Walt Disney World: November 2014

After our Walt Disney World trip in spring, we were pretty bummed. You know what it’s like — you look forward to something for so long and then BOOM – all over. As a result, we decided to embrace our DINK status and plan a trip for November, when NJ schools are closed for the yearly teacher’s convention. The time frame overlapped both the last days of the Food and Wine festival in Epcot, and the beginning of the holiday season.

Can you handle this beauty?

Getting ready to enter the Magic Kingdom.

Getting ready to enter the Magic Kingdom.

Since our trip began on November 5, we had to choose our FastPasses (and therefore choose what park we were visiting on what day) waaaaaaaay back on September 6. And as somebody who can barely figure out a weekly menu on Sundays, having to guess what I want to do 2 months ahead is really hard.

Exerting my MagicBand power at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Studios

Exerting my MagicBand power at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Studios

We stuck with maybe 25% of the plans we made. On paper, it wasn’t a great trip. We rode not one ride in Epcot. We didn’t go to Animal Kingdom again. There was only one day where we ended up using all of our FastPasses. In practice, this was one of the best trips. I think our laid back & plan-scrapping attitude had a lot to do with it.

I feel badly for the families with kids who don’t have the flexibility and number of trips under their belts that we do. For example, on Saturday night we were supposed to go to Epcot, eat at the Food and Wine Festival, and see Big Bad Voodoo Daddy perform. But we were beat, it was drizzling, and we didn’t want to deal with the crowds and buses. Instead, we took the boat from Port Orleans French Quarter to Downtown Disney and just meandered. It turned out great. But what if I had kids and one felt crappy but it was our only chance to ride Soaring on the trip? Hey, Disney…vacations shouldn’t be so strictly scheduled!

Port Orleans: French Quarter | Rocking a Tiara | My favorite park at night

Port Orleans: French Quarter | Rocking a Tiara | My favorite park at night

Port Orleans French Quarter continues to be intimate and charming. The bed was comfortable and the room smelled fantastic. The weather was so mild at the beginning of the trip that we even got to hit the pool!

This time we took advantage of online resort check-in. I checked in 2 weeks in advance and let the hotel know we would be arriving around 10 am. (One of us booked very early airline tickets.) Even with that, we still were at the front desk for the same amount of time as when we checked in normally. Actual check-in is at 3, so I knew the room likely wouldn’t be ready when we arrived. But we weren’t even given a room number. They asked if we were headed to the parks or if we would be waiting around the resort. We said we’d be heading to the parks , and the text message with our room number arrived at 2:00pm. I wonder if we would have had our room assignment earlier if we said we’d wait.

I don’t see a benefit to checking in early. There is no time savings, and less guest service. Disney can fix this so easily though! Just tell me what room number I’m going to have even if it’s not ready. Tell me where it is, give me the resort map with the room circled on it and then text me when its ready.

Friday night, we ponied up for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It was magical. Expensive but magical. There was a special parade, there was snow on Main Street, and there were stations where we received free cookies and cocoa. The Jungle Cruise was converted into the Jingle Cruise, with all of the bad jokes, PLUS really cool 1940s-era Christmas decor!

Christmastime at Magic Kingdom

Christmastime at Magic Kingdom

There is a show where the cast of Frozen (of course) shows up to light up the castle. Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf (Two out of three of them were not very … smart…) convince Queen Elsa to ice up the castle. Elsa had reservations because it wasn’t her kingdom and she wanted permission before changing the castle. Which is really not a “Let it Go!” attitude. After being convinced, Elsa channels Stevie Nicks for about three minutes while the castle lights.

Speaking of Frozen, I saw far more little Annas than little Elsas, which surprised me. A portion of Studios was converted into Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post. They had an area where kids could play with actual snow! We didn’t do that, but I did partake of a grownup drink while we watched.

Christmas Parade | Jingle Cruise tree | Queen Elsa's magical blue brew of alcoholic goodness

Christmas Parade | Jingle Cruise tree | Queen Elsa’s magical blue brew of alcoholic goodness

I had many magical moments this trip, but there were two that stuck out and they were both on our last morning. On our last day, we always go to the Magic Kingdom for opening and power through as much as we can. You can get a LOT done in the first two hours of the day. I’m glad FP+ hasn’t ruined that yet.

I finally got to experience Enchanted Tales with Belle. I hadn’t seen it before this trip because the wait time was always very long and I felt weird waiting over an hour for something directly aimed at kids without having a kid of my own in tow. It’s part of my own Disney honor code — if I’m taking a spot someplace where a kid definitely should be, then I won’t go. It’s why I don’t camp out parade spots or eat in the castle. The posted standby wait time was 30 minutes but we waited fewer than ten. It’s an interactive show with kids playing most of the parts. But you get to visit Maurice’s cottage, see Lumiere, and watch Belle. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Disney flicks so this hit me right in the sweet spot.

Chest of Drawers | Lumiere and Belle | OMG FAIRY GODMOTHER!

Chest of Drawers | Lumiere and Belle | OMG FAIRY GODMOTHER!

My second magical moment: I met the Fairy Godmother. I don’t see her in the Magic Kingdom other than tethered to the top of a parade float, so this was big. One of my fantasy retirement jobs is being the Fairy Godmother at Walt Disney World. We waited ten minutes to have our picture taken with her. She said “Hello, Princess” and I MAY have had a lump in my throat. I’m such a softie.

We rode the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which opened after our last trip. It is the smoothest coaster I’ve been on since Everest. It was also extremely short and if I waited 80 minutes for it I’d have been irritated. I thought it would tell a story like Splash Mountain, but there is no story. There is also no thrill, because the ride isn’t very fast. Instead, it felt like every time the train would get going, there was a hill or braking. So while I didn’t dislike it, I wouldn’t wait more than 20 standby minutes for it. I probably won’t burn a FP on it again, either.

My obligatory FastPass+ gripe begins here
The system continues to be a mess. Disney should record bus conversations. If they did, they would have heard a group of moms talk about exchanging their Park Hopper passes for One-Day/One-Park passes once they learned the FastPasses were limited to only 3 in one park per day. Sure, you can go to a kiosk once you get to park two, but if you get there in late afternoon, all of the extra fast passes are gone.

I think the system pisses me off because the attraction groupings force me to make dumb Disney decisions that I would never make on my own in order to see the one attraction I do want. Example: Even with planning 2 months out, Sunday (the last day!) was the only day I could get a FP+ for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. We had to leave at 2:15 to get back to POFQ for the Magical Express back to the airport. In order to get a ride time that worked for us, I had to select a FP+ for Pirates of the Caribbean at 9:10, which was 10 minutes after opening. I’m a WDW veteran. I would never ever voluntarily choose a 9:10 FP+ for Pirates because I know the line would be short anyway! But we was stuck and felt like a real idiot as we walked past a completely empty standby and scanned our bracelets in. And then we immediately rode again because the standby line was STILL empty.

To my dismay, I am starting to believe that Disney fudges their stand by times. On Sunday morning, the standby line at Peter Pan said 20 minutes but we walked on in 5. (And then we rode it immediately again, with just another 5 minute wait.) Small World said 10 minutes standby and we walked right on. The My Disney Experience phone app said that Jungle Cruise had a 20 minute wait. When we made it to Adventureland, the standby sign said 45 minutes and the cast member said 35 minutes. Not knowing what time to believe, we walked away. Pirates of the Caribbean said 20 minutes but it was also a walk on. The WDW attraction wait times used to be spot on, to the minute. Maybe it’s the new electronic system lagging. Maybe they are padding standby times to make worthless fast passes seem worthwhile. But on both this trip and the April, there has been a disconnect. I hope it’s worked out.
End of FastPass+ gripe

We ate well. We snagged a same-day lunch reservation at Le Cellier on our first day. We booked it while on the Magical Express bus, which is a big win for the My Disney Experience app. It was a 3pm reservation, so it wasn’t quite lunch or dinner, but it was fantastic. We did the ‘Ohana character breakfast again, too. It was a carbon-copy experience of April. WM gets his Aloha Mickey fix, I get my Polynesian fix, and we all win. I had a hot dog at Caseys, something I always want to do but never have a chance to because we’re never in the right spot at the right time. And, of course, the Food and Wine Festival impressed.

I had a lot of worries going into this trip. I worried about weather. I worried about Max at the kennel. I worried that the kennel would burn down while we were away (okay, this is every trip). I worried about our apartment being broken into. I worried about leaving the new car in the airport lot. I worried about money. And weirdly, I worried that we would have to cancel the trip for some reason. Thankfully, none of my worries came to fruition. The worst that happened is that I lost my prescription sunglasses somewhere on Star Tours. But even that’s not the end of the world. They were scratched up and never fit me correctly to begin with.

The crowds were light and the weather was fantastic. It was supposed to rain the last two days, but instead it rained Saturday night into Sunday morning. It was supposed to get cold, but it never became unbearable. The most I wore was a fleece jacket.

I don’t know when we’ll be back next, because after the holidays we’re going to look for a little house and I know from experience that houses are money pits. So I’m glad this trip was so fantastic.

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Friday 5 (on Saturday): Books (the sequel)

Yep, it’s Saturday. Yesterday I got to work from home, which means instead of getting up from my desk to take a quick break and refill my coffee, hit the bathroom, or chat with a coworker, I felt compelled to do housework. All of our quilts, sheets, and towels are washed. I sat on the sofa last night with every intention of writing. And then Ollie plopped on my lap and fell asleep before I could even open my laptop. We both dozed off and now it’s Saturday.

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So it’s time for the Friday 5 on Saturday. This week’s theme is Books (the sequel)…yay! Here are the answers from the original books Friday 5. I’m killing it year when it comes to reading books, thanks to the PATCO train to work and tiny nooks at the office where I can hide and read during lunch. Look!

books2014

Between the Philly Library and my Book Riot Quarterly subscription, I’m getting a great variety in. Because I use a Nook ereader it’s easy for me to buy books from Google’s book store and transfer them over. Google is usually cheaper than Barnes & Noble, too. I’m currently reading Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Mike Rohde’s Sketchnotes. This weekend’s calendar is GLORIOUSLY empty (and there’s a quart of egg nog in the fridge ready to be spiked) so maybe I’ll finish both!

1. What’s the most unusual book you’ve read?

I read a lot of SARK books in my 20s in my attempt to be a Succulent Wild Woman. I even used to call her (not toll-free) hotline once a month. She’d ramble for a few minutes and then read a poem, usually by Rumi. I stopped after I told BvP I wanted to build a “nap hut” and he just looked at me blankly. Then I started blogging and became my own weird and rambling writer. I just checked her website before I put the link up there and she has free desktop wallpaper of a “nap craft.” The nap hut got an upgrade!

2. What’s the most challenging book you’ve read?

Possession was challenging and rewarding. Challenging and awful would be Moby Dick. It was assigned reading and it was an awful struggle to get through.

3. What writer have you read the most books by?

When I answered this last time I said Sue Grafton. But I was wrong! If I disregard my childhood reading era (Laura Ingalls Wilder and Judy Blume would be tied.) it’s actually Anne Rice. I worked through her Vampire Chronicles series, continuing to Armand, Pandora and Vittorio even after I hated Memnoch the Devil. I read the three Mayfair witches books. I read and LOVED Merrick, which crossed over both worlds. And then Anne Rice changed and I ran away. I know there is a new Lestat book out now and … I just can’t.

4. What book had a cover that was just right for it?

So many, but this year’s winner is Nick Offerman’s Paddle Your Own Canoe. On the cover is Nick Offerman in a canoe.

5. What’s a book that has illustrations you love?

This isn’t a specific answer, but I have a soft spot for any book that Garth Williams illustrated. Those Little House books really made an impression on me!

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We bought Max a harness today. Both dogs are collar dogs, but since we need to guide Max on our walks now we decided to switch to a harness so we don’t choke him if he suddenly stops or pulls the other way or if we need to guide him away from a hole or stop him from walking face-first into a shrub. It’s Martha Stewart brand. Swanky! I’m going to put a pot of meatballs & gravy (you’d call it sauce) on the stove now and dig into my books and magazines.

On Monday I’ll have my Walt Disney World pictures ready for the blog, in case you either are into vacation photos or completely hate them. Have a lovely weekend!

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Big Little Lies review

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first I haaaaaaated this book. I haaaaaated all of the parents and I strongly disliked all of the kids. I thought the pacing was far too slow and I was annoyed by the little blurbs of inserted testimony.

And then about a third of the way in, something magical happened. I started to care about these flawed parents and their goofy kids. More than halfway through, I didn’t want any of the ones I cared about to be the murder/accident victim and I was starting to dread Trivia Night.

Big Little Lies starts out as a toss-away fluff chick-lit book, and then grows into a twisting work of art, interspersing laugh-out-loud moments and dark gut-punch moments together in a way that cheapens neither. While I did guess who the bully was (sort of) early on, the actual death/accident surprised me in a good way. And in the end, the story belongs to the people you’d least expect.

I’m very glad I stuck with it!

View all my reviews on Goodreads!

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Max’s eyes

We are two months past Max’s diabetes diagnosis and things are going as well as can be expected. His pee strips were still showing higher levels of sugar, so we’ve slowly moved his insulin dosage up to 9 units twice a day.

Max, dog of my heart.

Max, dog of my heart.

The constant drinking and peeing has stopped, with only an occasional leak here and there which could just be the signs of an old dog.

Now he’s close to 100% blind. It’s heartbreaking to open a bag of treats in the kitchen and watch Ollie speed in alone while Max carefully shuffles in a minute later. And he doesn’t look directly at me anymore. Instead, his cloudy eyes look past me.

But don’t count Max out. He’s scrappy and smart. He’s learning the lay of the land. It’s like watching a little snuffly Roomba robot as he walks the baseboards. He’ll softly bump his nose into something and then adjust. We are talking to him during our walks and getting him used to following our voices. He’s relearned how to use the ottoman to hop onto the sofa. And yesterday, he even stole a toy from Ollie — Just like the old days!

We are in this ’til the end. Max has been with me through a lot of my own changes and crises. The least I can do in return is narrate a walk. :)

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