"Mow" (like "mouse" without the "se" is what Clara says, or rather, shouts with great excitement) every time she sees Mickey Mouse, so it seemed an appropriate title for our trip to Disneyworld!
She had no idea who Mickey Mouse was (or another of the other Disney characters, for that matter) before our trip, but boy did she loooooooooooooove him by the end!
Brian's boss, Tom, decided to send Brian to the Disney Institute, a 3.5 day training academy they do for business professionals that teach them the "Disney way" of doing whatever subject focus – things that Disney really excels in that can help other companies if they apply the same kind of practices, culture, ideas, strategies, etc. Brian's institute was on "Brand Loyalty." This was so perfect for him as the artistic/marketing director for The Miller Company (since he has so much to do with their "brand" as a company) as well as his role as a salesman, since SO MUCH of what the Miller Company does is help other companies with their internal and external branding. Getting to attend this alone was a HUGE blessing to Brian and such an exciting opportunity, but then on top of that, Tom said, "And I'd love to send Laura and Clara with you." WOW!!! :O Brian has been working really hard and turning out great stuff for TMC and I think this was one way that Tom wanted to recognize and reward that. I was so proud of my hubby! and so loving his boss!! :D So Tom provided our airfare and the hotel while he was at the Institute (which included his park tix). And then, on our own, we came a few days beforehand and got to enjoy the park as a family!
One extra blessing was that, for the time we were "on our own," we had booked a package that included staying at one of Disney's "budget" properties, the All Star Music hotel. It was a cheapy place but we didn't care – we just wanted to be there! However, a few weeks before we left, I got an email that said we could have a free upgrade to one of their top tier resorts if we wanted, and of course we wanted! I was SO excited to tell Brian! (I think, because of the economy, their budget places were selling out but the pricey places weren't, so they just wanted to open up more budget rooms rather than letting some places stay vacant, so by clearing us out, they could get more guests…so we were happily cleared). We wound up then staying at the Saratoga Springs Resort. Part of the deal they were running at the time was that if you booked park tix and hotel, you got the dining plan for free…wowsers! That saved us over 100$/day and we got to eat at some really neat places that we otherwise wouldn't have! Disney was quickly becoming one of my favorite places on earth, and we hadn't even gotten there yet 😀
We came 3 days before Brian's Institute began. It was our first big trip with Clara and that made it soooooooooo special!!! We LOVED LOVED LOVED having her with us! She did GREAT on the plane and the bus ride to the resort.
(here was a high powered business exec with laptop (wonderpets DVD) and Starbucks (juice))
After checking in, the first place we went was Disney's Hollywood Studios. Clara is already wiped out and the fun has just begun!
It was soooooooooooo exciting!!!! I felt so overwhelmed and choked up! (emotional? hormonal? yes, maybe) But it really is like you're a little kid again, and the world is magical and happy! I had been to Disney several times before (thanks, Mom and Dad!!!) but this was the first time as an "adult," and I had a whole new appreciation for it. I think I was more excited to see Brian's reaction than Clara's — she just wasn't old enough yet to really "get" it, but Brian had never been, so it was really neat to see the wonder of it all through his eyes. What a special place – I'm now in that annoying club that thinks it is one of the greatest places on earth!
Our first stop was lunch at the Sci-Fi Drive-In, and WOW was that a cool restaurant! The tables were 50's cars you sat in, the whole room was made to look like an outdoor drive in, with stars above in a domed sky, and facing a giant screen that played funny clips from old sci-fi movies. And the pasta we had could not be beat!
the pics do it no justice since it was so dark in there! :P
off to our first show – Beauty and the Beast! (brian hadn't gotten up the guts yet to do Tower of Terror, even after I shared with him that it was some family friend's of ours 5 year-old's favorite ride :D)
We rode several great rides after that!! (I don't think I'll ever forget the car stunt show) Something that was so great was that Clara (lil' shorty) and I (lil' preggo) could ride/do almost everything in the parks – there were only a few roller coasters in each park that we couldn't go on, so we would just wait while Brian did those (I INSISTED he do them; he felt bad leaving us, but I wanted him to get to experience everything!). Here is Clara in front of "Mann's Chinese Theater" – she liked the lions. Is she not the cutest thing you've ever seen?!
My two favorite people…
We went to bed that night SO TIRED but excited for the next day!
Here we are waiting for the bus to Magic Kingdom. Clara LOVED wearing her ears! our room is in the building in the back left of the photo. Saratoga Springs had a horse races/New York early 1900's theme going on…
We got to Magic Kingdom just in time for the opening of the park – they had all the characters out and they were singing and I really did tear up- boy, they know what they're doing!
"It's a Small World" was definitely her favorite! She kept gasping and dancing and pointing at all of the dancing dolls!
For the most part, the rides (even really, really not-scary ones) still
scared her a little, probably just because it was dark and she couldn't
understand what the heck was going on or where she was… she would
just kinda take it in, very serious, every now and then turning into my
side. Sometimes she would light up and giggle and those were the best
parts! I do think she liked all the new experiences, I just don't
think she knew what to do with them!
We were so blessed to be there during this time of year (end of August)– we practically walked onto most rides or into shows; there were only a few times we waited more than 10 minutes our entire trip for anything. It also helped that I had planned our days using touringplans.com- it gives you a customized plan for each park telling you where to go and in which order so as to reduce wait times and maximize what you can do – I highly recommend it! They also have crowd calendars which I used to pick which park we would go to each day. I might be a little "psycho" when it comes to planning but it paid off!! 😀 and I'm all about having a plan but also being flexible within it. We adapted based on our needs during the day and it all worked out great!
Jungle Cruise – classic!
Tiki!!! (brian calls clara "tiki" a lot, especially when he is tickling her :))
That pic came right after Clara peed in line for the Arabian carpet ride…and by peed I mean made a puddle on the sidewalk – YIKES!!! Because she had been doing so good potty training all we brought with us was pull up diapers, which we learned early on are NOT very absorbent AT ALL. She soaked ME at the super cool car stunt show at Hollywood Studios, made me question what else I've sat on unknowingly before on airplanes, caused quick changes on board an in-motion bus and on… I'm sure she is going to love hearing one day about how she peed her way across Disneyworld. It was INSANE! It didn't seem to matter how often we changed her or asked if she needed to potty… by day 4 we finally discovered some "regular" diapers and what a relief!! Sorry if this was TMI, but it was really funny to us and definitely something we will always remember about this trip!
"meeting" Minnie Mouse
We ate lunch at the Whispering Canyon Cafe in Disney's Wilderness Lodge
– I can't believe we didn't get any pictures! It was super fun – the
waitstaff play all these games and antics. and the food was INCREDIBLE
– the chef prepared us a special vegetarian dish and there was tons of
taking the bus back for an afternoon nap…didn't quite make it!
And then back for more magic!
Tomorrowland! (we did space ranger twice!!)
We'd done pretty much everything in the park so back to Clara's favorite – twice in a row!
Then we caught the awesome fireworks show over the castle and headed home…
The next day we spent at Animal Kingdom. Of course, Clara LOVED it because of all the animals!
Ready to go on the Safari:
The Safari was seriously AMAZING – we saw animal after animal after animal; so exciting!
we're both amazed by something….
off to shows and rides! (including getting dive bombed by a hawk in the bird show)
(can you tell Clara likes to put her own sunglasses on? you'd think at least 50% of the time she would get them right side up, but nope!)
The different "lands" here, like everywhere, were just incredible to take in – so creative and over the top to the littlest detail. You really felt like you had been completely transported to another place and time! Here we are in "Asia":
Which Brian conquered! Can you see him?
giant "tree of life"
Annnnnnnd, she's out!
Back to the hotel for naps for EVERYONE! We had dinner that night at Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge. It was designed like an African Marketplace and they had a HUGE buffet with exotic dishes from all over Africa. Each dish named the country it was from. It was so neat to have that new experience and the food was sooooooo good!
Even the dessert was incredible! I got a little of everything…and then more of a little of everything 😀
The next day we transferred hotels to the Yacht Club because that was the day Brian's conference was starting (with a dinner followed by VIP viewing of the light show at Epcot…spouses NOT included). The Yacht Club was easily one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed in. We're big budget travelers (see: 2$ "hotel" I stayed in in Central America that had massive holes in the floor, no water and a used needle in the bed) so this was such a special treat.
We went to Epcot for part of the day, hitting most of the major things in Tomorrowland.
looking into the giant aquarium following the Finding Nemo ride…
Ice cream treats – a definite must! one of my most vivid memories of Disneyworld when I visited for the first time at 7 was the ice cream sandwiches. Either they were EXTREMELY good or my parents very rarely let us have sweets. I'll let you place your own bets.
That night while Brian went to his thing, Clara and I hit the pool at our hotel. The "pool" was a 3 acre wonderland called "Stormalong Bay," with lagoons, lazy river, wrecked "pirate ship" with slides coming out, sand beaches and zero-entry sand bottom pools. Clara and I LOVED it; Brian could take it or leave it as he can with most pools/waterparks. Isn't he crazy?!
there was even a "Clara-size" water slide (though still a good 12 ft. long! :P) on the ship that she did over and over and over…
The next day, Brian went to the institute and Clara and I went to Epcot. What a fun mommy-daughter day! We rode and visited things we hadn't gotten to the day before. This is in an interactive exhibit about exploring the senses:
Surprisingly, she loved "Spaceship Earth"- a ride through the history of communication.
We started venturing into the World Showcase area of Epcot. Here we are in Norway about to ride "Malestorm" (aka biggest dud of any ride at Disneyworld – I pity the person who uses a fastpass for that).
It did mean I got a shot of the cutest little Viking, though!
we ate lunch in "Mexico" and there were some VERY friendly birds looking for handouts that Clara was alternatively excited and freaked out by –
We woke up from a great nap to having Brian home! We went and had dinner on the Boardwalk at the Big River Grille and Brewing Works…yup, you guessed it; we found Disney's only and own brewery. Here is Brian with their sampling:
It was a great day of teaching and learning and I got to hear all about it! Here we are on the boardwalk:
In front of our hotel looking back:
We all went to Epcot then, and we took Brian on Spaceship Earth…can you see us on the globe? It was so cool to see where everyone was from that was there right then!
The whole time we were there it rained for a bit in the afternoons, but this day it STORMED. Nothing like realizing you're in a very tall metal ball in the middle of a downpour/thunderstorm…! :S
Brian rode Mission: Space a few times while Clara and I took cover in a giftshop. It was pretty wet and they had to close a few attractions, but the upside was that hardly anyone was there! :D
We went t
o the Mexican Pavillion and rode Gran Fiesta boat tour, about 7 times. This was Clara's favorite ride of the whole entire trip. I must say, I never would have guessed that before we came! Haven't heard of it? This is not surprising…it is a pretty lame ride for anyone above the age of 2. But for Clara- it was the GREATEST THING EVER. She laughed, she pointed, she danced, she gasped and when we would get to the end, she would say desperately, "More Please? More Please?" and as there was no one really there (again, very small crowd it appeals to, I believe), they let us just keep going and going. Basically you ride in a boat through different parts of mexico, following an animated Donald Duck and two friends as they are playing music and trying to find each other…it really is cute and it was so fun to see Clara loving it!
(no good pics because of the lighting in there…)
We continued to tour all the different countries in the World Showcase…no great pics because it was nighttime
At the end, we caught Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, a fireworks, laser and water show that reflected on the story of our earth and people and was truly spectacular. Brian was able to share all these neat tidbits he was learning (at that event and just throughout everything).
Clara and I had both been fighting a pretty bad cold (I can't imagine there are strange germs in the happiest place on earth) and it came on that night with a vengeance. Clara didn't sleep very well at all that night, poor baby, which means I didn't sleep much either. we went to the breakfast buffet in our hotel the next morning and I don't think breakfast has ever tasted so good. We both felt SO wretched but that really perked us up. So we went to the pool! We played in the water and sand for a few hours and then took the longest nap ever, waking up to Brian coming home!
That night we were going back to Magic Kingdom but after a LONG bus ride there it was raining TORRENTIALY when we got there and didn't look like it was going to let up, and especially with CJ's cold, we (dejectedly) decided we should head home. We ended up ordering pizza in our room and watching Aladdin…turning a crappy night into a special family night in. :) and then packed up…booooooo :(
the next day was Brian's last at the Institute. He had learned so much and been so inspired! there were lots of practical applications he couldn't wait to get back and put into practice.
Clara and I went to Hollywood Studios to try to get in just a few more things before we had to leave. We went to several shows, including Disney's Playhouse, which she LOVED:
There was dancing and bubbles and confetti and singing perfect for preschoolers!
Indiana Jones "set" – she put on her own jacket – can you tell?
in the "city":
very cool "behind the scenes" tour – in the costume shop right now:
One funny thing was that Clara doesn't know ANY of the Disney characters yet and so it was nice that all of the character autograph sessions had no draw on her whatsoever. She passed by princesses, Minnie, etc. without another glance. However, we saw Sully from Monsters, Inc. and she got ecstatic! She has never seen that movie; I guess she just liked the way he looked or something. But she RAN up to the rope line around him and was just smiling and shouting "Hi! Hi! Hi!!!" and blowing him many kisses. It was too cute. I let her wave at him for a while and then went on our merry way; she was sad but then kept waving, "Bye! Bye!"
Here are the special effects in Cascade Canyon:
this is how much Clara liked it:
Toy Story Mania, on the other hand, she liked much better!
I just loved the creativity EVERY where…
Brian joined us after his "graduation". He rode the star wars ride:
while me and the little Ewok waited for him:
"celllebrate good times, come on!" – enjoying the pa
Clara wearing Brian's graduation cap:
And then we had to leave to catch our flight home…the flight home was a little rougher (Clara and I both were REALLY coming down with the cold at this point) but we made it home happy and safe. And grateful for a great family trip!