Thanksgiving 2017 in Orlando with the Parks

We spent only our second destination Thanksgiving in Orlando, FL last week. Coincidentally, the first was with the Rhees in Miami Beach, FL five years ago. Our family and Elin went down a little early to spend a few days at Universal Studios. We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, which was very close to the park.

The kids were most excited about Harry Potter, even though we already enjoyed the lite version in Hollywood over Spring Break. Orlando’s Diagon Alley did not disappoint. The weather was amazing the day we went. Our family lost steam around dinner time. We had dinner at Citywalk before heading back to the hotel. Elin, however, wanted to hit every ride and got most of them in by riding until closing time.

The next day, it was raining, but we still went to the pool anyway. It would have helped a bit if it was warmer, but the kids didn’t seem to mind too much. After swimming, we made a game time call to see Wonder. Afterwards, we had dinner across the street at The Portofino.

The third day we just had breakfast and packed up to move over to Disney. We went over to the Hilton next door to use their pool, which had a lazy river and a slide. Addy, Charles, the kids, and Dave all arrived and met us there. We tried to have dinner at Disney Springs with no reservation, but ended up just eating back at the hotel lobby.

On Thanksgiving, my plans to eat nothing until dinner was thwarted by a nice lunch at Eddie V’s. We hit the pool at our hotel in the afternoon, which had less amenities but was at least heated. We had Thanksgiving dinner at the hotel restaurant, which is not our style, but still a lot easier for those who usually cook and or clean. Our main motivation for visiting Orlando was to see Grace’s mom’s brother, Ben, who lives there. We were happy that he joined us for our family dinner. This was Elin’s first American Thanksgiving, which she hopefully enjoyed.

Black Friday was spent at Disney World. It was my first visit there since 1980, which was before Epcot was even built. We planned this part of the trip terribly, as we just bought our tickets and had virtually no fast passes reserved among our big group. Our plan to mitigate this was to catch the first shuttle to the Disney, which meant a pre-dawn wakeup.

The main attraction Charles wanted to ride was the new Avatar-themed Pandora attraction. We didn’t exactly elbow our way into the park or run to the ride. By the time we were in line, it was already a 3-hour wait. Oof. Thankfully, everyone was patient (including the Grandparents). I don’t do well on these 4D rides. It was pretty amazing, but I’m still queasy. The kids and Elin loved it. We took it a little easier in the Animal Kingdom and did some Safari ride. Because the damage was done, even the Dinosaur ride was painful to me. We did actually have 3pm fast passes for Pandora, so Elin, Addy, Olivia, Lucas and Cameron rode it again.

We all headed over to Epcot for dinner. It was my first visit there. We then rode the monorail back to the transit center. Olivia, Lucas and Grace’s parents were done at this point, so I took them back to the hotel. The rest of the group headed over to the Magic Kingdom to check it out and watch the grand finale. Everyone was impressed.

On our last full day together, we finally made it into Morimoto Asia for lunch. Afterwards, half the group went back to Disney World for another day and night at the park. Elin had a Fast Pass at 11:30pm at Space Mountain and didn’t make it home until late. The kids, Grace, Dave, Grace’s Dad and I went to the pool for a bit. We were back at Disney Springs for a healthy meal of fried everything at Art Smith’s.

Sunday, we packed up, and headed out of Disney for the last time. What we didn’t know was that our flight was going to be delayed about 4 hours, which made for a long rest at the Orlando airport. The one good thing about it was running into my long lost b-school buddy, Ted, who was on his way back to Austin.

As always, we have so much for which to be thankful and now this amazing trip  with family is also on the list.

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Disney Cruise to Alaska (or Watching iPads on a Boat)

Grace’s mom turned 70 this year and her wish was for a family vacation. It was decided that we would all go on a cruise to Alaska. Disney started sailing to Alaska this year, so it made our decision easier given all the kids going.

The group included all of the Park kids and families as well as Charles’ parents, and his brother Arnie’s family and in-laws. We flew to Vancouver on Monday, June 27th. In normal fashion, Lucas and Olivia’s passports were issued on June 24th. We spent the afternoon exploring the harbor-side. We planned on meeting the Park clan for dinner (at a Korean restaurant, of course). We ended up walking, which turned out to be a bit of a hike.

We didn’t plan to board the ship until the afternoon on Tuesday, so we spent the day exploring Vancouver (i.e., walking to various malls and food courts). Once on the ship, we got settled in and readied ourselves for our daily rituals of eating and eating.

I’ll be perfectly honest and say that I have no idea where or how far we went on this trip. There was a day at sea. The first stop was up a channel to Tracy Arm, where we saw a huge glacier and where I saw my only whale on the trip. It was rainy and windy on deck.

The next stop was Skagway, which is a town of about 800 people. We didn’t opt in for the excursions because the kids are a little young. We took a horse and buggy ride around the town (which didn’t take long). We managed to get to the post office (after their lunch break) and also went to the public library.

Our second port was Juneau, the capital. We managed to find the one Korean-owned Chinese/Japanese restaurant for lunch. We took a bus to see the Mendenhall glacier. Apparently there are some bears in the area, which Olivia really wanted to see. I wasn’t seeking such a close encounter.

Our final port was in Ketchikan, which seemed the largest city. It was raining, so we just ventured into town for a lunch of local seafood and found a bakery for dessert. Then it was back on the boat for another day and a half cruise back to Vancouver.

On the boat were various activities for the kids including movies and live shows. Lucas was too young to be in the Club or the Lab, so he spent a few afternoons in the nursery (and was never happy about it – boo). Grace got in a couple spa sessions.

My recreation was at night with the guys after everyone went to bed. Given the demographic, there wasn’t really much going on at night, but we made our own fun. Some nights we went to the bar. Charles threw down some U2 and Red Hot Chili Peppers at karaoke and Dave rocked the house with Vanilla Ice. It was probably a good thing there wasn’t a casino on this ship. Instead, we spent time in the arcade. I quickly got over being the oldest only person in there. I faced my old nemesis, Galaga, and achieved my personal high score.

We enjoyed a couple nights in the adult-only restaurant and arranged a private room one evening for everyone in our party. We celebrated Charles’ and Grace’s moms’ birthdays a couple times during the trip.

The kids hadn’t been too exposed to Disney (by design), but their influence is hard to avoid. Lucas has been obsessed with his Buzz Lightyear pajamas and Olivia is only mildly afflicted with princessitis. She enjoyed meeting all the princesses, especially Belle and Ariel. The cutest moment on the ship for me was when we had just come from peeking in on Lucas in the nursery and when we exited, Minnie mouse popped out of an unmarked door in the hallway. Olivia and Minnie were face to face and Olivia spontaneously outstretched her arms for a hug, which she warmly received. It was awesome.

At the beginning of the trip, I anticipated a long week and by the end of the trip, it had flown by. It was a great family vacation.

Several people have asked about the Disney cruise, so these are my observations/recommendations:

  • If you want to see Alaska, I can’t think of a better way to do it
  • If you like going on cruises, the Disney line can’t be beat for kids
  • If your kids are into Disney, they’ll be in heaven
  • Do yourself a favor and get a room with a verandah; we didn’t spend much time in the room, but I can imagine I would have seen many more sights if I could just sit on my own deck and take it in.
  • Frankly, our kids were a little too young for this trip. Lucas was sad to be in the nursery and there weren’t many other kids in there his age. Kids have to be 3 and potty trained to play in the Club or the Lab, which are both great. Even Olivia didn’t want to be in there too long by herself. If she had a companion her age, I think she would have been much better. Older pre-schoolers and elementary school kids can be left largely unattended for most of the day and there are other areas of the ship specifically for tweens and teens. Younger kids wear electronic wristbands and security checking them in and out is pretty tight.
  • Don’t expect too much sun on an Alaskan cruise. Also, even if the pools are 88 degrees, it’s often too cold and rainy to enjoy them.
  • The food overall was excellent and the service was even better. Everyone goes out of their way to make sure you’re having an excellent experience. I would either ingest a tapeworm or pre-order P90X to offset the gluttony.
  • We don’t see ourselves going on another cruise anytime soon, but if we did, I would opt for the newest ship possible. They do their best to keep them clean, but with 2,500 people passing through each week, things get beat-up. The Disney Dream and Fantasy (starts sailing next March) look amazing and appear to be upgraded in every way (40% larger than the Wonder and Magic). These ships sail in the Bahamas and Caribbean.

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