Friday, June 23, 2017

Springtime in Texas!

If you live in Texas during the month of April you must take pictures of your family in fields of bluebonnets. I think it might be Texas law. Your children must frolic amongst the fields of wildflowers, but for goodness sakes DO NOT PICK THEM! That is also Texas law. Or so I'm told. By angry Texans after we did that. Oh wait, it's not a law at all but something you just know when you move here because you don't mess with Texas. On anything. These people are crazy, y'all.

So frolicking through bluebonnets is a requirement but picking just one will have a Texas ranger by your side in a nanosecond. Got it? Good.

Our first year in Texas we got lovely pictures, but last year it rained so much that the crop of bluebonnets came and went before anyone noticed. This year, however, was a banner year for bluebonnets so off we went. And I must say that they are indeed beautiful. To look at! Not pick. Don't arrest me.

4 1/2 years old and full of spirit, spunk and love. Man, I love this kid.

7 1/2 years old and the kindest and most inquisitve soul you will ever meet.

One of my favorite pictures ever.

9 years old and bursting with creativity and imagination.

My people. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Our fabulous day at Universal Studios

Last summer I started reading the Harry Potter series to Bennett and Will. We were on a road trip to Austin and we didn't want them on electronics the whole time so I picked up a copy of the first HP book at Barnes and Noble and off we went. By the end of the first page I knew the kids were hooked. The problem was that reading aloud took awhile. And some nights we had to skip reading for various reasons. And Bennett got antsy. So she begged and begged until we finally said she could read them by herself and read at her own pace. I don't think we saw her again for three months.

I kid, but Bennett read the Harry Potter books everywhere. In the car, on the trampoline, at Will's soccer games and more. She was even Hermione Granger for Halloween. She was in love.

So as our upcoming Disney trip grew closer and closer we wondered if we should splurge and take Bennett to Harry Potter world. The expense (on top of an incredibly expensive trip to Disney) was very daunting. But then we realized her 9th birthday was just a few days instead of her trip and we would just go in lieu of a party and very little other gifts. It was still crazy expensive but I don't regret one penny. It was one of the best days we could have spent as a family and seeing Bennett's reaction to everything was priceless.

Let me start by saying that I knew nothing about Universal beforehand. I have been to Disney almost a dozen times since college but I had never once been to Universal. I was so overwhelmed thinking about it. Harry Potter World is in two parks. Which one do we do first? How do we maximize our time in both parks when we only have one day? I read blog posts and looked at maps until I couldn't think straight, but I am glad I did because I had a really good idea of what we were going to do before we got there and that made our day so smooth and easy.

Getting ready to leave Disney for the day. First time for everything! 

We made it! My parents stayed with us for three days at Disney and left early one morning to head home so they dropped us off at Universal.

So, after a ton of research we went to the Universal Studios park first and made our way to Diagon Alley. We ran as fast as we could until we were completely out of breath  walked briskly to the very back of the park and entered through the London side. To say that it takes your breath away the first  time you enter does not do it justice. Right before the London entrance you have to stop and see the Knight Bus and chat with the Knight Bus driver.

And then you enter through a little alley and when you turn the corner, it's well... magic. Diagon Alley just appears before your eyes out of the blue. I think all five of us gasped.

We had debated what to do first for a long time prior to arriving at Universal. We knew the lines for the best rides would get long immediately but Bennett didn't care that much about rides and the main thing she wanted to do was get a wand from Ollivander's wand shop. So we went straight there and that turned out to be the best thing we did  because nobody else was there. We had a private audience with Mr. Ollivander and he picked Bennett for the wand selection ceremony. It was absolutely amazing.

These wands are actually interactive and you can walk all around HP world and find specially marked spots where your wand will do magic. I think we spent most of our day doing that.

Lainey can do magic as well!

The Weasleys made it to Diagon Alley!

Heading into Gringotts! I cannot even begin to explain how realistic everything looked.

Bennett exchanged muggle money for Gringotts money. It was good all throughout Universal and she loved using it.

 We hung out in Diagon Alley for a bit and then tried to hurry over to to Islands of Adventure which housed the Hogsmeade section of HP World before it got too crowded. You had to buy a park to park pass to do this which is essentially a Disney World park hopper. but it was worth it. Without that pass you couldn't ride the Hogwarts express and that might have been the best thing we did all day. It looked exactly like the one in the movie. Absolutely brilliant.

Bennett found Platform 9 3/4

And here is the Hogwarts Express. Exactly like we pictured it.

The train is actually moving and does take you to another park but they have projections on the window screens that make it look as if you are rolling through the English countryside. You see scenes from the movies and see shadows outside your cart door with the characters voices. It is so well done that it just hard to describe. We loved every single minute of it.

Bennett's first glimpse of Hogwarts.

Chocolate frog? Check! Magic Wand? Check! Let's do this thing!

Talking portraits inside the castle.

We found butterbeer! And it was so so so good. Especially the frozen butterbeer.

Lunch at Three Broomsticks was our only mishap of the day. We mistakenly went right at noon. Never again. I think we waited nearly an hour to get through the line and get food. I stuck my head back in the restaurant at 2:00 out of curiosity and it was completely empty. Go figure. But the atmosphere was incredibly and they spared no expense when it came to detail. Very impressive.

More shots of HP World

We did venture out to see the rest of Universal mid afternoon and stayed for several hours checking out as much as we could in a short amount of time. Here is Lainey waiting for the Minion ride while clutching Hedwig. Oh, how I love this girl.

We loved the Woody Woodpecker rollercoaster so much that we rode it 5 times in a row. It helped that the park was almost empty and the weather coolled down and it felt amazing outside.

We headed back into HP world one more time before we left for the day. We had one more fabulous conversation with the Knight Bus Driver.

What a fabulous day! I think this was a birthday Bennett will never forget. I know that I won't.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Wrapping up our Disney 2017 trip

And finally.... 20 blog posts (or so it seems)  and 5000 pictures later we are finally wrapping up our Disney trip. Because of the way we scheduled the trip and going to Universal one day and taking a day off to rest, we went to the Magic Kingdom on our first day but then we didn't go back again until 7 days later. I think I am running in the park with excitement here because I missed it so much.

A fun picture of us all at the start of the day when we were still shiny and fresh.

We started our day with all five of us riding Space Mountain. Look at my incredibly brave 4 year old riding Space Mountain! What? My 9 year old was more scared than my 4 year old. And I actually have to say that I was so proud of Bennett. She really has a fear of roller coasters and it was a big deal that she rode this. It was fun all riding it together. Well, kind of. I was a nervous wreck the whole time because I was worried about the girls, but was relieved once it was over and I found out that they loved it.

And after Space Mountain we headed over to Adventureland and rode Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. All 5 of us. This was the first trip that all five of us could ride rides together without one parent waiting behind. It made for such a wonderful trip. We conquered the three Disney mountains!

We spent a lot of time exploring parts of the park we don't go to very often. We rode and danced on the Liberty Belle and explored Tom Sawyers Island thoroughly

Oh how I love this picture.

Gaston told Bennett that he knew she wasn't the real Belle but asked if Bennett could tell Belle that he wasn't so bad.

He's really just misunderstood.

We randomly stumbled upon a parade (as one does at Disney) and the kids jumped in and danced. And then Jessie grabbed Lainey by the hand and walked her around the floats. Because it's Disney and these kind of things happen.

And then in another incredibly magical moment, the kids joined in with the Main Street Philharmonic. I mean..... can we just move in? Please?

More rides. Because we just don't stop.

All five of us riding the Seven Dwarves Mine Train. Definitely a family favorite.

And then it was time for the afternoon parade. Rob snagged us a spot while I waited in line with the kids to meet Pluto.

I absolutely love this picture.

And then we got these great shots of the kids on Main Street while waiting for the parade to start. I think these will be some of my all time favorite pictures from Disney World.

Happiest place on earth.

Lainey was in heaven during the parade and I was in heaven watching her. This was the moment Flynn Ryder pointed to her because she was wearing a Rapunzel dress.

And here was her reaction. And mine. I'm not sure who was more excited.

The floats and costumes never fail to blow me away.

 And Belle pointed to Bennett who was wearing her dress. Such special moments.

Checking out some shops on Main Street.

We rode so many more rides and stayed until none of could walk any further. But we couldn't leave without some Mickey ice cream bars.

Just the best. Every time.

And then the kids wanted to stay and enjoy extra magic hours a bit. Well, 2 out of 3 kids did. So Rob took them on some rides and I sat and enjoyed a Dole Pineapple Whip while Lainey napped. 

Rob finally drug me out of the park after we had been there 13 hours. Best day ever!

We sadly had to leave on Thursday but our flight wasn't until 6:30 and the Magical Express wasn't leaving our hotel until 3:30. You know what that meant? Back to the Magic Kingdom for some final hours of fun. But first we had to check out of our hotel a drop our bags off in the lobby. Not cool.
But we perked up once we got back to the Magic Kingdom! We met the Mayor of Main Street!! Of course we did. Because it's Disney and because every time you enter the park something new and fun is around the corner.

AND Bennett found her teacher!! We were so excited to run into Mrs. Virden in Tomorrowland.

Sigh..... We just don't want to leave.

We hopped on Space Mountain again and despite Lainey's face she really did love it!
We rode Astro Orbiter and with this ride, the kids have now ridden every single ride in Magic Kingdom. This was the one ride we had never made it on. They can't decide on their favorite but I think it is a general consensus that Haunted Mansion is their least favorite.

Some final hugs with favorite characters.

And one last ride on Seven Dwarves Mine Train.

Oh, no.... not this sign. Say it isn't so.
And that wraps up one of the best vacations we have ever taken.
I have to say that I have been to Disney world many times over the past few years and it truly never gets old for me. I only went once when I was growing up. I was three, I believe, and then my parents took me to EPCOT once again when I was 8 or 9 and that was only one park for one day. I hung out in Downtown Disney once when I was in college and on Spring Break in Orlando with some friends. But I didn't start going to Disney for a week as a long family vacation until my sister started having children and she let me tag along on her trips. And then I was hooked. From day one, I was hooked.
We love Disney because it really is a place where we can get away from it all and have fun as a family. Everyone from ages 1 to 99 can enjoy the parks. We don't think about cabs, traveling, renting cars, where to eat... we just go and enjoy. I love seeing my kids giddy over everything from meeting a character to riding a cool ride to seeing an incredibly well performed show.
I love the quality of Disney World and how everything has been thought through and perfected to make your experience so magical. Most of all, I love spending time with my family. 50 years from now I am not going to care that we never painted our kitchen cabinets or that we drove a 17 year old mini van. I am going to remember the moments where Lainey started jumping up and down after she met Mickey. I am going to remember Will being selected as the Beast and dancing with Belle. I am going to remember Bennett conquering her fears and riding Space Mountain. I am going to remember Mickey ice cream bars at 10pm, Will pulling the sword from the stone, Bennett gazing adoringly at Ariel and Lainey waving non stop to every float in the parade. I am going to remember falling into bed exhausted but happy at the end of the day. I am going to remember going on a safari with my family, my Dad holding Lainey's hand as they walked down Main Street and eating crème brulee in Paris next to stunning topiaries of Cogsworth and Lumiere. These are the memories and moments that matter. And I am already planning our next trip.

Until then, Disney. See ya real soon.