Friendsgiving 2017

I have a lot of catch-up posts to do, including this one about our whirlwind trip to Chicago to see our friends T, A and their daughter for Friendsgiving 2017.

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A random image I Googled. Sigh.

Backstory: Spouse and T. met at their first jobs out of college in the mid-1990s. They hit it off and so did their girfriends, a.k.a A. and me. Fast forward two plus decades and we’re still friends, albeit now with different jobs, kids, dogs and everything else that goes along with that.

They have also come to visit us in Minnesota at least three times and we were waaaay overdue to travel to Chicago. Plus, we’ve already spent two Friendsgivings with them over the past few years so this is becoming a tradition.

Chicago is approximately 400 miles from Minneapolis, so this drive is not insignificant.

We decided to break it up into two days. On Wednesday we left after work and drove to Wisconsin Dells, WI, which is roughly half way. Traffic leaving the city was as crazy as we expected and a three hour drive turned into four plus.

If you’re not familiar with Wisconsin Dells, it’s a seasonal resort town in the middle of Wisconsin that is primarily known for its water parks. I’d purposely booked a hotel WITHOUT any water park bells and whistles because I knew it would be impossible to get the kids out of there the next morning when we had to finish our drive to Chicago. We stayed at the Springhill Suites, which opened in 2015. More about the hotel in a second.

The part above where I said “Seasonal resort town” really hit us when we tried to find somewhere for dinner at 9:30 PM on the night before Thanksgiving. In the summer, Wisconsin Dells is bustling but in the winter, it’s more like a ghost town. Many restaurants were closed and with the additional need to find some decent gluten-free options for Trixie (8), we were limited. This place was still serving:

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I don’t know what is happening between this delivery vehicle and the moose, but based on the image, you can estimate for yourself the type and quality of food served here.

We reached the Springhill Suites (right around the corner from this restaurant) about 10 PM and checked into our “suite,” which was somewhat of a misnomer since there was no real separation between the small sitting area and the rest of the room. There were two queen beds and the sitting area contained a desk and sofa bed, plus a small coffee bar/mini fridge area with a microwave. The bathroom was really nice with a big shower and plenty of space for more than one person to brush teeth, etc. There was also an oversized walk-in closet with an ironing board. Where the hotel really shone was in the free breakfast the next morning. There was something for everyone including eggs, bacon, sausage, bagels and other pastries, oatmeal, cereal, hard boiled eggs, make your own waffles, etc. I was impressed because the toast toppings included peanut butter, a variety of jams and Nutella. I mention all of this because while the hotel is not posh it is new and serviceable if you are looking for a place to crash during your roadtrip and then re-fuel the next day.

I was surprised by how many families were in the same boat we were, sleepily waking up and then heading out to Thanksgiving somewhere else. The breakfast area was full.

The rest of the drive to Chicago was uneventful. The weather was great and traffic was not bad. We arrived in early afternoon. T. and A. live in a nice neighborhood with a lot of trees and winding roads. We walked dogs and went to a park with the kids. A. had texted me a few days before and asked how committed we were to traditional Thanksgiving food, and the answer was “Not at all,” so we had tacos instead of turkey with all the trimmings. I loved it. The great thing about a taco bar is that you can also make them as healthy – or otherwise – as you want, so this appealed to everyone in the group. T. and A. have also made some amazing lifestyle changes over the past year so this fit well for them to eat in a healthy way. After dinner we played games and worked on a puzzle.

On Friday we woke up, had breakfast and went to a fun park, then a huge arboretum near their house. With temps in the 50s, it was easy to spend a few hours wandering the arboretum. We split up (girls/guys) after that and the girls went to a paint-your-own pottery place. Trixie immediately picked two pieces and painted them within 10 minutes, then asked for more.

These were the color chips that you could use to select your paints. I found them oddly cool, especially since they were piled into a big bowl.

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I made a small dish for myself and really enjoyed the painting process. Here it is pre-firing:

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Now I just need a giant diamond ring to put in there.

The girls and their masterpieces:

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On Friday night we had Chicago style pizza, which is insanely delicious. I went way overboard. It was worth it but this is not something one should often eat. The calorie total per slice is approximately one zillion.

Saturday was another beautiful day but we had to start heading home. We were going to make a pit stop in Madison, WI (our college alma mater) and then stay the night in our hometown in western Wisconsin before finishing the drive on Sunday.

We spent Saturday night at my mom’s lake place. We had it to ourselves since she is in Florida for the winter. The afternoon sun was awesome:

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The drive home on Sunday was also uneventful, but we got home a little later than we expected and then still had to pick up the dog from the boarding place, do a Target run, etc., so it was not a restful end to the weekend.

One major perk of driving six hours each way: lots of time for passengers to shop online for amazing Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals. I did almost all of my Christmas shopping on the trip home, including some things From Me to Me, which is basically my favorite type of gift. 

Friendsgiving 2017 is in the books and I chalked it up as a big success. Now to start planning for next year…. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hudson and Bleecker Shoe Bag Review

After reading about the existence of Hudson and Bleecker travel shoes bags on another blog, I got on one of my kicks where I *had* to have them for my fantasy trips (these are all in my head), wherein I am perfectly coiffed, always well-appointed and organized to within an inch of my life using oh-so-stylish luggage and other assorted travel gear.

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So, yeah, I was determined to buy these and keep them stashed in my closet, probably forgetting about them when I actually went somewhere.

Problem number one was that they were sold out everywhere, including on the Hudson and Bleecker website.

I kept stalking the bags, narrowly missing them on a flash sale site, until one day, they re-appeared ON SALE at the Hudson and Bleecker site.

Normally $64 each, they were now $34. I ordered two.

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These are from the “Cinque Terre” collection and are linen with yellow trim. I was really excited to get them.

Until.

I received an email from Hudson and Bleecker a few days later saying that the bags were no longer available. They offered to substitute one of their packing cubes and give me an additional 10% off my order.

There were only two styles of packing cubes to select, one chambray and the other with a floral print.

I wasn’t happy but chose the chambray packing cubes. Supposedly it is the same dimensions as the shoe bag, but with a side zipper instead of one in the center.

One other thing: the packing cube retails for $30. By my estimation, since I had spent $34 x 2 = $68 on the shoe bags, I was already due a refund of $8. If I was supposed to get an additional 10% off the order, that would equate to either $6.40 or $6 more (depending on shoe bag cost versus packing cube cost), so I was expecting to get a total refund of $14 or $14.60. Instead, they refunded me the measly $8, which I thought was wrong.

I digress.

The chambray cubes arrived. I was initially underwhelmed.

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The inside has some nice features, including an internal divider (consisting of a slim zippered pocket, which could hold jewelry), as well as another zippered pocket on the other side.

Here are some close up shots of the interior:

I tried them out with some shoes. At first, I used just one pair of heels:

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This seemed like poor space utilization, so I tried a few combinations with two pairs:

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Two pairs of flats worked the best, but the heels/flats combo was also ok.

I’m going to give these a real life test next month when I take a work trip to a medical conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy (Long) Weekend!

The summer season’s officially underway this weekend, and I so, so wish I had somewhere to go.

I don’t, so I’ll stay put this weekend, but I’m on a beach in my mind and I’d definitely be packing a few of these items for a sunny getaway.

This tee would be perfect to wear during travel and to set the tone for the trip:

These espadrilles are completely adorable and would also make shoe removal at airport security a breeze:

Since my ideal destination includes sun and sand, a swimsuit is in order. This Mara Hoffman number is so unique:

For après beach, I love how J. Crew styled this fringe sweater with white jean shorts:

A colorful Rebecca Minkoff clutch would provide great contrast to the all white ensemble above:

I may be geographically restricted this weekend, but I’ve mentally packed my bags.

Hope your weekend is full of sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Note From Last Week and the Lo & Sons O.G. in Action

I think I mentioned it about a week ago, but hotel living is starting to get old.

The kids are really feeling it, too.

MGM (9) and Trixie (7) are very different kids, so they are responding in very different ways, but Spouse and I can tell that it’s hard on all of us to have me gone during the week.

Since the weather was slightly more cooperative last week (meaning no active snowing or icy conditions; it was still freezing cold but the roads were dry), I decided to come home mid-week for a night and break the trip up.

That meant that I only had one night – Thursday – during the second half of the week to be away from home. I decided to try two new things: a hotel I’d never stayed at before and to pack lightly with just my Lo & Sons O.G. bag.

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Sidenote: I’ve mentioned it a million times, but I am on a perpetual quest for Starwood Hotel status, specifically Platinum status for 2018 and Gold for Life. I already hit Gold for this year with 11 stays to date (it’ll be lucky number 13 after this week if I break it up again into two parts), and I may just clear that Platinum bar in two more months.

The new hotel where I decided to stay is a Sheraton. It’s about the same distance from my office as the place I usually stay, but I discovered it’s in a less populated (read: creepy, industrial) neighborhood.

And there are giant power lines criss crossing the parking lot:

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Room with a (bad) view

I should have captured a picture of the architecture, which is early 1980s style at its worst. The exterior is all smoked glass and there is an interior atrium area with a bridge crossing from the lobby to the elevator bank. An ugly conference/ballroom area is below. It’s hideous. Fortunately, though, the hotel apparently got a massive cosmetic rehab a year ago and so the rooms were pretty nice. I am not sure I will stay there again, unless I can get a major deal. I digress.

Since I was only going to pack for one night, I didn’t need much. While I usually pack workout stuff, I didn’t need it because I would head home Friday night for an appointment with my trainer at the gym, so I could skip the hotel workout (I made Thursday a rest day). I also decided to wear my Rag and Bone Newbury boots two days in a row, so I didn’t even need extra shoes. In the end, here’s what I packed into my Lo & Sons bag:

  • Blouse (old, from Anthropologie)
  • J. Crew Pixie pants
  • A light cardigan
  • Necklace (Lilly Pulitzer)
  • Pajamas, socks
  • Hair Brushes (round, foldable)
  • Glasses
  • Toiletries
  • Makeup
  • Laptop

And it barely fit.

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We’re talking zippers-almost-ripping full by the time I got all of this packed. One concession I’ll make is that I could have reduced the size of my toiletry bag, but it’s already pre-packed and I didn’t have the time on energy to re-do it.

Not only was the bag stuffed, it was heavy and difficult to carry. I was really disappointed with this Real World test, especially since I’d been so pleased with the bag up to this point.

I may try using this solely for the gym. I probably wouldn’t use it as a work bag because the shape and style don’t seem right for that. Where it might make sense is to use it as a carry-on personal item on a flight, although you would still need to pack a separate suitcase for clothes. This would nicely accommodate a laptop, some magazines, a bottle of water, travel wrap and a small purse.

Speaking of purses, my shoulders got tired of slinging around heavy totes and I switched out to this handbag:

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The photo doesn’t do it justice. This is a gorgeous royal blue Prada bag with bold hardware. I think I’ll be using this for a while, but the Lo & Sons probably will be chilling on the top shelf of my closet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hotel Living – Part 2

Last week I published thoughts on hotel living, but there’s still a lot to say.

I’m in a hotel as I type. Again.

So far, packing hasn’t been too difficult. I’ve been using this medium rolling duffel from eBags and I re-pack it every week.

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During the week I place dirty laundry into a plastic drawstring bag (hotel closets almost always have one in them for laundry) and when I am home on the weekends, I wash and re-pack some staples like workout wear, pajamas, etc.

I plan the upcoming week’s outfits while I do laundry. I plan these one at a time to the last detail, including jewelry and other accessories so that I don’t forget to pack anything. I’ve been using strategies on capsule wardrobe building from the excellent website Travel Fashion Girl. I try to limit my outfits to two different bottoms (this week it’s boring but versatile gray and black slim “Sloan” ankle pants from Banana Republic) and re-wear one top each week. This week I also packed one black blazer and will wear that twice, once with each pair of pants but a different top. In the end, I usually need 2 bottoms, 3-4 tops, 1 blazer or cardigan, and one extra sweater to keep warm. The capsule strategy works well because I work at one clinic four days of the week and the other one just once, so there aren’t many people who could tell I was recycling an outfit if I choose to do this. Packing with a capsule wardrobe has been a fun experiment, and I’ve discovered that I typically need much less than I think.

For shoes, I’m really coming around to the philosophy that boots are all you need. I typically bring two pairs of boots, wearing one and packing one. The styles rotate between my new pointy toed Steve Maddens, Chelsea boots (most versatile), and old pair of knee-length Born boots or my beloved Rag and Bone Newbury boots. An extra pair of running shoes also live in my bag, but these only see the gym.

I’ve been using this Hudson and Bleecker bag for toiletries, and I keep it stocked and packed at all times. I’d read about these bags on other blogs but the price – $88 – kept me away. I finally broke down and ordered one early last year, and I’ve been very impressed. The zippered outer bag opens wide to reveal two clear bags that snap into place. These can be removed and used separately, or the bag can be used on its own without the plastic liners. There is also a zippered pouch in the middle that is good for holding small essentials like a tweezer, nail clippers, etc. You can fit an incredible amount of stuff in here, even for a product junkie like me.

I have a massive supply of previously pilfered hotel toiletries and cosmetic samples, and so far I haven’t had to invest much in anything new. If something runs low, I write a list during the week and dip into my stash to re-strock the bag on the weekend.

I already had an extra set of makeup that I used to keep in my gym bag. Now I bring it with me. Everything fits into a small Kate Spade bag:

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The small square Bobbi Brown palette contains corrector, concealer, foundation and powder, all in one tiny (probably 3″ x 3″), compact. It’s perfect for travel. I bring one champagne eyeshadow and a bronze-y eyeshadow stick, both again from Bobbi Brown. Rounding the kit out are tinted moisturizer, a small cream blush from Beauty Counter and a powdered blush/bronzer combo from Bare Minerals.

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Image via QVC

The brushes I use are also all travel sized. I especially love the mini blush brush from Bare Minerals. This was from a set that I ordered from QVC (I know) once when I was sucked into their programming on a Saturday afternoon.

Working out hasn’t been difficult. Everywhere I’ve stayed so far has a reasonable gym, usually with treadmills and free weights, plus extras like Bosu balls, resistance bands, etc. There is no excuse to not work out, so I do. I’ve recently become obsessed with the Netflix show “Broadchurch” and told myself I could watch it as much as I want if I watched it only while exercising. At least for me, this is a great strategy to get in an extra 15 – or 45 – minutes on the treadmill. 

Eating has been more difficult. I am really trying not to eat in restaurants whenever possible, both to save money and calories. I really can’t afford to overindulge on a daily basis, but without cooking facilities at my disposal, it’s been a challenge. During the day, I have access to a breakroom kitchen at work, so I typically stock up on yogurt, fruit, string cheese, etc, for breakfasts and lunches. I brought a shaker bottle and protein shake mix, too, so this has been an easy meal or snack many times. For dinner I will often stop at a grocery store (Whole Foods or another local chain that is similar) and get a salad, sushi roll or something healthy. The main issue for me is knowing the nutritional value so that I don’t accidentally eat more than I planned. So far, I’ve also successfully avoided room service altogether. This is a major win, since indulging in room service in my PJs was something I loved to do when I traveled for my former job. Besides the generous per diem food allowance at my old job, the big difference with that was that work-related travel was a spontaneous – not constant – thing.

Since the weather’s cold here, I also pack my winter accessories well. I’ll mix up the scarves I bring (this week it’s a fuchsia cashmere one from J. Crew) and I also try to bring a bag that is versatile enough for work and social events.

The bag is a bright orange Prada tote. I love it, especially against a black coat in winter. It’s big enough to fit my laptop, too.

There are a few things I discovered were valuable items to keep with me at all times:

  • Warm, thick, fuzzy socks to keep my feet warm and clean in the hotel
  • A thin cardigan to wear in the (often chilly) hotel room
  • Tweezers
  • Nail Clippers
  • Wine opener (not that I’ve been drinking a lot of solo wine, it’s just an item that when you need it and don’t have it, you’re out of luck)
  • Extra contacts and a spare pair of glasses
  • Chargers for electronics
  • Dry shampoo (my life staple)
  • A bottle of vitamins. This is easier than packing a small container every week.

While I don’t plan to live in a hotel for much longer, it’s been an interesting time. I’ve tried to use it wisely, including exercising regularly and using down-time at night to do things I previously skipped like skin care masks, etc. This is mostly making lemonade out of the situation, because the reality is also that I miss my kids, Spouse, kitchen and warm bed tremendously. 

I’m looking forward to when we get this move completed and start our new life here together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hotel Living – Part 1

With my recent job change, I’m still figuring things out.

Like where to live.

The new job is about 100 miles away from the old job, but it’s not commutable. 

Ok, technically, it is physically possible but with weekend call, early morning procedures and the wintery weather – and accompanying icy roads – it doesn’t make sense to drive back and forth each day.

The original (and still current) plan was for me to stay near my job during the week and come home on the weekends. A month into the process, this is working out ok. Not perfect, but ok enough.

I used to love to travel for my old job, typically to medical conferences in nice (read: warm in the winter) places. I loved staying in luxury hotels, decadently ordering room service when it was on the company dime or indulging at local restaurants.

Things are different now.

Without an expense account, I have suddenly found myself becoming much more frugal, especially with where I’m staying. I’m still loyal to Starwood Hotel brands, but I had to swap the W for the Four Points Sheraton. I’m scouring the Starwood Preferred Guest app for upcoming deals and taking advantage of them. Even though there are several Starwood Hotels in the metro area where I’m staying, usually the Four Points Sheraton is the cheapest and most convenient to my new primary office. I’ll mix it up, though: last Sunday night I found a great deal at the Westin – closer to work and much nicer – so I booked one night there.

The upshot: I’m getting a lot of Starwood Hotel points.

Starwood recently merged with Marriott, so it isn’t clear where this will end up, but currently Starwood has a Lifetime Gold program. This requires five years of Gold status and 250 total nights of eligible stays, although they don’t have to be within that five-year frame.

Through savvy hotel swapping and work-related travel, I was able to achieve Gold status for the past six years. Gold requires 10 independent stays or 25 nights in a calendar year. Platinum is much steeper: 25 individual stays or 50 nights. Platinum also comes with some incredible perks, including automatic upgrades to the best available room at check-in. Hello, Presidential Suite!

Previously, though, while achieving Gold was possible with some effort, Platinum was always out of reach. 

But it might not be this year.

If I’m doing my math right, I will make Platinum by May, which means I will be Platinum for about half of 2017 and all of 2018. Status earned during one calendar year is good for the next calendar year (since many people probably don’t reach the required number of stays/nights until late in the year), but it kicks in immediately for the current year once you hit it.

By June, I think I will also reach the 250 nights total (this is spread out over about 8 years) to make Lifetime Gold. I came into the year with 188 nights.

Also by June, I am hopeful that Spouse and the kids will be able to move here (we’re waiting for the school year to end), and all of this hotel living will be over.

Since I like getting something extra wherever I can, though, I am making lemonade out of this situation and dreaming about free hotel stays and suite upgrades for family vacations in 2018.

Next up: suitcase living, hotel hacks and dietary considerations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party 2016

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.

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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.

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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.

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We still didn’t get it.

Let me pause for a second and talk about cost:

  • Disney admission now varies on whether your trip is considered Peak, Regular or Value season. Our trip coincided with Regular season, so a one-day Magic Kingdom ticket would have been $110 for me and $104 for each of the kids.
  • The Very Merry Christmas Party ticket prices also vary by date, with the earlier dates being slightly cheaper than the ones closer to Christmas. On the night we attended prices were $99 for adults and $94 for children.
  • Since I knew that our theme park stamina would not be strong, I decided that the time allowed for the party (essentially 4 P.M. – 12 A.M.) would be more than sufficient for the three of us to enjoy the Magic Kingdom, so in the end it was about $30 cheaper for us to attend the party rather than buy one day park admissions.

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.

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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.

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The best part came next: it snowed on Main Street!

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Spoiler: this is actually some type of soap, but the kids still loved it.

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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:

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Image via Disney Store

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.

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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.

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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.