One of the advantages of the quarter system in college is that school doesn’t start until late September, which means that when you have a child with a September birthday, it is possible to go somewhere—say, hypothetically, Disneyworld—with that child to celebrate before school starts.
This year, it was a special birthday as we celebrated in Disneyworld for the weekend. Marcus turned 21 this year (although I am in denial about that), and we celebrated his first legal drink (note the very carefully worded description). Jade flew out from Atlanta to join in the festivities, and it was really wonderful to have the family together for such a fun occasion.
Disneyworld was magical, as usual. It was Marcus’s first time on the newest ride, Guardians of the Galaxy, and he enjoyed the three times he rode it (we had 3 different songs, too, which rocked). A lightsaber was added to his (already extensive) collection as an additional birthday gift. (Or, as his sister says in opposition, we continue to contribute to the arming of her brother.) We ate at the Brown Derby (in Hollywood Studios) for his birthday dinner. And to give the birthday boy credit, he didn’t think it was at all lame to celebrate his 21st birthday with his parents.
Our last spring break together as a family was in March (yes, this entry is a bit late). We really have no grounds for complaint, however. For several years, the college spring break for Jade coincided with the high school spring break for Marcus, and so we eked out a couple more years of spring break together than most families manage and feel fortunate for being able to do so. A very wise friend of ours once told me that the way to get your children to continue to vacation with you once they leave the house is to choose interesting/fun places to go and pay for all of it. And so I bring you spring break 2022 in Los Angeles! The kids started their spring break in San Diego visiting my parents (and eating). We then met up with the kids in Disneyland (Jade’s first trip to the mother ship!), where we stayed at the Grand Californian Hotel and spent 2 really fun days at the parks, riding rides (and eating). We then moved to Los Angeles itself (well, really, Marina Del Rey, for those familiar with SoCal) and did touristy things (and ate). We had a tour of the La Brea Tar Pits (very cool, with lots of bones and active tar pits still), a tour of the Getty Villa (it’s the classical antiquities part of the Getty—I will never look at Commodus in quite the same way again (in a good way!)), toured through the Getty Museum, and had an after hours viewing of the Griffith Observatory where we saw the Orion Nebula and an Orion star cluster, among many other things, and helped shut down the telescope for the evening. The common theme of all of the tours, for which we are immensely grateful, was the dedication and love of all the personnel we met for what they were doing professionally. Everyone was so excited about their work and loved sharing their knowledge with us. It was a good reminder to the kids that loving what you do is so important to leading a fulfilling life. Memorable meals include Din Tai Fung (love, love those soup dumplings), Pink’s (an LA institution justifiably famous for its hot dogs), Spagos (a Wolfgang Puck restaurant that is still going strong after 30+ years), and Meizhou Dong Po (a transplant from China). It was a fantabulously fun week with the four of us—maybe even more so because we know that opportunities like this, with all four of us together, will become scarcer as the years go on. I can’t complain—we’ve had more spring breaks together than we had expected and so each extra one is just a bonus. And this one was fun!
This was our 3rd Princess 10K event (last year’s event being cancelled due to some random virus). We walked this one, as Jim had had an accident on the treadmill over Thanksgiving and had not yet been cleared by his cardiologist to exercise. (For the record, walking a 10K does not count as exercise!) While we would have liked to have run the course (well, I would have liked to have run it, but I don’t think I’m speaking for everyone), it was actually a really fun opportunity to see all of the details that Disney puts in to make a runDisney event a little more fun than a typical running event. There are photo ops with characters, there are DJs putting out heart-pumping music, and there are Disney “volunteers” cheering you along the way. One of the most fun events to attend during the weekend is the runner’s expo. Lots of vendors (although fewer this year than in past years) selling various needed and unneeded merchandise. Since we were walking it this year, I bought a matching tutu for my running outfit. It is the princess 10K after all. One of the best things about this year’s event is that we had some very good friends who were also down for the event. It was great fun to go to the parks with them. And because we were there for three weeks remote working (aka fleeing the DC winter), we were able to have dinner with some other friends as well. We also visited the Kennedy Space Center, Cocoa Beach, and Tampa during our stay. But the VERY best thing about this year’s event was that the photos of both of us are presentable!! (This has not been historically true for a variety of deliberately vague reasons.). Those who need a refresher course on this just need to search the blog for previous princess 10k entries. 🙂
Because Marcus (wisely) decided to take a gap year instead of attending college in the fall, we decided that his birthday needed celebrating and what better place to celebrate someone’s birthday than at Disneyworld? Disney felt very safe with hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations everywhere, socially distanced lines, and everyone masked. (And when someone—usually an adult—wasn’t masked, a cast member was always quick to remind them.) There were some constraints (no park hopping and no Fastpasses) and not everything was open, but we rode all of the rides we wanted to ride and then some. We even managed to get on The Rise of the Resistance our first day there. And, of course, a Darth Maul lightsaber was a must have as a birthday gift. Marcus even discovered the perfect Magic Band for himself—it’s a Stitch in Hawaii band, combining two of his favorite things. Disney, even under the constraints it was operating under, is still the happiest place on earth.
What’s the best way to get rid of the winter doldrums? The answer is to travel to the happiest place on earth (aka Disneyworld), run a 10K during princess half-marathon weekend, and then luck into being able to ride the newest ride at Disneyworld, The Rise of the Resistance.
This is the second year that Jim and I have run the Princess 10K. It’s the perfect distance for us. First, it’s not a real race distance, so there are fewer hard-core runners in the race. Second, it is the perfect psychological distance because you are done once you hit double digits. And, third, I don’t have to train for it because Jim sets the pace during the race. 😊
The unexpected obstacle we hit this year was the unusual cold in Orlando. At 5:00 am the morning of the race (which started at 5:30 am), the temperature was 47 degrees and windy. This is perfectly good running weather. This is horrible wait-for-the-race-to-start weather. I don’t think I thawed out until the next day (when it was 72 degrees and sunny). But the race was good, and Jim did much better this year than last year. This year, no one asked him on five separate occasion whether he was okay in the 100 yards between the finish line and the bus. Progress.
The Rise of the Resistance is the newest and most popular ride at Disneyworld. Conventional wisdom says that you need to be at Hollywood Studios by 6:30 am, be in the park at 7:00 when it opens in order to obtain a boarding pass to the ride. There is no shortcut (well, I am sure there is a shortcut, but not one we could find, and we looked). The three of us decided it wasn’t worth getting up that early to try to get on the ride since we knew we’d be back soon, and we were leaving that day. However, we were at Hollywood Studios by 8:00 am and decided to try and get a boarding pass just for fun. While we did manage to get a boarding pass, it was a waitlist boarding pass. Disney only kinda sorta guarantees groups 1-63 (and not even that), and we were boarding group 132. So we thought not only was it unlikely we would get to board, but it was even more unlikely we would get to board before we had to leave to catch our plane.
We were in EPCOT when it became clear that our boarding group was likely to be called around 5:00 pm (we had to leave at 6:00 to catch our plane). We rushed out of EPCOT, drove to Hollywood Studios, arrived at 5:00 at which point our boarding group had already been called. We power walked through Hollywood Studios, arrived at The Rise of the Resistance at 5:09, and were through the ride by 5:50 pm.
In case anyone is interested, the ride (really, an experience/ride) was beyond description!! It was a totally immersive experience, the special effects were incredible, and we walked out of the ride thinking it was one of the most amazing theme park experiences we’ve ever had.
To be sure, we celebrate every trip to Disneyworld. And we certainly celebrate every birthday trip to the happiest place on earth. But this particular trip (the birthday boy’s 61st trip, to be exact) is best known as “the Galaxy’s Edge trip.” If you don’t belong to the Star Wars fandom, then that phrase has no meaning whatsoever. So for those barbarians, I will explain that Galaxy’s Edge is the new Star Wars land, located in Hollywood Studios in Disneyworld. There is currently only one ride there, known as Millenium Falcon: Smugglers’ Run where you are the pilot/gunner/engineer for the Millenium Falcon. Anything else I said would spoil the surprise and be inadequately descriptive of the ride. But let me repeat the key takeaway here: you are ON BOARD the Millenium Falcon. There are no other words necessary. The theming of Galaxy’s Edge is pretty amazing, even by Disney standards. Kylo Ren and his stormtroopers make unscheduled but frequent visits. Chewbacca and Rey also appear (and I’m told that there are stories of people who try and hide Chewbacca when the stormtroopers appear). You can play an online game assuming the role of a supporter of the First Order, the Resistance, or an ordinary scoundrel. (I was most displeased when our daughter decided to install surveillance equipment on behalf of the First Order. She will do anything for Kylo Ren.) Despite her inadequate moral framework, we all had a memorable time exploring Galaxy’s Edge and the rest of Disneyworld, of course, as part of the oh-my-gosh-the-boy-is-legal birthday celebration.
We were once again fortunate enough this year to have our college-attending daughter share a spring break with our high school son. After some consultation with the entire family, we decided to spend spring break at the happiest place on earth (aka Disneyworld). It has been many years since we spent an entire week at Disneyworld, and we were looking forward to an opportunity to do some things that we had not done in a long time or had never done before in and around the parks. Our dual missions were accomplished successfully, as we all had a wonderful time and did things we had never done before (an encounter with Kylo Ren, anyone? He’s a bit scary up close and personal).
Highlights included meeting up with friends whom we had not seen for 20 years who live in Orlando (I know, shame on us); meeting up with friends whom we see regularly but who loathe Disney in an attempt to brainwash them otherwise (our attempt met with modest success);
and the velociraptor consuming a large pizza meant for 2-3 people by himself at Via Napoli (in Epcot) for lunch (I am incredibly envious of his metabolism). The parks were crowded, but we rode all the rides we wanted multiple times and even saw some shows that we hadn’t seen in a while (including Festival of the Lion King and, despite the reluctance exhibited by the daughter, It’s Tough to be a Bug). We ate well, played well, and spent some quality family time together. As the velociraptor said, “This was one of the best spring breaks ever!”
Before you get the idea that we’re runners or anything, understand that we don’t run races, we run/walk them (4 minutes running, 1 minute walking). That method pretty much rules us out of any runners of the year type of awards. That being said, in the winter, Jim needs a motivating exercise event. When the weather is nice, he can play tennis forever. But he hates exercising for the sake of exercising. (Exercise relaxes me and gives me peace of mind—I like it.) So we came up with the idea of signing up for a race. There were multiple factors in deciding where and what to enter. First, wherever it was, the weather had to be pleasant—not too hot, not too cold, not too humid. (Yes, we are high maintenance runners.) Second, while we ran a half-marathon several years ago, it wasn’t an ideal distance. Mentally, you’re done when you hit the 10 mile mark, and you still have 3.1 miles to go. And, third, the destination had to be one of the rewards for doing the run. We found one race that fits all of the criteria—the Disney Princess Enchanted 10K. First, Orlando in February is usually lovely (it wasn’t this time, but more on that later). Second, a 10K is perfect as it requires training but not a lot. And, third, what better place to go to race than Disneyworld? (I know, I know—reasonable minds disagree on that last point.) In the end, it was unseasonably hot in Orlando last weekend, but, fortunately, the race was held at 5:30 in the morning, and there was a breeze, so the temperature wasn’t a problem. (What was a problem was that we had to get up at 3:00 am to get to the race on time—it was not this non-morning person’s favorite part of the race.) The 10K is also a great distance because it’s not considered a “real” distance by serious runners, which means the bulk of the runners were doing it for fun and not taking it too seriously. There was wonderful camaraderie on the shuttle bus as we were waiting for the start. And the Princess Marathon weekend itself is a hoot. For those of you familiar with the Bay-to-Breakers race, think costumes along those lines but without the sexually inappropriate ones. For those of you who are not familiar with Bay-to-Breakers, a large number of the runners are dressed in variety of elaborate princess outfits, tutus, tiaras, and other Disney costumes. The race itself included live music and characters along the route, and many runners stopped to take photos with the characters. We were more concerned about being able to finish so did not succumb to the distractions as we wended our way through Epcot. We both finished in 1:14.42 and are quite happy with our time and finishing the race without any trips to the emergency room (my threshold for a successful trip of any kind!). It was so much fun that we might even do it again next year!
To celebrate someone’s 17th(!) birthday, we jaunted off to Disneyworld for the weekend. The weather was hot and humid (welcome to Orlando in September!), but the weekend was glorious. We tried to do this last year, but Hurricane Isabel decided to make an appearance, and we had to reschedule our trip.
Making the trip in early September meant that our daughter could come with us as well before she left for her sophomore year in college. She was beyond excited, as it was 15 months since she last was at a Disney theme park.
I was always certain that when the kids turned into teenagers, they would turn their noses up at spending time at a Disney park. I am delighted that it is still one of their favorite places (Hawaii being a close second). We have so much fun riding the rides, but our enjoyment in Disneyworld is more than that. It is one of the places where we are a family and family-focused. The kids have grown up there, we have celebrated birthdays and other special occasions there, and everyone has pushed their fear boundaries there. (Although the daughter still will not ride Rock-n-Roller Coaster.)
Disneyworld is where we celebrate the present, reminisce about the past, and create memories for the future. We have delighted in Walt Disney’s optimism, reveled in his belief that humans are capable of endless innovation and creativity, and criticized the parks/Disney where we thought it was merited. It is a place where we are forever children, looking with wide-eyed wonder on the future. It is, truly, the happiest place on earth.
It was officially the 16 year old’s 56th visit to the happiest place on earth. (He’s catching up with his sister who has been there 57 times.) We also dragged along our former exchange student, Yinan, who is staying with us for a couple of months while she does an internship this summer. (Little did she know what price she had to pay.)
There were a couple of highlights on this trip (and one major lowlight, which is that the 19 year old daughter wasn’t with us). It’s times like these when we’re accustomed to going places together as a family that I miss her the most.
Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom
one of our favorite rides!
March of the First Order at Hollywood Studios
Nonetheless, it was a fun trip. The newest ride—Flight of Passage—based on the “Avatar” movie in Animal Kingdom remains a highlight. I thought the ride couldn’t possibly live up to my memory of it from October, but it does and then some. It’s a difficult ride to describe—it’s as if Soarin’ and Star Tours had a baby who emerged as a prodigy. Even if you haven’t seen the “Avatar” movie or aren’t a fan, the ride is still mind blowing in its visual impact and ride experience.
Another highlight of the trip was the “giraffic jam” we experienced. We were on the Safari ride at Animal Kingdom when two adolescent giraffes proceeded to bicker (the human term for their behavior) in the middle of the road by swinging their heads at each other, using them as battering rams. It held up the ride for about 20 minutes and was hilarious for each and every minute, especially if you’ve ever had teenage children in the house.
I’ve included a 4 minute video of it, courtesy of the 16 year old son. Bribes of lettuce and orders to move were tried to no avail. One of the park rangers finally convinced the giraffes to move off the road by nudging his truck slowly and carefully closer to them. (The safari ride trucks have to keep their distance.) Knowing the giraffes, I have no doubts that once we were safely by, they would be back at it. Teenagers!
We were also guinea pigs for test runs of the “Minnie van.” Get it? The vehicle is painted in Minnie Mouse polka dots and bows and supplied with Minnie Mouse water bottles. Playlists of all four parks and each Disney hotel are available for your listening pleasure. It was traveling in (Disney) style!
the Minnie van!
complete with Minnie water
It was a wonderful opportunity to relax and enjoy the wonders of Disney before the end of school pressure cooker begins. The Disney magic definitely worked itself on us!