Wednesday, January 28, 2009

2 Grandparents - 2 Parents - 4 Children - 3 Parks

We understand why the little ones were so mellow when we arrived. Disney was running a special 7 days for the price of 4 and Adam and Kristin took advantage of every moment. Staying at the Wilderness cabins was ideal for the six of them, with bus trips to open the park and bus trips at the end of the day. The kids were exhausted. They have found the secret, bless them.

January 25, 2009 - Epcot, Disneyworld, Florida

We had 3 day park passes which worked out perfectly, one day each for Epcot (our favorite), Animal Kingdom (Adam and I think, Kristin's favorite) and Magic Kingdom (the kid's favorite). We met at the entrance to Epcot just as the gates were opening with upbeat music filling the air (they play soft soothing music at the end of the day). Everyone had an opinion about what country to go to, and what rides to start with. Jonathan sweetly took me under his little wing, letting me know which rides had "drops" and which were just fine for a big sissy. The girls love the Space Mountain type rides and I'm happy with peaceful little boat rides. Jonathan's only stated desire was to ease me through the Norwegian ride, telling me not to worry when the boat descended backward over a small waterfall. Delightful. With mutual trust established we went through the haunted house, laughing all the way.

We liked the 3-D movie rides and loved that since the kids had previously spent a day at each park, could switch roles and play parent to us, guiding us from attraction to attraction. Lunchtime came around and one of my favorites is British fish and chips (I had recently been very disappointed by the quality of fish in Gibraltar and wanted to satisfy my craving). All four children showed great disdain for my choice of menu until they actually tasted this delectable treat loaded with malt vinegar. All four consumed reluctantly awarded bites much to the astonishment and delight of their parents. Another breakthrough.

In Italy the children paid rapt attention to a production of Romeo and Edna, the Montague's mocking the Capulet's with gesture accompanied raspberries at all the appropriate moments. We were rolling on the floor laughing. Morocco provided a late lunch (2 orders of fish and chips spread across 2 adults and 4 children did not thwart their appetites at all). At the China pavilion a candy artist created taffy masterpieces, mesmerizing the audience with her sing-song patter as she sculpted. Alyssa and Megan suggested a polar bear and were rewarded with a white bear whose mouth was stuffed with a pink salmon. Really cute.

With dusk settling in we headed to the Boardwalk for what else pizza and funnel cakes (my first). Street magicians and entertainers provided all the amusement necessary. Our last stop was back to Epcot for the fireworks, and they were fantastic. The lagoon was ablaze with sparkles and the loud booming explosions overhead were deafening. Great end to a very active day. No wonder these kids were exhausted. We grabbed our kid for the night (Alyssa) and bid adieu to the rest, agreeing to meet at Animal Kingdom at the chime of the opening bell.

January 26, 2009 - Animal Kingdom, Disneyworld, Florida

Kat, Alyssa and I arrived at the park entrance right on time. We had stopped at McD's right outside the All Sports gate for breakfast (McMuffins for us and cinnamon melts for Alyssa - forget the cereal and toast stuff Kristin makes, we were out to spoil our little charge). It's a piece of cake with one child (the other 5 were running late), and we had her and the park all to ourselves that morning. We hurried to "A Bug's Life" and were enchanted by another 3-D movie with appropriate fragrances, water sprays, and creepy crawlies running beneath our seats.

Accompanying A&K were Holly and Rick, their cousins and members of the Disney vacation club. The odds were getting better by the moment - 6 adults - 4 kids. Almost even. Holly took some on the water rafting ride, Kat took one on Mount Everest and Jonathan snuggled by my side on the safari adventure, pointing out all the dangerous animals and ensuring me that I had nothing to be afraid of. What a kid.

There was so much to do, the weather was warm and though geared for children this park provides plenty to interest adults. We were intrigued by the bird show (I know it doesn't sound like much, but it is fascinating). I know not where the day went, but it was over before we knew it. The girls were intrigued by what I can best describe as string wrapping around hair (doesn't move me, but they laser beamed on the process). And it is certainly better than tattoos and piercings. But it is expensive - $2 per inch with a minimum of 10 inches. Rather than invest in what was an expensive (and temporary) wrap the hair artist gently persuaded the girls to buy clip-on wraps that were charming, much less expensive and long lasting.

After a lively dinner at Wilderness lodge, we grabbed our kid for the night (Megan) and headed back to our hotel, preparing for our last park day at Wild (I mean Magic) Kingdom.

January 27, 2009 - Magic Kingdom, Disneyworld, Florida

We have the routine down now. One kid, McD's, cinnamon melts, goofy parking lot, no problem. We mono railed over to the Magic Kingdom, well in advance of the arrival of the other 5 "slackers." Taking advantage of the short line, Kat and Megan rode on Thunder Mountain. I watched. They were happy, I was happy.

We met the rest of what was quickly becoming a crowd (Sue and Ted arrived and I knew at that point that we had finally outnumbered the kids both mentally and physically). We strolled through the day pirating through the Caribbean, racing through Indy, and even piloting Dumbos to dizzying heights. The kids attended a special lunch at the castle (as Rick and Holly's guests), and we took the Fulton Steamboat Cruise around the lagoon. Nice, really nice.

Mysteriously, somehow the entire day had evaporated into the Florida air. Again. All that was left was a slow, torturous, child-squealing, brain-numbing, boats that don't go fast enough, trip through "It's a Small Mind - sorry - World". What a treat. I did however, learn that if you save it for the last minute, the closing fireworks will magically blast some of the "small world" impregnated brain cells and the tune will only drumbeat through your head for about a month. That's my theory anyway.

We grabbed our two kids for the night (my best bud Jonathan really wanted to stay overnight with us, a first and we were thrilled) and headed back to our hotel, in the dark, again. Jami was a doll about sharing her night. Maybe there is something magical in the air at this place. Tomorrow, the kids head north to Rhode Island and we head south to "The Keys." Quite an adventure.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Emily and Disneyworld

There is no better way to shorten up the middle month of winter than a visit by a couple of grandchildren and a road trip south. It breaks things up nicely and spring really is just around the corner.

The Middle of January 2009 - Studley, VA

You can tell you're getting up there in life experience (old) when one of your grandchildren can jump on a plane by herself and come down for a visit. What a treat to have her all to ourselves (at least for a little while). Since our trip to France a couple of years ago, Em has successfully completed her home schooling, passed her GED (a year ahead of her schooled contemporaries), and matured nicely. She has been working at a nursery (closed for the winter) and has learned a lot about botany in a short amount of time (more than I know certainly).

It's fun being around someone just on the cusp of adulthood. While this was Em's first chance to relax after a long season of work, we had other ideas. She is quite creative and Kat immediately got her going on painting, room arranging, shopping, and picture hanging. I basically did nothing. We chatted, ate out a lot more than usual, and enjoyed a day in Washington, DC watching the preparations for the inauguration, visiting some almost deserted museums, monitoring the making of money at the BP&E (like they need our help) and relaxing at the National Botanical garden.

A couple of days after Em's arrival, her mother got so fed up with the constant five degree weather on Cape Cod (or maybe she really did miss her daughter), she packed up Danny and drove down for an impromptu visit. Richmond has a good children's museum which Dan and mom enjoyed, and right next door is the Science Museum of Virginia, where Em, Kat and I spent the better part of the day wandering and trying all the experiments. We headed to Kuba Kuba for a late lunch and the best homemade, fresh squeezed lemonade and limeade in Virginia. K/K is one of our favorite restaurants with flavorful food, a warm homey interior and a lively atmosphere. Excellent.

Before we could blink, Lisa and Dan were back on the road (forgetting his bike and helmet) and the three of us settled back into our routine of pure relaxation. A last visit to the Ginter Botanical gardens (fabulous) and before we knew it we were watching Em make her way through the security checkpoint at RIC, heading back to the cold. Too fast.

January 24th - Off to Disneyworld

With Danny's bike and helmet in the back of the car we headed south toward warm weather. The drive from Richmond to Orlando takes about 10 hours(I know both my sons have proudly done it in much less time) and except for a stretch of construction in Georgia was pleasant and easy. This was our first road trip (in this country) since moving to Virginia and it reminds you how large our country is. We made the journey from Portugal through Spain to Gibraltar (and back) in less time.

We (finally) found our hotel (The All Sports) at the far end of Buena Vista Blvd and it suits us perfectly. The fact that our staircases are Coca-Cola cups rather than marble makes not a whit of difference. Disney does everything well and even their low-end "value" hotels are cleaner and quieter than similar properties outside the park. If interested, Tom Connellan wrote a fascinating book called "Inside the Magic Kingdom" that describes Disney's culture of customer satisfaction. I have a cherished autographed copy in my library.

We capped our evening off with a spectacular grandchild reunion and even more spectacular dry-iced chocolate desert at T-Rex, the latest themed restaurant at Downtown Disney. Adam, Kristin and the kids arrived earlier in the week and looked well rested and calm, remarkable given the potential for out of this world external stimulation. They all continue to amaze us.