Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cardinals go to Disney: Day 1

By K.J. Cardinal

The Cardinal Blog has been silent for nearly two years, which makes me a little sad, but this week is one of those instances that just demands some action. We are taking the kids to Disney for the first time.

Anna has been waiting patiently for seven years for us to make this trip. We've always told her that she needed to wait until Leo was five-years-old before we'd be making the trip to the Magic Kingdom. So, when we surprised her with the news two months ago, with Leo still being four, her reaction was absolute perfection and one of my happiest moments as a parent.

I just absolutely love this girl...

We flew nonstop out of Worcester and had a great travel day getting down here. It was just the second time flying for both kids, but the first one that Leo will actually remember as he was just two when we went to St. Thomas. Worcester Airport couldn't be smaller or more convenient. Zero lines, super nice TSA officers and no hassle whatsoever. It was a breeze.

Anyway, day one was relatively quiet. We landed around 2 p.m., snagged our rental car and headed to check-in at our hotel for the week. We traded in some timeshare points to stay at Westgate Lake Resorts. The place is OK. Nothing too fancy and rather dated, but we won't be spending much time in the room, so it really doesn't matter all that much... the important fact is that it is only about 15 minutes from Disney.

After checking in, the kids took a quick dip in one of the seven pools at the resort and we went to get dinner at this nice little sushi place we found on Yelp called Mikado Sushi. I highly recommend it as we got a big boat and it was probably the second-best sushi I've ever had and it wasn't all that expensive. Anna never ceases to amaze me when it comes to eating. She absolutely hammered the sushi... we had to remind her that it would be nice if she could "share" some of the salmon with us... Angie got one piece.

After dinner, we stumbled upon another gem for dessert... Private Island Ice Cream Company. This place is located in a little plaza across from Gatorland and they make their ice cream right in front of you, using liquid nitrogen. I'd never seen this done before and the ice cream had a real rustic, homemade feel to it. It was cool...

We then headed back to the hotel and just hung out in our room for a few hours and tried to get as much sleep as we could. We were all very excited for Disney day one... Magic Kingdom.

We woke the kids up around 6:30 a.m. and arrived to Disney around 7:30 a.m. We parked and took the tram over to the monorail terminal. You could cut the tension with a knife as the kids' anticipation level was at an all-time high. As we approached the area to take the monorail over, Anna asked if we could take the ferry over instead. We thought it was going to be a little chilly, but we were all up for it. We decided to snag a couple coffees and hot chocolates to warm us up if it was chilly. As we walked over to the coffee stand, Leo was jumping/running/skipping and tripped, fell and scraped up his knee pretty good. We hadn't even made it into Magic Kingdom and we had a crying, slightly bleeding little boy on our hands. Not a great start to the day, but Leo responded like a champion.

The ferry ride wasn't that cold after all, as it goes pretty slow, and we were at the gates before we knew it.

Angie has put a lot of work in trying to figure out the best plan of attack for Disney, but having "planned" vacations, really isn't entirely our speed. She booked our three fast past trips for the day and a dress up experience for the kids, but other than that, we wanted to shoot from the hip, go with the flow and react to what the kids wanted to do. It turned out to be the perfect plan for us.

As we entered, we saw that we could go meet Mickey Mouse, so what better way to start off our Disney experience, then by meeting the big guy himself. The kids seemed a little tentative and unsure about the whole ordeal when they first laid eyes on him and as we were meeting him, but once we walked out of the room, they were both beyond excited about it all. I got a little video of the meet and greet. Mickey tried to stonewall me with a handshake, but I had to go in for a hug... c'mon Mick, you're killing me.

We walked around, letting the kids soak in all that is magical about this place. We hit up rides like It's a Small World (had to do this first because, let's face it, this ride pretty much sucks in comparison to everything else Disney has to offer, but it's a staple and we had to do it), the haunted house, the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse and more early on, but the first big highlight of our day came at The Pirates League where Angie scheduled the kids to get made up like a pirate and a mermaid.

This whole experience was friggin cool. The makeup artists play the bit up big time as if they're straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean and the kids ate it up big time. Leo was the cutest little Jake the pirate you could ever imagine, but I was absolutely speechless as Anna sat in the chair and was getting all done up. This picture pretty much makes me want to burst out into tears...

One thing I wasn't really expecting was the reaction the kids would get as we walked around Magic Kingdom all day. People were absolutely in love with it. We had fun shocking people that we'd talk to by taking Leo's hat off to reveal his super short, blonde hair. Definitely not what people were expecting.

After The Pirates League experience, we took a quick break for the kids to snag some ice cream and Anna had to FaceTime with Meme and Aunt Kate to show off her makeup. It's an awesome world we live in where you can video chat with your grandmother and aunt from Disney so they can really feel like part of the experience. A GREAT idea by Anna. The way kids think these days is awesome... but I digress... We were off to Splash Mountain. The kids were absolutely wired. Leo enjoyed Splash Mountain just a little...

Priceless. The pirate costume just puts his normal cuteness over the top and the fact that he had to check his makeup had me dying.

We hit up a few more attractions and then decided around 5:30 p.m. that we were going to leave for a bit, go snag some dinner, take a nap at the hotel and return to the Magic Kingdom for the fireworks.

So we hit up an awesome Mexican joint called Chuys that Angie found on Yelp (definitely a go-to app for foodie travelers). It was just what the doctor ordered. We were able to get out of the sun and get into some air conditioning for a while and we all caught a second wind. For the kids, it was because they got dough balls to play with and we had a balloon artist come by our table, but for Angie and I, it was because of the $5 margaritas. Anyway, we had one of the most fun meals of our lives. Just being silly with the kids and each other and we rallied... BIG TIME!

I got the crazy idea to just head right back to Magic Kingdom and saying heck with the hotel and naps. Everyone was on board... and pumped! So, us crazy folks were headed right back into the lion's den.

As an aside, my only slight hesitation about this plan was that we didn't have a stroller and weren't planning on renting one. At like 11:30 a.m., Leo asked if we could go back to the hotel because his legs were tired. I thought I was in for a long day of carrying the 50+ pound behemoth, but he was a champion. Rides on the shoulder were periodic throughout the day, but  he forged ahead like a champ.

Anyway, we got back to Disney around 7:30 p.m. and we were ready for round two. We got the kids some light up toys and we hunkered down for the fireworks show. Leo was being Mr. Sociable... chatting it up with other kids, talking shop about light up toys and made the 30 minute wait fly by. Anna was taking it all in, like she usually does, and couldn't wait for the show to start.

The kids were blown away by the light show on Cinderella's castle... and I have to admit, I was too. Just such an amazing idea that's executed to perfection and has everyone in attendance feeling like a kid again. It truly is a magical place in that regard.

Immediately after the fireworks, Angie had set us up with a fast pass for the new Seven Dwarfs roller coaster. It was just what we all needed as we were a little sluggish after standing around for the fireworks and waiting for everyone to clear out so we could make our way to the ride. The Seven D coaster was awesome. My favorite of the day. Not sure if it was because it was night time and roller coasters at night are always better, or if the ride is just THAT good, but either way, we all caught our THIRD wind and were ready for more.

We hit up a few more attractions, including the Monsters Inc. Laugh Factory that had us all in stitches, and finally decided to leave the park around 11:30 p.m. On the walk out, Leo summed it up the day perfectly as he was on my shoulders walking down Main Street and said, "Dad, today was the best day of my life."

Hard to argue with that statement, bud. Thanks Walt.