Category Archives: Family

Orlando and Disney World Trip Jan 2010 – Part 1: On Our Way!

Today is New Year’s Eve 2009 and I’m writing this from the airplane as we are on our way to Orlando for our annual visit with my family and trip to Walt Disney World.

Since Andy started Kindergarten this year, we had to arrange our travel plans around his school schedule.  While we don’t really know whether or not his school and teacher would have been open to us taking him out of school for a vacation, we felt that we really preferred to try to find a time when he wouldn’t miss any.  Looking at the schedule, we discovered that his winter break extended for the full week after New Years, which seemed like a good opportunity.  We are hopeful that we will avoid the worst of the Christmas season crowds with this plan as well as take advantage of some good travel bargains.

We came up with the idea of traveling on New Years Eve with the hope that it might not be as busy a travel day as some of the surrounding dates.  We figured today to be a day that a lot of people would be more apt to want to stay at home or go out celebrating somewhere.  While our flight did end up being relatively full, the airport turned out to be pretty easy to deal with today.

For tonight and tomorrow, we are going to be staying at a Fairfield Inn near my parents’ house in Clermont.  We didn’t really want to deal with the Disney World crowds on the first two New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.  This should give us a chance to rest a bit tomorrow after the travel day as well as to give us some pretty good quality time visiting casually with my parents at their house tomorrow.

On Saturday, we will be transferring to Bay Lake Tower, the new Disney’s Vacation Club resort that opened next to the Contemporary Resort earlier in 2009.  Early in the year, we sold off our DVC points at the Saratoga Springs Resort (which we didn’t like very much) and re-purchased at Bay Lake Tower.  We are definitely looking forward to our stay at what is now the highest-end DVC resort.  We then plan to spend lots of time at the theme parks starting Saturday and through the rest of next week, flying home on a week from Saturday.

With the recent reports of heightened security after the attempted terrorist attack last week along with our uncertainty about how crowded the airport was going to be, we decided that we needed to get a really early start this morning.  The fact that today is a Thursday and not necessarily a work holiday for many people also introduced the potential risk of some major traffic on the 405 freeway heading down to LAX.  Because of all this, we got up at 4:30am this morning and left home pretty much right at 6;30am.  I guess we are kind of having to adjust to Eastern time a day early, although we still went to sleep on Pacific Time last night, making us really tired today.

None of the concerns really ended up being a problem, although I’m still glad we maintained some peace of mind by allowing all the extra time.  Traffic on the 405 turned out to be pretty much full-speed all the way, allowing us to get to the airport parking facility (we use WallyPark) in about 20 minutes or so.   At the parking facility, we were able to very quickly get parked, unload our luggage, and get onto a shuttle bus, which we had all to ourselves. 

At the Delta Airlines terminal, there was no line at all for curbside check-in, which let us take care of our checked bags very quickly and without any major hassle.  It was really very nice being able to avoid the need for a luggage cart or having to drag our bags through the airport to the regular check-in desks.  I suppose I could have saved the tip by checking the bags inside, but I felt the small cost was well worth it.

Security was probably our biggest worry.  Over the last week, I’d been hearing all kinds of horror stories about the wait, with reports of wait times anywhere from an hour or so all the way up to 7 hours.  Of course, these were all hearsay and the airport, airlines, and TSA were really saying nothing officially, leaving us with little idea what to expect.  At least this morning, though, the wait really wasn’t much at all.  We made it through in about 20 minutes, which included a little extra time for them to do a hand-search of my backpack, mainly because I forgot to take the camcorder out. 

We ended up getting to the gate nearly 3 hours before the flight.  That gave us plenty of time to get an over-priced breakfast at the airport McDonalds and otherwise catch our breath a bit before getting on the plane.  We found seats at the gate that were right in front of a window and Andy had quite a bit of fun watching the airplanes.

Security does seem somewhat increased from what we have seen in the past.  The security checkpoint felt a bit more formal and by the book than usual, although I honestly don’t know how much of that was perception.  As I mentioned, I did get a secondary search on my bag, which seemed pretty quick.  At the gate, they had a pretty substantial TSA presence during boarding, including multiple officers both at the entrance to the jetway and at the plane’s hatch.  They announced at the start of boarding that the TSA would be doing some random searches and pat-downs during boarding, although I didn’t see them actually pull anyone out of the line for it.  Before they started boarding, they also made a point of announcing that we were waiting for the TSA to search and clear the plane as well.

I’m going to conclude this first post of the trip by mentioning that this plane offers in-flight wi-fi and I have written all of this on-board and will post this momentarily from the air!  As of right now, we are flying over Texas with another hour and a half or so to go before arrival.  So far, the flight has had a bit of turbulence, but otherwise has been pretty uneventful.

Memories of My Son’s birthdays – Part 4 (Age 6)

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Click here for Age 5

Age 6

As I mentioned when I started this series of posts, my son turned 6 last week.  After the fairly big and elaborate celebration of last year, we decided to keep everything very low key this year.  We even decided to limit the birthday celebrations to just the immediate family, although that really had more to do with logistics and scheduling than anything  else.

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As our son’s main birthday treat, we decided to make a trip down to Disneyland on the Saturday before.  We have an ownership interest in the Disney’s Vacation Club timeshare and looked into the possibility of getting a reservation at the recently opened Villas at the Grand Californian, but there wasn’t any availability that night so we decided to simply make it a day trip.

We live only about an hour away from Disneyland and have passes for admission, so we do make reasonably frequent visits down there, although not nearly as often as my wife and I did when we were younger and childless.  Our last visit had been only about a month before, but was primarily for the celebration of an adult friend’s birthday.  Since that day had a bit more of a scheduled agenda, we decided to make this visit an “Andy’s choice” day, where he would pretty much get his pick of rides and activities.  For this reason, we also chose not to try and meet up with any other friends, but instead just make it a family day.

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One special activity we included that day was lunch at Goofy’s Kitchen, the character dining location at the Disneyland Hotel.  Andy is still a huge fan of the Disney characters and gets a bit kick out of these meals where some of his favorites come around and visit the table.  During our meal, we had visits with Goofy, Chip & Dale, Mulan, Jasmine, Baloo (from The Jungle Book) and Brer Fox.  We also got to visit with Pluto for a couple photos before we went to our table.

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The restaurant also has occasional kid participation activities and Andy had the chance to get up and do The Twist with the characters as well as to help Goofy with baking of a cake (which mostly involved kids playing noisemakers and pretending to help clean up). 

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Toward the end of our visit to the restaurant, the waiter brought Andy a cupcake with a birthday candle on it and Chip plus a few of the restaurant staff members all gathered for a short birthday celebration.  It wasn’t anything overly fancy, but Andy definitely got a big kick out of it.

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After lunch, we headed back into the park to visit attractions.  This included a visit to see Mickey Mouse at his house in Toontown, where everyone did give Andy a bit of extra attention for his birthday.  The birthday visit was during the first weekend that Disneyland had all of their Christmas activities up and running, so we took that opportunity to see the Christmas parade and fireworks show.  Overall, it was a fun day and Andy seemed to really enjoy himself.

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For the evening of Andy’s actual birthday, he picked pork chops and mashed potatoes for his birthday dinner, a bit of a surprise since we had never really thought that pork chops was one of his favorites.  We then had the traditional ice cream cake for dessert and then let him open presents.

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While he got a lot of really nice gifts, it was kind of funny that possibly the biggest hit of the bunch was the birthday card that I had picked up for him the night before.  The card is the type that has a chip in it that plays sounds when the card is opened.  It features the characters from the Disney/Pixar movie Cars and plays the song “Life is a Highway” from the movie, which has been Andy’s favorite song for quite a while.  Even though my wife had already bought another card for him, I couldn’t resist buying this one when I spotted it while shopping for a couple other items at the local Walgreens store the night before.

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The main gifts this year included a couple Thomas the Tank Engine toys from my wife and me and a shirt and Mickey Mouse wristwatch from one of his sets of grandparents.  The watch was a pretty exciting gift for him as it is his first and he was pretty proud about getting a big kid’s gift like that. 

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Andy’s other set of grandparents were a bit late in shipping out his gift from them (a Mr. Potato Head and full set of parts), so he had a little extra gift opening event later in the week.  That turned out to be a bit of a nice opportunity to prolong his birthday celebration a bit longer.

There was also a little celebration of his birthday in his class at school, but I don’t have any photos as neither my wife nor I were there for it.  My wife brought along a couple packages of mini-cupcakes that were distributed around to the class and the teacher gave him a small gift as well.

While this was probably a much more low key birthday than many of his past ones (particularly the year before), it still was a fun time.  Happy birthday, Andy!

Memories of My Son’s Birthdays – Part 3 (Age 5)

Click here for Ages 1-3
Click here for Age 4

Age 5

5th Birthday Family Picture 

By Andy’s 5th birthday, he had completed his first full year of pre-school, as well as a couple years in a weekly Gymboree program.  Between the two, he had made a lot of friends and had also had the opportunity to attend quite a few of his friends’ birthday parties.  This led us to think that it was a good idea to celebrate his 5th birthday (something of a milestone) with his first real birthday party with other kids.

We live in a townhouse that doesn’t have a yard or an overall design that would really be suited to having a large group of kids over.  While there is a party room available for rent in our condominium complex, it isn’t really overly kid-friendly either.  We realized that we really needed to find a kid-appropriate venue for the party.

Our first thought (and Andy’s first suggestion) was Farrell’s, having spent his birthday there the two previous years.  We looked into it and found that the price wasn’t too out of line, but we had major reservations about whether or not it would really work all that well for a big group of pre-school aged kids.  Other than the little merry-go-round, Mountasia really doesn’t offer much for kids that age and we were picturing a party that was little more than the kids all sitting around a big table eating ice cream and pizza. 

Farrell's at Age 5 Farrell's at Age 5

Andy was still kind of pushing for having the party there, but we were able to placate him by promising a family visit there not too long after his birthday.  We ended up going up there the weekend after his birthday for dinner and ice cream, inviting a few of our adult friends to meet up with us there as well.  Of course, Andy again got in a bunch of rides on the little merry-go-round.

Andy's 5th Birthday Party at Gymboree Andy's 5th Birthday Party at Gymboree

Having recently been to another kid’s birthday party that was held at a local play gym, we realized that it would be vastly preferable to go somewhere that the kids could run around and play.  As I mentioned, we had been taking Andy to classes at a local Gymboree Play & Music location since he was really young. 

Andy's 5th Birthday Party at Gymboree Andy's 5th Birthday Party at Gymboree

We checked into it and found that their prices for birthday parties were within our budget and that they had availability on Andy’s actual birthday (which was on a Sunday that year).  During his weekly class, we mentioned that we were considering having his birthday party there to his teacher, who is an outstanding teacher that Andy, and we, adored.  The teacher responded by offering to host and run the party if we booked it, which pretty much instantly sealed the deal for us.

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Memories of My Son’s Birthdays – Part 2 (Age 4)

Click here for Part 1 (Ages 1-3)

Continuing my look back at my son’s previous birthdays in celebration of him turning 6 this week, here are my memories of his 4th birthday.  As he has gotten older, I have found that I had a tendency to take more photos, so the remaining posts will cover just one year at a time.

Age 4 (2007)

Andy's 4th Birthday Andy's 4th Birthday

Opening presents at Farrell's Opening presents at Farrell's

Andy’s 3rd birthday was the first that he still remembered pretty well a year later.  Because of that, he decided that he wanted to do pretty much the same thing as the year before, returning once again to Farrell’s.  This time, we decided to forgo the formal birthday package and instead just let everyone order whatever they wanted off of the menu.

Bite your nose! Shark attack! 

Opening presents at Farrell's Opening presents at Farrell's 

As with the previous year’s visit, we included some play time in the game area at Mountasia.  Once again, Andy used the majority of the game/ride credits that we got for him to ride on the little merry-go-round.  During this visit, he did also give skee-ball a try for the first time, although I really was doing most of the work.

Farrell's Merry-go-round Skee-Ball with Daddy

A couple months before his 4th birthday, Andy started his first year of pre-school.  For birthday kids, the teacher had a short celebration where the child was given a birthday crown and allowed to put candles onto a felt birthday cake. 

Andy's 4th Birthday at Pre-school Andy's 4th Birthday at Pre-school

Finally, we did also do the now-traditional cake and gift-opening at home on his actual birthday.  Once again, the cake was an ice cream cake.

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Eating Cake Eating Cake

He had received most of his major gifts during the party at Farrell’s, but we gave him a toy fire truck that I had found at a really good sale price between the two parties and he also had gifts from his grandparents to open.

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Opening presents at home Opening presents at home

 

To Be Continued with Memories of Age 5.

Memories of My Son’s Birthdays – Part 1 (Ages 1-3)

Today is my son’s 6th birthday!  As a celebration of that big event, I thought I’d share some memories of his past birthday celebrations in posts over the next few days.

Age 1 (2004)

Disneyland Plaza Inn Birthday PartyAndy's First Birthday Party at Plaza Inn

To celebrate his first birthday, we attended the Disneyland Birthday Celebration that they offer a couple times a day at the Plaza Inn restaurant on Main Street.  At this event, everyone gets an undecorated cupcake along with small cups containing frosting and sprinkles to use to decorate them.  A character named Pat E. Cake hosts the event and Mickey and Minnie Mouse also pay a visit.  Quite a few of our friends were able to join us at the park for the party as well.

Family with Mickey and Minnie at Disneyland Plaza Inn Birthday Party Andy's First Birthday Party at Plaza Inn

The first birthday also started our now usual tradition of going out somewhere for a bigger party, but also having a little family-only party at home with cake and the opening of his presents from us and various relatives.

Andy's First Birthday Party Andy's First Birthday Party 

Andy's First Birthday Party Andy's First Birthday Party

This was also the one time that we attempted to make his birthday cake instead of buying one from the store, but we found that we generally lacked much cake decorating talent.

Andy's First Birthday CakeAndy's First Birthday Cake 

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