Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Vacation Surprise!

My sister's 40th birthday was over Spring Break, so we decided to surprise our kids with a trip to Disney World to celebrate! I'm usually really bad about keeping gifts secret, but I somehow managed to keep the secret since last August! Of course, all of the secrets and hiding things I purchased for the trip also meant that I forgot about the Unofficial Guide to Disney World book that I purchased until the day we left, but it was worth it to see their faces!

I created a Scavenger Hunt for the morning of the trip to reveal the surprise. We were leaving on a 10:00 flight, but a news story from the day before (my brother was interviewed!) had us all a little worried about the lines we'd be facing at the airport so we decided to leave early. Okay, so not really that early considering most people plan on being at the airport two hours early, but when your husband travels all the time for work you think arriving at the airport anything more than an hour early is EARLY. We planned on leaving at 8:00. so Michael and I got up at 5:45 to shower and finish packing. We were finished by 6:30 and were more than a little excited to surprise the kids, so we woke them at 6:45. Sophia was more than a little annoyed when we came in singing, "It's Spring Break! Time to get our staycation started! Who's up for shadow puppets?" I probably should have prefaced this by saying that the kids were planning for a staycation, complete with shadow puppets, dying flowers, a trip to Dave & Buster's....exciting stuff! I say that in jest, but Carter was actually pretty disappointed when he thought we wouldn't be able to make shadow puppets. Silly boy! Anyhow, back to the story. 

Once they were both somewhat awake, we started the scavenger hunt (linked above). They had so much fun with it and didn't catch on until the very end (I think they were both half asleep during the majority of it!). Here is a video of the end of the scavenger hunt (it lasted awhile). And yes, that is me saying, "Read the clue! Read the clue!" ;-)

Once they realized that we were going on a trip, they were so excited! Unfortunately, since we woke them up so early we had a lot of time to kill. I turned on the Peanuts movie and waited for their next surprise to arrive. Finally, at 7:45 there was a knock on the door. I played it off that it was the neighbor boy coming to play and sent them to answer the door.

Again, it took them all awhile to figure things out ~ Sophia and Carter were expecting their friend to be at the door, and the twins thought we were just taking them to the airport. Too many surprises for one day! Once everyone had settled down, we Ubered to the airport. The lines weren't nearly as scary as they were in the news story so we made it through security pretty quickly and went to Fridays for breakfast.

The flight was pretty fast and the kids were all great! My only complaint, and for us it really isn't a complaint because we had assigned seats when we arrived at the airport, is that the airline oversold the flight (for Spring Break, really?) so there were several people that didn't end up with seats.

Because we were staying at a Disney resort and had signed up for Disney Magical Express, we were able to bypass baggage claim and head straight for the bus (they send you luggage tags to stick on your bags that have your name and resort on them. Disney picks them up at the airport and delivers them to your hotel room). It felt a little weird leaving the airport without our luggage, but just a few hours later it was delivered straight to our room at the Port Orleans - Riverside. Magical! ;-)

Disney Springs

The first day was spent swimming in the pool at the hotel, and that night we took a  water taxi from the resort to Disney Springs (if you've been to Disneyland, this is their version of Downtown Disney). It was wall-to-wall people! There were pockets where you had some room to spread out, but it was definitely nerve-racking walking around with four kids and tens of thousands of people. Actually, I don't really know how many people were there, but I do know that there were 50,000+ people at the Magic Kingdom the next day, so it wouldn't surprise me if the numbers at Disney Springs were that high. We went into the Christmas store before heading to dinner at Portobello (good Italian food). I'm so glad we decided to make reservations because they told the lady that checked in ahead of me that it was a two hour wait, and shortly thereafter they stopped taking walk-ins. Unless you're dying to eat at one of the restaurants I'd skip Disney Springs.

Dining Plan

We signed up for the dining plan, so booked reservations for many of our meals ahead of time. I'd definitely recommend the dining plan if you are planning on eating at any of the restaurants. You do have to pay the tip, which usually ends up being about the same amount a family of four would pay for a normal dinner out, but it's worth it. You get plenty of food, and if you're doing a character meal, there is plenty of entertainment. Just make sure to check on the number of meals you get charged for at each restaurant - my brother and his family ate at Le Cellier Steakhouse in Epcot and were charged two table service meals per person.

Most of the Quick Service restaurants don't take reservations, but Be Our Guest does (at least for breakfast, which is when we went). Even though it's considered a QSR, you get a ton of food. I had eggs florentine in a puff pastry shell with ham and roasted tomatoes (so good!) and they brought us an assortment of pastries to share. The other days we used our QSR meals for breakfast at the hotel.

For character meals, we had lunch at Crystal Palace one day and Akershus the next. Both were really good. Crystal Palace was a buffet lunch with Winnie the Pooh and friends. Akershus is a sit down (buffet for appetizers) lunch with the Princesses. I had the Bassert Biff (braised beef) - so yummy! I'm not sure if this usually happens, but there were five princesses at our lunch. We got to meet Ariel, Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, and Snow White!

For dinners we ate at Portobello in Disney Springs the first night, Biergarten in Epcot the next, and Boatwright's at our hotel the third.

Biergarten was part of the kids' final surprise - their other cousins were at Disney World too, and we were having dinner together!

For snacks, we got a Dole Whip at Aloha Isle (refreshing), Mickey ice cream bars, Mickey ice cream sandwiches, and a huge pulled pork slider (there was a stand in America at Epcot - definitely worth getting if you see it).

Magic Bands and FastPass+

We loved having the magic bands! It was so nice not having to worry about carrying a room key, credit cards, cash, park tickets, etc. The magic bands eliminated the fighting between Sophia and Carter over who would open the hotel room door ~ one of them would open the door, go inside, and then the other one would open the door and go in. We were able to connect the magic bands to a credit card, so whenever we needed to pay for something we scanned a band and entered the pin. So nice!

The FastPass+ system is great ~ if you're staying at one of the parks, you are able to choose three fast passes per day ahead of time. I was disappointed that they had to be at the same park, because there were a few of the parks that only had one ride/attraction that we needed fast passes for, but you couldn't mix parks. The fast passes allowed us to jump some pretty long lines (I think the longest we waited for a ride was 20 minutes with the fast pass, without it would have been over an hour). Unfortunately, after almost every ride the kids would say, "Let's do it again!" and we'd have to tell them no because the wait was too long. There is an option to sign up for additional fast passes after the first three are used/expire, but we didn't have much luck with it. There was plenty of other stuff to do while there, but it was just a bummer that we didn't get to ride more rides.

Universal Studios

We spent three nights at the Port Orleans - Riverside, and then we transferred over to the Loew's Royal Pacific. We were disappointed when we checked in to receive a room key and individual express passes for each of us. The magic bands are so streamlined! We purchased lanyards in the hotel gift shop to hold all of our stuff and moved on.

If you're staying at a Universal resort, you get to enter one of the parks an hour early. The only thing that's open is the Harry Potter section, but it was totally worth it because we got the kids their wands (we did the interactive wands at $47 a piece ~ expensive, but worth it to get to do magic at the parks) and we had breakfast before the rest of the park opened.

The express pass I mentioned in the first paragraph is so much better than the Disney FastPass+! In fairness to Disney, they have too many resorts to allow all of their hotel guests unlimited fast passes ~ the lines for non-Disney guests would end up being the short ones! The express pass allowed us to jump the line on EVERY ride as many times as we wanted. Hotel guests get them included with their stay, but you can also purchase one at the park for $90 or more per person/day! I think the longest we ever waited for a ride was 25 minutes, and that was only because the ride malfunctioned and they closed it briefly. If you're planning on going, stay at one of the hotels ~ you can walk to the park in less than ten minutes and the express pass is totally worth it ~ when the kids would say, "Let's ride it again!" we just jumped back in line!
Overall it was a great trip! We loved both Disney World and Universal Studios, and can't wait to go back! I know that I left a lot of information out, so if you have any specific questions post them below.



  1. Soooooo fun!!! What an exciting trip! I've never surprised my kids like this and now I want to! xoxo, Summer