This is one of those posts where I don't even know where to start. My sister wrote about this trip right after we got back, and she followed a day-by-day format. So, the creative snob in me is resisting doing the same thing. But I have to start somewhere, the beginning seems like a good place to do that.
About a year ago, my parents began asking my sister and I what we would like to do for Christmas this year, since it was an Alexander Christmas. We tossed out a few ideas (I suggested Circus Camp, but we all agreed that clowns are way to freaky), and we all agreed that Orlando would be a great place to meet for the Holidays. All of the grandkids are the right age for Disney, and they love the movies. At least at our house, Buzz, Woody and Lightning are still the main characters in just about every play session. Ella is very much into princesses, so this was a perfect match. To make things even better, my parents have a time share condo (or as Sam calls it, the "caddo") and we could all stay together. As you would expect, GiGi jumped on this and had our reservations set for the following December. After months of planning, saving and talking up the Disney experience with the boys, the day to leave on the trip finally arrived.
Things got off to a rough start because the day before we left three out of four family members had to go to the doctor (Sam, Nate and myself). I will usually tough out an illness and avoid seeing a doctor, but I was just way too miserable this time around. We all got put on antibiotics, and we were on our way. By the time we got to Orlando, I was already starting to feel a lot better, as were the boys. Did I mention we drove from Fort Worth to Orlando? Yeah, that was interesting, but not really that bad.
I will skip directly to our first full day in Orlando. We took the first day to rest and recover from our drive by saying in the condo that morning, then we went to Downtown Disney for the afternoon. From an adult's perspective, this is just about as cool as the theme parks. Well, at least for an adult who really likes food and people watching. If that is all you want, there is no need to go into the parks, but I'm pretty sure Sam, Nate and Ella were not going to agree with me on this one. Anyway, after a great meal at Raglan Road, we headed home to get rested for our first day in the parks. First stop, Animal Kingdom.
This is one of the newer theme parks that I had never visited, and I was curious to see what it was like. Is it a zoo? Is in an amusement park? Is it an educational experience? The answer to all three is YES. We saw real African animals, shows about animals (and fish), 3D movies about animals (and bugs), and actual Disney animals walking around the park. The highlight of this day was eating at Tusker House, a great restaurant where Donald, Daisey, Minnie and Goofy come to your table and dance around with loud instruments. The food was great (my favorite from the whole trip) and the atmosphere was a lot of fun. Remarkably, Sam and Nate actually ate their lunch.
Before moving on, I would like to interject an observation. Disney has made A LOT of movies. In fact, that is how they started and what they are known for. I thought I was pretty well-versed in Disney-ese, but I quickly found out I have a lot to learn. Yes, I am very familiar with the Toy Story monarchy and the Republic of Cars, and we still watch Monsters, Inc., Up, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo from time to time. But there are a lot of Disney films I have either never seen, or I haven't seen them in so long that I completely forgot about them. If a person isn't completely indoctrinated by the Disney library before visiting each park, you may feel a bit lost. There are a lot of Disney movies the boys haven't seen, so there were some things they didn't understand. They also didn't understand why there was not one thing at Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom about Lightning McQueen. Besides Woody, Buzz and that whole gang, the Cars characters are who they really wanted to see. Just sayin', Disney.
Anyway, back to the trip. We spent the next two days in the Magic Kingdom, and let me tell you, it was amazing. There is just too much to share about these two days. In a nutshell, our two days consisted of riding awesome rides, seeing Disney characters, watching shows, waiting in lines, scooching past massive crowds of people and planning which ride we would do next. Honestly, if you want to know what we did at Animal and Magic Kingdoms, you can see our photos. This was my third (and fourth) trip to the Magic Kingdom, and many of the things I loved about it have not changed. I was always a big Tomorrow Land fan, and it is very much the same as it used to be. Space Mountain, the People Mover, and the Astro Orbiter are all still there. They have added some new rides, as well, which the boys loved. Especially the Buzz Lightyear ride, in which you get to participate by shooting a laser at targets and accumulate points. Then of course, there were the standard rides that you MUST see if you are there, like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World, the teacups, Dumbo and African Safari. I was also disappointed to learn that some of my favorites rides -- namely 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea -- were gone, and are being replaced with new additions to Fantasy Land. I guess Disney has figured out a formula for getting people to come back! If I am allowed to put forth one criticism of the Disney theme parks, it is that they seem to be all about the movies now. I remember that the movie characters were part of the Magic Kingdom in the past, but there were also a lot of things to see that were there just because Walt Disney wanted them there. It has always been very commercialized, but now it seems to be all about the movies. OK, that's all I have to say about that.
Overall, this was the vacation of a lifetime. The boys still talk about the things we saw and did in Orlando, and I think they will love it even more when we go back. We had a great time spending time with GiGi and PaPa, and Uncle Joe, Aunt Katie and Ella. Seeing Ella's reaction to the whole experience, particularly the princesses, was priceless. It was exciting, over-stimulating, exhausting and exhilarating, and more than anything, it was everything we hoped it would be.