I probably should have been writing these down somewhere throughout the week, but there wasn't really any time for that, so hopefully I can remember all of the random thoughts that ran through my head over the past eight-plus days...
- The allergy thing was a very interesting experience. I've heard from multiple people how great Disney is with allergies, and I must admit that most of our experiences were good. Of course, it was hard to tell if there was any cross-contamination since the guys were still working things out of their system, but as a whole it seems like people have had very good luck. It's good to know that they can handle it. Still, if I have any complaints, it's that a) I felt bad holding up the line waiting for the chef to come out and chat with us, so I do wish that they had a separate allergy line or something; and b) I wish they had a few more options. Gluten-free rolls and bread make things a lot easier, but I think we only came across a couple places with gluten-free chicken tenders or other more exotic options. We only came across three different dessert options--two different types of cookies and one type of brownie that was actually pretty awesome when heated. But in comparison to the non-allergy options, it's pretty sad. I do wish they'd mention other naturally gluten-free options (fruit cups, etc.), if they exist. Next time I'll bring a crapload of other treats and keep the cookies and brownies to add some variety at home!
- Disney transportation was also an interesting experience. It's hard for me to say if I would do it again given the choice. When we went almost six years ago, we drove everywhere. Sometimes it was a haul to get back to the parking lot, and I think parking was moderately expensive, but it was nice to have a direct path home when we were ready. The buses were pretty much on schedule (every 20 minutes), and waiting wasn't that bad, but it always just seemed a little awkward. We had to fold up the stroller, haul everyone and everything on, find seats, and sit there for 10-20 minutes, or longer if the bus had to go through the whole complex to pick up at other stops. We were the first on and first off, so morning rides took forever and evening rides were shorter. Rides at closing time were very crowded and awkward, particularly if a lot of the handicapped seating was taken up by scooters. But it was reliable and simple and got the job done...and yes, it was free, so there's that. Honestly, what I'd love to do is stay at a resort with monorail access instead!
- As much as I enjoy Disney, our next trip to Orlando may need to incorporate other things. We need to do Universal Studios, and I really want to go to Legoland. I'd also love to do the Disney waterparks someday, too. It occurred to me that going to Disney was so much less complicated when I was a kid, because there were only two parks. We went for five days, I think, and we had plenty of time in both parks to do everything we wanted to. Now, if you go for a week like we did, you might be able to squeeze in enough time at every park, but you either have to pick and choose your activities, or you'll exhaust yourself trying to spend time at parks every day just to fit it all in. It's a lot, especially with kids. I also decided that I'd probably rather do a couple more individual days in parks than do less days with a park hopper. I'd rather have the option of spreading things out than having to cram everything (including transportation between parks) into a set number of days. Even though the option is great for picking where you want to eat, etc., for us I just don't think it makes sense.
- I was amazed at how many people had babies smaller than Carter. In particular, I was really surprised by how many people JUST had a baby smaller than Carter. Why bother? Either go alone or wait until the baby can appreciate it. It just seems like a hassle because you can't ride thrill rides together since one person always has to hold the baby. I was also surprised at how many people had taken their kids out of school. I mean, we did, but we didn't have much of a choice given the long history of this trip. And while there isn't a much better trip to take your kids out for, I was still surprised. I, myself, missed a few days of school when I went when I was nine, but at least we went during a week with a couple days off for teacher conferences or something like that. And while we're at it, I was surprised at how many older couples were there without grandkids! Kids at heart, I guess!
- The sheer amount of money spent on Disney trips is nuts. From the rooms to the food to the souvenirs, it's crazy. We kept things very simple and even though we weren't paying for most of this, it was still enough to give us pause at times. There are some great values in the midst of it (like the $4 difference for a 3x bigger stuffed animal or the free refill cups we got with our dining package for when we were at the resort). But the focus on shopping and the crazy amount of merchandise available is shocking at times. To see all of the little girls in their princess dresses and knowing they're probably asking for everything under the sun (not because they're greedy, but because it's all that cool) boggles the mind a bit. What a cash cow. Interestingly, I think I'm losing touch with my inner child. Normally when I go on trips, I think about what the younger version of me would have wanted as a souvenir. This time I had a hard time deciding--not only about the younger me, but for the grown-up me, as well. When I was nine I got a couple vinyl character figures, a set of German animal dolls (cats, I think), and probably one or two other little things. Last time I don't think I got much, though on that trip we were more focused on Christmas gifts for our nieces and nephews. My photos were my souvenir! This time I had a gift card to work with from my birthday last year, but I had a hard time deciding. In the end I did get a shirt (cute half-sleeve sporty looking shirt with Mickey and an old-school Disney World logo on the front), but I ended up sharing my card with Carter to buy his stuffed Figment (per my example above, the one I got was three times the size of the smaller one but only cost four bucks more. Go figure.). Jacob ended up with a shirt, his pirate stuff, Lego minifigures, and the bear puppet. A lot, yes, but we did have a gift card for us to use as a family as well, so much of it went toward that. Craig didn't get anything. But all of that stuff and we still had a hard time deciding. I guess we're just not those kind of Disney people? We like it, but don't feel compelled to advertise it all the time via clothes, bags, kitchen gear, etc.?
- The weather...ugh. Part of the reason we didn't go in the middle of summer before Jacob started school was because we knew the weather would be too hot for all of us. Craig's tolerance of hot weather is almost nil, and between Jacob and Carter I wasn't sure who would be more miserable. I'm not a fan either, but I'd probably sacrifice my well-being just to make the best of things. It was hot and humid every day--high 80s the whole week. Most days had at least a chance of thunderstorms, but it only rained on us three days...and only one day where it dramatically impacted the day. It was exhausting and pretty gross most of the time. Lots of sweat and sunscreen, for sure. I'd definitely aim for October through April or so for any future visits. But the last minute suggestion by a co-worker of mine to bring ponchos proved fruitful. I wasn't able to get the cheapest ponchos at Walmart (they were sold out) but the ones we got were pretty nice and should serve us well in the future. And Jacob finally got to use the Batman one my mom gave him a while back for something. It saved us a few bucks, anyway. In my past trips to Disney we only had one or two brief encounters with rain, so this was definitely a switch. We survived, though.
- As a whole, the trip was...an adventure. We're grateful to Craig's parents for sending us even though they couldn't go. It was a lovely resort and it was nice to feel pampered with such a great trip. I just desperately wish Jacob would have been more into it. I wish he could have behaved and gotten a little more excited, but I guess that wasn't his thing this time. Carter wasn't old enough to appreciate it, but I'm grateful he was such a good little boy. And I loved how much joy his smiles brought to the people all around us, everywhere we went. All in all, it was a great trip and I'm hoping the good memories stick out and leave the bad memories behind. It's always fun to get away and see new things, particularly in a place as fun and beautiful as Disney. It was stressful a lot of the time, but things would have been stressful at home, too, so I guess being able to get away for a bit and be frustrated somewhere else probably helped, even though the weird schedules might have made things worse. But still...it was a whirlwind week and we did sneak out some fun, so I'm glad we had the opportunity.