Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Florida Trip Report Part 4: 'Ohana Character Breakfast and Heading to the Beach

Florida Trip Report:

Travel Hacking a Trip to Florida
Vacation music video
Disney's Contemporary Resort Review
Hyatt Place Daytona Beach Review
Part 1: Getting There, Poolside and Chef Mickey's
Part 2: Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios
Part 3: Reunion and Beaches and Cream

Part 4: 'Ohana Character Breakfast and Heading to the Beach

On Sunday, we were leaving Disney World to spend a few days at the beach. But not before heading to our favorite character breakfast at the 'Ohana restaurant inside the Polynesian Resort.

We first ate there in 2008 on our first trip with our oldest (and only at the time) son. It was the last day of our trip and we really wanted to eat at Chef Mickey's, but it was booked. The phone agent suggested 'Ohana instead, and we've been hooked ever since.

Riding the monorail to the Polynesian:

Inside the Polynesian:

Waiting for our table:

My daughter pretended our pager was a phone:

We didn't have to wait too long to be seated. One of the things I love about the 'Ohana breakfast is that it's not a buffet. The food is all brought to your table family-style. There are breads and pastries, Mickey and Stitch waffles, eggs, bacon, sausage and potatoes. But the highlight of the meal is the POG juice from Hawaii!

The kids met Lilo, Stitch, Mickey and Pluto:

Every 30 minutes or so there is a dance parade around the restaurant with shaker noise makers:

I'm glad we were able to squeeze this restaurant in during our trip.

After we returned to the Contemporary, we still had 2 more hours until the Magical Express bus would take us to the airport to switch to our rental car. I tried unsuccessfully to move up our time. So our tired kids watched some cartoons in the lobby.

And we took a few more photos outside before hopping on our bus back to the airport.

Once at the airport, we got our rental car and drove a little more than an hour to Daytona Beach Shores. What a lovely sight from our room! (See my hotel review here).

Although we ate a large breakfast, we didn't really have much lunch so we decided to go out for an early dinner before heading to the beach. We read good reviews of a nearby seafood restaurant called DJs Deck. Located about 5 minutes from our hotel, it's a place where you order at the counter and they bring your food to you. It's right along the water.

Brian and I enjoyed our sea food and the laid-back atmosphere. The kids had the standard kids meal fare of chicken nuggets, hot dog, etc.

Next to the dock there was a fish food machine. I had only one quarter on me, so we bought one round of food and started dropping it into the water. Nothing. Several minutes went by, and the fish food just floated on the water. Disappointed, we started to walk away when we heard and saw this big school of cat fish start gobbling up the food!

The kids were in a hurry to get back to our hotel to try out the pool and the beach. I don't really understand why they were so excited to get into the pool since we have one in our neighborhood at home and we go there several times a week...but they were. So we first spent some time in the pool before we walked down to the beach.

Ahhhhh, the beach.

The kids were thrilled at the big waves! Brian and I were a little nervous, especially the first night, because our kids didn't seem to have any fear of the ocean and wanted to keep going out further and further. We had to keep motioning for them to come back in closer.

As the sun started to go down and it became later, we dragged the kids back to our hotel with the promise that we would return to the beach a lot in the next 3 days. On our way up the stairs to our hotel, we had a bit of good fortune. Some young adults were flying home the next day and gave us 4 boogie boards to use during our stay. Whoop! We passed them along to 2 other families at the end of our trip.

Up next: Our time at Daytona Beach Shores

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Florida Trip Report Part 3: Reunion and Beaches and Cream

Florida Trip Report:

Travel Hacking a Trip to Florida
Vacation music video
Disney's Contemporary Resort Review
Hyatt Daytona Beach Review
Part 1: Getting There, Poolside and Chef Mickey's
Part 2: Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios

Part 3: Reunion and Beaches and Cream

Saturday morning was our Russian adoption reunion event--which was the entire reason we booked this trip to Florida. This event was organized by a few families that met in Russia while adopting their daughters, and it has grown to a larger group of families. We have met some of the families in Russia, met some in Dallas and talked to others via blogs and Facebook.

The event was 9 a.m - 11 a.m. at the Odyssey event center inside EPCOT. Almost 200 people from the Contemporary boarded the monorail in matching t-shirts for the event.

Disney representatives escorted us to our event.

The event program:

We enjoyed a breakfast buffet while we watched a slideshow of all our kiddos in Russia and in the U.S. Lots of teary eyes from the parents.

Our group had a patriotic Mickey Mouse for an hour!

After the event, we had to either leave EPCOT or show a valid ticket for entry to the rides. We thought about staying at EPCOT after the event, but the majority of families were going to be poolside at the Contemporary that afternoon, so we decided to join them. EPCOT is my favorite park, but I was there earlier this year, so maybe next time we will go there as a family.

We rode the monorail back to the hotel and grabbed a quick bite to eat at the Contempo Cafe before heading back to our room to change for the pool.

We went to the pool intending to hang out with other families from the reunion, but unfortunately it started raining and lightning, and the pool was shut down. :( Everyone scattered, and we spent the afternoon resting in our room. So our afternoon plans were a bust.

We had a 6:00 p.m. dinner reservation at Beaches and Cream, so shortly after 5:00 p.m. we got on the monorail to the Magic Kingdom and transferred to a bus to go to the Beach/Yacht Club resort.

I have read wonderful things about this small restaurant and have wanted to try it for a while.

We had to wait a few minutes before we were seated, so we perused the menu.

The inside of the restaurant is very small, with just a few booths and tables. There is a to-go counter on the outside of the restaurant.

Our dinner was ok, but the restaurant is really known for its desserts. Its signature dessert is the kitchen sink. If you order one, there is a lot of fanfare. But the thought of all of those things together in one bowl kinda grossed me out. So we chose to order a few smaller desserts, which were still quite large!

After we rolled out of the restaurant, we decided to go back to the pool for a quick round of night swimming. I don't know why, but swimming in the dark is always more fun! This was our last night at the Contemporary. The other families in our reunion group were heading on the cruise the next day, and we would be driving to the beach.

Up next: One more character breakfast, and our first night at the beach

Monday, July 27, 2015

Florida Trip Report Part 2: Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios

Florida Trip Report:

Travel Hacking a Trip to Florida
Vacation music video
Disney's Contemporary Resort Review
Hyatt Daytona Beach Review
Part 1: Getting There, Poolside and Chef Mickey's

Part 2: Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios

During our trip planning phase, we decided to just spend one day in the theme parks and the rest of our time doing resort activities. Walking around the parks during the summer heat and crowds is not our favorite, and we've gotten so spoiled with Disney Cruises that more than a day or two in the parks is brutal and exhausting. So Friday was our one day in the parks.

Six months prior to our trip, we asked the kids which park they wanted to go to (we had to make our dining reservations six months in advance). I really wanted to give my middle son a chance to participate in the Jedi Training Academy at Hollywood Studios since he is a Star Wars fan and hadn't done it before (my older son has done it twice). My older son decided to go to Hollywood Studios with his dad and brother, while I would take my daughter to the Magic Kingdom to see the castle and princesses.

My daughter Alyssa had only been to the Magic Kingdom once, and it was before our first cruise in June 2012 when she was just 20 months old. So she didn't remember her experience, but she had seen commercials for Disney World on the Disney Channel (curse you, Disney!!!) and she was super excited to visit the park.

There was no way I was going to visit this park with my daughter without eating at Cinderella's Royal Table inside the castle! I made a breakfast reservation at 8:05 a.m. (which is almost an hour before the park opens). My family has done these early breakfast reservations before at the Crystal Palace, but this was my first time at Cinderella's Royal Table.

I had showered the night before so that I could get ready quickly in the morning. Alyssa ate a Poptart in the room. We left our room around 7:00 a.m. to catch the monorail around the loop to the Magic Kingdom.

On the monorail, looking at the Contemporary Resort at sunrise:

Guests with early breakfast reservations are allowed into the park before it opens. On previous trips, we've been allowed to enter as early as 7:30 a.m. On this day, we were allowed in around 7:45 a.m. We had plenty of time to take photos without the large crowds and have a leisurely walk down main street.

Me and my girl in front of the castle:

We checked in to the Royal Table a few minutes before our reservation.

We went inside and met Cinderella downstairs before going upstairs for breakfast.

Meals at this restaurant must be pre-paid during the reservation process (including gratuity). It was nice to just sit back and enjoy the experience. Our server first brought out some pastries, including muffins shaped like Mickey.

I ordered a goat cheese quiche, and Alyssa had one of the kids' breakfast choices. I don't remember what it was because she did not eat a single bite of her meal.
Nope, not one single bite because she was just too excited to meet the princesses! One by one they were announced along with a brief synopsis of their stories.
Snow White




We were done with our meal and had met 5 princesses before 9:00 a.m.. By the time we left the restaurant, the general public had just started entering Fantasyland.

My strategy for the day was to ride as many rides in Fantasyland as possible in the morning, and I scheduled our Fast Pass + rides 60 days in advance for the early afternoon. This strategy paid off, as we were able to ride everything in Fantasyland before noon.

We started with the Pooh ride, followed by Enchanted Tales with Belle. This was our first time in this attraction. Alyssa played the role of the Dancing Dishes. It was a cute experience.

We rode Dumbo (one of the only ride photos I have, because I don't take photos or videos on rides as a general rule).

While we were in the Storybook Circus area riding Dumbo and Goofy's Barnstormer, we noticed there were no lines to see Minnie, Daisy, Donald and Goofy. So we saw them all.

We ran into Pooh and Tigger, so we stopped.

We rode on the Teacups, Under the Sea, Autopia, carousel, it's a small world and saw Micky's Philharmonic.  We had virtually no lines for any of the attractions in the morning. I highly recommend getting to parks right at opening, as most people sleep in and it's a great time to squeeze in a lot of rides.

On our way to lunch, there was a dance party going on in front of the castle, and Alyssa got pulled into the street by a bear to dance. She was surprised by it, and just started dancing!

I had made us a lunch reservation at The Plaza restaurant. I like to make lunch reservations at the parks when it's hot outside, because eating in an indoor, air-conditioned place with no lines feels SO GOOD. We were really rejuvenated after our lunch.

The Plaza restaurant has lots of ice cream dishes for dessert, since it's located next door to the ice cream parlor.

After lunch, we had Fast Pass + for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We both loved the Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride!  It might be my new favorite ride.

It was around 3:00 p.m. and I figured we would call it a day and head back to the hotel pool. But Alyssa wanted to keep going and go on more rides. So I went to a Fast Pass + kiosk and got a fast pass for the Magic Carpets of Aladdin. It was so hot that we went inside to see the Tiki Room show. I kept returning to the kiosks for more fast passes, and we went on the Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear, and the People Mover.

At some point in the afternoon, we stopped to play at the Laughing Place, a well-hidden, shaded playground near Splash Mountain.

In jail!
In the late afternoon, it started to rain. We hopped on the Walt Disney World Railroad and rode it around the entire park. The rain started to let up, but we needed to use an umbrella. I was really hoping to call it quits, but Alyssa wanted to stay. She was determined to ride on every ride. So then we started repeating rides back in Fantasyland until just before 9:00 p.m., when the Main Street Electrical Parade started. The only time she asked to be carried was to see the parade better. I don't have any photos from later in the day because my cell phone died.

We left the park around 10:00 p.m. as the fireworks were about to start. The monorail zipped us back to our hotel in about 2 minutes, and we watched some of the fireworks from the 4th floor. Alyssa started to fall asleep, so we went back to the room and she crashed hard. What a long day, but so fun! We had successfully dodged the long lines (our longest wait was 25 minutes) and enjoyed our day despite the heat and crowds!

The boys had a totally different day at Hollywood Studios. They ate Poptarts in the room supplemented by yogurt and juice I had purchased from the Contempo Cafe the night before and stored them in our room refrigerator. They arrived at the park shortly before opening at 9:00 a.m. and headed to get the boys signed up for the Jedi Training Academy. (Note that my husband takes a lot fewer photos than I usually do).

They made it to the sign-up for earlier shows, but due to conflicts with their lunch reservation and their Fast Pass + times, they had to be moved to the 5:00 p.m. Jedi Training Academy show.

The boys rode Star Tours 4 times with no wait.

They ate lunch at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant, our favorite!

Their only character photo:

At a show:

There aren't a lot of rides left at Hollywood Studios...many have closed down. Rumor has it that in the next few weeks, Disney will be making an announcement about an overhaul at the park. But for that day, they had a lot of time to peruse the gift shops.

Finally, it was time for their show! (see our music video for the real action)

I'm so glad that Joshua got to experience this!

The boys wandered around in the rain without an umbrella, and decided to stay for dinner and the Fantasmic show.

At the Fantasmic show:

They got to see some Frozen fireworks after the Fantasmic show and arrived back to the room not much longer after we did. They were also at the park from opening until closing. It was a long, tiring day for all of us! Brian and I were thankful that the next day's plans were a little more laid back.

Up next: The reunion and Beaches and Cream.