Posts Tagged ‘kids’

Our First Disney Trip: Hollywood Studios

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Previously: Disney Non-Park Day, Magic Kingdom

Right now (Summer 2017), Hollywood Studios is majorly under construction. They’re adding Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land (rumor says those will open in 2018 and 2019, respectively) so the park feels a little…messy. But some of my all-time favorite stuff is at Hollywood Studios, so we planned a full day at the park – and still ended up missing a bunch of things! Honestly, I used to think people who spent 10 days at Disney World were crazy, but after this trip I totally get it. If (when) we go again, it will be for a full week at minimum.

We got to Hollywood Studios before rope drop because we needed to get to the Rock’n’Rollercoaster as soon as they opened. I used my Tier 1 FastPass for the Buzz Lightyear ride and since we had our special Star Wars tour starting at 2:45 we couldn’t afford to stand in line for too long. Just like at Magic Kingdom, they let us part of the way into the park before officially opening and then held us at the end of the street until the real rope drop. We ended up stopped right in from of Starbucks, so I popped in and got two enormous mint frappuccinos (enormous frappuccinos are still only worth 1 snack credit each on the dining plan) and we got our morning buzz while we waited. It was perfect. Once 9 am hit, we scurried over to Rock’n’Rollercoaster where E and Evan basically walked right on. Caroline, Linc, Finn and I watched the line go from nothing to SUPER long, back to reasonable length, so my advice would be if you’re running 5-10 minutes late and aren’t there right at open, give it a few minutes before getting in line.

I rider switched with E, rode Rock’n’Rollercoaster with Evan (who loved it), and then we ran – almost literally – around the park to get all our other non-Star Wars stuff done as fast as possible.

We had a Fastpass for Disney Jr Live On Stage. We didn’t actually need the FP but I super recommend the show if you have little kids (or even medium sized kids) who like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Sofia the First or Doc McStuffins. Linc lost his mind and even the big kids had a great time.

PhotoPass pictures from meeting Pluto:

We had another character meal planned for lunch at Hollywood & Vine. Sometimes it’s a Minnie Mouse and Friends lunch, but this month it was Disney Jr characters again. It worked out perfectly for us because we didn’t have time to do the character spots outside the show but all those same characters were at lunch. Once again the food was good, they let the babies eat as much as they wanted, and the characters were great with the kids. It wasn’t crowded and it took the right amount of time – long enough for us to take a rest in the air conditioning, but not so much time we got off schedule for the day.

We also stood in line to meet Buzz and Woody. 10000% worth it. 1000000000%. No matter how long that line is, we will always stand in it.

PhotoPass Photos:

Look at this photo. I can’t even handle this photo:

Right outside Buzz and Woody we ran into Green Army Man who was also an amazing meet. The kids played with him for a long time.

In the afternoon we had a Tower of Terror FastPass. E was kind enough to let me go with the kids first, but then we ran out of time for his turn before our Star Wars tour. (Don’t worry, he gets to ride it eventually.)

Caroline and I loved it. Evan, not so much.

And then it was time for our Star Wars Tour!

Here’s our two sentence review of the tour: It was fine, but not the best to do with small kids. It was ABSOLUTELY worth the money.

And here’s the long version: They took good care of us. We got ponchos and water and a chance to preorder whatever food we wanted for everyone (including babies). There were electronic earpieces so we could hear the tour. Our guides, Freddy and Harry knew a TON of stuff about Star Wars, the history of Stars Wars as it related to Disney, trivia about the rides and shows and other Stars Wars stuff. We got a tour of the concept art gallery, front row seats to the two Star Wars films, a ride on Star Tours, and a delicious dinner at the Backlot Express where we were stopped and questioned by Storm Troopers (which was super cool). Unfortunately, the weather was bad so the afternoon First Order parade was canceled, which was, like, the #2 reason I signed up for the tour. Even worse news, the Jedi Training also got canceled because of the rain, and that was definitely the #1 reason we paid for the tour. I started to worry we were going to miss everything I had really cared about and I was pretty bummed. We were not the only people on the tour missing those things – half the people didn’t care because they were grown-ups, but everyone with kids had signed up basically just so they could get guaranteed spots in Jedi Training. (Freddy and Harry told us that was a surprise to Disney. They thought the tour would be mostly adults super into Star Wars who wouldn’t care at all about missing Jedi Training, so having to come up with a way to fix it for people like us was hard.) But during dinner when they warned us things might not work out they also said: “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” And they absolutely did.

It turns out Freddy had the power to give us pretty much anything. He looked at our schedule for the next day, booked us spots in the 10:10 am Jedi Training, changed our scheduled Epcot Fastpasses to magical, open-ended Fastpasses that worked on any ride at any time in Epcot, and then set up meets with Darth Vader not once but TWICE during the tour. He said if we hadn’t had park tickets for Thursday he could have gotten those for us too. And when we got to our rescheduled Jedi Training, one of our new tour friends told us his request had been both Darth Vader and Kylo Ren in the show, so that happened too (those photos are in tomorrow’s recap). Freddy even showed up on Thursday to make sure we were 100% happy. The level of customer service was everything you would expect from the most magical place on Earth.

But I’m getting ahead of myself!

 

In the evening, we went to the dessert party in the Launch Bay. You can buy tickets to JUST the dessert party, and I would absolutely recommend it. We might even do it again, because it was so fun.

I had read on some blogs that if you bring things to trade with the Jawas who hang out in this area they will give you droid parts or other small things. There isn’t a lot of advice on the internet about what, exactly, they will trade for, so I brought a baggie full of various things: dress up beads, marbles, Happy Meal toys, and a sparkly hair tie. The Jawa was super aloof and uninterested in us, refused to trade and kept walking away, so went to the dessert party. A while later we came back and Caroline tried trading her hair tie. The Jawa was much nicer that time, checking out her trade and admiring it because it was very sparkly. He (she?) ended up trading Caroline the tie for a glowing bouncy ball. Then the Jawa started “talking” to Lincoln, and a romance was born. They LOVED each other. It was honestly the cutest thing I have ever seen. E took some video of them, but there was another 10 or 15 minutes where they played together. The Jawa pretended he was going to keep Linc and I am pretty sure Linc was totally ok with that. Then I offered to take the Jawa home to Connecticut, but he didn’t know where that was. I told him “a galaxy far, far away” and we had a moment where he was very excited about my answer. At the end of the video you can see the Jawa tell us to wait there, which we did. He went and found another glowing ball to give Lincoln, even without anything in return.

Seriously, it was one of the absolute highlights of our trip and maybe the best character interaction the whole week. There were other kids and grown-ups around who took pictures with the Jawa or tried to trade – including one adult man who tried to boss the Jawa around – but none of them had much luck. I would recommend being as nice and gentle as possible. DON’T be pushy. The Jawa did not like pushy people. And bring the sparkliest things you can think of to trade.

Part of the dessert party was getting to meet BB8, Chewbacca and Kylo Ren. Because we were tour guests we didn’t have to wait at all, but even for just dessert party guests there was almost no line. That meant Chewy could spend a ton of time with the kids and again Disney showed off why their character interactions are SO amazing.

After dessert and drinks (alcohol for the grown-ups, all included) we were collected by the Storm Troopers and marched out to the special center-of-the-park viewing area for the Star Wars Gallactic Specactular. I am pretty sure there are regular Hollywood Studios fireworks earlier in the evening, but we didn’t see them. The Star Wars ones were very cool.

hollywood studios star wars day

 

hollywood studios star wars day

hollywood studios star wars day

And here are our PhotoPass pictures from all the Star Wars stuff:

And then we were done with Hollywood Studios day! Although we weren’t quite done with Hollywood Studios, because we came back for Jedi Training in the morning. Up next: our crazy Thursday where we went to THREE parks.

p.s. We did see Indiana Jones in there…somewhere. But we missed The Muppets and The Great Movie Ride. Next time!

p.p.s. I would REALLY love if they added Rey and Jyn Erso character meets. I realize they don’t currently have any Star Wars face characters (like the princesses in other parks) but maybe once they open Star Wars Land. I’ll go back pretty much just for those photos.

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Our First Disney Trip: Planning

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Our First Disney Trip Planning

This is going to be an incredibly long and exhaustive series that a ton of people are not going to be interested in AT ALL, but I have gotten so much joy out of reading blogs and doing research and anticipating our first Disney trip. E and I spend many, many evenings booking, canceling, rebooking and changing dining reservations, making notes of which rides we’re prioritizing, creating list of must-see and must-eat things. We haven’t actually told the kids we’re going yet because as much as I want to share my excitement with them I don’t want to be asked 20 times a day if it’s time to leave. The plan is to tell them on Sunday since we want time for them to get excited and they’ll be missing the last couple days of school. I want them to be able to day goodbye to their classes and teachers before summer break. So until then, all my excitement has been focused on the internet.

Let me start with a disclaimer: This isn’t a Disney on a Budget guide. This is not a cheap vacation. I didn’t coupon my way to Disney or pay for it entirely with rewards points. We can only afford to go because Disney offers pretty good military discounts on both hotels and park tickets, plus we’re driving. It’s probably a twice-in-a-lifetime experience (we’ll go again when Linc and Finn are old enough to remember it) so we are throwing all our discretionary funds at this trip.

If you haven’t been to Disney in the last decade, you might not realize that planning is a HUGE part of the trip. Last time I went (2002? 2003?) we stood in a lot of lines and got one or two paper Fastpasses, if we happened to remember. Now you not only need to plan your rides at least 60 days in advance, you need to plan meals and make dining reservations 180 days in advance. NOT planning might sound easier, but unless the only thing you care about is literally walking through the front gates and being inside the park, you will proabably miss a ton of stuff. As much as I realize that making a minute-by-minute schedule when there are 4 kids involved might be pointless, NOT having a schedule would be worse. I am fully prepared to be flexible, but I’m not prepared to come home with sad kids who just wanted to meet Baymax but I had no idea where to find him. Enter: THE INTERNET!

My Disney Pinterest Board is here. I pinned everything from lists to specific restaurant reviews to Etsy shops. There are a TON of pins that relate to Disney but there are surprisingly few really great ones – a lot of links lead to sites that are mostly ads or obvious click bait. I’ve taken to searching “Disney” on Pinterest every couple of days just to see if anything new comes up.

While I was looking for real world vacation recaps and advice, I found the Disney Tourist Blog. I was a little skeptical at first, because the guy who writes it doesn’t even have kids yet. I figured his experiences with the park are vastly different than what I would be interested in. But his photography sucked me in (and he shoots with the same equipment I do, which made it even more helpful) and his site is extensive, so when I’m looking for reviews or suggestions for something specific (is the menu at X restaurant better for breakfast or lunch? If I have to choose between these two rides for Fastpasses, which one should I pick?) he almost always has the answer. He updates very regularly and revises old posts when things change. At this point I’ve read so many posts featuring Tom and Sarah if I were to actually SEE them at Disney it would be as exciting for me as seeing Mickey Mouse. Not that I’m an internet stalker or anything. I’m just a normal fan. Super normal.

Another blog I really enjoyed reading was The Frugal South’s Disney World section. She also updates regularly, is easy to read, and has real-world tips for things like Magic Bands and making room requests. She does do a lot of budget-type advice, which is helpful even if you’re not specifically trying to plan a low-budget trip.

When it came time to make Fastpass reservations, the Touring Plans blog was incredibly helpful. They have the tiers listed for the parks that use tiers, suggestions for which passes to prioritize, even times suggested for each one. I thought having a list of what Fastpasses we wanted was enough, until I actually looked at our day and realized between dining reservation and parades we had very specific windows for rides. They even have current (as in, right now, at this moment) Fastpass times still available for all rides at each park. It was helpful to look at those over a few days and see which rides ran out of Fastpasses (the Mine Train passes were gone at 7 am) and which ones we would be safe trying to book after we use up our initial 3. The truth is even though for ME the Mountains (Splash, Space and Big Thunder) are the most important rides, I need to prioritize the kid-friendly rides more and aim for later Fastpasses for the roller coasters. I never would have even thought of doing that without the info on Touring Plans.

I spent $7 of my actual real-life money for access to all the member info on Character Locator. The website looks like it was built in 2001 and there isn’t an app version so I just pinned the forums to my homescreen, but I really wanted to be able to quickly find out where we can meet characters. There’s also a thing called Characterpalooza that’s super secret and you’re not supposed to talk about (like Fight Club, except instead of punching people you get a picture with Robin Hood) but you can find out when it is if you subscribe. There are a lot of short character meets that aren’t the kind in a building with a FastPass – Belle in France, Peter Pan in Fantasyland – which means they’re easy to miss. I figured on a scale of how much money I’m spending on other things, a few dollars to make sure the kids get to meet their very favorite Disney people is nothing. It also has all the info on parade times, menus and ride info like height requirements and FastPass/Rider Swap. The super-basic layout means that stuff is going to be easy to find quickly while we’re walking around the parks.

As the trip has gotten closer, I’ve been working on adding detailed info to my daily plans. I sorted out our list of must-do rides and attractions by park, then by area, so hopefully we won’t be wasting a lot of time crisscrossing the parks. The maps on WDWInfo we very helpful, although good old Wikipedia also had lists of rides divided up by Fantasyland/Tomorrowland/etc. I’ve also made notes next to rides with height requirements since being prepared to rider swap/handle Caroline’s disappointment is important. It’s also nice to look at how many rides DON’T have any height requirements, which means I can wear or bring Finnegan with me and we can do them as a whole family.

Another thing that has made planning easier and more fun is having a Disney vacation friend to talk to. My friend Alena was planning a trip less than a month before mine AND had been to Disney World with her kids last year, so she was always ready to make suggestions and give me real life updates on what time they got to the park for castle photos and which character interactions should definitely be on my list. I had another real life friend forward me a bunch of email advice she got from a Disney Vacation Club member and I chatting with yet another real life friend about Disney Springs meal options. People who love Disney World LOVE DISNEY WORLD and are happy to talk about their past/future vacations. If you need a Disney friend, I am MORE than happy to be that person!

Next up on Disney planning: What we wore! I’ll include tons of links now and then update with actual in-park photos when we get back. I put almost as much effort into our outfits as I did into where and when to eat.

 

 

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We Went To The Ocean

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Ocean Beach is “New England’s finest sugar sand beach”, according to the radio commercials they play all the time. Really, it’s the only beach nearby that has STUFF as opposed to just being a state park. It means it costs more to park (and more to ride the rides and more to use the pool and more for the water slide…) but it’s also easier to spend a whole day there because you aren’t just sitting. E HATES sitting on the beach. He does not know how to relax. And when you’re watching 4 children near the ocean, no one gets to relax. But we still had a good time with our out-of-state relatives last weekend, even if the water was freezing. The children did not care.

The above photo is a very accurate representation of what it’s like to take 6 kids to the beach.

My boys don’t have swim shirts because I wasn’t expecting anyone to actually go in the water. IT WAS NOT WARM. So I totally covered them in sunscreen instead, which makes them look even paler than they already are. It’s sort of ridiculous.

Every time we end up at Ocean Beach I wonder why we don’t go more often*. During the summer they have special kids nights on Mondays (I think) where the rides are cheap. As soon as our summer weather gets here (any day now would be fine, Mother Nature) we’ll try to make it a habit. I love the ocean, even if it’s not super relaxing, and these are exactly the kinds of summer memories I want the kids to have of Connecticut.

*The real answer is I think of New London as being really far away even though it’s only like 20 minutes from the house. It’s also the opposite direction from the lake, so we’re usually headed that way instead.

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Summer is Almost Here

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Huge thanks to Gymboree for once again sponsoring this post and outfitting my constantly-growing children.

We are T-minus 4 days away from the unofficial start of summer around here because this weekend our lake opens! I’m not actually sure how we survived summer before we had a lake membership, but for the past few years it has been a lifesaver for hot summer days, the cure for too much screen time, a meeting place where we almost always find friends to play with and a much-needed break for me from cleaning up the same mess day after day.

But it’s not just the lake I look forward to in the summer. I’m an ocean devotee – the sand, the salt, the smell, all of it is necessary to my happiness. Just knowing I can be at the ocean in a few minutes makes me feel better. It’s why I don’t know if I could ever live in a non-coastal state. How do you handle so much dry land?

Thanks to a few true summer weather days last week we’ve already been to the beach once this May and are going back during Memorial Day weekend to share it with some flyover state relatives coming to visit. They specifically requested the ocean be on the itinerary, so we’ll probably take them to Ocean Beach where they can get the full Atlantic experience: cold water, hot sand, the boardwalk, the rickety rides, the overpriced ice cream. It’s all important. And thanks to my friends at Gymboree the kids are going to look stylish and patriotic for all our weekend plans. Their new Star Spangled Days collection is perfect for Memorial Day, 4th of July, or any summer day where you’re feelin’ the red, white and blue vibes.

Caroline’s favorites from here look are the sunglasses and her “high heel” wedges.

 4

You can find the shoes here, which you should definitely do because they’re so adorable. They also come in big kid sizes.

One of my favorite things about Gymboree is that they still make clothes for ALL my kids so it’s easy to match even when my cool-guy 8-year-old maybe doesn’t want to wear exactly the same shirt as the 2-year-old. Although who doesn’t want super sweet glasses like those?

My very attractive and well-behaved children are the perfect fashion models. In opposite world.

Evan has worn that hoodie every day since we got it, which is about as strong of a recommendation as anyone can give.

Four more days before Memorial Day, 18 more days before we ditch school to start our summer vacation, 43 days until the 4th of July, and my fingers are crossed every single one of those days is perfect New England summer weather. What are your plans for the holiday weekend? Is it summer yet where you are?

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Life on Film

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

I bought two new cameras recently. One is a new DSLR, the D750 I’ve wanted since the very first time I heard the term “full frame” and imagined maybe some day I would be good enough to justify such a large purchase. The other one was a Nikon N80 film photography body, an SLR camera released in 2000 that uses 35mm. I paid $26 for it on eBay after losing out on half a dozen other Nikon film cameras. The best part is I can use my good lenses on that cheap camera, so I can shoot at 1.4 or 1.8 and my film doesn’t all come out super dark.

I’ve been carrying both cameras around with me since they came. The D750 is everything I’ve ever dreamed of – fast, incredible in low light, super sharp, amazing with my favorite 35mm lens. It’s making me excited to shoot again, trying out how it does with all my lenses and getting used to the slight differences in button set-up from my last Nikon.

But the film camera has my heart. There is just something about that delayed gratification that makes me really treasure my film photos more than my digital. Which is funny, because even though I take the photos on film, when they’re developed and sent back to me they’re digital files. So it has less to do with the tangibility of the product and more to do with thinking of each frame as a valuable commodity – is this moment worth capturing? When I develop this roll will I want this picture on it? Does it go with all the other photos?

I’m making it sound more serious than it is. I’m trying to make sure my shots aren’t a disaster but I’ll still take a pic of the kids making funny faces or toes in the grass or someone twirling even though I’m pretty sure I will never take a twirling photo in focus. There is still SO MUCH I don’t know about film and honestly, I might never learn it all? But that’s ok. You don’t actually have to know everything about something to enjoy it. I like cooking, but I can’t make a turducken. I like knitting but still can’t do short rows. I really like money but who even knows how that stuff works?

My only goal is to be proud of my work, and thus, here is my whole first ever roll of Fuji 400H Pro (the film stock of fancy wedding photographers). I love them all, even the technically bad ones.

If you have an old film camera laying around somewhere, I am happy to answer questions that might help you start using it again!

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