Saturday, November 15, 2014

Family Vacation 2014, Part 3

Day 4-5: Clearwater Beach, Florida

I really wanted to go to a beach since we were going all the way to Florida. The only time I went to a "real" beach (other than in the UK...where it was cold and gray, and Lake Powell with freshwater and orange sand) was when Tyler and I went to FL 11 years earlier. We went for an "anniversary" trip (we went in August 2003). We went to Venice beach and stayed at his grandparents condo right on the beach. I was so excited to go swimming but there was a red tide (something to do with the moon) which made the water weird and red. Not like I had imagined. So I wanted to try it again.

I love sleeping in hotel beds. They are so comfy I never want to wake up. When we did the skies were gray and it looked windy outside. I was so worried the weather wouldn't treat us to a nice day but just before lunch it warmed up and clouds departed for the sun to come through.  Tyler scored us a "suite" upgrade in a Hyatt hotel. We reserved a 1-bedroom with our points but he was able to talk to the font desk and get us a 2-bedroom. It was sooo nice, as described in the previous post. It was probably at least 1500 sq ft.  We've been impressed with their hotels as we've stayed in them this year.

The breakfast was excellent in the hotel restaurant. We missed out on the buffet as that was only on weekends. Afterwards we went out to the balcony. The kids were obsessed with this fake owl. We think it was there to keep mice or seagulls away. It turned it's head with the wind or bobbled so it looked realistic.

Samuel, like his father at this age, likes to be on camera.
This was the first time the kids got to experience a "real" beach with saltwater. At first, they didn't like the force of the waves (it was quite wavy these 1.5 days, probably due to the time of year, I am guessing). Colin liked it. He did pretty well with not eating sand, cigarette buts and seashells. The kids liked to catch or jump the waves, once they got used to them. They also got used to mouthfuls of saltwater by learning to shut their mouth. Way different than Lake Powell water/beaches. But we had to watch them even more diligently than at a swimming pool or even Lake Powell. Although they can all swim the waves were so strong they could have swept them when I turned my head only for a second. Luckily, they stayed close, within eyesight of us on the beach and didn't go in past their heads because they were afraid of the strength of the water.

Hotel right on the beach.
View from our bedroom.
Vultuers, I mean seagulls. Trash birds. Ate right out of your hand...or purse...or towel. 
Buried alive. Clearwater had such beautiful white sand. 

The 2nd day of breakfast we ate outside. It was super breezy. But it was fun to dine near the palm trees and hear the ocean waves. However, for some reason, not really due to the wind, the kids kept spilling their drinks. Because it was an outdoor table they were those iron kinds with holes. So it kept spilling onto the tiled patio. It was kind of embarrassing and annoying, reminded me too much of home :) That's the challenge with staying at these nicer hotels. I don't always feel like we "fit in" even though a lot of times it was corporate guests. Still was teaching us how to have better manners. 

Fruit & cheese platter, compliments of the room. Tyler went to the local grocery store and picked up frozen pizza for dinner. For lunch we walked a few blocks and picked up some mediocre Chinese food. We had enough for leftovers the next day. 
The kids enjoyed swimming in the pool, almost more than the beach because it wasn't salty or wavy. It never made sense to me why there were pools at hotels on a beach. But I see how it's favorable, more convenient and nicer in the cooler months. There was a hot tub too on the top level.  
I can't wait to go back!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Family Vacation 2014, part 2

TIP: Buy or make matching shirts so you can spot each other easier in a crowd. Plus it was just fun to match! Now they have new PJ shirts to wear to always remember this trip. 

Day 3: Walt Disney World

After getting to bed at 1 am the night previous the children were not too keen on waking at 8am-ish the next morning. But....we wanted to fit in the most play time the 2nd day at WDW because we weren't going to stay until park close that night.

We woke them up, quickly packed our stuff, said goodbye to Cassie and hurried off. This day we followed their "insider tip" and parked at the Polynesian Hotel and took the tram. We were allowed to park their because we told them we were checking it out. And we did....actually, I would really like to stay on Disney property next time we go because it is much more convenient and you get more perks. Anywho, we parked, got on the tram and were there, with minimal walking, in 15 minutes.

Our first fast pass was for Ariel's ride, which I think we missed because we didn't get there at opening. We were too tired. So we headed to some smaller rides in Tomorrowland until our 2nd fast pass ride, Space Mountain. As you can tell by their faces the kids did NOT like this ride. I had forgotten how dark and "scary" it was and I see why they didn't like it. Tyler enjoyed it though.

Colin was a super-trooper the entire trip. Only on the last two nights did he wake up out of the ordinary. He was incredibly overtired by that point. When he slept in his crib I put the blanket up to shield him from the sun. I am so glad I bought these metal clothespins from the $1 store. They came in handy several times.

We stayed until about 8pm. We got a little rained out for about 30 minutes. But after the heavy rainfall we were able to hit some of the bigger rides one last time. Splash & Thunder Mountain until we got rained out again. Luckily, I found another TIP. Buy $1 ponchos and bring them with you to avoid paying $5+ inside the park. We got soaked. From our head to our toes. We walked to the car with drenched and cold feet. Again, the kids were tired but we wanted to squeeze the most fun out of the time we had.

Then we had a miscomunication, Tyler and I. He was walking faster to get Colin out of the rain but then it stopped so he stopped to take some night shots. I kept walking with the girls and didn't see him. I figured he, Colin and Samuel would be waiting on the monorail platform for us but they weren't there. Of course, by this point, my old cell phone was dead so I couldn't call him. So we got on the train hoping to see him at the hotel. He was not around. So then we walked to the car, still no sign of them. So....we waited and waited. Finally, I asked a stranger if I could use their cell phone and called Tyler. He was ticked off but I quickly hung up after telling him to meet us at the car. He had been waiting for us on the platform and finally just got on the train after he figured we had left. So...that wasted another 20 minutes. Oh, well. It could have been much worse! 

A highlight of this day was being able to see an old college friend of mine. Becky, a fellow actor, is a hilarious performer. She does voice over work, to character shows, to all kinds of acting activity in the park. She got us "special" seats so that we could be on camera for the laugh show with Monsters Inc characters. It was really fun and kind of her to showcase our family for 5 minutes.  

We got to go to the major attractions but missed a couple things. Like Pirates of the Caribbean was temporarily closed for some reason. Also in Adventureland we didn't get to go through the Swiss Family Robinson house. And we didn't do the cliche dumbo ride in Fantasyland. But, those are all pretty minor. And we still had a great time! I think Tyler liked going better with kids than when he was a kid or as newlyweds. We went for our 1st year anniversary over 11 years ago! Not only had the price gone way up but we went in October instead of August so the temperatures were much more mild, plus there were several new rides to try out. And this time we brought in our own bottled water and flavoring so we didn't have to drink the nasty stuff from the fountains. 

 Will we go again? I hope so. It is certainly expensive but really fun. So...we'll see.

From WDW we drove to Tampa, had to make a pit-stop in the Tampa airport to sign some new papers for the car rental (long story...did it to save money by using vouchers) and then headed another 20 minutes to Clearwater. We used our Hyatt room upgrade vouchers for a 1 bedroom but luckily they had space, and with our diamond status, they gave us a 2 bedroom. It....was...awesome. The kids were in one bedroom. Colin in one of the 3 bathrooms and we had a full kitchen and living/dining room with two balconies to boot. With a great morning view of the ocean. Tyler did a good job in booking this room. Totally worth it. The kids, of course, fell asleep on the way to the hotel. We got in about 10pm. We had to wake them up, kicking and screaming, and drag them to the room. They never went to bed so easily, this whole trip! It was great!

Day 4....Clearwater.

Family Vacation 2014

We went on our first family vacation that did not involve extended family members this fall. It was an awesome and memorable trip. I look forward to doing a trip like this again. Hopefully, every year or every other year we'll be able to do this. Disclaimer: if you don't care about park tips and details...just look at the pics and watch the video in a few days when I finish it up :)

The digested version:
October 12-18, 2014
Day 1-5: Visited Walt Disney World for 2 days. Stayed with my cousin Cassie and her family. Drove to Clearwater Beach. Stayed for 1.5 days in a Hyatt Hotel.
Day 6-7: Flew to Atlanta, Georgia. Visited the Georgia Aquarium. Stayed in a Hyatt Hotel. Flew home.

Earlier this Spring, before SWA (Southwest Airlines) points values increased we reserved our plane tickets for this trip. We used our two companion passes and Colin was free. Then we used points for Jocelyn so we paid about $60 for all of us to fly there. We had a layover in Denver and then the 3 hour flight to Orlando. The kids did really well. Security wasn't bad. They had to check every baby bottle and baby food which took a bit longer but the kids were really patient waiting. Luckily, Tyler and I were doing this together. I don't imagine flying solo with 4 kids. That would be tricky. We had tons of snacks and lunchables for dinner to avoid paying for airport food. The 3 older kids sat on a row together and after drinks/snacks they watched  a movie on the ipad, each with their own earphones. Tyler and I sat behind them with Colin on my lap. He was a great traveler. Didn't cry at all.

Day 1: Not thinking clearly we booked our tickets for a Sunday arriving at 11pm at night. After renting the car and driving to Cassie's we didn't get in until about 12:30 am Monday morning. Cassie and Jacob were greats hosts. They tried to stay up late to greet us upon arrival by watching a movie but couldn't make it that late which was totally fine (they have a new baby!).  Knowing we'd get in very late, they left the lights on for us to direct us to our rooms. Gave us the door code so we didn't have to disturb them, their girls.

Day 2: The next morning the kids actually got to "sleep in" until 9am. We woke up, met Cassie's girls (our kids hadn't really met before) and ate breakfast. The kids saw her pool and immediately wanted to go swimming. Because it's sooo humid and still warm, somewhere between 70-80 degrees it was a great temperature. The kids swam while Cassie and I chatted. Then Tyler wanted to mow their lawn. Their grass is soooo different there. It's very course and weedy. It's not like the plush blue grass that we see everywhere else. He enjoys mowing and it was an extra way of saying thanks for the accommodations. After getting a briefing on where to park, tips and such from Cassie and Jacob (he used to work there and they could go all the they're pretty experienced) for WDW (walt disney world) we quickly got ready to go. The time was already escaping us. I wanted to stay and visit with Cassie longer!! We got the kids in costume, packed our stuff for the evening and drove off. We had to stop at Walmart first to get our food for the next few days. We ended up packing a whole suitcase of Costco/Sam's Club goodies for the week which saved us a lot of money and was very convenient. Plus, because we opted not to pay extra for the magic bands (free if you stay on Disney property) we used "cards" for fast pass lanes and I didn't want to keep them in my pocket or have the kids lose them. When I was leaving Walmart I saw they had a whole separate Disney store. I bought lanyards for $5 each. I am so glad I did. It kept our cards nice and safe and it was another "gift" for the kids to get them excited. On Disney property they cost $15!!! So we saved money there. Paying $20 for convenience was totally worth it.

See how flushed I am from walking briskly in the warm Florida weather? yikes. It was too hot for Colin to wear his pumpkin costume. 

We were able to be admitted to the park at 4pm. We decided to get a Halloween ticket (Not So Scary Halloween event) for the first day. And a full day the 2nd day. We only went to Magic Kingdom (not Epcot, Animal Kingdom, etc. We'll save that for another trip....or maybe Harry Potter land...a. completely different park). We parked and walked (because it's easier with a stroller than taking the tram) and then the ferry. The kids were already complaining about how tired they were and we hadn't even got into the park yet. There was no line to get in but the cast member had a hard time finding our passes (because we switched them a few days earlier) and it took foreeeeeever to get our tickets (next in advance enough to have them mailed to me). As a result, we missed our first fast pass so she gave us a free voucher to use on another ride to make up for it. yay! Great service.

We decided to get a Halloween party ticket because they were $65 per ticket instead of the $95 for a full day. If we would have got a one day pass it would have cost $95 and we would have gone from 9am (and had to wake up the kids super early) until 7pm when they would kick us out for not paying for the Halloween party. So....10 hours for $95 $30 less and go for 8 hours! We made the right decision in saving money and having a great time at the special Halloween party. We got to go on the major rides until 7pm, using fast passes and the trick-or-treating started at 7 and more rides. It was less empty than during normal hours but still a bit crowded. We had to stay close to each other. Luckily, Cecily our wanderer, never got lost!!

DON'T read this part if you don't care about WDW tips. We definitely saved time by using the fast passes and child swap. Because of Colin we were able to take advantage of the child swap plus the fast pass that you can sign up for in advance online (on your phone, computer, kiosks in the park sign up for 3 rides, then once those were redeemed we could sign up for 1 ride at a time after that). So the kids could ride the ride back to back, twice in a row. So, for example, Tyler would go through the fast pass line (MUCH shorter) and I would show them Colin (in my arms or asleep in the stroller...this only works on the non-baby rides like splash mountain,etc. The child swap doesn't apply to haunted mansion, small world, etc) and they would give Tyler the child swap pass. When he was done with the ride he would give me the pass and I could go on the ride, after going through fast pass lane, with two other children. So typically, one of the kids didn't want to go again so it wasn't a problem. Sometimes, however, the cast member would let all 3 kids go again. The kids favorite was Thunder Mountain. It's old and rickety but it was the least scary of the "scary" rides. Between the two days they went on it about 7 times! Jocelyn and Cecily liked Splash Mountain. Samuel only wanted to go on it once. To be honest, the drop at the end scares me enough that I only needed to go once too. Jocelyn was scared and went twice. Cecily went three times.

Back to the Halloween party. Everyone was dressed up (kids anyway and some of the adults). I read online (yay Pinterest) to buy our kids glow sticks and glow toys in advance (from Dollar Tree, Michaels) and bring them with us because once it got dark there were cast members pushing carts around selling these toys for waaaay more than typical retail value. So I whipped out the glow sticks and spinny glow toys that they could carry around. Once it was dark you could see a lot of people walking around with all type of glow toys/hats/sticks, etc so I am glad I bought them for the kids so they never had to ask for one. I accidentally lost one of our pumpkin lights right away though. We were in the haunted mansion and I put one in my lap (turned off) and when I got off the ride it fell off (I forgot it was there) and it fell underneath the track. Darn it. oh, was only $1 and we still had Colin's that Cecily could use. Luckily, that was only one of two casualties the whole trip (the other was Samuel leaving his stuffed angry bird somewhere between Florida and Georgia).

We ate sub sandwiches (pre-made from Walmart), chips and salad for dinner. We brought water bottles and I bought a $2 insulated bag and a bag of ice. It was perfect for keeping our water cool and food "refrigerated" even though there was a puddle of cold water left at the bottom. I am glad we brought our big stroller because it hauled all our stuff.

Trick or treating was fun. They had 13 stations and gave us each a bag upon entering the park. We didn't make it to all 13 stations though. But we each got (including Tyler, me and Colin) about 2-3 lbs each of candy. They would give us a handful at each station. 2/3 of it was chocolate candy! My favorite. We got to see the special Halloween parade and the special fireworks show. I haven't been to a fireworks show in years so I was really glad we got to see it (since we didn't the 2nd night). I love being right underneath, to hear the crackling and feel the boom in your chest. It's so magical. And the kids weren't even scared! yay! The Halloween one is even cooler than the normal nightly one because the finale includes 360 degree fireworks. It lit up the sky so brightly it felt like it was daytime. It was sooo awesome. That was Tyler's favorite part of the Halloween party. It was unforgettable, for sure.

That is Belle's (or the Beasts)  castle below.

I like parades and they did not disappoint. The choreography was spot on and they make it so fun to watch. The kids, who normally don't like parades, enjoyed it too. By then, however, it was nearly 11pm. We got kicked out at midnight. We thought after the parade we'd leave, like most people do. But we wanted to fit in as many rides as possible while it was less crowded. The kids were soooooo tired and begging to go home. But we wanted our money's worth. So we convinced them to stay a bit longer. We rode the teacups like 3 times in a row because there was no line while Tyler went on the new Snow White and 7 dwarf mine ride. The line is usually over an hour so it was shorter at 11pm. (no fast passes during Halloween party). Tyler and Cecily went on first while I stayed with Samuel, Colin and Jocelyn (who were too afraid and tired to go). Tyler liked it so much (I think we may have had a child swap for this ride) that he convinced Samuel to go with me. Jocelyn regretted not going because we couldn't get a fast pass for it the next day and she never got to ride it. It's about as "scary" as thunder mountain but not as rickety. It was fun! Then as we were leaving at midnight we saw the princess line thing. They let us go in (the girls and I) even though they were closing. Once we got inside we saw the line for the Frozen girls! It was at least 30 minutes (at midnight) so we saw Rapunzel and Cinderella. The girls were thrilled, even Jocelyn. Cecily was so excited/shy she wouldn't stand next to them. Super fun to see the "magic" at work. I think her age is the perfect age for Disney stuff. She was still wide awake then (however....she's naturally a late owl). Another regret....not waiting earlier that day to meet the Frozen girls (which the girls didn't think they'd like at all). Then we had to walk all way back to the car (the kids were dying by this point) and drove 20 minutes back to Cassie's. They were out like a light, 1 am.

So...this is taking waaaay longer than I thought. I will write about Day 3 in another post!