Monday, May 28, 2012

The Yuletide Hypothesis - Chapter 7: Let the Pixie Dust Fall Where It May

Day 3 Continued...

After breakfast, DH & I had tickets to one of the’s December to Remember events, and my family was heading over to AK before checking into the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal. Since this was my brother’s last day at WDW, we all decided that we’d rather spend more time together instead of splitting up, so we opted to take the boat over to MK. First, they helped us lug our bags to our room.

In planning for the trip, I read that certain rooms have an ever-so-slight possibility of being able to see the MK fireworks from the balcony, and an even slighter chance of having a view of Cinderella Castle - all at the price of a woods view! Normally I like to leave the possibility of a great view up to those that dole out the pixie dust, but this was too good to pass up. I decided to try and take control of our fate and asked our TA to request a room with a king bed, on a high floor, overlooking Otter Pond. I reminded myself not to expect that any of the requests would actually be granted, but seriously, how awesome would that be?!?

What we were given was a room with a king bed, on the first floor, overlooking the DVC pool, which is on the opposite side of the resort. Maybe by requesting Otter Pond, they just thought we wanted a water view? lol

Truthfully, neither one of us really cared all that much about having the king bed, we have a queen at home and it’s perfectly fine. I’m not even sure why I ever request it if the other option is a queen. The floor/location wasn’t a shock since the CM showed us where our room was on the map at check-in, and even though I was prepared to not have our requests granted, I was bummed that the room was on the first floor. When we walked inside, we found that it was a handicap accessible room. Something I didn’t discover in all my research beforehand was that most of the king bed rooms at WL are HA rooms. We had one at Pop on a previous trip and the tub-less shower made for a big mess in the bathroom, which made it difficult when getting ready. I certainly understand why they’re set up that way, and by no means do I mean to come across as insensitive to those that need it. I’m also not crazy about being in one of the HA rooms because I feel like we could be taking it away from someone that needs it. I’m sure Disney is careful about this when assigning rooms, but I couldn’t help but feel guilty.

Since the room had 2 strikes against it, everyone agreed that I should call the front desk and see if they could move us to another room. An hour and a few confused-but-helpful CM’s later, we ended up in a room on the 4th floor with 2 queen beds and the same view of the DVC pool. We were much happier with this room. Next time, I’ll leave the view up to fate.

Looking straight out of our balcony to the DVC Pool.

Are there any otters in that pond?

Out to the right. That cement cover in the grass is right outside the patio of the room we had on the 1st floor.

We could kinda see Bay Lake looking out to the left.

Some shots of our room (if you notice that it’s dark outside, it’s because I took these later that night):

Lots of cute hidden Mickey details in the comforter:

Now that we were happy with our room, we all walked out to the dock and hopped on the boat to the Magic Kingdom. When we passed the Contemporary, I was explaining some of the things we learned about the resort at D23’s Destination D event earlier that year. Like how the rooms were constructed the same as they would be for a cruise ship; all built individually and fully furnished (even down to the colored toiled paper!), then stacked in one-by-one with a crane. There was a CM on board who overheard me and chimed in telling us all sorts of things. Like how the water bridge we were crossing, which goes over a roadway, is 1 of 3 like it on property. I never even noticed we were floating OVER cars until he mentioned it. So neat.

Here’s a photo from Destination D of them lowering the first room into the Contemporary, presented by Disney Legend Dave Smith.

As soon as we passed through the gates, we decided to take a train ride around the park and then exited back at Main St. station. We saw a Photopass photographer and asked him to take our picture. We set our bags at our feet and lined up in front of the tree, to which the CM promptly responded “I’m not going to be able to get the whole tree in the shot”. Well, I kinda figured that considering the tree is about 65 feet tall and we’re standing right in front of it. Poor guy, he was just trying to be nice, but it cracked me up. What really didn’t make sense to me though, was that he made sure to get all of our feet and our bags in the shot. Had he not captured our feet and the road, he couldve fit more of the tree in the shot.

Thank goodness I’ll be able to remember what shoes I wore that day…

Much better

Now with the castle (feet already cut out, for your enjoyment)

My mom had a HORRIBLE blister right in the middle of her foot, so she and I decided to hang out on Main St. for a bit and sent the boys off to hit the rides. While they made a bee-line for Space Mountain, we meandered through the shops. She wanted a pair of the pink sequin Minnie ears, so we hopped into the Chapeau.

I loved the decorations in this shop!

When we came out, we spotted Mary Poppins and she wasn’t hearing her Jolly Holiday dress! While I do love that dress, I was so excited to see her in this outfit. Her line was already closed so I was only able to snap a pic in passing. Apparently, the dude on the right was confused as to why I was taking a picture of random people.

Score! We found the ears.

We stopped in the Main St. Bakery to share a treat. Check out that cupcake in the back!!

We didn’t end up trying one of the mile-high Christmas tree cupcakes, and decided on a banana bread pudding. We weren’t really paying attention to the time, so it was a nice surprise when the 3:00 parade made its way down Main St., especially since we had a nice view from our table inside the bakery. Afterward, we shopped a bit more and stopped by the Confectionary so my mom could use up the rest of their snack credits.

Now THIS is a turkey leg I would actually eat!

At this point, my mom’s poor foot was getting worse, so we decided to head back to WL and wait for the guys who were still running around the park.

Getting off the boat, we spotted this mama duck and her babies. So cute.

We found a couple of rocking chairs in the lobby to relax in.

Our view while we waited:

By the time the guys showed up, they had to hit the road to get checked into HRH, and DH & I needed to take the boat over to Ft. Wilderness for our 7pm dinner ressie at Trails End. We said our goodbyes since we wouldn’t be seeing my brother again on the trip, and we wouldn’t see my parents again until later in the week.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Yuletide Hypothesis - Chapter 6: Heading into the Wilderness

Happy Mother's Day, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful day.

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Day 3:

Today started with an early wake-up call, but after a little hustle-bustle in the morning the rest was set to be a fairly easy-breezy day. We had to get up & get packing cuz we were checking out of Old Key West and into Wilderness Lodge for the next 3 nights!

While we were getting ready, I went out onto the balcony to soak up the scenery for a bit because we really didn’t get to spend much time enjoying the resort during our stay. After a minute or two I noticed this little guy:

Can you see him? I don’t know why, but he cracked me up. He was just chillin’ out there and I never saw any movements so he must’ve been out there the whole time. After a little while he ran down the tree, and it was time to get back my bee-hind back in gear.

This was our first stay at OKW and we really enjoyed the laid-back pace of the resort. The grounds were a lot more impressive in person than what I saw in pictures leading up to our stay there, and the whole place had a very calming feeling to it. Even for all of those great qualities, it seemed to be missing a spark for us. We would definitely stay here again, especially for the great value it can be when renting DVC points (which we did), but it wouldn’t be our first choice. The subtle theming was a nice change of pace, but Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Boardwalk are still at the top of our list.

Once we had everything all packed & ready to go, we loaded up the car and headed for the Wilderness! Let’s see if the Lodge will make its way to the top of our list.

The guard at the gate was super sweet and loved our holiday-mobile. : He gave us our new parking slip and sent us on our merry way.

We parked & headed inside to check-in. We were greeted outside the door by a cheerful CM who escorted us into the lobby and handed us off to another CM working at the desk. We did online check-in from home so we were done in no time. Before they gave us our Keys to the World, the CM disappeared for a minute and came back out with a backpack full of goodies for us. It was a gift from our travel agent!

The service at check-in was absolutely superb – even better than the one time we stayed concierge over at the Poly during our honeymoon. To our surprise, the room was ready (it was only 10:15am!), but instead of hauling our stuff to the room, we decided to relax in the lobby for a bit and search through our bag of goodies. My family was meeting us for breakfast at Whispering Canyon Café and they were due any minute.

Our view as we waited:

This was our first time using a TA, and while it had its ups & downs, in the end, the savings and the freebies were totally worth it. We booked through a TA that was sponsoring both the Reunion & Allears’ December to Remember Events and they were offering an amazing group rate. We paid about $210/night for a woods view; the rack rate is about $335/night so we saved over 35%. Not too shabby! Also with our reservation, we were invited to a free Illuminations dessert party. Something I’ve always wanted to do!

Sadly, I didn’t think to take pics of our welcome bag. It included a medium sized backpack, an aluminum water bottle from Touring Plans, a travel lanyard, some snacks and our credentials for the Illuminations dessert party. It was a really nice and unexpected treat!

Our ADR was for 10:30 and the time was quickly passing by, so I called my mom to see if they were close. They were running late because they were also busy packing up that morning. They were checking out of AKV and moving over to the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal for the next few days. Since our ADR was at the tail end of breakfast, I was worried we’d lose our spot. I explained the situation to the CM at the check-in counter and they agreed to hold a table for us. Yay! My family arrived a few minutes later and we were seated right away.

There were only about 5 other tables in use so we received a LOT of attention from the CM’s as they prepped for lunch. One waiter in particular, who wasn’t even working our table, decided my mom could use a little help with her hair. Check out the results. Ain’t it purdy??

WARNING: Grainy Phone Pics

My DSD ordered a Coke and he was finished with it almost as soon as they brought it out. Apparently he was quite thirsty! lol This is what they brought him for a refill!

He was in sugar heaven!

We ordered the All-You-Care-To-Eat Canyon Skillet for the 5 of us to share. It includes: scrambled eggs, roasted red potatoes, bacon, sausage, waffles, buttermilk biscuits, and sausage gravy. It was deeeeeelish! Everything was hot & fresh. The server was attentive in that he'd ask if we needed anything, but he was super slow to bring it out. That was the only downside.

I ordered a pecan sticky bun on the side to share with DH. I was worried it might be dry, but it was SOOO good!! It wasn’t dry at all and not too sweet. I want another one right this minute, please!

This was our second time trying breakfast here and I have to say that this experience far surpassed our first one. We first tried this breakfast in October of 2009 and most of the food was dry and tasteless, and the service was painfully slow. We only gave it another chance because we were staying at WL and wanted to experience it again. It certainly redeemed itself! The food was MUCH better this time around and the service was much better. Not great, but much better.

After breakfast, DH and I had tickets to one of the Allears’ events and my family was heading to AK for a few hours.

Next Up: Plans shmans... 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Our "Staycation" around Orange County, L.A. and San Diego!

Hi everyone! I'm sorry for my lack in updates over this past month. April turned out to be quite the busy month, ending with a week-long visit from my mom & step-dad. They came into town from CO and we were livin' it up! We spent a few days at DLR, did a tour of the Walt Disney Studios (followed by a fab lunch at the Tam o'Shanter), went to Knott's Berry Farm and ventured down south to San Diego to see the Titanic artifact exhibit at the Nat. Not quite in that order. Here are some highlights & photos from our adventure filled week!

Our vacation started last Friday when DH & I attended D23's Fanniversary event at the Studios lot. In celebration of D23's 3rd anniversary, they gave a 2 hour presentation highlighting various Disney movies, music, theme parks and attractions that are all celebrating a milestone anniversary this year. No photos were allowed during the presentation, but I grabbed a couple with my phone on our way into the theater:

The next morning, all 4 of us were scheduled to take a tour of the Walt Disney Studios. This was another D23 event and the timing just happened to work out perfectly with their trip, which was awesome! DH & I did the tour last year and loved it, so we were happy to tag along with them for a second go-round.

Where (most of) the magic happened….

A peek inside the props building

Disney Legend Dave Smith giving us a tour of the Walt Disney Archives

Hey! What is my uniform doing on the wall?!?

This is the actual snowglobe used in the Feed the Birds sequence of Mary Poppins. A janitor found it in the trash and picked it out because he thought it was pretty, completely unaware of its significance. Dave Smith, who was friends with the janitor, spotted it in his closet one day and asked if he could have it. Pretty neat.

Some original drawings by Walt. It’s crazy to think that these are almost 100 years old!

Dave thanking the academy - that’s a real Oscar!

With the original Partners status in Legends Plaza

Daniel sizing himself up to Thurl Ravenscroft

Director Mickey!

Walking the lot

Outside the Tam o’Shanter – ready for lunch!

DH & I ordered the tri-tip & prime rib sandwiches and shared them. The tri-tip was the winner, hands down. We can’t wait to go back and try it for dinner.

The tri-tip sandwich on an onion roll

Prime rib sandwich on an onion roll

On Monday, we went down to San Diego to check out the Titanic artifact exhibit at the Natural History Museum. My dad joined us and we met some of my step-dad’s family down there. I’ve never been to the Prado area and I was in total awe. It’s gorgeous. DH & I are planning to head back on another day when we have more time to spend there.

My dad being silly and blending into the pole.

This was the ONLY photo I was able to take of the exhibit. Boo.

It was such a neat experience. I wouldn’t say that I’d go out of my way to see it, especially at $27/person, but I am glad we were able to see it.

Knowing that we were spending the day in San Diego, I did some online investigating beforehand in search of a really good burger in the area. During my research, a place called Hodad's in Ocean Beach kept popping up. It looked funky & fun, so that is where we headed. It was a dive, for sure and the music was rockin’ & LOUD. I felt bad since Dave’s mom & step-dad were with us, but they were great sports and enjoyed the atmosphere.

DH & I both ordered a single bacon cheeseburger, but check out the size of this thing, it looks like a quadruple! It looks like it was made to give you a heart attack, but it was one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten! I only had my phone with me to take pics so they’re kind of grainy, but I just have to share them.

There is a table inside the VW van where the dash would be!

After lunch, we were incredibly full (shocking, I know), so we walked around the area to try and burn some of it off. Most of the shops ended up being closed, but most of the spaces in the area were just other food spot. We were only a block away from the beach and there was a pier close by, but when we got there the area didn’t look too safe. There were groups of people doing drugs right there in broad daylight. Ummm…whoops! Thankfully, Dennis (my step-dad’s step-dad…did ya get that?! lol ) knew that Old Towne San Diego wasn’t too far away, so we all hopped in our cars and headed that-a-way.

This place was much more our speed with lots of shops, historic buildings & little museums all around. This was where we spent the rest of the day before heading home.

We went into a candy shop and they had candy cigarettes! Daniel & I both used to get these all the time as kids, and they hard to come by today (for obvious reasons). DH had fun channeling his inner cowboy after we picked up a box (they were totally gross, by the way…lol).

On Friday, we went to Knott’s Berry Farm. As a kid growing up in Orange County, we went to Knott’s a LOT; probably more so than Disneyland just because it was more affordable. Clearly the history and “magic” of it didn’t quite stick with me because I haven’t been back since I was about 16 or 17, which was 17 years ago. Since then, it’s been taken over by a major corporation (Cedar Fair) and it is literally a ghost town of what it used to be.

It’s no secret that “little” is not a word I would use to describe myself, so for me, the thrill rides were out. They just aren’t as accommodating as Disney seems to be. Even my DH, who isn’t pooh-sized himself, but is quite tall at 6’4”, wouldn’t be able to fit in most of the ride vehicles. We ended up doing 1 ride (the unintentionally creepy Calico Mine Train), meandered through the swap-meet style shops in Ghost Town, and visited with family before breaking out early to head (RUN) “home” to DL. I didn’t even bother to bring my DSLR into Knott’s with me, so all of our photos were taken with my phone.

By the look on his face, I’m guessing he’ll choose “Knott” to dance…

Death by vacation. What was even funnier is that neither one of those bags are his or mine! Haha

Seriously?!? Maybe they were there to learn what NOT to do

At one point, we were sitting on a bench taking a break when 2 security guards and a park manager were escorting a not-so-nice looking teenager through the park telling him what the options for punishment were. 1 of which was to call the police and have him arrested. This is SO not something we would see at Disney. I’m sure stuff like that happens, but they take it out of sight rather than deal with it in public.

Another thing that surprised me was how expensive everything was. Granted, we only paid $37/person to get in because they were having a special (it’s normally $56.99), but the food & drinks were quite a bit more expensive than they are over at DL. There are also a lot of every day restaurants within the park, like Panda Express & Johnny Rockets! No thanks.

I don’t mean to come off as snobby. This experience just made DH & I both appreciate Disney all that much more. Not that we really needed a reminder, it just reaffirmed everything we feel about Disney. It’s not just a theme park, it is truly so much more than that. With that, this picture pretty much sums up our experience:

We spent quite a bit of time at DLR over various days during their visit. Here are some highlights, in no particular order:

DH & I aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat

Have ears, will travel!

This hat looks like it was made for him!

A rare sight, especially after 12pm. This area is usually quite busy!

I may or may not be responsible for getting my DSD hooked on Vinylmation. I’m pleading the 5th here.

When in DL, remember to always look up!

Our Peter Pan wins. No question.

No creepy faux AA figures here. Thank goodness!


Yummy Monte Cristo from Café Orleans

Cruisin’ around the world

Nothing beats a late night Dumbo ride

Ready to take flight

Ariel has a new look!

Check out them thar hooks!

Mmmmm…..Pina Colava from Trader Sam’s.

We ordered this just for the awesome tiki glass! I loved the way they made it look like a glowing volcano!

So sad to see this area closed off.

Gearing up for the competition

How completely awesome is this wallpaper?!?

Cindy making her way across the bridge

DM & DSD heading into Fantasyland!