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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Disney magic : it's not ALL magic and that's OK

So here's the thing about Disney World (DW), it's not all magic, Tinkerbell glitter, and mouse ears that fit snugly. When you bring kids in tow anywhere, mess up routines, travel, stay in unfamiliar territory, and eat different foods PLUS add to that super hot and sweaty bodies and weather, and crowds like you've never seen before... well, let's just say things won't be picture perfect.

My friend warned me before going on our first trip as a family. She said it wasn't the Disney we knew as kids. I wasn't naive. I was not in la la land dream world imagining every moment to be blissful. I am a realist when it comes to raising kids. I get that it's hard, I talk about it being hard on this blog, I don't pretend all is perfect with parenting. And yet still, I was surprised and taken aback at how not so perfect Disney was on our first park day.

THIS (above) is what traveling with kids looks like, for real.
And then equally as often, this (below) is what traveling to a fancy new place with kids looks like, too... 

I share this with you today a little bit hesitantly. I don't want to burst your magic wand bubble of how amazing your first DW trip is going to be. It's going to be AMAZING. It IS going to be the best trip ever. You're going to laugh and tear up and have fun and do all those twirling moves that you see on Disney videos. You WILL get awesome pics of your kids smiling in matching Mickey outfits. 

It'll be awesome. BUT it won't be perfect... and the sooner you accept that fate the better your trip is going to be. 

Being perfectly honest: some moments sucked. Some moments I closed my eyes and wished I was back home. Some moments I questioned why the hell we'd spent so much money on this trip when our kids were clearly not grateful. Some moments I snapped at my husband and he was frustrated with me. Many moments the five of us were NOT on the same page about where to go or what to do or how to deal.

Our first day at Magic Kingdom (MK) was our worst day of our entire trip. I think because we were new at everything, we didn't know everything - despite all the research I'd done ahead of the trip. It's one of those things you just cannot explain or learn before it happens to you. I liken it to pregnancy or having a newborn. You can read and see and watch others do it all you want, but until you go through it you can't fathom how it'll be. That's Disney.

Our first park day was too rushed. We felt pressure to get it all in, see everything, go everywhere, get on all the rides. Even though we had planned a second day at MK, we still felt this pressure. I yelled, my husband sighed, the kids cried, there were melt downs. It was frustrating. We all were taking it all in differently so it was hard to make a next step that worked for all five of us. We were new at it, it was overwhelming.

The crowds were like nothing I'd ever seen before. It was like being in a mall on Christmas Eve times 1000. I'd never felt it before, it was too much!

We quickly regrouped that night, talked it out in the pool after dinner and while the kids were sleeping, and had a different game plan going into our second day at a Disney park. We got a good night's sleep, and purposely went a bit slower the next day.

All I'd wanted at MK was to walk Main Street and check out all the scenes, find the Mickey ears, take pictures in front of the Walt Disney statue. My only thing I wanted the entire time at the parks was to get to the Main Street MK bakery to get a cinnamon bun. Literally I could care less about souvenirs and t-shirts or any other food, that's all I wanted and we didn't do it... and that's all my fault, nobody else's, because I was trying to make sure the family had a good time and we got to everything.

It was all just too much. I felt smothered by my own plans for this trip. Eek. And I didn't go overboard, I wasn't obsessed with planning, honestly, it just felt like pressure when we got there. It was the heat, crowds, moving stroller out of people's ways, juggling naps and eye meds for the conjunctivitis we learned the baby had like five minutes before our trip, and diaper changes and snacks and FastPass times, app checking= too much. It was overwhelming. I don't go grocery shopping with my kids ... so of course going to a park with so much to consider is going to be hard. This is not like a regular park, you don't just show up and enjoy the rides. You have to plan and get FP etc. You're also spending a billion times more money on this trip than you would say going to a theme park or zoo back home.

It's like a wedding... of course you look back at your wedding day and think oh how wonderful, that was awesome, amazing right? But the planning and chaos of people with wedding stuff is difficult. That's the same as Disney. And it's OK to say so.

So here's the thing I reminded myself of after that first tough day at MK. Here's what I held onto the rest of our trip so it made things much more enjoyable for all- and we DID have that awesome trip! I hope these tips help you as much as they helped me get through the rest of our trip smiling and staying slightly sane.

Tips to enjoy your IMPERFECT trip to Disney:

  1. You're at Disney. That's enough. The colors, flowers, atmosphere, weather, etc. is enough to make kids smile. Stop pushing yourself to get on all the rides. 
  2. You CAN'T do it all. It's impossible so stop trying. This is a MUST to remember. Definitely plan two days for Magic Kingdom, but otherwise realize you cannot do everything. We got park hopper and did not use it once with our younger age kids. It's OK! We picked and chose rides that we could do anywhere- like the carousel or the second Buzz ride, we had to skip some things so chose a few things that we were OK missing.
  3. You will go back. You imagine this is the only time you are going to Disney, understandably since it probably took you years to get there this time. But you WILL go back... it's OK if you don't do it all today. My co-worker told me this and she was SO right, you feel like this is it, this is the one chance you get to do everything. Well, it's not. Most people go back, so tell yourself if you don't do it this trip it's all right and you'll do it next time.
  4. I don't think this is the most magical place on Earth, sorry. It's just not. It's stressful and tiring and overwhelming... Even if it IS the most fun place on Earth, I'll give you that, it IS super fun. And of course there's an element of magic in there, TONS of magic.... but when you say it's the most magical place on Earth I feel that pressure to make it perfect.... and Disney is NOT perfect. It cannot be perfect with young children in tow who are tired and impatient. Our kids were extremely well behaved on this trip, and it was still super hard. I think it's OK to just tell yourself this is a trip, an awesome magical expensive one, but it's just a trip. It's OK if not every single second is full of smiles and magic.
  5. Nothing in this parenting journey is perfect. Why do we set ourselves up to think Disney will be? Yes, it'll be great. Yes, you'll make the kids happy. Yes, it's worth going and making memories. BUT it's NOT going to be perfect and it doesn't have to be. It's like having a newborn.... most incredible experience, life changing, bliss.... yet you'd love more sleep, and can't stand the sound of screeching baby during diaper changes and sucks to be puked on. 
  6. Plan and prep ahead. Do all you can ahead of time to make this a smooth trip. We packed snacks and lunches to avoid waiting in more lines. We did FastPasses for as many rides as possible to get more in and avoid lines. We took breaks on the sidelines for ice cream daily so we could cool off and rest a bit. We got good night's sleep going to bed early the night before our trips. Do what you can.

IT'S OK to express that it's not all perfect at Disney. It's OK to say you hated waiting in line with a toddler who hit your face or screeched "mine" for your water bottle. It's OK to say you got a headache and sunburn when you forgot to take care of you after changing another poop diaper on the ground because the line for the bathroom was going to be about 15 minutes and you had a FP to get to. It's OK to feel angry, impatient, frustrated, annoyed, sad even at times on this trip. I hope those things don't happen to you... but it's normal if they do. And you need to know that.

 We were soooo tired in this picture above... parenting in Florida is exhausting!

It's hard to accept that we don't make something perfect for our kids, right? You build it up so much in your mind, you plan this trip for months, stress over and figure out every single detail, but remind yourself: they are still KIDS. They are kids who are now on the most expensive vacation ever, but still KIDS.

Kids complain about walking because they have short legs.
Kids hate heat because they are too young to know how to deal with it or to recognize it'll pass.
Kids are impatient, they don't have long attention spans and don't realize that it'll be worth it in the end if they wait for 185 minutes for a single 2 minute ride.
Kids don't understand the concept of time, so when you say "it's only a 40 minute wait" they think WTF in their kid ways.
I'm so sorry to report to you, but kids are selfish. They don't express gratitude as well as older people or like you deserve for shelling out so much money. They have no concept of how hard you worked, how many years it took pinching and saving money to get to this trip. They don't get it, so you preaching to them in the gift shop won't really help.
Kids think of themselves- that's NORMAL. They don't think of what ride you want to go on. They don't care that you haven't eaten, they just want their own ice cream, NOW.

Remind yourself you are there for the kids. It's hard to accept at points on this trip... but it's what you're there for. And whatever happens, it's going to be great. It's going to be fun and messy, just like parenting is. It's going to be rewarding but chaotic and totally overwhelming- just like having kids is every other day. So don't set yourself up for perfection or overload. Set yourself up for the reality of going to an incredible and magical place with your busy impatient kids. Breathe. Remind yourself it's ALL OK.

I swear we loooooved our trip.... but the honest mama in me needs to share with you the reality that it's not supposed to be perfect. Hugs to you, those embracing this trip. May it be filled with a realistic dose of magic and lots of icy cold treats to help you get through the hot or crazy moments.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Disney magic : character meal - Garden Grove

We stumbled upon Garden Grove for a dinner one night when we had a bunch of family gathering together and needed a space big enough at last minute. My sister is so savvy when it comes to Disney, she scored us a reservation for like 15 people very last minute at Swan and Dolphin hotel at the Garden Grove restaurant. The restaurant is in the Swan section of the hotel, this massive place. It was really beautiful inside, with a large tree in the middle of the restaurant. It was basically empty the whole time we were there, and the food was excellent. We were all very pleasantly surprised.

This is not a Disney property so they do not accept the dining plan. Because of that, many families aren't going there, and it's actually an amazing place.

We didn't even know there were characters at this meal, so that was even more fun! Because it's a smaller restaurant and it wasn't packed, the characters spent a lot of time with us, hugging, playing on the floor, taking pictures, etc. It was amazing! The food was cheaper than other restaurants also.

We met Goofy and Pluto at this restaurant. They spent so much time with our kids, which was super fun. I don't have a ton of pictures of the character greetings, as they were with our cousins and I don't want to post other kids on the blog... but it was SO fun to see these characters up close and personal without having to rush.

There is a buffet salad, soup and bread bar that you start with, including a station where the employee can chop your salad with a mixed dressing. This was delicious! They don't have a lot of on the menu, but the prime rib was fantastic- all of our adults ordered this for the most part. They had some fish and chicken items as well, and a kids menu.

We all got dessert items, various cookies and puddings, cakes, etc. from the buffet.

It was overall a great experience! I definitely recommend this restaurant if you have a bigger family you'd like to go out to eat with.

Disney magic : character meal - Akershus

Akershus is another fun character meal that is in Epcot, right outside the Frozen Ever After ride in Norway. This is a really fun character meal to meet some princesses. The princesses are different I've heard each time you go, but some standard ones.

When we visited we met Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, Belle and Sleeping Beauty. We ended up going to this meal the last day we visited a park, at Epcot, and we'd already met all the princesses before besides Snow White... and about a half hour after eating at this restaurant we saw Snow White meeting children with only about four kids in line just up the road from this restaurant... so essentially we could have seen all the princesses free instead of paying a lot (this was our most expensive character meal).

I recommend you visiting this restaurant if you're going to Epcot first before other parks like Magic Kingdom (MK). I also recommend you going here if you don't plan to wait in any lines at all to see some princesses. We were fine with waiting the 20 minutes to see Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty in MK because you got to see them IN the castle, which was pretty special, more interesting than seeing at Akershus.

To me, going to Akershus depends on what you're looking for. It was fabulous food, delicious! It was a great atmosphere, very Norway region. The staff were awesome, the kids got to do a princess walk through the restaurant which our daughter loved. But it was pretty expensive for us to see princesses we'd already seen. The princesses only stay with you less than a minute, too.


You do get to take pictures with Belle at the start of the day, which is super fun.  You can also see Belle in MK at her Enchanted Tales with Belle, which is more fun since you get to dance with her and spend time with her.

The food was delicious for the kids- they loved the mac and cheese- delicious, we would have eaten it ourselves, and pizza. There is a buffet salad bar with cheese, meats, fish, crackers, etc. that you start out with, then your meal is served to you.

The menu is Norwegian so some of the items were interesting and new to us, but we loved this ravioli with balsamic drizzle and some chicken. It was delicious. The difficult thing about this though was one major reason to go to Epcot is to try all the various country foods there, things you can't find elsewhere, and after having lunch at Akershus we just were not hungry enough to want to try other items... so I think for us we'd skip this meal again in the future.

Tip: We brought a Halloween costume princess dress and wrapped it up in our backpack, had her wearing her shorts and tank top underneath. She was so excited to be able to do that! Most kids did have princess gowns on, so that was cute to see.

The dessert was family style, where they served us a variety of things to try together. Delicious!

Dairy free sherbet was my son's favorite thing the entire trip!

Overall, this was a great restaurant, good food, fun to see princesses. We just would not go back because it did not match what we want. We'd like to go to Epcot to eat at various country food stops instead of fill up at this expensive restaurant. We don't mind seeing the princesses at MK earlier in the week also, so that works better for us. I am glad we took our daughter, she enjoyed it immensely, but we felt she could enjoy something similar in another setting to meet the needs of our entire family.

Disney magic: character meal - Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace (CP) is such a nice place to have a delicious character meal at Disney. It's located inside the Magic Kingdom (MK) so you need to purchase a park ticket or a park hopper ticket to get inside. It's about 1 minute walk inside the park to get to the restaurant. It's a very beautiful setting! It's very victorian and England atmosphere.

This is a buffet meal where you can pick what you want and go up as many times as you want.

We went to CP for breakfast before the park was opening, which is the key to getting inside and getting on rides earlier. Our breakfast was at about 8:05 a.m. when the park was opening at 9. We got out of there at about 9:20 a.m. and were on rides a few minutes later. I highly recommend doing a breakfast here so that you get into the park earlier.

The best thing about CP is seeing the WINNIE THE POOH characters! You cannot see them anywhere else it feels like so this is a must if your kids are a big fan of Pooh. Even my oldest, who has loved Tigger for his entire life, now 8 years old, fell in love with seeing the real guy. It was very sweet.

One thing to keep an eye on when you head to the buffet to get food or second helpings, you need to be careful to make sure you don't miss the characters walking by your table.

The dairy free Mickey Waffles were a big hit with our little guy too.

You get a minute or so with each character and only see them one time, just fyi.

The food was delicious- especially the french toast lasagna (in the bowl).

Our kids LOVED Crystal Palace! They had a blast. Seeing the characters live like that was amazing. We will definitely be going back to this one, maybe not our next trip but when the baby is older so he can remember seeing them, too. Of course by then the big kids will be over seeing Pooh, butttt we believe they'll find it magical still since it's just so cute!

Our only downside here was that we had a huge breakfast and then instantly wanted to get on rides, the reason we got inside the park early of course... so my husband and big kids went straight to the left of the park (since most people are going to the right) and they were able to get on Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain- great as far as lines go, but not so great on the full belly! Just keep that in mind.

I on the other hand was able to stick around the castle after breakfast at about 9:20-9:30 and it was EMPTY, so I got amazing pictures of the baby walking by it. So again I highly recommend going to CP for breakfast to get into the park early and walk around, get good pictures and get onto rides before the massive crowd gets in.

Disney magic : character meal- Chef Mickey's

Chef Mickey's is our favorite character meal of all the ones we tried on our first trip! If you are looking to sign up for just one character meal, definitely go here! You get to see all the fabulous Mickey characters in one place, can avoid lines in the parks to see them and it's delicious food. We went for breakfast at 7:10 a.m. - eek super early, but so glad we did! When we were leaving about an hour later, it was packed and we were glad to get ahead of all of those people to the parks that day.

Chef Mickey's is in the Contemporary Resort, which is on the monorail. It's right near Magic Kingdom, so if you are heading to Chef Mickey's do it on a day you're going to MK. We messed that part up, but it was not too far from Hollywood Studios where we went that day.

This is a buffet breakfast that you can go up as many times as you like.

Tip: when driving to this park, make sure you have the confirmation number available as you get to the parking lot to let them know you're there for breakfast.

Highly recommend this restaurant!

When you first walk in they take a picture for you, which is just a nice added bonus.

It's easy to get to, plenty of parking if you're traveling with your own car, and on the monorail so easy from resorts, too.

The coolest part was seeing a monorail come through the breakfast area overhead! Just neat for the kids to see.

TONS of food options- eggs, pancakes, Mickey Waffles, fruits, ham, ETC.

Our kids ate tons and loved everything, no complaints from some of these picky eaters!

Our baby is dairy and soy free, and so we were so pleasantly surprised to find they have a special allergy friendly menu including the Mickey Waffles that all kids are psyched to eat at Disney! He got his very own plate with three waffles, it was very sweet. I've heard from other friends who have severe food allergies with their kids that DW is very very accommodating. I was pleased to see this, they were so friendly to us.

We were seated immediately, eating about 10 minutes later, and then characters starting arriving at our table. It was perfect! We had a blast. The kids were excited to see each character. We went to this restaurant on our second day on the trip, so it was really fun to be able to get in all the characters. Next time we go I'd try to get an early breakfast here the first morning we arrived so that we got to see them all on the first day before heading to a park. I imagine it'd be fun here at dinner also or a lunch away from the MK crowds too as other options, but I'm glad we stuck with breakfast, a good way to start our day.

The kids were super excited to get all the autographs!

First thing in the morning it wasn't super loud, but I imagine as the day goes on with more people and tall ceilings it could get louder.

This is my favorite place to meet characters because it's the only one I believe that you get Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto! Daisy is not here, but the first fab 5 ARE there together.

Here's a good video that shows off some of the restaurant:

We LOVED Chef Mickey's- we've all agreed when we go back to Disney we'd stop here for a breakfast first. Breakfast is also the cheapest meal, so that's a bonus. Even if it were more money, I'd still want to do breakfast, just a great way to start off a park day.