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"Mommy and Me" at Disney, day two

on
Sunday, June 26, 2016

We spent a whole day at Disney World and still had not set foot inside the Magic Kingdom. So that is where we headed first on day two. We had an early (before park opening) breakfast reservation at Be Our Guest which meant we could get in and get nearly deserted pictures in the park.

"Mommy and Me" at Disney, day one

on
Saturday, June 25, 2016

The first full day of our mommy and me long weekend at Disney was spent hopping between Epcot and Hollywood Studios. We got up early and hit the busses to Epcot to be the first in line for the park. We were excited and ready to start the fun. We happened to be the only people on our bus that morning (sign you are up early) and had some nice one on one time with our driver. He was so sweet and when we parked at Epcot offered to get out and take pictures of us with the bus and then gave Perry a bunch of Disney bus trading cards. It was awesome to start the trip with some extra magic sent our way. Perry played with his new disney bus cards while we waited for the park to open.

"Mommy and Me" at Disney, overview

on
Friday, June 24, 2016

Because we are Disney Vacation Club owners we have points that need to be used each year for stays at Walt Disney World. Well technically we can use them at all kinds of places...but we like to use them at Walt Disney World. We are planning a big family vacation down there later on this year but we had some more points to spare so Perry and I recently took a little long weekend trip just the two of us. With Andrew's new job came less vacation time (but oh so much better of a schedule) so he wasn't able to come on this little mini-trip to Disney.

I was a little concerned about how it would go single-parenting a three year old at Disney, but it went really well. The only time I struggled was one night getting on a bus with a sleeping child in a stroller (which you have to fold up to get on the bus). But we made it home that night and we did great the whole trip. Perry had a few little moments of not wanting to obey, and not wanting to get off a fun ride when it ended, but most of time time he was happy and having the time of his life.

We stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge which is our home resort. I was vying for using the least number of vacation points possible so I booked just the basic standard room (with no view). But happily got upgraded to a savannah view for free. That happens a lot there, because most of their rooms are savannah view. So we had awesome views of giraffes grazing in the mornings and evenings. Perry loved running out on the balcony to check on the animals.


We spent time at Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot this trip. We skipped Animal Kingdom even though we love it because all the new nighttime stuff there was set to start the week after we were there. We spent a morning and an evening in both the Studios and Epcot and the rest (most) of the trip was spent in the Magic Kingdom. One of the best things I did was plan in a day to sleep in and play at the resort and at the pool in the morning. By day 3 it was a much needed break from the alarms and hustle and Perry loved the pool. I have no pictures from it because...well...single parenting + pool.

Perry's favorite ride of the whole trip was Nemo (at Epcot). I thought I was never going to get him out of that building...twice. He loved it and is a bit Nemo obsessed right now. I often hear him on his monitor saying "fish are friends, not food" and singing "in a big blue world...." It is so cute. Except when he asks what happened to Nemo's mom.... And at least once has woken up upset saying "I don't want to lose my mommy and daddy" and we had to reassure him that we are not going anywhere and we are all safe. Thanks Disney. ha.

His favorite characters to meet were Chewbacca and Mickey Mouse and an unplanned encounter with the Mad Hatter. But more on those later.

We were there from Friday night until Tuesday afternoon and it was the perfect amount of time for a little Disney fix to hold us over to the big trip at christmastime.

Last Day of School Festivities


Going back in time just a little bit I wanted to post about Perry's last day of school fun. His last day of school was what we affectionately dubbed the "best. day. ever." I mean how do you beat getting brought queso for lunch, sno cones, moonbounces in the gym (because well rain), and then once that's all done packing up and flying to Disney World for the weekend. Yeah...sometimes he leads a charmed life.

We love our preschool so so much. They love on our little boy so well every day.  In the picture above the two sweet ladies on the left are Ms. Linda and Ms. Janice who have been his teachers all this year (and this summer too). They have taught him so much. This week has been all about dinosaurs...and his vocabulary is increasing by things such as "pterodactyl and stegosaurus." The two sweet ladies on the right of the picture are Ms. Lori and Ms. Norma who run the place and are the smiling faces we see and hugs we get every morning when we walk into school. Looking forward to another great year at MCDC next year. 

When asked what he wanted me to bring him for lunch on the last day the answer was "chips and cheese dip." So while all the other kids were munching on their Chickfila, our kid had Moes. 


When we finished at school we got in the car and drove south to Birmingham to fly to Orlando. Because Perry and I had a fun weekend ahead at the Happiest Place on Earth.



Thumbs up for airplane rides!

Life Lately

on
Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A few other things we have been up to lately around here. We went up to Burritt of the Mountain a couple weeks ago for Stories Under the Stars. My awesome boss Neil was the special guest story teller for the night since the theme was "It's in my DNA." No one tells stories about DNA quite like him. We met my co-worker Meagan and her family there. Our little mini genetic counselors had fun playing together (above).

Our niece Kate had her spring dance recital. She did so great in her dance to Taylor Swift's Shake it Off. Nothing cuter than seeing little ones dance.


We celebrated Travis' birthday out with friends and dinner at the Brazilian steakhouse. So much meat, and a night without the kiddos, was so fun!


We had an impromptu picnic lunch and playtime at Hayes Nature Preserve with family. 


And this girl did some crafting for the church summer family carnival (more on that later). I didn't know what I had in store when I said "sure I can help with decorations and a popcorn balloon arch sounds like a great idea." lol. A lot of red paint and white duck tape later (and some key help from Lacy with structural assembly) it really was not has hard as it looks. It turned out really cute and a certain red headed boy may be getting a circus birthday this year in an effort to recycle some decorations. ha.


Memorial Day Weekend 2016

on
Monday, June 20, 2016

Hey there! Long time no read. Totally my fault on that though. We just got home from a fun 10 day family trip to Bermuda by way of New York City. We had a blast. It was awesome to be away and totally escaped from the internet and social media for a little bit. No emails, no Facebook or Insta. Just family and fun. Now its time to play catch up on some life and pictures from those crazy days around home amidst all the travel recently.

Memorial Day weekend was filled with the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Festival in Decatur and a pool party with friends. We had not been to the hot air balloon festival before this year...seems like there was always something else going on. We had a great time and the weather was just perfect. Not too hot yet by Alabama standards. We played by the river some and then watched the balloons all take flight just before dusk. We headed out before the night time balloon glow because we wanted to beat the crazy traffic leaving. There were so many balloons. Perry loved them!





We also reinstated our summer Sunday night pool nights with friends. It is just a fun way to end our weekends and just hang out with some of our favorite people. Back in late May the pool water was still pretty frigid. So just the men were brave enough to jump in (and took Perry and Hadley with them). Us girls were happy chatting in lounge chairs.



Sweet babies. Love Perry and Hadley's little friendship. She is getting so big and its fun to watch the kids all start learning to play together. It was a great Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to all those who paid the ultimate price so that we can live in freedom.

Disneyland Paris for the Walt Disney World veteran

on
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Not long after we got back from our 10 day trip to London and Paris, I took some time to sit and write out details about how we planned and executed our Disneyland Paris day of the trip and how the experience compares to its counterpart in Florida which we love so much. 

During our trip we split our time between London and Paris, spending nearly all of our time inside each city’s limits. We had a blast seeing all the typical touristy things and taking a few steps off the beaten path and getting a feel for the culture of each country. We ended the trip in Paris and for our very last day we took the 30-minute train ride just outside the city to play at Disneyland Paris (DLP).


When we were planning out each day of the trip we wavered back in forth on whether to take a day to do Disneyland. There are so many other things we could have seen and done with that day in and near Paris. Plus we are Disney World vets and wondered if we would be underwhelmed by the European version. However, we decided to do it and looking back I must say it was a fantastic planning decision on our part. We love Disney vacations and loved getting to see another flavor of the magic. And after spending 8 days seeing a lot of museums, monuments and really old buildings (which was amazing don’t get me wrong), it was great to end the trip literally playing at Disneyland.

I wanted to share our experiences planning and implementing a one-day visit to Disneyland Paris as part of a bigger European vacation. I will share what we did ahead of time, how we spent our day touring the park, things that were strikingly different than Walt Disney World (for better or for worse), and some lessons learned.


Where to Stay
Since this was one day of a bigger trip in Paris we did not stay on site at Disneyland. We had a hotel in downtown Paris. They do have several on-site hotels that looked beautiful from what we saw. The Disneyland Hotel in particular is practically inside the gates of Disneyland Park. There are definite benefits to staying on-site including extra magic hours. The day we were there hotel guests could get in the park a full two hours before everyone else, which is quite the benefit. If I were to do it again, I might consider changing hotels and spending the night before our Disney day on-site just for this benefit. However not having to pack and change hotels won out for us and we still were able to tour just fine.

Getting There
If you are staying on-site getting there consists of walking out of your hotel and to the parks. I felt like it was set up much like Disneyland in California where the two parks are right next door with an adjoining Downtown Disney-like area and hotels all in walking distance.

Since we were staying in Paris center we woke up early and took the train out to Disneyland Paris. And with our 3-day unlimited ride train pass it was super simple and inexpensive. There is a train stop right at Disneyland Paris on the RER “A” line. It took one train switch and about 45 minutes to get out there. Easy peasy. It is important to note though that the Disneyland stop is in the furthest “zone” when buying train passes so you have to make sure you have a ticket that allows you to go out that far.

Tickets
We purchased our park tickets online ahead of time from the Disneyland Paris website. I am not going to even pretend to tell you that it was definitely the best deal to be had because I honestly didn’t spend too much time looking for discounts or deals. For me, I just wanted to make sure the tickets were legit and so I bought them directly from Disney and printed them out at home. And I assumed that it is like the US where tickets are not a place you typically find deep discounts. Buying them ahead did save us a few dollars off the gate price though if I remember right.

We bought park hopper tickets because as I will talk about below we wanted to be able to go back and forth between the two parks and hit the highlights of both. Since you can walk between the two of them in less than 5 minutes, it makes it super easy.

Making a Daily Plan
We had one day and two parks. We could never fit every little thing in so we had to prioritize, focusing on things that are unique to DLP that we can’t do back home and things that we just love so much from back home that we want to experience them every chance we get. Below I actually walk through the touring plan we put in place and how it worked, but in general we followed the same guidelines and advice we do when touring Walt Disney World. We got there well before park opening, hit the most popular attractions first, and maximized FastPass.

The park where we spent most of our time was Disneyland Paris itself. If it were not for the incredibly themed, new, Ratatouille section in the next-door Walt Disney Studios park we probably would have skipped it all together. Walt Disney Studios is where Rockin’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror are which we love, but since they are the same as they are back home they fell off our priority list. Ratatouille has a single rider line so we decided to focus the morning on Disneyland, hop over to the Studios in the afternoon to ride Ratatouille single rider (a few times), and then hop back to Disneyland for the evening.

Planning Dining
With only one day at DLP we did not want to spend bunches of time sitting in restaurants eating. Plus most of the information we read online did not exactly rave on food quality in the Paris parks.  We made one reservation for dinner and planned to just eat snacks and quick service stuff the rest of the day. We figured that by evening we would be pretty tired and ready to sit down and rest a little while (we were right). After looking at all the options we settled on trying out the Blue Lagoon Restaurant situated right on the banks of the Pirates of Caribbean ride. Much like Blue Bayou for you Disneyland California people.

One of the most frustrating things we ran into planning our day was getting this dining reservation handled. You can make dining reservations up to 2 months in advance but unlike in the US where you can go online and make advanced dining reservations, for Disneyland Paris you can only make them by phone…to an international phone number.  We might have been able to risk it and made the reservation once we got to France, but I am just not a gambler or a person who likes to wait until the last minute. Instead I waited until two weeks before the trip when I turned on my international cell phone plan and made the call to +33 1 60 30 40 50. The cast member on the phone however was super nice and it was no trouble at all getting the reservation we wanted.


Touring the Parks
I found while prepping for this trip that the Internet was not full of tried and true touring plans for DLP, so I had to craft our own. I based our plan on what rides we wanted to do, which ones had FastPass or single rider options and the popularity/wait time for each (http://www.dlpguide.com/planning/advice/queue-times/). We focused first on the most popular attractions that did not have fast pass or single rider. And made sure we always had an active FastPass reservation.

Here is how it went. The park opened to the general public at 10 am, while on-site guests had been in the park since 8 am.
  • Grabbed a FastPass for Big Thunder Mountain (return time of 11-11:30 am)
  • Rode Peter Pan (10:05 am, 15 minute wait)
  • Rode Pinocchio (10:25 am, 5 minute wait)
  • Rode Snow White’s Scary Adventures (10:35, 15 minute wait)
  • Grabbed FastPass for Indiana Jones (return time of 12-12:30)
  • Rode Big Thunder Mountain with FastPass (11:10)
  • Rode Phantom Manor (11:25, 30 minute wait)
  • Grabbed Buzz Lightyear FastPass (return time 1:45-2:15)
  • Rode Indiana Jones with FastPass (12:15)
  • Ate lunch at the Lucky Nugget. Perks include it is air-conditioned, they bring your food to you at your table, you get free refills unlike most places in Europe, and it is plenty of food. The price was $18.99 for a generous entrĂ©e, side, drink and dessert.
  • Strolled in and around the castle. There is a walkthrough of sleeping beauty scenes inside and an animatronic dragon that lives down below.
  • Met Goofy randomly outside the castle (Pluto was also out).
  • Grabbed a Star Tours FastPass (return time 4-4:30)
  • Rode Buzz Lightyear with FastPass (1:50)
  • Park hopped to Walt Disney Studios (2:15). First went to check to see if any Rockin’ Roller Coaster or Tower or Terror FastPass were left for the day because you can technically have FastPass in each park simultaneously, but there were not.
  • Rode Ratatouille in Single Rider line (2:30). The standby time was 55 minutes. Single rider line wait time was <5 it="" minutes.="" rode="" so="" span="" twice.="" we="">
  • Met Mickey at Toon Plaza (30 minute wait)
  • Park hopped back to Disneyland Paris
  • Grabbed another Star Tours FastPass (return time 6:30-7:00). Pretty sure that all ride FastPasses were gone for the day except StarTours by this time.
  • Rode Star Tours with FastPass (4:10)
  • Snack from the cable car bake shop (hello Nutella pastries)
  • Did some shopping on Main Street
  • Watched the evening parade from a nice shady spot in front of City Hall (5:30)
  • Did a little more shopping in Fantasyland for our 2 year old back home
  • Rode Star Tours again with FastPass (6:30)
  • Dinner reservation at Blue Lagoon (7:00)
  • Rode Pirates of the Caribbean (8:00, no wait at all)
  • Walked through Alice’s Labyrinth (8:15). Evening was a great time for this little stroll with amazing views of the park from the top.
  • Rode the Tea Cups (8:30)
  • Walked around to see what wait times were like. Big Thunder was at 25 minutes, Pan at 25 minutes, Dumbo at 15 minutes.
  • Rode Phantom Manor again (9:20, no wait at all)
  • Watched the castle projection show and fireworks from the front of the park (10:00)


Other Miscellaneous Things we Learned
  1. We found a small park entrance around to the right next to the ticket/customer service counter that was far less crowded than the main gates. Going in here let us get ahead of most of the people getting into the park.
  2. The front gates of the park opened at 9:30 (for us B list people who were not staying onsite), but you could only get into Main Street and the hub area. Between 9:30 and 10:00 am crowds formed at the entrance to each land waiting for the 10:00 park opening time.
  3. Extra magic hours for hotel guests only pertain to Fantasyland and Discoveryland
  4. We had trouble with bugs and wished that we had bug spray with us
  5. One big difference between this park and our other Disney park experiences was a general lack of character meet and greet locations. There were not very many official character-meeting spots, which made the lines at the ones that were there incredibly long. Also at random wandering character meeting locations there was not really a line that formed, just a cluster of people surrounding the character which made you feel like you needed to be pushy if you wanted an autograph or picture.
  6. Some of the rides/attractions are in French and others are in English
  7. Our experience was that the FastPass system would let us get a new FastPass a few minutes before the current FastPass window started. We didn’t push our luck so I don’t know how early it lets you get another one.
  8. Our experience was that the cast members were strict about FastPass return times. Unlike at Disney World where you can show up and get in line 5 minutes early, they did not let us in line until exactly the time on the ticket.
  9. A lot of stuff closed before the park did. When crowds start dwindling in the evenings we noticed lots of snack carts, quick service restaurants and even some attractions closing up shop. One of our touring plan downfalls is that we missed out on getting to ride the Canal Boats because it randomly closed at 8 pm and we planned to ride it at 8:30. Live and learn.
  10. We noticed that in general there was less theming in the details inside the Disneyland Paris parks compared to Walt Disney World. Construction walls, caution cones, and trashcans were not particularly magical or special. They could have just as easily been found out in the real world. Its funny how you don’t realize how well Disney themes the details until it is missing.
  11.  I think that Disneyland Paris might win the prettiest castle contest. Sleeping Beauty’s dwelling in France is just spectacular (see exhibit A below).

If you are planning a future vacation to Europe, consider taking a day for some Disney play. If you love Disney World you will probably find Disneyland Paris charming and some of the unique parts to this park are incredible and totally worth seeing (I’m talking about you Ratatouille). If you know how to tour a Disney park in the US, the same tactics will serve you well in Paris as long as you can pull out and dust off those old school paper FastPass skills. Any other questions about spending some time at Disneyland Paris? Feel free to ask me.

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