Friday, January 29, 2016

Disney World and Punta Cana 2016

January 27, 2016
Day 1 - Disney's Beach Club Villas   

Trying our new method of packing i.e. all carry-on bags to practice for Europe
Life has been pretty crazy lately.  Somehow we've found ourselves right in the middle of buying and selling our house right before our vacation!  We started looking at houses the day after Christmas and expected to spend quite a while looking and figured we would start getting our house ready to sell by spring.  Well, we liked the first house we looked at!  I still wasn't completely sure, since it was an older house that needs some updates.   We spent the next couple of weeks looking at a lot more houses, but didn't find anything else that worked.  We figured we'd take another look at the first house when we came back from our trip.  That's right around the time the seller decided to lower their price!  So, instead of waiting we went back and took our second look right away and looked at a bunch of other houses as well.  Everything looked good with the first house and after seeing our other choices, this was definitely the house for us.  But now it was only a couple weeks until we left on our trip!  We took our agents advice and didn't wait until after our vacation to put in our offer.  We spent a few days negotiating and putting together the finance stuff and figured we would still wait until we returned before listing our house for sale.  The more we thought about it though the more we realized how nice it would be to have the house listed while we were gone.  Especially with 5 children whose job is to constantly mess up and destroy the house!  So we've spent the last week working practically around the clock to get the house ready and still dealing with issues on the buying side of things.  Somehow we did manage to get everything done that we could do, but even today there are workers there refinishing the floors and new appliances are being delivered in a few days.

All of the above is accurate except left out the fact that my world was rocked at the office with my long standing rock star office manager moving out of state and the hiring and training problems involved. (Can't hire over Christmas and  NY holidays; 1st hire quit after a day). So my new, new assistant worked 2 half days with me before this trip and will be functioning on her own for a full week before I get back. This trumps the house stress for me!

We left our house at about 8 o'clock last night and spent the night at the Hilton near the airport and then took the shuttle to O'Hare in the morning.  They have a deal that includes the parking while we are gone, so it didn't end up costing that much extra and was much easier that trying to keep the house  perfect while getting ready for our flight.

Toy Story Mania
We arrived in Orlando at about 1:00 pm, stopped at Disney's Beach Club resort to drop off our bags, and made it to Disney's Hollywood Studios just in time to use our 3pm-4pm Star Tours fast passes (not that we needed them).  It's a bit drizzly today and the park is pretty quiet.  Even Toy Story Mania only had a 30 minute standby line.  We also rode The Great Movie Ride which Zachary hated.  He said, "It was scary."

Looking at famous hand and foot prints 

We had dinner back at the resort at Beaches and Cream.  After dinner, we celebrated Ella's 7th birthday with a Kitchen Sink - 8 scoops of ice cream, every topping in the house, and an entire can of whipped cream!  She loved the attention and we all had a good time eating it.  Zachary fell asleep before the ice cream so he missed out.  Thankfully! He was pretty mad when he found out, even though he can't imagine just what he missed!

Today was a nice start to our trip and a great change of pace from all of that house stuff!

January 28, 2016 - Magic Kingdom

We started the day like we start most days here eating breakfast in our rooms. Not only does it save on time and money, it also cuts sugar out of one meal. We ordered groceries from Garden Grocers and they delivered them to our resort. Eggs, Cheerios, bagels and cream cheese, and fruit are our breakfast options on this trip.

Zach LOVES the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show! He often requests that I play it for him on YouTube when we're home. Glad he could see it in person again, although they didn't use the train today. Just because of the rain or is it under refurb? Not sure.

Tea Party
It was chilly with a light rain most of the morning today.  We were at Magic Kingdom and the lines were minimal.  Turns out Zachary is scared of a lot of rides now.  I guess he just grew into it.  It started with Goofy's Barnstormer and continued with Pirates of the Caribbean and even Peter Pan.  He's just made it to an age where things are scary I guess.  We'll have to see if he grows out of it - Max never did.

The Beast's Castle and Gaston's Tavern in the background

It definitely wasn't busy this morning! We were in line for our 4th ride at 9:30 and had already had a snack and potty break.! (Park opened at 9!)  

For lunch today everyone had waffles with Nutella and fruit except me.  My waffle had prosciutto, ham, and Swiss cheese.  It would have been good if it wasn't on a waffle.  After lunch we got tired of putting up with the rain and decided to head back to the resort.

A rainy Magic Kingdom

We did all of Fantasyland and also Pirates and left at 1pm. I got to sneak away to the hot tub for a short time while the kids were all occupied. Finally feeling our pre-vacation stress melt away.

The kids enjoyed some electronics time and I was able to get some emails answered. Still working on coordinating things to get our house listed for sale next week while we're away.

For dinner we ate at Captains Grille at Disney's Yacht Club.  It was very good, although expensive. Zachary was very tired during dinner again, but managed to stay awake.  He was delighted to finally get his ice cream.  The rest of the kids had cupcake push pops, which were basically cupcakes inside of a push-up container.

We went "shopping" to burn off some sugar on the way back to our villa...

January 29, 2016 - Epcot

This morning we slept in and then walked over to Epcot.  The weather is much nicer today.  Sunny and in the high 60's.  Soarin' is closed, so I expected Test Track to be super busy, but it really wasn't at all.  I guess it's just a slow week around here - after last time I was wondering if Disney still had those.

Scanning bands to load cars we designed for Test Track
The kids loved Test Track - especially Zoe.  She loves designing the cars and holding her hands up during the fast parts of the ride.  Zachary found some more rides that were scary - Spaceship Earth, Journey into Imagination, and Nemo!  I'll give him credit though, even though he seems to find every ride scary, he never hesitates to get on a ride.

It was very nice to slow down from our usual theme park pace and explore things thoroughly today. The new Color attraction in Innoventions was pretty cool.

Casting colorful shadows

The kids love the futures they create on Spaceship Earth as well as the energy shuffle board like game afterward.

Energy Game

Jacob entertaining Zach while Marc and the rest were on Test Track

Club Cool free exotic soda samples are always a hit!
With a FP+ for Test Track, we walked right on everything today. Actually there was a 25 min wait posted for Journey into Imagination, but we walked out and used our MDE app to obtain an immediate FP+ and reduced the wait substantially. 

I was pixie dusted at Starbuck's when the Magicband reader wasn't working and I had no other form of payment, so they gave me my order for free. It must have been Zachary's hungry puppy dog eyes.

We really loved the new Pixar Shorts screening.  Even though we've seen them all before, it was a lot of fun.

We ate dinner at La Hacienda.  It wasn't our favorite restaurant.  The kids basically didn't eat anything.  Kyrie and I shared the La Hacienda meal for two.  It was okay, but nothing I'd go back for.

We ate dessert around the world.  We had Troll Horns in Norway, Caramel Corn in Germany, and a a Napoleon and Macarons from France.  That was a lot of fun, but now the kids are going to want to do that every time we're in Epcot!

Watching the miniature trains

Trying on berets in "France"

January 30, 2016 - Disney's Hollywood Studios and Yeehaw Bob

Waiting for the boat to DHS at the Beach Club
We got up early today to get to Hollywood Studios.  Kyrie remembered that they usually let people in a little early there and sure enough we were on our first ride before the park officially opened.  That ride was Toy Story Mania which Zach is starting to love.  He's got it all figured out.  Jacob and I have been trying to find tricks to boost our score, but it doesn't seem to be working.

There was a new pre-opening show here. A nice addition while we waited at the rope to go to Toy Story.
A funny show while waiting for the roe to drop

Ella in front of R&R before she bailed out

Kyrie took some of the kids on Rock n' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror before meeting up with the rest of us for a snack. 
Ella had really been looking forward to going on Rock 'n Roller Coaster since before our trip in September. But she couldn't go then because she broke her arm. I think Jacob scared her while we were in line.  She bailed out at the last minute.

After that we checked out the new Star Wars Launch Bay.  There was an interesting movie as part of that which consisted of people who made the new movie talking about what the old Star Wars movies meant to them and showing clips of the movies as well as showing some of the special effects being made.  After that we looked around at props from the movies and even met a Jawa.  By the way, if you have a trinket they will trade you for it.  We didn't have one unfortunately.

Zootopia ears. There were fox ears available too.
We also checked out the Zootopia preview that is temporarily being shown in the One Man's Dream theater.  Looks like a fun movie!

For lunch we ate at SciFi Dine In which was delicious and a lot of fun.  We loved watching the old movie previews and commercials, but they need to make the loop longer!  We weren't there that long and we saw a bunch of them twice.

Lemon BB8 and German Chocolate Chewbacca

We took a trip on Star Tours and then tasted the various Star Wars cupcakes that they have.  It's good that there are a lot of us, so we can try little bits of things!
Dark Chocolate Darth Vader

We went back to the hotel for a couple hours for a break and then headed to Port Orleans Riverside for dinner at Boatwrights.  The food was really good.

Zoe: "Cheers to the wonderful day!"

Board games while waiting in the lounge
After dinner it was time for the Yeehaw Bob show in the lounge.  This was the whole reason we ventured over to Port Orleans. Marc has wanted to see Yeehaw Bob for years! But dinner at Boatwrights was surprisingly good!

Yeehaw Bob is one of those "little known" Disney gems.  Obviously, he's pretty well known, since the place was packed, but really you could come to Disney for years without ever hearing about his show since they don't advertise it or anything.  Yeehaw Bob is a very enthusiastic and energetic piano player who instantly gets the crowd involved and soon the whole place is singing Disney songs, kids are marching around the place, and people are doing all sorts of crazy things!

Zach was practically bursting out of his seat with excitement and we all had a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, our early morning caught up with the little ones and we had to leave after an hour.  Definitely is a show you should see!!!

January 31, 2016 - Animal Kingdom and Star Wars Symphony in the Sky (at DHS)

Today was Animal Kingdom day. Zach and Zoe were delighted to meet Rafiki.  They were both a little hesitant at first, but then got over it and had a lot of fun.  Dinoland USA was first.


I was happy to see Primeval Whirl running - usually it's closed whenever we visit.  So we took turns going on that and the Triceratops spin.  Then over to Dinosaur before heading to the Safari


The safari was great as usual.  Saw three lions this time; thought they only had two.  We had a good driver that told some jokes along the way instead of just the same spiel that we'd heard so many times.  The hippos were downright frisky!  They were swimming around and splashing.  Usually they are just lumps in the water.  Zach loved seeing each of the animals and kept talking about each one and then pointing to it on the board.

NOT the frisky hippos

We had lunch at Harumbe Market.  Pretty good food and the kids all liked their kids meals for a change.

We took turns going on Expedition Everest and watching the little kids play at The Boneyard.  Then we watched It's Tough to Be a Bug.  Of course, Zach didn't like it, but he didn't complain that much and it is pretty scary for little ones.

We headed back to the hotel after that for a little break.  For dinner we walked over to "Disney's" Swan and Dolphin hotel.  I just think it's funny that they call it that when they aren't owned by Disney.  I knew that ahead of time, but figured we could still use our magic bands to pay.  I was wrong and I had to go back to get a credit card.  I mean, come on, it was a character meal - Goofy was there - but I still can't pay with a magic band?  Anyway, we ate at Garden Grove.  They have only 4 main entrees and then they have a soup, bread, and salad bar and also a dessert bar.  The food was really good.

The characters were Pluto and Goofy and we're pretty sure they were both played by the same person.  They did a good job though and Zach is totally enjoying the whole character thing.  He gets out his autograph book right away and thinks the characters are so funny.  The older boys didn't want anything to do with the characters, but Goofy wouldn't let them get away with that.  He chased them both down and gave them big, long hugs. Then Zach willingly lines up for his hug. He's come a long way from scared of the characters to overcoming his fear in order to get autographs to hugs now!

After dinner, we took the boat over to Disney's Hollywood Studios to watch the Star Wars Symphony in the Sky fireworks show.  It was a really great show with some really unique fireworks, but unfortunately Zach was really tired and really scared of the fireworks.  He cried the whole time - luckily it was a short show!  Ironically, when we got back to the room, the Epcot fireworks were starting and Zach had to run right to the window to see them!

The boys got two games of pool in before we left and on our break today. Hard to see them growing up! Glad Goofy got those hugs!

February 1, 2016 - Disney's Hollywood Studios (again!) and Bay Lake Tower

A pirate cruise sailed by as we waited for our boat

We went to Hollywood Studios again today.  Since we're switching hotels a few times, we decided to plan our park days accordingly.  So, since we were still close to Hollywood Studios we went there instead of any of the parks that we haven't visited EVERY DAY.

There were actually several things we hadn't gotten around to yet, so we still had a good time and of course we all love Toy Story Mania.  Zach calls it "Tato Head Shoot."  Besides that, we also saw the Disney Junior show (really wish they had some seats in there!) and the Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid

For some reason Zoe has become terrified of Ursula.  Last September we had to walk out of The Little Mermaid show, so I chatted with Zoe before we went in and she said she'd be fine.  Well, once the show started, she wanted out again just anticipating the Ursula seen. I dragged my heels trying to talk her down, and once Ursula came on stage, she was fine. Her memory was much worse than the real thing. Whew!

Disney Junior

Trading with the Jawa
We brought a couple of trinkets (some trader pins) to trade with the Jawa in the new Star Wars building that I can't think of the name of.  Star Wars Launch Bay They got a couple of droid parts which aren't that useful without the rest of the parts, but they still had fun trading.  Actually the Jawa wouldn't trade for the Disney pins. He only traded with Max and Zoe who took the Jibbitz (decoration) out of their Crocs shoes and traded that! 

We also saw another Star Wars show, this one was called Path of the Jedi.  It was a bunch of clips, mostly from the old movies that showed Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi.  They've really put a lot of Star Wars stuff in that park in a hurry.  Can't wait till they get the new rides!

The Z's comparing their little droid pieces

We went directly from Hollywood Studios to our new hotel, which is Bay Lake Tower.  We chose the standard room because we didn't want to spend the extra points for the lake view, but were pleasantly surprised to be able to see Magic Kingdom from our room.  Not sure if our room is too low to be considered a Magic Kingdom view or what, but it's excellent!  Sooner or later we'll get around to adding pictures and you'll be able to see our view.  Our room is 7630.  I highly recommend requesting it!

For dinner we ate at The Wave at the Contemporary.  I really liked my vegetable stew and the kids really liked their grilled cheese on rainbow bread!  Of course everyone liked the desserts, the kids had make your own sundaes and Kyrie and I had sampler desserts - Kyrie had the chocolate flight and I had the American flavors flight.

Kids' Grilled Cheese on Rainbow Bread

Chocolate Flight

American Flavors Flight

Zach playing hide and seek in our room.
Fireworks from our balcony

Somehow, both Ella and Max lost a tooth today!  Ella in the morning and Max during dinner.  Maybe we shouldn't be eating so many desserts!

February 2, 2016 - Swimming, Tea Party, and Magic Kingdom

Ella and Max were delighted that the tooth fairy found them at Disney. Ella got a Tinkerbell pin with a packet of pixie dust, and Max got a Nemo (both courtesy of Disney! - shhh).

We headed to the pool as soon as the fog lifted.  It was a bit cold, but not too bad and when the sun finally came out it was fine.  All the kids had a lot of fun swimming and going down the water slide.

Zach offered to share his juice box with the begging duck

Never tired of the monorail view from our balcony
One new thing that we did today was the afternoon tea at The Grand Floridian.  Zach and I went to Magic Kingdom instead.  I'll let Kyrie describe the tea party since I wasn't there.

Bay Lake Tower at the Contemporary

Grand Floridian Resort lobby
The afternoon tea at Garden View Tea Room was one of the most anticipated experiences of this trip and it did not disappoint!  It was fun to take my little ladies and gentlemen on this outing.   

 The Grand Floridian is gorgeous and the tea room has beautiful views of the hotel lobby as well as the pool area.  The table was set with pretty dishes and fresh flowers too.  

I had the Cheshire Tea Service and the kids had the Mrs. Potts Service which included special "dark tea" AKA chocolate milk in a cute tea pot. 

I had the Mad Hatter Tea party blend. So good! I think the fancy tea pot cozy makes it taste extra good. It certainly kept the tea HOT all the way through the service.

My first course was exotic fruit and assorted cheeses which I shared with the kids who tried various items.  The raisins on the vine and honeycomb were unique. Ella tried the blue cheese but was not a fan. 

Then we were all served our finger sandwiches. The kids had PB&J and ham & cheese opting to leave out the tuna salad selection. 

My sandwiches included egg salad on white bread, chicken curry on marble rye, an open faced goat cheese and golden beet, and cucumber and cream cheese on rye. It also had a couple other cheese selections and lovosh (which I guess is a thin crispy cracker with sesame seeds.)

Our next two courses came together. The kids and I were served jam tarts and I also was given a scone with lemon curd, clotted cream, and apricot jam. The lemon curd was less tart than I've tried before but still good. 

The kids each received three beautiful pastries; lemon custard swans, chocolate filled eclairs, and white chocolate covered strawberries. All very beautiful as well as delicious. 

I'm glad I opted for the strawberries and cream though (since we all shared everything anyway!) I would not have believed how delicious it could be and yet so simple and light to perfectly end the tea service.

The girls received a rose as we left the tea room

Zach and I had a nice time.  We started by having some pizza at Pinocchio's and Zach had a blast waving to everybody on It's a Small World out the window of the pizza place.  He would jump up and down everytime someone would wave back and then say, "here come's another one" whenever the next boat started.  We also took a long train ride around the park which he really liked.

As we arrived at the Magic Kingdom, the afternoon parade was just passing by. We had a great spot to watch it, so we took advantage of that. 

The highlight of the parade is the fire breathing dragon

Loved seeing the seven dwarfs too!

The parade was a happy accident. Next we started a new game of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom during which we finally met back up with Marc and Zachary.

Zoe doing her "princess pose"

Always surprised by what is going on all around us. Never a boring moment!

More SOTMK game

Zach's entrance to Winnie the Pooh ride

Before long it was time for the Electric Parade.  We decided to get fastpasses for this.  The first challenge was figuring out where the designated area was.  It was on Main Street right in front of the train station which was basically where the parade started.  It was a decent spot to watch the parade from and it made it easy to get out of the park once the parade past us.

Staking out our spot for the parade

Zach's little arm must have been tired by the end of the parade. He had a ball!

Top of the World Lounge
We also had fastpasses to watch fireworks from a designated viewing area near the castle, but that would have required us going back to the middle of the park.  We decided to just leave and watch them from the roof of Bay Lake Tower.  We got the kids some kiddie cocktails and watched the fireworks from there.  Not quite the same, but it was nice to be able to go down the elevator to our room when it was over instead of trudging through the crowds at the park.

Much better than the crowds!

Another great vacation day!  Tomorrow our house gets listed for sale, so we'll see how that goes.

February 3, 2016 - Ohana Breakfast and Cinderella's Royal Table

When the baby gets jealous of his sisters' hair bands
This baby needs attention
Let me describe mornings around here. They usually consist of me getting ready first, followed by Marc while I get the kids up and make breakfast (Cheerios or eggs), clean up, and make sure everyone looks clean and presentable. THIS morning, all the same except no breakfast. And by the time we got to the restaurant we were all starving!

This morning we had breakfast with Lilo and Stitch at the Polynesian.  The food was typical breakfast fare - scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, Mickey and Stitch waffles, and fried potatoes, fresh fruit, plus cinnamon raisin bread and pineapple bread.  All the food was served family style and was very good.

Our timing with the characters was not that great.  They started arriving at our table just as we were sitting down, so it was kind of chaotic trying to get autographs and pictures at the same time as all of the food was arriving. And we were starving so we just wanted to get a bite to eat! 

It was kind of nice to get the whole character part out of the way though.  I'm not a big fan of 'Ohana for dinner (and now also breakfast), just because it's so crowded and there's too much going on all the time.  Kyrie and the kids like it though and most other people do as well - so don't let me stop you! It was my favorite character breakfast, mostly because the food is good and you don't have to leave your table to get it.

HUGE breakfast platter

Parade of noisy kids

The rest of the morning was spent at the pool.  All of the kids are really liking that, but today is the last warm day while we're in Orlando.  The rest of the time will be in the 60's or less.

We went to Magic Kingdom for the late afternoon and evening and met Tinker Bell then had a nice ride on the Jungle Cruise before going to Cinderella's Royal Table for dinner.

Beauty everywhere you look

Jungle Cruise

"I see elephants!"

Zach LOVED every character!
Zach and the girls liked meeting all of the princesses and Kyrie and I liked the food.  The kids hardly ate anything.  My kids are too picky!  Although, I don't know why they serve chicken nuggets with ketchup!  A little barbecue sauce would have improved the situation a lot.

Also, who's idea was it to give the kids wands and swords?...during dinner! That does not make for a peaceful dining situation!

Zoe was a pretty good driver. She just LOOKS crazy!
We went on a few more rides after dinner.  Ella gave me whiplash on the Tomorrowland Speedway.  The Peoplemover is always nice and Kyrie took the big kids on Big Thunder Mountain.

I got whiplash too from these drivers behind me, although it's not Ella's foot on the pedal!

February 4, 2016 - Tom Sayer's Island

A great advantage to staying at Bay Lake Tower is being able to walk to the Magic Kingdom
Tomorrow Land
Today was cloudy, but still pretty warm and the rain held out until nighttime.  We spent most of the day at Magic Kingdom.  We concentrated on the rides in Tomorrowland and Adventureland today and also spent some time at Tom Sawyer's Island which was a highlight for the kids.  They especially liked the dark caves.  Zach wouldn't go in the first one, but with a little encouragement he braved the other ones.  The kids really liked the wobbly bridges also.

We actually took our time watching the "good morning show" again and leisurely walking down Main Street. We picked up some Frappuccinos from Starbucks and continued on our leisurely stroll to Big Thunder Mountain. This is quite a different experience for us, as we usually dash to all the popular rides in Fantasyland with the rest of the crowd.

Zach enjoying the Welcome Show

What? I always drink coffee.

Zach's hang out sot while everyone else takes turns riding Big Thunder and Splash Mountains

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Aladdin's Magic Carpets

Ride buddies

Enchanted Tiki Room

Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean

Zoe said her driving instructor was fired last week. That explains a lot.

Space Mountain

More Pooh

We had lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern.  We split three meals and still had too much food.  

These large birds flew in great numbers around the castle courtyard on this gloomy day. Interesting.

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Carousel of Progress. Marc's must-do Disney ride. 

Walk back to the resort

For dinner tonight we ate at Chef Mickey's.  The little one's had a blast meeting all of the characters.  We celebrated Zoe's birthday there, even though it isn't until April and she's been milking it ever since.  She keeps saying, "...well, since we're celebrating my birthday..." and then asking for special requests from us.

Zoe's birthday celebration (a little early!)

February 5, 2016 - Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and The Wilderness Lodge

Zach's "moon ride" aka Astro Orbiters 
We packed up to switch resorts again today. Marc waited behind while I walked the kids over to the Magic Kingdom this morning. Zach has been asking for days to go on the "moon ride" but we didn't figure out what he was talking about until our way out yesterday. So first thing this morning we made sure to ride Astro Orbiters and Zach was thrilled!

Marc caught up to us by the time we got off and we all rode on Haunted Mansion before our late breakfast reservation.

Can you believe we've been here so long and there are still rides we haven't been on?! We really are taking it easy this trip and it's been a very enjoyable pace.

Haunted Mansion

Crystal Palace
Breakfast this morning was at The Crystal Palace with the Winnie the Pooh characters.  Zach loves seeing those characters!

A little chilly today provides extra reasons to cuddle

A couple more rides including the Tea Cups while we took turns on Seven Dwarfs , then we exited the busy Magic Kingdom
The once per trip obligatory viewing of Jacob's picture in Epcot
We spent the rest of the day at Epcot.  We started with The Land ride and got lots of ideas for our future gardens.  The ride goes too "fast" though and it was hard to keep track of all the great ideas.  If only I had a greenhouse!  

Anyway, we also walked around the World Showcase where the kids stopped at each country to color their paper Duffy bear and get it stamped at each country.  

 That went on for about 5 countries and then they were more interested in finding snacks instead.  We had a bunch of snack credits to use up today from the dining plan, so each kid had a couple to use today.  Our dinner was at Chefs de France.  We only had 3 dinner credits left since we used 3 at one of the restaurants yesterday.  That was plenty though since the kids were pretty full from their snacks anyway.
Sugared up baby

Jacob, Max, and Ella were very into playing the Agent P Adventure which took place in Germany. This pretty much stopped our tour of the rest of the "world."  Truth be told, it was cold now and all we wanted to do was eat dinner and go home. Apparently, I was even too cold to take pictures!

After dinner we checked into the Wilderness Lodge.  I really like the room.  Too dark to really see what our view is!

February 6, 2016  -  Disney Springs

We decided to go to Disney Springs today since we've been to all the parks a lot and the kids were all anxious to find some souvenirs.  We had a good time shopping at The World of Disney and playing at the LEGO store.  It was also fun seeing the boat cars driving around the lake.  I don't know what they are actually called, but they totally look like real cars that are driving around in the water!  We had lunch at T-Rex which was fun and tasted good, but took a LONG time.  They were super busy, but still.  The kids all found some souvenirs.  Ella got her charm necklace that she's been eyeing ever since we got to Disney.  Zoe bought some socks that she could color from Little Miss Matched.  Max bought a Mike Wazowski hat, since he loves silly hats.  Jacob and I found t-shirts and Zach got some Nemo figures.

When you hold a Lego box in front of the screen. It comes to life and builds and animates itself!

It was cold and raining when we got back, so we stayed at the hotel the rest of the day.  For dinner we ate at Whispering Canyon Cafe.  We had to split into two tables that weren't exactly right next to each other since we didn't have reservations.  The dinner was good, but neither of our waiters was very into the whole Whispering Canyon experience and it was no fun being split into two tables.

The Wilderness Lodge is very much under construction at the moment.  An entire wing is closed and being renovated, probably inside and out, but I can only see the outside.  Disney gave everyone staying here a nice set of collectible pins to make up for the construction, but really it isn't effecting us.

February 7, 2016  - Magic Kingdom, Skipper Canteen, Grand Floridian Cafe, and Chickenpox!

For our last Disney day we went to Magic Kingdom.  We had a lot of fun going on the rides again and although it was really busy (9/10 crowd level) we still had a good time and didn't have to spend too much time in line.

We all needed coffee this morning!

We went to the new Jungle Skipper Canteen for lunch.  The food was too adventurous for most of the crew, but it was a fun time anyway.  I think Jacob and I were the only ones to order real meals.  Jacob had the kid's steak and I had the curried vegetable stew (which was quite good).  Kyrie ordered an appetizer - I think it was called arepas.  Everyone liked their volcano's for dessert though.

At some point during the day we realized that Jacob had chickenpox.  We weren't completely surprised since we recently found out that my Dad has shingles.  The chickenpox don't seem to be bothering Jacob very much. The kids including Jacob were more excited about it than anything and drank from the same water bottle and switched sweatshirts with Jacob to try to catch it. The funniest thing though was how many times they said chickenpox. Not sure we wanted to advertise the event as some people are disease-phobic.

We ate at Grand Floridian Cafe for dinner.  The menu changed since our last trip, but it was still very good and even the kids ate pretty well.

It was a truly great Disney vacation. Just the right length to be able to stop and appreciate all the special little details at Disney, while not too long to get bored with it. Our last day at Magic Kingdom was as fun as our first! 

February 8, 2016 -  Dreams Punta Cana

This morning we took Disney's Magical Express to the airport.  Although it is always hard to say goodbye to Disney, it's not so bad when you're leaving to finish your vacation somewhere else!  The Magical Express service is never as early as we would like.  Our scheduled time was 7:30am for our 10:20am flight, which would have been okay, but we were just the first of many stops.  By the time we were actually heading to the airport it was 8:00 which got us to the airport about 8:40am.  With the long lines at security that would have been pretty close, but they put us over in some family line that got us through security very quickly.  We ended up having enough time, but it made me a little nervous! Ha! ...and if Marc was nervous...!

Our first flight was to Miami which was to arrive with less than an hour before our Punta Cana flight was leaving.  We were supposed to park at a gate right by our departure gate, but ended up in a different area which was quite far from our gate.  We were still sitting on the back of the plane when boarding had begun for our next flight! We arrived at our gate after they had checked in everyone else, but at least we made it!

The Punta Cana Airport wasn't too difficult to navigate.  In fact, it looked like they only had a couple of "real" gates (where you can walk right off into the terminal versus climbing down stairs they've wheeled up to the plane,) We got put in another special line at Customs which saved us probably an hour of waiting.  After that we were able to find our shuttle bus without too much trouble.  It was a breathtaking ride through Punta Cana on our way to the hotel.  Not much to see along the way, but it was still nice to be somewhere new. Breathtaking as in literally taking our breath away from the crazy driving, in case that was apparent there.

I'm not ready to give a full review of the property yet.  Figure I better give it a chance, but so far I'm not overly impressed.  We didn't arrive until close to 5pm, so we didn't have time to do much today.

We took a little walk around the property and had drinks near the ocean.  The kids loved the smoothies (and also the glass bottles of pop in their room's minibar.)  We had dinner at the Seaside Grill.  The food there was fine, but nothing very special.  It would have been a nice atmosphere, but there were a lot of mosquitoes or something biting us.  Luckily they had some bug spray or we would have had to go somewhere indoors.

Speaking of itchy, Jacob's chickenpox are bugging him pretty good today.  Hopefully he's almost done with the itchy part!
Ahhh! Now THIS is the life!

The kids on the other hand are VERY impressed with the property and want to live here. They liked being handed ice cold washcloths when we arrived. Even Zach had to put one on the back of his neck. Marc and I were also given champagne while we checked in. I think our initial impression was a little jaded because we were all quite hungry as we never had time to get much breakfast or any lunch at the airport. And we arrived at the resort during a transition time for food service meaning no meal was being served and it was tough to find a snack or even an open bar until we walked down to the beach. We were all suddenly hot still dressed in our jeans and cold weather footwear as we walked around and were disappointed to learn the pools close at 6pm so we would not be swimming tonight.  I have to say while the room is not in pristine condition,, the grounds are really beautiful and I very much look forward to taking advantage of all this place has to offer tomorrow!

February 9, 2016 - Pool Day

Well, the resort is starting to grow on us.  The place is very beautiful and we have been enjoying the peacocks and flamingos walking around the property.  Zach even pretends to be a baby peacock by making the loud sound that they make (but he makes it very quietly)!  The breakfast buffet was excellent.  It was absolutely enormous and had lots of fresh fruit and juices in addition to what Max calls "the best hash browns in the universe."

Room Service with a view
One of my favorite things on any vacation where we have a kitchen is making a couple over easy eggs, fruit, and coffee and enjoying breakfast on the balcony while enjoying the peace and beautiful scenery. Well, I discovered something even better... breakfast on the balcony with room service at no additional charge! I ordered a hot breakfast for myself and extra fruit and some pastries for the kids when they woke up. I knew Marc would want to go to the buffet. 

We spent the day at the pool.  The pool is very large, basically running the length of the resort.  It's only about 3 1/2' deep, so Zoe and Ella could play in it and still reach.  Zach enjoyed his water wings.

We spent a little time at the beach as well, but the waves were too strong to go in the ocean.

The smoothies and tropical drinks are certainly readily available. There must be a dozen bars including a large swim up bar that rotate hours of operation depending on where the action is. There are also servers walking the pool deck in case you really don't want to walk or swim to a bar. 

I swear they must water down the bottles of alcohol, because I see them pouring plenty from the bottles, but I've been drinking a lot of mixed drinks and have never even felt a buzz. I prefer that actually. I don't want to get drunk and it's fun to try different drinks. I haven't seen drunk people around the property either, but then again we've gone to bed very early every night too.

The kids and I also like how they serve good food around the pool and beach at lunchtime. They grill hamburgers and hot dogs to order. There is a wonderful fresh fruit stand where they make fruit kabobs to order too. There's also a wood fired pizza that you can walk up and grab or the full buffet if you don't want to eat at the pool or the beach. A cafe serving coffee, lattes, frappuccinos and snacks, fruit, desserts, etc. and room service are both available 24 hours. Get the idea? There is never a lack of food or drink! Service though in the restaurants that are available for dinner is on island time...SLOW.
Jacob took this fruit stand photo for me. I think he was being a little shy.

For dinner we tried to go to the La Trattoria restaurant on site, but found it closed for a private event, so we settled for the buffet.  It was pretty good, but it was an Italian theme tonight and we didn't really find much we wanted.
The boys enjoyed a few games of Chess. They're pretty good at it too!

We ended up at the buffet for dinner. I'm no fan of buffets, but this one was nice. I even had to take a few pictures of the food stations and displays of food.
Cheese selections available breakfast, lunch, or dinner

Breadsticks and flatbreads

Bread and pastries section at every meal too
Kids' Section
Cooked to order Tex/Mex at breakfast and Dinner.  Sandwiches and tacos at lunch.

Our room is in the building closest to the lobby which is also where the loud nighttime shows are.  It's quite noisy at night, but so far it hasn't kept us from falling asleep.

Mocha Frappuccino, almond croissant, and fresh pineapple
February 10, 2016 - Another Pool Day

For whatever reason, I've been getting up extremely early this whole vacation. Today was no different. I remembered the 24 hour cafe and thought that would be a good lace to hang out to keep from disturbing the others. As I walked through the pool areas, I actually didn't feel right saving any beach chairs before dawn, so I didn't.

My breakfast wasn't nearly as healthy as when I ordered room service, but I was happy with the thought of the coffee drinks being included. This breakfast would have cost me $12 at Starbucks.

Red Flag = Too dangerous to swim in the ocean

Not much different today.  Mostly just played by the pool.

Most of us felt like we could hangout swimming, eating, and drinking here forever, but in reality we were content with that for two days, and by the third we were looking for something else to do. 

Kids' Club
Jacob and Max did a frisbie contest on the beach and the girls spent some time at the kids club which they loved of course!

Craft projects and face painting

We ended up having dinner at the buffet again since we didn't feel like sitting down to a long dinner.  The food was good. Nothing amazing, but it was good. Again, I really usually do not like buffets, but this one is good. A lot of variety and very good quality for a buffet. I just don't like eating a lot of different kinds of food, so I stick with one type like I'm ordering from a menu and have enjoyed it. (And the service is muy rapido!)

Zoe started falling asleep at dinner EVERY night!
With all the time at the pool we've all been too tired to go to the shows at night.  The movies start at 7:00pm which is a little too early since the restaurants don't open until 6 or 6:30pm.  The main show each night starts at 8:30pm which we hear loud and clear every night from our beds!  It hasn't been much a problem though - I just figure we should check out one of the shows sometime!

The "coffee man" was a show of his own. This was actually the tame part.
"Hi, mommy doggy. Where's daddy doggy?"
Not much activity so far with selling our house.  We've had 3 showings so far.  Mostly good comments at least.  1 more showing scheduled this weekend.  Hoping for more showing while we are gone! Yes, really not looking forward to the selling process. Our plan is for Marc and the kids to basically move to our lake house in Wisconsin to keep our house "show ready." But we really can't implement that plan until we're home for a week. I hope and pray we get a contract and close quickly!

February 11, 2016 - Sunburn

We had close encounters with the peacocks and even the flamingos here
All the sun has caught up with us.  We used sunscreen, but not enough.  Kyrie, Max and Zach all have sunburns.  Zach seems to have it worst.  He was up every hour last night crying because he couldn't roll over on his back without it hurting.  He kept nursing or making me take him out to the balcony in the middle of the night because he wanted to stay awake instead of falling asleep and hurting.  We made him wear a shirt while swimming and kept him in the shade as much as possible.  He seems to be doing better tonight.  Hopefully he'll be able to sleep!

And every time Zach woke up and cried, I felt like the worst mother in the world for letting this happen, when my friend brought no fewer than three swimming shirts and two hats for her baby! He has a morning wardrobe and an afternoon one. The luxury of being the oldest child! Big time mother guilt! 

He didn't ask for two, but he didn't decline them either
We spent a lot of time at the pool again, we just tried to avoid the sun more.  The flamingos and peacocks are really fun to watch.  The kids want to keep peacocks and peahens on our new property. The boys decided to try out the kids club, but didn't really like it.  Ages 9 and 11 are kind of on the high side for that place, but they're too young for the teen club.

Our solution to avoiding the sun as much as possible today
And swimming in the shade still wearing  50 SPF sunscreen
Twice daily naps for Zoe (incl. dinner time)

Tonight we had dinner at the Japanese restaurant and had a hibachi table.  It was a lot of fun and most of the kids even ate their food.  It was the best meal I've had here.  It was really good.

Zach really enjoyed the chef's performance and the chef seemed to enjoy Zach as well. He even tossed a piece of egg for Zach to  catch in his mouth. It hit him smack in the right eye, but he was alright with that. Jacob did catch a piece in his mouth though.

Kyrie's conference started tonight with a reception for the families.  It was nice to see everyone.  Ella made friends with another 7 year old, Bella, right away.  I think they'll have fun together the rest of the trip.

The internet is really slow here, so I've just been adding a few pictures at a time to try to catch up on the previous days.  Sooner or later I'll probably catch up!

February 12, 2016 - Shortages of wash clothes, hand towels, spoons, etc...

The kids and I had a relaxing day at the beach and pool while Kyrie went to her conference.  Ella spent almost the entire day at the kids club and had a great time.  Her friends Bella and Sophia were there also.

The waves weren't so crazy today, so I was able to take Zoe and Zach out into the ocean for a bit.  They loved splashing around.

Had to add a Chickenpox photo since it's a once in a lifetime event
The resort is becoming almost comical.  Everything is just a bit off around here.  The food is good and some of the service is decent, but sometimes the service is just awful and you just never know what you are going to get!  A couple days ago, I asked for more wash cloths, because they had given us none in either room.  We left the room and when we came back they had left us a couple of extra robes instead of wash clothes!  The language barrier is more than I expected at a resort that mostly caters to English speaking guests.  As the weekend approached and it started getting busier, we've noticed shortages of many things.  As I already mentioned, they rationed the wash cloths and they also only gave us one hand towel.  At the buffet, they seem to have about 10 actual tea spoons in the place.  After that they put out really large soup spoons for the cereal, etc.  Today they were even running out of those.  You have to get up early to save pool chairs or they are all gone by breakfast time.

All the rest is certainly true, but I don't think the chair thing is at all unusual or nearly as bad as it is at most resorts or cruise ships. For the resort being at capacity, it doesn't seem crowded to me. BUT, I'll one up Marc on the towel shortage stories,.. One of the doctors at our conference actually said after his room was cleaned they actually took all his towels (clean and dirty ones) and left NONE!

For dinner we went out with all of the conference people to one of the fancier restaurants here - Portofino.  There were 29 people in total and we were divided up between 3 tables, so it shouldn't have been that difficult to serve us, but it was absolutely awful.  They took the kids orders fairly quickly, so that was good, but then they never got around to taking the adults' orders until almost a half hour later and after they had already served the kids food.  Then they brought the kids' drinks out, but only 3 of the 4 glasses of milk we ordered. So the kids were finished eating long before we ever started and of course some of their food was wrong and had to be corrected which was like pulling teeth.  They really seemed to hate waiting on us!  The food was not great and of course they didn't serve any side dishes - not even a lettuce salad on the menu!  Anyway, it was not a great experience.

February 13, 2016  - One more day at the pool.

Kyrie had her conference this morning.  The kids and I had breakfast at the buffet before dropping off Ella at the kid's club and then heading to the pool and the beach with the rest of the kids.  We had a good time swimming and enjoying the warm weather.  We picked up Ella at lunchtime and then had pizza by the beach.  Kyrie met up with us soon after and we spent the rest of the day enjoying the pool.

My daily choice at the breakfast buffet: Huevos Rancheros
February 14, 2016  - Time to go home.

We had a nice time at Dreams Punta Cana, but we don't plan on returning.  For us, a regular resort would have been a better value instead of all-inclusive and I can't say that we were very impressed with anything there regardless of the cost.

Our trip home was long, but uneventful.  Our shuttle picked us up at 10:30 and then it stopped at another resort where there was some confusion because a lot of people were waiting for that shuttle, but only a few seats were left.  They took a while to sort that all out and hopefully the remaining people got to  the airport alright!  We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare which was good since we needed to eat lunch still.

After a long flight, we arrived to snowy Chicago!