Thursday, April 15th we loaded up the van (virtually everything was packed the night before), and drove 3 hrs to the Big City where we stopped for lunch at Paradiso before continuing our treck to Minneapolis. We had made the decision to drive to Minneapolis and fly from there, because we got a killer deal of $200 including all taxes/fees for a direct flight to Orlando - instead of around $600 for a 2 connection flight from here. Times 6 people, that's a big savings, even after hotels, gas and restaurants.
We had decided to stay at a La Quinta, in just a regular room cause it was cheaper (and we were having trouble finding a hotel that suited both our family and our travelling companions' needs/wants/price point - Nathan's parents and his sister and BIL with their 1 yr old daughter). Big mistake. We always stay in at least a 1 bedroom suite when we hotel it with our kids and this night comfirmed that that is the only way to go for us. We virtually got no sleep. Not La Quinta's fault though, so don't let that stop you from staying there should you just need a place to crash and you like regular hotel rooms. The pool area did not look inviting but everything else looked just fine (breakfast included).
Due to the size of our rooms we decided to vacate the premises for the evening. We went to Chili's for supper and then headed to the Mall of America.
After our disastrous night, we had a complimentary breakfast (waffles, fruit, etc) at LaQuinta and then boarded the free shuttle to the Minneapolis airport.
Can I just rant a bit about the ridiculous check-in policies right now? You have to pay for every.single.bag.you.check. You know what that means? Lots of carry-ons. Which ends up being the same amount of luggage in the plane and a whole lot more hassle for the passengers and the flight attendants (whom I would certainly guess make more $ than the luggage loader guys so I fail to see the logic of this plan). This policy meant that we checked 2 large pieces of luggage ($50 bucks total) and then we took 5 carryons, plus 2 strollers, 1 booster seat and several purses onboard the plane. After getting through check-in and security, we ended up checking 4 of the carryons (for free) so there would be less luggage in the carry-on compartments. Again - see how this new plan is just not working?
OK, rant over. So, we grabbed some subs from Quiznos to bring on the plane with us and away we went! The flight itself went well. We weren't quite able to get the seating arrangements we wanted, but it worked. Nathan sat with Jacob and Olivia and I sat across the aisle. Emma and Sophia sat with Grandma and Grandpa sat across the aisle. The kids all did great. After eating lunch, Jacob ended up sleeping for at least half the flight, and Olivia played her DS and slept as well. Emma and Sophia ate their lunch, played their DS and listened to their ipods.
After arriving in Orlando, we got our rental vehicles (we were upgraded for free to an SUV!) and set out for our amazing rental home through Romancing the Mouse. Quite honestly, I don't know why anyone would opt to stay onsite at Disney in a little hotel room, when for the same price or often cheaper, you can stay in a 2000 sq ft home with your own pool and hot tub! We stayed with them last time and loved it, so it was a no brainer to go with them again. Excellent customer service - they personally meet you at the house, give you the keys, go over how everything works, give tips on grocery shopping and anything else you'd like to know and leave their personal cell ph# for you to call should you need anything. This time we stayed in the 6 bedroom 4 bathroom home. Each couple had their own bathroom, and the kids shared the 3rd one - perfect set up for us! Plus we were really close to the parks - literally 10 mins from the time we left our driveway till we were parked at Animal Kingdom.
After settling in at the house, the guys went to Target to pick up groceries and supplies while the girls swam, and then we went for supper. We went to Ci Ci's which was a mistake. It's a pizza and pasta buffet, but we're just not buffet people (well, unless it's on a cruise ship!). The kids, on the other hand, LOVED it and begged to back for the rest of the trip, to no avail. :) The pizza just wasn't that good (little toppings, lots of crust), the pasta was really not good, and it wasn't quite as clean as we prefer our restaurants to be. The cinnamon buns were really good though.
After discussing our plans for the next day, we turned in relatively early for our first big day at Disney.
Our family got up early and got to Epcot before the park to beat the rush. Armed with a touring plan (so worth it!) we hit the park! Unfortunately I had forgotten to put autograph books on the list of things to get at Targe, so instead of paying $2, we bought them at the parks while standing in line for $10. They are nicer, but still - argh. After we were through the turnstiles we saw Daisy so we quickly went to get her autograph. Once the rope dropped and the park was officially opened, Nathan and Jacob went to grab fastpasses for Test Track while the girls and I headed to the Character Spot to get in line for autographs with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald. Nathan made it back as we were about half way through the characters so Jacob got to interact with a few of them too - he was so excited!
Then we saw Soarin' using the child swap - Nathan took Emma & Sophia (Olivia didn't want to go) while I took Olivia and Jacob on the Land of the Living (boat tour about farming) - Olivia loved it! Once we were done I used my Child Swap pass to get in the fastpass line with Sophia and Olivia (the girls convinced her she would love it and she did!). You can take 2 riders with you when you use the Child Swap pass. On Soarin' you're buckled in and lifted up in front of a giant Imax like screen and you feel like you're soaring through various landscapes and famous places - very cool!
Next we all went on The Seas with Nemo and Friends. You sit in a compartment shaped like a shell and move sideways through the ride while watching a very condensed version of the movie. After that we went to see Turtle Talk with Crush. This is an interactive film with the surfer dude Crush from the movie. It starts off like a film and then the turle begins to have live conversations with audience members - and the guy is hilarious! I think the adults enjoyed it as much as the kids.
We then began the long trek around the worlds, trying to find the princesses in their native country. We found Sleeping Beauty in the UK right away (Sleeping Beauty LOVED Jacob!),but unfortunately after that they all went on a 20 min break. By the time we had made it around to China, Mulan was out, so we got her autograph too.
This conveniently (but not coincidentally - I'm such a planner!) took us to Test Track where we used our fast passes and the child swap pass to ride (without Jacob cause he's not tall enough). The Child Swap pass is so convenient - the kids get to go two times with virtually no lines! For this ride, you're in a car and you go through a course with lots of different testing, including turns and sudden stops and, of course, a really fast speed test! While waiting, Jacob got to play in the Test Track showroom, which is filled with cars and trucks. He was in his glory!!! They didn't mind if the kids were inside the cars, so he basically went from one vehicle to another.
The kids were all tired after this and we headed back to the house (around 2:30) to swim while Jacob napped. We met the rest of Nathan's family at Macaroni Grill for an amazing supper (so nice after the previous night at Ci Ci's) and then went shopping at Kohl's in the evening.
Here's a picture a stranger took for us of our "whole" family. The little guy got cut off - he's sitting in the stroller :)
Stay tuned for more Disney adventures!