey, She's Got a Crush on You. I was like a kid again, squealing each time I recognized a song from my past! The whole restaurant would start twirling their napkins in the air to the music and then the characters would appear! No messing around here, Chef Mickey's brings out the big guns: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto all dressed in chef garb. Once again the characters seamlessly made their way from table to table, spending just enough time with everyone.

We've been "Goofy bombed!"
We did have a funny incident where Donald and Goofy arrived at our table at the same time from
different directions! The Cast Members quickly stepped in to swoop Goofy away but not before he "Goofy bombed" our photo with Donald! We all got a big laugh out of that! It even inspired a page in my Disney scrapbook with all types of different "Goofy" shots of us during the trip! An event bigger treat? The characters came around twice! So we were able to retake some pictures that hadn't quite come out the first time.

We momentarily panicked when we realized that Mickey had been detoured right as we were getting ready to leave so we mentioned to our waitress that he hadn't been back a second time. A few minutes later, Mickey's "handler" came over and told us that when we were ready to leave, she'd meet us in a little alcove by the kitchen. I was so thrilled because I really wanted to try to get a Baby O picture with Mickey by himself and ultimately I did! I thought it was so wonderful of them to accommodate us when there were like 200 other families that obviously wanted Mickey time too!

Once we got our Mickey picture, we hopped back on the Monorail to the Magic Kingdom. As far as character meals go, this one ranks up there in popularity with Cinderella's Royal Table. The execution is flawless and the food is delicious. We used one table credit for the meal which generally runs between $30-$59.99. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who has kiddos who want to meet the big five Disney characters. It was definitely a highlight of our trip.

Non-Character Dining:

Okay, before I dive into the other three restaurants we ate at, I want to say upfront that I had a hard time figuring out what to label this section. It's not "regular" dining because some of these restaurants are anything but so I settled on non-character dining which simply means that the characters do not come around to your table or interact freely with guests.

Coral Reef Restaurant at Epcot:

One memory my family had of our last trip to Disney (circa 1991) was eating at this restaurant and being stunned, literally stunned, when we were seated next to the giant fish tank wall. Since Baby O is a huge fish fan and we were in a Finding Nemo room, we figured this would be a nice place at Epcot to eat. Despite having "Advance Reservations", we waited a long time before we were seated.

Disney Dining Tip: Advance Reservations aren't exactly reservations so plan accordingly. Even if you've been told by Disney to arrive at a certain time, all that really means is that when you show up, you'll be seating before people who walk in off the street are. It doesn't mean that they are holding a table for you. We waited particularly long at Coral Reef because we were a big group (10, at that point) who asked to be front and center of the aquarium. Luckily we had snacks for Baby O and kept him occupied while we waited.

Once we were seated, we ordered our food. The food here is fine, probably on par with a Red Lobster, but if you are looking for amazing seafood creations, this is not the place to get it. We all enjoyed our dinners and it was neat to watch Baby O's reaction when the team of sea divers popped up in the aquarium, but had I been out looking for a "nice" dinner, I might have been disappointed. I think we all agreed that of the restaurants we ate at, we could have skipped this one and not minded.

The first of many "happys"!
Baby O, however, had a blast. It was at Coral Reef that we realized that he had started calling cupcakes "happy" presumably because you sing "Happy Birthday" and then get a cupcake! So we thought it was all kinds of adorable for the rest of the trip to reward him with a "happy" every time he asked! We also thought it wasn't fair that girls get all the fun of dressing up at Disney so we (okay, fine) I dressed him in his Nemo Halloween costume, which EVERYONE thought was adorable!




'Ohana Restaurant at the Polynesian Resort

Any disappointment we might have experienced with the food at Coral Reef was immediately rectified the following evening at 'Ohana. This was our last meal as a big group (Mimi and Poppi left the next day) and it was just perfect. A note: the Polynesian Resort is on the Monorail line and as a result isn't exactly driver-friendly. Husband and I would literally drive right up to the Magic Kingdom parking lot and then you had to take a quick turn or you missed the resort. Once we finally got on site, someone we ended up in a bus only lane! If you have park tickets, I'd just take the Monorail and leave the car at your own resort!

'Ohana does character meals but we just made reservations for the family-style dinner. Family-style dining is amazing: it's like a buffet that comes to you! They'd bring an entire platter of the most amazing little wontons I've ever had in my life, I'd eat them all, and they'd bring another platter! Glorious! There were delicious wings as well - both were appetizers and I seriously could have made a meal of those two choices! The main course is a thousands types of meat brought to the table: fish, beef, chicken, shrimp in unlimited amounts! As we entered the restaurant, several people stopped us to say, "Leave room for the bread pudding."

Oh my goodness, the bread pudding! Now I'm a chocolate dessert girl myself: if there's no chocolate, my interest lessens significantly. But this bread pudding was just ridiculous. They served us an enormous platter of it and I wanted more! So good!

I swear he's taunting me! "Look, Mommy - it's 8pm and I
have a cookie!"
Our waiter was also amazing. With big groups Disney automatically adds in a gratuity which you pay in cash, but we were so impressed with our waiter at this restaurant, we added in a bit extra for him. Baby O was particularly a fan. Why was that? Because at one point during the meal, he was refusing to eat the chicken (or whatever) that we had put on his plate and said, "Cookie!" Apparently the waiter heard him and brought him out a cookie. On the house! Then when the bread pudding came out, he presented Sir O with a dish of ice cream in case his delicate palate wasn't interested in the bread pudding. If it hadn't been almost 9pm at this point, I might have been more pleased. "Yes, thank you for loading my child up with sugar two hours after his bedtime!" Luckily Baby O slept well that night!

If you've seen Lilo and Stitch, you know that 'Ohana means family and that's obviously the theme of this restaurant. Between the family-style dining and the dinner entertainment, the emphasis on family was pretty clear. The entertainer is a ukulele wielding singer who first invited children onto the dance floor to dance the hula. Then he asked if anyone was celebrating anniversaries. As it so happens, Lolli and Pops were celebrating their 37th Anniversary so they went up and got leis. Then the singer sang a special song for them. Really sweet!

The group consensus is that this was our favorite food experience while at Disney. It just narrowly missed being our overall favorite dining experience, however. That honor goes to...

Be Our Guest:

What can I say? This restaurant is gorgeous! It's brand new, situated in New Fantasyland and they just capture every little detail about Beauty & the Beast so perfectly. Even from outside, the castle looks like it's far out in the midst (when in fact the entrance is right there) - how did Disney do that? This was actually the most difficult reservation for us to get. We wanted an early dinner (which to us meant 6ish), but the only thing available (and remember we called 180 days out) was 4:15! It turns out Baby O was having a rough after-nap transition and we were late to our reservations. Lolli masterfully told the Cast Member we were changing his diaper and somehow managed to carry on that charade for 20 minutes while we raced from the parking lot!

Once we finally arrived, they were ready but only if we wanted to sit in the West Wing.

The answer to that question is always, "Yes!"

So they led us in. Security here at dinner time is seriously tight: they won't even let you in the restaurant during dinner unless you have a reservation. There is a lunch option available which is counter service dining, but supposedly it's still very crowded and frankly turning this gorgeous restaurant into a "cafeteria" ruins the ambiance a bit in my mind.

There are three distinct dining areas at Be Our Guest: the Ballroom, the Rose Gallery, and the aforementioned West Wing. The Ballroom is the main dining area in the center of the restaurant. It's the largest (and claims online to be two-stories, but I didn't notice that). This room has the least amount of "character": it's a large room and diners are packed in very close to each other. Additionally, every single diner is going to walk past your table as they head to theirs. We had originally asked for Ballroom seating on the advice of one of our guidebooks, but in the end we were thrilled that there were no seats available.

The Rose Gallery is the "overflow" room. There is an enormous music box featuring Belle and the Beast in the center of the room. It's very pretty but if you end up in this room, you might be dining alone (or with very few other guests). It was nearly empty when we poked our heads in to take photographs.

The West Wing, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. If you've seen the movie, you know the West Wing is where Beast keeps the Enchanted Rose, which is featured prominently in the room. The reason we originally did not want to eat in this room is because it is very dark and every 10 minutes or so, there are flashes of thunder and lightening. We weren't sure Baby O could handle it, but since we were already late for our reservation, we figured we'd take whatever table they offered us. After the first lightening strike ended, Baby O freaked out and we weren't sure why because the noise was over. Then the second strike ended and he did it again. He started whining something, "Beeeeees!!!" No idea. So I picked him up and carried him around. He kept saying it and I noticed it seemed to be when I passed by a portrait hanging in the room. The portrait is straight out of the movie and magnificent: it starts off as a portrait of Prince Adam (the Beast's apparent name) and then for a few seconds after each lightening/thunder episode flashes to a portrait of the Beast, which is what Baby O was saying: "Beeeeees!" He wanted to sit so he could see the portrait for the entire meal! We moved him to the other side of the table and funk be gone! He was a happy baby once more!

I'd read online that they were testing having the Beast join diners during their meal. I asked our waitress if the Beast was in and she responded that he wasn't feeling well so she wasn't sure. Well apparently that was just a ruse because after we placed our order, the Beast entered the West Wing! They announced him with fanfare and invited guests to meet him in his Library after they ate. Baby O was seriously about to lose his mind from excitement! I misheard the announcement and thought we could go while we waited so I gathered up Baby O and headed over to the Library. As it turns out, they want you to meet Beast right before you leave the restaurant so even though there was no one in line, they wouldn't even let us stand there and watch him. Luckily we spotted the music box in the Rose Gallery at that point, which satisfied Baby O's Beast craving for a while!

While the castle itself is the true star of this particular restaurant, the food is nothing to snuff at either! Several of us got a seafood pot pie which was just the right size to leave room for our dessert and not feel too full. The dessert comes over on a tray and was very tasty. If you are celebrating an event, ask for the "grey stuff" and they'll bring some on the house. Or you can select a brownie topped with "grey stuff" for dessert. Lolli got some for a celebration and then ordered the brownie too: she said the "grey stuff" was delicious! I'm told the dishes agree but I didn't ask them! :) Entrees run approximately $15 to $29.99 for adults and a meal costs 1 table credit on the Dining Plan.

On the way out, it was finally time to meet Beast. He doesn't do autographs because his paws are too big but they had a Disney Photo Pass photographer set-up and he was happy to take photos with a personal camera also. There was a short line once we arrived at the Library but they both moved people through quickly but allowed ample time with the Beast. It was finally Baby O's turn and he just about lunged out of my sister's arms into the Beast's!

Okay, all I can tell you is that the Beast is huge! It's one thing for kiddos to meet Mickey or Ariel, but Beast is a whole different ballgame. My dad is 6'4" and you can see in the picture how much taller Beast is: easily 7 feet. There's an option to just leave the restaurant and not meet Beast so you can peek in the Library and see how your child reacts. Or gauge them when the Beast is announced and enters your dining hall.

You really might be surprised though: never in a million years would I think that Baby O would love Beast as much as he does. We found him a special Beast plush (only available in the gift shop near Gaston's Tavern in New Fantasyland) which he carries everywhere and for Christmas he received the Beauty and the Beast DVD. We've watched "Belle Beast" at least 450 times since then!

So clearly Baby O's reaction to Beast gives us an additional sentimental component to why we so enjoyed this restaurant. It's tough to get reservations but well worth it in the end. I definitely recommend you try to check this one out!

Conclusions:

Overall, we ate a lot of really delicious meals at some really gorgeous restaurants at Disney World. I was happy with all of our choices, particularly since none of the restaurants are considered "fine" Disney Dining. They worked out just fine for us! Ha! Since the odds are not in our favor that we're going back any time soon, I'd probably want to try some different restaurants if we were to go back, but I'd also really want to visit 'Ohana and Be Our Guest a second time. They both really are that outstanding! I'm not really a big breakfast person, but even so Chef Mickey's would be tempting as well!

Baby O found appealing options at all the restaurants, but the buffets were a big hit due to both the variety and the fact that he could eat off our plates. I didn't find that any of the kid's meals at the sit-down restaurants were outrageously expensive but note that you will be changed a gratuity that is not covered by the Dining Plan if you have a large party.

I hope my wrap-up helps! Enjoy!



Saturday, March 29, 2014

Magic Kingdom with a (Almost) Toddler

Okay we made it! I did all the other Disney parks first because I knew that the Magic Kingdom post was going to be a beast. The Magic Kingdom is the reason why most parents bring their kids to Disney World and it's the park that families spend the most time at once they actually arrive. We were no different: all told we probably spent about 2.5 days at Magic Kingdom.

Before I completely overwhelm you with every single ride/attraction in the Magic Kingdom, here are a few tips that will hopefully help you relax a bit!
  • Don't panic! Seriously! You are more than likely going to spend at least two days at the Magic Kingdom so if you don't see or ride everything the first time, you have at least another day. The night before the last day of our trip we sat down with the map and circled everything we hadn't done (and wanted to) and everything we wanted to do again. Guess what? We did all those things and more and never once felt rushed!

  • There are several apps for your phone that can help you plan your day. One is the Wait Time app which allows you to search by your current location or just in general for rides with short wait times. Plenty of times, Husband would say, "Let's go over to Aladdin - it's down to 5 minutes!" and when we got there, he was right! Very handy indeed!

  • There are a ton of character meet and greet opportunities at the Magic Kingdom. Personally, we skipped them. The lines were always long and while you could use a Fast Pass, do you really want to waste one to meet one character? If meeting characters interests you, I highly recommend doing a character meal. We did three and it was the perfect level of interaction for Baby O: he liked seeing the characters (and honking their noses! Ha!), but wasn't terribly into getting too close. Other older kids at the meals, however, got to interact with characters, take pictures, and have lots of fun too. Characters come around to every table, aren't rushed, and sometimes even make the rounds a second time. I'd definitely recommend that option (and will talk more about the character meals we did do in a future post). If you do decide to wait on line at the parks, check out the My Disney Experience app which has schedules and locations for all characters.

Meeting Jafar during the parade.
  • Fast Pass Tip: Get a Fast Pass Plus for a parade. We got them for the Celebrate a Dream afternoon parade (3pm) and it was amazing. People line up on the streets hours before parades begin in order to get good seats. We, on the other hand, rode Pirates of the Caribbean one last time, walked up to the Fast Pass line right in front of Cinderella's Castle at 2:50pm, and got front-curb seats with plenty of space for us all to spread out and sit down. Baby O loved being so close and many characters came over to interact with us.


Okay so now let's get down to the real business! The easiest thing to do is divide everything up by land and then discuss both the rides and dining options together (since the land you find yourself in is going to directly and significantly impact where you end up eating) - although I think many adults will be surprised to find that the Magic Kingdom is not as big as it seems when you are a child.

Adventureland

When you first enter the Magic Kingdom, Adventureland is on your left. My family has always gone to Adventureland first, but there are sites online that suggest most people go to Tomorrowland first. I don't know where they get their data, but if you want to take advantage of a tiny possibility that you'll run into less crowds, do what we always do and turn left.

Attractions:

Jungle Cruise: This is a ride for the whole family. You hop on a boat that takes you on a cruise past animatronic animals. When we went in November, they had renamed it the "Jingle" Cruise. The guide is going to tell the corniest jokes you've ever heard, but some are so bad that they are funny. We had a Fast Pass for this one though I'm not sure it was completely necessary: the boats do come to a complete stop though for loading/unloading which slows down the line tremendously (the best rides for short lines are the continuous movement rides).


Riding The Magic Carpets of Aladdin for the third(?) time
with Daddy, Mimi and Poppi.
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin: Dumbo but on Magic Carpets instead of Elephants. There's a reason why there are at least four different versions of the same ride at the Disney parks in Florida: kids love it. Baby O was no exception. We went on this one a few times and he was a big fan. Watch out for the camel in front of the ride: he moves his head in different directions and spits water!

Pirates of the Caribbean: We debated taking Baby O on this one. Ultimately we went on with him first (I mean he was supervised. We didn't just all get on the ride and leave him sitting in stroller parking) and then decided that he could probably handle it. There is one super tiny drop where Husband and I held onto Baby O for dear life and luckily no one went overboard. Ultimately Baby O was completely oblivious to the pirates singing and the cannons booming: he spent the entire ride pointing out all the animatronic animals he saw (and there are surprisingly a ton of them!) The boats stop for loading/unloading but we never found the line to be that long (less than 10 minutes each time).

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room: This is more of a show than a ride. You sit in a round theater and the animatronic birds drop down from the ceiling and sing. The first song is the familiar "In the tiki tiki tiki tiki tiki room" and then they get into the real deep cuts. The adults were all checking their watches, ready to escape but Baby O sat quietly so he must have enjoyed it. Despite the show format there is rarely a line for this beyond waiting for the next show to end: hop on line when the sign outside says "Next Show in 5 Minutes [or less]"

Other attractions in Adventureland that we skipped were: Swiss Family Treehouse, Tinker Bell's Magical Nook (a spot to meet Tinker Bell and get autographs), and Pirates Adventure ((for older kids - a treasurehunt through the park).

Food:

Run, do not walk, to Aloha Isle and get a Dole Whip Swirl. It's like a pineapple flavored creamsicle and it is just divine! I messed up the first time and didn't get the swirl so I basically had pineapple soft serve. While that was tasty, it was nothing compared to the second time we went. My Brother-in-Law, who is a pineapple connoisseur, ordered a pineapple wedge and said it was the best pineapple he'd ever eaten. This treat is not to be missed!

Frontierland

If you continue walking counterclockwise around the park from Adventureland, you end up in Frontierland. Honestly, these two lands blended together both in my mind and in practure. I kept confusing which attractions were in which land because the themes are so similar (I mean if you are on a frontier, aren't you also on an adventure?) Maybe that's just me.

Attractions:

Getting ready for the first show.
Country Bear Jamboree: This is the only ride in Frontierland that Baby O went on, but he liked it so much we did it twice. This was actually the last ride he rode before it was time to leave the park for bedtime. The set-up is a big theater and the animatronic bears appear behind curtains (or suspended from the ceilings) to sing a variety of country and blue grass themed songs. There are also enormous moose heads on the wall that sing and join in the fun. Baby O particularly liked the moose head and screamed, "MOOSE," as we were walking in. This ride isn't as tedious as the Tiki Room is but the kiddos are definitely going to enjoy it more than the adults do!

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: The adults in our group rode this one a few times. The height requirement is only 40 inches so even at under 2 years old, Baby O was only a few inches off. It's a pretty tame ride with no huge drops and no loops, but it's fun nonetheless. Even if we go back soon and Baby O is tall enough we'll probably hold off on this ride though: my family still tells the story of my tiny 8 year old sister riding with my uncle and nearly falling out when the ride dipped down and she stayed up! My uncle had to grab her shirt to pull her back into the car! Zoinks! This is another ride that will probably need Fast Passes, but if your whole crew isn't riding you can split your Fast Passes and the group can meet back up later (i.e. half get a Fast Pass for this and half do a different "kiddie" ride).

Splash Mountain: I missed out on this one but Lolli, Aunt Suzanne, Uncle Brad, and Husband rode it. The line on this one can get long (especially on a hot/nice day) so get a Fast Pass!

Walt Disney World Railroad: This was the first thing we rode on when we arrived at the Magic Kingdom on the first morning. We got straight onto the railroad and went to the heart of the park. There are stops on Main Street, Frontierland, and Fantasyland. Note that the benches on the railroad are tight. Poor Husband was stuck in a row all to himself with our enormous BOB jogging stroller (which has to be folded on the train). The full loop lasts about 20 minutes and trains arrive at each station anywhere from every 4 to 10 minutes (I think we waited closer to 10 minutes).

Also try to arrive right as the Magic Kingdom opens in the morning to watch a really fun show that features all the characters arriving on the first train of the morning! We caught the show on our last morning (completely by accident - we didn't even realize they did it!) and it was such a sweet way to begin our last day at Disney!

Cast Member and his "magic broom" that stood up on its
own. Baby O was mesmerized!

Other attractions in Frontierland are: Frontierland Shootin' Arcade (for older kids) and Tom Sawyer Island. We also waited on line forever to meet Jessie and Woody from Toy Story in the Splash Mountain exit area. They were supposed to arrive at 2:45 but we waited until after 3pm and they never came out. We stuck around because part of our crew was on Splash Mountain but as soon as they finished the ride, we left. Luckily Baby O was entertained by the absolute sweetest Cast Member who showed off his "magic broom" and made Baby O a gorgeous birthday button with his name on it (he told us to wear it in the park for freebies, but we felt bad. We put it away until Baby O's actual birthday a few months later!)
Food:

I had noted two counter service restaurants in Frontierland but we didn't end up eating at either.
Pecos Bill Café serves taco salad as well as burgers. There is a "toppings bar" so patrons can put whatever extras on their food that they like. Supposedly the onion rings are good. If there is no seating on the Frontierland side, go back to the Adventureland side of the restaurant which is usually empty. Our other option was a seasonal stand which turned out to be closed while we were there: Golden Oak Outpost. This spot serves chicken sandwiches and nuggets. There is only outdoor seating available but if you want to eat inside, feel free to take your food into the nearby Pecos Bill or Tortuga Tavern.

Fantasyland: perhaps not surprisingly, we spent the bulk of our time at the Magic Kingdom with Baby O in Fantasyland

Attractions:

Under the Sea: The Journey of the Little Mermaid: This was actually our first "ride" of our Disney trip (if you don't count the railroad). We had booked Fast Pass Plus appointments for later in the day but when we walked by, the line was very short so we went in. You ride in clamshells and go through a retelling of the movie. Oliver enjoyed it but if your kid is scared of Ursula or the eels, be warned that they are featured in this ride. I'd probably reserve a Fast Pass Plus and then change it if you catch this one during a slow period.

The Barnstormer: This is Goofy's rollercoaster and it's perfect for a first time roller coaster ride (or for a 32 year old lady who still gets a little nervous before her first roller coaster of the vacation!) The height requirement is only 35 inches (so Baby O actually could have joined us on this one!) We rode this one evening after he had gone back to the hotel for bed: note that for two adults in a car, it might be a tight squeeze! Husband and Brother-in-Law barely fit into their car (they wanted to be in the front car so we made them ride together!)

Casey Jr., Splash 'N' Soak Station: Basically a circus themed splash pad area. Move quickly if you don't want to have to change your child's clothes. Dumbo is just up a slight hill so distract them by heading there!

Dumbo the Flying Elephant: This is one of the rides about which you've likely heard waiting on line horror stories: it's insanely popular, only about 40 people can ride at a time (assuming 20 elephants with 2 passengers each), and there is significant loading/unloading time between rides. Ah but this is the case no more: Disney has listened to the prayers of parents and built a second Dumbo ride! The two rides are right next to each other but the same line feeds into both. You walk through a short section of line and then a Cast Member directs you to the side which is loading first. Not only did we never need to get a Fast Pass for Dumbo but one time Baby O got off and wanted to ride again. We got back on line and hopped on the opposite side without ever having to stop moving! Glorious! Baby O was a huge Dumbo fan and we rode this one a ton. During busier times you might still need a Fast Pass, but even then with the two sides going, I can't imagine the wait would ever be horrible!

My little thumb-sucker rides (the first time) with Poppi.
It's a Small World: Ugh, my grandma loves this one but sorry as if the singing and borderline racism isn't enough, we had an awful time with the line situation on this ride. I don't think it ever gets too crowded despite the boats coming to a complete stop for loading and unloading. Our first time through, we got on very quickly. The second time, they must have had a new Cast Member on the loading dock because boats were backing up at the end of the ride INTO the ride. We were in the wheelchair entrance at that point because my grandma had rented a wheelchair for the day. The Cast Member was apparently under the impression that wheelchair folks could only ride in what I can seriously only describe as a "throne" boat. There was this enormous seat in the middle of the boat and then like two other seats. So she'd load a wheelchair person on, send them through the ride and then 8 minutes later the "throne" would return and she'd let the next group on. This would be fine and dandy if we were on line for, say, Big Thunder Mountain, but this was It's a Small World: it's AARP central! Finally, after the throne went by for the sixth time, I got a little upset. People were literally walking in off the street, riding, going back around to the line and riding again while we were still standing there. When we finally did get in a boat (I told the Cast Member that we didn't need the "throne"), the back-up in the ride was two rooms deep! We literally sat in the ride's grand finale Small World multicultural room for ten minutes.

Now all that being said, Baby O liked this ride a lot. He actually didn't even mind waiting on line for nearly thirty minutes (!!!!) because there was a giant coo coo clock that chimed several times while we waited. He now has coo coo clock radar and can spot one from thirty paces!

Mad Tea Party: When we first decided to go to Disney, Pops (my dad), who hates most rides in general, shocked us all by volunteering to go on the Mad Tea Party with Baby O! He figured no one would want to go on it (and leading up to our trip, he was right!). Once we got to Disney, we all got a bit brave and in the end Pops got to sit this one out. If you just sit in the cup, the spinning isn't so bad. Our first time on, Husband, Baby O, and I sat with Poppi who spun our cup furiously for the entire ride! Thankfully Baby O turns out to be a bit of a daredevil so he didn't mind all the spinning. The second time we rode was with my grandma so there was a lot less spinning and it was much more enjoyable (for me at least!) The line can get long for this one because only 40 or so can ride at a time. We never ran into terribly long lines though and at most only had to wait 10 minutes (the ride itself is pretty short).
Loaded into their honey pot.
 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: This is the ride for which Fast Pass was created. Every child under the age of 8 wants to ride the Winnie the Pooh ride so the line is ridiculously long. The line is also a bit deceiving and when you get at the end, you don't realize all the looping and winding that is about to take place. You can actually see the honey pot cars from the street, but it's going to take you up to two hours to actually get close to them. The current Fast Pass station is next to Mickey's PhilharMagic. We managed to get on twice and predictably Baby O loved it. I would have not been happy if we had waited on line for an hour though because the ride itself is very short and nothing all that exciting happens (basically a retelling of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh movie from the 1970s). The ride does exit into the gift shop so be prepared with distractions if you don't want to shop. 

Peter Pan's Flight: This is the other must have Fast Pass ride. The issue here ist he same as the ride above: you can see the cars loading from the street so the line doesn't seem so long and the cars stop completely for unloading. This one we rode once. It's neat in that at one point the car lifts off the track into the air and you "fly" through the rest of the ride. Again, the ride itself is pretty short and likely not worth the potential meltdowns that waiting on line for up to two hours might create: just do a Fast Pass.  

Mickey's PhilharMagic: This is a 3D show that actually stars Donald, not Mickey. Obviously for 3D, glasses are required which Baby O wasn't thrilled about, but he did like the music. With the room key Fast Passes, often the machine spits out a "bonus" Fast Pass for a slightly less popular ride. We got Fast Passes for this while we were waiting for our Peter Pan's Flight appointment. It allowed us to get into the very next show, but we likely would have anyway since the line wasn't long at all.
How can you say, "no," to this sweet face?

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel: We have a carrousel at our local mall. It is literally five miles down the road from our house and we take Baby O a few times a month to "ride the horseys". So it shouldn't have surprised me that of all the amazing things at Disney, this was his favorite ride. The carrousel is stationed right in the middle of Fantasyland and every time we walked past it, we had to ride. It plays Disney music and it really is lovely. You shouldn't need a Fast Pass as there are a ton of horses to choose from and since it's right in the middle of the action, you can keep checking the line until it looks relatively short.

Fantasyland is also home to several spots for character meet and greets: Cinderella's Castle, Ariel's Grotto, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Merida at Fairytale Garden, Pete's Silly Sideshow, and the Thoughtful Spot with Pooh. We only waited on line to see characters who had short lines so we skipped all the princesses. A few tips though: we met the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland right outside the Mad Tea Party and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast stands between his tavern and the Beauty and the Beast specialty gift shop in New Fantasyland. He was one of my favorites to meet because he was in character the whole time and his character is so ridiculous (he said, "I'm sure you are very pleased to meet me!" Ha!)
Baby O kept yelling "Beast!" Gaston was not amused!
Tomorrowland: we did Tomorrowland with Baby O in just over an hour. No joke.

Attractions:

Barely squeezing into the Astro Orbiter!
Astro Orbiter: This is Tomorrowland's answer to Dumbo, except you ride in rockets, not elephants. Be warned though: you ride behind rather than beside your fellow passenger and the rockets are tight. Husband had no hope of getting in behind me and Baby O and Brother-in-Law managed to squeeze himself in behind Aunt Suzanne, but then worried that he had permanently lost feeling in his legs! This is definitely a ride to go on with a small child or alone! It also does get a little speedy at the end right before you land so beware of any residual Mission: Space Orange PTSD!

Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin: This is very reminiscent of Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios (i.e. carnival style interactive game); however, it does not appear to have generated anywhere near the same amount of hype so it's a good substitute. We rode without Baby O one evening and the ride stopped momentarily (not sure why, but it must have been electrical since it cleared all our scores! Arg!) It's still fun though.

Space Mountain: You might want to get a Fast Pass for this one as the line can be long; however, if the wait time is 20 minutes or less, honestly that's just a description of how long it is going to take you to walk to the ride entrance. This is one loopy line! I panicked momentarily during this ride that I might get decapitated: in my defense, you ride in total darkness and I'm a lot taller than people were back in the 1970s! Luckily I completed the ride head intact, but wasn't confident enough to ride a second time! The height minimum is 44 inches.

Tomorrowland Speedway: The wait time for this one is always really long so on our final morning, we got Fast Pass Plus appointments and UGH the line was still really long. The problem here is 100% the loading/unloading area. Four cars pull up, unload, load and then drive (slowly) away. So best case scenario 8 people are getting on the ride every 5 minutes. Ridiculous. The Cast Member looked at Baby O and asked if he was driving (supposedly height minimum for driving is 40 inches) so Husband said, "Okay!" I rode by myself and may have broken 6mph at one point. If your kid really wants to go on this one, get an Fast Pass but otherwise I'd avoid it!

Passing Space Mountain on the PeopleMover.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover: This ride, on the other hand, is a glorious continuous movement ride. The cars never stop moving and you just hop onto the closest one. I never saw the line get too long because all this ride really does is take you through the other rides in Tomorrowland. Baby O enjoyed it though (Pops did too!) so
we rode this one a few times!

We skipped Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, Stitch's Great Escape! and Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress. Baby O didn't know who any of those characters were and I've heard the Carousel of Progress hasn't aged well so we decided to just live with our memories from past trips!

Food:

We ate a late lunch one afternoon at Cosmic Ray's. We sat on the main floor where a animatronic alien puts on a floor show that kept Baby O occupied. The food was relatively good: another toppings bar to create whatever type of burger or sandwich appealed to you. One difficult thing is ordering: there are three "bays" of food (chicken, burgers, and soup/sandwiches) so if you are ordering from more than one category, you have to stand on line again. We made it easy and all got burgers so I can't speak to anything else on the menu, but the menu is so big that everyone can find something to enjoy! The portions were big and we ended up going family style with another treat that I brought in from Liberty Square!

Liberty Square:

We made it! The final section of the Magic Kingdom is Liberty Square. It's the smallest section and the only one that hasn't had a major renovation since the park opened in 1971.

Attractions:

Haunted Mansion: Yikes, out of the mere three attractions in Liberty Square, this is the only one we rode and we didn't bring Baby O. We probably could have since he's not really at an age yet where he understands scary things but our trip had been going so well I don't think anyone wanted to push it! I will say that the line portion of this ride has been totally redone and is kind of cool: there are interactive "tombstones" that the line winds around so you can play with at least twice. At night the line gets a bit longer (and the ride gets a bit spookier!), but unless you go during a peak time you probably won't need a Fast Pass due to the glorious thing that is constantly moving cars. It's wonderful: the cars keep moving, you hop onto a moving platform and climb in. There is literally no delay for loading and unloading (unless the ride has to be stopped completely to load/unload someone who is in a wheelchair). Nothing is too scary but the atmosphere is a bit creepy (and some of the old photographs on the wall gave me the willies when I really got a look at them!) Use your best judgment on whether the kiddos should ride or skip this one.

We skipped the Liberty Square Riverboat because we were just never close by when it was loading (and we had taken the ferry the first morning so Baby O had his "Disney boat" experience). Honestly, I don't even remember anyone mentioning the Hall of Presidents. Does that mean we're bad Americans? Eeek! I hope not!

Food:

Columbia Harbour House was listed in a few of our guidebooks as a promising lunch spot for kiddos; however, we ended up at Cosmic Ray's on the day we were in the Magic Kingdom for lunch. There are large portions to split, if needed, and even better a whole extra upstairs level of seating that no one seems to know about! Favorite entrees included: Anchors Away Tuna Sandwich, Lighthouse Veggie Sandwich, Lobster Roll, Fish and Chips and Grilled Salmon.

Sleepy Hollow: Do NOT leave the Magic Kingdom without hitting up this tiny little snack shack. I
had this place circled and starred ten times in my guidebook so I definitely knew we would be eating here at some point. It turns out that I ran across the park while the rest of the group placed their orders at Cosmic Ray's. My menu choice? A Nutella and fruit waffle. OMG is all I can say: a warm crispy, freshly made waffle topped with an unnatural amount of Nutella and then strawberries, blueberries and bananas. It was enormous and it was heaven. We all took bites and then I went all Golem on the rest and gobbled it up. My mom was so inspired that she created her own version at home a few weeks later. I'd try it too, but I've not had good luck with keeping Nutella in my house for more than fifteen minutes.

Okay, folks, we did it! Everything you need to know about the Magic Kingdom with a (almost) toddler. I'll be back hopefully soon with a post about what to pack, where to eat, and also where to explore at Downtown Disney!





Saturday, March 1, 2014

Animal Kingdom with a (Almost) Toddler

Baby O is a huge animal fan so we suspected that we might end up spending a full day at Animal Kingdom. We arrived right as the park opened (Extra Magic Hours again, thank you very much!), toured around, grabbed lunch, Husband and I took Baby O to the hotel for nap while the rest of the group explored, and then we met back up with them later in the afternoon. A note about Animal Kingdom's hours: the park often closes earlier than the other Disney parks because the animals need their rest so be sure to confirm park hours before you show up too late in the afternoon! Even if the park itself is open, some of the animal-themed rides may be shut down for the day so just plan ahead!

Can you spot the lion? Our tour guide did - he is snoozing
on top of the center rock!
The highlight of Animal Kingdom is the Kilimanjaro Safari. This is a ride in a real off-road vehicle that travels though various animal habitats. It is a bumpy ride, so hold onto any children you may bring. In fact, I think they actually asked that small children not sit on the outside of the vehicle! Because Disney tried to build habitats, rather than just a zoo, you might not get to see all the animals, but the tour guides are really great at spotting partially camouflaged animals and pointing them out. Ours was also good at speeding around the corner if she spotted something out in the open!

Not surprisingly, this is a really popular ride and will most likely warrant a Fast Pass unless you want to wait a while. Even with our Fast Passes, we stood around for a few minutes waiting for them to load and unload the vehicles. It's totally worth it though and a must see for visiting Animal Kingdom.

While we waited for our Fast Pass appointment, we checked out Rafiki's Planet Watch, which is in the back of the park. The entrance is right near the entrance to Africa where Kilimanjaro Safari is so we didn't have to venture too far which was nice. The train takes you out to a nature trail area with a path to a conservatory and petting zoo!

Baby O is a big fan of looking at animals but we learned here that he really wasn't a fan of touching them. He wasn't doing a ton of talking during our Disney trip (only 22 months), but he very clearly shrieked "no goats!" when we tried to get him to stand in the same hemisphere as a goat! Luckily a very sweet and helpful Cast Member was on hand to warm him up to the animals a bit and by the end he even managed to gently pet a few!
"Okay, maybe goats"
The petting zoo also had some pigs and larger animals which were kept in pens (only the goats and pigs were wandering around). Inside the conservatory were a few other animal as well as exhibits that would interest older kids. In the summer, it's a nice place to cool off and use the bathroom. The train ride was a big hit, although the Cast Members were a little grumpy about letting us take a picture (they didn't like that we were standing to reposition ourselves. I guess they are concerned about people falling off the train and getting eaten by the animals next door at Kilimanjaro Safari?)

We bypassed Camp Mickey and Minnie and Discovery Island and made our way to Dinoland U.S.A. Baby O immediately spotted the Triceratops Twirl and it peaked his interest. This ride is basically Dumbo but in Triceratops form. Husband and Brother-in-Law rode the Primeval Whirl (height requirement of 48 inches) and both agreed that it was painful. Apparently it was very herky jerky and the seats had no padding.

Dinoland also turned out to be a great place to meet some characters. I had made an autograph book for Baby O and had the idea that we'd take pictures of him watching the characters sign autographs and put the pictures in the book as a souvenir. Baby O kind of didn't care about the autographs but he had fun being near the characters (not too close, and certainly not by himself, but near). Well right outside the Triceratops Twirl exit, we spotted Santa Goofy and Pluto! The line weaves a bit so it can look deceivingly shorter than it actually is, but Husband and I waited while Baby O was entertained by his entourage out of the line. Then when it was close to our turn, they passed him over to us.

After meeting Santa Goofy, it was time to eat. The restaurant that I had circled and double-starred in my guidebook was Flame Tree BBQ, which is at Discovery Island. Obviously the draw here is the barbeque ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. There is additional seating if you follow the jungle paths so you can feel as if you are really eating out in the wild! Seriously every single resource I found said how great this restaurant was.

Sadly, I got outvoted and we went to my number two choice: Restaurant-a-saurus. This is not to say that Restaurant-a-saurus wasn't tasty, but it just wasn't the recommending dining option at Animal Kingdom. The appeal of Restaurant-a-saurus is the toppings bar. You order your burger or chicken sandwich and then go to a huge toppings bar to select any number of toppings: standards like lettuce and tomato to more gourmet choices like sautéed mushrooms. The kids meal came in a cute plastic bucket, which sadly did not make the cut when we were packing at the end of the trip. The inside of the restaurant has a bit of an elaborate backstory going on (something about a group of students who went off exploring), but the jokes were a bit over Baby O's head and it was a nice day outside so we sat at a picnic table outside. There is a big camper attached to the building which is also seating, but people don't realize it so you might be able to snag an indoor seat on a hot, crowded day.

Disney Dining Plan Tip: One thing to note about the Disney Dining Plan: there is no distinction between a child dining credit and an adult dining credit. Our meal plan gave each person one snack, one counter service meal (entrée, dessert, and drink), and one table service meal (at a sit down restaurant) per day. Children under 3 years old do not need a dining plan. So at Restaurant-a-saurus, we used one of our counter service meals to buy Baby O's lunch (rather than shelling out $7). Also, Brother-in-Law wanted a light lunch so he ordered a kids' meal and used one of his own counter service credits. Alternatively, if you have a 5 year old who is a big eater, order an adult meal for them, rather than something off the kids menu. Disney has no way of distinguishing who is ordering or eating which meal: they are all coded the same way.

Another dining option I had written down was Kusafiri Coffee Shop (near the Kilimanjaro Safari). The draw here is that they brew "real" gourmet coffee. On the meal plan, they take a snack credit but the portions are huge. Some of the highlights are: Elephant Ears, White Chocolate Elephant Cupcake, and Paw Print Brownies. The downsides are that there is limited seating and no shade. I included it as an option in case we were on the other side of the park and Baby O needed food immediately!

Our group did most of its Asia exploring while Baby O was napping. The grandparents took in Finding Nemo: The Musical which they thought was great. We met up with them at the Flights of Wonder bird show. If your child likes birds, this is neat to watch as the birds fly and swoop through the audience. The banter between the show "host" and a tour guide that shows up is funny and kept the adults chuckling. The line at Expedition Everest was also short enough for our group to ride a few times. After Mission: Space Orange at Epcot, I was a bit wary of thrill rides, but Brother-in-Law assured me that this one was not too wild. The best way to describe it is as comparable to Big Thunder Railroad at the Magic Kingdom, but at one point you briefly travel backwards and while in the darkness a yeti appears. I admit that I squealed at this point! The height requirement is 44 inches.

This is the day that we had our biggest issue with Disney transportation and it is worth mentioning. Husband said he'd take Baby O back for nap but then wasn't sure he could handle the stroller and all Baby O's accessories on his own. I said I'd go back with him and suggested we take the car. No, Husband thought the bus made more sense so off we went to the bus stop. We managed to just miss a bus pulling away and had to wait nearly twenty minutes for another one. Once we got on the bus, it first pulled into Blizzard Beach! Apparently due to low traffic, the Animal Kingdom bus was not a direct one back to the Art of Animation Resort! What should have been a ten minute trip turned into nearly thirty minutes! Unfortunately at that point we were back at the hotel without the car so when it was time to return, we had to go through the same rigmarole and stop at Blizzard Beach a second time. This was definitely a day I wish we had just taken the car!

We left late in the afternoon to rest up a bit before our dinner reservations that evening. Older kids might find more to do here to warrant a second trip, but our one day spent at Animal Kingdom was just enough for Baby O. We got to see some animals and he got to ride on some rides too. Next time, we're definitely eating at Flame Tree BBQ though!