Spring Break 2015: Disney Springs (Day 5)

Last time on Spring Break 2015, we exhausted ourselves in the best way soaking up as much Disney magic as possible. On the day we prepared to head home, we spent some time in Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney. This is the finale for our spring break in Florida…


Waking up was so strange, because it meant our magical spring break vacation was over. I had to go home to accept a job offer; it didn’t get much more real world than that.

After Annie coerced me into wearing my Ariel outfit, hairbow and all (minus the corset, she’s not completely unreasonable), we set out for a relaxing browse-around of Disney Springs, which used to be called Downtown Disney until a recent renovation.12513724_10208885015586329_5263508201923533641_o 12068731_10208885017386374_2313569300021160978_o

Didn’t blow all your money at Disney World? WELL YOU’RE IN LUCK! (But your wallet is not.) There are plenty of Disney stores at Disney Springs that are sure to worry your accountant and bank account.

The highlight of our short foray into Disney Springs was the T-Rex Café, aka one of the most magical dinosaur experiences I have ever had and likely ever will have.Read More »

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Spring Break 2015: DISNEY WORLD (Day 4 part 2)

Last time on Spring Break, I was traipsing around Disney World with my friends, having the time of my life dressed as Ariel, belly full from lunch at Be Our Guest, and ready for a jam-packed evening.

WARNING: This post can only be longer than the last post. If you skipped the last post to come straight here… that’s understandable. This post is both text-heavy and photo-heavy, you have been severely warned. If you think it’s painful to read then consider how much I delayed it because of how painful it was to write. You’re welcome. And also, I am terribly sorry. Looooooong post ahead!


Fresh off the high of finally being able to see the Festival of Fantasy parade, we skipped off to ride through a classic, Pirates of the Caribbean. I love the movies that drew inspiration from this ride and love thinking about how creatively the writers took a simple story ride and gave us the PotC movie franchise. (Sad that “We want the redhead!” doesn’t make it to the movies, though.)

Dead men tell no tales…
CAPTAIN JACK!

After hearing about how Annie had 7 the last time she went to Disney World, we went to Aloha Isle for the famous Dole Whip! It was pretty hot that day, so the pineapple soft serve really hit the spot. Dole Whip used to only be sold at Disney properties (Disneyland, Disney World, Disney’s Polynesian) and at Dole’s Hawaii pineapple plant, but there are a handful of other spots you can snag this pineapple-y treat. Even if you don’t love pineapple, it’s definitely worth trying because it doesn’t have the super sharp acidity makes folks like me uncomfortable after more than a few small pieces.

DOLE WHIP
DOLE WHIP

There was no line and it’s kind of nostalgic, so we also took a quick tour of the Swiss Family Treehouse, which is based on the old movie Swiss Family Robinson. I never saw this movie but my parents did, so I remember them taking me through it and explaining the rooms and the cool engineering. It’s a swanky treehouse, folks. If I was stranded on an island and had to live in this treehouse, I’d be pretty ecstatic. I worry that one day, this treehouse will be gone or rebranded for a newer Disney franchise (like it was at Disneyland), so I try to enjoy it while I can. Of course, we also checked out Haunted Mansion, which is a fun and spoopy ride and an okay movie-based-on-a-ride. The creepy factor is definitely turned up for this classic Disney ride, so keep that in mind if you are bringing along smaller children.

We really wanted to take it easy in the afternoon, because we had dinner reservations at 11PM. Yeah, we had a long day ahead of us. A lot of people don’t like what I call the story rides, where you sit in a moving vehicle (arms and legs inside at all times!) and experience the story of the movie by passing through. The old Snow White ride was a story ride before it was decommissioned and replaced with the Mine Train. (Replaced as in Mine Train is the park’s Snow White ride now.) We did Under the Sea in the morning (because LITTLE MERMAID DUH) and did The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh before heading to the classic (ultimate classic) It’s a Small World and all its Mary Blair-style splendor. Confession: I used to get quite scared on this ride because there are so many animatronic dolls staring at you…

One of the highlights of the evening wound up being Enchanted Tales with Belle. The wait was one of the shorter ones by this point in the afternoon and there was an opportunity to meet a character so I mean. Maurice’s cottage is adorable and filled with a lot of cute details. There is even a portrait of Belle with her mother, which is a real treat because her mother is not shown or really mentioned in any of the movies. But what made our excursion to Belle’s library afterwards (“Take me to the moment Belle and Beast fell in love!”) was the interactive part of telling that story. Belle came out to greet all of us and chose audience members to help reenact her love story.

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Guess what happened when she laid eyes on the Gaston in our group?

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Spring Break 2015: DISNEY WORLD (Day 4 part 1)

Last time on Spring Break, our crew drove left the island town of Key West and made way for the mainland, stopping to see gators and a friend in Sarasota before arriving in Orlando for the main event of our trip (for me, anyway) – a full day at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. 

WARNING: Long post ahead. Looooooong. You have been warned. We were at Disney World from open to close and I had a lot of feelings throughout the whole day. I was, needless to say, really psyched about it. Long post. Looooooooooong. End of warning.


I was the first person to wake up in our room, spring awake with my cell phone alarm because I. WAS. SO. READY. It took a little while to get everyone else to my energy level at 6 AM but come on, gang, Disney World!!! Specifically, Magic Kingdom, aka the most magical part of Disney World.

Of course, I was super stoked to put on my Ariel Disneybound for the day. The only thing better than having a really great Disneybound was that my whole group dressed for the occasion. It was maybe on of the greatest moments of my life? Having people share a common interest with me and who are willing to display it in public with me shouldn’t be so difficult for me, but it is, so it meant a lot to me that my friends would Disneybound with me.

Prince Eric, Ariel, Gaston, and Snow White
Prince Eric, Ariel, Gaston, and Snow White (aka Ben, me, Tim, and Annie) (also, it was not Tim and Annie’s first visit shhhh)

We got on the shuttle nice and early, with a whole bunch of kids and their parents. We weren’t the only folks dressed as characters, but the only other person our age was wearing one of Hot Topic’s options. Otherwise, it was mostly girls aged 3-9 wearing their Disney princess best.

Most of them stared at me shamelessly on the shuttle ride to the park. In fact, throughout the whole day, I was stared at a lot. I didn’t feel too self-conscious about it most of the day, as I was mostly glad that people were noticing how much work I put into the look, but sometimes I got weirded out and quickly scuttled out of view. (The wide-eyed stares of children are easy to get used to. The slack-jawed gawking of teens and parents… not so much.)

But one of the most fun things about Disneybounding is that it’s become a real community. A few guests stopped me to tell me they loved my Ariel Disneybound, and a lot of cast members (aka Disney employees) said the same as well. I also loved letting other people know that I liked their Disneybounds and seeing how glad they were to get the acknowledgement from a fellow Disnerd. Thanks, Leslie, for helping us achieve that moment.

Anyhow! We had a few scheduled activities for the days: lunch, dinner, fireworks shows and parades we wanted to see, and FastPass slots. FastPass is Disney’s system where you can select time slots and get in an express line for popular rides. It’s a great way for you to plan your day around certain must-see rides while really reducing how much time you spend waiting in line for those rides. (TL;DR If you visit a Disney park, definitely reserve your FastPass slots.)

ALSO I enjoyed using the new(ish) Magic Bands! These got rolled out a few years ago and their primary use for guests is that it’s their guest pass, as in it allows them into the park and onto the rides. (Otherwise, you use a card.) But, these do a lot more than serve as a wearable pass, and you can learn more about that at your own leisure, I won’t bore you here about it. BUT BASICALLY Mickey wristbands meant less fumbling with pockets for me and Annie!

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Spring Break 2015: Gators and Sarasota (Day 3)

Last time on Spring Break 2015, we spent a full day enjoying Key West, snorkeling, eating key lime pie and conch, and camping out on a quasi-beach before a big day on the road as we get ready to head up to Orlando with a few stops in between.


Waking up in the tent felt pretty nice as I mentally prepared myself for a long car ride ahead. In fact, I have a bit of a hard time thinking of what adventures we had on this day, as we did spend most of it in the car.

Sunrise from the camground
Sunrise from the camground

BUT we did see some gators! It was exciting! I was told that, in Florida, you would see alligators chilling everywhere and, while that wasn’t quite true, I did see a LOT of them chilling on the side of the highway as we headed off towards Sarasota to meet one of Tim’s friends. We even stopped in a few small conservation parks to get a better view of gators (whizzing past them on the highway isn’t a great way to get acquainted…) and we got to see one big ol’ guy chilling in the marshes.

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And this GIANT bug that was about the size of my hand chilling there, too

Since we arrived in Sarasota before Tim’s friend was done with working on a project, we hit up Siesta Beach for some cloudy-day splashing about. (Of course, a cloudy day didn’t stop me from laboriously slathering on my SPF 90.) Siesta Beach is a super popular beach in Sarasota and they had some of the finest sand I’ve ever seen! It was like powdered sugar. Tim loved this, to the point where he was really struggling not to start eating the sand. For me, it was fun for all of 2 seconds until I was promptly covered in sand thanks to the power of my sunscreen, and I soon realized our car would be filled with sand. But the sand was powdery, the water felt great, and we enjoyed our short beach excursion before running back to the car to avoid an incoming thunderstorm. I’m sure the beach is stunning on sunny days but we enjoyed what would be our last contact with the sea for this trip.

Some of the seagulls that were chilling by our beach towels
Some of the seagulls that were chilling by our beach towels

In Sarasota, we had dinner at a Square 1 Burgers with Tim’s friend but otherwise, Monday was a very low-key day for us. While the long drive was admittedly a bit boring (I slept through a lot of it, to be honest), it was nice to relax with my friends and just talk about life (when I was awake). After all, we had a big day ahead of us!

We spent the rest of our evening driving to Orlando, where we were going to be staying in a hotel so that we could properly rest before and after a full day at Disney World. Disney’s All-Star Music Resort was great because — as a Disney resort — there was a complimentary shuttle going to and from the parks that we could take. We filled our hotel room with our things (to be sorted and discarded for the trip home later), enjoyed the showers, beds, and AC, and kicked back to watch some TV as we prepared for a magical day.

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More on the magic bands in day 4!

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Disney magic rising….

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A little break before I finish my spring break recaps because I have a lot of Disney stuff to go through, still, and I’m not sure how to break it down to make it more manageable. (I’ve been working through it already!) But I hope you have enjoyed the recaps so far and are ready for some Disney magic!

Here’s Tiny Hamster at Disney World to tide you over until my post is ready!

Spring Break 2015: Key West (Day 2)

Last time on Spring Break 2015, we spent a day in Fort Lauderdale and then spent 4 hours driving to Key West. Upon arrival, we had a taste of night life and curled up on a beach to recuperate before another full day of fun.


I wish I could say that I awoke peacefully to the gentle warmth and glow of the sun, peeking over the sea as I slept with the smell of salt and sea in my hair.

Sunrise on the beach
Beach sunrise…
Sunrise on the beach with waves on the rocks
Breathe in the serenity… it doesn’t last

In reality, we had barely settled into our sleeping positions on the beach and in the car when I learned something the hard way:

Key West has feral chickens. I found out when, at 3 AM, I heard a rooster crowing its lungs out. And then no fewer than 2 roosters joined that one. There was a proud rooster, with a confident crow, and a very sad rooster with a depressingly dejected one. I wish I knew why 3 AM was when they decided to start crowing, because cartoons and movies have told me that roosters crow when the sun rises. Clearly, these roosters didn’t get that memo.

Rooster
Cocky…

I was under the impression that these roosters belonged to one of the houses nearby, but when I woke up, I saw them wandering around. A cocky rooster strutting around and still crowing, a few hens, even some chicks! I was very excited to see those adorable chicks but I do with I was less cranky at this point in time. I can sleep through almost anything. I’ve fallen asleep standing up, I routinely sleep in any and all public transportation, I have even nodded off on the stairs. But there are 2 things that will keep me from falling asleep no matter how sleepy I am and that will wake me up no matter how deeply I’m sleeping: (1) Snoring and (2) ROOSTERS CROWING. I discovered the power of the rooster crow when I was in China over a decade ago and first successfully stayed up all night thanks to the roosters next door.

Chick next to chicken
Chick + chicken = almost forgiven BUT NOT REALLY

Let’s move on from the roosters, as we kept seeing them throughout the day (they’re everywhere). Just know that every time I saw them, I tried to give them the most menacing glare I could.

I did get to enjoy a really serene ocean sunrise when I was done staring down these roosters and their families. From there, we went to breakfast at Southernmost Beach Cafe. (Since this is Key West, “southernmost” was a recurring theme in the naming of local establishments.) I filled my belly with chicken and waffles because we already had two smoked salmon omelettes at the table.

Chicken and waffles with candied pecans and cayenne maple syrup
Chicken and waffles with candied pecans and cayenne maple syrup
Eggs benedict
More eggs benny!

We had a big day ahead of us in Key West! First, we set up at a proper campsite at Boyd’s Campground, which provided a nice spot for us to rest our heads next to the water.

View from our campsite
View from our campsite
Our tent and our rental hatchback
Our tent and our rental hatchback

We walked around for a bit, getting our bearings and seeing what this town looked like in daylight. (I was so surprised by how many people were sunburned that early in the day. Did these folks not know how the sun works by now?)

A romantic and somewhat unsettling statue
A romantic and somewhat unsettling statue
Pelican? at the docks
A friend we made while walking

Our biggest adventure was: snorkeling! I’ve never been snorkeling before and I was so excited because, I mean, I’ve been obsessed with The Little Mermaid for so long and with marine life in general for so long now. The idea of us being out there, swimming with the fishies LITERALLY was so exciting to me. The weather was perfect for a day out on the sea and the Floridays crew was so nice to us! They were friendly but not too friendly because they understand you’re out here to get to know the fish, not the captain of the boat. I felt really safe and at ease, even when I started feeling nauseous and watched half of the other passengers throw up over the side of the boat. (For those interested, going snorkeling with Floridays includes beverages. I just had myself a ginger ale because of my belly, but you could have something with more of an edge to it if you wanted, as well.)

View from the boat
The only photo I have is from our boat ride out to the reef…

Being my first time snorkeling, I had a bit of trouble with the breathing. (So much for those mermaid dreams.) I got water in my goggles and in my snorkel pretty often, and at one point, I had floated to a really shallow part of the reef. I was too scared to move for fear of kicking at the coral with my flippers, but the waves were really rough in that area to the point where I was worried the water itself would slam me into the reefs. But wow was it amazing. The fish weren’t afraid of me — even though I was covered in a lot of SPF 90 — and I saw so many different kinds of fish and coral out there. It was seriously one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had an it was easily the highlight of Key West for me and one of the high points of the entire trip. I wish I had photos to share but I will seriously cherish the memory of being as close to a mermaid as I will ever be. Also, I cannot recommend snorkeling in Key West enough, especially with Floridays.

Of course, since we were in Key West, I was told by friends that it was mandatory that I get key lime pie on a stick dipped in chocolate. So I did!

The classic - key lime pie, frozen, put on a stick, dipped in chocolate
The classic – key lime pie, frozen, put on a stick, dipped in chocolate

Since we had some time before sunset, we had dinner. Kind of. First, we stopped by The Conch Shack because, when in Key West and not eating key lime pie, you gotta try some conch.  Between the 4 of us, we split a conch sampler (conch fritters, conch ceviche, cracked conch, and fries) and a seafood sampler (conch fritters, fried fish, fried shrimp, and fries). This was literally a little shack with amazing fried seafood and — the highlight of this shack — misters that would spray a fine mist of cool water on you as you walked round to the seating area. Delicious food, refreshing mist… stop by here when you want to get some conch in Key West. As it turns out, we wanted to balance out our meal more, which is why we split our orders at The Conch Shack. We stopped by Hogfish Bar & Grill for a more traditional dining experience. (We didn’t have hogfish but yo, hogfish are terrifying looking.) I wanted to balance out all that fried goodness I had earlier, so I ordered a ceviche with the waitress’s promise that it had lots of veggies. We had okay food there, but we really just wanted to wait for sunset with ice water in a cool restaurant, to be totally honest. (It was open air, so there was no AC, but being out of the sun and in front of a fan really helped.)

Sign denoting Conch Shack

Food from Conch Shack
Yummmmmmmmmm

We rounded out the evening by going to Mallory Square for the Sunset Celebration. Talented street performers come out and put on some amazing shows while vendors provide food and handmade crafts. It was super cool in that it highlighted these local talents in this beautiful place. The performers themselves! I mean they should be on America’s Got Talent, they were incredible. I wish nothing but the best for them.

Man in top hap doing a hand stand on chairs
Not pictured: the 8 (!!!) chairs that were stacked below his hands/feet

It also didn’t hurt at all that Mallory Square is gorgeous at sunset. This is definitely another must-do Key West activity.

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The evening ended with us returning to our campsite — a proper one this time! — and settling down with cold drinks in front of a small bonfire we made. The bonfire was short-lived, as the gravel that comprised the artificial “beach” we camped on had a tendency to POP. A lot. It was pretty dangerous actually, but the fire felt nice because it was that toasty, cozy, dry heat and not the gross humidity that we had been dealing with since touchdown. We all bundled up in our tent (which got a little too warm because there wasn’t much airflow through it) and had a pretty good night’s sleep.

Campfire