Thursday, April 25, 2013

Our First Family Disney Vacation

The last time I visited Disney, I was 8 years old. Needlessto say, I barely remember a thing. Enter my excitement to go at my age now withmy husband and son who is 15 months old. Will he remember anything? Probablynot. Did he enjoy himself, smile, & scream out of joy? Absolutely! Andguess what? That’s all that matters.

My husband kept saying we are going to Disney, we are goingto Disney! Initially I thought he was just talking out of his ass. Well, he wasserious! We received our “Welcome” package in the mail. It was the mostbeautiful, personalized book just for our little family; and that’s when theexcitement set in. Neither of us had stayed on site at Disney before. Either wewould go up for the day while visiting family a few hours away or stay a couplemiles away at a dingy hotel. I didn’t really know what to expect consideringit’s been about 20 years since I’ve been to Disney.

Cleaning, prepping, and packing for my little family wasinsane; a real job all on its own. I researched packing and travel tips with atoddler. You know; how to make things easier, how to pack efficiently, what wasa necessity, figuring out items we could buy out in Florida, etc.
Here’s a list of the best information I found useful:
·         Packing baby’s outfits in plastic bags, this wayyou could just grab and go and they will stay folded.
·        Forget the shampoo and conditioner.
·        Bring small finger foods for the airport andenough for the plane ride for baby.
·        If your child has a favorite blanket, lovey,toy, etc., BRING IT!
·        Pack makeup, toothbrush, expensive jewelry, and achange of clothes in your purse (just in case!).
·        If you can, UPGRADE your seating on the flight.
·        Use a car service to and from the airport (theyare super helpful and prompt).

See, it’s not much but these little items and ideas madelife a hell of a lot easier. The resorts give you plenty of great shampoo andconditioner. Kids are always looking for something to snack on. My son NEEDShis plush orange blankey and actually slept with it on the ride out. For the firsttime ever, our luggage got lost for 6 hours and needed to be transported to ourresort. And let me tell you, going through security in the priority lane is aGod send; not to mention the extra space on an airplane for a squirmy toddler.Lastly, the car service is great. They place your items in the car, bring youto and from and it’s their ass if they’re late. That was much better thanbothering a family member or paying for the insane parking fees at the airport.These are all things that just made life great for the moment.  Because what’s better than being happy andstress free when you’re on your way to the “happiest place on Earth?!”

So, let’s get to it. Our flight was perfect. Johnny slept,flight was smooth, I got a little nap in, and we were treated wonderfully.Disney really has everything on the ball too. We took the Magical Express toour resort from the airport AND they transported our luggage (minus the one bagthat somehow got lost, but I digress). We arrived at the Beach Club Resort. Enterthe beautiful smiles, the “how can I help you’s,” the lovely greetings, thesmell of heaven, and the feeling of pure joy. We settled into our beautiful roomand were ready to head out to a Luau at the Polynesian that hubs planned forus!

Oh! Can I talk about the weather for a moment? PER-FEC-TION.Sunny, zero humidity, light breeze, and warm! I. Die.

So, we get to the Polynesian and are seated right in frontof the stage. Out comes a parade of food, a lovely waitress, a couple mai tais,and my two boys seated beside me. We were greeted with lei’s and photographersto begin our night out right. The performers were outstanding. Theirperformances were a combination of traditional Polynesian dances, customs,skits, singing, and music. I really felt like I was in Hawaii! Of course out of300 people I would be one of three that were called up to the stage to “hula”with the dancers. Luckily I had enough mai tai to just give me the right amountof OOMPH that I would not have been able to muster up alone. I enjoyed myselfand had a complete blast! My husband got the entire skit on video and alsosnapped a few pictures.

We headed back to the Beach Club by cab. We went down to thegift shop, got some milk for the boy, headed back up and knocked out. Which bythe way, they provide cribs. Amazeballs USA!

Our next day was JAM PACKED again as we woke up to headdownstairs for our character breakfast with Minnie, Donald, and Goofy. The faceon my son was PRICELESS. He kept laughing, staring, grabbing them, you name it!We were bombarded with Mickey Mouse waffles, Mickey pancakes, and a whole slewof other breakfast delicacies. What’s next? We were off to Magic Kingdom, and magical it was! We walk in andimmediately see the balloon guy, so of course Johnny just needs one! We aretalking about a $10.00 balloon! All I can do is laugh, smile, and get my angelwhatever he wants. We started with Small World, followed by the merry-go-round,and finally Dumbo when we head off to our reservation for lunch at Tony’s.Yummo! It was nice to sit down, cool off, re-hydrate, and eat some decent food.For the record, their zucchini sticks are to die for; highly suggested. Wewalked around some more and stopped at the Confectionary for some candy andcookies, took some amazing pictures, and watched the parade. Next we headedback to our resort and went swimming in the “beach” pool. I couldn’t believethis pool. It was a mini beach, with sand mounds and everything! They providesand pails and buckets with shovels for the kids. We hopped in and Johnny fellin love. He definitely takes after me. If mermaids were real, we would be afamily of them. His smile and laugh could really make me do anything for him.We headed up for a nap and some room service before our next outing.

*We waited easily 30 minutes just for some coffee andboneless wings, but hey, it was worth the wait.

After Johnny’s nap and our caffeine high we decided to stepout to Animal Kingdom. On the bus ride over it got really dark. As soon as wepulled up it started to down pour! We waited for it to pass (kid in a stroller,mom with a white top on) and after 10 minutes we were on our way. And guesswhat? Since it rained, EVERYONE LEFT! The park was empty! It was awesome! Weate at an Asian restaurant and it was delicious. Johnny was of course throwingeverything on the floor and yelling; but we did discover that he has anaffinity for maraschino cherries. We stuffed ourselves silly with broccoli beefand lo mein and were off to the dinosaur land. All three of us took a ride onthe dinosaurs, took pictures, went running around and playing in puddles; itwas so much fun.  We laughed, kissed,hugged, held hands, and smiled the whole way through.

Over the course of the first day there, a couple of bellsstarted going off in my head;
1.      The stroller business is where it’s AT!
2.      Almost everyone there had a Maclaren stroller(including us) I suggest the Volo for travel.
3.      It seems like there was no water ANYWHERE! Theydon’t serve you water in restaurants unless you ask either. Crazy.
4.      We walked 6 miles and are fit so that was great.I can’t imagine what it’s like to DO Disney overweight or obese.
5.      Disney is larger than Naperville, IL. WOW.
6.      Speaking of, Disney also reminds me of“Thneedville” from The Lorax. Own “perfect” little world.
7.      All of the bathrooms were spotless AND it was soeasy to change Johnny whenever I needed to.
8.      All of the employees we met were happy and presentedamazing customer service.
9.      I love my family so much.
10.  We were completely away from our phone unless wewere taking pictures. Simply amazing.
11.  When we got back to our resort kids were stillswimming at 10pm! Also kids running the halls and OUT until 11pm. I’m notsaying this is wrong, I’m just saying I totally did not expect it.

The next day we hit up Hollywood Studios (we walked from ourresort, a good mile) and it did not disappoint! As soon as we got there we sawa Disney Junior puppet play and it was wonderful. Johnny’s attention was keptfor about 10 minutes of the 30, but who cares, for those 10 minutes he was thehappiest boy on the planet. Next was a stunt ride which of course my wild manLOVED, pics below will explain everything. Our lunch for the day was at theHollywood Brown Derby, which we thought was burgers; WRONG! This was like a gourmet5 star restaurant. AND, nothing was under 30 bucks for a LUNCH entrĂ©e. Yes,lunch. So, we giggled with our little man between us in his booster seat andknocked it out of the park. This place (well, the original in California) iswhere the ORIGINAL and FIRST Cobb salad was invented. We had to try it. And itwas PHENOM. OMG. To. Die. For. Everything in the salad was finely chopped andso flavorful. I hope to make a replica until we return back to Disney.

We went back to the resort to nap and then headed out toEpcot which was only a 5 minute walk from the Beach Club. I feel like Epcot ismore for adults. Lots of beer, live music, lots of restaurants, and, well, that’sabout it. We ate at a Mexican restaurant and it was delicious. Johnny was amonster and our server was awful BUT the drinks were yummy AND the bus boyswere extremely sweet, so I guess that sort-of made up for the lack of other “stuff.”We walked around and found a park for J to play in, which was great. He lovesto run wild and meet new kids. He just walks up to them and starts laughing. Ienjoy watching his smile light up the entire universe.

It was here that our world was rocked by the devastation ofthe Boston Marathon Bombings. Here I am holding, running with, touching,kissing, loving my little boy; while a mother is grieving the loss of her 8year old son, Martin, due to the senseless and monstrous act of those 2bombers. It was here that we fully understood that tragedy can strike any time,any place, anywhere. It was here that it could possibly happen; a place full offamilies, full of people, full of potential for destruction. We felt heart-broken.We felt scared. We felt helpless. We felt frustrated, and angry. We felt reallysad. It was here, in Disney, the happiest place on Earth, that we realized timereally is precious. Every second, every minute; counts. While learning of thedevastation we were off getting Johnny his first set of “ears” engraved withhis name. What a moment.
Later we came home and put Johnny to bed. This night was thenight we hired a babysitter from our resort so John and I could enjoy some timeas two, in love, married adults. Now I was reluctant. What if something happensto my baby? What if she takes him? What if OUR resort blows up? Well, Johnreassured me that if we went out for an hour and wanted to come back, we couldeasily do that (even though the minimum requirement is 4 hours). So, Ava showedup at our room right on time. She was the sweetest lady. Ava was in her late 50’searly 60’s and had been doing this with Disney for 29 years (and Ava is myniece’s name). We were set at ease quite quickly. We were off.

John and I walked the boardwalk in the most beautifulweather, with the slightest touch of wind, and the sweetest smell of water andhappiness; hand in hand. We talked about Johnny (as usual), how happy we wereto be here, how blessed we are to have each other, and how we just wanted timeto stand still. We walked and walked. Talked and talked. We arrived at the ESPNrestaurant and were seating almost immediately. The place was packed and kidswere everywhere! It was great. Our waitress was new and the sweetest woman. Hername was Francesca and she was originally from Louisiana. She and her familywere sadly impacted by Hurricane Katrina and they moved to Florida shortlyafter. She is a single mother. She reminded me of Mother Goose and Mother Theresaat the same time. She was a religious woman with the sweetest accent whosedream had always been to work for Disney. She has been with Disney for about 5years (I think) and always wanted to be a server. She kept having missedopportunities and said she never ever gave up. Her motto to her children was “nomatter what, don’t ever give up.” And she did not ever give up. Here she was; aserver. Francesca was the type of woman whose presence makes you feel like she’sbeen in your life forever.

Francesca came to the table and told us about a little girlwho was sitting in front of us with her family. The little girl was about 8.She was there with her sister (maybe 2 years old), her mother, and her father.She was surrounded by what seemed 200 balloons, all different colors. She wasthe MVP of the day. And she is also not expected to live much longer, due tocancer. Her little sister seemed so enamored with her, mimicking almost everymove she made. Her whole family beamed with smiles. My heart grew heavy andtears quickly flooded to my eyes. How much more sadness could my soul beartoday? This beautiful family of 4 will soon be a family of 3. I could neverimagine. I can only pray and hope this family all finds comfort.

We left and walked some more. We stopped for a magic showwhich was fabulous and performed right there on the Boardwalk. We laughed andwalked home after only 2 hours, of course. We can’t help it. We love our sonand our family. We walked into our room and Johnny was still sound asleep withAva right there reading her book as she had been when we left. We went to sleepsimply grateful to have been given just one more day and to have each other; to have each other here, the "happiest place on Earth."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mommy's "Vacation" Blog-- From Daddy's Perspective

I closed down my computer at 3PM on Friday. It was time to get ready for vacation to Disneyworld with my family: Jessica and Johnny. I was so excited. I just changed jobs without taking time off and was now able to do nothing for 9 days. I left work behind and all the stress that goes along with it. It’s so great to be able to decompress and get away from your day-to-day work life during vacation…well for most of us that is.

My wife made the very difficult decision to put her career on hold to be a stay at home mom. I’m not sure she considered all the ramifications that came along with that decision. Her job never ends. EVER! On top of that, she takes care of me-her big baby at times. There are times when she makes that call to the bullpen to have me relieve her for a few hours (5 hours is about all she will allow before she comes back to clean up my mess!), but she’s on it every day, all day even on vacation. I am beyond amazed at her composure and dedication. It has been 16 months since Johnny was born and she has not complained one time! How is that possible? I don’t know but I admire it and count my blessings daily. Did I mention it never ends for her…

While on vacation she still has to make breakfast for Johnny and/or me, prepare his clothes, change his diaper, prepare his bag, get ready (she always looks amazing and I mean always!), dress Johnny, prepare his food and snacks for the day while I just have to, well, put my clothes on. Sometimes she eats! Now, full disclosure, I try to help with some of the preparation, but that never happens without me asking “Sweets, where is his diaper? Sweets, what shoes? Sweets, what food? How much? Do we pack bottles with milk or water? Are we bringing the stroller?” So, if she’s not doing, she’s supervising to ensure I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I never took the time to consider she has done the above every day for 16 months. That is almost 500 days. There is no leaving it behind while on vacation. Her vacation INCLUDES continuing to do her job, but with me around for a week,
full time (not sure if this qualifies as a vacation for her!). And she knows when she returns she will have to clean all of our clothes and shop for food and still, never a peep. She has not once said I need an actual break so I’m going away with the girls for the weekend. She’d be fully within her rights to go nuts in Vegas for a few days. I’m amazed by her.

We had such a memorable vacation, we always do. She is my best friend and I love spending time with her and my son. I truly do. But what truly amazed me is Jessica. Seeing this beautiful women operate just blows my mind.The only training for her job is “on the job” training. She lives by intuition. I spent the first week of my new job frustrated by lack of training. I could only imagine her subconscious yelling “GENIUS, you’ve done this before, figure it out”. She’s never done it, but she steps up every day and knocks it out of the park.

I try to make a conscious effort to let her know how thankful I am for having her in my life. I try to do special things for my special woman, but I don’t think I could ever reward/pay/compensate her for her efforts. I started a new job and see my hard work rewarded via a larger paycheck. She receives no paycheck. Yes, my money is our money and she can buy whatever she wants with it, but there’s something about “getting paid” that completes the cycle. She has no cycle, it is never ending for her. And still, up every day taking care of the family…even on vacation.