I hope your Christmas is as joyous as the one I had in 1979, when I received the most unbelievably awesome gift ever from Santa, a.k.a. the Barbie Dream House:
As I mentioned a few days ago, the kids and I spent a long weekend in Orlando in mid-December.
We stayed at my mom’s place near Winter Haven, FL, for two nights and then headed to Orlando for the third (and final) night to attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
A quick tutorial: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is held on select nights in November and December (this year there were 21 dates; we attended on Friday, December 16th).
I’d seen some other sites describe this as a “hard ticket” event, which I guess means that you need a separate ticket – not theme park admission – to attend. Furthermore, if you happen to have purchased a Magic Kingdom theme park admission for a day when the party will be held, you will also be asked to leave when the party starts unless you have a separate party ticket. Whomp whomp.
Officially the party starts at 7 P.M., but I’d read on several other sites that you could get into the Magic Kingdom starting at 4 P.M., so that’s what we decided to do.
After checking into the Swan Hotel at 3 P.M., MGM (9), Trixie (7), and I took a Disney bus to the Magic Kingdom. The bus wasn’t crowded and we made quick time, arriving in less than 30 minutes. Since our party ticket wouldn’t get us into the park for another half hour, we took the monorail to the Grand Floridian to see their huge gingerbread house.
We arrived in the nick of time to see Cinderella and Prince Charming sweep into the lobby and admire the (huge, elaborate) Christmas tree that was there. They were followed by an entourage of fans, mostly girls in princess dresses. There was a live orchestra in the lobby balcony that started playing a waltz, and several couples joined the royal couple in a dance by the tree.
We had a great vantage point from the balcony for this, and when it was done we headed down to the gingerbread house.
Many Disney resorts have elaborately themed gingerbread houses on display. We didn’t have time to do a full hotel tour of holiday decorations, but I’ve read about this on other blogs and it sounds like fun.
The Grand Floridian’s house was two stories tall and housed a shop (accessible from the back) that sold various gingerbread items and Christmas sweets. Cast members provided us with a menu while we waited in line a few minutes to order. I was pleased to see a small gluten free section for Trixie and she got a snickerdoodle cookie. It was pre-packaged and the one adjective she used to describe it was “hard.” I opted for a gingerbread Mickey head ($8.50) with chocolate dipped ears. MGM declared that he didn’t want any of it.
Honestly, the gingerbread cookie was disappointing. The flavor was pretty bland, and I was expecting it to be crunchy when, in fact, it was soft and cake-like. I ate the chocolate covered ears and tossed the rest.
By now it was time to head to the party.
We took the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom’s entrance and went through security, scanned our party tickets and got wristbands indicating that we were there for the party. As the evening drew closer to 7 P.M. I saw many people without wristbands – regular parkgoers – (politely) denied entry into ride queues and also being asked to leave the park.
We decided to take in a few rides before the party started and also took our traditional picture trying to pull the sword from the stone in Fantasyland.
We still didn’t get it.
Let me pause for a second and talk about cost:
Because of this mindset, we decided to do the theme park stuff we wanted and not go crazy trying to cram in all of the special party experiences.
Trixie is bold and adventuresome and had one thing in mind: rides.
We started off with the Haunted Mansion. The wait time was about 15 minutes. We wandered over to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train but the wait time was 140 minutes. No thanks.
Off we headed to Frontierland and in fairly quick succession we hit Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain, then Pirates of the Caribbean and the Swiss Family Treehouse. The kids wanted to do the Mad Teacups and I sat it out. I hate this vomit inducing spinning nightmare.
Good news: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train now only had a 40 minute wait so we got in line. This was a new attraction to all of us and was pretty fun.
We took a short ride break to get hot chocolate and cookies. There were about half a dozen stations set up around the park to pass out these free (!!!) treats for partygoers. I’d heard that the cookies were snickerdoodle, but I thought my two tasted more like sugar cookies. Either way they were decent. I thought MGM would want to go back again and again for cookies, but this was the only stop we made. They had pre-packaged gluten free cookies available, too, but Trixie took a few bites and tossed them into the nearest trash can.
A this point, Trixie still wanted more, more, more adventure and asked what the scariest ride was, so we went to Space Mountain.
MGM wasn’t convinced this was a ride for him. He kept asking if there were steep drops or darkness, because he didn’t want any of that. Sorry, bud. That’s all Space Mountain is.
I offered to let him wait for us, but in the end he decided to go, too. Both kids loved it and declared it their favorite.
By this time we were hungry and waited in a long line at Cosmic Ray’s fast food restaurant. Adjacent to this there was a dance party with holiday characters like reindeer and elves. MGM loved it and got totally into the dancing, which was good since it took about 25 minutes to get the food.
Once we were done eating it was pushing the time for the evening fireworks to begin. I think this was now almost 10:30 P.M. We’d totally missed a Christmas parade that happened earlier, which was ok with us given the fact that we wanted to do attractions but probably wouldn’t make sense for more serious Disney fans who came for the unique party entertainment.
We grabbed a spot on Main Street and watched the show. The castle looked great with holiday icicle lights.
The best part came next: it snowed on Main Street!
Spoiler: this is actually some type of soap, but the kids still loved it.
The crowds starting exiting the park en masse at this point. We decided to cool our jets for 20-30 minutes to get the initial waves out and did some shopping. I am a sucker for stuffed animals and bought this (ahem) for the children:
So much for saving $30 on park admission.
By now it was after 11 P.M. and we easily got a bus back to the Swan Hotel.
The kids wanted a picture with the holiday decorated swans in the lobby fountain.
We were all pretty punchy at this point.
Trixie was so tired that she slept in her clothes.
The next morning we had breakfast at the adjacent Dolphin Hotel. As we passed through the Swan’s lobby to get there, we saw the World’s Largest Chocolate Santa.
Of course both kids immediately wanted this.
The trip home was unenjoyable but uneventful, and we arrived safely back in Minnesota on Saturday night.
The kids complained a bit about the trip being too short and since returning I’ve heard repetitive pleas to move to Orlando, but I told them that if they hadn’t had a lot of fun they wouldn’t want to go back, so this was a sign that we had a great time.
I think that went over their heads.
Facebook regularly provides me – and everyone else – with flashback posts.
Over the weekend, this one cropped up from my 2011 feed.
This was pre-blog, so my Facebook update was sort of a mini blog post, definitely more than typical FB standards but not the lengthy missives I regularly publish here.
This is what I wrote back then:
Had off part of work last week and this is what I did:
– Took 4 yo son to see “The Muppets,” which he later declared “stupid” despite sitting in rapt attention @ seat’s edge during the actual film.
– Ran about 50 miles on treadmill @ the gym while watching movies on my iPad. Not as bad as it sounds. Clearly, I have been in an extended coma to not have realized this Ryan Gosling guy existed.
– Drank annual Grande, non-fat, extra hot, no whip gingerbread latte. Meh. Not as good as I remembered, but at least this year I didn’t spill most of it on my coat or notice the barista spitting in it for giving that order.
– Went to Old Navy for first time in several years. Left with 2 overflowing bags and then immediately felt guilty because someone, somewhere is being exploited when fleece vests cost $7.
– Sent wedding gift to friend who got married over Labor Day and baby gift to friend who had baby in October. At least these events were both in 2011.
– Spread out all Xmas gifts in dining room for wrapping (not done). Smelled odd odor and discovered dog has been secretly peeing on dining room rug. Do not feel that bad about rug, as it was purchased from a tent sale in the parking lot at the mall.
– Renewed driver’s license at DMV. Their camera did not subtract 5 years or 15 pounds.
– Found an unopened bottle of my favorite wine that was not drinking itself. Rectified situation. Watched a hilarious SNL with Spouse (a ritual now 20+ years old, although in college it was pre-partying) and woke up slightly worse for the wear. Fortunately, I have experience in this arena and can handle it well.
Sigh. Back to the grind tomorrow.
Minus the interval of five years, I can’t say that anything else has changed.
The kids and I spent three nights in Florida over the weekend.
I told them it was a “getaway,” and not a vacation due to its quick turn around.
They were not buying it and requested at least two months at Disney World in the immediate future.
Spoiler alert: not happening. Nope.
We left on Wednesday morning, which I thought was a generous bonus of letting them play hooky from school for three days.
Our flight to Florida was uneventful and we were able to smoothly pick up our rental car.
My mom has a house about an hour from Orlando and we headed there to spend two nights.
I hadn’t been to my mom’s place in about two years, and I forgot how nice it was.
My mom and her husband spend the winters in a 55+ community where the primary mode of transportation is via golf cart.
Some of these were quite elaborate. One even had a feature that was activated with the push of a button. Trixie gave it a whirl.
We went for a swim. The pool felt like bath water. I mean that in a good way. Temps were in the high 70s.
The community has two lending libraries and we checked out a puzzle. Everyone worked on it. In the end we were missing a few pieces but you get the gist:
On Thursday we went to Legoland.
This theme park is only about 10 minutes away from my mom’s place, which was awesome. It was totally un-crowded on a weekday. They had their “Christmas Bricktacular” up and running.
I liked the area where they had miniature cities represented. Most of them had Christmas overlays, too. It was fun to spot the hidden Santas.
The rides were extremely tame.
We spent about four hours at Legoland, which was more than sufficient.
For the rest of the day, I went running, swimming, took another spin in the golf cart and worked on that darn puzzle. I was determined to get it finished before we left the next day.
When we woke up on Friday morning, we decided to head to a flea market that was about 20 minutes away.
I was not prepared for this.
There were live wolves and alligators:
Trixie came home with a lot of swag. I think the total tab was $6.00.
My kind stepfather finished the puzzle while we were gone, so we got to see that to the end.
After lunch the kids and I packed up the rental car and headed back to Orlando, where we were set to spend the night at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
One of the perks of my now former job was a generous reimbursement allowance for medical devices like contacts and eyewear.
Since I recently quit to move on to a new opportunity, I had some money to burn in my account.
I was secretly worried that my eyes were slipping and I needed reading glasses, or even possibly bifocals.
I scheduled an eye appointment.
I discovered that while I am generally aging and yes, my eyes are falling apart, the real problem is my dirty contacts. The eye doctor suggested moving to daily wear lenses and I immediately accepted. No bifocals required.
I still had some cash left over and perused the eyeglasses section of the clinic.
Honestly, most of the styles were So Not Me.
I chatted with another customer, a cute lady of approximately 80 years with a white perm, while I was trying on a scandalously red pair of specs.
Me: What do you think of these? I like things that are BOLD!
Her: Not me.
I didn’t get the red glasses.
In my head, I wanted a chunky, clear frame. Nothing at the store seemed to fit the bill.
Except these Fendi specs.
I liked the design but the shape was too small. These were 135 mm glasses and I need 140 or 145 mm for my face to look ok since I have a huge head.
The salesperson sadly reported that this frame did not come in a larger size, but – lo and behold! – it also came as sunglasses, which naturally have larger frames.
They popped the tinted lenses out of a sample pair and I decided on the spot that I had a winner:
I think the sales associates were surprised I bought them. Apparently no one had ever done so. Until now!
I can’t wait to get my funky new frames.
[If you need to catch up, Part 2 is here].
I’ll try to wrap up the rest of the trip, which consisted of Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We had a late flight out on Saturday night (10 PM), but we were still able to enjoy the day.
On Thursday we woke up, ran and had breakfast again at the hotel. I made the mistake of ordering the breakfast buffet. I say “mistake” because when food is unlimited, I tend to eat unlimited amounts. This wasn’t an exception. I had an omelette, an eggs Benedict concoction with crab, a small kale salad, a mini carrot muffin, part of a piece of toast with lilikoi (passionfruit) jam, and some fried rice (!). Oh, and then pumpkin bread pudding for dessert and some token fruit. Ugh. I can easily say that I got my $39 worth of breakfast, not that this should be a point of pride.
After such a decadent breakfast, I needed a nap. The weather was overcast, so I also checked in with the spa to see if they had any openings. Bingo! They did. I had an excellent massage and a facial, both with Michelle, who is the spa’s trainer. Hotel spa treatments can be hit or miss, but this was all hit. Michelle was the bomb. I liked the skin care products they used, too. The brand is Osea. Michelle told me that she calls their Red Algae mask the “hangover mask” because of its complexion reviving capability. I made a mental note of the product.
By this time it was the afternoon and we decided to head to Hanalei for dinner. The valet recommended driving to the end of the road as long as we were heading that way. It’s true: the road deadends at Ke’e Beach, which is also the start of trails to hike the Napali Coast.
The drive to the beach was quite interesting since we had to cross about seven one lane bridges to get there.
When we arrived the parking area had about a dozen cars but the beach never felt crowded. The surf was pretty strong but a few people were swimming, despite signs advising against this posted at the (empty) lifeguard station.
I’m the worst at selfies.
We had dinner at the Dolphin Restaurant in Hanalei, which had some of the best sashimi I’ve ever tasted. This was the second – but not last – time we had sushi on the trip.
Friday was a rinse and repeat for the A.M. routine: wake, run, breakfast. I wisely avoided the buffet. We were nervously watching the weather because we had a helicopter tour scheduled at 11 A.M. and were praying that the sunshine would hold. It did.
I decided not to take any pictures during the helicopter tour and just experience it. I’m glad I did it that way. I am actually quite scared of heights and was also a teensy bit worried about becoming airsick in a helicopter, but once we took off, neither of those problems emerged. It was really cool!
I was seated next to our pilot, Steve, who made corny jokes but reassured me when he said that he had over 25,000 hours of flying time. I decided right then and there that we probably wouldn’t crash. Spoiler alert: we didn’t.
This was my first time in a helicopter, and it felt like we were floating. I loved it. The views were incredible. There would be an amazing waterfall and then bam! A better waterfall. Rinse and repeat for 45 minutes.
Friday afternoon was beach time. I ordered tacos and a beer from my chair and had to fight off this chicken for my lunch.
We decided to eat dinner at the less fancy restaurant at the hotel. We had sushi and fresh (cooked) mahi mahi. It rained but we were still able to sit outside under an overhang. It was lovely.
We started watching “Dateline” at 8 P.M., but both of us were snoring before we even found out Who Did It. I did not regret falling asleep at approximately 8:20 P.M. for a second.
Saturday was a sad day since we knew we had to leave. We ran, breakfasted, and then (reluctantly) packed up our belongings and parked them at the bell stand.
We spent the entire day at the beach, probably eight hours total. It was mostly sunny. I swam. I read. I visited my jumping crab friends one more time.
At 6 P.M. we started to get ready to go. Pro tip: since many flights depart Hawaii at night, many (nicer) hotels will have a courtesy suite where you can shower, change and prepare for your (sad) return to reality. The St. Regis kindly gave us a key to an unused room and we were able to do exactly that.
Intercession: some of the Christmas decor at the hotel.
We left the St. Regis around 7 P.M. and were prepared for an hour drive to the airport, leaving enough time to gas up and return the rental car. The valet told us a startling piece of news: there was an accident on the lone highway and a fallen telephone pole was blocking all traffic in both directions. He told us to be prepared for a three hour trip.
We set off and – for the win! – did not encounter any problems. The accident had cleared by the time we reached it and were able to get to the airport in our anticipated time of 45 minutes. We had planned to eat dinner there but the options were Slim and None. We went to Starbucks and Spouse had a sandwich; I had a bag of sweet potato chips and a Clif bar that I found in my bag. What a sad letdown from the gourmet food of the prior days.
Our first flight was slightly delayed. We left around 11:30 P.M. when the estimated departure had been 10:28 P.M. I wasn’t worried because I knew on the flip side that we had nearly three hours to kill at LAX before our final flight.
I was still pretty hungry when we boarded and sad to discover that even in First, there was not a meal service. I would have gladly eaten an airline meal at that point. The flight attendant was awesome and gave me a snack box, which I basically inhaled and then regretted because it was all junk food and salt. I felt really gross when we touched down at LAX nearly six hours later.
I won’t bore you with the rest of the details, but our final flight was delayed nearly seven hours and I spent most of the day in the Delta lounge, eating more salt, reading my iPad and people watching. Once we landed in Minneapolis, we were met with single digits temps. Ugh. I asked myself for the millionth time why I live here.
I brought this new bag but felt ridiculous carrying it during the one night that I wore a dress:
You may notice that I stole 10 swizzle sticks from the St. Regis. I have a collection. It’s a Thing.
[If you’re late to the party, Part 1 is here].
Our Wednesday routine started the same as the day before: wake up before dawn, throw open the windows to hear the ocean, head out for a run.
A quick search on our phones showed a local breakfast spot called Lei Petite Bakery that was a few miles away. I got a breakfast sandwich and a chocolate macadamia nut latte, which was a big treat since I rarely get sugary coffee drinks. It was delicious.
We also browsed the nearby shops and picked up several souvenirs at the grocery store, Foodland. Tip: grocery and drug stores are reasonable places to pick up Hawaiian souvenir staples like chocolate covered macadamia nuts, coffee, salts, etc. They have a decent selection and the prices were a lot lower than the hotel’s store, which sold mostly the same stuff. They gave us a membership card to their savings club on the spot, too, so that knocked a few more dollars off the tab.
I struck up a conversation with a woman working at one of the boutiques in the shopping center and she suggested driving to the Kilauea Lighthouse, which was only about 20 minutes away. She also told me that if I stayed until 1:30 PM, she’d be leading a free tour of the lighthouse. We were intrigued enough to head over. This area is a national wildlife refuge and in addition to the amazing views of the waves crashing against cliffs, there was some interesting birdwatching. It was overcast that day, which is why this picture looks more like New England than Kauai:
I wish I could give a better scale to the size of the cliffs and the waves. It was mesmerizing to watch them crash over and over. I was watching for the beautiful flash of blue that can be seen when a wave crests. I kept thinking “just one more wave,” and soon we’d been watching them for more than a half hour.
I should have taken better ground level photos of the beach and pool, but instead I took some aerial ones from our room to try and show how uncrowded everything was, especially the pool. I went in it twice and once was the only person swimming. The St. Regis also has a really nice set-up where they will outfit your chairs with towels. Most beaches in Hawaii don’t allow alcohol, but there is bar service here. One thing to note: this is still a public beach – like all beaches in Hawaii – so there were people not staying at the hotel using it, too. Even with that, it was never crowded.
If you look carefully at the pictures above, you may see small dots in the water: surfers! It was so much fun to watch them. Most of the surfers were in Hanalei Bay, and we were able to walk along the beach to the pier. We were surprised to see jumping crabs on the rocks and many sand crabs along the beach. It became a game to spot them before they scurried back into their dens. We spotted countless holes like these on the beach:
We were planning not to miss dinner that night and had a reservation at the Kauai Grill, which is a Jean Georges venture that easily wins the “Fanciest Restaurant in Princeville” award.
But before dinner, I had one thing on my mind: sabrage.
Sabrage is the art of opening champagne with a saber, and the St. Regis is known for it.
In Kauai, they do it every night at sunset, and it’s basically the It Thing for Princeville nightlife. But for me, it’s always something I’ve wanted to see and secretly do. This has been a long-held dream, right up there with playing the drums in a super cool all-girl band. (I do not have any musical talent, sadly, but as someone who regularly performs surgery, this seemed like a better bet).
We arrived about five minutes before the sabrage was to start. I started talking to a friendly hotel employee named David, and he laughed when I told him that this trip was to celebrate my Unemployment World Tour. I also confided that I was supremely excited to see the bottle opening. David said that he was, in fact, going to be doing the sabrage and would teach me how to do it.
David then got up in front of the crowd and explained a bit about the hotel, the history of sabrage and then he sabered open a cold bottle of champagne and poured some for the guests, including us. I was thrilled.
What happened next was totally unexpected: David came back with another bottle of champagne and handed me the saber. When he said that he would teach me how to do it, I thought he meant that he was going to demonstrate to the crowd, but no – this bottle was mine to open.
After some instruction, it was my turn:
Victory! The crowd went nuts! I went nuts!
This is exactly the kind of magical moment that turns a good trip into a spectacular one. I will never forget the second when the bottle top cleanly sliced off.
And then I immediately realized that the thing I need most in the world is my own champagne saber. It’s Item Number One on my Christmas list.
[Sidenote: I never went back to see the sabrage again on the trip. I couldn’t. The first time was too magical. I also heard a rumor from another employee that she had never heard of a guest being allowed to open a bottle, and I am still harboring the fantasy that I was the first and only person to be able to do so. I couldn’t bear to go back and see that thought ruined if it is not true].
We *did* have dinner at the Kauai Grill and it was really good, but I was so jazzed about the sabrage that I could barely focus on the food. We both got the tasting menu ($145) with wine pairing ($95), so this was a splurge-y meal. I loved the dessert, which was a butterscotch pudding confection with macadamia nuts. They served it with port AND champagne. It was nuts. Spouse wasn’t crazy about it and passed his plate to me. I obliged and ate his, too.
And then I crashed into bed. I think it was about 7:30 PM. I slept like a baby. Heaven.