December 19, 2014

A New Ship: Second Terrarium

Then I look up and really start to take in the lobby with not a little bit of shock.
The atrium on the Fantasy is huge and elegant and very impressive.

Boarding Day
The "we're not in Kansas anymore" faces.
Thankfully a cast member spotted us and rather than heading out to Cabanas or Enchanted Garden for lunch, we were escorted to the forward elevator bank to take us straightaway up to the concierge lounge for a bit of a snack.

On the elevators opening, we got our first peek at the lounge.

Sea Day 3
All dark wood, and animation maquettes of Remy, Minnie and friends and a model of the Fantasy. We met Julia right away and she wanted to get right to work starting a personal itinerary for us. She suggested we grab some snacks off of the snack boards and catch some sun up on the concierge sun deck since all the tables in the lounge were occupied.

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The concierge terrarium sun deck.
What a relaxing space!

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Kylee enjoying a lounger.

The only time we ever saw more than two people up here was during the concierge reception. Eventually Julia made her way back upstairs and arranged for all our meet and greet tickets as well as some other fun things for later in our cruise and handed us our concierge folder for the week. We briefly toured the room (until our host, Tom, showed up to finish vacuuming, and we decided to explore the rest of the ship.)

On the way to the Oceaneer Club open house, we just happened across Stitch.

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Stitch was full of mischief and kept turning around to wiggle his tail at the camera.

No line, just chillin'.

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Shiny, shiny hallways.
We headed back to our room to really take it all in for a few minutes. Enjoy the fruit basket, check out the verandah, clear out all of our junk mail and update our FE group with our new room numbers.

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Spot Ben! He's at the far end of our verandah.

Then we ran down by the Tube to see if the meet up was in full swing yet. After meeting and greeting, Chris wanted to try out the Midship Detective Agency for a little while before muster drill.

Boarding Day
Chris using his badge to clear away the balloons.
Something told me we would be back to it later.
We returned to our rooms just in time to unpack before muster drill.

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Entry Hall

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Living Area

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Master Bedroom

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Master Suite

The Walt Disney Suite has a lot of storage, y'all. Like I could lose small children in all the cabinetry. After the safety drill (we sat in the upper balcony of the Walt Disney Theatre for our muster station) we headed up to deck 11 midship for the Sailaway Party! More people on this bigger ship meant our best bet for up close views were to get near one of the cast member mini-stages stationed around the party.

We enjoyed kicking the cruise off in style then headed off to our stateroom to watch the ship pull out into the channel.

Boarding Day

Boarding Day
And we're off!

IMG_2209 (2)
Sea and Sky

IMG_2217 (2)Our dinner at Animator's Palate hosted by Crush, certainly did bring a new flair to our favorite restaurant. As we were in the center of a dining area, we were a bit out of the loop, but any extra time playing with Crush is totally awesome in my book. Trying to figure out the next shape the school of fish were making was more interesting, in my book, than any of the kids' menu activities. Nevertheless, the kids both wanted to bail and check into the kids club as soon as they finished their main courses.

After such an early wake up call, we decided to turn in fairly early.


After a brief debate of whether this was an armadillo, an anteater or a piglet, we hit the hay.

This is Part 5 of an Ongoing Trip Report "A New Ship." Additional sections will be found on the Trip Reports page after they are posted!

December 18, 2014

A New Ship: First Terrarium

We stepped forward and surrendered a key to the world card to the cast member at the supervisor desk as we asked if any upgrades were still available. She said that there were in fact two upgrades available. She said that an upgrade to a one bedroom concierge suite was available for a little over a thousand dollars. (That's about when the ridiculous grins broke out, because we were under our discussed budget and would be cruising concierge!) Then she scanned sideways on her grid and said that the Walter E Disney suite was available for a little over three thousand dollars.
Ben and I discussed it in depth.
In advance.
So, grinning like the Cheshire Cat, we turned over all of our stateroom 5052 key to the world cards. (They let Kylee keep her old card after it was deactivated, just so she could have a card in her lanyard.) They charged the upgrade to our room, then they handed our new (gold) key to the world cards to a concierge cast member who walked us to the back right of the terminal to complete our registration in the concierge lounge/terrarium.

Boarding Day

Chris stopped to gawk and take pictures of the miniature of the Magic in the center of the terminal.
IMG_2194 (2)The Oceaneers Club and Lab just received a new batch of MagicBands but they hadn't activated them, so they verified Kylee's dairy free diet, then said they'd get bands to us once they were in the system. They led us over to the concierge lounge. A kind of terrarium of sorts with frosted glass walls and several clusters of sofas just to the right of the Mickey funnel entrance to the gangway. As the first people in the lounge, the kids soon got bored so we popped out to see if Mickey were taking pictures.

Boarding Day
Watching the ship load as I silently pray that the stuffed bear doesn't jump.

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Seems appropriate when you vacation with the mouse!
We went out on the observation deck to gawk at the Fantasy. The Magic and the Wonder are really big, really beautiful ships. The Fantasy is bigger. Somehow the extra two passenger decks make a big difference in the perceived size.

The Fantasy is a very big, very beautiful ship.

Boarding Day
This cruise was the first to receive the new blue MagicBands.
Unlike the old goldenrod bands, they do not have a year stamped on the band.
Kylee gets a red clip on her band because she is allergic to dairy.
Most kids get a dark grey clip.
Kylee and Chris received their MagicBands as Ben talked to some of our Facebook group friends and tried to see if anyone wanted our boarding group 2 card from when we first signed in. (When you're in concierge, they let you in before all of the family of the day and boarding group numbers via the lounge, so we no longer needed it.)

Boarding Day
Minnie-me is no longer amused by waiting.
Concierge lounge is behind her on the right.
Kylee and I popped our heads out of the lounge to see if we could spot them nearby, but no luck. Kylee wanted to know if we could board the ship yet. (Nope, soon though!) Our Facebook friends told us they were in line waiting to meet Goofy, so after cutting through the increasingly crowded terminal to find them and hand over the card, we went back to the lounge.

It reminded me of back in the days of paper FastPasses handing over your extra FastPasses as you exited the park. Spreading pixie dust always makes my day!

We wove between other Castaways back to the lounge to discover it was entirely empty. In our absence, all of the concierge guests were invited onboard the ship. So we showed our cards to the cast member at the side door and into the boarding area we went!

We bypassed the boarding photo (we've taken several atrocious boarding photos and decided to just opt out) and head to the check-in scan at the end of the hall. Our Key to the World cards scanned us onto the ship and we walked up the deserted gangway.

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Last moment outside of the ship for a few days.

"Disney Fantasy! Welcome aboard the Ketcherside Family!!!"

The Cast Members applaud and for a second I cry.

This is Part 4 of an Ongoing Trip Report "A New Ship." Additional sections will be found on the Trip Reports page after they are posted!

December 17, 2014

A New Ship: Glacial Breakfast

After taking their sweet time settling down to bed the night before, I was quite startled when Kylee woke up at four in the morning.
Eastern Standard Time.
When we're from the Central Time Zone.
Well anyways, we were up.
Chris stayed asleep, so I let Kylee crawl in on my side of the bed hoping that everyone else could stay asleep and maybe I could get some winks in too. By five-thirty it became painfully obvious that Kylee wasn't going to go back to sleep, so we grabbed her "embarkation day" Ziploc bag. (We always pack full outfits for the kids together with bows and accessories to make it easy to hand out clothes for the day.) While Kylee brushed her hair, I took a quick shower. Since we were still on the dark o'clock side of things, I dressed and got ready for the day because Kylee loves watching me get ready and it keeps her calm and quiet.

Travel Day!
Deluxe King Hyatt Regency-pardon the mess
Ben admitted defeat and dressed as well and last of all, Chris rustled up his clothes. After giving the room several once overs for slippers and stuffed animals, Kylee and I went back on the balcony to watch the early morning flights take off. Despite being so close to the planes, our room had been surprisingly quiet. That being said, after a few semesters in a dorm near train tracks in College Station, I'm not the most sensitive to noise.

Travel Day!
View of the airport monorail and the airport.

Ben and I declared the room all packed and tagged the luggage for the Disney Cruise Line transfers. (When you sign in, ask for instructions and bell services will collect your luggage for you.) We didn't see our luggage again until we reached our stateroom. We brought our day bags with so that we wouldn't need to return to the room.

We went down to the desk and checked out. Then double checked that we were in the system for bell services. (We were.)

We headed back up to Hemisphere for the hot, fresh breakfast buffet. Since Chris is a slow eater, Ben and I whiled away the hour wondering if anyone ever booked the Walt Disney suite. A friend in our Facebook group had noted was still available a week prior to sailing. We wondered how much *that* upgrade might cost. After guessing it'd never be applicable given the glacial pace our kids approached breakfast, we agreed to not go above $4,000 for the Royal but really hoped to get any concierge stateroom upgrade for less than $2,000 above our 4E stateroom.

Then we laughed like crazy.

That'd never happen.

After this relaxed breakfast of oatmeal, toast, pancakes, fruit, pastries and all kinds of delicious foods, enjoyed nibble by nibble, we left the Hyatt Regency refreshed for our next adventure!

Travel Day!
Tired, happy and *thisclose* to our new ship!
We headed down past bag claim toward the Disney Cruise Line transfers. (They're just across from the Disney's Magical Express desk.)

Boarding Day
Just follow the signs.
Given that it was "almost eight" when we reached the DCL check in area, Kylee and I went for a walk. (She is a source of boundless energy. I wish I could bottle it. Seriously.) We reserved a 10:30 AM port arrival time, so we were eager to be on the first shuttle to the port.

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Captain Mickey and our cruise transfer!
The gentleman setting up for check-in let us know that they would start loading the bus around 8:45,  so Kylee began making friends with the Canadians waiting with us. A second family walked up shortly thereafter. It was fun to talk ships with them as they hadn't been on the classics and we were about to board our first Dream class ship.

At the appointed time, the queue wound its way through checking in and we began boarding the shuttle. Leaving the airport just before 9, the kids watched the DCL promo video and then relaxed into the cushy seats as classic Disney cartoons ate the minutes separating us from Port Canaveral. Until finally, no cartoon could distract the children from the first few glimpses of our home away from home.

Boarding Day
A first view of the ship in port.
We thanked our bus driver and walked directly to and through port security then up into the main terminal. We were directed to the first available check in desk, number 17 as the kids high-fived the Mickey-gloved port staff. She checked us in, verified our health forms, passports and onboard airline check-in. It was just before ten and our friends in the parking garage still couldn't get into the terminal just yet.

Ben asked about upgrades and we were passed down to the supervisor at desk 31. This was novel as every other time we've asked about upgrades, the second we step into the upgrades line, they quickly wave us off and point at a cute sign letting you know that "Captain Mickey is sailing with a full ship. No upgrades are available at this time." So even getting to line up at the desk 31 was new to us.

We were back in line behind our friends from the bus, the Canadians. The mom turned around and let us know that a few concierge options were available, but they were trying to line up the same room on both of their cruises (they were cruising back to back) and wouldn't be taking them.

Ben glanced at me.

I glanced back.

The castmember manning the upgrade desk finished arranging the back to back cruisers' vacation plans and beckoned us forward.

This is Part 3 of an Ongoing Trip Report "A New Ship." Additional sections will be found on the Trip Reports page after they are posted!

December 16, 2014

Finally Forty Four!

Every few months, we take a minute at the end of our busy day to put Kylee in sneakers and stand her up against a measuring stick. She's been closing in on a Disney milestone and as of Sunday night, Kylee reached her long sought after mark.

Finally 44 inches!

She's finally forty-four inches (and a smidgeon extra) tall!

You know what that means...

I'm going to Disney World!

That's right, she's tall enough to go on all of the "big kid" rides whenever we finally take her! (Which is sooner than she thinks, she is in the dark about our upcoming trip to Walt Disney World Resort next month!)

So why did I wait until she hit 44 inches?

Last trip, at 40 (and a smidgeon) inches tall, she LOVED Star Tours. which had a forty inch height requirement... and this trip would be just me and my kiddos. Therefore, if I wanted to take my eight year old on Space Mountain or Mission Space Orange (his favorite ride last trip) I needed to either hire a sitter to mind Kylee while we went on the height restricted rides or we needed to skip all of those rides entirely.

Hence hoping she'd grow enough to hit the forty-four inch mark.

What rides become available at the 44 inch mark?

Expedition Everest, Mission Space and that classic coaster, Space Mountain! In addition to rides like DINOSAUR which, although she was tall enough for technically last trip, would be a bit much for even the most intrepid four year old.

If you're wondering how your kids measure up, here's a link to Disney's attractions listing, with a handy filter for height built in so you can hype the rides your kids are able to enjoy and gloss over the ones "for next trip."

Here's a list that's current as of this blog, but please verify with Disney for the most current height requirements!

 Magic Kingdom

Tomorrowland Speedway 32"
The Barnstormer 35"
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 38"
Splash Mountain 40"
Stitch's Great Escape! 40"
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 40"
Space Mountain 44"

Test Track Presented by Chevrolet 40"
Soarin' 40"
Mission: SPACE Orange or Green 44"
Sum of All Thrills (in Innoventions East) 48"

Disney's Hollywood Studios

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 40"
Star Tours: The Adventures Continue 40"
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith 48"

and last but not least

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Kali River Rapids 38"
Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain 44"
Primeval Whirl 48"

December 15, 2014

A New Ship: The Journey Begins

After enjoying several cruises on the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder departing from Galveston (which is just down the road a spell), this cruise involved a bit more planning and vacation time as we needed to make our way from Texas all the way over to Florida. So we loaded up the car and hit the road!

Travel Day!
Please forgive the goofy expressions and sunlight washout, we were more excited than the kiddos to be hitting the road!

Getting everyone packed into the car and hitting the road always inspires that "what did I forget" nagging feeling, but with visions of pixie dust dancing in our heads we pressed onwards. Besides, I double checked paperwork and medications, so whatever I forgot would be decidedly non-essential.

The drive to Port Canaveral is a little over fifteen and a half hours from our home.

Without potty breaks or meals.

Travel Day!
Yay!!! We're going to be in the car for two days!!!
(Said no five year old. Ever.)
Thankfully, less than an hour after leaving our home we found ourselves at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) circling the parking garage seeking the few and far between parking spaces left on the day after Thanksgiving.

Ben found us a convenient spot not too far from the elevators. It's not so essential to find good parking on the way to vacation, but on the way back, it's really nice to just get in the car and go.

We each took a snapshot of the pillar nearest our car (to make it easier to remember where we parked.) Then we let the kids run amok with their suitcases.

Travel Day!
There weren't many crowds early on Thanksgiving Friday.

We try to let them run as much as possible before we get onto planes. It's just easier to deal with less fidgety kids in confined spaces.

Travel Day!
One parent ahead and one behind to assist with getting on and off of escalators.

Besides, it's fun to be "in charge" of the luggage, it's one less thing for the adults to carry and it slows them down a little bit.

Security was fairly rapid. Since we'd planned for holiday traffic levels, that meant that we could relax a bit and kill time once we reached our gate.

Chris settled into reading in a seat next to Ben at the gate while Kylee and I explored our terminal from end to end under the guise of window shopping. I scouted high and low for likely looking carry on lunches and snacks. We found several varieties of Elsa Jellybeans, so we got those. Then we found some shelf stable lunch boxes called "gopicnic" which looked likeable enough.
I grabbed the hummus and crackers meal for me, the black bean dip with plantain chip for Kylee and went to fetch Chris and see if he would like one as well.

Travel Day!
Don't leave home without your favorite travel companion!
Chris always brings Osito (the bear) when he goes on vacation and has been known to use him as a pillow in a pinch.

Kylee and I went back to show the fruits of our foraging to the guys. Ben seemed intrigued at the idea of "gourmet lunchables" as he dubbed them. Ben spent his free time updating his Facebook profile photo to match the hipster attitude of his t-shirt.

Ben's "Cruise of the Hipster" Profile Photo

I took Chris for a nice walk to pick out his own meal and we returned with two salami and cheese meals for the guys. The girls and guys took the moment for a quick last stop in the restroom, hoping to forestall the inevitable "trying to squeeze an adult and a child into an airplane restroom" issue.

Travel Day!
Restroom Selfie while waiting on Kylee.
We returned just before they called for United 1230W boarding group 2. Kylee forgot that there is a lot of hurry up and wait between queuing, boarding, departure and taxiing.

Travel Day!
Backpacks- check
Children- check
Husband - check
Chris found the seatback emergency card fascinating and spent the better part of an hour reviewing it. Kylee played with her window shade, chewed gum and spent the better part of the flight playing I Spy with the "SkyMall" magazine.

The lunch boxes were 90% awesome, but the kids found some of the included sides "too spicy." I'd totally get them again and just swap with whatever side they don't like. Portable, easy, yummy and cheap? I'd say that's a score. We landed at  MCO (Mickey and Company!) in Orlando around 2:15 PM and went to retrieve our suitcases from the bag claim.

Then we had to drag our bags and find transportation to our hotel.

Which was super easy! We ended up staying in the Hyatt Regency which despite being inside the airport was surprisingly quiet.

Travel Day!
View of the mall from the top floor hotel landing
We set out for a midafternoon snack at (where else) Starbucks and to let the kids stretch their legs after being cooped in a plane we walked around the (very large) mall connecting the two terminal wings.

Travel Day!
Everyone was pretty tired and it was an effort to get the kids to wait until 4:30 EST for dinner. They really just wanted to crash and go to bed. We headed over to Macaroni Grill for a *hopefully* quick dinner at a familiar chain restaurant.

Travel Day!
Waiting for our pasta.
We had a surprisingly awesome time! Our waitress was sweet and very attentive. In a welcome change from our previous attempts at other sit down airport restaurants, our food was fast, hot, correct and tasted really yummy. We dragged the kids back upstairs, helped the very tired travelers into their jammies and then spent the better part of two hours waiting for them to fall asleep.

Somehow in traveling past Disney's EarPort for the fourth time, the kids really got it. We were in Orlando on vacation and our cruise was tomorrow! I didn't blame them, I was almost too excited to sleep as well!

This is Part 2 of an Ongoing Trip Report "A New Ship." Additional sections will be found on the Trip Reports page after they are posted!
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