Surprise Destination | 4.24.21
It was adventure day! Whenever we plan a fun, family outing, we call them adventures. So anytime the girls hear this, they get really excited! Well, this was also our chosen code word for this trip because we decided not to tell them where we were going. 1. For the fun of it. and 2. so that they didn’t ask every day for however long if it was time to leave yet. I had already learned my lesson with that with traveling to see grandparents, etc.
Brad got up early to go check on a job site while I enjoyed some. morning snuggles from the girls. Soon after that, I got everyone ready and loaded the car. Brad was back midmorning and we went to Chick-fil-A for a late breakfast. Then with just a quick stop at Brad’s office, we were off.
St. Augustine | 4.24.21-4.26.21
For the days leading up to the trip, we enjoyed asking the girls where they thought we were going. They would guess things like grandparents’ houses, Disney World, beach, etc. Disney World and the beach were the most common answers so we knew they would be shocked an excited to see that we actually were going to these places. As our Disney trip got closer, we decided to break up the drive (7.5-8ish hours from Columbia, SC). To also give ourselves a beach fix, we decided to stop in St. Augustine Beach, FL. We had never been before so it would be a fun first time experience for all of us. This drive was a little over 5 hours, which would leave only a 2 hour drive to Orlando.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great on our travel day, but once we got close to Jacksonville, we were mostly through it. We agreed though that if that’s what it took to have the clear, mild forecast the Weather Channel app was showing us for the week, we’d take it!
Once we got to St. Augustine, we had to make a stop at Buc-ee’s before heading towards the beach. We had never been to one before but had heard all about it since they are now popping up all over the east coast. Hands down the nicest bathrooms! The stalls are huge, have toilet seat sanitizer and hand sanitizer dispensers. Half of it looks like a gas station with drinks and snacks but the other is a full blown deli section of a grocery store with fresh brisket sandwiches, fries and beef jerky for days. There’s also fudge and their must-try beaver nuggets. It tastes like a combination of kettle corn and captain crunch. There’s a home section with decor, clothes, shoes and jewelry as well as a tourist section with the Buccee’s logo on anything you can think of. We opted to try the beaver nuggets, Laney got a St. Augustine flamingo, Morgan got a tie dye Buc-ee’s football and we also got a magnet for the fridge. Definitely a stop worth making if you pass one!
Our hotel was on the beach right as you make the turn onto the main drag the runs the length of St. Augustine beach. We stayed at the Embassy Suites, which is fairly new. They were also adding on another wing to the hotel while we were there. The lobby was beautiful! It had a bar, restaurant, an actual Starbucks (it services the entire area), snack shop and a small store. The set up of the hotel was appealing because it had a very nice pool and the beach was steps away. It wasn’t like other beaches we had been to, where the beach is a long walk across a boardwalk, over dunes, etc. I could be in my chair by the pool and see Brad and the girls looking for shells on the beach.
The hotel is valet only, so we unloaded, checked in and got settled in the room. I got semi unpacked, got the girls bed ready for later that night and organized everyone’s toiletries while Brad checked some emails on his computer. By this time, we were ready for dinner and decided to just make it easy by eating at the hotel’s restaurant. The menu was pretty good, but the prices were a little high. After dinner, we went outside to check out the pool for the next day and found some open, comfy rocking chairs around one of the many fire pits they had set up on the lawn area. Afterwards, we went a little walk and found a playground since the hotel is right beside the pier, which we walked part of as well. From there it was back to the room and to bed to enjoy a fun day in the sun the next day.
On Sunday morning, we got up, put on our bathing suits and went downstairs for breakfast. It was a pretty good breakfast buffet! After eating, we went to the pool and set up camp for the day on the end with the zero degree entry. We spent hours in the pool! Then Brad gave me some quiet time to read my kindle which he took the girls to play on the beach. I later joined them for a beach walk, where we found some crabs, shells and shark tooth. (The beach is a decent size at low tide, but is very narrow at high tide.) We ordered lunch from the pool grill, played a little more in the pool and went back up to the room for naps. We woke up from naps later than planned and decided to bail on our original plan to go to a highly recommended seafood restaurant on the water about 30 minutes north. So we went back downstairs to the restaurant. Unfortunately we didn’t have as good of an experience that night. Service was terrible, orders were wrong, items forgotten. It was a mess. It was one of those dinners where Brad sends me to the car with the girls while he handles the check, but in this case it was just us going back up to the room. I spent the evening getting the room semi packed up and things organized for the following morning.
When we got up the next morning, we were moving a little slow after a full day in the sun. By the time we were dressed and ready to go, we had just missed breakfast, though I was able to get a plate of pancakes for the girls as they were cleaning up the buffet. While Brad finished loading the car, I grabbed us coffees at Starbucks and cake pops for the girls. A quick selfie later and an update to the girls that we were heading to our second stop of our adventure, we set off towards Orlando!
A Magical Check-in | 4.26.21
We pulled through the Walt Disney World gates at 2:30pm. As we came around the curve and they came into view, Laney instantly started squealing and the girls were SO excited to be at Mickey’s house, as they like to call it. We hadn’t been since October 2019, right after Morgan turned 1. We were supposed to have gone last June but Disney was still due to pandemic shut downs so we had all been looking forward to this family getaway.
We had booked a one bedroom villa at Bay Lake Tower. We had been wanting to stay there and the location sold us with being so close to Magic Kingdom to make getting to and from the park easily. We booked our trip pretty last minute. Normally trips like this are planned months in advance but we made these plans on the way home from our anniversary weekend away to Savannah, GA just four weeks prior. As we were driving back home to pick up the girls, we basically said, let’s do it! So I called Disney and booked our room and park reservations. Unfortunately before we could “check out”, the park view room we wanted disappeared and we had to book lagoon view.
When we went inside to check in to Bay Lake Tower, the cast member Ginny, which was easy to remember since that’s my mom’s name too, was so amazing! She saw notes in the system about what happened during our booking and sprinkled some pixie dust on our reservation AKA gave us a free upgrade to the park view room! I couldn’t wait to see the girls’ faces when they saw the castle from the big windows in our room!
Their reactions did not disappoint when we got upstairs. It was an incredible view! While they ran around our large room complete with a full kitchen, eating area, living room, girls bathroom, our bedroom and bathroom, I unpacked everyone into the dressers, got the kitchen set up with all of our snacks and such, staged our masks and hand sanitizers on the kitchen island and packed my park backpack. Brad also did some work while I did this. And because we didn’t need to open them in the car and Brad needed a little extra time, the girls and I opened our first pack of Disney Doorables. Our mystery pack came with 6 doors and was such a fun box of surprises! We have since become slightly addicted and the girls love playing with them!
We decided to spend the evening exploring The Contemporary shops and riding the monorail loop to the other resorts along the way. A lot of the health safety measures that were in place when we were there have since changed and are no longer in place i.e. we had our temperature checked any time we got onto a monorail and prior to entering a park. That has since been discontinued. We also all had to wear masks at all times unless in our room, eating or by the pool. This too has changed.
When we got on the monorail there were also barriers to divide the monorail cars into 4 sections. I would assume now that those have been removed since I have seen pictures of barriers removed from rides as well. The Polynesian is currently getting a new entrance and monorail deck, so we weren’t able to stop there. When we got to The Grand Floridian we got off to walk around and it was so bizarre how quiet the lobby was without the piano being played. We went into the several shops that were there and made our way back to the monorail. At the Magic Kingdom stop, we decided to get off and made the short walk from Magic Kingdom Back to Bay Lake Tower.
The girls were dying to go swimming so we put on our bathing suits and went down to the pool. The pool grill had just closed by the time we got down there so Brad placed our mobile order for the quick service in The Contemporary and went to pick up our dinner for us. Mobile Ordering is a new thing since the pandemic. Personally, I love it and hope it’s here to stay! It was so nice to be able to order ahead, be alerted when it was ready and not have to wait in tight lines with kids when they are already hungry. We could get ahead of the game with this or at least keep our girls distracted.
Back up in our room I walked into such a magical surprise! My in-law’s had used the in-room gift vendor to send me a belated birthday present. It was a Minnie Mouse coffee mug filled with hydrangea with Mickey ears, hidden Mickeys and a Disney gift card. There was also a stuffed Minnie Mouse for each of the girls.
Once we got cleaned up, we all went to bed to get ready for our big day at Magic Kingdom!
Day 1: Magic Kingdom | 4.27.21
We got up that morning and were out the door around 8:40am. We didn’t set an alarm and did really well getting organized for the day. We walked the path from Bay Lake to Magic Kingdom where we passed through a temperature screening tent and then the security tent. Security has now moved from the front of the parks as to not create a log jam. Walking the path you reach security halfway between the road you cross and the park entrance. If you take the buses, you walk through security as you exit the bus area and if you come via monorail, you get screened prior to getting on, so once off you go straight into the park.
Security has seen a major upgrade with the pandemic. To reduce the amount of touching peoples’ belongings, their scanner you walk through has been upgraded to military grade and will only alert them if absolutely necessary they need to double check a bag or something. Otherwise, if you don’t beep while wearing a bag, your bag won’t be checked.
We waited in a short line to scan into the park and were walking down Main Street USA at 9:00am! No matter how old I get, I will never not get that flutter in my stomach when I see the castle. It almost makes me more emotional now that ever before just getting to watch my girls’ excitement for Disney World because of the special memories I have from there as I was growing up.
We always turn towards Tomorrowland first, so we made our way to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. I had heard that posted wait times were deceiving due to the social distancing in line and we found that this was true. We always waited less than what posted wait times were. During our trip, there were markers every 6 feet while waiting in line for rides, but they have since been removed. We decided to leave our stroller in the stroller parking as we finished making our way around Tomorrowland. The wait was short for Space Mountain so Brad offered to hang with the girls while I went to ride, since he knows it’s my favorite. I got the front seat and loved every second of it!
After that, we got in line for Tomorrowland Speedway. The girls were excited to get to drive a car. Morgan went with Brad and Laney was with me. She got so nervous as we approached our car and wanted me to drive but I was able to get her behind the wheel and once we got going she realized it wasn’t scary. Laney actually did really well! I completely expected to be bouncing side to side on the guide bar but only grazed it every once in awhile. It was a lot of fun!
As we headed towards Fantasyland, we decided to grab the stroller and went to ride Dumbo, one of the girls’ top requests. And then it was on to Goofy’s Barnstormer, which was the girls’ first rollercoaster. I 100% expected them to bail once we got to the loading area but all systems were a go! I think Laney regretted her decision as soon as we started making the climb up the hill but by the end of the ride she was enjoying herself and both girls immediately said they wanted to ride it again so we got back in line and did it second time!
Next up, was another request from the girls — the carousel. The line was pretty long but this was when mobile ordering worked out great since it was lunch time. When you order, you select your restaurant and then the time you want to pick up so it could be the current window to time, or sometime the future. Once your order is ready, the app will tell you which bay window to pick it up from. So while we were in line, I was able to order our lunch and was alerted as we were getting off of the carousel that it was ready.
We grabbed our lunch, found a shaded bench and even caught one of the calvacades from a distance. Moana was on the top of it so that was a highlight for Morgan! These cavalcades would just pop up at random times to prevent people from gathering to watch. Now, the calvacade times are listed in the My Disney Experience app.
As we were walking off lunch, we saw that Ariel had a short wait time, so we took a ride Under the Sea before deciding we were ready to head back to our room for naps. As we made our way back to the front of the park, we decided to turn down into Adventureland to cool off with a little treat. With Morgan being such a big Moana fan, I wanted to try the Kakamora float which I highly recommend! It’s coconut dole whip (soft serve) with pineapple juice, blue curaçao and a chocolate Kakamora cake pop. It was SO good! We also on a whim stopped by the egg roll cart on our way back out of Adventureland to try the Cheeseburger egg rolls that everyone raves about. They also have a Pepperoni Pizza roll, but we didn’t try that one this time. The egg rolls were good if you’re wanting something small, but filling; however, they weren’t as mind blowing as some of the reviews out there made them out to be.
Back at the room a little after 2:00pm, we passed out. And by that I mean, the girls didn’t want to slow down and just played while Brad and I took a quick power nap. Once up, we set off for Magic Kingdom again for the rest of the evening. We were back in the park at 5:45pm and picked up where we left off over in Fantasyland. We waited in a long line for Peter Pan but it more relatively fast. With the social distancing, we were twisted all around the (closed) quick service restaurant beside it which was so bizarre. Afterwards, we went and rode The Haunted Mansion. I thought it might spook the girls but they did great and enjoyed it. I think they were hoping to see Jack Skellington but we will just have to plan a fall trip to Disneyland to see him at their Haunted Mansion. We decided to skip It’s a Small World and back tracked to ride Pooh before heading over to Adventureland since we knew there wasn’t anything else that we would be doing in Frontierland.
Morgan has been loving birds lately and we knew she would love The Enchanted Tiki Room. Both girls thoroughly enjoyed that and were completely in awe of all of the singing birds. We then took a magic carpet ride with Aladdin. We wanted to ride The Jungle Cruise, but the wait remained long all evening so we opted to Pirates of the Caribbean as our last ride of the day. Afterwards we went to Pecos Bill’s for a late Mexican dinner before making our way back to Main Street for a few more pictures with the castle before leaving.
As we walked back to Bay Lake, Brad had me place a mobile order for some sweet treats to have in our room and for some chocolate milk. Once we got close, I went towards The Contemporary to pick up our order and Brad took the girls up to the room to get them ready for bed.
Brad had the peanut butter pie which was incredible, the girls had a Mickey sprinkle cookie and I had Cinderella’s pumpkin cupcake and it was amazing!! It was the perfect end to our fun day!
Day 2: Down Day | 4.28.21
Every time we go to Disney, we always plan for down days. We never spend every day at the parks. The plan for this day was to sleep in, go see the horses at Fort Wilderness Campground and then spend the rest of the day at the pool. This would have been our day for a character meal, but since character interaction is still not taking place, we opted to not pay for an expensive meal like this until it’s back to normal.
With the pandemic restrictions, a lot of the transportation has been streamlined. Buses have limited capacity and the bus driver assigns you to a numbered section you are to sit in, only the Magic Kingdom monorail was running and only the larger boats were running from Magic Kingdom to Fort Wilderness and Wilderness Lodge. Usually you can take a smaller boat from The Contemporary to both of these other resorts, however that was not the case during our trip. We found out the hard way after making the walk down to the dock though we did take some fun family pictures on the way. We opted to jump on the monorail in The Contemporary, ride to Magic Kingdom and then get on a boat from there to get to Fort Wilderness. Luckily all of the timing worked out really well.
Once at Fort Wilderness, we made the short walk to the new Tri Circle D Ranch Barn. They recently opened this new state of the art facility for the Disney horses across the street from the old barn to make way for new Disney magic. Laney has begun to show a love for horses in the last couple of years so we thought this would be something fun to do this trip. On our walk, we passed a new playground that I am definitely going to file away for a future visit in case we need something to do on a down day.
Tri Circle D Ranch is beautiful! And it’s huge! We saw several Clydesdales get moved around down in the stalls not open to the public but there is an area where you can walk around and see 6 or so horses up close. You can also see where the wedding carriage is kept as well as all of the Disney Wedding harnesses and there’s a room filled with Disney horses memorabilia through the years. It was really neat!
But our favorite part was the pony rides! With being at Disney, I expected these rides to be expensive; however, they were only $8 per lap, up to 2 laps! The track was very large and extremely nice. I walked with each of our girls during their turn and it felt like I was walking on a sandy beach. Laney and Morgan rode Carrots and did great! Definitely a must do if you like horses and want something different to do while on Disney property.
There’s also a bus stop right across the street from the barn, so we were able to easily catch a bus back over to Magic Kingdom. From there we made the short walk back to Bay Lake Tower and got ready for the pool.
By the pool, we ate lunch and the girls went down their kiddie slide over and over and over again! They absolutely loved the slide! There’s also a zero degree entry, so we hung out there for a bit towards the end of our pool time and watched other pool goers play the resort-run games that had started. We had so much fun, my phone stayed put away and I actually didn’t get any pictures of this part of our trip.
Once back in the room, we got a call from my Father-in-law that he was on the way. He was in town the same time we were for a high school tennis state tournament. My father-in-law teaches high school science and coaches tennis and golf. He had two boys qualify for the tennis state tournament in Orlando, but unfortunately they had lost their morning matches and had opted to go ahead and ride home with their parents rather than ride home with him the following day. This freed him up to come hang out with us. He was able to come hang out in our hotel room while the girls and I got cleaned up. And after Brad took a quick shower, we all loaded up to go to Disney Springs for some shopping and dinner.
I don’t think this temperature screening is in place any longer, but inside of the parking garages, they funneled everyone down at the entrance for temperature checks as well as security. Once in, we made our way to the original section. It was very crowded so we did spend any time shopping on the speciality side. We were able to get right in to World of Disney and picked out a few goodies. Afterwards, we walked through the Disney Co-Op and Morgan fell asleep so Laney and I left the stroller with the guys while we walked through the Pin Trading and Christmas stores. Once Morgan was awake, we walked through Once Upon a Toy and the grabbed a quick dinner at Earl of Sandwich to wrap up the day.
On our way out, Brad had told the girls they could get balloons and we found them close to the exit back to the parking garage. I’ve never bought a Disney balloon before and was not prepared for how expensive they are. So beware, before you promise your kid they can have a balloon just know they are $14 each! Morgan picked a red classic Mickey balloon and Laney picked the Frozen balloon. We said good-bye to my father-in-law and drove back to our resort.
On our next trip there’s a couple of places I want to hit next time we go to Disney Springs. I think between keeping up with the girls and spending time with my father-in-law I didn’t even think about these things once we got there. But next time we are definitely going to have to try a cookie or two from Gideon’s and a donut, a coffee and the kickin’ chicken sandwich from Everglazed are on the list too!
Day 3: Animal Kingdom + Epcot | 4.29.21
The next morning we were headed to Animal Kingdom. I had been nervous about this day’s transportation because I had heard how long bus wait times could be with the smaller fleet and with the limited capacity. However, Hollywood Studios appeared to be the popular park and we luckily didn’t have any trouble. We left our room around 9:15am, were on a bus at 9:25am and were walking through the Animal Kingdom park gates at 9:45am.
We, along with everyone else getting to the park, decided to go straight to the safari ride. We got in line beside the building that houses The Festival of the Lion King show, weaved our way up towards the safari entrance and then before doing so they sent us through a maze of plastic barricades behind a gate that is usually only for cast members. Because of the social distancing while in line, it felt like it moved fairly quickly since each time you moved up, you got to move up a substantial amount.
Each row of the safari vehicles were divided by plastic barriers but it didn’t really affect any views since you’re typically looking out either of the sides to see the animals.
After the safari, we jumped on the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. There you can visit Conservation Station to pet animals like goats and pigs and walk through a building that houses different frogs, snakes and other reptiles. They were also teaching an animation class on how to draw Bruce from Finding Nemo while we were there. Once Morgan had her pig fix, we got back on the train. The girls didn’t have any desire to It’s Tough to Be a Bug in the Tree of Life and none of the shows had yet returned so we walked towards DinoLand USA to ride Triceratops Spin and get some lunch. After filling our bellies, we decided we had done everything we wanted to do at Animal Kingdom and headed towards the buses.
It was so hot and muggy on this day, so instead of going back to the hotel just yet, we decided to make one quick pit stop. Actually two. Laney had seen something in the Grand Floridian gift shop that we hadn’t seen anywhere else, so we got in line for a Grand Floridian bus. Once there, we went up and bought Laney’s Jack Skellington light up necklace and then went outside catch the monorail and got off at Magic Kingdom. By then we could enter with our park hopper and decided we needed one more Kakamora Float, so that’s exactly what we did! I told you they were good! We literally walked in straight to Adventureland, enjoyed our treat and walked right back out. On our way down Main Street USA we caught Mickey and friends waving up above at the train station. I was so happy this happened because this was our first and only time we saw the Fab 5 during our trip with the limited character interactions and it just wouldn’t have felt like a complete trip had we not seen them. Then we took the path once again back to Bay Lake for naps.
After some substantial naps, we were back at the bus stop around 6:30pm. This was the only time we had a long wait for a bus. Luckily we had some entertainment with different wrapped buses coming through, one of which was Moana so we turned it into a photo op while some passengers in wheelchairs were loaded.
We arrived to Epcot just after 7:00pm which would give us about 3 hours to enjoy the park. Because of the newest upgrades the park is getting, some of the main walking areas around Spaceship Earth have been diverted. We learned the hard way walking up to a dead end and had to back track to the new path that dumps you out right beside the Finding Nemo ride. So we did that one first. After the ride, we walked through all of the aquarium exhibits before heading towards World Showcase. The Food & Garden festival was going on, but we didn’t take any time to explore those menu options. We were going to walk the entire loop but with the main focus being on trying to ride Frozen Ever After, we headed towards Mexico to ride that ride and then get in line over in Norway. This was definitely one of the longest lines we waited in during our trip, but again it moved relatively quickly. The girls loved it and I was so glad we were able to make that happen. Brad also treated the girls to pick out one thing in the Norway gift shop that they wanted. Laney picked a soft Elsa doll and Morgan opted for a stuffed Olaf.
I had heard good things about Regal Eagle Smokehouse at the American Adventure Pavilion so we headed there after the ride for a late dinner. It was just ok. Brad and I had brisket sandwiches and the girls had macaroni and cheese. We also tried their baked beans but they were not good.
At this point, it was 9:40pm and the park would be closing in 20 minutes. As we started walking towards the exit, we stopped at a Joffrey’s to get some donuts for the girls to have for breakfast the next morning. Laney had spied them on our way to Mexico earlier. Because it was park closing time she have us BOGO donuts which was super nice. We got back over to Finding Nemo with 5 minutes to spare, so Brad sent me and Laney to ride it one more time while Morgan slept in the stroller.
After a short wait at the bus stop, were on around 10:20pm and had the girls in their beds at 11:00pm. Everyone was wiped out from our big day but I couldn’t help just to soak in the nighttime view of Magic Kingdom one last time.
See Ya Real Soon | 4.30.21
On our last morning, we got up and I was buzzing around the room getting everything packed up and ready to go while Brad took a few loads down to the car. The girls enjoyed their Joffrey’s donuts and we said goodbye to our room right at 11:00am to head back home.
It had truly been such a magical trip and it was so bittersweet leave. But it’s never truly goodbye, just see ya real soon.
Tips with Toddlers
- Do you need a stroller? There are now size restrictions, so if bringing one from home, make sure you can use it. Wagons are no longer permitted. We have the City Jogger side by side stroller and it’s been perfect our last couple of trips. Definitely make sure you have one that will fold easily as needed fo getting on busses, etc. You can also rent one from the parks or from a third party that will deliver to your resort.
- Use the baby changing areas to cool off and get littles changed. Disney keeps these areas so nice and clean. There’s also areas for moms to nurse as well. Animal Kingdom has the nicest set up complete with a playroom that has kid sized tables and chairs and movies always playing. It’s also located behind the Starbucks!
- Florida rain can be unpredictable so you may want to consider bringing a stroller cover and/or ponchos. We have used stroller covers before to protect our stroller while on rides in case a shower comes through but they can also be bulky. On our last couple of trips, I have just thrown some large black trash bags into my backpack to use to protect the seats or the top if the weather looks iffy while we go eat or do a ride. And I always have ponchos in my backpack. I just get the ones from the Dollar Store. Yes they are cheap and thin, but they get the job done and if they rip, we just throw it away and I have extra for the future. They are way less bulky that packing the better quality ponchos.
- Did you know you can call ahead to reserve some baby necessities for your room? You can call to request pack n plays (usually your resort room already has one in the closet), cribs, diaper genies and bottle warmers. Diaper genies are great, especially now since housekeeping services rooms less now as part of their pandemic changes.
- Stay on property — parks are close by for easy nap access and you don’t have to worry about carseats with Disney transportation.
- When you check in, have a bag with some extras in it in case your room isn’t ready like extra snacks, bathing suits, etc.
- Have everything laid out the night before park days … magic bands, park backpack with all necessities and snacks. Also lay out kids clothes and shoes and have a plan for breakfast.
- Regarding breakfast, I always pack our breakfast foods. Usually it’s just something easy like bars. Easy to pack, easy to eat and can be eaten on the go. It also saves time and money.