That's Enough Griswold For This Vacation, Thank You

Monday, March 06, 2017

I've seriously been trying to write this post for months now, but I've struggled with getting it all out in a way that didn't take a week to read. I may have still failed miserably at that.

It's no secret that I'm pretty much obsessed with all things Disney, particularly Disney World. So when we were thinking about where we could possibly take the boys for their first vacation, Disney World was the obvious choice. While Tom and I were there during the holidays in 2015, we had decided that we might like to come back in the fall to see the Halloween decorations, so we decided that would be a good time to take the boys too. We had to get approval from a judge to take them, since they were still in foster care at the time, but it wasn't nearly as much of an ordeal as I expected it to be.

We were trying to keep it pretty cheap, so we made a few decisions:

  • We would drive down instead of fly
  • We would stay in a value resort (staying off-property on a Disney vacation isn't something we're interested in)
  • We would NOT get the dining plan (Jeffery isn't a big eater, so we didn't think it would be worth it)
  • We WOULD splurge on the Halloween party. I didn't think the kids could handle multiple days of park open to park close, so the Halloween party would be a fun, cheaper alternative to an extra park ticket.
  • We WOULD splurge on at least one character meal. I wasn't sure how bad the character lines would be, but that way, they'd be guaranteed to get some good one-on-one time with characters.
We booked a room in the Toy Story section of the All-Star Movies Resort, and the boys absolutely LOVED it. They liked Toy Story before we went down, but they came back completely obsessed with Buzz and Woody (especially Eric, who wouldn't stop talking about how much he loved Buzz!).

Buzz is 35 feet tall. Eric is significantly shorter.

 Tom and I had only stayed at moderate resorts before (Port Orleans French Quarter and Coronado Springs), so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I ended up being pleasantly surprised. I knew the rooms would be smaller and not quite as sophisticated, but for the four of us, the room wasn't too bad (though sleeping in a double bed again was strange!). Each of the resort's five sections has its own unique theming, as well as plenty of fun photo ops!

The 101 Dalmatians section lets you be what the pups are watching on TV!

The food court had a lot of variety, and though I didn't like it quite as much as I liked Pepper Market at Coronado, I thought it was much better than French Quarter's food court. All in all, I would highly recommend All-Star Movies to anyone who wants to stay on Disney property without paying hundreds of dollars per night.

I tend to be a bit cheap, and I balked at how much the cost of a rental car was. I figured we'd be fine driving my Rav-4 down.

This was my undoing.

We dropped Archie off with my in-laws on a Saturday morning, and headed out around noon for the first leg of our trip. Everything went pretty smoothly; we all became addicted to Bojangles and stopped in Cartersville, Georgia, to sleep for the night. The next morning, we made it through Atlanta without much trouble, but about 45 minutes south of Atlanta, something went wrong. Thankfully, I was able to pull off at the next exit and get to a gas station, but barely. We were basically in the middle of nowhere.

I have roadside assistance, so I called and waited for a tow. Although the roadside assistance company knew there were four of us, they didn't tell the tow company, so they weren't prepared to bring the larger truck. They ended up bringing two trucks to get us, and we got charged for the second truck. We also ended up getting charged a fee for going to a garage out of the free radius, because the only place within the radius was a specialty garage that didn't do normal repairs for the public. We were towed back to Locust Grove, GA, unsure of what was going to happen.

We had them drop us off at a McDonald's so the kids could play while we tried to regroup. It was Sunday, and none of the local rental car places would rent to us with only an out-of-state debit card (neither of us have a credit card anymore), and I was getting very discouraged. We found out that a few companies would rent us a car at the airport, so we took an Uber to the Atlanta airport. Once there, the company I had planned on using was out of everything except extremely expensive Suburbans. They suggested I go upstairs to Hertz. I had to wait in a very long line, and they were out of anything cheaper than a small SUV, but, thankfully, we were able to make it out with a Nissan Rogue (which I fell in love with, and now I really want one).

At this point, we were still about seven hours from Disney, and it was around 5:00pm. We got back on the road and drove, drove, and drove some more. We finally arrived around 12:30am. We tried to carefully carry the boys to our room so we wouldn't disturb them, but they both tend to be light sleepers, so they both woke up. When they saw the giant Buzz and Woody, they lost their minds. We let them run around for a few minutes and take it all in before we went into our room and crashed for the night.

The entrance to Andy's room (the Toy Story section) as seen from the central courtyard

The next day, we planned on heading to the pool. However, as I was getting the boys changed into their swimsuits, I noticed that what we thought had been a bug bite on Eric's side was now looking very angry and oozing pus. Concerned, we headed toward an urgent care center, only to be told that it was going to be $350+ to even be looked at. They suggested taking him to the ER, so we did.

Can I just say that Florida Hospital Celebration Health is the fanciest hospital I have ever been in? It felt like what I imagine a spa feels like. Or at the very least, an extremely fancy country club. I felt way too poor to even be in there.

We waited a while, and after we finally saw the doctor, we waited a while more while they mixed up an antibiotic for him. It turned out that it WASN'T a bug bite; it was MRSA. So that was a bit terrifying, but bactrim worked wonders.

Thankfully, that was the last disaster of the trip (other than Jeffery's constant tantrums, but that's a toddler for you). We spent that night with one of my and Tom's favorite traditions, watching the Electrical Water Pageant and Wishes from the beach at the Polynesian (complete with dinner from Captain Cook's and dole whips from Pineapple Lanai). The boys were more interested in the sand, but it was a lovely, relaxing way to end what had been a hectic, emotionally charged day.

The next day, we went to Magic Kingdom, and the boys got to experience the magic for themselves. We started our day with breakfast at Crystal Palace with Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet, which we all loved. Eric LOVED Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, and Jeffery loved "it's a small world" so much that he cried when it was time to get off the boat. I cried when they got to meet Mickey Mouse (and the talking one, at that -- he did the hot dog dance for Jeffery and even sang the song!).

photo taken by a Disney PhotoPass photographer
We were concerned about wearing them out too much on their first trip, so we ended up deciding to do one full day in the parks and then do Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (also at Magic Kingdom), so we spent the day between resort hopping and attempting to check out Disney Springs. I wanted to take some pictures at the BoardWalk for the boys' adoption announcements, and since I hadn't been able to find the charger for my camera battery before we left (I was SO upset -- I LOVE taking photos at Disney), I had been saving what little charge I had left for this day. Jeffery did not feel like being particularly cooperative, but I was actually able to take a few usable pictures; the one I ended up using for the announcement was taken at Sea Breeze Point, which is a popular wedding location.

We walked over to the Beach Club (which Tom and I had never been to before), and explored for a bit. I loved the smell of the lobby, and Stormalong Bay (the pool area) looked amazing; if we could ever afford it, I would totally book Beach Club (or the neighboring Yacht Club, for that matter). We went to Disney Springs that evening and had dinner at Earl of Sandwich, but we ended up cutting the evening short because Jeffery just wasn't feeling it.

We finally got to enjoy the pool together the next morning (the first time we've been swimming as a family!); the boys really loved the Fantasia water feature, and even Tom enjoyed himself (and he hates being in pools). We changed into our "costumes" for the party, which were just clothing choices inspired by our chosen Winnie the Pooh characters, because Florida is hot in September, and we weren't going to be going all out. Tom was Pooh, Eric was Tigger, Jeffery was Christopher Robin, and I was Eeyore. We got to ride more rides, see the Halloween parade, and go trick-or-treating at the Magic Kingdom!

Sometimes the PhotoPass photographers have you do something in order to create a "magic shot" later on. This photographer outside of the Buzz ride had Eric pinch the air in order to make this special Halloween poison apple magic shot!
We all had so much fun! Most of the rides we rode were ones we had ridden a couple of days before, but the boys wanted to do them again (Eric and I actually ended up doing the Buzz ride three times). Dumbo, which was beloved by all, is even lovelier at night when they light up the fountains with a rainbow of colors. We did a few new ones though, most notably the Barnstormer, which Eric especially loved (and Tom especially hated, to my amusement). We ended the evening with Happy Hallowishes, the Halloween fireworks, and it was the perfect end to our first trip.

Disney World, for me, at least, is amazing no matter who you're with, but there's definitely a new kind of magic when you get to experience it for the first time with your children. I can't wait to take them again, and we will be in May!

And no, we won't be taking my Toyota this time -- but we will be taking the camera charger!

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