November 11th, 2010

Trip Reports

The next few blog posts will (hopefully) be about our recent visit to Florida, November 5-10. If you're thinking, gosh, you didn't so much as mention it, then you probably are not reading these as logged-in friends on LJ. There will be some trip reports that are locked friends-only, but most of them will be visible. I'll put something in each subject line to indicate that it is a trip report, and which part of the trip it is reporting on, so readers don't inadvertently drown in the inevitable verbiage.

We had a good time and we'll be going again next year. The executive summary is as follows:

(1) Rent (or bring) a stroller for the big kid. Especially in Epcot.
(2) The big kid probably will separate him or herself from you at some point. Keep a death grip on them during parades and similar; otherwise, just try to think like your kid and you'll probably find your kid. If you don't find your kid, given the density of cast members, someone else will.
(3) Yes, the theming on the Contemporary is not nearly as awesome as everywhere else, but staying in a DVC building (with your own kitchen and laundry) more than makes up for that lack. Also, the zero entry pool and the two story water slide don't hurt, either.
(4) Think long and hard about paying for the MK view at BLT. Yes, it is the big bucks, but if your kids won't keep their eyes open past sundown, this is the only way you're going to get to see the fireworks. If you're staying at BLT, you'll be hearing the fireworks regardless; might as well get the fun of watching them. Every single night.

Trip Report: JetBlue, Disney Magical Express, GardenGrocer.com

We got a nonstop from Boston (Logan) to Orlando on JetBlue. They run a lot of Embraer, which is a Brazilian plane. The seat configuration for JetBlue is two seats on either side of the aisle. JetBlue does seat assignments, but does not have separate classes per se. They do have some rows with upcharges for even more leg room (and they advertise themselves as more leg room in general). As a family of 4, the ability to get an entire row -- with no middle seats -- is insert-numerous-positive-adjectives-here. C., R.'s mother, came with us on this trip; we got her an aisle right behind us, which meant she was readily available to swap for one of us if we went to the bathroom and left a kid behind. She had not expressed any desire for a window seat, so I don't feel particularly guilty about this.

The biggest negative I have about JetBlue is the seatback TV. There isn't any (obvious) way to turn it off and it generates a fair amount of heat. I get motion sick looking at a screen on a flight; this is a little annoying.

One of the primary planning goals on this trip was to avoid dragging a kid seat down to Florida and back. We thought we were going to need a rental car for two reasons: getting groceries, and possible visiting with relatives in the area. C., however, decided that if she was meeting up with her brother he was going to be doing the driving. I found enough positive (and no negative) comments about GardenGrocer.com that I felt comfortable ordering groceries from them. Also, driving all the way out to the Publix sucks. In fact, I-drive in general sucks. No rental car + Cares Harness for A. = no kid seat needed.

GardenGrocer.com had a decent selection of foods, including some organics. While beer and wine are not listed on their website, you can call and they will add it to your order -- that's not an internet myth. I have no idea if they'll deliver anything harder; I didn't try. You can also get alcohol at the C-store in the Contemporary, as well as some groceries (their selection, however, is crummy and their prices are high, which makes sense given their location). I ordered the wrong cheese for C. and called to change it the night before delivery day and there was no charge to swap the cheeses, even tho the order had already been picked.

Delivery was to bell services at the Contemporary. When we checked in, we walked just to the right and gave them our room number; our groceries arrived shortly before our luggage arrived from Magical Express.

Disney Magical Express is a motorcoach service from MCO to resort hotels. There's a bathroom in the back; two seats on either side of the aisle. TVs scattered throughout supply some advertising for your upcoming (or, hopefully, future repeat) Disney vacation, depicting Disney characters riding the bus, on a Disney Cruise, checking into or out of hotels, eating at restaurants, blah blah bleeping blah. Not too obnoxious.

DME sends you luggage tags so you can check your bags through to your resort hotel. This is a Really Really Really Nice Feature. We had no trouble with it; bags arrive a little over an hour after we did. It does introduce an additional opportunity to lose bags; I have no idea what the overall risk is.

We had a flight delay on the way out, because our plane was late arriving at Logan. Also, the trip south was slower and longer than the trip north, which we believe to be because of prevailing winds.

Overall, JetBlue was a good experience. We've flown two visitors nonstop Seattle-Boston over the last few months; there were no significant issues altho some delays. We'll continue to use JetBlue. Disney Magical Express was a good experience, as was GardenGrocer.com. We will use these all again, and recommend them to others.

Trip Report: Magic Kingdom, Epcot

We spent 3 days in MK and 1 day at Epcot. The first day at MK we all stayed together, and we were pretty focused. We got in at park open and left between 2 and 3 p.m., with a stop for lunch at Pecos Bill. We (inevitably) started at Dumbo, which we also did on our 3rd day (second at MK). We skipped Dumbo for our last day, opting instead to start with Magic Carpets.

After Dumbo, we did Peter Pan. We did Small World because we had a Disney newbie with us (C.); otherwise, we probably would have skipped it. We skipped Snow White because it is (a) lame and (b) has a horrifying reputation for destroying some children, and it is not possible to predict which kids it will totally freak out. Tea Cups and Winnie the Pooh were both down for rehab. We tried to do Barnstormer, but it was down unexpectedly. We then did Haunted Mansion, and, in uncertain order, Pirates, Magic Carpets, Astro Orbiter, People Mover, Buzz Lightyear. T. liked the carousel; A. refused to get up on a horse so we rode on the bench instead. We skipped Jungle Cruise, but some of us did it on the last day. The head hunter jokes persist, however they've modified the apparel/theming on the people avoiding the rhino to make it marginally less colonialist/racist. I got to ride Big Thunder with R. and T.; they rode it many, many times on later days. I still haven't been on the Florida Splash or Space Mountain, altho the boys did both.

On later days, C., A. and I did mild rides together while T. and R. did coasters. The second day at MK, C., A., and I left before lunch so C. could meet her brother back at our hotel. The last day in the park, C., A. and I had lunch at the Plaza: fantastically quiet at 11 a.m. and the food was excellent. They even had Tofutti for me.

Pooh's Playful Spot is closed (I think permanently, for the Fantasyland rehab, but I might be wrong), however The Laughing Place is still available for very small child fun. It's near the Frontierland RR station/Splash/Big Thunder. I found it for A.; T. found it for himself. It still had a puddle in it early in the morning, presumably from overnight cleaning.

At Epcot, we lucked out at a character meet-and-greet. The kids were mildly amused by the Seas. I had to take A. out of Turtle Talk, but T. stuck around for the whole thing; I think we had to take him out partway when we did that in Disneyland a few years ago. They both looked at the fish for a little while. T. was tall enough for Soarin', which I sat out because I was feeling paranoid about that vertigo incident and while I enjoyed it in California, I felt no need to ever do it again. That was the one headliner C. was excited about and she really loved it.

C. and A. both sat out Test Track, which was fantastic. Maelstrom was good (especially the going backwards bit) and the Mexico ride was better than I expected, mostly because I had the sense to largely ignore the animated film in favor of looking at the architecture. And boy, do I know where I want to have lunch one of these days. We did not do Journey into Imagination or Living with the Land, largely because we lost T. for a while and it sort of took the wind out of our sails. We did ride Spaceship Earth (skipped Energy, also), which I will be devoting a separate post to, probably in conjunction with a book review.

Crowds were low enough that we frequently stood in standby lines, since they were often 10 minutes or less. This is a great time of year to visit and highly recommend it to others. Disney had just switched from Halloween to Christmas. We got to see one parade, and we made a point on the last day of watching the Dreams show on the Castle forecourt stage (we being defined as the girls).

The kids were done by the end of day 4 in the parks. They understood we were going to go home the day we flew home and were very cooperative. This is the right length of trip for us.

Trip Report: restaurants and food

We had a lot of ADRs again, and, once again, I canceled at least half of them. We went to Chef Mickey's twice. The first night, the look on T.'s face when each of the characters came around was unbelievable. It was hard to imagine this was the same kid who was willing to do high fives, but fundamentally uninterested. I don't know that I have ever seen him get _that_ excited about anything. The second time, he was so exhausted and overstimulated we let him bring the iPad to dinner; he could barely be dragged away from it, and the characters were trying hard. A. was still game, tho.

Chef Mickey's has been good to me, both last year and this year. In a bit of slightly stunning Disney magic, I got the same chef (thank you, Matt, of Elkridge, MD) this year to walk me around the buffet as last year. And he remembered me, too.

Unfortunately, due to the time change, our 7ish dinner reservations became 8ish dinner reservations after the time change. I used brute force to cancel the O'hana reservations, saying the kids were going to be asleep when the sun went down. I am often really, really right, but I don't know that I have ever been _that_ right and provably so, _that_ fast. We're sad about not getting to eat at O'hana; hopefully it'll still be there next year.

Pecos Bill is Pecos Bill. We ate at a fast food place in Epcot, which was sort of obscene, given that it was the Food and Wine Festival, but the boy needed fries at 11 a.m.. What are you going to do?

We ate at the Contempo Cafe once (the mahi sandwich is still good) and the Wave once. The Wave is surprisingly good and you generally don't need a reservation. The limited menu included a lamb dish with lentil stew that had no dairy products in it with no modifications. R. and I both ordered it; it was very good.

The sides for many meals throughout the resort include a choice between carrot sticks, grapes, apple wedges and french fries. Don't get the apple wedges; the rest are all uniform and decent. The french fries at the Plaza are shockingly good (so was the burger, especially since they grilled my mushrooms in olive oil).

We did room service the first night; it continues to be excellent.