2011 Disney Dream/ WDW
Aunt Faith took Julia and Megan on a 5 night cruise on the Disney Dream, followed by 3 nights in Walt Disney World
I guess it all started during our bus ride back from Disney World to Orlando airport in 2009. When the video screen on the bus showed an advertisement for Disney Cruise Line, Julia mumbled something to herself dismissively about how that must be expensive.

The best way to motivate me to do something amazing? Tell me it isn't possible. I really want my nieces to dream big, so it's especially tempting to show them that nothing should be easily scoffed off as being impossible.

The idea rested comfortably in the back of my head until I realized 2 things: I wanted to travel on the new Disney Dream cruise ship which was under construction, and I was never happier than when I'd been planning the 2009 Disney trip with my nieces. I figured the girls were even more suited to cruise than I was- I'm generally not so much of a beach person but they could seemingly spend all day splashing around. Once I got over my nerves about about the thought of taking someone else's kids out of the country (eep!), I booked a 5 night Disney Dream Bahamian cruise for August 2011. This was back in April 2010 so I had plenty of time to imagine and plan.

From the start, I was sure that I wanted to be able to spend some time at Disney World in addition to taking the cruise; The girls have been eager for a return and I wanted them to experience how it feels a bit like coming home whenever you return to a Disney park. I was undecided about where to stay until I had to cancel a planned birthday trip due to my mom's health. That trip was supposed to be my first stay at Disney's Grand Floridian, the flagship resort of WDW. On my previous trip with the nieces, we'd visited the GF for dinner with Cinderella- when we entered the resort, Julia had marveled in awe that she'd love to stay there. So I felt it was an all-around perfect choice.

I waited until New Years eve to tell the girls about our plans- this was exactly the 2 year anniversary of when I told them about the first Disney trip. I brought my recently completed scrapbook from our 2009 trip to share with them, and the last 2 pages were an announcement of our upcoming Disney cruise. In contrast to the way they seemed shocked silent 2 years earlier, the girls were immediately enthusiastic as they jumped up and down cheering "We're going on a cruise!" I played a Diseney Cruise Line DVD for them and they asked lots of questions.

In the months that followed, I made more specific plans and tried to apply some lessons learned from our previous trip. I could figure out a general itinerary for our ports of call and our days at Disney World, but I wasn't entirely sure how the cruise would pan out: would the girls want to spend forever in the kids'/tweens' clubs and groan at spending time with me? In total contrast to the "typical" adults who may desire some time away from their kids, one of my main reasons for taking this trip was specifically to spend some time making memories with my nieces.

One of the things that kept me busy was working on my contribution to a cruise gift exchange that was organized through one of the online Disney message boards. I decided to make picture frames for each cabin- I painted them to resemble the color scheme of the Dream and then added stickers on top to decorate. I had a lot of fun working on the frames, but they took a long time to complete. I also gave away small gifts like magnets (which I designed), candy, Tasty Kakes, lip gloss, stickers, etc. It turned out that I needed an entire suitcase just for my gifts! Good thing we were flying Southwest since they allow 2 free checked bags.

Finally- after a year and a half full of craziness in my life- the day came when 16 months of plans and dreams would come alive. Come join me as I relive my adventures at sea and on land with my nieces, Julia (age 13... almost 14) and Megan (age 10).

Note: Like my blog from 2 years ago, this one is interspersed with comments from Julia's notes. I wrote my reports first so that I wouldn't be influenced by what Julia had to say, and then I tried to add her commentary. (She didn't take notes every day)
Scrapbook page announcing the trip The frames I made for the gift exchange on the cruise Design I made for a door magnet
As I drove to my nieces' house, I marveled that a day that had always seemed to so far away was finally here. No turning back now!

Checking in at the airport was easy. When we got to security, Julia realized that she had sunscreen in her carry on; I suggested that she should keep it in her bag until someone confiscated it. However, she asked someone directly and they told her to either pack it in a checked bag or trash it. Err... wasn't it kinda late for adding it to a checked bag...? So she tossed a brand new can of spray-on sunscreen. However, she left her sunscreen lotion in the bag and it made it through successfully. I told her not to be upset about the one she had to trash- it's only sunscreen, it's easily replaceable (even if it may be more expensive on Disney property)

When we arrived at the gate, we realized that the plane was slightly delayed. No huge deal to me; I called the towncar company I'd hired and confirmed that they'd still be there. However delays can be tragic when traveling with 2 impatient youngsters who think that a 2.5 hr plane ride is soooooo long. After I handed them gift bags with guidebooks (the Disney gift cards I'd enclosed were a huge hit), they started playing cards nicely for awhile and I thought that maybe, just maybe, the delay wouldn't be a big deal.

But then thump came a classic clash of young energy. Uh, oh... From my perspective, it seemed that Megan was annoyed because Julia was sick of playing a certain card game. And then Julia was annoyed because Megan wouldn't lend her a deck of cards. (obviously Megan didn't let her because she was upset and she wanted to make her sister just as miserable) I hope that Megan can come to peace with the fact that she can't control other people... and that Julia can learn not to let others' actions get her down.

Of course it's much easier to be philosophical in hindsight; at the time, I was trying to maintain a calm exterior while my mind was jumping all around wondering just what the hell I'd gotten myself into! We were soon going to be on a cruise for 5 days when I wouldn't easily be able to call on their parents for help. It certainly didn't help my nerves when, after I asked them if they really wanted to go on this trip, Julia sulked that maybe she should call her mom to take her home. I had to bite my lip to stop myself from saying that I'd spent so much $$$ and energy on making this a special vacation for them and they were going to have fun, dammit, because I. SAID. SO!

Airport's boring. And waiting's even worse. Curses.

Fortunately, once we started boarding, all the tween drama calmed down. THANK GOODNESS! Southwest cracks me up... after everyone got on the plane, the flight attendant made an announcement about how she made a cake for a passenger's birthday-- then she walked by with a roll of toilet paper decorated like a cake. ROTFL! During the flight, Megan was enthralled with looking out at the clouds and the tiny cars.

Never have your birthday on a plane! That was the lesson learned by a 16 year old girl named Kayla. [ed: there was a drawing of the toilet paper cake] It's two ply! But still not edible.

And they have Eagles planes, too! Planes are better when they move. And not loitering forever. Make up your mind: moving, not moving, then moving again. Dang you people for confusing the daylights out of me. And now we get to see Bernolli's principle in action: what makes a plane fly. Cursed physics. Now I feel like I must quote Hannah Montana: "Get in the air, fly boy" I could walk to Orlando faster than this! Well, maybe not... Are we going now? I think so. And we have speed, speed and........... lift off.

"Everything looks so tiny! It's a baseball field! So cool... It's so pretty up here" - Megan. It is cool. And now we're among the clouds.

Close to the time we landed, Julia finally asked me how we were getting to our Port Canaveral hotel from the airport. I snarked that we were going to walk there. The girls knew I wasn't serious, but I'd made it this far without giving the slightest hint that something special was going to happen and I wasn't going to start now. Meanwhile, I was bubbling with excitement and anticipation. When we got to the baggage claim area and saw a man holding a sign with my last name, the girls were really surprised; Julia thought we'd take a cab. (for a 45min ride? not so much...)

After gathering our bags, we followed the driver out the airport to an adjacent tunnel where some vehicles were parked. The girls walked past a stretch limo and Megan said she wished she was going in it; Julia countered with something about how that wasn't going to happen. Then the driver stopped by the trunk with our luggage. Yes, I'd booked a stretch limo to start off the vacation in style! Needless to say, the limo (aka Surprise #1) was a success!

As we luxuriated in the spacious limo interior and watched the end of "Despicable Me" while drinking Mountain Dew (nieces) and waters (me) that were readily available, Julia said she felt like a star. I could definitely get used to this life. It was a special treat that was worth the extra expense to me. All too soon we arrived at our destination- the Country Inn and Suites hotel by the port. By this point, Julia had already changed her mind about wanting to go home. (phew!)

Megan was excited to check into a hotel that was not attached to a theme park. (her only previous vacation experience was at Disney World with me 2 yrs ago) When we checked in, I asked about shuttles to the cruise ship- they said that the earliest they had available was 12:30 so they said they'd call me a cab for 11am. They had free cookies at the front desk so I snagged some for us. Nice! I'd been planning to order pizza for dinner; I was about to ask if the front desk knew of a place that delivered when I saw that our room keys were printed with ads for Papa Johns, whose pizza I happen to love. First order of business was to order some dinner since it was now almost 7pm.

The hotel room was perfect for our needs- as you walked in, there was a kids' alcove to the left which contained a bunk bed and a single bed; beyond this was the main bedroom area with the customary queen bed as well as a seating area. Our room looked down on the hotel pool- pools are like magnets to the girls, especially Megan. I looked up the pool operating hours and said that since the plane was delayed, we probably wouldn't be able to swim since it was scheduled to only be open from dawn to dusk.

We like spying on the people in the pool. We've got an awesome view.

After the girls engaged in an epic Webkinz fight (which I may have participated in when Webkinz were flung past the alcove into the main bedroom area...), our pizza arrived. Both girls really liked it- especially Julia, who are 4 slices.

Pizza = dinner. Swimming = probably not going to happen. The stupid plane got in later and pool's open to dusk = not going to happen. Althought it was good pizza, Megan's upset/ not happy/ keeps talking about us not going in the pool.

Once we'd enjoyed dinner, the girls noticed that the pool was still open. So I called down to the front desk and they informed me that- in spite of their literature- they'd keep the pool open as long as people were quiet. That made Megan especially happy. I was rather exhausted so I let the girls swim while I watched- taking notes, calling home, checking email etc. The pool area was woefully inadequate on sitting areas, so I sat just inside in the breakfast room. I felt officially old. The girls were good about coming out of the pool when I pointed to my watch that it was getting late.

And the pool's open later so we can swim for awhile as long as we behave. Megan liked that. And Megan's dancing around. "You can tell when I get happy" - Megan

Swimming! Hooray! Megan and I played in the pool. We pretended Megan was a crazy Justin Bieber hater person intent on killing him. I was Justin Bieber's bodyguard that threw the crazy fan out. We did a worse gymnastics contest. Fun fun.

All in all, a day that started out punctuated with many question marks ended with happy exclamation marks. At one point, Julia asked if there were any other surprises they should know about... but I said cryptically that it was more fun for the limo to be a surprise...

***Magic Memory: Surprising the girls with a stretch limo***
The card game soon moved to the floor Did I forget to mention that our driver is taking us in a stretch limo?  ;) Watching "Despicable Me" Megan in the window Julia digs in to the pizza View of the pool from our Port Canaveral hotel room
"OMG, the cruise I'd been planning for 16 months begins today!!!" That was the basic thought dancing through my mind on the morning of our cruise. We could see some ships in port from the window in the hotel hallway, but most of the Disney Dream was obscured by a Royal Caribbean ship.

I figured it would be nice to take our time and enjoy some breakfast before heading to the terminal. Then we got to the breakfast room- and I saw the line. Wow. Someone could have seriously make some $ offering Fastpasses for the Country Inn and Suites breakfast line. I totally hadn't expected that. Also, the number of tables was even more inadequate than the number of chairs at the pool area the previous night. We'd noticed some people bringing their breakfasts up to the room, so that's what we did, too. And somehow we managed not to spill anything- I attribute that partly to my idea of using coffee cups (with lids) for our juices... and partly to dumb luck. I suppose the entertainment highlight of our meal was giggling as Julia spread cream cheese on her bagel with a spoon. (we love our silly meals!)

Eventually we checked out and waited in the lobby for our taxi. And waited. And waited some more. Yeah. Apparently no one at the front desk noted which taxi company had been called for us- or even if one had been called at all. People rolling suitcases with tags for various cruise lines came and went, in shuttles and private vehicles. And still we remained. When someone from the hotel asked if we wanted to squeeze in a hotel shuttle, it was a no brainer. Hell, I didn't care if they had to tie me to the top of the shuttle, I just wanted to get to that cruise terminal! Thus we were treated to our first dose of pixie dust- and they didn't even charge us for the ride! The driver was a hoot and it was a nice way to get to the port, even if it meant we left about 30 minutes later than I'd planned. It was exciting when we first caught sight of the Dream from the shuttle- what a lovely ship!

Had to squeeze into a shuttle, but worth it!

Since returning home, I've read other comments that the boarding process for my cruise was a piece of cake so clearly I did something wrong; I think I'll blame it on the cab not arriving. When we got to the terminal, we first had to wait in the hot sun for some instructions- although we didn't have to deal with our luggage at all so yay for that. Then we had to wait in a line (also in the heat) for security to enter the terminal; when a CM suggested people follow for a shorter line, I immediately followed them into the line though the parking garage entrance. Plus: it was in the shade and shorter. Con: It was still a line. ;) Some snaps on Julia's pockets set off the metal detector but we were otherwise fine. Then there was the looong line to check in to receive key cards etc. I was apparently eligible for a shorter line for return Disney cruisers (aka Castaway Club members) but I didn't realize this until I'd waited in the longer line for awhile. (a CM had asked other people around us if they were first time cruisers but didn't ask me)

I guess it didn't take forever, but it still seemed like quite a bit of hassle until we were finally able to check in. Disney gives out boarding group #'s- I had been assigned boarding group #3 which meant that I could have been one of the first on the ship... if only I'd been able to get to the terminal at a decent time. They were already boarding up to at least group #21 so we were able to walk right through the Mickey Mouse sillhouette as soon as we left the check in desk. You could tell that I was feeling relieved because I finally took out a camera and started snapping away; practically the only time I don't have a camera easily accessible on vacation is when I am feeling hassled. During the boarding process, Megan kept asking if we were on the ship yet but I assured her she'd know when we were.

It was about 12:30 when we made our grand entrance onto the ship- and by "grand entrance", I mean that when you board a Disney ship, you are announced by family name as other CM's applaud; it's a really neat touch. (and something that wasn't there the last time I'd cruised on DCL back in its first season) I was thrilled to see Julia's jaw drop when she looked around at the beautiful lobby. I felt like an enormous weight had been lifted; I had returned to the world of Disney magic- in other words, I felt comfortable and happy. THIS was the vacation I wanted, and I had a feeling that everything was only going to get better.

The CM's were directing us to the buffet at Cabana's on deck 11 but I asked if the Enchanted Garden restaurant was open because it was closer (deck 2; we boarded on deck 3) and I was feeling worn out by carrying my bags through the check in process. Yes, it was open- I was glad I'd already researched the options. We oohed and aahed a bit at how pretty the ship was before heading down to the buffet. Julia and I both found a satisfactory number of items to fill our plates; all Megan (aka Miss Picky Eater) could find were cucumbers. I was surprised they didn't have any classic kids foods like Mac and Cheese or Chicken Fingers.

We finished eating at about 1:20 and so I suggested heading up to the room to dump our carry on bags. The rooms were scheduled to be open by 1:30 and I hoped they'd be open sooner, but we had to wait for a bit in the hall. Finally, we were allowed into the rooms, and the girls were excited to explore. Once I felt settled, I turned my focus to the all important task of decorating the outside of our cabin door. For the gift exchange we were doing, I'd ordered a colorful Stitch themed gift holder which would be the centerpiece of our decorative touches. I'd also printed out a bunch of magnets, mainly based on designs from the message board disboards.com. But I also designed 1 totally unique magnet which contained an image of all the Disney cats (Aristocats/ Chesire Cat/ etc) interspersed with all of our cats. All of my designs were a big hit- both with the girls and with random people we met in the hallway during the cruise. It was always easy to find our room... "boring door, boring door... oh, here's a fun door- that's us!"

After some relaxing in the room, we headed up to Currents to meet some people from the message board. Not a lot of people were able to attend and there was a distinct (and annoying) lack of shade, but it was fun to talk to a few people in person after having chatted with them online for months. From there we headed to the Oceaneers club, which is the club area for children ages 3-10. We needed to check Megan in and get her a bracelet. I enjoyed being able to wander around the whimsically decorated rooms and sorta wished I was a kid; teenager Julia also seemed to enjoy the area and posed for a bunch of pictures.

Then it was time for The Dreaded Lifeboat Drill. Aside from the fact that we had a heck of a time finding our station, this was probably the least unpleasant drill I'd ever attended, but the girls didn't have my luxury of comparison. During my older cruises, we'd had to wear life jackets which was obviously annoying. While we also didn't need to do so on my Asian cruise, it was so annoyingly hot that I recall feeling *this* close to passing out. The drill this trip was just boring- and it was mildly tiring standing up so long (we were one of the first there). As I stood there unable to really hear any instructions, I silently hoped like crazy that we wouldn't actually need any of that information. The girls were not amused, but were well behaved.

The official start to the cruise is the "Sail Away party" which had to be held indoors at the atrium on deck 3 instead of on the pool deck due to rain. We headed down to deck 3... it was crowded and we couldn't see a thing... so we marched up the stairs to deck 4 and saw that those viewing areas were also packed... grrr... onto deck 5 (the top level at which you can overlook deck 3) and it, too, seemed full. As we navigated our way through the crowds a Disney CM asked how we were doing. I replied honestly that I'd be doing better if I could find a spot to see something. He asked if right there was ok, and a few CM's (who appeared to be in training) backed off. Well how about that- the ship hadn't even started moving and I already had a magic moment! Definitely a good omen. We all had fun looking down on the show and twirling the sparkly things they were giving out. I loved seeing the girls getting into it.

When we returned to the room, we were excited to see the first gifts from the gift exchange in our holder! Throughout the early part of the cruise, it was so fun to be greeted with random gifts outside our cabin. I started to deliver my gifts on the first night because I wanted to make sure that my birthday gifts for Janelle, the daughter of one of the people in the exchange group, arrived before her 8th birthday the next morning. But it took me several days to assemble and deliver them all. The gift exchange was a lot of fun, and I'd definitely want to do it again if I take another Disney cruise.

Went on a gift delivering run. Megan and I had a race back to 8598 and she ran right past it!

As we were lounging a bit in the room, our room steward came by with a paper replica of a cabana. Time to reveal Surprise #2... *insert drumroll*... I'd booked a private cabana the next day, our first stop at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay! All 16 of the cabanas on the family beach had already been booked by the first date when I could reserve them; people who were either sailing concierge or who had taken more Disney cruises had first priority. However, after checking online faithfully every day, I was eventually thrilled to snag one that someone had canceled for our first of 2 stops at Castaway Cay. I'd really wanted a cabana for our 2nd stop but, alas, I was never able to find one available. (heavy foreshadowing: it worked out much better to have one for the first day and not the 2nd day) This was something I did more for myself, because I burn so easily and had no confidence in flimsy umbrellas. But the girls thought it was pretty cool.

In the stateroom. Have British neighbors. Aunt Faith looks great! We're moving.

After changing for dinner, we headed down to Animator's Palate. The way Disney cruises work is that you (along with your servers) rotate between 3 different dining area; the order of your rotation is listed on your key card. I think ours worked out perfectly because we were assigned to the nicest restaurant (Royal Palace) on dress up night. At any rate, the version of Animator's Palate on the Disney Dream is a whimsical restaurant with screens where the character of Crush from Finding Nemo can interact with diners. We were seated a little far from the screens so we didn't have any direct interaction, although the girls were still able to enjoy the various shape guessing games that would occasionally appear onscreen. And since I'd been teasing them that I would change their swimming with the dolphins excursion to be swimming with the sharks, I said that Bruce (the shark character from Nemo) was scoping them out. ;)

Just like my last cruise, I was seated with people who could speak English but who chose to speak in their own native language; this time, it was a mom from the Netherlands who had a son and a daughter that seemed to be roughly around the ages of my nieces. It's ashame they weren't more social- I mean, afterall, my favorite actress is Dutch musical theatre star Pia Douwes. But they were nice enough and at least I had my nieces so it wasn't an awkward situation.

My dinner choices consisted of: Sesame Flavored Rock Shrimp and Carmelized Onion Cheesecake (yum!), Baked Potato and Cheddar Cheese Soup (Julia also loved this- her one and only detour to the adult menu during the cruise), Animator's Trio of Veal (OK), and Chocolate Brownie Cheesecake (yum!). I hope everyone appreciates my food pictures, because I got a lot of ribbing from Julia every time I took out the camera to take a photo of my meals. ;) I can still hear her scowling "Really, Aunt Faith?!"

Dinner at the Animator's Palate consisted of: baked potato soup, chicken noodle soup, steak and strawberry ice cream.

After dinner, we wandered through the ship gift shops and tried on funny hats, as is our custom on Disney vacations. None of us were interested in that night's entertainment option which was a hypnotist. When we returned to our cabin, the sofa was made up as a bed and another bed was pulled down from the ceiling- so it approximated bunk beds for the girls.

You can feel you're moving a little bit... It's really nice outside. But extremely windy. It feels like paradise/ a big hotel.

The girls wanted to try out the kids' clubs so I escorted Megan to the Oceaneer's Lab while Julia headed up to Edge, the tween club on deck 13. In turn, I wandered around the adult areas but I got bored pretty easily (although I was glad to get the Phillies score in the sports bar, 687). What to do... what to do... hmmm.... why not try out the AquaDuck?! The AquaDuck is a water coaster that is more like a nice raft ride through a tube that heads around the top of the ship, at one brief point extending over the edge of the ship. There wasn't much of a wait and it proved to be a lot of fun! After I helped myself to some soft serve ice cream, I got a text that Megan wanted to be picked up from her club so I went down to get her. (Disney cruise ships come with 2 wave phones that are basically stripped down cell phones that guests can use to communicate with each other, and clubs can use to communicate with parents/guardians) Julia got back not long afterwards- she said she really enjoyed the tween club and felt like she fit in.

It feels like Florida was a world away, but yet it felt like it flew away. Everything's perfect. There's so many cool people that were at the Edge Club. Let's see what Megan and Aunt Faith think of the "Beware of Julia" sign magneted to the door and the Little Mermaid postcard. We shall see. It's so nice outside. The moon on the ocean is so pretty.

***Magic Memory: Getting to see the Sailing Away Party when a CM magically let us stand where he was standing***
Official boarding photo Julia takes it all in One of the first things I did was decorate our door Disney Dream portholes just beg for kids (and adults) to sit in them Sail Away Party Professional portrait Picking up right where the last vacation left off ;)
We had to get up early because I'd booked us for the 9am parasailing excursion; when we were getting ready, we could see the ship sailing into the port of Castaway Cay, Disney's jewel of a private island- cool! We also saw a rainbow in the sky. I pointed to where the cabanas were and said we'd be spending most of our time there. We headed back to Enchanted Garden for a buffet breakfast; neither Julia nor I liked the bacon, but the food was otherwise good. (Megan even had something more than just cucumbers, lol)

When we disembarked onto Castaway Cay, we stopped to get our photo taken by the ship's photographer. My philosophy was to never miss a photo op- that way, I could justify buying a CD of all of our photos. As we were waiting our turn, I noticed that the little girl in the family that was ahead of us was wearing a birthday ribbon. "That's Janelle!" I told the girls excitedly- she was wearing one of my gift exchange presents. We had a short chat with her parents and I was thrilled out of my mind that they'd liked my gift so much.

I took a few photos that turned out way overexposed and finally realized that my small camera had been set to ISO 3200 for the past 2 days! D'oh! A similar thing had happened to me before, you'd think that maybe I'd learn to check to see if the ISO setting was accidentally changed.. but apparently not so much. There were a lot of great shots that I had to try as best as I could to fix in post processing, but at least it didn't affect my island photos.

Off to Marge's Barges to sign a billion forms (or so it seemed)... it felt weird and rather daunting to be signing that I was responsible for 2 children. Soon we boarded a small boat for our parasailing excursion. The driver told us that everyone would have to double up, which meant that Julia would have to go with a stranger. She was the 2nd up and I tried to take a bunch of photos of her. When she was coming down, the driver asked Megan if they should dunk her sister in the ocean; Megan let out an enthusiastic "YES!" Heh heh. It was obvious from Julia's face that she loved the experience.

I was feeling a bit motion sick from the choppy boat ride so I was glad when it was time for Megan and I to take our turn. One of the reasons I'd chosen this excursion was because a few months earlier, Megan had said that she wanted to fly. However, after being fastened in the harnesses, she was literally in tears with fright. I let her know that she didn't have to go if she didn't want to, but she said she did. Once we were in the air, she calmed down and completely enjoyed it. I have a fear of heights but it's really not scary at all- actually, I was releived to be free from the noisy world of jerky boat rides. As I took in a gloriously serene view of vibrant turquoise waters, I felt like we were enveloped in a tranquil cushion that would protect us from danger. It was almost as if someone hit a "pause" button which temporarily suspended all the clatter and clutter of mundane life as we floated gracefully through an infinity of sky. Megan said that it almost seemed like we weren't moving. All too soon, we had to come down to be reunited with reality- Megan really didn't want to be dunked so fortunately they didn't dunk us.

Parasailing was amazing, although Megan was scared. The view was really clear and pretty.

Back on land, we took the tram 2 stops to the check in for our cabana. The people there suggested that we could pick up snorkel gear (included) so we decided to do so just in case. Then we hopped into a golf cart to be driven to cabana #12- the girls quite liked the golf cart ride. We were greeted at the teal colored cabana by another Julia- CM Julia from Germany who took excellent care of us all day. She told us about all the features of the cabana including the magic button we could use to call her if we needed anything. We drank some cold beverages from the refrigerator and I walked around snapping photos. The cabana had a safe, so I was able to bring my good DSLR camera- no way would I leave that on a chaise lounge! My small camera had waterproof casing so I used that for taking photos in the ocean.

I soon joined the girls in water that was so crystal clear that even they were in awe. They were playing a role play game where Julia is the Evil Principal (based on a character from the musical Zombie Prom which was her school's show) and Megan is an Evil Witch. Because of my teasing threats about swimming with the sharks, I somehow because the Evil Shark Keeper. It was a lot of fun laughing with them and being silly.

At breakfast at the Enchanted Garden, Aunt Faith was dubbed "The Evil Shark Kepper" And that's evil keeper of sharks, not keeper of evil sharks. And both of us might go swimming with the sharks... We invented "Detention with the sharks" All of us have it... let's see how that one works. Megan's been dubbed "The Evil Witch" and I've been dubbed "The Evil Principal."

Feeling like I had my own slice of paradise in the uncrowded beach area reserved exclusively for guests in the 16 family beach cabanas, I just wanted to savor everything- from the view of the beautiful Disney Dream to the graceful seagulls flying around us. I'd read that Disney photographers did not come to the cabana beach, but we ran into them and got more photos taken.

At one point during the day when I was still in the water, the girls rang the "magic button" to get smoothies, which they loved- I don't know if they were supposed to be included but we were (fortunately) never charged for them.

We met a cast member named Julia from Germany on the island. We got smoothies. I had a raspberry mango, and Megan had strawberry banana. I started plotting a raspberry vanilla one, except by the time I finally asked about it, the bar was closed.

Whenever I got hot or bored, I took a break to relax in our cabana; the shade plus the overhead fan made it quite comfortable there. There was music piped in (including calypso versions of Disney songs), which was a nice touch that really helped to enhance the relaxing mood. While in the cabana, I sometimes wrote trip notes but much of the time I was content to simply enjoy the scenery. Sometimes the girls joined me, other times they stayed in the water. During one idyllic moment, I rhetorically pondered to myself whether taking this cruise was one of the best ideas I've ever had.

It was just a short walk on the path behind the cabanas to get to the restrooms and lunch area at Cookies Too; one time when I was exploring (and of course taking photos!), I noticed that the lunch buffet was open and there were no crowds, so I snagged 3 chocolate chip cookies and put them in the cabana fridge. Another time I came back to the cabana, grabbed my Evian... and wondered how the stuffed baby Minnie got on the shelf. Then I looked around and realized none of our stuff was there. Errr... I'd accidentally wandered into the wrong cabana! Ooops. I immediately left- but then had to backtrack since I still had the Evian in hand. At least there was no one around to notice my embarrassment.

Before lunch, Megan was being a little cranky because Julia wouldn't help her with snorkel equipment. But I think I calmed her down, and we headed over to Cookies Too to get lunch and then brought our trays of barbecue (I had salmon) back to our little home for the day. Can't complain about the ambiance of eating in a private dining area with a back drop of aqua Caribbean waters!

CM Julia checked on us a few times during the day; finally she asked us when we wanted to get a ride back to the tram. I felt like I could have stayed forever- and in fact we were some of the last people left on the island as we headed back to the ship! Megan wanted to find a way to shrink the island and take it back in her luggage. ;)

The private cabanas on Castaway Cay are not cheap. I've often seen people question whether they are worth the price. If you consider it strictly analytically, the answer is almost certainly "no". Sure, the cabanas include beverages (which are free anyway, although not as convenient), suncreen, use of snorkel equipment/flotation tubes/ bikes (if you want)- but you are definitely paying a premium. However, I loved my time in the cabana in a way that can't easily be quantified. Most of all, it was wonderful to have a safe little haven, away from the sun, in which I could spread out and not worry about my things getting all sandy. The level of personal attention (which was never intrusive) was certainly nice, too. I am not really a beach person- but I really had an amazing time that day and I'm sure that having a cabana played a key role; If I had the opportunity to do it again and I could afford it without going into debt, I'd absolutely go for it. As with all things, your mileage may vary. :)

The cabana was neat. I liked the hammock. I sorta wish we could stay here a long time.

Back on the ship, we got ready for dinner and I was pleased to see that some of my Castaway Cay photos turned out really nicely. Dinner that night was at Enchanted Garden, which looked slighly different than at our earlier meals because the lighting there is set to mimic the light outside at the current time of the day. I ordered the North Atlantic Lobster Ravioli, Cream of Tomato Soup (I could have sworn this was from the adult menu, but I am only seeing it on the childrens' menus online), and Pan-seared Sea Bass (my favorite entree of the trip!) For dessert, I decided to order the Mickey Bar ice cream off the kids menu- and I didn't care that the waiters laughed at me a little. ;)

Edge was neat tonight... When I got back, Megan had a light saber! I ran all over deck 8. That was fun. Dinner was good. We went to the Enchanted Garden. I had Cream of Tomato soup and Salmon. No dessert because I wasn't feeling too great and I was full. So dessert ended up being comprised of candy. Nom nom nom.

That night we saw the first of the 3 fully staged Disney productions: Villains Tonight. Obviously, the show was centered on... Disney villains! We sat on the front row side since Megan didn't want any heads in front of her. The "plot", such that is was, centered on the fact that Hades' (from the movie Hercules) Evilometer was on empty and needed to be filled with more evil. There were a lot of holes in the production, but it was still fun and the girls really ate it all up so much that they later watched it again on the "On Demand" in the hotel room.

"Villains Tonight" was the stage show we saw. It was really cool.

"Without a villain in your story, your hero has nothing to do." -Villains Tonight

When we got back to our cabin, there was a towel monkey hanging on a hanger above my bed. Every night we had towel animals but this one proved to be particularly amusing.

***Magic Memory: Luxuriating in our private cabana amid the paradise that is Castaway Cay***
Jumping for joy (...or because the photographer told us to) Julia parasailing in front of our ship Cabana view The girls enjoy smoothies in the cabana One of my favorite photos Professional photo taken in the atrium Megan poses with the Towel Monkey
Nassau Day started with another early morning as we were booked on an early excursion to go swimming with the dolphins at Blue Lagoon Island.

These beds are comfy and it's hard to get up. And I got a light saber in my face... evil witch/ Jedi has detention with the sharks. And apparently Aunt Faith fails at get up in the morning. Apparently she has pet sharks. I don't believe it.

This time, we decided to eat breakfast at Royal Palace, since we hadn't been there yet. The Royal Palace breakfast was a proper sit down meal with a menu, not a buffet. As I ate my lox and bagel, I could see us closing in on Nassau through the ornately decorated windows.

At 9:30am, we met in one of the theatres so that we could get our wristbands etc for the excursion. We eventually disembarked and walked to the end of the pier, through a building, and along a walkway lined with people selling things like Hello Kitty straw bags (no, I wasn't even tempted... they weren't very cute) until we reached our shuttle boat. This part of the day was hot and annoying. If I'd been on my own, I probably would have stayed on the ship but I figured that since it was the girls' first time out of the country, we should do something. Once the shuttle boat got moving, the ride was pleasant enough as we passed various sites such as the Atlantis resort; someone narrated about the sites over the P.A. system.

When we arrived at the Blue Lagoon island, I was struck with how lovely the beach area was.. no, it was not as amazing as Castaway Cay- but what is? :) After disembarking and being directed to a small room, we were briefed about dolphins and safety. When the man from Blue Lagoon mentioned something about the possibility of swimming with the sharks, the girls and I were LOLing since I'd been telling them they might have to swim with the sharks. We walked down to the water and were split in groups of 10, each of which had its own concrete platform area with a trainer. We all had to wear life vests because the water was deep; I was rather annoyed with my life vest because it kept riding up. Julia seemed equally unfond of hers.

After sliding into the water, we were instructed to stay in a line because there was a baby dolphin in our tank. The main dolphins we worked with were Chippy and Princess (who is older than I am!). After a general introduction to the dolphins, we all took turns coming up to pose for solo photos with the dolphins which we could buy later. (The next two sections were videotaped- also for purchase later). Then we came up 2 at a time to hug, kiss, and dance with the dolphins. I went with Megan and we both had a lot of fun. Julia ended up doing this part solo and the trainers made a few jokes about how she was getting 2 kisses (ie from both dolphins) and shouldn't do that again until she's older. OK, it was funnier when they said it.

When we got out of the water so that each person could do the actual swim where they were pushed by dolphins, Megan needed first aid because she'd inadvertently signed up for "bleeding with the dolphins" and her leg was scratched from the concrete platform earlier and now it bothered her. Mine was scratched too, but it didn't bother me as much. They had me do my swim early so that I could accompany Megan to first aid above the platform. This time when I went to slide into the water, I was determined not to scratch my leg. However, in the process, I ended up cutting my foot. No one ever claimed that I was coordinated. ;) I was a little nervous about the dolphin push because I'd never done anything like that, but I ended up laughing my head off- it was quite exhilirating.

Megan was brave about the first aid, especially since the ointment stung. In a way, I'm sorta glad I got a little banged up too so that I could emphathize better with her. I told her that she got a temporary reprieve from having to swim with sharks because she was injured and I think that made her smile a little. When it was Julia's turn to do the dolphin push, they called me over to watch- she enjoyed it too. Megan decided she didn't want to do the push so we didn't make her. All 3 of us enjoyed the time with the dolphins.

After putting on my shorts and watching our video playing on the overhead screens, I decided to purchase a DVD and photo package. I'm big on having photographic mementos- and even moreso when traveling with the girls because they grow up so quickly. Unfortunately, we had to wait seemingly forever for them to process my photos. We looked into the adjacent cafe and there didn't appear to be anything worth eating. I suggested that we head back to the ship, where there would surely be something available (for free), even though I'd originally planned for us to hang out at the beach for awhile. But my original plans didn't account for Megan and me being injured, for me being sunburnt... or most of all, for me desperately wanting to get back to some good old fashioned Disney magic! The 1pm boat back to the ship was still at the dock and I was thrilled when the girls eventually agreed with that plan. We boarded the shuttle, and were able to depart without much of a wait. When we caught sight of the Disney Dream, I immediately started to feel happier! There were 3 other cruise ships docked in Nassau but ours was definitely the neatest looking.

As soon as we got on the ship, we headed up to Luigi's Pizzeria on deck 11 by the pool. We all enjoyed their pizza- I had 2 slices of plain and then a slice of BBQ Chicken (which hadn't originally been out). I think Julia had 4 slices of plain pizza! Then it was onto the Aquaduck. Twice. This was the first time the girls had a chance to ride the water coaster and they both really liked it. While the girls were in the pool, I walked through the adult area and couldn't resist the temptation of a chocolate chip cookie on a stick.

After taking a shower, I decided to give out the last of my gift exchange presents- I was glad to finally be done.... just one thing less to worry about. When I got to one of the cabins, the people were opening the door so I got to chat with them which was really nice. They loved the picture frame I made... and after I answered their question about whether I'd be in WDW after the cruise, they handed me 5 fast passes for Toy Story Midway Mania (aka the toughest ride to get a FP for) that were good until 8/15- they'd received these special FP when the ride broke down when they were there. Score!

When I got back to the cabin, I was surprised and a little annoyed that the girls weren't around. I figured they'd gone off together, but about 5 minutes later, Megan came back- I knew she'd also been distributing gift exchange presents, it just took her longer. But where was Julia?!? As I vented a little to Megan about how annoyed I was, Julia suddenly burst out of the closet. She'd been punking us/ me. Only problem is that it went on way too long for me to be amused; I mean, I'd been back in the cabin for a good 5 minutes wondering where she was. Suffice it to say that I'd be very surprised if she tried this again.

Dinner was not too long after our late lunch- so, as you can imagine, I was not very hungry. We dined at Enchanted Garden again but this time everyone on the ship had a Pirate Night menu. Aside from the Pot Stickers appetizer, there wasn't much I really wanted on the adult menu so I ended up ordering chicken fingers off the kids' menu. Yes, I was laughed at... but I liked what I had! I also ordered a floating island dessert, which was delicious. During the meal, our waiter was messing with Julia and offering her what looked like a bottle of wine but which was really a container of pepper. He also did a trick of balancing forks on top of it with a toothpick, and asked the kids a trick question.

After dinner, we noticed people gathering in the 3rd floor Atrium and it became obvious that they were moving the "Mickey's Pirates in the Caribbean" show inside due to the weather. Since we could get right up front, I suggested we sit down even though it was a bit of a wait. Sometimes it's nice to be in the right place at the right time. While waiting, I added one of the pirate bandanas we were given to add to the costume on one of Julia's Webkinz dalmations. I was joking that Pirate dogs go "Arrrr arf!" ;) The show itself was pretty cute, and I was glad that we were able to see it well without any drama.

While Julia hung out in Edge, Megan and I relaxed in the room. I think we must have gone down to the gift shop together because I recall asking her if I should make another scrapbook- and because of her encouragement, I bought all 3 scrapbook kits that I found on the ship. Julia made sure to come back so we could all get out photo taken with Stitch- to our delight, he was dressed as Pirate Stitch! Ever since Megan's antics on our 2009 trip, Stitch has become an essential part of our Disney vacationing. :) On the way back to the stateroom, the girls ran into Snow White. Julia sighed "If only someone had a camera..." apparently not realizing that I was not far behind. (I guess she thought I took the elevator?) She was eager to show Snow White the light saber she was holding, LOL.

Later at night, we headed up to deck 12 to watch the fireworks at sea which was kinda neat, although in retrospect I wish we'd had a better angle for photos. Later, we watched Lilo and Stitch on demand in our cabin. Or shall I say we tried to watch it; Megan fell asleep and I drifted in and out of sleep as the movie progressed. It was another full, exciting day.

p.s. At some point at night, I went online... which is an adventure in itself, but I digress. When I checked the Phillies box score and saw that Cliff Lee had hit his 2nd HR of the season, my jaw totally dropped. Go Phillies!

***Magic Memory: Having a fellow board member give us Toy Story Midway Mania fastpasses***
Megan in the water All 3 of us with a dolphin Julia experiences the dolphin push I can see the Atlantis Resort from the Aqua Duck We love Stitch Megan is a jedi pirate Julia Pirate dog is even more decked out in piratey stuff
Having a day at sea gave us a chance to relax- most importantly, this meant that we could turn the alarm off! It was 10am when we headed up to the breakfast buffet at Cabanas- this was the last breakfast option we tried but it was definitely our favorite. The food, especially the eggs benedict and smoked salmon, was quite tasty. I loved the design of the restaurant- especially the area where a pillar was decorated with sand castles from each of the 5 Magic Kingdoms worldwide (all of which I've visited at least twice); there were also 5 clocks which displayed the current time at each of the Magic Kingdoms.

Being at sea gave us time to finally embark on our Midship Detective Agency mission, which was fun. We'd already signed up at a kiosk for a badge which also required choosing a mission- either stolen paintings or missing dalmatians; I chose the latter for us. We had a paper with a list of possible suspects and a map of artwork all over the ship that we could use to find clues to solve the mission- at each painting, you had to stand on a special spot and then hold the badge up in order to transform the painting into a special animated message. Sometimes this would be a clue that could help us narrow down the suspects; other times, it would just show that we'd found a missing dalmation or 2. A lot of people were doing detective agency missions but even when we were behind other people, the clue we'd receive would usually be different than what they'd receive- and based on some of the other clues we saw, not all the missions led to the same villain as ours. Some families appeared to have each kid use their own badge, but we had fun working on it together- the girls alternated activating the clues while I crossed off the paintings we'd visited and kept track of the clues.

We spent a lot of the day either just chilling out in the room or wandering around the ship- I took photos of a lot of the areas we hadn't seen. We made a point of meeting Stitch for an outdoor photo op (although no professional photographer was there this time) which was once again really fun- especially when Stitch tried to "lick" Julia. Later in the day we got our photos taken with Captain Mickey Mouse.

As one may or may not recall from earlier entries, we sometimes shifted into role playing where Julia was the Evil Principal, Megan was the Evil Witch and I was the Evil Shark Keeper. Julia kept trying to give us detentions (and at some point we started giving each other detentions with the sharks). I kept telling her good luck at enforcing my detention since I am (happily) no longer in school. At some point Julia started to say that she could give a detention to the Towel Monkey... (yes, he was still hanging from the ceiling) I told her to beware for revenge of the Towerl Monkey since he was obviously offended by the mere suggestion that someone would want to give him a detention. And so another character was added to our silly universe as throughout the trip we continued to tell tales about the Towel Monkey. Good times.

That night was designated as "Semi Formal Night" so the girls and I put on our best dresses for dinner; it worked out nicely for photographs that the colors of our dresses complemented each other. When we posed for various photo ops, the photographer would tend to give the girls some direction about where they should stand in relation to their mother, which would prompt them to immediately explode "That's not our mom!!!" I decided that if there is a next trip, I totally need to get a T-shirt made that says "I am not their mom" By the end of the trip, they were introducing me as NotOurMom even before anyone asked. ;) (we also decided that anyone who assumes I am their mother deserves detention with the sharks)

Dinner was at the Royal Palace, which is a restaurant inspired by the various Disney princesses. When we arrived for dinner, we saw one of Julia's pens on the table- apparently she'd left it the previous night. Very nice of the waiters to have it waiting for her! For dinner, I started off with Double Baked Spinach Souffle and Belle's French Onion Soup. As I tried to decide on an entree, the spaghetti and meatballs on the children's menu proved too hard for me to resist- and yes, I got teased again but I didn't care. (and I decided that anyone who laughed at me for ordering off the kids' menu also needed detention with the sharks. heh.) I couldn't decide on dessert so I had both the Peanut Butter Mousse and the Tahitian Vanilla Creme Brulee, both of which were terrific. But eating a full meal with 2 desserts made me feel really stuffed!

There was another stage show that night and once again we took our seats on the side of the front row. This evening's show was "The Golden Mickey's", which is an updated version of a show I'd previously seen at Hong Kong Disneyland. The basic premise is that it is an award show, and a stage manager has to take over as hostess. The scenes where the stage manager gains the confidence to believe in herself as a star are interspersed with elaborate Disney production numbers. At the end of the show, the girls spotted a CM named Rachael in the back and Julia asked her if it was really scripted that the stage manager has to take over. (did she think that the videos with Disney head honchos and stars were actually live? LOL) Well it turns out that Rachael was the actual stage manager for the production. The girls, especially Julia, were very interested in learning what a stage manager does and seeing her book of cues. Eventually, Rachael asked if we wanted a backstage tour the next day. Did we?!? Of course we did!!! We'd have to see the 4pm show which would cut our 2nd Castaway Cay day a bit short but we hadn't planned to stay all day, anyway. Thank goodness I hadn't been able to book a cabana that day! Julia said that everything was working out perfectly.

We ended up changing into our bathing suits and going on the Aquaduck 3 times. The first time we had to wait a little longer because as we neared the top of the platform, someone had gotten stuck so they had to completely shut the ride off and then restart it; we also ran into a few people from the gift exchange. When Julia headed off to the tween club, Megan and I went into the hot tub, which we had virtually all to ourselves due to the late hour.

Back in the cabin, Megan decided to usurp all the pillows. And I hung the Towel Monkey close to Julia's top bunk so that he could better get his revenge. Hee. ;)

***Magic Memory: Being invited on a backstage tour***
Breakfast at Cabanas buffet Daily Stitch photo op Midship Detective Agency: yay, the puppies have all been found! Everyone needs to get at least one photo with Mickey Mouse My favorite portrait The girls talked to someone who happened to be the stage manager, Rachael
Our last full day on the Disney Dream brought us back to Castaway Cay. Since we didn't have any excursions booked, we slept in again... and ate breakfast at Cabanas again. The plan was to linger on the ship and ride the AquaDuck a few times while everyone else was on the island. However, it was rainy and overcast all morning so the pool decks were more crowded than is typical for a Castaway Cay day. As I tried to get in line for the AquaDuck, I was told I couldn't take my camera on- even though it was strapped securely around my neck. And even though no one had said a word 2 days earlier. I'd really been hoping to take some photos on the ride with Castaway Cay in the background but it was not to be. Since there was no way I was going to leave an expensive camera in the cubby holes at the bottom of the line, I ended up waiting and taking photos of the girls on the ride instead.

While we were sitting on deck, Megan got really upset because Julia didn't want to go in the pool with her. Julia eventually got up and headed back to the cabin. While this left me alone with a 1 Meg crankypants, I was proud of how well Julia handled the situation. When Megan somehow calmed down, we joined Julia in the cabin.

It eventually seemed to clear up quite a bit, so we headed onto Castaway Cay at about 11:45. There was a sign saying that virtually all excusions were canceled- I'd been *this* close to changing our Parasailing to the 2nd Castaway Cay stop since we had the cabana the first day, so boy was I glad I hadn't! And of course the weather was another reason why it worked out to get the cabana on our first stop even though I'd originally wanted one for the second stop.

Before staking out spots on the beach, we stopped in a store where I bought us all pins and bought myself a Castaway Cay scrapbook kit. Because the sun wasn't as strong, it was nicer being outside then it had mean on our first stop. But I still didn't have confidence in the flimsy umbrellas (which eventually had to be closed, anyway, due to reports of approaching high winds).

While on the beach, a waiter came by to take orders. The girls asked if smoothies were included and he said "yes" so we all ordered them. Then I got presented with a bill- huh?!? When I asked him about it, I came to the conclusion that his English wasn't good enough to really understand what the girls were asking. I didn't really argue- after all I'd spent, what was another $15?

At one point, Megan got really upset because Julia wouldn't help her build a sand castle- once again, Megan got frustrated by not being able to control Julia. But after Megan started it by herself and stopped pressing Julia to help? Julia was glad to join in. It's the way she tries to guilt Julia into doing stuff when she (Megan) wants to do it that causes the drama. If she could gain enough perspective to see that when someone says no to her it doesn't mean the world is against her and if she could learn to compromise, I think she'd be happier. But that's just my 2 cents from the sideline. (not that Julia is always innocent in their clashes- but this particular instance, she didn't seem to be adding any drama which was nice)

Since we wanted to attend the 4pm show on the ship so we could get our backstage tour and since Stitch was scheduled to appear on the gangway at 3, I told the girls at 2:30 that it was time to get ready to go. When we got to the tram stop, I asked the girls if they wanted to wait or walk- and I was glad when they wanted to walk because it was a nice path that we hadn't been on. We hung out by the ship until just after 3- since we didn't see Stitch, we thought the appearance might have been canceled due to weather and we got in line to go through security to get back on the ship. After Julia went through security, we spotted Stitch outside! So we had Julia scan her card to exit the ship, handed her our stuff (so we didn't need to wait for it to be x-rayed), walked through the metal detetectors... and then promptly exited the ship. There wasn't anyone else around, so we had some quality time interacting with Stitch. When we got back on the ship, I quipped that we must have had the shortest stay on Castaway Cay ever. (note: you have to scan your key card when you exit and enter the ship so they can keep track of whether all the passengers have returned or not)

The girls brought some pizza down to the cabin while I showered... and we were just barely able to get ready in time to head to the theatre for the 4pm performance of "Believe". "Believe" is about a botanist who believes in science more than magic, much to the disappointment of his daughter. Of course by the end of the show, he is converted to a full fledged pixie dust lover, which delights his daughter, and everyone was happy ever after. There were also messages about respecting the environment and how children need to be treasured because they grow up quickly. Of the 3 productions we saw, it somehow seemed to be the weakest in terms of pure fun. However, all 3 productions had wonderful Disney moments and were much more enjoyable to me than typical cruise entertainment.

Afterwards, Megan walked around the theatre amassing quite a collection of the large circular confetti that was lying around. Finally we got to walk onstage and an actor named Trevor showed us around, explained some of the effects, and answered our questions. Stage manager Rachael eventually joined him, and we also talked with a woman named Sam who handled the props. We were able to feel how heavy one of the ensemble dresses was, and we had a closeup view of trap doors, etc. Julia asked how the Beast transformed from his beast suit to the Prince in "The Golden Mickey's", but all the adults (including me) scoffed at her suggestion that there was such a thing as a "beast suit". Julia maintained her ground, insisting that there was no way it was really magic and that magic doesn't really exist. All in all, we were on the stage for about 30 minutes when we had to leave so that the guests lining up for the next show could be let in.

At this point, it was already time for dinner so we rushed down to Animator's Palate. This time we didn't see the show with Crush and the Finding Nemo characters because it was the night for the special "See Ya Real Soon" menu and not our scheduled theme night. I ordered the Sesame Crusted Tuna Sashimi (yum!), the Crawfish and Lobster Bisque, and the Oven-baked Orange Roughy. For dessert, I had to have the Baked Alaska- I think the only time I've ever seen it on a menu has been on cruise ships. There was a little show at the end where all the waiters paraded out and the guests waved their napkins.

After dinner, it was time to *sob* start packing. Our bags needed to be outside the cabin by 10:30pm. It was especially sad taking the magnets off the door. When Julia was done packing, she headed up to Edge for one last time at the tween club. Megan and I ended up watching "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" on Disney channel- and I kept getting text messages on the Wave phone that I needed to return Megan's wristband by midnight or I'd be charged $50. Since the movie was on until 11pm, I was somewhat lenient with Julia about staying out late. However, once we got back to the cabin after returning Megan's bracelet and she texted that she was going to be later, I told her that if she didn't get back before we were ready to sleep, I'd bolt the door and she could sleep in the hall. Heh. I slightly resented her tone of "I'll be staying late" vs. "Can I stay later?" (I think Megan was a tad disappointed that Julia came back in time). We had to get up very early the next day so it wasn't a good idea to stay up crazy late again. We were all sad to be leaving the ship- but at least we'd be heading to Disney World!

Don't want to leave the boat... the past few days have been amazing.

***Magic Memory: Making the shortest trip ever onto Castaway Cay in order to see Stitch for our 3rd time***
Julia and Megan at the end of the Aqua Duck 2 little mermaids Building a sanda castle Posing with Stitch Stage Manager Rachael and Performer Trevor gave us a backstage tour Julia in the sunset
We had to meet our towncar at 8:30am; I wasn't looking forward to getting the girls- or myself- up early but by some miracle we were all awake and alert without any drama. Perhaps it was Disney magic? We'd already decided to skip breakfast in favor of eating Special- K/ granola bars. So once I picked up our photo DVD and gave the girls Disney gift cards that I'd "found in the room safe" (*wink, wink*), we were pretty much ready to *sniff* get off the ship. Disembarking was really a breeze- we walked into the terminal, found our luggage, and waited in a short line to go through customs- I decided to get someone to help with the luggage which proved to be a great choice. The man who assisted us was quite friendly and it made the line move even faster.

Aunt Faith gave us one [gift card] at the beginning of the trip and another $50 Disney card when we got off the boat. She claimed she found them in the safe, but I think she put them there and pretended to have never seen them before.

We arrived outside at around 8:15am- I called the towncar company to let them know we were ready; they said the driver would call me soon but a few minutes later we actually saw the car. We were all sad to say goodbye to the lovely Disney Dream. But, hey, at least we were going to Disney World! The drive took a little over an hour and I admit to getting excited when we started seeing Disney World signs on the highway. I always love the moment where we reach the magical purple signs that denote the entrance to the Walt Disney World resort- this time, since I was in the front seat of a vehicle that I wasn't driving, I had a rare chance to take a photo of those beloved gates. I took another photo when we got to the Magic Kingdom gates en route to our resort.

From the moment the car arrived at the gate to the Grand Floridian hotel, I felt almost like I'd stepped into a fairy tale. Before opening the gate, they asked our name... then we were greeted by name when we pulled up at the front door and we were whisked off to the front desk- of course, we were delivered there by name. At some point, I was presented with a lovely envelope detailing the Concierge Connection test program for which I'd signed up- This basically involved being able to contact the staff via txt on my phone. A few weeks before our stay, someone from the hotel has called and asked if we wanted to participate in the test, and I figured why not? Over the phone, they'd asked us a bunch of questions about favorite characters, rides, etc.

It took a few moments to sort out my reservation since it had been booked as 2 continuing reservations (due to the border between 2 discount seasons falling within my stay), but yay, our room was ready! At 10am! A nice gentleman gave us a golf club ride to our building, Boca Chica, and helped us to our room.

We spent about a half hour oohing and aahing over our room- and checking out the awesome view of the Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon. I was glad I'd brought my Big Ass Camera Lens so I could take some nifty zoomed in photos. Perhaps we might have spent even longer in the room, but our bathroom light was out, rendering the bathroom useless. I called down to the front desk and figured they could take care of it while we were at the parks.

We headed over to Hollywood Studios which was also the first park we visited in 2009; I love how we were developing little traditions. We headed over to Rock n Roller Coaster to grab fastpasses, then headed to our ultimate destination, Tower of Terror. The sign said it was a 40 minute wait, but we decided we really wanted to ride. 40 minute wait?!? Pfft! We walked right into the pre-show library! About 40 minutes later, we'd already ridden twice and also spent some time lingering in the gift shop. Megan was overjoyed and said she'd forgotten how fun ToT was. And so the park segment of our journey was off to a brilliant start.

Next on our list was the recently revamped Star Tours attraction. Since the girls (especially Megan) had developed an interest in Star Wars recently, I definitely wanted to be sure they'd have a chance to ride it. The sign said it was a 30 minute wait, but it was really closer to 15. I enjoyed it- the old version had gotten a bit stale with me so it was nice to see a change. The girls enjoyed looking at the Star Wars merchandise and playing with light sabers in the gift shop.

We decided to head over for our lunch reservation at 50's Prime Time Cafe a tad early; this time it was not nearly as insanely crowded as 2 yrs ago, and we were soon seated. Once again, our waitress wasn't hugely into the act, but it's all good because I really go there for the PB&J milkshake... which is so divine that it in itself would almost justify a trip to Orlando. And for the S'mores. In between these 2 delicacies, I did manage to eat a chicken sandwhich, which was almost incidental. Yeah, I left there stuffed... but it was soooo worth it! This time Julia tried the PB&J milkshake too, but Megan stuck with the Strawberry one since she doesn't really care for peanut butter. Both girls enjoyed their milkshakes so much that they passed on the free sundaes that came with their kids' meals.

Toy Story Mania is a good ride for after lunch, since it's very calm. The lines are insanely long and fastpasses disappear very early in the day, but thanks to some friends on the cruise, we came with 5 fastpasses that we could use whenever we wanted. I scored 56,000 which is probably kinda lame, but I suck at those kind of interactive rides. When we were done, I wanted to give away the 2 fastpasses we couldn't use; we saw a CM by the fastpass machine telling 2 people that there were no more fastpasses for the day. Perfect! We gave them ours- and they seemed to be a little in disbelief, but hopefully they appreciated it. The CM told us how nice it was for us to give them away- when I said that we only had 2 but there were 3 of us, I think he was going to give us 3 fastpasses or something but then I mentioned that we'd already ridden. That's ok- I just wanted to pay the magic along.

At this point, we were ready to use our fastpasses for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. Or at least Julia and I were- Megan still didn't want to ride because it went upside down, even though I don't think it's scary. She waited in line with us then went to the gift shop when we got up to the loading area.

At this point, we were ready to head back to the hotel for an A/C break. Score- a bus for the GF was waiting when we got there! During the bus ride, we giggled listing the movies that our Towel Monkey franchise would spawn- starting of course with "Revenge of the Towel Monkey" whose movie poster Julia had designed the previous night.

When we got back to the hotel room after 4pm, the light in the bathroom still wasn't working. I was extremely annoyed- I expect much better from a hotel when I am paying the kind of $$$ the GF charges. I called down to the front desk, and they didn't even seem all that apologetic. I also txted the Concierge Connection. Finally someone came- and it turned out that all they had to do was change the lightbulb; it took 6 hours for that?!? The lady who came to the room also said that people were sitting around doing nothing when she came into work- whether or not that it true, it's really not the best customer service response. No one at the hotel took any responsibility for dropping the ball and it was the one large, ugly blot on an otherwise lovely stay.

We were really fortunate to miss a downpour while safely in the hotel room chilling out. In 2009, we seemed to battle daily downpours (one of which resulted in the demise of Julia's cell phone) but the weather never got in our way this trip.

After 3 hours chilling out in the hotel room, I was more than ready to head over to Magic Kingdom... which had been tempting me whenever I gazed outside. The rains had stopped so we walked back to the main building and were able to hop right on the monorail. Magic Kingdom was officially open until midnight, with extra magic hours set to last until 3am. (extra magic hours are when select attractions- usually the top ones- are open exclusively for resort guests) Julia thought we could stay until 3am; I said we could stay as long as everyone wasn't tired; I had extreme doubts that it would be anywhere near 3am.

My first thought upon catching sight of the Magic Kingdom was "wow, it's crowded!" Since the girls had never been on Space Mountain, we headed there first to grab some fastpasses. It was amusingly uncanny how, almost every time we were in the area of Space Mountain, a nearby live show would be performing YMCA. After successfully obtaining our fastpasses, we headed to the Mickey's Star Traders store. Two years earlier, we'd had the most magical experience there with a CM named Doug (please read that trip report if you haven't already for background info) and a supporting cast of plush Stitches of various sizes. It was a high priority for all of us stalk him see if he was still working there, though I cautioned the girls not to expect too much. Alas there was no sign of Doug, but we still had fun with the plush Jumbo Stitches.

We went to the Stitch Shop, but we didn't find Doug.

By now it was closing in on 9pm and well past the time when we should be eating dinner- I think we were all still full from our awesome lunch. Having fond memories of a silly pizza dinner at Pinocchio's Village Haus in Fantasyland, I suggested we head over there. And once again, they served a huge dose of silly along with our ziti (Julia and me) and pizza (Megan). Somehow, it all made sense that Megan was dipping her knife in sunscreen, which she dubbed Darth Sunscreen. From my perspective, any time they were both smiling and getting along was a good thing... so bring on the Darth Sunscreen if that's what it takes!

After dinner, we ended up criss-crossing the park- Splash Mountain to Space Mountain and then back to Splash Mountain. Our first encounter with Splash Mountain said it was a 40 minute wait, but it was closer to 25. Splash Mountain had new ride vehicles (logs) since our last trip, with lap bars; I'd read that people could no longer ride 3 in a row, but apparently that was not true. Even though it's a tight fit, we like being able to sit in the same row together- that way, no one has to be by themselves. I was pleased that the ride seemed to be in better shape than it's sometimes been- even the audioanimatronic of Br'er Rabbit hopping alongside the log was working properly. Amazing. ;) I was also thrilled that we saw fireworks going off from the ride, since I'd told the girls tales of how I'd seen them on previous trips of mine. Megan was delighted and proclaimed that she'd forgotten how fun this ride was, too.

It took about 20 minutes to get through the fastpass return queue for Space Mountain. I was a little nervous throughout the ride because Megan gets scared of rides sometimes and I couldn't sit next to her because the seating is single file. Fortunately, she loved it! I was so relieved. (Julia also loved it, but I knew she would)

We walked back to Splash Mountain, going through Fantasyland so as to avoid possible traffic jams from the Main Street Electric parade. The sign still said 40 minute wait, and this time it took about 30 minutes. All the criss crossing through the park had taken its toll on our feet so we all decided to leave the park. It was "only" 12:30am, and Julia admitted that I was right about us not lasting til 3am, though it sounded good at the time. The girls' bags were bothering their shoulders, so I carried Megan's for her. We took the monorail back to the hotel and went to sleep after a very busy but fun day; it seemed like forever since we'd been on the Disney Dream.

Feet hurt. Want sleep... Revenge of the Towel Monkey is the new obsession. Might fall asleep on monorail. I wanted to stay to 3am, when it closed for good, but that didn't happen. At least we saw fireworks on Splash Mountain. Castaway Cay was amazing even though we weren't there today.

***Magic Memory: Seeing the fireworks from Splash Mountain***
Maximum zoom on the castle Our first ride was Tower of Terror (back right) Megan enjoys her strawberry shake Julia and Megan in front of the castle
After our late night, we slept in a little. By 11, we were ready to head out to Animal Kingdom. Since the concierge connection had txted me again, I decided to ask them where Stitch might be appearing at Animal Kingdom; we clearly could never have too much Stitch in our vacation. They replied that he should be hanging out near the Mercantile in Discovery Island. By the time they got back to us, we were right near the Mercantile but we definitely would have missed him if we hadn't known where to look. So we had yet another encounter of the Stitch kind as we stood in line for another photo with Stitch. And Lilo.

Julia and I went on Expedition Everest using the standby line which ran close to the advertised 30 minutes. Megan chose not to ride because she didn't like the backwards part 2 years ago, so she was directed to the gift shop when we got to the front of the line. This ride is still relatively new to me, and I really enjoy it- from the awesome view going up the lift through the part where it shoots backwards in the dark right on through to the curving drop when you emerge into the light. Just a lot of fun! However, we only went on once in deference to the fact that Megan doesn't ride.

We found a hidden mickey waiting for Expedition Everest, without the book! It's in it, hint 9 of Animal Kingdom hunt. We also found a Mickey in the pavement.

We headed to Restaurantosaurus for lunch because it seemed like the best option of those nearby; on the way, I successfully found a plush Bruce- the shark from Finding Nemo- at a kiosk near the finding Nemo musical. Since I had been the Evil Shark Keeper, it was only fitting that I have a shark to keep. I had chicken nuggets, Julia had a Vegetable Subosaurus (grilled vegetables, mushrooms, onions, provolone, served on a toasted roll with sweet potato fries) and Megan had a kids' meal cheeseburger that came in a cute little bucket. Julia didn't particularly like her sweet potato fries so she had most of Megan's. And mine.

Lunch was good. I ate Megan and Aunt Faith's fries, and some of mine. They were sweet potato fries. They were good, but really sweet.

Megan was getting a little cranky, so it was time to head back to the hotel to chill. Why, yes, we went to Animal Kingdom and only experienced one real attraction. ;) I actually just enjoy being around the parks so it was all good- we lingered on our way out and saw a number of animals in the oasis. As we reached the bus stop, we saw lightning in the distance and thought we had excellent timing.

It looks like it's going to thunder storm. Megan's fan is spinning without being on. We're starting to see lightning so we're glad we're going back to the hotel.

It only took about 7 minutes for our bus to get there, but then it took 33 minutes to get back to the Grand Floridian because we had to stop at Blizzard Beach to load a ton of passengers. (apparently they had also seen the lightning in the distance and decided to get to dry ground. Or something.) I don't quite get the fact that we had to stop at Blizzard Beach both coming to Animal Kingdom as well as when we left... but it still beats driving myself.

Back at the Grand Floridian, we stopped at Gasparilla's Grill and Games, which had various quick serve food options. I got a large chocolate chip cookie, while the girls' eyes lit up at the sight of a smoothie machine. Snacks in hand, we headed back to the room for some A/C appreciation. At one point, Julia accidentally hit Megan's head with one of their light sabers so there was a little drama. I think this was the day when I was starting to snooze- but naps were not to be with the nieces (aka the noise) around. ;)

After another 3 hour break, it was back to the Magic Kingdom. Because it closed relatively early (11pm) and only had one night time parade, I was optimistic that we'd have some good luck with lines- or rather, lack thereof. This time, we decided to take the boat instead of the monorail. The boat launch was closer to our hotel building, and fortunately there was a boat arriving as we got there. It was a pleasant journey, with a stop at the Polynesian. However it took longer than the monorail- 20 minutes vs. about 2. I was very happy that, unlike the previous evening, there were no lines at the MK gates.

Our evening started out as a carbon copy of the previous one: We headed over the Space Mountain to get Fastpasses as we heard the sounds of YMCA yet again. Then we headed to Mickey's Star Traders once again to stalk search for cast member, Doug, who'd made our previous trip so magical. Still no sign of him... but Megan got into her Stitch antics and we soon started conversing with a very friendly CM named Elizabeth. Eventually we asked her if she knew Doug.

We all practically burst with joy when we found out that Doug still worked there! Woooooo hoooo! I showed Elizabeth his picture from my 2009 online album to be sure that it was the same person. It was.

Clearly our trip would not be complete without seeing him, so we begged Elizabeth to find out when Doug was working. Obviously, they don't give out that information easily so she needed to check with a higher authority. Enter CM Tracy! After we told her our story, apparently she realized that we may be slightly crazy but we're harmless. So she told us that he was done for the day but he would be somewhere in the Tomorrowland shops the next day from 3 to 11ish. Yay! Even if we hadn't already planned to go to Magic Kingdom that night, we would have changed our schedule to make it happen. It was just that important that we see him again because the laughs he'd given us 2 years earlier had been the surprise highlight of the entire trip.

Full of excitement, we headed off for an encore meal at Pinocchio's Village Haus (of Silliness). Since Megan's kids' size pizza had been too large for her to finish the previous night, Julia and I figured we'd also order kids' pizzas. However, when we got our meals, we were looking for the rest of the pizza. I'm guessing that they had accidentally given Megan an adult size the previous day- which was a rather tragic time for them to make such a mistake since she tossed half of it. Oh well. I figured maybe we could get Dole Whips later if we were still hungry.

The night's silliness consisted of Julia stacking the 3 unwanted strawberry yogurts into a leaning tower of yogurt. As well as Megan and I trying to put them in her bag. I swear they spike their food with silly pills there! :)

After dinner, we used of our Space Mountain fastpasses- and were happy that the line inside was shorter than it had been the previous night. Once again, a fun time was had by all. And we got the picture. Next, we headed across to Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin which advertised a 15 minute wait. Yeah, right- it was practically a walk on! Sweet. So we went on a 2nd time. Some folks in front of us had given us a secret that allowed me to get not-so-pathetic scores; my highest was 191,300. I actually got the highest score, which shocked me- but apparently the girls didn't quite understand the hint. Heh. (I am not 100% sure what Megan's score was the 2nd time)

Splash Mountain was beckoning us, but first I suggested going on Big Thunder Mountain. The sign said it was a 10 minute wait, but it was practically a walk on. Oh yes, I'd been right in thinking that this would be a most excellent night for reduced crowds! BTMRR is always fun at night.

At this point it was 10:30 and we figured that if Splash Mountain didn't have a line, we could go on twice. Maybe 3 times, but definitely twice. Everything was working out nicely as we got into the log with little wait. I had told the girls tales of previous trips when I'd been able to ride more than once without getting off, so we were hoping that the timing would work out just right and there would be no one waiting to get in our row. When we were done riding, the others in our log exited but we asked if we could stay on. After a moment of hesitation, the CM's told us to pull down on the lap bar. Yes! It turned out that we were the only ones in the log, which Julia in particular seemed to think was the coolest thing ever. As I looked at my watch, I figured we'd be cutting it razor close as to whether we'd be able to fit in a 3rd ride; if we had to get out and re-enter the queue, it would not be promising. But fate and pixie dust were apparently on our side, and we just managed to squeeze in one more ride. Once again, we were able to stay in the same log. This time, we weren't alone- but still, it was 3 times in a row. By the time we got off, the park was closed, but we had just enough time to buy the photo from the time we rode Splash Mountain in a log all by ourselves.

As we stopped for a Photopass photo on our way out of the empty park, we were somewhat damp, but very happy. When Julia dreamily pronounced the night as magical, it was one of those moments where everything seemed totally worth it.

We went on Splash Mountain three times without having to get off the log.

Us: "Can we go again?"
Cast member: "Just pull back down on that lap bar."
Us: "Woo hoo" (clapping and cheering)

It was a magical night. But that was only the whipped cream and cherry. We found out that Doug still worked there! And he would be in at 2:30!

We took an empty monorail back to the hotel and went to sleep with visions of stalking meeting back up with Doug dancing in our heads. Or at least I did.

***Magic Memory: Riding Splash Mountain 3 times without getting off, including once where we were the only 3 people in the log***
Animal Kingdom I give Stitch some love Julia and I love riding Expedition Everest We were directed to cheer like we were excited We had a log all to ourselves on a late ride of Splash Mountain Headed back to our hotel on the monorail
I asked the girls if they wanted to go to Epcot since they didn't seem too thrilled with it last time. They said they did, so we headed over there on the morning of our last complete day of vacation. I didn't push for making rope drop since we'd been staying up late, so we left at about 10:30am. Naturally, our first stop was to get a Soarin' fastpass, after which we headed over to The Living Seas, which was nearby. There was a cute photo op where I was able to take a photo of the girls inside a shark. Then we headed to MouseGear, the large shop.

And that's where Megan had a 1 Meg Breakdown. The issue at hand was that she thought Julia should buy her a Jumbo Stitch because she didn't have enough money to buy one herself. Jumbo Stitch is $50 so it's more than a trivial expense. I'd given each girl a $50 gift card at Philadelphia airport and another before we left the Dream. They also came with money of their own. We'd cautioned Megan about maybe not spending all her money right away at Disney World, but by this point, she'd spent almost all of it. Julia still had a good amount of money left because she is more pensive about her purchases and she wanted to get a sense of what things she might want at each park before she spent too much. I didn't give Julia $100 so she could spend half of it on Megan. Julia is always sweet and sensitive, and I think a lot of times she will give Megan what she wants- but this was clearly too much to ask. (actually, if she'd asked, it wouldn't have been so bad; rather, she acted like she was entitled and that Julia was being mean)

I tried to reason with Megan, but of course I am not so good at that. I did tell her that if she kept up the attitude, she would not come with us to see Doug. She was sulking, but fortunately it was a Sunday so her dad was able to talk to her on the phone. Somehow he cleared things up. (Yay, Brian!) Meanwhile, I bought some more scrapbook stuff and a 40th anniversary Disney Dooney purse that I'd been coveting for months.

After a detour in Club Cool for some free samples of sodas from around the world, we headed so Seasons food court for some lunch. We all got kids' meals macaroni and cheese (honestly, for me, that was partly because that was the shortest line there); Julia also got some soup. This afternoon's silliness involved playing "slap the grapes". You probably had to be there. ;)

After lunch, we were able to use our Soarin' fastpasses. Then we headed to the Imagination pavilion where we could see some Figment. On the way out, I saw that there was a photo op where you could seem like you are swimming with the characters of Finding Nemo, including the shark. We totally had to do that! The first attempt of getting me into the photo was a bit of a fail because it looked like I was missing a limb (although this might have worked if I'd been wearing a look of panic like "OMG, I've been eaten by a shark!" instead of smiling). But they re-did it and we were all happy with the final result.

We got a picture with a shark. It wasn't really a shark, it was a photo edited green screen picture.

We wanted to ride Test Track, but it was down all day. On our way out of the park, we went on Spaceship Earth (aka the big golfball). Next up: to the monorail! And to the comforts of our Grand Floridian hotel room!

I found (and bought) a lanyard medal that says "Love the world." I found a bunch of pins I like. I took pictues of them so I can remember what they are. We had fun at Epcot. We're going later to Magic Kingdom to see Doug and stuff.

It was our last night of vacation and I was anxious to stalk cast member Doug, so we spent a shorter time in our room than on the 2 previous days. However, after taking the monorail to Magic Kingdom, our first stop was not to find Doug; rather, it was to buy some Mickey ears for a friend's 2 little kids, including her newly born little baby. I showed the girls pictures of the baby on my phone, and they "awwww"ed appropriately. :) While waiting for the kids' names to be embroidered, we all tried on funny hats. That never seems to get old.

Our 2nd stop was also not to find Doug. No, there are some items of important business to take care of before attending to matters of stalking reunions! So we headed to Space Mountain for fastpasses. Once we had secured those, we were able to proceed to our primary mission: Find Doug! So we headed to Mickey's Star Traders. When we didn't see him, we all got shy about asking someone to ask for CM Tracy from the back but eventually, I think Julia asked and I may have chimed in. Meanwhile, Megan found herself attached to a Jumbo Stitch plush as was her usual custom.

Tracy came out, and somehow Julia and I both got happy birthday buttons- Julia because her birthday was coming up and me because, well... why the heck not? LOL. Actually it was because I mentioned that I'd had to cancel my actual birthday trip. Tracy told us that Doug was working at the merchandise location by the exit of Space Mountain and said she'd take us over. Megan was still holding her Jumbo Stitch but Tracy said it would be ok for her to carry him across Tomorrowland to the other shop.

The next hour and a half of my life was an amazing blur of laughter, mayhem, and enough pixie dust to make the kid who swore there was no such thing as magic change her tune. We were flying high that we found Doug! And he remembered us! Then before you knew it, he offered Megan a Stitch pin. Cool! My head was still spinning when Doug said that Megan could take Jumbo Stitch home with her. WHAAAAAAT?!? And then it was in writing- Doug game Megan an "I'm celebrating" pin on which he wrote the text "adopting Stitch"

Wow. Just... wow. I wanted to stalk see Doug again to tell him how much he's meant to all of us and how fondly we remembered how he made us laugh 2 years ago... and what does he do but make even more magic for us. Unbelievable- and yet it also made sense. Megan, of course, was wearing a grin almost as large as her Jumbo Stitch.

Laughs flowed freely as Doug used Megan's Jumbo Stitch as a training exercise for his trainees to teach them about the process of shipping an item to the front of the park for pickup. The live comedy had us being introduced to supporting characters like "Not funny Drew". Interspersed among general silliness, I was able to talk a tiny bit to the 2 trainees who had just started that day: Hiro from Japan and Esther from Macau. Doug was impressed that I'd been to both places- and all 5 Disney resorts- so I gave him the URL to my blog and my contact info. As of this writing, I haven't heard from him... but I made a point several times of letting him know that he is practically a part of our family; my mom knows him by name. I'm glad I was able to let him know in person how fondly we rememembered him and what a huge role he'd played in our previous trip.

Meanwhile, Julia was in hysterics as Doug teased her about keeping all of her receipts. He also intrigued her with the idea of working at Disney through their college program. As some young women Doug had met earlier were walking through the store on their way from Space Mountain, Doug remembered that one of them shared the same birthday as Julia. Impressive! Speaking of birthdays... we found out that Doug's was the next day; in the midst of all our mayhem, he received a card from Disney.

I don't think I need to mention that Megan kept smiling like she was on the top of the world.

We went to see Doug. He was working in the Space Mountain shop, but we went to the Stitch shop. We met up with Tracy from yesterday... Megan was hugging a Jumbo Stitch, and Tracy let her carry him over to the Space Mountain shop. I figured this was OK because we were with a cast member. As it turned out, Megan was actually getting Jumbo Stitch for free! I got the reveal on video.

When we met up with Doug, we had fun but I'm not surprised. This time, I was accused of stealing my pin medals. I tried convincing them, but then gave up and went along. He also ran into an older girl who has the same birthday as me. That was neat.

We met two trainees- one from China and the other from Japan. They were being trained by Doug. I'm not sure if that is good or bad.

All too soon, we had to leave for a last minute dinner reservation I'd scored a few hours earlier. So, we said our goodbyes to our friends- old and new- and headed toward Tony's Town Square for a nice Italian dinner to celebrate our last night of vacation. I was disappointed that they no longer had smoothies since I remember having one back in 2003; I still have the souvenir glass. But I heartily enjoyed my spaghetti and meatballs, and couldn't resist the Pistachio Creme Brulee dessert. (they'd had Pistachio Creme Brulee at the Fireworks dessert party we'd attended in 2009 and it was as good as I remembered)

After dinner, we saw the fireworks as we headed back to Space Mountain to use our Fastpasses. Hmm... Space Mountain... that meant we had an excuse to stalk see Doug again, along with some of our new friends! Thus began Round 2 of our own special kind of Magic and Merriment. It was only a brief visit, but there were still tons of laughs- especially when Doug got Julia to ask CM Zach if he was a "stud muffin" (a word with which she wasn't familiar...) LOL. Doug gave me a Photopass to download our most recent Space Mountain photo, which was pretty cool. Some CM asked each of us for our favorite character; I believe both girls said Stitch. My response? "Doug" Hee. Well, if nothing else, he is quite a character. I mean, it takes a lot for me to want to stalk go out of my way to see someone I barely know. ;)

Finally, it was time for Doug and his trainees to go merrily off into the night to wherever good CM's go after making guests smile. And into the merry night we joined them, skipping through Tomorrowland. Really, what could be better than giggling and skipping through Disney World, without a care in the world? Pure magic.

As far as I was concerned, nothing could top seeing Doug and the rides were just the icing on top of a crazy, wonderful cake. But we did manage to go on a few rides- first, I insisted that we stop at Haunted Mansion when we walked by. We got to see the new interactive queue, although it was quite dark so I'm sure I missed some details. I was probably a little mean laughing at Julia for being scared as she kept repeating "this isn't real... this isn't real..." But I was just amazed that she'd be at all scared of Disney's Haunted Mansion when she goes on insane roller coasters and stuff.

I didn't like it, it was really creepy. Too creepy for my tastes.

Next we headed to Splash Mountain- by this time, extra magic hours had started so we had to show our key cards to get in line. We were able to see the Main Street Electrical Parade from the ride, which was another example of fortuitous timing. I laughed when I saw the photo of our ride, because I was pointing at the MSEP as we went down the drop, LOL. Riding Splash Mountain once is never enough, so we went for a 2nd time. By this point, it was getting really late so we started to make our way out of the park. But on our way, we stopped to ride Pirates of the Carribean which had no line. And we also stopped to do some more shopping, and to go to the "Chamber of Commerce" to reunite Megan with her Stitch. (there were no CM's in the Chamber of Commerce- bad show! I went into the neighboring City Hall and got someone to help us)

The monorails weren't running during Extra Magic Hours due to a recent change, so we took a boat back- this one was larger than the one we'd taken to MK the previous day. And, since we were the first stop, it was a quick ride.

Megan slept with her Jumbo Stitch in her arms. Earlier, I'd tried use the night's magic to make the point that if you are positive and full of love, good things can happen; I'm sure that the CM's enjoyed her enthusiasm and that's why they wanted to make a magical moment. I noted that sulking because she couldn't make her sister buy Stitch for her had not let to a happy ending for anyone. And I reminded her if she'd continued to have a negative attitude, I wouldn't even have let her see Doug so she still wouldn't have Stitch. I'm not sure my message sunk in... but at least I tried.

Although there may not be magic like the way Harry Potter does, there is something special in going on Splash Mountain three times without getting out of the log, or getting a $48.95 Stitch for $0.00. Or just staring off a veranda out into the open ocean. Just the thrill of Disney. That, I believe, is the magic that does exist.

***Magic Memory: Seeing Doug again, and seeing Megan's face when she was told that she could take Stitch home***
Julia and Megan inside a shark Swimming with a shark!  And some fish! Megan just found out that she could take Stitch home With CM's Tracy and Doug, who made Magic happen Doug obviously said something hilarious.  As usual. Giggles Literally skipping through Tomorrowland! Led by CM Doug!
The day at last had come when we would be bidding our little dream world goodbye. I tried to savor our lovely view from our hotel room, making an conscious effort to appreciate it. For a long time, I hadn't had much of a desire to stay at the Grand Floridian. But, apart from the glaring issue with the bathroom light on our first day, I'd really enjoyed everything about it. Perhaps I was just meant to save the hotel for this particular trip when I could share it with my nieces.

It feels too soon! We're packing up. I don't want to leave, but we have to.

It's sad to leave, but we had fun. This vacation was a lot of fun. I'll miss Disney, and Spash and Space Mountains, Expedition Everest, Rock n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Soarin' and all the others. I'll miss the Dream and the Grand Floridian. And eating chocolate at 2am. But it will be nice to be home with Mom, Dad, Max, Blackie and my own bed.

When I went to the front desk to check out, the girls got into a long conversation with CM Ana from Mexico, who was a fellow fan of the Star Wars movies. I stayed silent during most of this since I wasn't familiar with the movies. I was rewarded for my patience when Ana asked us if we'd like a private car ride to Disney Studios, where we were headed. Would the magic never end?!? Apparently it wouldn't.

Had a conversation with Ana, a cast member at the front desk, when we went to check out. We talked about Star Wars and Hollywood Studios stuff... She said she hadn't been on Splash Mountain, so we gave her advice on how to avoid the lines. (go on an hour before the park closes or get up really early and be the first one.) We're going to Hollywood Studdios in a private car arranged by Ana!

So we had a pleasant ride over to the Studios with a friendly driver. It was pretty late by the time we got there, so we weren't able to linger as much as usual because we needed to get back for our ride to the airport. This was ultimately met by much consternation and drama by Megan, who apparently already forgot the meaning of her magical gift from the previous day. *sigh* But to be fair, it was hot which made us all a bit grouchy. (One reason I'd let the girls stay out so late at the parks was that it was so much more pleasant walking around after dark- and they were less likely to be annoying each other)

We got Fastpasses for Rock n Roller Coaster and then headed to Tower of Terror. Since the line was about 30 minutes and we were hungry, we didn't ride again and instead headed over to Pizza Planet for some lunch. It was yet another silly meal... perhaps the highlight was when Julia drank her apple sauce, lol.

After lunch, we really only had time to ride Star Tours and then use our Rock n Roller Coaster fastpasses. For much of the day, I said no to both girls about stopping to shop, but Megan apparently took it personally and txted home that I was favoring Julia. (even though Megan had no money left) OK, then. Megan was in quite a cranky mood. A hot Megan = a cranky Megan. Or so it seems. She might also have taken some offense when I gave her a bit of a kindly smackdown when she was complaining about Julia theoretically not giving her money to buy a present for one of her (Megan's) friends. But seriously- this girl just got a free Jumbo Stitch (not to mention a free vacation... with tons of goodies included) and she is going to complain about what she doesn't get?! She probably just wants to push Julia's buttons, but the attitude was annoying me.

We stopped in the shops after Rock n Roller Coaster. I got a pin. I also discovered that I didn't really want the pins I thought I wanted.

We got back to the Grand Floridian in time to do a final bit of shopping. When I was buying a T-shirt (which fittingly said "Dream Big- Live Grand"), Julia came in and started talking to the CM at the register. The CM eventually sent Julia to another store and had them give her a free pin to add to her growing collection. Wow, even more magic!

At one of the gift shops, there was a woman wearing a badge that said "David, Milwaukee WI" Her name was Linda and she was from Rhode Island. Cast members needed to be wearing a badge. [so she borrowed someone's]

The car to take us to the airport was early, and I had to spend a little time shuffling bags around so as not to exceed our quota for the airplane. They'd actually upgraded us to a Cadillac Escalade ESV, although the girls didn't really notice; Megan was kinda grumpy for most of the ride though eventually the A/C perked her up some. (it hadn't helped that the A/C in the bus from the parks had been seriously lacking.)

I will pause now in remembrance of one of the saddest moments of any Disney World trip: the moment when we leave Disney property and return to the real world. *sniff* We talked about maybe going back, and Julia also talked about maybe wanting to do the college program like our new CM friends Hiro and Esther. It would be pretty amazing if she could do that- I certainly would love having an excuse to visit! Last trip, the girls didn't really know if they'd be back- but this time, Julia seemed to believe that she would eventually return. I told her that if she wants it enough, she will eventually make it happen somehow. I also said that maybe we'd go back together, but it would depend on a lot of stuff. Despite Megan's drama queen moments, there are so many reasons why this trip was amazing on so many levels.

Everything worked out perfectly. It was great. I hope I'll come back soon, but if I don't, I'll know that I had the best 10 days I could and that's all that counts.

After checking in at the airport, we were informed that our 7:40pm flight was now due to leave at 11:30pm. They said it might still leave earlier, but I didn't exactly believe them. If I'd been by myself, I would have just been mildly annoyed but I'd probably have found a seat by a power outlet and worked on my travel blog. However, the thought of spending 6 hours at an airport was enough to send Julia into total meltdown mode. I let her vent, and gave her a hug while she cried. 10 days worth of excitement had probably caught up with her and sent her on an emotional downhill ride faster than the descent on Tower of Terror. It was kinda understandable.

After she called home and calmed down, I told her we could make the best of it and eat at the Macaroni Grill for a nice, sitdown meal. On the way, we passed a Build a Bear store- the Hello Kitty in the window totally caught my attention, and I said I wanted to go there after dinner. (I figured it would kill even more time) Meanwhile, I'd received an email from home that our flight was delayed even further til after midnight. Uh oh...

When we got to the entrance of Macaroni Grill, I checked the flight screen- figuring I'd break the bad news to the girls when I could distract them with the promise of food. The screen said the flight was now due to depart at... 8:30pm. I blinked. It still said 8:30pm.

Hallelujah, praise be to whomever did not leave me stranded at an airport for 6 hours with 2 kids who are easily bored and who can easily annoy each other! Scratch dinner at Macaroni Grill- back to my original plans to eat dinner once again at the McDonald's by the gate.

We got to the airport and found out our flight was delayed until 11:43! It did not go over well. I wasn't happy. We discovered that our flight had been moved to 8:25! I felt so much better.

So we headed toward Security... and then I noticed that my driver's license was MIA. I retraced my steps, still couldn't find it, then figured to hell with it- I still had my passport and that would get me through security. After all the drama I'd endured with the delayed flight and earlier with the cranky Megan, I wasn't going to be bothered worrying about a license that could be replaced fairly easily. (note: the airport Lost and Found eventually contacted me and I was reunited with my license, yay) After I got home, I realized that I'd had a half full bottle of Evian in one of my carry ons- it's a little unsettling that it cleared security.

Once we got to the departure area, we all got Happy Meals at McDonalds. They each contained a Smurf toy but we had to exchange them amongst ourselves because clearly they had given us the wrong ones. I got Panicky Smurf- that definitely had to go to Julia after her meltdown when the plane was delayed. She got Greedy Smurf- that was definitely destined for Megan. Megan got Gutsy Smurf- well, if nothing else, anyone who takes someone else's kids out of the country definitely has some kind of guts, lol, so that was mine.

As we ate, my name was called over the loud speaker to come to the gate. What could it mean? I sprinted over while the girls finished eating. Well, apparently even though our flight was only 45 minutes late, everyone was getting $200 travel vouchers because at one point it was scheduled to be over 4 hours late. So that was $600 in vouchers for me! Jackpot! (they do not have to be used by the ticketed person) 'Twould have been more useful if I'd received vouchers on an airline that went overseas... but... err... now I have an excuse for some long weekends in 2012.

We had dinner. Aunt Faith got $600 in travel vouchers due to our flight being delayed to 12:20am at one point... We were silly in the bathroom. Megan won a "Custom made" paper towel. It was just like all the others. Clean, white, and dry. Megan threw Quackers [WebKinz] at me.

The flight was relatively uneventful, as the girls enjoyed the twinkling lights we could see from the plane. My one regret was that the seatbelt light remained illuminated throughout the flight so I was unable to take Stitch down from my bag in the overhead luggage bin for a photo op buckled into an airplane seat.

And everyone lived happily ever after... at least through the night when we could share our stories with Caren and Brian. When I finally left their house to drive home, Julia gave me a big hug and said that it was great to be able to bond together.

***Magic Memory: Being offered a private car ride to Disney Studios***
Megan wakes up with Stitch The girls and CM Ana as we wait for our private ride to Hollywood Studios Silliness at lunch Playing cards at the airport
Just before our 2009 trip, I rented the movie "Hercules" from Netflix. The following lyric resonated deeply with me:

"I have often dreamed
Of a far off place
Where a great warm welcome
Will be waiting for me
Where the crowds will cheer
When they see my face
And a voice keeps saying
This is where I'm meant to be"

When I am in the universe of Disney with my nieces, it often strikes me that everything feels so incredibly right. My head tells me it should feel weird to be responsible for 2 kids 24/7 when I am used to being alone. But the truth is that I never doubt that I belong with them. Just like my 2009 trip, this one will always be special to me; I will treasure the magic and laughs that we all shared together.

To sum up some of our experiences...

Cruise:We all loved the Disney Dream. It was a gorgeous ship, with so much to do that there is no way anyone can do everything during a 5 night cruise. Our first day at Castaway Cay was definitely the highlight- I think it may have been one of my best travel days of all time. I wasn't too happy in Nassau, although it was very cool to swim with the dolphins- I'd be very tempted to stay on the ship if I am ever on another cruise that stops there.

Hotels: We had an overall positive experience at Country Inn and Suites by the port; the morning of the cruise was hectic, but it worked out in the end. The design of their Kids' Quarters room is perfect for families.

Staying at the Grand Floridian was a great experience- it just felt so nice walking around or admiring the view from our window. I'd love to stay there again, but it's definitely a splurge.

Weather: Yes, it was extremely hot in Florida- but what can you expect from Florida in August?! We were actually really lucky because no rain interfered with our plans, other than moving a couple shows inside on the Dream. We were also lucky because our Castaway Cay activities were scheduled for our 1st stop- which had perfect weather- and not our second stop- when it was overcast and showering.

Crowds: For the most part, the Disney Dream did not feel overly crowded despite it being such a large ship. The Disney parks were crowded, but not to excess. We were able to avoid huge lines by using Fastpass and staying late.

Food: Until our last meal at McDonald's, Julia shocked Megan and I by the number of times she said she was full. She usually is a bit of a human garbage pail, so that says a lot. ;) None of us are gourmands, but we were all very happy with the quantity and quality of food available on the ship and with our meals at Disney World. Even picky Megan had plenty to eat, with the exception of the lunch when we boarded the ship.

Cast Members: We were lucky enough to meet a lot of cast members who helped make our vacation more magical- starting, of course, with our reunion with CM Doug. Thanks to everyone at Disney who works so hard to bring smiles to others, especially those that made "The List" of awesome cast members, as recorded by Julia: Doug, Esther, Takahiro "Hero", Tracy, Elizabeth, Rachael, Julia and Ana.

Stitch: Our trip was full of Stitch; this was a good thing. ;)

So, despite a few bumps, the trip was a resounding success. Will we go on another trip together somewhere in Disney? Only time will tell...
Happily Ever After