Day Seven: Magic Kingdom

THE LAST DAY! Now based on over three weeks of memory.

Our leave time for the day was 8:30am because the park would open at 9am and all we had to do was take the monorail over. Although the Grand Floridian isn’t as fancy looking as the Animal Kingdom Lodge, it’s significantly more expensive purely because of how close it is to the Magic Kingdom Park. Apparently that’s the case for all the “Magic Kingdom resorts,” a term I wasn’t aware of. I didn’t know ANYTHING about Disney World, other than that I was told to purchase a 4-day ticket by Jessica and Laura. I was really blown away by the first day when I realized there were SO many Disney hotels.

All we had to do upon entry was walk up to the castle and we got to see a mini show where all the major characters are in front of the castle doing a dance. Amazing! Unfortunately, I failed to hit record on my camera, so I missed it all!!! I mean, it’s just a little dance and song, but also two fireworks go off over the castle after everyone says bibbi bobbidi boo, which is something I wish I had captured. Oh well – I’m certain there’s tons of recordings of the same thing on YouTube.

Right after the castle doors open, we then ZOOMED on over to Peter Pan and it was a 25 minute wait. The positive for Magic Kingdom is that since everyone had already been to Disneyland, AND because we’d already watched the fireworks (via boat) the night before, we weren’t in much of a rush, and were basically just trying to do any non-Disneyland things.

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Opening fireworks! Photo credit Laura

The nice thing to explore at Magic Kingdom is that the rides may be similar to Disneyland’s, but the line queue decor is often different and air conditioned, because they had more space to build out. For instance, Peter Pan’s queue was super cute, as if you were in the house. Apparently there’s tricks to some of the decor, like you could clap somewhere and Tinkerbell would appear, but we didn’t know any of the secrets.

Laura noticed that my mom KEPT taking photos of It’s A Small World which was right across from Peter Pan, so right after Peter Pan, we walked over to did that ride – it was like a 5 minute wait. Turns out, it’s my mom’s favorite ride!

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Her first time on this ride today

Then our first fastpass was the Snow White Mine Train, which isn’t a ride in California. I didn’t enjoy it, though maybe it’s because the train took several unexpected stops during the ride. There WAS however, very cold AC in the line queue, and it was already pretty hot in the morning, so I enjoyed that aspect. Otherwise, it seemed like a more boring Big Thunder Mountain.

Next up, we watched Mickey’s Philharmonic, which is a great 3D show where Donald Duck is trying to get the sorcerer’s hat and ends up in a bunch of classic Disney films musical scenes. It’s a really well done show! The musical transitions were really clever.

Actually, I no longer really remember what was the correct order … I feel like we walked back and forth quite a bit in Magic Kingdom, and it was so hot, I didn’t take that many photos. I remember we did the Little Mermaid ride, and I really liked that line’s decor/design too. Then we went to go watch a mini parade before heading over to some Beauty and the Beast attraction.

I think this is when Jessica joined us – she had been doing a separate scavenger hunt. While we were waiting in line for the Beauty and the Beast thing, I don’t really know what I was expecting this to be, but all I knew was that there’d be a photo opportunity with Belle afterwards. It turned out to be the kind of thing where they get audience participation, mainly kids … AND ME. I got chosen to be a “knight” which meant I had to stand off to the side (I thought I’d have a more elaborate role, like maybe marching around the room or something, but I really don’t remember doing very much other than stand in a corner and hold a cardboard cutout of a knight). Laura’s mom also got chosen, based on her ability to sing a note, which was something she was very proud of.

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My shining moment

This whole experience was a bit confusing because so much of my time was just spent standing off to the side without much direction. There was a photographer who took a ton of photos, and I assumed they’d let all the chosen participants take a picture with Belle first, then everyone would re-configure for family photos. But we never got a family photo! We just got ushered out of the room. So weird. Luckily for my family, I don’t think anyone really cares to take photos with Disney characters, so my mom wasn’t annoyed at all.

From here, it was time for our Be Our Guest lunch! Jessica was able to get us reservations at this very popular cafeteria. It’s decorated in Beauty and the Beast style, with the most popular room decorated like the ballroom. We had an eight person group, and our reservation just meant we could enter the place, but we still had to look for our own table. Laura ended up finding an eight person table in a side room, styled more like the Beast’s bedroom (so very dark but with a rose in a glass thing off to the side).

 

The food was ok – probably a little too heavy for my family’s taste. We ended up getting two pork dishes (how odd … I went to the website to look for the exact description but the closest thing that it describes is a chicken coq au vin and I’m pretty certain we had pork, not chicken), one quiche (which was really a giant plate of salad that came with a tiny quiche) and a croque monsieur for myself. My mom never knows what to order, so she asked me to help her pick (as always – this is something that really annoys me). I figured my brother was not planning on sharing his pork entree, and that seemed like THE dish to get here, so I told her to get her own pork dish, and my dad and I would share our dishes with her. She was like “mmm I think I want the french dip” and I was like “no! You’ll like the pork dish!” Turns out she actually enjoys french dip sandwiches, which is not something I knew, so when she got her pork entree she was like “I really wish I had gotten the french dip.” ALSO, we had ordered a side of green beans for my croque monsieur, without realizing that another dish we got ALSO came with green beans. So my mom was also really sad that she didn’t get to eat fries. This lunch was NOT well ordered.

Oh yeah, we also got two desserts – the grey stuff which was a chocolate cupcake topped with cookies n cream frosting, and then … uh oh I don’t know! Maybe it was this strawberry cream cheese cupcake. No – looking at my pictures, it looks like we got a cream puff. I really feel like the online menu for this restaurant has already changed from what we ordered because the menu says “lemon raspberry cream puff” and that does NOT sound like something we’d order.

 

Oh well – onto the next! We went over to the Country Bear Jamboree, and I was surprised to find out, my mom knew what that show was. She was like “oh good, that’s an excellent show.” I was asleep for nearly the entire thing. I wish the seats for these shows went up higher, because my head always rolls around during these shows. Not great for sleeping!

Then we had a fast pass for Splash Mountain, which was great! The decor inside is totally different from Disneyland’s! I like this ride a lot, mainly because I don’t have any movie association with it. And because almost all of it is indoors. Otherwise, I find sitting on those seats a little gross because who knows how much of that is water vs sweat vs sunscreen.

Then we walked over to the Tiki Room, another show I fell asleep in. I do not love this show! It’s hard for me to see everything that’s going on. I do like the decor off to the side though, which they also had replicated in Trader Sam’s.

After this, I think our group split off. Jessica and her dad went home, as did my brother and my dad. It was REALLY hot already, and we didn’t have any other rides planned, just a parade. My mom and Laura’s mom both wanted to watch the parade, so Laura and I stayed in the park with them. We found a nice, shaded spot outside of a store, and even better it was right in front of an open store door so I could occasionally feel the AC blowing past my legs. I did have to stand the whole time, but that was fine! Excellent views of the parade.

 

We ended up leaving pretty much right after the parade, so around 3:30pm. On the monorail back, my mom and I decided to stop in the Contemporary Resort to buy some cookies as souvenirs. My mom ended up buying a ton of cookies actually, and I got one box of coconut cookies for the office. (I tried one and really did not like them. The box only has twelve cookies, and I still see it in the office, so that must mean other people didn’t like these cookies either LOL). When we took the monorail back to the Grand Floridian and had our bags searched, the guard said “you have a lot of cookies” and I just went “yup!”

Of course, on the way back, we somehow just barely missed the monorail by seconds. I jokingly blamed my mom, even though she wasn’t really taking any photos. Actually, once we saw we had missed the monorail, I was like “welp I guess we can just stand around and take pictures then!” which she was delighted by. An employee thought we were trying to take photos of a hidden Mickey in the murals and tried to point it the hidden Mickey out to me, and I had to do my “oh … yes … I see it! Thank you…” when I had no idea where he was trying to get me to look.

Once we got back to the Grand Floridian, then my mom wanted to go around and look at the shops, since they’d all been closed the night before when she had gone on her solo walk. She spent a really long time looking for more souvenirs but ended up not buying any. I took a few photos of the hotel lobby which was nice. And I have in my notes … we got back to our hotel room around 5pm!

 

Just an hour of rest though, because we were scheduled to leave and return to Magic Kingdom at 6pm for the last few rides of the day, all in Tomorrowland. We did the People Mover (BORING), the Carousel of Progress (I was asleep for the entire ride) and then we had our third fastpass for the Pirates ride (just as interesting as the Disneyland version, which is to say, not).

Once we got out of Pirates, everyone had decisions to make! Laura’s family had already decided they were going to go out for dinner and skip the fireworks, since they were satisfied with the fireworks show from the private boat tour. My mom wanted to stay longer and walk around and experience all of the park. I had no clue what my brother wanted before we all started deciding, but it turns out he wanted to stay in the park until the fireworks show and then return, and my dad was happy to do that too. I LOVE fireworks, but I loved Chicken Guy even more, so I said I’d want to eat there for dinner and I’d skip the fireworks if I wasn’t able to eat any other time. Jessica hadn’t been able to try Chicken Guy the first time we went, so she wanted to eat there too. So the five of us went to get on a Disney Springs shuttle! Oh wait, it was just four of us – Laura’s dad had stayed in the hotel and didn’t return to the park with us after our mid-day break, but would head to Disney Springs on his own to join us at Chicken Guy for dinner. My mom split off on her own, and my brother and dad went off to do who knows what.

 

I felt kind of guilty for a while, because I thought my mom would’ve liked to have me there to take photos of her. But she didn’t care at all about having anyone with her – when I asked her if she wish I had stayed to take photos, she was like “what?! the sun was setting, we couldn’t have really taken photos anyway” so that makes me feel better. And my mom seemed to really enjoy her solo time because she seriously accomplished SO MUCH. But first –

We exited the park and then went to look for the shuttles… actually I’m slightly confused – I remember being at the Contemporary Resort. Maybe we had to monorail here in order to get onto a shuttle to Disney Springs. We once again JUST BARELY missed the shuttle, and the next one wasn’t for another twenty minutes. I’m very set in the idea of “Disney has all the transit to get you anywhere” so I was like “welp! ok then! Shuttle in twenty minutes!” but Jessica immediately was like HELL NO and looked up a rideshare, and pretty soon, we were off on our way to Disney Springs.

Which turned out to be a great idea, because we got there within twenty minutes, and at the time we arrived at Disney Springs, the shuttle would’ve probably JUST been leaving. Laura’s dad had already left the hotel room to meet us at Chicken Guy and was right at the front of the line where you’d be allowed into the restaurant to order. HA when he saw us, he just waited until we got near to his place in line, and then turned and walked away to sit down without saying anything.

I ordered a Southwestern chicken sandwich for myself and a second one for my mom to have later. The Kuos had a pretty nice, varied dinner – I think they had sandwiches and fries and maybe a salad? Maybe some tenders? I don’t remember. But it was a fantastic dinner! I don’t regret skipping the fireworks at all, especially because the night was not yet over!

Laura’s parents decided to take a shuttle back to the hotel room to relax, and they kindly took my mom’s sandwich back with them. It was probably already 9:30pm, so a pretty full day for them! Laura, Jessica and I ended up taking a shuttle to the Contemporary Lodge so we could go to the Top of the World lounge. Only Vacation Club members have access, and Jessica had never been here before. It was fantastic! Basically she just had to show proof of her membership and then this nice, old lady swiped her badge to let us into an elevator that went straight to the top. Then you kind of end up in a standard hotel hallway, and then have to walk through to enter the lounge.

It was a quiet, but somewhat slow bar. Jessica ended up ordering an apple pie martini, and Laura and I shared a “monorail yellow” which was just a pina colada with orange juice – light on the alcohol. Fun times!

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View from the Top of the World lounge

The BEST part of this stop though, was that the women’s restroom included the TINIEST sink ever. I thought it was weird that the soap dispenser was positioned at a normal height. Of course we took pictures of this, in addition to some photos from the outside balcony.

 

The other best part of this time of the night was that I’d occasionally check my phone and find texts from my mom. I’d texted her when I first left her, because I was worried she wouldn’t know what to do (this was a dumb concern – she is very independent). But since she didn’t have the Disney App on her phone, I texted her a bunch of stuff like “you can ride the ferries if you’re bored. This ride has just a 10 minute wait. Why don’t you try this, it has a 5 minute wait” and she just IGNORED ALL MY TEXTS! Instead of responding to what I said, she’d just text me very brief texts:

Me: You can also go out of the park and take ferries around
Mom: Ok. I am on the boat now. Say thanks to Jessica
Me: What boat?
Mom: It’s a Small World
*sends photo of Winnie the Pooh ride, no text context*
*sends photo of cups ride, no text context*

Me: You can try jungle cruise
Mom: I am going after fireworks.
*sends photos of fireworks*

*one hour later*
Me: Where are you? Did you head home?
Mom: Just did haunted mansion ride
*sends photo of stand by entrance sign for haunted mansion*
Me: try big thunder railroad

*forty minutes later*
Mom: Ready to board big thunder mountain railroad
*sends photo of big thunder entrance*
Mom: Done.

*thirty minutes later*
Me: Try splash mountain
Mom: Closed
Mom: Did flying carpet
Mom: Very busy
Me: You could try Dumbo, far walk for you though
Mom: Did
*sends photos of her with Little Mermaid*

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This is the point where I show Jessica and Laura my phone and we’re all like, she’s doing EVERYTHING! The no-context Little Mermaid photos were the BEST. Later my mom told me she thought she was in the line to ride the Little Mermaid ride again, and she asked someone “is this little mermaid?” and they said “yes” and when she finally realized it was a photo opp, not a ride, she thought it’d be too rude to leave the line. Great photos though!

At this point, it was 11pmish – Jessica decided she’d head back to the hotel while Laura and I wanted to go back into Magic Kingdom, ONE LAST TIME! Laura asked what ride I’d want to do and I said Peter Pan. I’ve realized this is one of my favorite rides, purely because I love seeing little cityscapes and I love their London room! When we rode it the first time in the morning, I whipped my phone out but it was ZOOMED IN from when I had tried to get photos of the characters in front of the castle, so my photos were AWFUL! I wanted to go back and attempt another London photo, so off we went! Spoiler: I never got a good photo of London, even on the second try. BUMMER.

 

We went off to the Peter Pan ride – and of course my mom was ALSO in line! She was about one room’s wait ahead of us. I briefly thought she’d probably come back in line to join us, but Laura was like “no, she’s not going to” … and she did not! HAHA You have to be in line for a ride before midnight in order to ride it, so she was able to finish Peter Pan and then walk across and ride It’s a Small World FOR THE THIRD TIME that day! Meanwhile, Laura and I finished Peter Pan right around midnight, and then ended up sitting next to the carousel to wait for my mom to exit. I loved that carousel! It was very peaceful to watch it lit up, under the castle, at midnight and then to watch the last guests on the carousel.

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Somehow my mom didn’t come out of It’s a Small World until like 12:15am. HAHA Laura was like “I don’t know how you and your mom have so much energy.” I remember her saying “you and your mom” but I know she mainly means my mom. Finally, my little mom comes out of It’s a Small World, with TONS of energy! Ready to go home! She was very happy with her last ride of the day, her FAVORITE ride. She said, “I rode this three times! First time, for video. Second time, for photos. Third time, to enjoy.” HAHA

We were one of the last few people in the park, at least it felt that way! I liked walking down Main Street at night – I find it much more enjoyable to walk around at the end of the day when the crowd is gone, more so than in the morning.

We were probably out of Magic Kingdom around 12:30am and I am almost certain that we were the very last people to be riding the monorail at night. The employees even came around to ask where we were headed – we’re not sure why since they didn’t skip any stops. What a successful day! I immediately went to shower, meanwhile my mom apparently sat and enjoyed her chicken sandwich! haha Jessica and Laura were like “she was still eating her sandwich when we fell asleep.” I remember going to bed around 2:30am, I was trying to write as many notes as I could for my blog. But that was the trip!!!

I won’t do an entry for the next day, since we just got up, ate oatmeal (I’m guessing) and then headed out to the airport. What a vacation! This was definitely a great family vacation 🙂

 

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Day Six: Epcot & Fireworks

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Ok it’s now a full two weeks since this day took place, but I need to write this blog post! I spent most of my time in between thinking about sorting through all the Disney photos but I guess I’m still not yet at the stage where I’ve decided which photos to post in the blog, so I haven’t accomplished much.

I feel like this day was hot, but maybe not the most insufferably hot day. That would probably have been our Hollywood Studios day, but as I mentioned, that was probably more of an issue of the theme park design (lack of trees, hot walking surfaces). I vaguely remember the temperature peaking on Hollywood Studios day, and Epcot was really quite hot too, but we were probably indoors more often.

We started the day, based on my best guess of the photos timestamps, we left the hotel at 8:30am to arrive at the 9am opening time. Epcot is my favorite theme park of the four, probably because Magic Kingdom is just a replica of Disneyland, Hollywood Studios is no one’s favorite, and Animal Kingdom is great but more zoo than theme park for much of the space. You definitely want to get to Epcot at opening time! There’s so much to see!

This time we got to actually ride rides!!! Yesterday, we had only ridden Soarin, the Finding Nemo ride, and the new Frozen ride. Today we started with Spaceship Earth, which is the ride in the famous giant golf ball. I did NOT know there was a ride in here!!! This was also our first fastpass. The ride is very slow, and makes me feel like I’m in Epcot on opening day (that is to say, it felt like it hadn’t been significantly updated since when the ride was first opened). You ride in a two person car and … ok my memory’s already faded, I’m going to say it goes through a history of human civilization and ends with a slow and steep return back to the beginning, where they distract you with a “quiz for the future.” I was sitting with my mom and she went “I must take this and find out about my future” in such a serious tone, I had to laugh. It would ask questions like “what would you like to plant in a garden?” and my mom’s finger immediately went to flowers before she paused and after a long hesitation, said out loud, “no, I need to eat!” and then tapped “food.” LOL I also laughed at how quickly she chose “mountains” over “oceans” and was surprised to learn that, with some slight pause, she chose country over city.

Also hilarious – the ride briefly stopped while it was “calculating our results,” and my mom in all seriousness went “what’s going on – this is very important, I need to know my future!”

From here, we did a ton of stuff in the one area we hadn’t really explored the night before. First, we did single rider for Test Track – is that seriously the ride’s name? it is – which is one of my least favorite rides. Actually, several of the rides at Epcot were my least favorite rides. Though my most memorable worst ride of the trip was definitely that Na’vi River Journey, maybe because it was the first ride we rode and was so disappointing. Anyway, Test Track appears to be their experimental driving ride, which paved the way for the Cars ride, Radiator Springs Racers, except this ride has next to no decor. I think I hated this ride because the photo was taken when we were taken outdoors, and all I could think of at the time was “ugh this sun is so bright!”

Then our second fastpass was for the Figment ride, also a horrible ride. I don’t quite understand why we had to get a fastpass for this, other than maybe there probably just weren’t many other rides to do at Epcot. I think this ride has something to do with the senses, and my brother made the suggestion that this should have been converted into an Inside Out ride. Though I think these this pavilion is going to be torn down entirely anyhow, probably for some new Marvel land. The other strange thing about this ride was that despite a relatively quick wait, it seemed like the car my family was put on was an add on. We were the last of four cars, and it really seemed like everything in the ride was set up for a three-car train. We were never properly centered on anything, and since this ride was about senses, this meant that smells, sounds and sights would occasionally come up and we didn’t experience them!

From here, I think we ended up in a Coke sponsored room where you could taste different sodas around the world. Excellent concept, but I didn’t like anything that I tried, and any time you pressed the button for a soda, it filled the little sampler cup TO THE BRIM. Even though I just wanted a little sip! Also, there were tons of different drink stations, but Laura said that they all had the same types of soda. There were too many people and it was too chaotic for me to fully test that statement out, so I am left with the memory of having sticky fingers from my cup that constantly spilled over and the uncertainty of whether I made a good effort of actually trying any sodas.

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Then we ended up back at The Land, because Laura’s mom had repeatedly asked about going on “the tomato ride.” I can only refer to this ride as such, even though it’s actually called Living on the Land. Laura thought maybe we’d do our own thing, because we didn’t have a fastpass for this and the line was 35 minutes, but our family had nothing better to do! Also, it was probably my favorite ride so well worth it!

Laura ended up spending the ENTIRE time in line recapping the last 45 minutes of the Endgame movie. She’d been waiting for a long line to finish her recap, so this was perfect. Before I knew it, we were on the ride! It is like riding a small ferry and at first it seemed really boring, like a water version of Spaceship Earth, in that it felt like we were going to get a history of human agriculture. But eventually the ride opened up into what seemed like a giant terrarium, where WE were IN it! And then I could tell why Laura’s mom loves this ride – we basically got to go past a TON of different crops and flowers! We took a TON of photos on this ride. There were several hidden Mickeys. What I found disturbing was the setup of giant fish tanks with giant fish in it. The first fish area was lit with a red glow, which seemed VERY creepy. Otherwise, the edible foods was really cool!

With that, Laura at first suggested that we split up, then pretty much took off with her family in tow. I think I looked so lost that she at least walked me up to Canada, and then I saw that there was a herb garden so I told her that this would be where we should split off, because this was the beginning of MORE PHOTOS!!! So they went off, I don’t know what they did other than have lunch reservations at a fancy steakhouse in Canada. I think the time was around noon, and we knew we had until 2pm to get over to the Frozen ride to use up our third and last Fastpass.

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Canada! My mom spent forever here

The plan was to go from Canada all the way back to Japan, which was the last country we were at the night before, before the sun went down. This would mean going through Canada, UK, France, Morocco, then Japan. Well, in that 1.5 hours, we managed to get some quick snacks – a PB&J tart, then a poutine, then an orange slushy just for the souvenir cup (the ONLY thing my dad has EVER asked to buy) – and only got through … CANADA. We were just barely done with Canada when my brother and I were like, ok it’s 1:40pm and we have to get to Norway by 2pm so time to HEAD OVER!

We made it to the Frozen ride! Enjoyable with the fastpass, otherwise I think the ride is kind of lacking. Then we ended up walking around neighboring Mexico, and got into the Gran Fiesta Tour, which is another boat ride similar to It’s a Small World, this time going through Mexico. Very nice – because it was probably one of the best air conditioned rooms in the park! Mexico is basically a huge pyramid, and from the outside, it doesn’t look like there’d be much in here, but there’s actually this ride AND a restaurant AND a shopping area in here, PLUS outside gardens and even a small museum-like exhibit!

Then we doubled back to where we’d come from, passing by Canada, with the mission of getting up to Japan. Along the way, we stopped for duck confit in France. Ok, the memory of the duck confit is bringing back MAJOR heat memories, so it was definitely a hot day. I think the heat discouraged us from exploring too much of France and Morocco, though I also suspect there was less to do here. Then we ended up in Japan, where there was a HUGE mitsuwa-like store. Somehow my mom ended up finding and buying a five pack of red bean treats, which were surprisingly not marked up from the usual price! Our whole family then ended up in a small Anime-exhibit room, and just sat on a bench quietly eating the red bean treat. We’d definitely all been heat exhausted without really realizing it, so this was a welcome break.

Then my mom and I started taking a TON of photos in Japan, to the major annoyance of my brother. We nearly missed a ferry that would take us back to toward the Epcot entrance, but luckily we made it!

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This ferry back toward the entrances saved us from a very exhausting walk

With a slight resurgence in energy after that ferry ride, I then decided we could do Soarin’ again, since my mom said that was her favorite ride of the park and my dad hadn’t ridden it the night before, and the wait wasn’t tooooo long. I was like, that’s the last ride! But then when we came out, I was like OOO the Nemo ride is only a 5 minute wait! So we went on that one too. I thought maybe during the after hours event, they probably had turned off portions of the Nemo ride because it seemed slightly unfinished, but the second time, I was still a bit like “hmm seems unfinished.”

But the best part of the Nemo ride was that when we emerged, it turns out the ride is in the same building as an AQUARIUM which had been closed during the after hours event. This was an amazing aquarium. Most importantly, they had MANATEES! I don’t think I’d ever seen any in my life, and the ones here were so active. They had probably just fed them, as there were tons of lettuce bits floating in the water. I could have spent forever just watching them, it’s so peaceful. But we eventually left … and then found a room full of tanks with ocean creatures! THEN we went up the escalator and found these HUGE tanks with dolphins and huge schools of fish and supposedly sea turtles and sharks! Pretty amazing. Again, could have stayed longer but I think everyone was tired and ready to go home.

So we took the monorail back to the hotel and arrived around 6pm. Wow even that alone is a long day, but that’s not it! Everyone got back in to shower and then there was a dinner of more homecooked ramen. Then, Laura had booked a private boat tour to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks!!! We had to be at the hotel’s boat dock by 7:30pm. At first my dad was so tired, he didn’t want to go. I think he had been traumatized by the last time we did two things in one day, with the after hours Epcot night that left him exhausted. But I assured him that all he had to do was walk to another part of the hotel, then we’d be dropped right back at the hotel! He looked very dubious but I’m glad he went.

We got to the dock promptly, of course, and I think we were the first group to arrive. Our tour guide was a young girl named Emily – I guess she’s an intern hoping to become a full time employee. She was super friendly and mostly knowledgeable and had surprisingly really great hearing, considering sometimes people talked very softly but she could still hear them over the boat.

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One of very few full group photos! Taken by our wonderful tour guide

The boat itself was really nice quality – super soft leather seats! We had a happy birthday sign up, for Jessica, and it even had a few balloons. We ALSO got drinks and snacks (like Mickey Mouse rice krispy treats and chips and pretzels) and Emily was very kind to say from the very beginning that we could take this stuff home. I’m still sad we didn’t take more Cokes home, but we definitely took ALL the snacks home. HA

Since we wouldn’t have any bathroom access, almost everyone refrained from drinking anything, even though the drinks were “free.” She drove us around the lagoon, where we share the waters with other ferries that connect to Grand Floridian, Polynesian Resort, the Contemporary Resort, Camp Wilderness and Magic Kingdom (so basically like the monorail, but via water). She also showed us some of the small islands, including one that I believe Walt Disney intended to live on (now it’s a fenced off, overgrown island). I also loved that she pointed out that there was one part of the manmade lagoon where the road was actually running UNDER the water, and I think she said it was only one of ten in the world where the street runs below. Also interesting – the entire lagoon was half natural, half manmade. We expressed fears of gators and snakes, which she really seemed to brush off, though she did also say that anywhere there’s natural water, there is probably gators.

So then she got into position for the fireworks – Jessica and Laura both felt like she worked really hard to get a great view of the fireworks at all times. And they loved how after the fireworks, she pretty much BOOKED IT to get us to the Electrical Water Pageant. Which was also a fun surprise!!! I guess it’s just a 15 minute “parade” that serves the different Magic Kingdom resorts – basically these boats are set up with what looks like a huge electric net that lights up, and fun quirky music plays at night. I loved it as a surprise but it’s not worth planning a night around it.

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Another fun surprise was that while Laura was saying what the group might do following the tour (that is, she and Jessica were going to check out Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian Resort after this), Emily was like “I can drop you off there! I can drop you guys off anywhere in the lagoon actually” which really worked out because all our parents wanted to go back to the hotel. So she dropped Jessica, Laura, my brother and me off at the Polynesian, then our parents were tasked with taking all the snacks back to our hotel. My mom, of course, would head back to the hotel room then go on a solo walk around all the resorts.

Well, we go to Trader Sam’s, and while putting our name down for a table, I was like “UHH do I need my ID?!” I seriously thought I wouldn’t, but all three of them were like “uh.. yeah …. you don’t have your ID?!” Which I was SUPER surprised by, especially for my brother, who I’m certain did not have plans to drink after the fireworks boat tour. Laura very kindly offered to go back to the Grand Floridian with me via monorail to get my ID. Jessica and my brother would go to another lounge for drinks while waiting for a table at Trader Sam’s.

Of course, my mom was still in the hotel room when we arrived, and was just about to go out. Laura figured there was probably an easy walking route back to Polynesian Resort, so my mom joined us. We had to ask for help from a hotel worker, who was very kind and was like “see that lamp? just go there.” HA we were like “ok!” then walked across the room and yelled back “IS THIS THE LAMP?!” It was. The walk was also VERY easy and really pleasant. One of my vacation regrets is that I didn’t wake up SUPER early and walk around the Grand Floridian grounds. I can make myself feel better by telling myself that when we walked to the boat deck, it didn’t seem like there was very much that would be super interesting.

Other vacation regrets that I didn’t do: I wish I had a better picture of all the doormats at the different Disney resorts because they’re all different – especially the Animal Kingdom Lodge one is great! And I didn’t get any photos of the Grand Floridian room 😦

Anyway, we walked up to the Polynesian Resort and we got to walk past the wedding chapel too, which was nice. The hotels are surprisingly VERY close together – like a SEVEN minute walk! I don’t know how they manage to make it look like these two places are so far, but a seven minute walk is nothing! My mom immediately split off from us, because she has no interest in having us SLOW HER DOWN! ha. We went back to Trader Sam’s – Laura kindly did not berate me for the fact that we lost our place in line and had to wait another thirty-ish minutes to get into Trader Sam’s.

 

We eventually got in – and honestly it didn’t seem that busy! The place was small, though the CA Trader Sam’s is much much smaller. Jessica felt like everyone in the bar was a Disney employee, which seemed like a reasonable guess since it was Tuesday and everyone seemed to know all the fun chants. Also, what better place to go after a day’s work! My brother got a non-alcoholic drink, Jessica got something where everyone would shout “two shots of rum!” I have no idea what the question was anymore but I want to guess that the drink was a HippopotoMai-Tai and the question was something like … what do hippopotami like to drink? I definitely remember what Laura and I had – the Nautilus which I want to say was like a $30 drink and served in a huge boat. This is what’s in it:

Barbancourt Pango Rhum, Appleton Estate Reserve Rum, Combier Crème de Pêche de Vigne Liqueur, Tropical Juices, and Falernum. Served in a souvenir Nautilus

I thought it was DELISH! I also thought I drank quite a bit though Laura didn’t agree. By the time we left, the bar was pretty empty. And it wasn’t even that late! It must have been near or past midnight! Luckily the return to our hotel was just a walk away! Another really pleasant walk – I remember thinking it was the PERFECT weather that night, because it wasn’t even humid.

We got back to the hotel room and had some late night cake (LOVE) and my brother had a craving for pizza so he disappeared and somehow came back with a giant pizza box! I think he said he bought it at the Grand Floridian, where there was apparently a late night restaurant open, sort of near where the boat dock was. I ended up eating TWO slices. Two weeks later, Jessica commented that this was a perfect night and IT WAS!

Day Five: Hollywood Studios & Epcot at Night

Today was Hollywood Studios – Laura and Jessica warned us that there wasn’t as much to do here because the Star Wars land is still in construction so it’s a half day theme park. This worked out perfectly because 1) it was 95 degrees today! and 2) I’m trying to recover from yesterday’s Universal Studios trip. We had a “leisurely” wake up call where we’d leave the hotel at 8:30am. Still, my mom wakes up it seems every day at 6am no matter when the leaving time is, which causes me to wake up every day around 6:30am.

Oatmeal for breakfast. Left by 8:30am. I think my family was thrown for a loop because usually the Kuos rush to the first ride, and today, we were just ambling around, seemingly with no set plan. They headed to a picture area with Mike and Scully while Jessica kindly took us around Toy Story Land for pics. It was SO HOT and still only 10am – apparently this theme park was built pretty quickly because they were trying to get it open a month before Universal Studios, so there were few trees and a lot of blacktop. You can truly feel a difference here in temperature due to the blacktop. Also, everyone who hears that I went to “Hollywood Studios” assumes that means Universal Studios. What a weird name change but apparently this theme park used to be called Disney-MGM studios, and opened 1988.

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Our fastpasses for the day were Tower of Terror, Rock n Roller Coaster, and Toy Story Mania. We also watched the Beauty and the Beast show and the Muppets show (where I pretty much fell asleep). The park decor is just ok, I guess the best part for photos was Toy Story Land but it was so hot there, I quickly lost interest.

 

For lunch, we were near Fairfax Faire, having just gotten off of the Tower of Terror. There were two other quick lunch spots sharing the same outdoor table space, so that seemed promising. Laura said “everyone look for covered tables!” and I immediately saw one and yelled “THERE!” and she ran over and slammed her hands on the table to claim it. Laura had forewarned us that the food in this park wasn’t that great, so with that low level of expectations, I will have to say my Mexican salad was decent! A LOT of dressing, iceberg lettuce which I haven’t had in a VERY long time, and delicious cheese, pork, tortilla strips, corn and beans tossed in.

 

None of the rides here were particularly memorable. The shows were just ok. So I’m really glad we were just here for half a day and didn’t have any kids that wanted to explore Toyland! The next best thing is my family took a photo with Donald Duck, right before we left the park.

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Laura’s family split from us after the Muppets show so they could look at Muppets merchandise together, and Laura very kindly took our family around basically the entire park again just so my mom could take pictures. We essentially did ANOTHER circle around the park (it kind of feels like this might have been our third time circling around the park), snapping photos at the fake Chinese Mann theater, and ride entrances for Indiana Jones and Star Tours (the lines were surprisingly long at this time of the day so we did not go on these rides since they’re also at Disneyland). We ended up leaving around 2pm and got back to the hotel around 3pm. Laura decided this was the perfect time to summarize Endgame for me – I have no interest in watching the movie but I want to know what happens so she took 1.5 hours to summarize a 3.5 hour movie for me. HA. Anyway, back at the hotel, almost everyone did a combination of an afternoon shower, nap, snack, or solo walk around the hotel. I love this mid-day hotel time!

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My favorite photo of this theme park

Thanks to Jessica’s Disney vacation club membership, she was able to score us all passes to do an After Hours event at Epcot. Apparently, this “Moonlight Magic” event is where members (and up to 7 guests) can enter a park FOR FREE and stay after the park officially closes. We got little wrist bands to distinguish us. Jessica and my brother kept emphasizing that Disney never ever pushes people out of the park, but will instead just have a polite, subtle way of directing people towards exits. So for instance, I think we got into Epcot around 6:30pm, when it was still open for other people, but as it got closer to 9pm, if you tried to enter an attraction or anything, they’d ask to see your wristband.

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Besides the obvious benefits of getting to wait less, we ALSO got a FREE dinner entree + drink, ANDDD they gave out free mickey mouse ice cream bars (and a fun surprise, no sugar strawberry popsicles!!!). Not only that, they ALSO had a second fireworks show, solely for the benefit of us after hours people, AND they had some disney character meet and greets (though this wasn’t something my family is interested in). Apparently these after hour events only happen 1-3x at select parks – and just by chance, we happened to be in Orlando while Epcot had theirs! (I am looking at the 2019 dates and there were no other after hours events in the period we were there). What a lucky gift!

So anyway, we left our hotel at 5:30pm. I always kind of like how Laura and Jessica can just shout out a departure time, and everyone follows it! It’s such a nice structured way to live life but still feel some sense of freedom. Oh, another lucky coincidence for our May dates (actually, maybe Jessica chose these vacation dates for a reason, and I should give more credit to her planning and not call it a coincidence) was that it was also Epcot’s Flower and Garden festival. It happens over three months in the spring. There’s also the Food and Wine festival, which happens late summer/fall. OOO I feel like I’d love this – the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays in fall/winter! Epcot is definitely my favorite of the parks, though I also enjoyed Animal Kingdom for its relative calmness.

Anyway, for the Flower and Garden festival, they had gardens, topiaries shaped like Disney characters, and some special foods at their dining areas. We got a little pamphlet where you can check off things you did, genius! I guess I’m lucky to live in a foodie area, because we saved quite a bit of money because I’d look at some of their special food items, and think, well I could easily get something similar to this in CA so I’ll resist.

Oh wait, I’m starting to mix up my night at Epcot vs tomorrow’s day at Epcot. I’ll try to stick to this night alone!

 

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Laura and Jessica emphasized that our family’s main goal of the night was to take PHOTOS. I think because they knew my mom would go ham with all the flowers, and want photos everywhere (very true) and the next day we’d have to focus on RIDES! Their family pretty much immediately left ours at the entrance which worked out well. I feel slightly bad for my brother, who definitely does not view photo taking as a priority. I did, however, emphasize that he could feel free to go off on his own if he wasn’t happy with what we were doing, WHICH HE NEVER DID! I swear he’d rather stew in misery with a group of people vs. figuring out how to do something on his own and being alone.

So we first went to the … ok I honestly don’t know if it’s east or west side. We went to the side with Finding Nemo! We took so many photos just in that area, and we never even started around the lake! It probably took another hour until we actually got to the beginning of the lake loop, which made it 7:30pm which means we only had an hour to go around the loop and take as many photos as possible before the sun set!

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you can tell my brother’s already tired of taking photos

We started at the Mexico end. Long story short, we really only got up to Italy before the sun set and we couldn’t take many more photos. I guess this was a positive, because then we could actually theoretically enjoy the park without cameras. Around China, I think my brother started getting a little frustrated, because that meant we’d been at the park for over 90 minutes and hadn’t ridden anything and was just basically going around taking photos (again his most hated activity, I would venture to guess). I made the point that we were going to do rides tomorrow anyway, and waiting in line for anything before 9pm didn’t make any sense because after 9pm, the crowds would thin out and only vacation club people would be left.

 

Well on we went … Jessica had given us our four tickets for free meal entrees. There were five restaurants you could choose from, but after looking at yelp, one was a bakery and one was like cheap American food (immediate no’s). One was a nicer American place, where I THINK you could have gotten a steak, but Jessica had made a beeline to it when they got into the park, and had said over group chat that they’d already run out of steak. (Also, no one in my family really likes steak, except maybe my brother, but he can make a delicious steak himself so I think he probably has heightened standards). That left “The Land” for dinner, which was more cafeteria style, and a UK fish and chips place. My brother and I agreed to use two tickets at the fish n chips, and then save two for The Land (where Laura had already recommended ordering a salmon w cheesy grits).

So the sun set and our next goal for the night was basically to get food at the UK fish n chips place, then position ourselves for the 9pm fireworks show. When we got to fish n chips, it was a LONG line, and I could tell my dad’s energy was wearing out. So I had my brother take him to go find a place to watch the fireworks, and I’d wait in line for food. My mom was free to walk around. The line was truly long, and I wonder how many people were other vacation club members wanting to use up their free entree. The line moved quickly though – the menu literally had two entrees listed, and one was some weird thing I didn’t understand, I feel like it had the word Orange in it. So I ended up ordering two fish n chips, kind of unhappy with that because I know my mom hates ordering duplicates (and that’s rubbed off on me).

Once I got to the pickup window though, I noticed that they ACTUALLY also had a mushroom spinach pie. WHY they didn’t show this at the place you ORDER, I have no idea. But I asked if I could trade one fish n chips for the pie, which they allowed, YAY! (The pie was cheaper but more delicious to me because I actually hate fried fish).

So now we had our food and I was ready to walk over to my dad and brother to eat this food while standing. BUT my mom was like, I’d rather just sit and eat, and she of course ends up sitting at the first place she sees, which was a very empty curbside. It was empty, I find out, because the entire fireworks show was blocked by a tree. -___- so I didn’t see any bit of the Epcot fireworks show.

The night then unravels. We walk back towards where my brother and dad are. I see them both walking away, and I shout, but they can’t hear me over the crowd. They continue walking to the UK fish n chips shop, assuming that’s where we are (even though I had texted my brother that I’d be coming to find them). I start texting my brother and it’s clear that we are both slightly annoyed. This whole time I’m holding two open plates of food and my mom’s holding two giant cups of soda/tea.

We eventually find each other, but have to find a table to eat, and we find one in the corner in the dark. I know my brother hates eating from half eaten plates, so getting a plate with like a few bites taken out of a pie and one single giant fried fish is not his idea of a good dinner. I think otherwise, my parents are content.

BUT THEN. It’s only like 9:30pm so the after hours event is now really starting to gear up. Meanwhile, I think my dad is mentally ready to go home. However, we still had those two dinner tickets, which we’d use for The Land, which is also the site of the Soarin’ ride. My brother is also intent on finding these free Mickey ice creams we’ve heard about… but in that walk between UK and The Land, we run into the night time dance party (which I actually truly do think is very fun and enjoy the DJ – he played Old Town Road and I’ve only ever experienced that song through Twitter so it’s interesting to see how everyone young in the crowd immediately GOES IN when the song starts). My mom finds this fascinating and wants to stop and record it. My brother gets really annoyed, and I’ve been wondering whether we accidentally missed the ice cream handouts, so I tell him I’m going to go ask where the ice cream is. WELL! My brother ends up following me, my dad ends up following him, and when I turn around, MY MOM IS GONE. She obviously thought we’d continued walking ahead of her, and started to walk around on her own.

Now everyone is pissed. I am super pissed that my brother followed me and didn’t have the brains to realize he should have been keeping an eye on my mom. My brother is super pissed at my mom for walking away (to which I would say, what would someone do if they turn around and their whole family is gone?!) and my dad is agitated because he senses that my mom has done something to upset everyone’s plans. So my dad starts walking around this little dance area and I’m running after him going “YOU NEED TO SIT DOWN! Stop wasting your energy walking around!” Because I know he only has a finite number of steps left before he gets tired and expresses his exhaustion in some idiotic tantrum (LIKE A BABY).

My mom eventually answers my brother’s calls and finds us. Now the four of us are PISSED and walking quietly to The Land, and we end up going to Soarin’ first because no one’s really that hungry yet. I immediately turn to my dad and tell him he doesn’t have to ride this if he’d rather sit and he says “ok!” and immediately turns and sit at the closest seat, which basically faces a wall (mind you there’s tons of seats in this building where you could actually see something interesting). My mom and brother act like I deprived my dad of some great life experience and kept feeling guilty that my dad wasn’t going to ride Soarin’, to which I was like, UH LOOK HOW LONG the walk to this ride is, he would have been PISSED! I still completely stand by this.

Soarin’ ended up being my mom’s favorite ride of the day and possibly of the entire trip thus far. The three of us were content and went back to find my dad, who was sitting in the exact spot we had left him (if it had been my mom, she would’ve wandered off within minutes). By this time, Laura’s parents were about to leave the park and return to the hotel, so I was like, please wait for my dad! So then we started walking back to the exit. While the original plan was for the three of them to take the monorail home, which should theoretically be simple, but would have involved a transfer at the transportation center, Jessica decided to order a Lyft for them – and it was only $5!!! My dad’s entire demeanor changed the moment he saw them waiting for him, because this meant he could FINALLY BE HOME!

Jessica and Laura left with the three of them to find the Lyft. For some reason, I thought we’d just wait at the entrance for the rest of them. This upset my brother, but I didn’t think of it in terms of wasted time, I just didn’t think it’d take that long for them to return. My mom was happily taking photos of the entrance, and once she’d gotten in her twenty photos of the same one thing, she was like “why wouldn’t we just go back in? We still have to eat” and I was like … oh … that makes sense.

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Entrance of Epcot at night

WELL in those five-ten minutes of waiting at the entrance, my brother had gotten extremely agitated, probably from having to sit and do nothing while my mom was taking photos. So he was once again in a MOOD! Once again I was like, hey you can go do whatever you want. BUT AGAIN he declined! Which I think is idiotic. We ended up going back to The Land and along the way, we found the ice cream! We each got one, my mom and I immediately tore into it. My mom loved it, probably primarily because it was free, but I actually don’t love vanilla ice cream bars, so I was over it pretty quickly. The first obvious indication to me that my brother was bothered was that he took the ice cream but didn’t eat it. He was walking around 80 degree heat, lackadaisically just holding his unopened ice cream bar in his hand! I whispered to my mom, “he is an idiot – that thing is going to be a melted mess when he decides to open it.” But denying food is his strongest way of expressing EXTREME DISPLEASURE *rolls eyes*

Once we arrived at The Land, he refused to order anything, saying he wasn’t hungry. My patience was at the point of “I will just take care of myself then” so I said ok, and went to order the salmon and grits. My mom was distressed that my brother wasn’t ordering anything and tried to force him to order something, which probably only gained her a rude snap from my brother. I got my salmon and grits and a coke, and had a FABULOUS meal. My mom shared a little bit, but probably felt uncomfortable eating when my brother wasn’t. Meanwhile, my brother was quietly looking at his phone and refused to engage, and mid-meal, said he’d return to the hotel. Fine by me!

So off he went. I actually kind of assumed he would at the very least go back around the park on his own, but it did not sound like he did. My mom and I ended up leaving to meet Laura and Jessica at Finding Nemo, and this was when I found out there’d be a second fireworks show just for the after hours event! We rode the Finding Nemo ride – though I’m not 100% sure that we did it at this exact moment. They made the point that by the time we would come back from the fireworks show, they probably wouldn’t serve food, so I ran back into The Land to use up our last meal ticket – another salmon and cheesy grits! (NO REGRETS! This made a DELICIOUS breakfast the next day).

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The second Epcot fireworks show! Photo credit Laura

I think we then just walked back to the lake to watch the fireworks show. Jessica had separated from us while I was buying the salmon whereas Laura stayed to lead us around. After the fireworks, we somehow ended up getting another ice cream, this time we got strawberry popsicles! So the three of us just sat on a bench and rested and used the restroom. I think at the time, Jessica might have been on a ride and we were just relaxing. By pure coincidence, when we decided to get up and leave, we ended up running into her again, and then we decided to go on the Frozen ride, which was awesome! There was NO line, we were the only people there. I think it was probably 11:58pm when we got in line, which means we were probably the very last people on. On the walk to the ride, my mom decided she MUST have a THIRD ice cream, it was her last chance! So she got another Mickey ice cream bar. I love that she really makes the most of things.

 

The Frozen ride was fun, though possibly because we didn’t have to wait at all. Then we all had to leave because the park was officially closed! It was so late, there weren’t even very many people exiting at the same time as us. We found out that shuttles were only running to the transportation hub and then we’d have to transfer to another shuttle to get to the Grand Floridian. Jessica said NOPE! and ordered us a Lyft. We got back around 12:30am and I remember I went to bed around 2:30am after showering and attempting to blog. And that was the day!

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Day Four: Universal Studios

Today was the day I’d been slightly stressed about – Universal Studios! Because this is the one day that we wouldn’t be with Laura’s family, and I would have to get my family around Universal Studios all on my own. It turned out totally fine, though now I see that a few of our family drama sessions probably would have been avoided if I followed Laura and Jessica’s rule of making sure everyone is well fed and consistently off their feet for some periods of time.

But that’s getting ahead – today we woke up around 6ish in order to get out the door by 7:30am. Strangely, I felt like I was in a weird time warp for this entire trip. I could wake up at 6am and be ok. I could go to bed at 1:30am and still be ok. Magic! Actually, I think the afternoon naps we could have in the hotels made all the difference.

Breakfast was dinner leftovers, since we had to change hotels and we didn’t want dinner to go to waste. So to be specific, dinner consisted of cous cous, broccoli and salmon – YUM!!! I actually am glad I had such a hardy breakfast because of the long day ahead.

Then I called a car and the Uber arrived within 5 minutes. We had a very quiet driver driving a minivan (it seems like the norm for rideshare people in Orlando to drive minivans) who was very nice in helping us get to the Universal Citywalk. I’d set the destination to Universal Studios Florida, it led him to the employee administration building, and lucky for us, he didn’t just dump us there. I can’t possibly be the first person that happened to!

I knew that the rule of theme parks is to do everything that’s popular first thing in the morning. Jessica had been like, DO NOT stop for pictures or anything other than Harry Potter! Well, we’d ended up stopping almost immediately for doughnuts at VooDoo Doughnuts and just stood around eating them. Everyone was in a MOOD because my dad couldn’t find his sunglasses, blew up and blamed my mom, then as I was calling the hotel to check for them while they were cleaning out our room, he found them in his backpack. AND had the nerve to be like “WHO PUT THESE IN MY BACKPACK!” Dealing with my dad is the epitome of “it’s not even worth it.” We finished our donuts at 8:45am and by then I had a pretty defeatist attitude and felt like there was no point in rushing then. So when we entered and made our way towards the Harry Potter stuff, I was pretty leisurely about it and didn’t mind taking tons of photos in the Simpsonsland.

I don’t think I would have changed much of what we did – I guess it would have been nice to get there even earlier to take better morning shots of Diagon Alley without the crowds, but generally it seems kind of meaningless to get beautiful, people-less shots of these sorts of places that are trafficked by so many people every day.

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Meanwhile, Simpsonland was practically empty!

Well, we took our Simpsons pictures, which probably confused everyone because I had started the morning with “DO NOT STOP FOR ANYTHING UNTIL WE GET TO HARRY POTTER!” The strange thing was, I had assumed that from the entrance, you’d see a ton of signs pointing towards the Harry Potter worlds, but there was truly no signage ANYWHERE. I kept thinking maybe we were lost, but I left the maps with my brother, and he was like “well … this whole park is a circle and we’re here and that’s there so we can’t possibly be going the wrong way.” Also, there were very few people in the park (I made the assumption that everyone had already arrived and was in the Harry Potter worlds but the more likely situation is that it was just a quieter day) and I had thought all we had to do was follow the crowds … but there was no one to follow! We eventually came across the King’s Cross Station, but it really DOES feel like … if you didn’t know about the entry into Diagon Alley, I could totally see some people just heading straight into King’s Cross and thinking, welp I guess all that’s here is a train!

I don’t know how non-Harry Potter readers do it – there is no way I would have realized there was the Diagon Alley area, or known what the point of certain things were. It is done REALLY well here, but I guess maybe only readers would really appreciate all the details in Diagon Alley. As someone who usually isn’t too impressed by these sorts of things – I WAS IMPRESSED and kind of wanted to just pause to take it all in.

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This made me think we entered Hogsmeade but it was Diagon Alley!

Well I couldn’t do that because I had three people with me who had no concept of what we were looking at and probably had not interest in waiting around for me to inspect every detail. So we headed to the Gringotts ride – one of my favorites. We did Child Swap, and I’m surprised to see that almost NO ONE else did. I seriously couldn’t figure out the locker situation so Child Swap seemed easiest, especially with two parents who didn’t mind being the swaps. (Child Swap is when you could have at least one person sit out – theoretically to hold a child who can’t ride the ride, but in our case, that person would hold onto everyone’s bags which weren’t allowed on rides. Then when the first group finishes their ride, the person sitting out can head straight to the ride and can bring up other people with them. So essentially, at least two people in our group got to ride things twice with Child Swap)

I loveeee the queue decor for Gringotts, it’s so well done. Now that I know that Diagon Alley came after Hogsmeade, I can really tell the difference in quality in the rides and walking areas. The ride was fun, though like every other ride at Universal Studios, it relies a LOT on screens, which I kind of hate. But it’s cheap!

From here, we just walked around a ton of the Diagon Alley stores. I’m sad not but too sad that it never worked out for us to get a wacky ice cream flavor at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. The merchandise throughout the Harry Potter worlds was surprisingly good quality, but I didn’t buy anything. Jessica had lent us her wand, which was a really fun idea, and my mom loved trying it out (she achieved two water spells with significant help from nearby adults and children). My favorite store was probably Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes because of the bright colors and unique products. We didn’t even bother with Ollivander’s since I wouldn’t be buying a wand anyhow. It was a strange disappointment to go into the Magical Menagerie and see that it was just stuffed animals. I mean, I don’t know what I would have expected from a shop of magical creatures, but I was a little deflated. I wonder how many families miss Knockturn Alley – there’s nothing critical to see there, but the entrance REALLY looks like a corridor to an employee area. Finally I led us back out to take the train to Hogsmeade/Islands of Adventure … SO COOL!

My brother and I noticed that Kings Cross is FAR MORE better air conditioned than the Hogsmeade station. An intensely noticeable difference. I guess that’s what a few years buys you, though you’d think they would have known the importance of AC even when they were building out Hogsmeade!!!

So we crossed into Hogsmeade, took a TON of pictures in the crazy hot sun, then went under the shade of the Owl Post for a while to eat our foods and recoup from the sunlight. We didn’t really even explore the shops here, just took a lot of photos of the exteriors (by now this area was really crowded) then headed to the Forbidden Journey ride. Cool concept, it’s almost like a quick summary of all the main Harry Potter settings, love the length of the ride. At this point, I thought maybe we’d forgotten an important area of Hogsmeade and completely bypassed it – but it turns out Hogsmeade is just that small!!!

Our first non-HP ride was Kong, HORRIBLE! I’m not a fan of Universal’s strategy of just using screens to stimulate the roller coaster. However, it’s always super fun to witness my mom experiencing these rides. SO much reaction!!! Excitement, fear, amazement. The one thing I’ll definitely give to Universal Studios is that nearly all their rides have indoor, air conditioned lines, which makes such a huge difference.

We passed the Jurassic Park area but didn’t do any rides (they just had the water ride, which had a HUGE wait, and a fun looking hang glider kind of ride, but it was mainly for kids). Skull Island basically just had the Kong ride – again, terrible, but the ride queue felt like it look up a ton of real estate. Then came Toon Lagoon, which was pretty cute. We ended up eating at the first place we could find with indoor, air conditioned seating. The place was called Blondie’s and they served a Dagwood sandwich. I didn’t understand the significance of this, but Laura later said that this is some sort of comic book sandwich – supposed to represent a huge sandwich. Well the sandwich wasn’t that huge, and I mistakenly read their menu and assumed that $1 would give us chips AND a drink with free refills. Turns out $1 gave us chips but no drink. And we ended up paying extra for the soda, which I CHUGGED because I thought we had free refills, which we weren’t given!!! Truly upsetting.

Next up was Marvel’s Super Hero Island. We rode the Incredible Hulk coaster (my dad sat out). Surprisingly my mom really enjoyed it! I can’t tell if what she’s responding to is feeling like she’s gotten her money’s worth by riding every ride, or if she actually enjoys roller coasters. I think it’s possible that she actually just enjoys roller coasters! I remember it feeling EXTREMELY hot at this time. We also did the Spiderman ride, which was a fun, inside conveyor belt kind of ride where the Spiderman was the classic TV style. We skipped Doctor Doom’s Freefall (I had mistakenly thought the whole time that this ride was associated with Doctor Strange – I still have no idea who Doctor Doom is).

Then, my favorite part of the whole trip, Seuss Landing! I loved the decor here, it was very whimsical. It was, however, EXTREMELY hot with very little trees for shade. We might have taken the most photos in this area, and I think everyone – even my brother! – really enjoyed it. Also, my favorite ride of the trip was here – the Cat in the Hat! It was a VERY long ride, air conditioned, and kind of like the Alice in Wonderland ride at Disneyland if you multiplied the length by 3. As much as we loved it, Jessica later was like, Seuss Landing hasn’t been repainted regularly, it looks so dumpy! Meanwhile, I was like, I assumed they were going for a pastel look!

We still hadn’t really explored Universal Studios Florida, so we made our way back to the Hogwarts Express, and it was already some time past 4pm. I actually had no concept of time at this point in the day, and thought it was like 2pm, until I told my brother we should try to catch a 5:30 show and he was like “uh … it’s 5:30 now.” Whoops. Anyway, back on the Hogwarts Express. Again, this is where we realized that Hogsmeade’s station is NOT properly air conditioned, if at all. It was a noticeable difference when we got off the train and were walking back in King’s Cross.

I think we ended up back on the other side around 5:30pm. My brother contemplated riding the MIB ride on his own and skipping the shows I wanted our parents to watch (a chance to sit and relax!) but in the end he didn’t separate from us. I decided we’d watch a 6pm showing of Animal Actors on Location, then that’d give us time to go watch a 6:45pm showing of the Horror Make Up Show. Since we had a little extra time, and were passing through Simpsonsland (haha I just checked the map, and quite sensibly, what I termed “Simpsonland” is just called Springfield), my brother and I were like, hm this Simpsons ride is only a 10 minute wait, why not! WELL it ended up taking FOREVER to load up the ride and I started to freak out. To the point that any time I looked at my brother, he’d tell me the time without my asking. I hadn’t told my parents I was trying to make it in time for a show, so they were blissfully unaware of my slow building panic. We ended up coming out of the ride at like 5:58 and I RACED to the show.

Turns out my panic was completely unwarranted because the show was in an outdoor area, so people could join at any time. This show has a ton of animals doing tricks – the number of animals that came out was ASTOUNDING. Dogs, birds, cats, but also things like OTTERS and pigs!!! I can’t even remember them all. But it was a great show, I think everyone enjoyed it, even though there was very little air flow and it was HOT.

From here then we walked over to the Horror Make Up show. We ended up rushing again, a little unnecessarily, but we spent that extra time soaking in the AC. This show was ok, more of a funny look at the special effects that go into a horror movie.

After the show, my brother and I looked at the map to figure out what we wanted to do with the last few hours at the park. We decided to skip San Francisco, since that would require us walking all the way back toward Harry Potter, and the only ride in that side was the Fast and Furious ride (Jessica later told us we made the right decision). He really wanted to ride The Mummy Returns, and as much as I HATE Jimmy Fallon, I thought a “ride” through NY sounded fun. So we ended up doing our last little loop (everything was much closer than I was imagining) starting with The Mummy Returns, which our dad skipped out on. By this time of the day, he just wasn’t in the mood for rides, and I was more than happy to have him sit, relax, and watch over our bags. I don’t even remember what happened in that ride – maybe it was similar to Indiana Jones.

Then our whole family went to the Jimmy Fallon ride. The line queue is curiously large – they made it feel like you were actually in the 30 Rock studio, going to watch his show, and I can’t imagine who would find this level of detail interesting. The ride itself was like a HUGE platform that felt like a Back to the Future car but many times larger. The ride operators here were much more stringent than I’d ever seen in the entire park – I got yelled at for having part of my backpack sticking out from under my seat!

While Jimmy Fallon was, as always, insufferable, the end of it became a little more like a Mario Kart ride which made it kind of fun. Jessica says they are building out a Mario land! So that sounds like a slam dunk ride.

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Rip Ride Rockit coaster in the back

Finally, last ride of the night, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit which is a loud, near vertical up and down with lots of twists and loops. I guess their cool niche thing is that you get to choose what song you listen to during the ride. Which I was really excited by, until realizing that you could really only choose from like 25 songs, and they had clearly not been updated since the ride was first opened. My mom later said, this ride is terrible, and they probably added the music component to distract people from how terrible the ride is. HA. It wasn’t fun, and the ride really hurt my body. And that’s my old lady perspective!

And that concluded our day! When we lined up, the sun was just setting and when we got off the ride, it was dark. I think we left the park around 8:15pm and the park was going to close at 9pm. I kind of can’t believe we finished EVERYTHING even without fastpasses! I briefly debated walking around the entire City Walk just to see it, even though we were all probably at the end of our string and just wanted to get home, AND none of the restaurants looked exciting anyway. So my brother made the very good call to just head back the way we came. I called a Lyft and set the destination for Disney Springs. My brother wanted to eat at Murimoto, the express area (as opposed to the more expensive dine-in option where you could get food like sushi and peking duck).

Our Lyft driver was super nice, obviously a talkative driver but a great conversationalist because his rating was REALLY high and it people gave him compliments “great conversation.” He had previously worked at Disney and was clearly a fan. He showed me his Thanos magic band, which apparently lights up with the colors of the infinity stone and makes sound when it connects to readers. Which, as someone who doesn’t care at all about the avengers, even I find that very cool! He also knew a lot about all the restaurants at Disney Springs, and gave us a ton of recs, though he mistakenly assumed we were going to the dine-in Morimoto so all his recs were a level above our price range.

Anyway, he dropped us off in the parking garage, clearly he knew the area so well that he could bypass the Lyft drop off zone. Then we walked over to Murimoto. This is one of those instances where it was very difficult to make EVERYONE happy. One, everyone was already kind of ready to snap, because it’d been a long day, and the only thing keeping us from our wonderful hotel room was a meal. Two, my brother LOVES cooking shows, and he’d been really excited to try Murimoto, I guess he’s an Iron Chef? I could tell this was his first choice restaurant, but I also could tell that he felt like he was compromising by having the family eat the express food, when he would have rather had the dine in option. BUT, I could also tell that for my parents, having to order, pay and wait for a $12 ramen was not their ideal choice, especially when we had TONS of ramen in the hotel room that they’d brought from home. ANYWAY, combine all these forces and find yourself … sitting outside on tables that have had tons of turnover throughout the day, and a grumpy dad who is upset at having to eat on “dirty” tables when he can see other diners sitting in very nice tables inside, but doesn’t understand that the menu they’re eating from is like 4x the price of the food he’s eating.

We ended up ordering two different ramen bowls and bbq ribs to split. I NEARLY got a $6 boba because my better sense came to me and I was like “NO do NOT buy $6 boba, I refuse to buy a $6 boba in ORLANDO.” What was stupid was, I ordered a dan dan ramen for myself but I got the sense that my dad didn’t particularly love his ginger chicken ramen, so I let him try mine. I think we mistakenly believed the other person preferred the other’s ramen, so I let him eat all my dan dan ramen before realizing he probably enjoyed the ginger chicken ramen more than I hated it. It was too late though, so I ended up eating VERY little at this restaurant. We originally had the plan that my mom wouldn’t order anything here (she explicitly had no interest in anything on this menu) and preferred to just get an order at Chicken Guy later. I was like, great! I’ll split a sandwich with you! WELL she ended up eating just enough at Murimoto that she was like, I don’t need a sandwich anymore. While I was like UH I gave dad all my ramen, I am VERY HUNGRY!

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Unfortunately, I don’t think my parents were craving asian food in Orlando

Well in the end, even though our family all got kind of upset at each other because everyone had gotten into ANOTHER MOOD, I said “the last thing I need to do is walk to Chicken Guy and then decide if I need to order a sandwich or not.” For whatever reason, no one was directly mad at me, so everyone quietly followed behind me, everyone in a FUME! Once I stood in front of the menu though, my heart and stomach told me, no! So we walked back to the shuttle area. I think I made the right choice because a sandwich really would have been too much food. And I think everyone else was just ready to go home.

Funnily, the Kuos had a completely different day from us – they hadn’t gone to Universal Studios but instead went to … I think Magic Kingdom for a food tour or something. They’d had a much more relaxing day, but had also ended up going to Disney Springs at night for dinner/drinks, and I suspect they actually headed back to the hotel just one shuttle before us! Our unexpected shared experience though, was that both of our families arrived at the shuttle stop to the Grand Floridian right as the bus was about to pull away. And both families had someone run to the bus, and some employee managing all the buses yelled at all of us “you’ve missed the bus! stay behind the yellow line!!!” but both our bus drivers kindly stopped for us and let us in. We found this out when I was like “omg we almost missed our shuttle because of this mean bus manager guy but thank goodness for our driver!” and Laura was like US TOO!

So during the day, our hotel stay had changed from the Animal Kingdom to the Grand Floridian. Sadly I have NO pictures of the Grand Floridian room!!! Bummer. On the flip side, Laura took a video tour of the Grand Floridian room, but not of the Animal Kingdom room. I never took photos because when we arrived at the Grand Floridian, I was SO exhausted, and just glad that I had been able to find the room based off Laura’s directions. Delightfully, Laura had ordered a cake styled like Mary Poppins Hat, for Jessica’s birthday, and we all got a little slice to enjoy before turning in for the night. What a day!

Day Three: Resort Day

We’d only done one theme park but because we had flown in on a Thursday, Jessica and Laura ended up choosing Saturday as our hotel day. At first I kind of wished that we had the hotel day a little later into our vacation so we could really feel like we were taking a break from rushing around theme parks. But looking back, I really loved the order we did things, and the wisest choice was probably to do the hotel day on a Saturday anyway, to avoid weekend crowds.

We started the morning with breakfast oatmeal around 9am. Unfortunately, Jessica woke up feeling ill, so she chose to stay in the hotel and sleep for most of the day. Everyone else took the shuttle to Disney Springs. HA I just remembered that my mom was busy taking photos outside of the hotel and caused us to miss the shuttle, and we had to sit there for THIRTY MINUTES. Let me tell you, if I play out the entire day, those thirty minutes of us just waiting at the shuttle stop caused us all to miss a free hotel tour of the kitchens. BUT WHATEVER.

From Disney Springs, Laura ended up leading us to a completely different section of the shopping area, one that I hadn’t even realized existed when we had visited on Thursday. Turns out the entire complex is HUGE, and even includes a circus tent for Cirque Du Soleil (though it was closed). I don’t remember if we came with this expectation, but I think we did make sort of a beeline to Guy Fieri’s Chicken Guy. It became, MY FAVORITE RESTAURANT of the entire trip!!! I love me a fried chicken sandwich.

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All the sauces at Chicken Guy!

Their main thing at Chicken Guy is the sauces for their delicious chicken tenders. Even their sandwiches are really just two chicken tenders. My family ended up ordering a Bourbon Brown Sugar BBQ sandwich, the Southwestern Chicken sandwich (this was my choice, with Pepper Jack, Special Sauce, Avocado Crema, Cumin Lime Mojo, Charred Corn, Roasted Peppers, Black Beans, Lettuce, Tomatoes and Crispy Tortilla Strips), the Southwestern Salad (which was great to have some actual veggies, but this was just my sandwich in salad form), a loaded mac n cheese (I thought this was below mediocre), some chicken tenders so we could try the sauces, and triple double mint shake! I loved my sandwich. The shake was just ok, but I didn’t love that they had actual chocolate chips on top. My mom loved the BBQ sandwich, and without thinking, I gave half of my brother’s mac n cheese to Laura’s family. It is a testament to how nice he is that he didn’t yell at me…

I actually completely forgot my dad’s salad in my original order, so I jumped back in line. Laura came over and said “this is great! can you order my family some fries too?” I said of course but once I got to the register … I FORGOT! The only thing I could think about was getting my dad’s salad!!! I ended up getting the salad, heading back to our tables, grabbing a cup to split half my mint shake for Laura, and then stopping midsentence and going “OH. MY. GOD. I’m SOOO SORRY I FORGOT THE FRIES!” I think Laura was a mix of exasperated and bemused.

Anyway, a somewhat disastrous trip to Chicken Guy, though everyone loved the food. My brother then ended up heading home on his own, because he had been tasked with cooking dinner in the hotel room, and the groceries had just been delivered from Amazon Prime. Meanwhile, the rest of us went to Uniqlo and my parents became super obsessed with the Disney shirts and went on a tshirt shopping frenzy.

We eventually made it out of Disney Springs (I’m glad Laura dragged our family out because I think my parents could have spent another hour at Uniqlo). I think we then took the shuttle to Magic Kingdom and then started our Monorail adventure across a bunch of resorts! Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary Resort, and Polynesian Village! There’s also the Grand Floridian but since we’d be staying there for the second half of our vacation, we skipped that for resort day.

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Views from the Monorail! I wish I had taken more actually, especially of the wedding chapel

My favorite of the three was Wilderness Lodge – it has a huge lodge and huggeeee grounds. This was actually where we came for our first night’s dinner. Apparently you can even bring RVs here or go camping here, which seems ingenious. A vacation stay at Disney grounds for ANY family! The lodge itself had tons of wooden totems which made the decor great. And of course, it’s very green. A family favorite!

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EDIT: Laura said I misstated stuff in this entry but I’m too lazy to go look for what the corrections were. I think maybe Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness are two different things – the former being the nicer hotel we visited on resort day, and the latter being the campgrounds-like area we went to for dinner on the first night. I can’t be bothered!

If the weather had been nicer, we might have gone on some of the trails by Fort Wilderness, but it was TOO HOT! Even just taking a few pictures outside was a bit exhausting. We then took the monorail to the Contemporary Resort, which is their convention center style hotel. And apparently one of the first resorts built at Disney World! I liked this place because it was boring but felt much more familiar – it was a “typical” hotel, other than the monorail that ran through the center of it.

Next on the stop – the Polynesian Village Resort. I thought this would be my favorite, but it ended up being the most boring! Laura had mentioned that the villas here are the most expensive lodging option, because they’re on the water, like in Bali. We randomly watched a youtube video of people reviewing the villas and one of the most hilarious moments of the entire trip was when the youtuber took the camera out onto the room’s deck to show off the hot tub, and was greeted with the LOUDEST ferry blast. Turns out that the ferries sound their horns about every twelve minutes. And according to one review, it’s the kind of horn that stops all conversation. Crazy!

Well, the lobby was nice, but it wasn’t too big. Maybe the pools would have been nice, but it was still too hot to explore. Actually, we’d end up coming back here two days later to try out Trader Sam’s, their tiki bar. So it’d probably be fun to walk around at night, but not at 4pm, which was when we were there. (Also, this is where you can get alcoholic Dole whips!)

Then off we went, back to our hotel. My brother was cooking, at the very beginning of when all the food was about to get heated and cooked. When we opened the door, it was a BLAST of curry powder smell. It probably still smelled like that the next day, which was our check out day, which I’m sure is very annoying for the housekeepers. Laura, her mom, my mom, and I left to use the hot tub (the one and only time we ever used the pool!). I only went because my parents had scoped out the grounds in the morning, and confirmed that the hot tub would be shaded.

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Photo from my parents walking around the pool area in the morning

We were in the hot tub for a little bit and then Laura and I left to try out the water slide. My FIRST water slide experience! I’m pretty sure. Then my mom wanted to try it too, and that seemed like a reasonable request, considering the slide dropped people into a 3 foot 6 inch depth. I went to wait in line with her, and it was EIGHT children deep! PLUS two kids CUT in front of us, which really annoyed my mom, but it felt really weird to tell these two children off, so I said to let it go. I asked my mom whether she wanted to go first or me, and she wanted to go first (presumably so I could encourage her to go down the slide in case she chickened out). I don’t think she realized this would mean that when she went down the slide, I wouldn’t be there to watch her. But again, both Laura and I had told her, “just stand up!”

WELL down she went. Then the light went green so I went down. And when I made it into the water and got my head out, my mom was yelling at me, “I almost drowned!!!” I went “WHAT? You’re joking” and she went “no! I did almost drown!” and the lifeguard was walking behind her, caught my eye, and smiled and nodded. Turns out my mom couldn’t fight the current, and wasn’t able to stand up, but was somehow able to stick her head of the water and say “help!”

We walked back to the hot tub – I am really relieved my mom is the type to be shocked but still in high spirits following a near drowning – and Laura asked “how was the slide?” and my mom responded “fun!” Then I said “she almost drowned!” and Laura went “what?!” assuming we were joking, until my mom went “yup! I almost drowned!” Laura and I still don’t understand how she wasn’t able to just STAND up but Laura’s mom immediately started saying “EXACTLY that’s what I’ve been telling you!”

Then we went back to the hotel, showered, and around 7pm, dinner was served! My brother had made salmon steaks (he requested salmon fillets but they did him WRONG!) and roasted veggies and cous cous! Somehow we were able to fit our entire 8 person group around a table meant for four. Great meal! I only partially wish I had told my brother to make dessert too, even though Laura and Jessica had said he didn’t have to.

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That’s because after dinner, everyone was so stuffed, we decided to walk over to Jambo House and got two cupcakes (FOR $5 EACH!). Which we then split for a Frankenstein cupcake that was split between our families.

I think on this night, we attempted to watch a bunch of youtube videos, like Celine Dion’s carpool karaoke but we kept getting distracted. By what, I can’t remember!

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Day Two: Animal Kingdom

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Today’s wake up call was 7am, and we had to leave the hotel by 8:30am. Laura’s mom made ramen for breakfast and we have a giant bag of oatmeal for other breakfast options. Off we went to the Animal Kingdom! Laura and Jessica’s Disney style is to reserve fastpasses and get there very early to do other popular rides first, then take it very easy during the day with an afternoon hotel relaxation break and shows peppered in between. It is the best way to play it, but it’s a bit startling at first if you’ve never experienced it because the first thing that happens when you enter the theme park is you ignore every sight around you and basically just speed off to whatever attraction.

The good thing is that the Animal Kingdom is not that big, and by the end of the day, it kind of felt like we’d seen pretty much the entire park. Our first ride was a 5 minute wait for an extremely boring ride that has now become my go-to joke ride when I want to evoke a ride that’s a long wait and low value (it was the Na’Vi River Journey). Anyway, it was a very boring ride, but thankfully we had zoomed straight here the moment we got through the entrance, because in the time it took us to ride it, the wait time jumped from 5 to 40 minutes. It did bring us to Pandora where we spent the next hour+ taking photos and watching a drum show.

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This is probably my favorite pic I took during the entire trip – I waited so long for crowds to pass!

After the drum show, Laura sprung a one hour break on me, meaning our families would split and meet back at Pandora in an hour. I think they ended up going to a lounge for drinks whereas my family headed back towards the entrance to look at all the stuff we had zoomed past earlier. Looking back, Laura probably figured there wasn’t that much to do in this theme park, and her parents wouldn’t want to walk back and forth too much, whereas my family would have preferred walking around looking at the animal exhibits in Africa and Asia. At the time though, I was very much like “WHAT I don’t know where to go around here!”

We ended up exploring about half of the Africa section of the theme park and walking around the Tree of Life – honestly as I look at the Animal Kingdom map to try and jog my memory, I feel like there’s so many exhibits that were probably closed at the time, or other attractions that I don’t recognize the name for but we probably did actually experience it. Anyway, I distinctly remember being in “Africa” and have tons of pictures of The Tree – and then we headed back to Pandora to meet up with the Kuos for our first fastpass ride.

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More of Pandora

I like Pandora from the perspective of treating it like a funky botanical garden. Our fastpass was for Avatar Flight of Passage, which was my mom’s favorite ride, and my favorite experience purely because I got to sit next to my mom and half the time I was turned to her to watch her delighted reactions. My mom is actually fantastic to sit next to on rides, because she voices EVERY emotion she’s feeling.

I think from here, it was kind of close to lunch time, and we ended up unexpectedly splitting up again – Laura’s family went to eat lunch in Pandora whereas my family wasn’t that hungry. We headed right back toward the entrance, but this time headed to “Asia.” It was not as obviously laid out to me as “Africa” was, though maybe that’s because there were significantly more people at this point in the day. We did bird exhibits and I honestly can’t remember what else. All the animals are A BLUR!!!

Even though everyone claimed not to be hungry, I figured everyone was just too hot to eat. Though we only had ten minutes left before we had to meet Laura’s family again, this time for our fastpass to Kilimanjaro Safari Rides, I made a quick decision to stand in line and ended up buying an Asian Chicken Wrap (which I stuffed into my backpack because it was wrapped in foil) and a single Beef Teriyaki Bowl which we stood and shoved into our mouths. I was at HIGH STRESS because I didn’t want to be late, but in the end, we were only about six minutes late and everyone felt a little happier now that we’d eaten something.

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So many safaris out during the day – I felt like I was on a factory tour

The safari ride was much more interesting than I’d expected. We actually ended up going on it a second time, as the final ride of the night. I voted for it because it’s a pretty long ride, and Laura said that more animals come out at night.

The best part of this ride was having my mom sit on the side so she could take photos. I forgot that she is TERRIBLE at taking action photos – she would constantly turn off her phone, and then realize she wanted a photo and would spend precious seconds unlocking her phone and by the time she got the camera app up, we would have already passed the animals. My absolute favorite was when we gave her PLENTY of advance notice that a tree she really liked was coming up … and this is what she got:

After the safari ride, our groups split between people who wanted to watch a bird show (Laura and her parents) and people who would go on the Gorilla Trek (Jessica and my family). Jessica mainly wanted to see a baby gorilla whereas I figured my parents LOVE walking anywhere that’s green and leafy. Unfortunately for Jessica, the baby gorilla didn’t make an appearance. I had assumed the baby gorilla would be in a little hospital-like viewing room, but it’s actually just out in the wild with its mom! Besides getting to see explore this huge animal exhibit, we also ended up speaking to one of the animal experts and some things I learned include: 1) they purposely bring female gorillas around to different zoos so they can see other mother gorillas take care of children and learn how to be good moms, and 2) the female gorillas are on birth control so they can prevent inbreeding, since they’re in the same area as their father.

Then our next fastpass was for Dinosaur – which was a TERRIBLE ride. At the end of it, Laura leaned over and was like “this was once the flagship ride of this theme park” and I responded “what? THIS?!?!” I can’t even remember what the ride was like to be honest.

Wait a minute … I’ve read this post several times and only now, on July 7th 2019, more than a month after, I remembered that our group actually headed back to the hotel after riding Dinosaur. LOL I have no idea what we did at the hotel! Or what was the first thing we did when we returned to Animal Kingdom! Or maybe we didn’t leave the park? WHAT A BLUR!!! I only remember exiting Dinosaur and there was some slight confusion within my family because Laura said their family might go back to the hotel to rest, but if anyone wanted to stay in the park, she was planning on continuing on. And my family is TERRIBLE at making snap decisions so no one could decide whether they wanted to stay or go. Meanwhile, Jessica was already starting to head back, and I think my brother was probably the first to say he’d head back to the hotel, so then my dad followed, and then I was like, you know what it is so hot I would love to go back as well.

Again, I have no idea where the hours went in between, but when we returned to the park, we watched the It’s Tough to Be a Bug Show, which I’d never seen even when it was in CA Adventures. Nice to just be in AC! Then we headed over to ride the roller coaster Expedition Everest, and I think Laura and Jessica may have been slightly surprised that my parents wanted to go too. Their parents ended up getting a salad at the same place where we’d bought lunch. This was the first ride where we had to go through standby and it actually took more than 10 minutes to wait in, so we got to see the queue decor. And that’s when I realized, it’s possible my mom actually would have loved to take pictures of some of the queue’s decorations, but we’d never see it because for all the longest waits, Jessica already got fastpasses! My mom’s favorite thing about all the amusement parks though, was clearly any time we had a fast pass, because she’d always ask “how long was standby?” so she could feel superior for not having to wait.

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View in the early afternoon
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View before sunset!

By the time we got out of Expedition Everest, the sun had set, and our last ride was the Kilimanjaro Safaris at night. Which I also loved! There was pretty much no line, and apparently the animals are more active at night. Though it is harder to see the animals, it’s a nice experience to just sit in the ride and enjoy it without feeling any need to take photos. Also, I thought the driver for the second one was a bit more lively, and there were fewer cars out on the road so it didn’t feel like such a conveyor belt of a ride.

The main thing the Kuos wanted to do was see Pandora at night for its night illuminations. It was cool but not worth more than a 20 minute stay. Then we headed out to the exits, and happened to see some sort of projection show on the Tree Of Life. Then jumped on a shuttle back to our lodge … Laura’s family decided they wanted to go our hotel’s lounge (Sanaa, the same one where my mom and I had taken a cultural tour the night before) to get small bites and drinks. My family isn’t the lounge type, and we hadn’t really eaten a proper dinner, so we ended up going to the Jambo House and going to one of their restaurants that was open late, The Mara. I think the place we were staying in, Kidani Lodge, has more suites so it’s quieter, whereas Jambo House has a more typical hotel feel, is much larger, has more pool area, and much more restaurants/common areas.

The Mara ended up being FANTASTIC! Our family was really happy with what we got – African Potije which was really just like a curry and ONLY $8.50!!!, a Braai Chicken flatbread which was basically like chicken w pesto sauce, a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, and a drink. Turns out the drinks have a RFID chip in them so it knows how many times you refill – you can refill 3x in a 24 hour span. Once we found this out, it felt like we were required to get 3 refills, so I made my brother make a half and half to go, and I basically chugged one serving’s worth of half and half at the table.

Another delightful thing that happened here – near us, a lady was celebrating her birthday and she had gotten a chocolate mousse cake, and was going around offering it to people! We politely declined but only once because we definitely wanted that cake!!! It was delicious, especially because it was a perfect serving size for us four. So kind of her! I’m certain her room would have had a fridge too, so it was really nice of her to want to share it with others.

Then back to our hotel for sleep! Next day was … resort day!

Day One: Orlando

EXHAUSTED which I think I should take as a sign that I’m not as fit as I SHOULD be. I should not be brought down by a mere red eye flight and mild theme park activity!!!

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Our first hotel lobby!

So Wednesday night I went straight from the office to SFO. Weather reports indicated heavy rainstorms starting that night.  I left the office around 6:30pm and there was next to no one on the caltrain or bart. It always feels a little doomsday-ish to stand on such empty platforms when it’s still technically commuting hours. Luckily it didn’t rain heavily while I waited at the caltrain platform. By the time I reached the airport, it was POURING and right when I got off the airtrain, an employee came out to put out a sign that said the airtrain was out of service. Very good timing!

I ended up arriving at SFO around 7:30pm and my flight was at 10:30pm. Somehow the time really passed. I walked slowly around the United Airlines terminal, which looks like it was recently remodeled, and I decided to get SuperDuper only because it seemed like the best valued option. I really wish they would just put in a Chick Fil A though. $11.24 for a mini cheeseburger and garlic fries – I felt disgusting afterwards but at least I wasn’t starving on the plane. I then spent an unexpectedly long time answering some small work e-mails. And then I had to rush off to my gate!

The flight was awful because the seats were SOOOO uncomfortable. My flight was scheduled to take off at 10:35pm but it didn’t actually leave until 11:05pm due to “paperwork” which I always assume means “the pilot is still hanging around in the airport lounge.”

I “slept” until 2:15am and after that, I definitely wasn’t getting any sort of good sleep in. I kept listening to the same Today Explained podcast episode over and over again. I got off the plane in Orlando around 7am, whereas my parents and brother had arrived around 6:40am. Since it was so early, the Disney shuttle experience was super easy since there wasn’t anyone in line and the bus only had one other family. I never really looked up the distance for anything on this vacation, so I was not expecting the drive to take 40 minutes! I loved it though – it was perfect after that red eye flight.

My mom kicked off this 7am (4am PST) morning with an intense amount of pictures, starting with the shuttle line entrance signs. Her love for stupid photographs, which is normally infuriating, was great for this morning because I had no real plans for the day, and we ended up being able to kill A LOT of time just wandering around the Animal Kingdom Lodge and taking photos. Thankfully our room ended up being ready for us at 10:30am, while we were walking around the pool area of Jambo House, and we walked back to the Kidani Lodge to check in. We got into the room so early in the morning it feels like we got a free hotel day out of it! I’m glad we ended up choosing a red eye flight because it was a very nice way to ease into the vacation and feel like we were making the most of our hotel room.

We eventually set off for Disney Springs (their version of Downtown Disney) around 12:30pm, arriving at 1:00pm. I really didn’t comprehend how much stuff constituted “Disney World” or how far everything is from each other. We walked around, it felt pretty hot, and we got onto a ferry boat that took us to the other side of Disney Springs. The ferries here are a great touch and very enjoyable. We looked at a bunch of restaurant menus but the entire time I knew I wanted Earl of Sandwiches. Which we got! Everyone got one sandwich and we pretty much split them four ways. I got my usual tuna melt. Turns out the sandwiches here are A DOLLAR cheaper than in CA!

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Ferries available at Disney Springs

We kept walking around after lunch, but by this time it was getting VERY hot and even my legs were pretty tired. And if you’re not really in the mindset to look for merchandise, just seeing so much Disney products turns your brain off. We ended up heading back to the hotel around 3pm. I feel like every time we decide to head home, suddenly any walk seems like the LONGEST walk ever, even if just minutes before I had felt pretty energized. The walk from Disney Springs to the Animal Kingdom Lodge shuttle stop was laughably far away.

Once we had been able to sit in the AC’d shuttle though, I kind of felt re-energized again so we batted around the idea of doing hotel tours upon returning to our room. I thought we could do a 4:15pm culinary tour, but I didn’t realize it was in the Jambo House section of the Animal Kingdom Lodge (we are staying at Kidani Lodge). Also, when we arrived back in our hotel room, it was already 4pm. My mom and I decided to go to an art tour that was in our hotel … except when we asked someone where it was, they directed us to a different tour – the Cultural Tour! One that NO ONE else had joined. So we arrived around 4:10pm and I was like “sorry! did the tour already leave?!” and two “cultural representatives” emerged from whereever they were hanging out (probably hoping that no one would come ask for a tour). The cultural tour sounded the least interesting on paper, but it was actually great! We spent nearly an hour just slowly walking through the hotel restaurant Sanaa, and they’d point out different decorations and tell us the use/significance of it in African culture. The two guides were nice, and turns out one had been in America/on the job for 2 months and the other had arrived just TWO weeks ago!!!

The most delightful part of the tour though, was the complimentary naan and dips that they gave us at the end, and we could just sit in the bar lounge at our leisure. My mom and I were super hungry, so we scarfed the whole thing down. Then we headed back to the hotel room, and within the next 30 minutes, the Kuos arrived!

We had 8:30pm reservations to eat at the Hoop De Revue. Once again, I didn’t realize how long it’d take to get here, but we had to leave the hotel at 6:30pm and we reached the restaurant entrance around 8pm! This involved a shuttle ride to the Magic Kingdom then a ferry ride to Camp Wilderness, which was pretty great. Good mix of low key activities!

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On the ferry to dinner!

The Hoop De Revue is a dinner and a show. When you arrive at the dining table, there’s already a bucket (yes a bucket) of salad and loaves of cornbread. Then the show starts and they’ll bring out buckets of fried chicken (REALLY good), ribs (not bad but we didn’t ask for seconds), beans (fine but not my fave), mashed potatoes (good but I didn’t want to get too full off potatoes) and corn (AMAZING!). We got three servings of chicken – I had three chicken legs myself – and the night ended with three huge strawberry shortcakes for the table. I tried my best to leave nothing behind but whipped cream – but alas maybe half of the last shortcake was left behind. Still proud of what I accomplished though! Maybe last night I would have said I shouldn’t have eaten that much shortcake, but now I’m glad I did because I’ve been hungry for several hours now and that feeling of disgusting-full has left me.

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Photo taken on our way to dinner (it was completely dark on our way back)

The sun had set just before we went in for dinner, and dinner ended around 10:30pm. It seemed like the only people riding the ferries back were other diners, and it was a really pleasant, peaceful ride back. The shuttle dropped us off in front of Magic Kingdom, where we would jump on a shuttle back to the hotel – I’m pretty sure I was asleep nearly the entire shuttle ride back – and then showers for everyone then SLEEP! It was probably 1am here when I went to bed and I woke up the next day at 7am.

Colorado: Day Five

So on Tuesday morning, departure day, we did our usual Hampton Inn breakfast. Then packed up and headed out to Denver – I’d planned just one activity which was the Denver Botanic Garden! It takes 40 minutes to get there, and I think we arrived around 11am. My flight was at 5:20pm that day, plus we had to return the rental car and get gas, so at first I was a little frantic but we ended up finishing the entire botanic garden by 1:45pm, so actually, everything timed out perfectly.

Actually, I did do an additional thing before heading back to Denver – we stopped by Chautauqua Park, since it was only about a fifteen minute drive from the hotel – just to take pictures at the entrance. The prior day, it was raining and there was no visibility and I always thought Chautauqua Park looks so impressive, I had to make sure my parents knew where they had been yesterday! This was totally a worthwhile stopover.

There’s not much for me to say about the Denver Botanic Garden … it’s nice but much more crowded than I was expecting for a Tuesday afternoon. It’s very well laid out, there’s a nice orderliness to it, and as my mom remarked, there are a TON of benches laid out throughout the grounds. My mom and I had both researched, and her arboretum membership covered the admission for this place as well. BUT the cashier told us that it didn’t, and we pushed back gently, but after she said no, we were like “um … ok then” and paid the $31. THEN after the charge went through, somehow the cashier figured out that she was mistaken and gave us a refund. Technically my mom’s membership only covered two adults, but presumably since we were so polite about having to pay, and because the whole interaction had taken up SO MUCH TIME, she said she’d let all three of us in. So I guess that was nice in the end, even though I think it’s stupid for the cashier to not know how to properly look up the partnering gardens because how much else is there to know about botanic gardens admissions?

What else … prior to arriving, I had yelped what was good to eat in Denver, and it seems like there’s a ton of “food halls” that looked interesting. I thought we’d end up going to one after the gardens, but I ended up deciding we’d eat whatever snacks/leftovers we had while we were in the gardens, then get to the airport earlier and eat at Chick Fil A (yes this was me selfishly trying to get another Chick Fil A meal in). This ended up PERFECT because I got to save about $30 on the rental car by returning it early, plus I’m positive my parents would not have enjoyed the food halls, plus my mom LOVES when the snacks are eaten to completion.

The only other thought I have about the gardens is that their parking situation is CRAZY insufficient! I mean, it was a TUESDAY afternoon, and I was one of six cars circling for parking. I eventually left and parked across the street at the park, which thankfully had no parking restrictions at all.

After this, I just drove to get gas, returned the rental car, had a very annoying hour at the airport because my mom was being very obnoxious but it all worked out, got to eat Chick Fil A with my parents in the airport, and I ended up having just 20 extra minutes before I had to board my flight (my mom managed to waste over an hour just in the check in / security process). Despite the past hour where I’d been REALLY annoyed at my mom, of course once I left them at their gate, everyone was VERY SAD. Another concluded family vacation~

Colorado: Day Four

All right, I’m now that person who has to check work e-mail despite being on vacation. Previously, I felt no guilt about never opening my inbox until the day I returned to work, but for some reason, I feel like there’s a SLIGHT potential that someone a level above me is going to e-mail me and I’ll regret not knowing what’s going on. I hate that feeling! Even though I only spent like ten minutes of my life checking my inbox, I feel some slight relief that nothing huge happened but I also HATE that I felt compelled to check in the first place. I do NOT have an important enough job for this!

Chautauqua Park

Anyway, today was going to be my “local Boulder” hikes day – I had planned for a half day in Chautauqua Park (mainly Enchanted Mesa then driving up to Realization Point to try the Tenderfoot Trail), then potentially a walk at El Dorado Canyon State Park. WE didn’t end up completing any of these. It pretty much drizzled/light rained all day long. We had breakfast and headed out to Chautauqua Park, donned in rain gear. It wasn’t raining too bad, and I’m glad we hiked when we did because the rain only got heavier in the afternoon. But Chautauqua Trail ended up being more inclined than my dad likes, and was much muddier than my mom likes, so they were both pleased when I said we could do a very short route and head out earlier.

We still ended up walking for over an hour, though it was only about 1.2-2.0 miles (I truly don’t understand how to read miles on the trail map). My mom and I wanted to go into the Boulder Central Library, and I’m sure my dad was just happy to not have to walk anymore. So we headed to the library! Delightfully, they have 90 minutes free parking in downtown Boulder. You enter your license plate into a machine, which seems very advanced.

The library IS really nice, particularly the children section which is HUGE, and the cafe, which has beautiful ceiling to floor window walls overlooking Boulder Creek Path. I did not get any pictures though because it felt really weird to take photos of the library. Here’s some photos from IG though…

 

 

 

 

:*( there are not exactly shots that are what I would have liked… but there was a ton of people sitting in the cafe and it would have been truly weird to try to take a picture.

I was pretty hungry by the time we left the library around 1pm, but my parents claimed they weren’t, and my mom was adamant that we finish leftover pizza from our first night. She told me I could buy WHATEVER I wanted for lunch, which gave me the freedom to go with Terra Thai (if I had to factor in my parents’ preferences, I probably wouldn’t have chosen an Asian place). We went for takeout and I got pad see ew and what was essentially like braised beef with rice, but I can’t remember what it’s called right now. Then we drove the 20min back to our hotel to eat everything in the dining room. Which would make it the SECOND time that trip that we ate in the hotel dining area! It’s something I never think of doing but it was perfect because I hate having the hotel room smell like food, and there was hot water so we could all drink tea, and there wasn’t anyone else using it anyway.

I’m glad I had gotten two entrees, because it turns out everyone was pretty hungry and we ended up with the perfect amount of food, including our leftover pizza. Then it was about 3pm so I decided we’d head to Celestial Seasonings for a free tour, since I couldn’t think of anything else to do since it was still raining. Somehow this makes it the SECOND time in my life that I’ve done this tour! haha It was still quite a sizeable tour group though, and it was a good 45 minutes tour + 30 minutes spent in the gift shop, and it added some variety to my travel itinerary.

From here, my dad decided he’d use the hotel’s hot tub early, at around 5pm, while my mom and I would go for another walk and then get take out for dinner. I was debating between Tenderfoot Trail and a flat walk around Wonderland Lake. It wasn’t raining, but it was cloudy, so Tenderfoot Trail was out because I’d read it has great views, which would have been obscured. I definitely want to go another time! Plus my mom voted for a flat walk, because she really does not like inclined walks when it’s just rained. Wonderland Lake ended up being a great choice – I think it might have been 1.8mi roundtrip, but we turned it into an hour long walk because my mom kept wanting pictures. It was extremely tranquil walking around there, it seemed like the type of place people go after work to walk dogs.

Then I drove to Sweet Cow for ice cream, because I had loved the honey mint SOOO much from the night before, and it was our last chance for ice cream! The server there recognized us from the night before! (because we’re Asian, I’m sure) and she was like “welcome back!!!” (so cute!) and I told her “we had to come back because we’re from CA and we’re leaving tomorrow!” and she was like “no way! your ice cream is on me then!” which made my mom shriek with delight and ask for a picture with her (Cassie was her name). This time we got honey mint and espresso bean which was also extremely delicious.

Honestly one of the best ice cream I’ve had

Then I drove my mom and myself to Good Time Burgers, also a repeat destination, because we all loved it. Sadly they messed up our order – we were supposed to get one burger and one chicken sandwich, but ended up with two burgers. I also overdid it with the sides – wild fries, green chile mac n cheese, and onion rings – but I wouldn’t know which side to remove, and we ate the leftovers the following day anyway! We also brought all this back to the hotel to eat, for our THIRD meal in the dining room. Once again, everyone was DELIGHTED! I thought the entire vacation was paced well – first day being arrival and leisurely walk around Pearl St, second day being hike-heavy, third day being rained in and very relaxed, and fourth day with a full exploration of the Denver Botanic Garden before heading to the airport.

I ended up being really lazy after dinner and just sat in the room while my parents were back in the hot tub/gym. I eventually got up for a late night gym session at 11pm, which is truly one of my favorite things to do ever. I wish I could get back in this habit – I’m used to going to the gym very late back in high school, college, and then the early days of living in Santa Clara when I’d go to Planet Granite after working late. I feel like that time is perfect for clearing my mind so it’s almost meditative to be on the gym equipment, plus I like showering right after the gym and right before bed. I ended up sleeping at 1am that night which made me tired enough the next day to sleep through much of my flights! Just the way I like it~

Wonderland Lake

Colorado: Day Three

Today the weather forecast said afternoon rain, though it didn’t seem heavy. I decided to head down toward Red Rocks Amphitheater for our Sunday, also because I figure it’ll be more relaxing to do Chautauqua Park on a weekday. In hindsight, I made the right decision – it really didn’t rain very hard on Red Rocks day, plus saving Chautauqua Park for a weekday was perfect because there’s parking fees on weekends, and it was easier to find alternative-Boulder-centered events on Monday when it rained harder.

Hiking in Red Rocks Amphitheater

We started off the morning with our Hampton Inn breakfast (as we would every morning). I always overeat on carbs here – toast is my favorite thing here. They have the kind of toasters where it’s a conveyer belt toaster oven, which always reminds me of Berkeley. I love me some toast with a little single serving of butter, so I always get that. Then Hampton Inns always have waffle batter, so I always make a waffle for everyone to share (even though I don’t care THAT much about it). The oranges here are REALLY good too – we got so many and I actually felt fairly nutritious during the trip, despite eating quite a bit of fast food.

For most of the trip, I think I was pretty much awake around 6:30am, which means 5:30am in CA!!! My parents use the restroom first, then I’ll eventually get up and by the time we leave for breakfast it’s 8am. My parents are VERY slow in the bathroom, which is great because then I can lie in the bed longer. Despite them waking up SO early, it takes SO long for them to even be able to get out of the room because they end up spending SO much time reorganizing their bags every morning … EVEN THOUGH WE’RE NOT LEAVING YET! Even after breakfast they’ll somehow find reason to reorganize before we head out for the day. I’m trying to learn for myself that I should anticipate this buffer time, and just manage my time around it.

Today I decided we’d go to Matthews Winters Park for a ~5.1mi loop, then drive four minutes down the road to explore Red Rocks Amphitheater. I had a backup park, Eldorado Canyon State Park, but didn’t end up having to go because we took SO long at Red Rocks. I’m pretty happy with how our day turned out though.

I was worried, but parking at Matthews Winters wasn’t bad at all – I think we arrived around 10:15am so several early birds were just pulling out. The trail here is pretty much three connecting loop trails. What I didn’t think about until I started driving to this park was that I’d never checked the trail conditions (other than easy vs moderate vs strenuous) and I realized that it was really likely that all the trails in Boulder that I had found were not shaded, which my mom HATES. There was a ranger/volunteer at Matthews Winters and when I asked if the hike was pretty shaded, he responded “NOT AT ALL! It’s not shaded ONE BIT!” and I went “…oh…”

Look at my mom trying to shield herself from the sun

My mom looked pretty peeved when I told her, but we’d just driven 40 minutes to get here, so she didn’t say anything. We started walking, and it was truly very unshaded – like walking around a ranch. The sun was shining and my mom was very quiet … but luckily in the near distance there was a HUGE storm cloud headed our way. It gloriously covered the sun about 15 minutes into our hike and it didn’t really rain until like 30 minutes later, and even then, it was only a drizzle. It did however, thunder very loudly, which made my parents eager to head back. We ended up going pretty far on the hike and hit a portion of the last loop before we turned around, because we’d reached a pretty steep downhill and it was starting to actually rain. We returned to the previous trail junction and I told my dad he could walk straight back to the car but suggested that my mom and I continue on the trail, because I suspected the rain was not going to hit us since I couldn’t hear thunder anymore. Turns out, this was the right decision! It might have sprinkled just a tiny bit, but my mom and I were able to see some pretty interesting rock formations, get some good incline, and get more steps in. Meanwhile, my dad was pretty delighted to get to return to the car. All in all, positive outcomes for everyone!

Some views at Matthew Winters

By the time my mom and I returned to the trailhead, my dad had been there for about thirty minutes, and had just spent his time walking around that front area, and he seemed very pleased. I told my parents we’d just be eating snacks for lunch today, and we’d eat a heavy hamburger meal for dinner. This delighted everyone because my mom had collected all these pastries from Hampton Inn, plus she’d brought snacks from home that were never eaten, and this was the opportunity to clear it all out! So we had our picnic of snacks by the trail entrance, which conveniently had a picnic table near a small creek. By then, the thunderclouds had scared off most people, so we didn’t see very many people and the parking lot was only about 1/5 full. Even the rangers/volunteers seemed long gone, so it was quiet and felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Off to Red Rocks!

It was about 1:30pm when we left, and from here, I drove us four minutes down the road to  Red Rocks Amphitheater. I honestly thought we’d spend max 1 hour here, since my parents don’t care about live music anyway. What I didn’t account for was how long it takes to actually walk from the parking lots to the top of the amphitheater, and I forgot about the 1.8mi Trading Post Trail. I think we ended up spending close to 3.5 hours here. They loved the amphitheater! They were even somewhat interested by the exhibits in the visitors center, because they both knew who John Denver was. We took quite a long time just exploring the amphitheater and we still hadn’t even done the Trading Post Trail! My dad didn’t go with us on the Trading Post Trail and opted to just wait in the Trading Post shop. I’m glad – honestly that trail felt MUCH longer than 1.8 miles, and at some point, even my mom got tired, so there’s no way my dad would have enjoyed it. But it was a REALLY nice hike – I think from the name I assumed it’d be a nothing hike, but there were really great views of crazy rock formations and panoramic views and nice, gradual inclines. We even saw deer!

View just from the theater entrance!

We finally got back in the car around 5pm and headed straight to Mountain Sun in Boulder for burgers. This is the one restaurant I really remember liking from my first trip here …  but my parents thought it was just ok. It is truly VERY salty – something I didn’t really remember from the first time I ate there. The best thing about this restaurant was that there was ZERO wait because we got there at 6pm, and this is the kind of place that is open till 1am. Turns out my parents’ favorite meal of the trip was the Goodtimes burger place where we got a huge meal for three people for $20. Guess where we’ll be going back to tomorrow?

Post meal, we were all STUFFED and my mom now wanted to do another walk around town. Meanwhile, my dad was super annoyed because we’d previously said we’d head back to the hotel after dinner, and now something was standing in his way of relaxing in the hotel hot tub. I personally was exhausted but also thought it was a bit early to head back to the hotel. I decided we’d drive to 0.4mi away from the restaurant and repark at the main parking lot for the Boulder Creek Path – something I’ve wanted to do since Day 1 but we kept putting off because the sun kept setting before we could do so. I’m really glad we finally did it today – it was really quiet at the time, the sun was just setting and it had just rained, and there wasn’t another good day to do it. We didn’t walk far but we did take a TON of photos. We discovered the Boulder Central Library and it is a truly BEAUTIFUL library.

Front of the library
Boulder Creek Path

From here I decided I wanted to try an ice cream spot – I am glad I tried it because it was DELICIOUS but it did generate a lot of tension between EVERYONE in my family, because my dad was getting more upset about the hot tub delay. I can’t say I really regret it though, because I loved the ice cream SO MUCH and I got to eat there twice! The place is called Sweet Cow and it’s seriously tastier than a lot of ice cream places in  the Bay Area, even though the design makes it look like it should be on par with a Coldstone Creamery. I got a honey mint scoop and a Ozo coffee scoop (Ozo is the name of some coffee place). UGH so good! Ok tomorrow, is going to be a “best of Boulder” day where my parents and I are going to have Goodtime burger and Sweet Cow again.

Final view of the Red Rocks Trail at the amphitheater

We finally got back to the hotel around 8pm – probably the earliest this trip (usually we do 8:30pm or 9:00pm). Everyone sat in the room quietly because tensions were STILL HIGH. My parents went to the hot tub at separate times and not a single other guest came into the jacuzzi that entire night – this hotel is even emptier than ever!!! I love it but it does seem … odd. There’s honestly probably only like 5 cars here for other guests.

OK I can feel the wave of exhaustion hitting me now. GOOD NIGHT. We’ll see how much I can recollect of Day 2 when I eventually write that post.

I must include this photo of the beautiful library!