Eat And Ride, A March 2009 Excursion
Cast Of Characters
Your humble correspondent, aged 38, making his 3rd full trip to WDW. (Not including a 1-day Epcot trip in the mid 80's) and DW, (DISboards member DRS_Are_Best), aged 3x, making her 4th trip to WDW.
We're both tall, pooh-sized people (though we've lost a combined nearly 200 pounds in the last 13 months!) who both love Disney movies and parks.
DS3 (back), who will be turning 4 just a few weeks after we return. He was with us on our last trip, at age 13 months. A huge Wall-E, Cars, and Little Einsteins fan.
The twins, DD2 and DS2. They just turned 2 in January, so they are at that dangerous "mobile yet not herdable" stage. This will be their first trip.
We booked Port Orleans Riverside from March 15 to March 22 using the 4/3 special. In the past, we've gone in May, after spring break and before Memorial Day, so March will be different for us. The $200 gift card and the fact that we just didn't want to wait two more months (we need a vacation!) were the deciders.
This is also our first time staying on-site. Basically, the rationale was, if we ever want to stay on-site, doing it before we have to pay for the twins would be a good idea! :thumbsup2
Likewise, we're splurging on deluxe dining. Part of it is the "do it while we can" mentality, but honestly, I look at how the critters deal with meals, and since we want to keep them on close to a normal schedule, if we tried to do a lot of CS mid-day, that means going at peak times, waiting in lines, trying to find tables and high chairs, and still managing to take over an hour to eat. Better to just plan that in, for the most part, and enjoy a more relaxed environment.
Besides, DW and I are experienced cruisers, and we know from experience that we like to eat big when we're outside and active all week. On top of all that, between the 2 adult and 1 kid's meal, we should be able to feed the five of us quite comfortably.
So, we book this trip about a week before Thanksgiving (almost exactly 120 days out). Port Orleans Riverside was the natural choice for fitting 5 into a single room, and the resort certainly looks nice.
Thanks to the advice from these boards, and our past experience at having a hard time just getting a table as a "walk in", we knew to book ADRs right away. We studied the menus (at allears.net) and got a general idea of what we wanted to do.
With the kids, we really wanted to go for a character meal every day. Since the kids eat breakfast after I've left for work during the week, DW lets them watch TV (usually Blue's Clues) to keep the distracted long enough for her to actually make breakfast, clean up, get everything together for wherever they're going that day, etc. The point is, they're used to "entertainment" at breakfast, and since we've certainly got the meal credits to burn, why not?
So, what's the #1 character meal to book? CRT, of course. At 120 days out, we had no chance at all to get in, but DW tried anyway. And got it. Not an ideal time (later than we'd like), but we're not complaining!
And that pretty much set the framework of the schedule for the parks. We figured 6 park days (we changed this later, see below) and that we'd do MK 3 times, so we'd stagger the other parks in between MK days. Since the CRT reservation was for Friday, that made our MK days Monday/Wednesday/Friday. The next step was filling in the breakfast ADRs for the other park days, which led to Epcot on Thursday, DHS on Tuesday, and AK on Saturday. The character breakfasts were rounded out by Chef Mickey's on Monday and Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
With 3 full MK days, we have the luxury of pacing ourselves in the MK specifically. While we will have a general "park plan" for each day, we're certainly not gong to be on a tight schedule, outside of any ADRs. Originally, we had planned on not doing a park on our departure day (Sunday), but we changed our minds and decided to do a MK morning, and leave after lunch.
This list is more or less final, although we will still look to shift a couple of the earlier seatings to 6 PM or later, and we wouldn't mind dropping our Rose & Crown in favor of Le Cellier if an opening occurs...
Comments: 4 of the 6 character meals are in parks before opening (H&V, CP, Akerhaus, TH), as such, skipping AM EMH makes a lot of sense. We'll get there early, have a good parking place, eat, interact, and still be one of the first ones in the park afterward (less so for Akerhaus).
We hadn't really planned on doing CP twice. The character breakfast was booked first, and the final day lunch was a late addition -- we figured a buffet was the best chance to make sure all three critters got a decent meal before we hit the road.
With the exception of Hollywood & Vine, which we've done for dinner (twice), we have never eaten at any of these restaurants before; even the CS choices will be new for us (except the possibility of Cosmic Ray's or Casey's in the MK).
Friday and Saturday feature early dinners, so we're (the adults, that is) either going to skip lunch and just have snacks, or we'll get one lunch and split it. If we find ourselves hungrier than that, we can always pay one CS meal OOP.
Next Up: Pre-Trip Preparation and General Touring Strategy
We're driving from Maryland, which allows us to pack more of our own gear, without worrying about airline restrictions and hauling a bunch of stuff through the airport.
After a poor job preparing for Thanksgiving week travel (I forgot to pack the twins' booster seats and the diapers!) I made a pledge to be better prepared in the future. To this end, in January I began to compile a thorough packing and loading list, to ensure we have everything we want to have, and to use as a checklist before departure. My expectation was to continue refining the list until the end of February, and then start the actual packing (for the things that could be packed in advance) over the two weeks prior to departure.
Main Pre-Trip Goals
For The Car...
It's going to be a long drive, and the kids will probably spend most of the time either napping or watching DVDs, so I plan on making some travel DVDs to use on the drive. The plan is to use dual-layer discs and a bit of lossiness in compression (since we're talking about low-end 7” screens anyway) to get 4-5 hours on a disc, so we don't have to swap discs as often. We'll be primarily pulling TV shows from the Playhouse Disney, Noggin, and PBS programming, with a few Disney movies thrown into the mix (hooray for the DVD recorder hooked up to the TiVo at home!), with each disc containing a variety of programming to avoid us in the from seat going nuts from hearing, say, Bob The Builder for 3-4 hours at a time. (As the critters are too young for headphones.)
Strollers... Yes, Two
We'll be taking two strollers – a double jogger for the twins and a single stroller for DS3. Since we will have our car anyway, we'll be driving to the parks, so we can take more sturdy models. (Extra good, because we're tall people and umbrella strollers tend to be too low.)
I ordered miltary-style "dog tags" for the critters. Each has the child's name and the cell phone numbers for DW and myself. We will attach these to the children in a way that will be hard for them to remove it (luggage-tag length chains looped through a belt buckle will work great!) each day.
As per other advice, get a fresh picture each day on the digital camera and each cell phone of each child, so if they do get lost, it will be easy to remember what they're wearing.
We decided to get into pin trading this time around, and bought a lot of 30 pins (10 each for myself, DW, and DS3) from eBay. I'll randomly allocate them, and let DS3 practice trading with myself and DW for the pins he likes. DW also managed to win a pin in the "What Will You Celebrate" sweepstakes.
Also off of eBay, I picked up three neck wallets w/ lanyards to serve both for pin trading and also to carry KTTW cards and other miscellaneous small items. DS3 will be allowed to wear his at times, though it will likely be kept in a backpack most of the time
(Up Next: Two Days in an SUV)
Travel From Maryland To Florida
The plan is to get the kids to bed as early as possible the night before we leave; ideally, they should be allowed to wake up on their own. We will rouse them only if necessary, but they're generally early risers anyway.
DW and I to wake up early (with the alarm clock) to finish last-minute packing and loading items. DS3 and DS2 are likely to wake up during this and DS3 is generally a light sleeper after 5 AM. By 7:15 or so, rouse any child still asleep (unlikely), get them dressed and fed quickly, and be on the road no later than 8 AM.
In general, the Day 1 drive strategy is to put as many miles down as possible at a time, stopping only for meal and snack breaks. DS3 has gotten pretty good about potty stops and not needing us to stop on the road except at normal break times; DD2 and DS2 are still in diapers. By the “book”, it's 14 hours to Orlando, and the hotel we've booked is at the 9˝ hour mark.
Traveling with small kids will probably make this closer to 11 hours.
Check in to the hotel, get all the beds set up, and let the kids wind down for sleep. In the morning, get everyone fed, let them have some fun at the (indoor) pool, and then get everyone into dry clothes and on the road before 10 AM. Stop once for lunch and pray that the kids nap the rest of the way. Day 2 is 4˝ hours by the “book”, and we plan only a single lunch stop, so 5 hours is not unreasonable of an estimate.
That should get us to POR in the 3PM to 4PM timeframe.
Arrival, At Last!
I will drop DW and the kids off at Old Man Island so that they can burn off some energy at the playground while I check in and drive off to the room to unload and set up. (If online check-in is working properly before we go, this should be easy.)
I will then meet them at the playground (or wherever they've gone off to – DW and I both will have our cell phones) until it is time for our dinner ADR at Boatwright's. Since it's Sunday, Old Man Island will have the nighttime campfire activity that we can join after dinner if the weather cooperates and everyone is feeling up to it (we can have them box up dessert so we can take it over to the campfire), and then we'll try to turn in early since tomorrow will be an early day.
(Up Next: Park Day 1)
Park Day 1 (Monday)
Our breakfast ADR is for Chef Mickey's, at 7:45. While we could do Epcot or Magic Kingdom after that, MK seems like the best choice to start the little ones at, so this will be a MK day.
Rouse everyone early – in time to leave POR no later than 7 AM. We'll drive to the TTC and take the resort monorail to Contemporary, then monorail to the park after breakfast. We'll likely miss rope drop, but we want to take it easy anyway.
In the park, we'll start in Fantasyland, trying the kids out on the Carousel, It's A Small World, and maybe Dumbo, Pooh, and Peter Pan as they get the hang of things. Mixed in with that, we'll let them have some play time in Toontown or at Pooh's Playful Spot.
Time permitting, we'll let DS3 have his trial roller coaster ride on Goofy's Barnstormer; I don't expect any problems, though.
Lunch will likely be at Columbia Harbor House or maybe the Plaza Restaurant if we can do a walk-up; we'll play this by ear.
After lunch, we'll see if the twins will take to napping in their stroller – this will be an important benchmark for the rest of the week!
In any event, we'll leave mid-afternoon (earlier if the twins need a nap!) and head back to POR to catch the water taxi to DTD. Depending on when we get there, we'll spend some time shopping before our dinner ADR at Wolfgang Puck Cafe, and maybe a little more afterward before taking the water taxi back to the resort and calling it a night.
(Up Next: DS3 In DHS Hog Heaven)
Park Day 2 (Tuesday)
DHS day – pre-open breakfast ADR at Hollywood & Vine; DS3 loves “pat pat” (Little Einsteins), and we've kept this character meal a surprise from him to see his reaction. After breakfast, it's time to move quickly to Toy Story mania to get fast passes (and ride standby if the wait isn't too long!). Based on how that goes, we'll try to hit the shows in the back (Little Mermaid and Playhouse Disney) around our fast pass time, and then head off to the Honey I Shrunk The Playground area and Muppets 3-D (along with the Cars meet-and-greet!).
Lunch will be an ADR at Mama Melrose, since we plan on being right near there anyway, and the nearby counter service option is pizza – might as well just build a “break” into the day for the kids and have something a little more upscale (even if it winds up just being pizza after all).
Post-lunch, we'll see about letting DW do ToT and maybe catch the Beauty and the Beast show. American Idol is a possibility, as well, though unlikely. Other rides/shows will be fit in based on how well we are doing, and what the kids are up for. There's a good chance we'll want to do the Playhouse Disney show a second time.
Dinner at Sci-Fi Dine In, and then maybe one more thing before park closing (not likely), or just head back to the resort.
(Up Next: Back to the MK with Pooh and Friends)
Park Day 3 (Wednesday)
Back to the Magic Kingdom. Pre-open ADR at Crystal Palace, and then try to tackle Adventureland and Fronteirland, with a lunch ADR at Liberty Tree Tavern. Hopefully the critters will nap a bit, allowing us to hang out all afternoon on a leisurely pace. Off to an early dinner at Kona, and then back to the resort from there.
Park Day 4 (Thursday)
Epcot – Princess Breakfast before park open. (We would have liked this to be further away from our CRT day, but we'll take the ADRs when we can get them!) We'll be getting back to Future World an hour after rope drop, so playing fast pass strategy here will be necessary. General plan: standby and rider swap on test Track while the waiting parent takes DS2 and DD2 on a walk to get fast passes for Soarin'; may want to grab fast passes for Mission: Space first, depending on the length of the return window, but that's a ride we can pass on if necessary. We'll work in some “downtime” activities such as The Land, Innoventions, and Spaceship Earth to entertain the critters around Mom & Dad (and DS3) doing other rides.
Lunch ADR at Coral Reef (try to do The Seas and Turtle Talk either before or right after), and then finish up any remaining Future World activities quickly to allow for the twins (and maybe DS3) to fall asleep as we push the strollers around World Showcase. Dinner ADR at Rose & Crown, and then call it a night.
(Up Next: The Castle!)
Park Day 5 (Friday)
CRT breakfast!!! All three critters have costumes (Jack Sparrow for DS3, Cinderella for DD2, and Peter Pan for DS2) that they'll be wearing, and can keep on as long as they like. We'll have changes of clothes for all of them if needed.
Breakfast is about a half an hour after park open, so we'll do our first rope-drop of the week. One of us will take DS3 over to the castle to check in while the other does a fast pass run with the twins for a ride TBD. Since we're doing breakfast late and have an early dinner ADR (at Tony's Town Square), we'll likely just do a light snack for lunch.
Touring plan as regards to rides and attractions is up in the air, depending on what the kids want to do. If we haven't really hit Tomorrowland yet in the previous two days, that will be the first stop (TTA, Buzz Lightyear, and Laugh Floor).
Park Day 6 (Saturday)
Animal Kingdom for a pre-open ADR at Tusker House. After breakfast, immediately head for the Safari and then over to Dinoland (we've never been to this part of the park!) to let the kids play and to catch the Nemo show. (Mom & Dad may do a ride or two, as well!) Lunch at Pizzafari or Y&Y counter service, and we'll try Asia attractions as time, weather, and inclination permit. The Lion King Show would be great, but we've done it before, so if we have to skip one, that will be it.
Leave by 4PM to make the early show at Hoop De Doo Revue for dinner. Depending on how we're doing, we may head over to the Fort Wilderness campfire to meet & greet with Chip 'n Dale.
Park Day 7 (Sunday)
(A/k/a "Commando Day")
Originally, this was just going to be “get out of town day”, but we decided that since we have the ticket, why not do the morning in a park to try everybody's favorite rides one or two more times, then lunch, then hit the road?
So, one more MK trip. The plan: rope-drop, head over to Fronteirland. One parent and DS3 do standby for the shorter line of Splash Mountain or Big Thunder (using rider swap) and the other parent fast passes the other (which should have a very short return window that early) and takes the twins to the playground next to Splash Mountain. Switch parents for the other ride, using the fast passes, and get the rider swap ticket again. Parent not riding the second ride heads on with the twins to secure fast passes for another ride (likely Pooh or Peter Pan, possibly Buzz Lightyear, we'll see who likes what). Keep the rider swaps for later.
Meet over in Fantasyland, hitting the kids' favorite rides (which we should know by this point), using fast pass as needed; time permitting, return to Fronteirland to use the rider swap passes, and then onto lunch at Crystal Palace (a repeat, but it's different meal, a buffet increases the chances of all three kids eating, and it'd be nice to finish on a character meal). Use any remaining snack credits at the candy shop, and monorail sadly back to the TTC to start heading home.
(Up Next: Journey's End)
Travel From Florida To Maryland
Since it's post-lunch nap time, we're hoping the kids will fall asleep quickly. As we'll be leaving early afternoon, we don't expect much in the way of traffic getting out of the Orlando area. While the idea of just driving straight home through the night has some appeal, we're going to be too tired to deal with it, so we've booked a hotel pretty close to the halfway point home. That'll get us in around 8 PM or so, and we'll follow the same plan as the trip down: check in, settle down, sleep, eat, pool, dress, and hit the road again.
The only problem expected is that we'll be hitting the DC area pretty much at afternoon rush hour on a Monday (a lighter day, to be sure, but still...) Not ideal after a long time in the car, but that's how things will likely work out.
Unload, feed the critters, get 'em to bed, and start unpacking and doing laundry.
Then, face the real world come Tuesday morning... :scared:
(End Of Basic Trip Plan -- Future installments will be updates on plan progress or any changes.)
Love it so far! You and your wife sound like me - details, details, details! :cool1: My motto is you can never have too much planning. :rotfl:
Looking forward to more!
Update: Finished the packing lists (early!) and printed them. Started packing and organizing the park and resort supplies to make sure they stay together and are ready to load.
We had the kids try on their CRT costumes last night -- there was some reluctance from the twins, but once the fight to get dressed an extra time was over, they looked adorable! And more importantly, they all seem to fit well enough.
Full trip report to come... for now, the Dining Review is complete...
What Really Happened: Travel From Maryland To Florida
Amazingly, this went almost perfectly according to plan. We got up on time, finished the packing and loading while feeding the kids and getting them dressed, and hit the road 15 minutes earlier than the 8 AM target time.
Traffic was, on the whole, pretty light. We did have to deal with some rain off and on throughout the day -- including at our lunch stop, which prevented the kids from being able to play outside. Other than that, the kids did great in the car... the DVDs I worked on did their job, and DS3 had a new Leapster to keep him additionally occupied.
It took almost exactly 11 hours to reach the hotel, and after checking in, we headed across the street for a sit-down dinner. DS2 and DD2 didn't sleep particularly well, however, although this was hardly unexpected.
The hotel pool didn't open until 10 AM, so we decided not to wait for that. We packed up, had a nice full breakfast at the hotel, and hit the road around 9:30. A little fog early, but it burned off soon, and we got to Port Orleans pretty much right at 3 PM.
We all get out at the main building, and while I check in, DW takes the kids for potty/diaper runs. They head over to the playground while I go to our room (on the far side of the resort) and spend the next hour (plus!) hauling things from the car to the room, and setting things up -- it required moving some things around to make space for the airbeds in addition to the trundle, but I made it work.. A drawback to being able to take so much stuff with us was that we took so much stuff with us. It would have been nice to have a cart/dolly/something to help unload luggage!
The rest of the team came to the room when I was about 3/4 done, as it was just impossible to safely watch all three of the critters with just one pair of eyes. After finishing up, we headed over to the main building for an early dinner followed by an early bedtime.
What Really Happened: Park Day 1 (MK, Monday)
Getting up early wasn't a problem -- we had gone to be so early the night before and were so pumped to get going, that DW was taking a shower at 5 AM, and we were able to get the kids bathed and dressed plenty early to be leaving on time.
We drove to the TTC... which was a bit of an adventure in the dark, pre-caffeine hours. First, I missed a turn and wound up at the Epcot gates (DW dutifully mocked me all week for this by being extremely over-specific in her "navigator" duties). Then, after getting through the right gates, I followed the cars ahead of me, and wound up in the cast member parking lot. Finally, I got everything sorted out correctly, and we head for the resort monorail.
As luck would have it, we could put DS3 up front with the driver. I went along with him, while DW had the twins and the strollers in the first passenger car. DS3 was literally bouncing off the walls with excitement, holding still long enough for me to get a picture or two.
DS3 riding up front in the monorail
See the dining review for more on Chef Mickey's -- suffice it to say we had a good time, and walked from there over to the MK, getting into the park at about 9:30.
DW and the critters with "Chef Donald"
We headed straight up Main Street, past the Castle, and into Fantasyland. The first ride we tried was the Carousel, which was a walk-on at that point. DD2 was fussy before we started, and didn't enjoy the ride. DS2 was unhappy until the ride started, was thrilled during the ride, and upset when it ended. DS3 had a good time.
Figuring we needed to get DD2 to settle down, we then went for the "big gun": It's A Small World, which had a 5 minute (probably less) wait. DD2 was excited about the boat, and settled down immediately. neither of the twins seemed to "get it" until about 1/3 to 1/2 through the ride, but then started with the wide-eyed stare and happy sounds/gestures that we expected. A success.
From there, it was over to the Carousel again to see how well it would work. Pretty much the same reactions -- DD2 just doesn't like it, I guess. We FP'd Pooh on our way to Toontown, and I got "surprise FPs" for Philharmagic as well.
I took DS3 on the Barnstormer and over to Donald's Boat while the twins played in the playground. DS3 loved the Barnstormer, and was clearly ready for larger "thrill" rides. We headed back to Pooh (well received) and Philharmagic -- the "surprise" FPs were useless as the attraction wasn't giving out FPs at all (surprise!). DS2 fell asleep before Philharmagic, while the other two liked it (DD2 refused to wear the glasses, however).
We then headed over to pick up FPs for Splash Mountain, during which walk, DS2 woke up and DD2 fell asleep. It was hot and we were tired so stopping for lunch at Columbia Harbor House was a good idea. The remaining plan was to walk to the Main Street RR station, park the strollers, and ride the train over to Fronteirland to do Splash Mountain. But first, DD2 woke up, so we hit the Baby Care center for diaper changes, and I ducked over into Casey's to get the critters some food and milk.
By the time all that was done, we just missed the last train before the parade; rather than wait or try to work through the crowds, we gave away our FPs and just left for the resort, where we had some pool time before dinner.
We rode the boat launch to DTD, arriving just in time for our dinner, and walked back across DTD afterward, doing some shopping and walking off the food. It was warm and muggy, and we were pretty late getting back.
All in all, it could have gone better, but also a lot worse. We learned some things that helped us the rest of the week.
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