2009 WDW with the nieces
Aunt Faith took Julia and Megan to Disney World for a week
While visiting Disney parks as an adult, I couldn't help but notice the smiles of anonymous children; it wasn't hard to imagine how wonderful it might be if I could introduce a child to the wonders of Disney World. Eventually, a tiny spark inside me glittered with the temptation of bringing 2 specific little girls to Disney World- J and M, the 2 girls whom I consider to be my nieces.

While such dreams would swirl inside my heart, my brain always brought me back to the reality that I am very independent- the quintessential solo traveler; spending an entire week with children would be a huge challenge, to say the least. Plus, I didn't really feel close enough to my nieces for such a trip to make any logical sense. Nevertheless, my imagination could not entirely rid itself of the tiny sliver of a dormant dream.

It's funny how life works out- as some years passed, I grew closer to the girls as they started to share my interest in ice skating. One day while catching up on the posts on my ice skating board, I saw a message in which someone mentioned bringing her nieces and/or nephews to Disney World. Without even thinking, I found my fingers typing a response stating that I'd love to take my nieces there. And the fanciful idea began once again to flicker in my head.

Flash forward just a few months to October 2008, when I was overjoyed to have a ticket to the first postseason playoff game of my Phillies. Recalling the old Disney theme park commercials in which champions fresh with victory cheerfully announced to the world “I'm going to Disney World!”, I said to myself that if the Phillies went on to win the World Series, I would take my nieces to Disney World. Although no one was predicting that the Phillies to go the distance, I held on to the tiniest hope that it might happen. Truthfully, I would have been thrilled for them to just make it through the first playoff round.

By pure luck (or perhaps pixie dust), I was at Citizens Bank Park a few weeks later, screaming at the top of my lungs when Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske as the Philles defied all doubters to become the 2008 World Champions of Baseball.

In the midst of my jubilation, I knew this was my cue to sprinkle some pixie dust of my own. But, unlike those victorious athletes in the commercials, I knew this too large and important of an endeavor for me to make a commitment in the heat of the moment. So I spent a month analyzing costs and potential problems, and weighing them against my magical ideas. Whenever I had doubts, I always came back to the belief that if I were to do something good out of the purest and most loving of motives, the details would somehow work themselves out.

I was nervous about asking permission to take the girls, but I tried to chase away those insecurities by reminding myself that the Phillies winning the World Series against all odds was a sign I should go after my own ambitious dream. (of course, I know that teams don't win titles for the benefit of a single fan... but anything that gives me confidence is a good thing) Well, it turned out that it was silly to worry... and on New Years Eve 2009, I presented 2 stunned little girls with homemade, personalized invitations to be the guests of their Fairy God-Aunt for a week in Disney World.

In recent years, I've taken one major vacation a year, usually to Europe or Asia. For the past couple years, I've come home wondering how anything could ever top my most recent adventure. But I've also learned that it's more rewarding to pursue a personal challenge beyond just picking a wonderful destination. I truly believe that the challenges involved in sharing the magic of a Disney World adventure with 2 girls I adore has the potential to lead to rewards that are even more special than I've experienced on previous vacations.

As time passed, I still found myself periodically getting nervous about some of the details... What if M thinks it's too hot or pouts about the big rides? What if J thinks the rides are too tame? What if I can't deal with the lack of privacy? What if something goes wrong? But, ultimately, I've calmed myself with the knowledge that I am an experienced and enthusiastic traveler- and in fact, I feel like I am most alive and vibrant when I have the freedom to explore a world away from my mundane day-to-day life. I am a Disney veteran who has been to all 5 Disney resorts worldwide, so I have a lot of knowledge that I can share. Plus, as I already said, I continue to hope that if I am doing something out of the generosity of my heart, some positive karma will return to me. So I am trying to be more positive. I try to answer any nagging doubts with another question: “What if we all have a wonderful time?”

The most convenient week to travel happened to be the week of J's 12th birthday, so we'll be able to take advantage of this year's “What will you celebrate?” promotion. We will choose the Birthday Fastpass option because it's something that we can all enjoy together. This option allows everyone in the party to obtain immediate Fastpasses to several attractions at their whim. During the busy summer, it will be nice to bypass some of the long lines.

In January, I was fortunate enough to receive an email with a 40% off PIN code for a hotel room at a Disney resort- definitely a blessing as I'd already had my heart set on a deluxe resort. I'd originally planned to make just a few dining reservations for just a couple special sit down meals, but as my 90 day reservation window drew nearer, my ambitions expanded as I thought of more and more restaurants that might be fun; fortunately, I was able to obtain reservations for all of them when I called Disney at 7am on May 25, 90 days before my arrival. (eventually, I tweaked some times when Disney launched their online dining reservations system in June)

When embarking on a vacation, I feel that I am about to encounter some wonderful new experiences and I am excited by the infinite possibilities as to what they might be. No matter how much one plans (and I love to plan), only a close minded person could be able to completely anticipate the highlights of an upcoming journey. I keep my eyes and heart open to detect moments of beauty and joy, like colorful little jewels buried in the sand, sometimes in unexpected places. I want to gather as many unique and cherished gems as I can uncover so that I can pattern them into a bright, sparkly mosaic of memories inside my heart. And if sometimes I stumble upon the inevitable broken glass of difficulties or disappointments, I try to remember to simply toss it aside so that it will neither taint my collection of treasures nor impede me from moving forward.

This vacation, I hope that some of my most vivid memories will include laughing and smiling with 2 girls who are more special to me than they may know. Most of all, I hope it is a week that they will cherish as much as I will... and that they, too, will return with a collection of priceless, magical jewels that no one can ever take away from them.

Children are always learning from their experiences; while I am not planning to spoil the whimsy of Disney with heavy-handed educational overtones, these are the lessons that I hope will come through:
  1. Whenever you have a chance to share with others and make them smile... seize it. Your own smile will be even wider when you know that you are bringing joy to others.
  2. Dream big... I know it sounds corny, but even seemingly impossible dreams can come true if you put your heart into them.
  3. Always remember that you are 2 very special, intelligent and beautiful girls- I chose to share my vacation with you, and I will always be there for you, because I want to. Never, ever lose sight of the wonderful and unique spirit that makes each of you the girls you are today.
Once upon a Disney vacation, Fairy God Aunt Princess Faith invited Princess J and Princess M to join her on a special adventure; On Aug 23, the story will continue... Until then, I dream…
I'm going on a trip, I just can't wait
Somewhere new to me.
I'm sure it'll be great!
With my aunt and my sister
What a ride!
I'm going on a plane, what fun
To Florida, here I come!
August 23 - August 30th, Mom's birthday!
It'll be grand, splendid and fun.
And I can't wait until it's begun!


Julia, 8/18/2009
Note- this report intersperses Julia's running commentary... unfortunately, she was a little sporadic at writing commentary so if a day doesn't include her perspective, it's only because I don't have any notes from her for that day.

When I first started my unofficial daily countdown to Disney, it seemed like I would never get down to "0 days" But at a ridiculously early hour on 8/23, I heard my alarm and realized that day 0 had indeed arrived. This germ of an idea- to take Megan and Julia to Disney World- had grown and flourished my mind over the course of the past 10 months and now it was time for it to take on a life of its own; for the dream to become reality!

And I was ready. Physically, I had met my own challenge of getting up early every work day for the past several months to go on the treadmill with the goal of being able to run 3 miles by day 0. Watching Disney movies helped motivate me to stick to my treadmill routine, and also helped channel my pre-trip excitement. One recent morning, I had popped the movie "Hercules" into my DVD player- and suddenly I stumbled upon a theme song for this crazy WDW adventure of mine: "Go The Distance." On Aug 23, I was ready to live up to the lyrics of my chosen theme song.

Before I knew it, I'd arrived at my nieces' house and I took my Disney princess magic wand out of my duffle bag- every Fairy God Aunt ought to have a magic wand, right? ;) There was excitement in the air as a broadly smiling Megan greeted me at the door and I waved my magic wand. That marked the long awaited moment when my once-upon-a-vacation was officially underway. It was a little more chaotic than I'd imagined, but just as cheerful.

Then I was in for a surprise- Caren and the girls presented me with an Emperor Dragon Webkinz. I was thrilled because I hadn't ever been able to justify buying myself a Webkinz even though I always play with their Webkinz, and I'd been particularly admiring the little purple dragon for months. (I eventually named him "Kokoro" which means heart- or spirit- in Japanese) Yay!

I don't remember much about the ride to the airport, except that the girls and I were obviously brimming with excitement. I was very happy about the lack of lines at PHL airport as we breezed over to our gate. Once we sat down, I unzipped my large duffle bag and presented each girl with a welcome bag. I'd spent weeks joyfully adding items to each girl's stash every time I went to the mall: there were mini mister fans, pens, notebooks, candy, tissues, etc... And the piece de resistance was a 33 page guidebook I'd written and had professionally printed at Staples. The guidebook contained our itinerary, general Disney information, as well as a bunch of word search puzzles at the end.

Each bag also contained a personally designed envelope containing Disney dollars to use as spending money. I'd designed an envelope each day-and it turned out to work exactly as I'd intended so that the girls were never asking me for stuff. (which also worked out better for them as I'm more apt to buy things when I'm not asked/nagged to do so!) Later, I found out that the girls thought the Disney dollars were something I made- which is kinda funny since I'm not nearly talented enough to design anything that intricate. So I explained that they were currency that could be used anywhere at Disney World, and told them that they'd get more each day if they were good.

I'd had incredible lucking checking in online the previous morning so we had boarding numbers A16, 17, and 18. We were practically the first people on the plane since A1-15 are reserved for business and are not always filled. Soon enough, we were in the air- we didn't even need to line up to get to the runway which was sweet.

We've had amazing luck, no lines all day.

I have the window seat, and when I look behind me, I can see the turbine and down the wing. We are seated on the left side.

Speeding up now. 3, 2, 1 Houston we have lift off. I can see the river and island and Philly. It's so weird! In the clouds, the ground looks like toys, and now all I see are clouds.

The girls were fine on the plane- oohing at the clouds, and playing cards. I was able to snatch a few minutes of sleep while they played.

It looks like what people call heaven. Have to keep my phone off though. Clouds as far as I can see. And the sun is so much brighter. It looks like snow... And when the clouds part, I can see green grass. This is new. I've never seen this. Even when I went to Rhode Island.

People dream they can fly. And there's no feeling like it.

...

It's so pretty up here. Here's a cloud that looks like it was pressed by a waffle iron... The land I see is green, a sliver of sand color, and water.


Before I knew it, we were on the ground at MCO airport and the flight attendant was cracking us up with entreats to give a message to Prince Charming on her behalf. (the girls insist that the barely-over-2 hr plane ride was unbearably long, but fortunately I hadn't observed any signs of restlessness)

We're flying into the clouds. Meg says it looks like we never left, and she's right but it will be hot and humid and not Philly. We're going to be landing 15-20 minutes early.

There's like a hole in the clouds

The grass looks like a checker board. We're over a lake. I see a long bridge and microscopic metallic ants (cars), and a baseball field, and another lake with an island... and now we're in a big cloud. The cars and everything are bigger now... I see a trailer park and a warehouse and a big field. Now we're on a runway. And now we landed. Ah the noise!


The girls were a little in awe of the MCO airport as we walked toward the Magical Express bus stop, which we found without too much trouble. (it was my first time doing Magical Express) We had a little bit of a wait for the bus, but it wasn't too bad.

The bus might be almost full. I hope so. This week will be full of waiting.

Waiting, Waiting
That's what I'm hating
I hate it
No more


And then we were on the last leg of our journey to those magical gates that lead to the happiest place on earth. I didn't really pay much attention to the ride, since the video on the bus held my attention- and also got me into a happy Disney mood.

OMG! We're going through the gate to Disney. Animal Kingdom Resort, here we come! It's like a town. I'm getting so excited! I think we're at the 1st stop (not ours) I spy with my little eye... palm trees! Well gee... it's Florida!

I think Julia's jaw practically dropped when we entered into Animal Kingdom Lodge. It's a great lobby- it's a work of art, but it also has a very comfortable feeling. I'd completed the online checkin, so my packet was ready for me at the front desk. We were all thrilled that our room was ready, despite the fact that it was earlier than the official check in time. I made sure that the hotel knew it would be Julia's birthday on Tuesday, and the girls got Birthday and First Visit pins. They were bubbly and excited, although I think they were still a little overwhelmed with being in a totally new place, going on their first big vacation.

When we got to the room, practically the first thing the girls did was to check out the bunk beds. They were a big hit, and I once again patted myself on the shoulder for deciding to get a bunk bed room. I hadn't told them that our room would have a Savannah view because I wanted them to see it for themselves, so I called them over to the balcony window. We were all excited to see a zebra there.

Our hotel looks like it fell out of Africa. I got a birthday button and a first visit button.

Our room is 2421, and Disney Channel is 16. There's a bunk bed! Our room has a safari view! It's so cool! I'll have lots of animal pics.


I was ready to get going to the parks, but the girls were enthralled in watching Disney Channel. Maybe they needed a little down time to let the whole hotel experience sink in. So I decided to transfer photos from my camera to my laptop... which was painful because my laptop is too slow to handle the large files from my dslr. At one point during the trip when I complained about how slow it was, Julia asked me why I didn't get a new laptop. Hmmm.... Maybe because I was saving up to take 2 girls to Disney World? :P (I got the dslr after I'd already planned the Disney trip)

After about an hour in the room, we were on our way to Disney's Hollywood Studios (which I will always think of by its former "MGM" moniker) As the bus drove through the Disney property, I felt a sense that I was back home, even though it had been almost 6 years since my previous trip. Once you are a Disney World addict, it always feels comforting to return to the World no matter how long its been.

Our first stop was to get Fastpasses to Tower of Terror (ToT). We were all hungry, so we had chicken fingers at an outdoor stand nearby as soon as we got the fastpasses. Next we headed to "Voyage of the Little Mermaid"; if nothing else, the girls were very glad to be in A/C! (their heat tolerance was somehow worse than mine)

Then we went back to ToT to use our Fastpasses. Megan was a little nervous but I thought she could handle it since she can ski on the intermediate slopes which I find to be way more scary. I told her she could hold my hand on the ride... which she did. (& continued to do each time we went on) Julia was amazed at the detailed theming in the lobby and declared that it looked like it hadn't been cleaned in 70 yrs. (which was pretty cool because the pre-show video set the scene at 1939!)

The girls both loved the ride! Yay! It's one of my all time favorites so I was very pleased. I would have bought a photo, but you couldn't even see Megan in it. As we exited, I noticed that the standby line was very short and asked the girls if they wanted to ride again. They seemed to hesitate for a second, almost as if they couldn't believe that they could ride it more than once. But then they agreed. And once again, the photo didn't come out well enough to buy. Argh.

At this point, I wasn't quite sure what to do... my mental plans had never really gotten further than Little Mermaid and Tower of Terror, partly because I hadn't know how long those would take. After some quick thinking, I decided that we should head in the direction of Star Tours and Muppetvision 3D. All was good until...

DOWNPOUR!

We were close enough to Star Tours to run for cover, although I got drenched anyway. However, there was one casualty: Julia's cell phone. She continued texting through the rain... and then the phone died. As she started to freak out a little about how her parents would kill her, I started to wonder if I was going to be able to handle the situation or if this was going to ruin the day- or, even worse, ruin the entire trip. I promised her that her parents would not kill her (making a mental note not to turn her over to her parents until they agreed not to kill her). Then she was upset because she wouldn't be able to take photos with the cell phone, as she'd been enjoying. That was an easier issue to solve- I told her she could share my old point and shoot which I'd let Megan use. Eventually she calmed down- crisis averted! And I didn't even need to call home. Woot.

The line moved painfully slowly- which caused the girls to complain, although I was just glad to be inside and not in the rain. But they enjoyed the ride, and Muppetvision which we did next. (it was no longer raining by then)

As we walked through the park, I was thrilled to notice a lot of Phillies T-shirts. This was a trend that would continue throughout our trip. I think I saw more Phillies T-shirts and hats than I saw for any other team... although frankly I wouldn't have noticed any other team shirts.

I couldn't figure out what to do next, so I declared an ice cream break. And it was good. :) We got ice creams from a stand near the ride information board- The girls had Itzakadoozie Ice Pops; I had a Mickey Cookies & Cream Sandwich.

The main goal of the evening was to see Fantasmic! which is an extravaganza of fireworks and music featuring Disney characters. It's one of my favorite things in all of Disney, and I knew this was something the girls would enjoy. However, I'd also read horror stories about the wait. I think I'd had such low expectations for how painful the wait would be that it couldn't help but be way more pleasant than I'd feared. Once we got into the arena, I had the girls save my seat as I went up to get us all hot dogs for dinner. (as I did so, I wondered how I turned into the adult who is carrying everyone's stuff- and I hoped I wouldn't tumble down the stairs and spill it all!)

The girls worked on the word searches from the guidebook I'd made, and fanned themselves with the misters. Once it got dark, I took out a pack of glo bracelets I'd bought at the dollar store we split them up amongst ourselves. As showtime drew nearer, the crowd began to do the wave. So 80's... but, hey, there was nothing better to do. ;)

Finally, it was time for the initial chords I'd been imagining for months as a voice spoke/sang "Imagination... dream a fantastic dream...." Tears came to my eyes because THIS was the fantastic dream I'd held onto during trying days at work- sitting at the Hollywood Hills Theatre, with a niece on each side of me, watching Mickey Mouse use his imagination to battle the forces of evil. The show left me feeling exhilarated, & thrilled about the magical possibilities for the next 7 days. I'd already overcome one test (with Julia's cell phone), and the girls did much better with the long Fantasmic wait than I expected... so I felt like anything was possible!

As we walked out of the theater amid walkways packed with crowds, I saw that Tower of Terror didn't have a long wait and had an idea- I asked the girls if they wanted to go on it again, while everyone else exited the park (or queued up for the 2nd showing of Fantasmic). It was easy to convince them, so we went on a detour to ToT. This time, our photo turned out much better (except my hair looks godawful frizzy...) so I bought 3 copies, one for each of us, since the girls said they each wanted one. By the time we got done with the ride, we had a very peaceful walk out of the park and we all agreed that was way more fun than battling the crowds.

When we returned to our hotel room, we were reunited with our checked bags- Disney had collected them at the airport and delivered them while we were at the park. So we unpacked and made ourselves at home before calling it a night. And, as with any other time that we were awake in the hotel room, the Disney channel was on TV. We all agreed that ToT was our favorite ride; Megan kept talking about how it "went up and down and up and down and up and down"

Day 1 was a wonderful start to the trip- Julia was proud of how well she and Megan had been getting along. They were both awesome on day 1, and I was happy that everything was going so smoothly... given the potential # of things that could have gone wrong (flight delays/ room not ready/ Fantasmic cancellation/ illness/ girls having problems I couldn't solve/ etc)
Animal Kingdom Lodge Animal Kingdom Lodge Giraffe... as seen from our hotel room Heading Out! Lunch Break Me * Ice Cream Break! Tower of Terror and Fantasmic billboard Waiting For Fantasmic Fantasmic- Evil Queen Fantasmic Us on the Tower of Terror Julia and Megan and the Big Sorceror Mickey Hat
My plan for the week was to get up early so we could get to the parks early before the crowds; I planned to take a mid-day break to go back to the hotel during the hottest part of the day, although part of me was hoping we wouldn't have to do that every day. (there is so much I wanted the girls to see in the parks!)

I set a wake up call, knowing that they used to have Mickey Mouse on the phone recording; I figured the girls would get a kick out of that. Well, the phone got us all up... but no one answered it. And so it would start ringing again. Argh. Finally I told one of them to answer the wake up call, which she did. I asked if there was anything special about the call... any characters on the line... She said no. *shrug* (on subsequent days, the girls did a better job of answering the phone the first time it rang, and they said that Mickey and Stitch were on the line)

I woke up to the phone. Blah... Yesterday at Hollywood Studios was fun but I broke my phone. :(

...

I like our hotel. The beds are soft and it's really comfy. Tonight I have to sleep on the bottom bunk. But I don't really want to.


We actually got ready and out of the room promptly enough to arrive at Epcot before the gates opened. Excellent. (although I'm not sure the girls agreed with the excellentness of the situation, lol)

As we were waiting, Julia came over to me with a very concerned expression. She was upset because she'd forgotten to put on sunscreen. OK, that was an easy problem to solve- I gave her the tube from my bag. The next thing we knew, Julia's arms and legs were solid white... she put so much sunscreen on that even the people near us in line were amused. Fortunately she was able to rub it in/ remove some of it with tissues by the time the park opened (though I think she removed more when we made a restroom stop)

The park hasn't opened yet. So we're in line, and it's huge!

I see a monorail. It looks fun. The monorail goes from Epcot to a transport center, and then a connecting train goes to the Magic Kingdom.

...

I just realized I forgot sunscreen. Aunt Faith to the rescue with sunscreeen!


We headed to Soarin' when the park opened... and it seemed like everyone else did as well! But the standby line moved quickly and we were soon fastening our seatbelts to go hang gliding. (well, simulated hang gliding) This was my first time on Soarin', and I thought it was a nice ride- almost relaxing. The girls really liked it, so on our way out, we got fastpasses so we could come back and ride again.

It was so awesome! It felt like I was soaring! Over the oceans, fields, mountains, sands. It was great!

We headed across the park to Test Track, and the standby line didn't seem very long so we waited. The girls liked that, too- especially the part where the car whizzes around the track outside the building.

While we were walking around the park, we passed by "Club Cool", which is a Coca Cola sponsored area where you can sample unlimited free samples of sodas from around the world. If you are any kind of Disney World fan, you know that practically everyone thinks the Beverly flavor from Italy is awful- very bitter. (But you sorta have to try it once.) Well, obviously the girls hadn't heard anything about Beverly. And so... I sorta dared Julia to try it. *evil grin* After she made a face and expressed her dislike, I told her that she should have known something was up when I *dared* her to drink it; Any time I mentioned other flavors, I said how good the tasted. I particularly liked the Japan Vegitabeta because it wasn't carbonated and was therefore more refreshing. The lemon from Israel was also good, as was the watermelon from China.

We went into Club Cool and got free international soda. Most of it was good, except for the Italian Beverly which was gross. Amd Aunt Faith dared me to. I am never drinking Beverly again.

I think that around this time we checked the wait for Spaceship Earth, but the line was too long. So the next attraction we saw was "Journey Into Imagination"; the girls were definitely excited to do this since their mom, Caren, has a little Figment on her dresser. After the ride, we hung out in the interactive area where the girls moved their bodies to make music and where we made a silly picture of ourselves together.

At this point, I was getting hungry... but it was also getting close to lunch time. So I decided to stop for a very small snack- I wanted to split a soft pretzel but they were sold out, so we split a bag of pretzels. (my choice since it was my money) We sat down in The Land pavilion so we could eat in the A/C. When we were done, we used our Soarin' fastpasses and rode it a 2nd time.

After the ride, it was still a little early for lunch, so I suggested stopping in the large Mousegear store. We had fun trying on hats... and I was shocked when the girls walked *right by* a Webkinz display! LOL Actually, it was a little hard to get the girls out of the store... so by the time we left, we didn't have a whole lot of time to get to Germany for our lunch reservation. The girls really didn't like how spread out Epcot was, especially in the heat... I just remained positive and assured them that it wasn't much further to Germany. (even when it sorta kinda was still a bit far...)

The Biergarten restaurant in Germany offers a buffet with some musical entertainment. I'd never been there before, but I always like trying new places. I really enjoyed the buffet, especially the schnitzel and the spaetzle (I convinced Julia to try the latter since it's really just noodles) as well as the salmon. They also had kid friendly options for Megan.

The Biergarten dining room really makes you feel like you have been transported into a German village. To that end, all the tables are larger, like you'd find in a real biergarten in Germany. When I made my reservation, I was hoping we'd end up talking to the other people at our table but they really kept to themselves. Their young daughter was dressed as a Disney princess, and it was clear to me that she'd gotten the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeover experience. At one point, when she was not at the table, Megan leaned over to me and asked me how the girl could wear that dress all day- wouldn't it be uncomfortable? At this point, I was VERY thankful that I had trusted my instincts and not booked princess makeovers for the girls!

I thought it was fun that there was a German band that started playing after our meal, but the girls seemed a little underwhelmed by it. I'm actually not sure what they thought of it.

After I paid and we walked away from the Germany pavilion, someone called out behind us- it was one of the cast members from the restaurant. That person asked if we'd left a cell phone behind, and it turns out that Megan had left her phone. Wow, it was impressive that they ran all the way after us! I wish I'd noticed the name of the CM, so I could send some praise their way.

We had a tasty lunch in Germany, but I spilled something reddy purple on my green shorts. It doesn't look good, but the food was.

Something purple from Julia's dessert somehow made it onto her shorts, which made her especially want to go back to the hotel for a break. However, we passed a couple rides that I thought they'd enjoy, so we rode the Maelstrom water ride in Norway as well as Spaceship Earth (which now did not have a line). They'd revamped the Spaceship Earth ride since my last visit, and one of the new things was that they took our photos and used them at the end to tell an interactive story based on how we answered a few questions. Megan and I were giggling at the bobblehead Megan and bobblehead Aunt Faith on our screen. I wish we could have bought a photo of those, because I thought they were super cute! Julia said that she was worrying about how to answer the questions because she thought we'd have the same screen she did. (she was in the front seat; Megan and I were right behind her)

We got to our hotel's bus stop and there was one there. Yes! We sprinted to make it... only to see it pull away. No! :P Fortunately, we were on another bus 10 minutes later. It started to rain while we were on the bus, but we were hoping it would stop soon so we could go swimming.

I'm having a great time, but I really want to test out the pool.

...

I can't wait to hop in the pool.

...

It's raining harder now. I hope we'll be able to still go in the pool. Aunt Faith said if the rain calms down we can. Meg said at least the time we're not in the downpour.


When we got back to the hotel room, we saw that our mousekeeper had left a towel that was fashioned into a cake in honor of Julia's birthday the next day. Adorable! There was also a card... and a photopass discount card which I took for myself, since I knew I'd be the only one who might buy any photos.

The rain indeed stopped so we headed out to the pool... well, once Megan won the battle with her cover up, that is. And I discovered that I could still do forward and back flips in the water- wheeeeee! Julia and I rode the water slide, but Megan refused; thank goodness we didn't go to a water park, because it would have been challenging to find things we could enjoy together at the water parks.

After about 45 minutes, I'd had enough. So I got out of the pool, and sent some cell phone pix back home. I was getting bored and we had somewhere to be that night, so I told the girls a few times that they needed to get out of the pool soon. Julia made a friend who wanted to show her the hot tub- I told her it was ok, but they had to get out soon. I think part of it was my fault- I could have been stronger, but I didn't want to play the role of the mean adult. Anyway, to make a long story short, they eventually got out of the pool- but by the time we all showered, there was not time for dinner; we would have to do a late dinner. I was ok with eating late, and I was glad the girls enjoyed the pool... but I was not happy to have spent so much time bored, with them not listening to me when I *knew* that it was getting time to head back to the hotel room. I declared that there would not be any pool time the following day, and that was that.

We also went swimming, which was fun, but we didn't get out on time and we're not going today. (<- written the next day, 8/25)

Our plan that night was to take a cruise from the Yacht Club hotel to see the Illuminations fireworks show at Epcot. I'd taken Illuminations cruises before, and they are definitely more relaxing than trying to stake out a space inside the park before the show. I was lucky enough to find someone online who posted that she wanted someone to share a cruise on the exact date I planned for us to see Illuminations. Since I followed directions and PMed her (instead of posting publicly as others did before me), I was able to get in on her cruise. Yes!

It happened that Susan (with whom we were sharing the cruise) was staying at our hotel and that she'd rented a vehicle with enough seats for all 7 of us. I'd initially told her that we didn't need a ride to the Yacht Club because I didn't know what our plans would be, but when she phoned that night and offered again, I figured it might work better to take her up on it since we were running late.

When we got to the car, there was some discussion about where we'd all sit- it would be 2 in front, 2 in the middle, and 3 in the very back (which was being converted from storage space) . I said that it didn't matter to me, I'm good with anything. Julia said that she'd *really* rather sit in the front! Ummm, NO! I still sorta can't believe she had the gall to say that to people who were kindly offering us a ride!

We, uh, took the scenic route to the Yacht Club. "Scenic" being a euphemism for "going off Disney property for a minute" Ooops. We did see a really lovely rainbow, which was still present and photogenic when we arrived at the Yacht Club.

The rule for the cruises is that kids under age 12 need to wear life vests. Julia successfully argued, with my support, that she shouldn't need to wear one since we were within hours of her 12th birthday. Megan wasn't too happy about wearing a life jacket but she did it. The girls were happy that there were snacks on the boat- and they ate a bunch of them!

I always love Illuminations, and I hope the girls enjoyed it too. I think the cruise may have been a little boring for them- I remember some previous drivers as being more entertaining/ interactive with the guests than this one was.

We went on a nice cruise and saw pretty fireworks. That was really nice.

The girls were a little rambunctious in the car back to the hotel, and they wouldn't listen to me to keep it down a bit. I wanted to slink down in my seat a few times. Umm, hopefully we (they) didn't come off too poorly to Sue and her family- but we will probably never see them again.

We headed down to The Mara, the quick serve restaurant at our hotel for a late pizza dinner. I got a text from Caren asking if Megan was ok since Megan had texted earlier that she was bored and mad. So I asked Megan about it, and if she was mad at me for something. No, she was mad at her sister... and bored waiting for the show to start. (this must have been right when the show was about to start and I kept telling her it was time to put away the cell phone, lol) But she was ok now.

So day 2 didn't go quite as smoothly as day 1. But all in all, it was a good day. On the positive side, we all loved Soarin', the Illuminations cruise was a nice treat, we got a kick out of the towel cake surprise, and it was fun to swim in the pool. And most importantly, we shared more smiles and laughs... which are priceless.
Waiting at Epcot Gate Julia applies sunscreen Imagination Pavilion Figment's Melody Maker Silly photo from Imagination kiosk Trying on hats at Mousegear Germany- at last! Megan and a unicorn puppet Julia models a fan It's a towel cake! Water slide at the pool Rainbow at Yacht Club Marina Julia waits for the show to start Megan waits for Illuminations Illuminations Eating a late pizza dinner
Today was Julia's birthday- I wanted her 12th birthday to be as special as possible, so I saved Magic Kingdom for this day and I planned to bookend the day with 2 very special events. To get the day off to a magical start, I'd made a reservation for the "Once Upon a Breakfast" character meal at Cinderella's Royal Table in the castle. I almost always try to make this meal on trips to WDW because I love eating at the castle... and I don't really love the lunch and dinner menus. Julia's not that into princesses, but I can't imagine any kid not being enchanted with the chance to eat in the castle! How can you end your first day at Magic Kingdom without catching the fireworks show? As soon as I heard that Disney would be offering a new Fireworks Dessert Buffet at the Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station, I thought it would be the perfect way to end a 12th birthday... the cherry on the top of the sundae of my plans... so I called and made reservations. In addition to allowing us all to enjoy yummy desserts, it would be a relaxing way to watch the fireworks without having the fight the crowds.

We had to get up extra early to make it to breakfast, and I was a little nervous about whether we'd be able to all get awake and out of the room in a timely manner. Fortunately, the girls did a great job getting up and ready. Maybe they were excited about going to the Magic Kingdom; I know I was!

Today we're headed to Magic Kingdom for my birthday... We're on our way to the park. Disney is really spread out... The ride seems to get longer with every park. Magic Kingdom is the next left. I had a cookie for breakfast. Aunt Faith was ok with that because it's my birthday.

...

More palm trees. A few minutes from now we'll be in Magic Kingdom... and I sort of would rather be ice skating, swimming or sleeping.


When we arrived at the park, our first stop was at "Will Call" so we could check in to receive birthday fastpasses for Julia's birthday. This was one of the choices for the Disney birthday promotion for 2009. There was some kind of technical problem with issuing birthday fastpass cards, but apparently WDW has a contingency plan for that and they issued us a bunch of paper birthday fastpasses- 6 for each of us. (3 good for any of the designated top rides and 3 for rides that were not quite as popular. They called them "Donald" and "Daisy" groups) A bit bulky, but the process was still very quick and easy. Some of the CM's at the ride entrances weren't familiar with the paper passes we have, but once I explained and they took a look at them, we didn't have any problems.

When we reached the gates, there was one set of turnstiles open for people with restaurant reservations- although they didn't actually check our reservation number. As Megan passed through the gate, one of the cast members told her she looked like a movie star (or a princess, I forget which...) and she smiled. Whee, Disney magic!

And there we were- walking the middle of an uncrowded Main Street USA, with the castle ahead of us. I'm not sure if the girls really understood the magnitude of the moment, but to me, we had reached the iconic Disney moment. I always get excited the first time I enter the Magic Kingdom on any Disney vacation, but obviously it was even more special this time. I stopped and had our photo taken twice by Disney photographers, so we would always have a visual record of the 3 of us together in front of the castle. I tried my best to take my time- instead of rushing them to the castle before they could take everything in.

When we got to the castle, I checked in for breakfast and reminded the cast member at the check in desk that it was Julia's birthday. I'd called Disney dining a bunch of times in order to try to get things right so that her birthday would be listed on that reservation- and only that reservation. I'll just say right now that all those calls were in vain as they didn't do anything even after I mentioned it at check in- and I did see a kid at another table who got a birthday cupcake, so bah. :P Fortunately, the girls were blissfully unaware of any of this drama- and they both had plenty of other treats this week so they were certainly not deprived.

After having our photo taken with Cinderella (and having them take several attempts with my own camera because the hood was loose), we were seated in the magnificent castle dining room, where the girls were addressed as princesses. The girls received magic wands; I'm glad they asked me if I wanted one, too because I definitely did! Every now and then, a Princess would be introduced over the loudspeaker and then would make her way around the room to meet everyone. I took pictures of the girls with Snow White, Aurora, Jasmine, and Belle. I'd told them in advance that I'd want a photo with Belle, too- since that's the name of my darling cat. During breakfast they had a wish ceremony. Jasmine tried to get the girls to participate but they really weren't that into it.

When planning this trip, I was prepared for Megan to be a picky eater, but breakfast was Julia's turn to usurp that role. Breakfast at the castle is served in a pre-plated portion of various foods including scrambled eggs, cheese stuffed French toast with blueberry topping, potatoes, sausage and bacon; I typically ignore the items I don't like and just eat around them. But Julia made a face at something (perhaps sausage or bacon?) so they cheerfully went back to bring her a plate without the offending item. When she still didn't like something on the 2nd plate, the cast member offered to bring out a dietician or chef who took notes and brought Julia a plate containing only what she wanted. This also allowed me to request some of the cheese stuffed French toast without the blueberry topping. (yum!) Megan got a slightly different plate because she is still under 10 and therefore a child in Disney's eyes. At any other restaurant in the real world, I might have been embarrassed that the restaurant had to bring out someone special- but Disney handled it smoothly and it was more amusing than anything.

Breakfast was good even thought I didn't eat much.

We were done breakfast a few minutes before the park opened. While waiting behind the rope for Fatnasyland to open, the girls talked to Cinderella's Fairy Godmother. Soon enough, the rope dropped and we entered Fantasyland while cast members stood in line to greet everyone and to blow bubbles. I decided that we should do Fantasyland first so we could experience those rides before they had lines- and then we'd work our way around to Splash Mountain, which we were all eager to ride. So we did Peter Pan, Dumbo, and It's a Small World in short order.

Now we're going mn It's a Small World. It's neat. There's a leprechaun land! It's like a mini world! It's cool! There's a blue mountain goat! And a China area. And India. This is neat!

There's 'Egypt' and hyenas. I like them. There's 'Hawaii' and a 'Mexico', and a rainforest... I see a ferris wheek. I think the ride's almost over. It's over. But it was cool.


We worked our way to the Haunted Mansion- the kids were excited to go on this but I don't think it lived up to their expectations.

When we finally got to Splash Mountain, we used our tickets to get regular Fastpasses to use later in the day in addition to the special birthday fastpasses. I was so happy that the girls liked the ride- even if they didn't clap and sing at the "Zip-a-dee-do-dah" finale like they had when I'd indulged in some pre-trip imagination. Megan christened Splash Mountain as the ride with "the BIIIG drop". We went on Splash twice, and also hit the neighboring Thunder Mountain once.

I think the girls would have stayed in that area all day, but they did want to take a break from the heat at the hotel. So we worked our way toward the hub- and on the way we rode Pirates of the Caribbean, and Jungle Cruise (using birthday fastpasses). At some point, Julia bought the birthstone Mickey Mouse shaped earrings that she'd been eyeing, and I bought some colorful earrings. Later that day, Megan bought an anklet- so we all had shiny new jewelry items to make us smile.

When Julia mentioned that she wanted ice cream, I coyly told her that I had an idea. As soon as I spotted a stand that had Dole Whip Floats, I suggested we stop and have some since I was very curious to try them after reading so much about them on various Disney boards. No complaints from the girls. However, the first place we stopped was having some technical issues so we had to go further down. It was really nice to take a mid-day break while we sat at a quiet table enjoying our refreshing Dole Whip Floats. (pineapple soft serve ice cream in pineapple juice) Since we'd had a large breakfast, I pronounced this lunch. Enjoying our dole whips together is one of the simple moments that I think I'll remember fondly for a long time; I'm sure that I'll think of it any time I have a dole whip in the future.

The girls were complaining about the heat (It's hot and unpleasant) so, after stopping to see Mickey's Philharmagic (awesome 3d movie... and it was great to go into A/C), we took a break in the hotel room. As always, the girls had Disney Channel on TV. There was some moaning about wanting to swim, but we had to make it back for a not-inexpensive dessert buffet that I'd prepaid so I wasn't going to take any chances at running late.

Our room hadn't been made up yet when we got back, but that was ok. When the mousekeeper, Nydia, knocked on the door, I was so glad for the opportunity to thank her for the adorable towel cake she'd left the previous night. We ended up talking to Nydia 2 more times on our trip- she always had a big smile and was friendly to the girls. Even when Julia tried to dictate her schedule by suggesting she do our room earlier in the day. ;) I'll never forget how excited she was to tell us that she had a chance to spend a night in a new area of the Animal Kingdom Villas. It's hard to explain exactly why, but I felt that Nydia truly embodied the Disney spirit; you couldn't help but smile when talking to her. She did some great things with towel sculptures and with our stuffed animals, and she truly added something special to our trip.

When we returned to Magic Kingdom, the girls asked about dinner. I hadn't really thought about it, so I made a quick decision to stop at Casey's Corner on Main Street for hot dogs. Afterwards, we all agreed that we wanted to spend most of our time re-riding Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. The lines were surprisingly short, and it turns out that we really didn't even need the birthday fastpasses. We rode Splash about 3 times, and Big Thunder at least once. It's so much fun to be at Disney World riding your favorite rides over and over- even if you're supposed to be an adult, you can't help but feel like a kid.

I'd planned for us to head over to Buzz Lightyear, which was near the dessert buffet, and use a birthday fastpass for a quick ride. However, I had not anticipated DOWNPOUR (v2.0)! As rain came down and thunder blared, we lingered in the gift shop until we got bored. Then we stood under shelter by Splash Mountain while debating whether or not to make a run for it. I believe Julia was in favor of running and Megan was not. I didn't really want to deal with 2 wet kids & a wet me, so we stayed put... until it became pretty apparent that we wouldn't make it to the dessert buffet in time unless we braved the rains. So we did. And we got soaked.

We were going to go on Buzz Lightyear... but Mother Nature had other plans. It's raining hard, thundering and lightning. So we're not going anywhere. :( And I want to so bad.

Once we got to the Tomorrowland Terrace, we got still had to wait in line a bit- I think it took them some extra time to set up because they had to move some tables further back from the railing so the front tables wouldn't get wet. But at least we were under cover. (did I mention that I was soaked? lol) Eventually, the line started moving and we found our assigned table. And then it was time to enjoy as many desserts as we could eat! My surprise favorite was the Pistachio Crème Brulée, but I also enjoyed brownies, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate peanut butter tarts, and chocolate cheesecake cups... to name just a few scrumptious goodies. The girls also found plenty to enjoy! I tweeted that the offerings were "YUMMILICIOUS!"

One of the best parts of the dessert buffet is that I had a chance to meet someone I'd been talking with online on Disney message boards- the wonderful Danica, who was there with her boyfriend, Lou. She was sweet enough to have a birthday card for Julia and some awesome scrapbook things for me. She also gave each girl a lanyard and a few pins- little did she know that she was creating 2 little monsters! The girls were self involved in playing with my point and shoot camera (and arguing about someone deleting someone else's silly pictures), so they weren't as friendly as I would have liked, but I think Danica understood. It was great to talk to her, and I wish we could have spent more time together. (it was also great to read her fabulous trip report after I got back home)

When the fireworks were about to start, we got up from our seats and stood at the railing and had an excellent view. I was disappointed that Tinker Belle didn't fly (ostensibly due to the bad weather) because we would have had an excellent view of her. This was my first time seeing the "Wishes" fireworks show, although I'd seen video of it online, and it was quite lovely.

We took our time leaving so that we wouldn't have to deal with crowds- the kids got some last minute desserts as I finally realized that I should photograph the buffet area. Then we stopped at the stores on Main Street, and Megan had her first encounter with a Jumbo sized stuffed Stitch that was almost as big as she is! Umm, no. I had no plans to buy anything so large that it might require its own plane ticket to get home. ;)

Other than getting caught in the rain, I thought it was a wonderful day- we all enjoyed the rides and the girls mostly got along (I think Megan was getting tired by the time we were at the dessert party). I hope that Julia will always remember her 12th birthday as a magical day full of smiles.
The girls enjoy our savannah view in the morning Us in front of the castle Walking up Main Street, USA Cinderella greets us for breakfast The girls and Snow White Me and Belle * The girls at Cinderella's Royal Table The girls meet the Fairy Godmother before the park opens Splash Mountain Sword Fighting in the shop at the exit of Pirates of the Caribbean Julia helps Megan finish her float Meeting Danica from the DIS boards! * Megan and Julia get ready to watch the "Wishes" fireworks Fireworks Julia and Megan get in one last sampling of goodies Megan and Jumbo Stitch
Today was our day to see Animal Kingdom, the only one of the 4 parks that we had yet to conquer. Julia was eager to tackle the new (well new since my last trip) Expedition Everest coaster so we headed there first. The line wasn't long so we got fastpasses to use later and then waited in the standby line. Megan wasn't sure about the ride but I thought she could handle it. She seemed to have fun, but she didn't want to go on it again- I think she just didn't like the part that went backwards in the dark. I am always a little nervous riding new thrill rides, but I didn't find it scary at all (even though sometimes I have a fear of heights)- it was a lot of fun and I got off of it looking forward to riding again. Naturally, Julia loved it- she loves the kind of extreme coasters that I wouldn't even think of riding. Of course I purchased a photo of the 3 us on the ride!

Next up was the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, where we saw many animals- including elephants, giraffes, rhino and lion. Then we took a stroll through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail where we saw even more animals- one of my favorites was a gerenuk that was standing on its hind legs to reach a tree branch. We also saw okapi, gorilla, meerkat, and naked mole rats. There were a lot of things to see on the trail, and it was nice to be able to walk around at our own pace.

One of the attractions I really wanted to see was "Finding Nemo- the Musical" which was new since my previous trip. There are a bunch of great shows at Animal Kingdom, but it's hard to fit them in between all the other things going on. But I made it a point to make a showing of Nemo. It was a very cute show- the acrobatics were great. I'm not sure if I'd see it again, but it was definitely worth seeing once. I think the girls also enjoyed it- although they got a little bored waiting for it to start.

Lunch was at Pizzafari... the line to get food took a bit longer than I would have liked, but once we got the food, it was yummy. Despite being a counter service restaurant (i.e. fast food), Pizzafari is gorgeous and full of decorative touches that even the girls appreciated; Julia took a lot of photos of the d�cor.

After lunch, we headed to the 3D movie "It's Tough to be a Bug" that is in a theatre beneath the iconic Tree of Life. I don't think the girls liked the part at the end where it is supposed to feel like bugs are crawling under you. ;)

I think this is when we went on Countdown to Extinction, although my memory is kinda hazy. Before we left the park, we went back and used our fastpasses for a 2nd ride on Expedition Everest. Megan hadn't changed her mind about not wanting to go on again, so she waited for Julia and me in the gift shop. I didn't want to spend too much time doing things that not all of us liked, but we already had the fastpasses... and Julia and I both really wanted to go on again. I'd still like to try riding the front car, but the ride was definitely fun from the middle of the car the 2 times we rode.

We tried to go on Kali River Rapids but the line was too long and the girls really wanted to go back to the hotel room. But of course we had to stop at the gift shop where the girls lingered looking at all the pins. The cast members tried to interest them in the parade that was passing by but they had no interest in it.

After spending a short time in our room, it was time for our dinner reservation at Boma, the African themed buffet in our hotel. I sampled a lot of different foods, and in particular liked the nut crusted salmon (which Julia said tasted funny) and the zebra dome desserts. For the girls... well, it was a very expensive chicken nugget meal, LOL. (all Disney restaurants have kid friendly eating options- just not necessarily at kid prices) I'd heard a lot of good thingd about Boma and I was really glad to have a chance to try it- I'm sure I would have regretted not eating there while staying at AKL- so I didn't mind the expense. I hope I will have the chance to go back again on a future trip.

I'd planned a lazy night of swimming, which is pretty much how it turned out. However, there was still a huge discrepency between the amount of time I like to spend at a pool (maybe 1 hr or so) and the amount of time the girls like to spend at a pool (which, umm, seems to be infinite...) . I swam for awhile, which was definitely fun- especially since I didn't have to worry about sunburn. But then I got out when I had to go to the bathroom... and then I decided that was enough for me so I stayed out.

I got a little bored sitting at my chair, so I decided to do something fun. I went to the gift shop and got some pins as a surprise for the girls. I enjoyed selecting ones that I thought they would like- including ones I'd seen them admire. So then I went back to the pool and waited for them to get out of the water. And waited. And, uh, waited. You get the idea. during some of this time, scattered raindrops were gently falling on my head... which didn't exactly enhance my mood. I kept from going out of my mind with boredom by exchanging text messages with Brian (the girls' dad), mostly about the Phillies game. I was a bit surprised that the girls didn't come over to ask if I was ok since I'd gotten out of the pool rather abruptly. To be honest, I felt a little hurt since I'd spent so much time thinking of things we could all enjoy together. I know I'm the adult and I should get over it... but I do have feelings too, as much as I try not to let them rule my behavior. Since I was willing to cut short the number of times I went on Expedition Everest because one of us didn't like it, I felt that it was only fair that this would be the last time we went swimming since each time we tried, I ended up not having fun. (if I'd been on a solo trip? I am sure I'd have ridden Everest at least 5 times at a bare minimum)

In any event, I'd left the pins in little bags with each girl's stuff. When they finally came over and I said it was time to get going, Megan picked hers up as if it was another item she needed to carry back to the room, and Julia tossed hers at me. LOL I finally told them to look in the bags. I gently mentioned something about how I wished they had come over to ask about me earlier, and they said they were sorry. We ended up being down at the pool for about 3 hrs- from 6:30 - 9:30pm.

This wasn't the best day- I think we were at the point where the newness of everything was fading away... but not yet at the point where we were regretting how short time we had left. Still, it wasn't a bad day by any means. I'll especially remember seeing how much Julia loved Expedition Everest, and how much fun it was for me to pick out pins to surprise the girls.
Expedition Everest We conquered Expedition Everest! Megan on the Kilimanjaro Safaris jeep Kilimanjaro Safaris: Lion Pangani Forest: Megan tests how her hands measure against gorilla hands Finding Nemo- The Musical Lunch at Pizzafari Towel sculpture left by our mousekeeper Wednesday afternoon , we saw an unusually large number of animals Boma restaurant The girls acting silly at Boma
I wanted to get to Disney Studios early because I knew that there would be insane lines for the new Toy Story mania ride. However, I think the late night swimming the previous was too much for Megan because she woke up in a terrible mood- and it seemed like she resented Julia for even existing. So, umm, there was a lot of drama before we were able to leave the hotel.

One of Megan's pins broke on our way into the park- very bad timing considering that she was already cranky. Fortunately, I knew that the big Sorceror Mickey hat was home to a pin store and I gambled that they'd have a copy of that pin, and that the cast members would replace the pin for free (since I'd read on the Disney boards of that happening) So I sprinted over there, and was indeed able to get Megan a replacement pin. Crisis (sorta) averted!

Of course, by the time we got to Toy Story Mania, there was a long line just to get a fastpass; the standby line was 70 minutes. Eek! I told the girls that this was why I'd wanted to leave 1/2 hr earlier than we did. Fortunately, the line to get a fastpass moved relatively quickly and we were able to get one to use after lunch.

Since we were walking past the Backlot tour, we did that next. It was ok. Megan was still in a bad mood, and she got quite cranky in the store at the end of the ride because she couldn't afford any of the things she wanted to buy her mom for her birthday.

Afterwards, we headed over to the Art of Animation which was cute- they had an exhibit on the upcoming "Princess and the Frog" movie on the way out. I also saw some characters from the movie "Up"- but there was absolutely no "Up" merchandise anywhere in the parks which was ashame. (I loved the movie "Up") There were also some computer kiosks where the kids could play at electronically coloring in photos. We got in another ride on Tower of Terror before it was time for lunch; that was always a hit with all 3 of us!

Our lunch reservation was at 50's Prime Time Caf�- the theme of this restaurant should be self explanatory. ;) I'd never eaten there before, but I was tempted by reading about their Peanut Butter and Jelly Milkshake and their Smores dessert; I can report that both were yummy enough that I'd almost consider flying down to Florida just to have them again! The girls each got Strawberry milkshakes... which ended up leaving them too full for the desserts that came with their meals. I'd read that a lot of waiters do things like chide guests for not eating all of their vegetables. Our waiter wasn't as into the antics as some of the other waiters, but it's just as well because I don't think the girls would have liked a lot of that extra attention.

After lunch, we went to use our Toy Story Mania fastpasses. Toy Story Mania is a dark ride with a twist- you wear 3 day glasses play games in an interactive way that was a lot of fun. The theming/design was ridiculously detailed- with large scaled, brightly colored toys surrounding you at every turn through the queue. But I didn't think it worth a 70 minute line! The girls immediately expressed a desire to go on again- I think they wanted to improve their scores. But then I asked them if they wanted to wait so long... And of course they didn't.

Toy Story Mania was fun, but my score was only 40,100.

After riding Tower of Terror again, I realized that this was probably our last chance to ride Rock N Roller Coaster. It's one of my favorite rides and I really wanted Julia to get a chance to ride it. However, the lines were always long whenever we passed by. I asked Julia if she would be ok riding in the singles line because then the wait would be much shorter. The only drawback was that we wouldn't be able to sit together and probably wouldn't be on the same train. She wanted to ride with me, but didn't want the insane wait... and, after some consideration, she finally decided we should do the single rider line. Even though she actually met the height requirement of 48 inches, Megan didn't want to ride because it went upside down, so I didn't make her. But since she met the height requirement, she could wait in line with us- when we finally got to the end of the line, we had a cast member direct her to the store at the exit. We had a very short wait before getting to the front of the line where I got excited seeing the limousines cars speeding through the launch sequence after loading the passengers. I let Julia ride before me; as I expected, it ended up being one of her favorites.

As usual, the girls wanted to escape the heat so we went back to the hotel room to relax. There was a lot of giggling as we played with the stuffed animals- at one point I mischievously usurped everyone's stuffed animals and held them all in my arms! I thought that everything was ok and that Megan was back to her usual cheerful self.

At the hotel, Aunt Faith and Megan were taking my Webkinz.

At night, we went back to the Magic Kingdom so we could see the Spectromagic parade. When we entered the park, I noticed that there seemed to be more Halloween decorations there than just a couple days ago. Unfortunately, it also seemed like the park was way more crowded because of the parade- and the waits at Splash and Thunder mountain were not conducive to riding, much to all of our chagrin.

We ended up getting some pizza at Pinocchio's Village Haus. There was a lot of silliness with this meal. I couldn't even explain it if I tried- as with most silliness, you sort of have to be there to understand. In any event, I was once again happy to see Megan smiling.

Now they [Aunt Faith and Megan] were throwing all the dinner trash at me. Bad Aunt Faith and Meg.

After dinner, it was time to claim spots for the parade. The girls don't really do well with waiting, and Megan was getting back to her earlier crankiness. I tried the best I could to amuse her and to play with her little tiny magnetic Stitch but I could tell that she was not a happy camper.

Meg's having a nervous breakdown saying I'm annoying her. Meg says she hates me and her day was like the Tower of Terror- up and down and up and down and up and down. And she said it was my fault. She's making me look like a villain and that's depressing.

Spectromagic is one of my favorite Disney parades- I love the colorful lights and the cheerful music- and it's an absolute "must see" for me any trip when it's playing. In fact, I use the opening notes as my computer IM sound. I think the girls enjoyed it once it finally started. As many times as I've seen this parade, I still find it magical.

When the parade was over, I asked the girls if they wanted to head over to Splash Mountain to see if the lines were short enough to ride (since a lot of people leave after the parade). But Megan said she was tired, so we went back to the hotel. On the bus en route to the hotel, we were making up stories about super enormous jumbo Stitch coming down to earth and taking over the Tower of Terror. A gifted young writer, Julia was making sure that we came up with compelling motivations for Stitch's actions. Something as simple as sharing that time making up a silly story made the challenges of the day all seem worthwhile to me- and I was glad Megan could at least end the day with a smile.
Megan and Julia play with digital coloring at the Art of Animation Us at 50's Prime Time Cafe Toy Story Midway Mania: Looking back at the loading area I have everyone's Webkinz/ stuffed animals *evil grin* Julia and Megan look at the Magic Kingdom information board Castle Megan feeds Julia Megan's baby Stitch eats a cookie Spectromagic: Mickey Mouse Megan seems to be enjoying Spectromagic
After Megan's drama yesterday, I thought I'd set the alarm a little later than usual to give the girls some extra time to rest in the morning. Unfortunately, it didn't help that much as Megan continued to get annoyed at everything Julia did. *sigh* But on a brighter note, Megan found the new earring that I thought I'd lost!

We finally got to Animal Kingdom at about 11am. When I realized that I'd left my camera battery in the charger, I was very annoyed but I tried not to let it get to me. Unfortunately, we also didn't have the point and shoot since I'd forgotten to charge it overnight. I love taking photos, so this was a hugely disappointing scenario.

Our main mission was to ride Kali River Rapids- fortunately the standby line was short so we were able to ride and also get a fastpass for later. On Kali River Rapids, usually only a few people get really soaked. We were those few people. The girls loved it.

After lunch (I think chicken nuggets?), we went back to use our Kali fastpasses. Wouldn't you know it- we got completely soaked AGAIN. You know you're soaked when even the kids are uncomfortably wet. :P Since we only had one "must do" left at Animal Kingdom, I decided we should see the Lion King show before going back to the room to dry off. I was glad that we were seated in the "Lion" section- it's sort of a tradition for me to sit in that section. We all enjoyed the show- but were very happy to leave and to spend time dry time at the hotel! (though after all the talk about being uncomfortably wet, I'm sure the girls would have loved to have spent the rest of the day in the pool if I'd let them)

We had dinner reservations for our 2nd character meal- Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian hotel. To get there, we took a bus to Magic Kingdom and then transferred to the monorail. This was the first chance the girls had to ride the monorail, and I'm not sure they were impressed. However, they were immediately impressed with the Grand Floridian hotel. I think it's a little too formal for my tastes.

It seemed to take forever for the characters to get to us at dinner. We got to see the stepsisters- Druzilla and Anastasia, the evil stepmother, and of course Cinderella. When Prince Charming finally arrived, Julia was in the bathroom. So since he was a proper gentleman, he insisted on returning on his way back. I'm not sure he was glad that he'd come back when Julia started telling him that she would barf if she went on Splash Mountain now! LOL

After dinner, we went back to the Magic Kingdom. As the girls looked at pins in a store on Main Street, I secretly bought 3 copies of one of the pins they'd been admiring all week- a pin of Tower of Terror that opens up to reveal Stitch. I gave them each their pins after we exited the store. This was the only pin I bought for myself- and I knew it would always be the perfect reminder of this trip.

We spent our evening riding Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain. Lines weren't long because it wasn't a parade night. I'd told the girls that I'd ridden Splash Mountain when the fireworks were going off once so they really wanted to do that. However, even running back to the entrance after our last ride, we just missed the cut off and we couldn't ride again. At least we were able to ride it in the dark.

Going back to the hotel, I mentioned that we only had one full day left. The girls were (temporarily) back to getting along, and none of us wanted the trip to be over. At one point during the trip, Julia suggested coming back in a couple years. During the same conversation, Megan said that she wanted to remember this trip forever.
At Animal Kingdom Sisters holding hands... awww... Posed photo Megan and Julia with Anastasia The girls and Drizella Julia, Megan and Cinderella
In honor of our last full day, I slipped a $20 bill in with the daily Disney dollars; the girls really liked that.

Somehow we ended up getting ready most promptly on the 2 mornings we were headed to Epcot; once again, we arrived before the turnstiles opened. We headed directly to Soarin- I was very skeptical of the posted wait time so I said we should get in the standby line. Julia protested that the posted wait was too long... but I turned out to be right, and we were on the ride very quickly.

Our next attraction was The Living Seas. The (revamped) ride itself was ok. Afterwards, we waited for the next showing of the "Turtle Talk with Crush" show. While waiting, the girls kept trying Mr Ray's pop quiz game on some of the computers in the wait area. At one point, Megan got silly and changed the language to Japanese. LOL The show itself was very cute- Crush the turtle is onscreen and seems to really interact with the audience. Megan was one of the kids that got to talk with Crush. I was a little envious since I always want to be picked for participatory things, but virtually never am. She seemed to enjoy the spotlight, but later seemed a little embarrassed.

We went on a Nemo ride. It was cool. There was a quiz, Meg and I kept getting 4/5

Since world showcase wasn't yet open, we killed time in one of the stores. I never had any trouble ever getting the girls to agree to stopping at a store. Especially if it had pins- the girls both were getting quite the collections going. On our way out of the store, I spotted a walkaround Marie, the white kitty from the aristocats! I'd never seen Marie at any parks so of course I had to stop for a photo. (and had to have Julia take one of me!)

Our next attraction was The American Adventure- this was another of my "must do"s that I have to hit on every trip. On our way over there, Julia's sandal broke but she was still able to walk on it. I was glad that I'd insisted that the girls bring more than 1 pair of shoes each.

By now it was time for lunch- we had a reservation at Le Cellier in the Canada pavilion. I always like eating there even though it's a steakhouse and I'm not a steak person. Julia actually tried the steak and enjoyed it. I had a chicken sandwich, and my usual cheese soup as a starter. Although the restaurant has a bit of an adult atmosphere, kids were made to feel welcome with "Suite Life on Deck" activity booklets. The girls liked the fact that the butter was shaped and textured like Spaceship Earth; Megan also enjoyed playing with her French fries. Our waiter noticed the girls playing with their pin lanyards, so he gave each of them a pin at the end of our meal. Very cool!

We had passes to do the new Kim Possible adventure which I was excited to try. I asked the girls if they wanted to walk over to where it started or if they wanted to go back to the hotel, and they opted for the latter- too hot and too much walking. So I'll do that next time if it's still there. I think it would have been a lot of fun for the girls- except for the fact that it required a lot of walking in the heat. On our way out, we used our Soarin fastpasses. Megan got a little cranky again on the way out of the park, and she walked ahead of me and Julia to the bus stop. I think this was the time that Julia and I stopped in the hotel gift shop and Megan walked all the way ahead to the hotel room without looking back to see if we were following. (I wasn't concerned for her safety since this is Disney World- I figured she needed some time to cool down)

Back at the hotel room, we all cracked up when we saw that our mousekeeper, Nydia, had arranged all the stuffed animals around the remote control as though they were watching TV. It was especially humorous to us because back home, there is a TV watching crew of stuffed animals on their sofa!

After a couple hours of Disney Channel, we headed off to the Contemporary Hotel for Chef Mickey's character dinner buffet. When I was a kid, I thought the Contemporary was the coolest thing, so I had to take the girls there. We again took a bus and transferred to a monorail, which let us off inside the hotel. At dinner, had a view by the window and the girls enjoyed looking down at the slide at the Contemporary pool. I liked being able to see the passing monorails- I still remember eating at the Contemporary during my very first trip to Disney World and seeing the monorails pass by while we ate.

After dinner (including make your own ice cream sundaes!), we walked around the hotel stores. Julia was looking to trade for a certain Stitch pin that she wasn't able to find.

That day, Julia started to get a little weepy about going home. She asked her mom to get some zebra and giraffes for the backyard so that home would be more like Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Today is the last full day. :( And we go back to school on Wednesday. :( Summer is coming to an end very rapidly. I am not happy about that.

We had spent a week in Disney World and we hadn't yet even made it to Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom; obviously this had something to do with the fact that Space Mountain was down for a rehab, since otherwise that would have been a "must do". Still, it would be a crime to completely miss Tomorrowland, especially since there were some new attractions that I hadn't seen yet. So when we headed back to the Magic Kingdom after dinner, I insisted that we head over there. (rather than doing Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain yet again) First we visited the Monsters Inc Laugh floor, which was really cute! Then we had to do Carousel of Progress since it's one of my favorites- unfortunately, at one point the room didn't rotate when it should have so we missed part of a scene. Then, since the girls loved Stitch, I said we should do Stitch's Great Adventure, even though I'd only heard bad things about it. It wasn't as horrible as I'd heard, although admittedly I had really low expectations.

On the way out of Stitch's Great Adventure, we had to go through Mickey's Star Traders which obviously had a lot of Stitch souvenirs, including Jumbo Stitches. So Megan got back on her kick of wanting a Jumbo Stitch,... arranging all the Stitches... and walking through the store carrying so many Stitches that I am not sure how she managed to hold them all.

If the story had ended here, it still would have been a fun anecdote because it was cute to watch her. However, the interlude became Epic thanks to a wonderful cast member named Doug who exemplified the Disney spirit by playing with the girls and making us all crack up. At one point, he arranged all the Stitches so they were covering Megan; at another, he tried to take Jumbo Stitch away from a possessive Megan; ultimately, he and Megan engaged in battle with light saber toys. All through this time, Julia was using my point and shoot camera to take videos; I was using my dslr to take still photos (as well as a cell photo to post immediately on twitter). Needless to say, we were all laughing so hard that we were.... in stitches. *groan* ;)

At one point, Doug- who already knew the girls' names- told me that I was a very patient aunt to put up with this. I was like "Are you kidding? They're smiling!" And really, that's what it's all about. As much as it is important to see the coolest or the newest or the most classic attractions, the best thing about Disney World is the magic that can happen in unexpected places... and the smiles that can be shared with families and friends. The 45 or so minutes we spent in that store were truly a highlight of our Disney experience... in a way that probably only the 3 of us can understand. Doug went out of his way to make our day special- while, at the same time, always being attentive to any other guests that wandered through the store. He was truly a rockstar and the pinnacle of what every Disney cast member should aspire to.

Our post-Stitch time was anticlimactic, but eventually Doug had to get going, and we went on "Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin" a couple times- this is another interactive game playing ride that is somewhat less high tech than Disney Studios' Toy Story Mania.

On our way out of the park, we got one last glimpse of fireworks...

Our time with CM Doug put an exclamation mark on the end of a wonderful last full day of vacation.
Turtle Talk with Crush Me and Marie from the Aristocats * Japan... looking across World Showcase Lagoon Megan poses while Julia checks her newly broken sandal Julia and Megan at the gardens near Le Cellier Monorail passes in front of Imagination pavilion Posed photo at Chef Mickey's The girls and Minnie Mouse Where's Megan? Megan is determined not to let go of Jumbo Stitch The hilarity has escalated into a battle of Mickey Mouse light sabers Julia gets in on the fun.  While still filming with my camera.
By the time we got back Saturday night, we were all too tired to finish packing so we had to accomplish that task in the morning. Suffice it to say that it was a nightmare getting Megan to pack- she was having more drama queen moments and spending a lot of time locked in the bathroom. But eventually we were all packed. And I was relieved.

I didn't have anything specific planned for the day and the girls didn't have any strong preferences, so I suggested going shopping at Downtown Disney and having ice cream for lunch. Given their love of shopping and ice cream, they seemed to think this was a terrific idea!

"Lunch" was at Ghirardellis- this is also one of my favorite places so I was excited that we were able to fit it in after all. I thoroughly enjoyed my Cookie Dough and Mint Chocolate Chip ice creams smothered in marshmallow cream, warm peanut butter and dark hot fudge; the girls had root beet floats.

One of the stores at Downtown Disney is a Lego store- they have an interactive area outside to build lego cars and I let the girls play there for quite awhile (~45 minutes). I marveled at all the legos they had for sale, although I was dismayed at the lack of purple legos. ;)

On the way back to the bus, the girls wanted to stop at Goofy's Candy Company. Megan didn't have quite enough money for the candy tube that she wanted, and she started getting cranky again and calling Julia a bad sister for not giving her the money she needed. I pointed out to her that it's Julia's right to do what she wants with her money; and that if she had asked me nicely, I would have given her the $1 or so she needed. Then I walked away. After a few minutes, Megan came over and calmly asked me for the money and I gave it to her- but I also asked her to promise not to complain any more about her sister. So the girls had their candy tubes, and I enjoyed a berry flavored smoothie.

It didn't take long to get the bus back to the hotel, so we still had some time to kill before the airport bus. I suggested going to the Arusha rock viewing area outside the hotel for some last animal viewing and photography. When I decided I wanted to walk around and take some pool photos (since I hadn't had a chance to take any with my good camera), the girls decided they'd prefer to be in the A/C; I think Julia also said she would have been sad to go to the pool and not be able to go in.

The worst part of our trip- and about the only point where I really felt like I was about to lose my patience- was the wait for the Magical Express bus to the airport. The bus was way late. And it was hot. And I couldn't smile when the girls asked how much longer it would be. But it eventually arrived- actually, our bus advertised Expedition Everest.

At the airport, we sped through the Disney store- I asked the girls if they wanted me to buy them stuffed Stitches and of course they agreed. Whee for last minute shopping sprees! After going through security (where Julia nearly left her shoe before the secure area), we just barely had time to scarf down a meal at McDonalds before it was time to start boarding our plane.

Of course the girls once again thought the plane ride was so loooooong. And of course I chuckled at that. At one point, Julia spilled her drink all over everything but no damage was done. Once we got to PHL, Caren (their mom) met us outside of the secure zone and then Brian (their dad) drove us all to their house. It was Caren's birthday, and I gave her a framed photo of the 3 of us at our dinner at 1900 Park Fare. (I liked the frame so much that I eventually got the same one for myself!) The girls gave her handmade birthday cards. I lingered at the house for awhile, so we could all share our experiences... and because I didn't want it to be all over. But, eventually, the adventure had to come to its conclusion. I am sure I cried a little on the drive home.
Another light saber battle Megan and Julia show their pins to a cast member Megan and Julia work on their Lego cars The girls enjoy their candy tubes while waiting for the bus back to the hotel Arusha Rock at Animal Kingdom Lodge The girls smile reviewing the contents of the camera they were using Our final dinner together: McDonald's at the airport
I think the trip can be considered a success for a variety of reasons- including the fact that the girls didn't want to go home, and that Julia suggested coming back in a couple years. I would totally love to take them back any time- the only 2 things that would hold me back would be time and money- especially since in 2011, Megan will no longer qualify for childrens prices on meals and admission tickets.

It was obviously a very different trip than my solo Disney trips or even trips with my parents (when I got to go off on my own a lot) The main negative is that I didn't get to move as quickly or see as many things. But the positive is that now I have memories that I can share with Julia and Megan for the rest of our lives. As you hopefully saw in the daily reports, some of the most special times were the simple times when we were able to laugh together- it just felt so right to be at Disney World with my 2 nieces.

I am so glad I had the finances, the inner strength, and the creativity to imagine this trip and to go the distance to make it a reality. The week obviously wasn't perfect; but it was pretty darn good. Even a few years ago, I never would have imagined that I'd be able to survive a week of taking care of 2 children by myself; I am proud of how well I handled everything- mostly because I was able to remain calm and retain my sense of humor. Surprisingly, I never really found myself resenting the fact that I didn't have my own space. I felt great when Brian or Caren told me that I would have made a good mother. All in all, this trip was also a spiritual journey through which I feel I was able to grow as a person; I feel like I am more positive and have more self confidence than when I first started making Disney plans.

For awhile after I returned, I was very depressed. This trip had been the bright light guiding my spirit for such a long time, and I missed all the excitement and energy of planning for it. I missed going into every Dollar Store I passed and searching to see if there were any goodies I could add to the welcome gift bags I was preparing. I missed writing and designing my guidebook, and searching the Internet for just the right graphics to include. I missed being able to spoil the girls with surprise pins, character meals, ice creams etc. But mostly, I just missed having the girls around. I even missed Megan's drama queen moments and the way she'd grunt "Julia!" when she got frustrated. (Eventually, to lure myself of depression, I did what any avid traveler would do- I started planning a new trip!)

A few practical notes...

Hotel: Animal Kingdom Lodge was perfect for our needs. The girls loved the bunkbeds and all the animals, and we were all sad to leave. As Julia said, it really felt like our home.

Restaurants: I was glad to be able to try a bunch of new restaurants- I loved them all, and will surely want to return to 50's Prime Time Caf�... and Boma... Really, I wouldn't mind returning to any of them. I have good things to say about everywhere we ate. I never had a problem finding something Megan liked (hot dogs/ chicken nuggets/ pizza/ macaroni and cheese), although I didn't make a reservation at the Tokyo Dining restaurant (which I had really had wanted to try) because it didn't offer any of her favorites- I'll have to try it another time.

Crowds: The parks weren't usually unbearably crowded- it helped that many school districts were already back in school. The negative about traveling so late in the summer is that when thinking about the prospect of leaving a world of fantasy and leisure, the girls also had to deal with the fact that school would be starting soon.

Weather: The girls really hated the heat but I found it more bearable than they did. We were caught in terrible rain storms at the start of the trip, but fortunately the latter part of the trip was more dry.

Planning: Two of my ideas that were big hits were the small mister fans and the daily envelope of Disney dollars. For the latter, I gave them $6 a day but they each got $10 on Julia's birthday. I also slipped an extra $20 cash for their last full day so they could get some more pins, since they weren't cheap. It was also nice to have made at least 1 dining reservation each day- it took some stress out of figuring out where to eat, and gave us a chance to relax a bit.

I am finishing my first draft of this report about 3 months after we have returned. The girls still talk about Disney World; Julia recently told me that she didn't want to go home, and today Megan asked if we could go to Disney World again. Just seeing the fact that it still makes them smile makes it all worthwhile.

The End.