Magic Kingdom, Disney Finale Day 5

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Champagne for breakfast on our last day!

As with our last trip when Coraline was a baby, we made sure our last day was at Magic Kingdom. There’s something about seeing Cinderella’s castle on the last day that’s so iconic for our Disney trips. Coraline loved seeing the castle.

But first, we had breakfast at Epcot for one more character meal. I had originally said I wasn’t going to do many character meals this trip… but, well, I booked them anyway. I really wanted to eat at the Garden Grill at Epcot, but we couldn’t get in for a dinner so breakfast was the next best thing. We were seated on the second tier though so we couldn’t really see the land below as it rotated, so that was a bit disappointing.

Kids were not disappointed.

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Adults needed a few photos with characters for our last time!

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More magic photos! The kids finally were getting the hang of this. Did I mention how excited I was on this trip that there wasn’t a huge crane up by the castle the whole time!?

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We also had to get a couple photos with Meemaw.

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We went back Fantasyland to do Dumbo and the Barnstormer. Jameson still loved that roller coaster. Both kids enjoyed Dumbo, and it was so clever that they had a kids play area in the center inside the “circus tent”. I wish all the rides were like that!

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It started to get hot, so it was time to cool off! Coraline got very into the splash pad. Jameson was a little less enthusiastic. Coraline required a change of clothes afterward, ha!

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While people started to gather for the parade, the boys waited in line for some ice cream for the kids and I found a spot with less people to get this wonderful photo of the two of them, my favorite of them together for the whole trip.

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It was pretty sweltering by this time, but we the photographers were excited with the reduced crowds to be able to give us this shot. We were pretending to be cold! I was a little miffed because this photographer’s lens was dirty, so these next shots I had to clean up a lot! We still captured some fun moments with less people surrounding, though.

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Then we settled down to wait for the parade to start.

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I love Coraline’s curls when it’s humid and hot and sweaty. It’s darling!

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This parade was better than the last one we saw during our previous trip. We saw almost all the princesses aboard the floats, even Anna and Elsa! Kids were tired of waiting, but perked right up when it finally started, and it started with all the princesses on a series of floats. Perfect!

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This dragon that followed Snow White was just awesome. Jameson got a kick out of the fire, which it breathed out a couple times as it passed. It was one of his favorite photos to look back on later.

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The finale, of course, is always Mickey and Minnie!

We took the jungle safari cruise, which had a pretty long wait even with our fast passes, and then most everyone headed back. We stayed for just one more ride!

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Last ride was the Magic Carpet ride!

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And, we couldn’t leave without one more photo (with ears)

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Okay, a couple photos.

And, the flight home! Ipads are miracle workers. I love their duffy bears sitting next to them.

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Disney is always a wonderful trip. Brian remembers a lot more stress during our first trip, which was with a 6 month old. I myself just remember some trouble with sleeping because Coraline was cutting a tooth, but otherwise I think I’ve blocked the stressful parts from my mind. But since I’ve been to Disney a few times since then for races, I was also a whole lot more relaxed too because I felt so familiar with everything. It was a wonderful trip, and I put together individual memory books for the kids again which occasionally get picked out as “bedtime stories”.

See you again soon, Disney!

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Hollywood Studios, Disney Day 4

Let’s get Disney vacation wrapped up so we can move on to other fun things from this year, shall we?

After a few days at Disney, it was time to explore our resort more! So we made sure to visit all the cars characters before we left for Hollywood Studios in the morning for breakfast. The theming at the Art of Animation Resort is just brilliant.

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We only planned to spend half a day at Hollywood Studios, break at the resort, and visit Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney that I just can’t get out of the habit of saying) in the evening. I really wanted Jameson to see the Lego store! Not to mention, I wanted to do some shopping.

We planned for breakfast at Hollywood and Vine inside the studios, because they have Disney Jr characters! We couldn’t get all of us in for breakfast, so this breakfast was the four of us, plus Uncle Tyler (who had to get us in!). He got a complementary breakfast from us for all his hard work on this trip again. And some additional meals. We treated our guide well ๐Ÿ™‚ We got this photo of the four of us while waiting for Uncle Tyler who was caught in traffic!

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We were afraid we might not make our planned Frozen show that we had a fast pass for, so breakfast was a bit rushed but the kids saw all their favorites. Rather, Coraline did. Jameson acted too cool for school, but then told Handy Manny that he used to watch his show all the time #fanforlife.

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Frozen was a hit! The best part was, of course, the end when we finally see Elsa and it snows! Sorry, spoiler alert.

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Then, FINALLY, it was Jameson’s time. This is all he wanted to do. Star Wars! Even though he loves Kylo Ren, he didn’t want to meet him (too scared of the bad guys). Reality is still a little mixed for the little dude. But we did meet Chewbacca who was incredibly tall! And also a Jawa who was walking around.

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We saw Captain Phasma and lots of Storm Troopers which really kind of terrified Jameson. They are loud characters, and very realistic! The adults in the group were pretty entertained by them. Tyler told us they custom make their suits, and they cost a lot of money!

Jameson also didn’t want to watch the Star Wars show in the center because it was loud and scary for him. We didn’t feel like Jameson would be able to handle the rides because of the same, so we skipped right to making his own light saber, which was by far the best part of his day.

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We tried to do Tower of Terror, but the line was just too long, so we went ahead back to our hotel for lunch and a break. Coraline was thrilled to be back playing in the water.

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Face time

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We spent our evening in Disney Springs. We never did get to meet Duffy this time, but we found another just as big!

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This was really Jameson’s day! He got to pick out his own container of Legos. We built a few Lego characters too.

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And, to sum up the day: “I didn’t know they had real volcanos here!” Jameson, Disney Springs.

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Epcot, Disney Day 3

While we were running the inaugural Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon, Brian stayed with the kids. They were done with breakfast and just hitting the pool when we came back, so we were able to shower, sit for a moment and grab a bite before heading into Epcot for the day.

We really enjoyed staying at the budget resort. Having stayed at the Grand Floridian last time, going to a budget hotel this time really served its purpose. We got a lot more space and the super themed rooms and pools were perfect for young kids.

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YES! I did it. I made the entire family wear matching shirts. I saw these at a good discount at the Disney store online, and it took very little convincing to get all the ladies on board. Brian even wears his around the yard sometimes still! I will say it was the easiest day to keep track of everyone, and I’m pretty sold on the idea for future vacations (sorry in advance)

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While Jameson and most of our group did Test Track with our FastPasses, Coraline and I hung out in the cars on display when you finish the ride. She loved it, and sat happily for almost 20 minutes. We didn’t even realize it when everyone had finished the ride!

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We made sure to go do the Sea building and visited with Crush and I got another great photo next to the Nemo statues. Jameson wasn’t a huge fan of the aquarium but it was nice to sit down a bit during Turtle Talk with Crush for the adults.

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New for me (having been to Disney quite a bit for races myself with my side of the family in the past year), was the Garden Festival. They had a cool butterfly house and Meemaw got a kick out of taking a photo of all the shaped topiaries we passed.

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Yes, I think Epcot is more geared to adults, but the kids absolutely had fun. Meemaw and the kids were partial to Figment, with all the activies you can do at the end of the ride. They were also fascinated with Spaceship Earth, which we never miss.


Original Mouseketeers relaxing

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But the highlight, at least for Coraline, was the princess dinner at Akershus. I’ve eaten there before, and I’m not sure it’s worth the price in general, but to see Coraline’s face definitely was. It’s easiest to see all those princesses close up at a dinner, that’s for sure! (I think Jameson’s highlight was the Test Track)

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So ended our half day at Epcot, which really was the perfect amount of time there. The only thing we really lacked during this visit to Epcot was Duffy bear! Last time, Jameson got to meet his character, but this time he wasn’t on the schedule. Also, they don’t make the little keychain Duffy bears any more, so we ended up with a big one. Tyler found a little keychain Duffy in China though dressed in a cute little outfit! So now Jameson has 3 little and 1 big Duffy bears, the only stuffed animal he’s been attached to for the past couple years.

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Jameson loved the big ball. He did a lot of fussing for other photos (I admit I take a lot), but he definitely wanted this one!

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Animal Kingdom, Disney Day 2

Our second day of vacation was at Animal Kingdom. It was a little rough, mostly due a specific child’s lack of sleep from the previous day. Jameson had a melt down, Coraline fell asleep during a show (though that part was sweet and not any hardship).

But the day started great: Meemaw has giraffe Mickey Ears which were the hit with both kids. Before the end of the trip, Jameson had his own pair!

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Things got rocky when we arrived and Jameson didn’t want to do a photo. The photographer was very patient with us though and even offered to do a magic shot with the kids.

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The kids, having only done their first attempt the previous day, still didn’t understand what they were for, and tried to hold out their hands like tinkerbell was going to land on them as they had done yesterday. Instead, he was trying to get them to look surprised. So here are the kids, sad, next to Stitch, ha!

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We always try to do the safari ride first! So off we went. Unfortunately, the new magic bands and fast passes work a little differently now than our last vacation in conjunction with Uncle Tyler’s employee benefits, so we weren’t able to all go on the ride together, but Coraline got to go twice and the rest of the crew went later (and the giraffes were out the second time, lucky ducks)

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Meanwhile during the second ride I was with Jameson who was in the stroller and insisting he didn’t want to do anything. So we stared at this hippo for 10 minutes.

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Brian and I escaped the kids while Meemaw and Grandpa took the kids to the Finding Nemo show. We got a photo to prove it!

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At some point around here Jameson threw a complete tantrum and he and I almost left the park. Instead I got him calm and we went to see the 3D Bug’s Life show, which, was totally terrifying for him. So he ended up a little traumatized. We were at the end of the row though so we were able to escape.

We really enjoyed lunch at the new quick service restaurants they had in the Africa section of Animal Kingdom. It was probably the best quick service meal we had our entire trip, it was light, healthy, and tasty.


“The lion goes in for the kill”

Animals just weren’t Jameson’s jam overall, but he really enjoyed the next little animal walk we did and he took photos of the bats. Coraline on the other hand was enjoying every activity we did. How nice to be three years old!

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We spent some time in the kids area, and then it was time to wrap up for dinner! I scheduled us for the Rainforest Cafe which is right outside the park, and on our way out we decided to try the short-looking line for Mickey and Minnie. Turns out, it was not so short. However, it ended up being our only opportunity to visit with Minnie and really didn’t put us out of the way for dinner in the end, so it was worth it.

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Rainforest Cafe was the perfect decision for our wound up kids. There was so much to watch in the restaurant that no one was bored, and the food was just excellent. I was actually pretty surprised at how much we all enjoyed the meal.

After another full day, it was time to get to bed! While Brian stayed at the hotel with the kids, the rest of us set our alarms for 2:30 am for our half marathon! After a disappointing race that was cut short last year, we were all pumped up to finally run a successful half at Disney! And run we did! Even Meemaw and Grandpa!

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It loops around Animal Kingdom, which was a bit of deja vu from the previous day. Jameson got a kick out of seeing my shirt and medal, because they were Star Wars themed. And I got a kick out of finishing the race, exhausted, happy and ready for the real vacation to begin without the stressful anticipation of the race. We planned to spend the day at Epcot (but first, some caffeine please)

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Disney Vacation Arrival

In April, we went to Disney for the second time as a family. I’ve been a few times to do some races with my parents and siblings, but we haven’t taken the kids since Coraline was a baby.

This time, in comparison, was a piece of cake to pack! No bottles or baby toys, teething rings or double strollers! We took one stroller and the kids took turns (with lots of whining, don’t get me wrong). But the maneuverability of the regular stroller was very nice. However, Coraline is quite a bit heavier, so carrying her around on occasion was less fun. Her delighted faces made up for it!

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Jameson was actually a wonderful helper at the airports and was happy to help pull luggage!

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Ipads and snacks are made for airplanes! Jameson declared “Can I have the iPad when we blast off?!”

The early flight, while a little hectic, wasn’t as bad as Brian remembers from our last family trip (I’ve blocked all bad memories from our previous trip. In my mind, the last Disney trip was magical from the moment we woke up to leave, ha!).

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We took the Magical Express bus to our resort hotel at Disney. This time, we stayed at Art of Animation, a much more budget friendly option than our last choice of Grand Floridian which was on the monorail and more convenient for baby transport. Brian and I both enjoyed the extra space we had with this family suite. While we didn’t have adjoining rooms with my parents for babysitting purposes, we did have a separate room for us while the kids slept on the pull out couch. Amazing!

Plus, Disney has great theme style.

After my parents and sister arrived, Tyler drove us to get our race packets picked up before we hit up Magic Kingdom for the afternoon and evening! That’s right, the Disney vacation was an excuse for me to be able to run my 3rd Disney race, the inaugural Dark Side Star Wars Half Marathon.

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Another thing we did differently this time was that we bought the Photo Pass. I was convinced after I found out for the first time that Disney would have their own photographers capture the race rather than an outside party. Between the race photos and the 100 or so times I dragged all of us in front of the official Disney photographers, I definitely made it worth our money. Starting with our arrival, of course:

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I brought my new wide angle lens, which I really only used the first day, but I had fun getting dramatic shots with it. We walked straight through Cinderella’s castle, which was surprisingly open in the afternoon, and I was happy to see that it finally wasn’t under construction any more!

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We had to ride the carousel, of course.

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We also did It’s a Small World, and Coraline, on observing all the coins, said excitedly that there was “treasure down there!”

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While I debated about booking us too many character meals this time, I pretty much scheduled us one a day again on this trip. It’s just so convenient to not have to stand in line while still getting to experience all the characters! So, we did Crystal Palace for dinner to see Winnie the Pooh and friends. While we were waiting, we observed the most beautiful skyline.

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Who knew waiting could be so much fun? Only at Disney.

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First to visit was Piglet, which was a great character to start with.

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My favorite, as always, was Eeyore. This particular Eeyore was very strong and gave me a tight almost strangling hug which was pretty funny.

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When we left, the sun had started setting. Kids were pretty well behaved, so we decided to try to stay until the fireworks! We actually had a few more things scheduled before then though. And I squeezed in another family photo.

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We booked fast passes for Enchanted Tales with Belle. We didn’t need the fast passes, but totally worth doing! The kids got to play a part. Jameson was Chip the teacup, and Coraline was a salt shaker. And Brian and Tyler got drafted as knights!!

The kids stand with their parts and then put on a play for Belle, who then leads them around a little parade, and then meets and greets with each of the kids individually. And even the knights!

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We also had time to do a quick visit with Ariel, who seems to be one of Coraline’s new favorite princesses! Jameson meanwhile was very shy with miss Ariel.

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We also had booked the new Mine Train ride, and I’m glad for Jameson’s sake that it was dark or he might have backed out! As it was, he walked off saying that it was too fast and he didn’t really like it, but within minutes had declared that Brian needed to build one in our backyard.

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Jameson had been insisting that he wanted to ride the car rides, so we squeezed that in right before the fireworks! Coraline didn’t ride the mine ride, but she did enjoy the cars. Uncle Tyler was again very popular with the kids and they wanted to sit next to him on most rides, particularly Jameson, who, before the Peter Pan ride said that Uncle Tyler was the better driver so he wanted to ride with him!

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And then, we finally got to see the fireworks! It was the one activity I wanted to make sure I got to do with or without kids on this trip, since I hadn’t seen them in all my visits the past couple years. The kids have both said since they they were too loud and didn’t really like them, but Coraline was thrilled to see Tinker Bell flying away from the castle!

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We made it! Stayed awake for fireworks!

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And so ended our first, long, magical day at Disney!

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Mom’s Weekend

This past weekend, I manhandled the kids myself for the most part, while Brian planned and prepped for our big garden expansion. I took them first to see the Jungle Book on Saturday, and Jameson was not happy about going. He almost didn’t come, but I convinced him at the last minute after I showed him the trailer that included the “behind the scenes” clips showing how they used computers to animate the animals.

Coraline loved it (and snacking) the whole time. Jameson liked it, but was noncommittal about his favorite part. Coraline declared that she loved the tiger, which is probably accurate considering she was turning around and making tiger faces and growling at me during the final scenes of the movie. She told me on Monday this week that she loved the snake, that the snake was bad, and the snake was pretend. I think she caught on pretty well.

For my part, I loved most everything about the movie, and especially that I was able to take double trouble and manage them by myself in a dark theater while actually still watching it myself!

I was so proud of their behavior I even let them play one video game each afterwards.

Took the kids to see the Jungle Book (great!) and stopped for one arcade game after. Jameson did the gas pedal for Coraline.

I did get relieved of the children later in the afternoon so I could do laundry myself. I had a couple hours worth of folding and sorting and washing to do: it’s amazing what doesn’t get done when you are watching a chewing puppy every evening!

Sunday, we went to church while Brian worked outside in the weird mix of snow and sleet (in May!). We almost didn’t make it though after Jameson tripped his sister (for the second time that weekend). This time Coraline hit her head on a chair which quickly turned into a goose egg on her forehead. Poor thing has been battling a cold and ear infection from last week, so she was already pretty sensitive, so this resulted in near hysterics from her while Jameson pouted in his room.

I managed to get them out of the house on time nevertheless, and Jameson lost his teddy bears for a couple nights because of it. Although I had to laugh a little (literally, out loud) when he declared he didn’t want a little sister (the woes of being the eldest child).

Later we had a playdate with our friends at their house as Brian continued outside (though thankfully the sleet stopped) and left in a hurry to get home for Robert’s 40th birthday dinner. Uncle Robert, Aunt Melissa’s fiance, apparently had no idea (which was a surprise to me as well, good thing I didn’t spill the beans). I enjoyed the dinner out, and was grateful all the family was in attendance to help wrangle up these guys, who actually were remarkably well behaved as the dinner went on until after 8 pm.

It was a nice weekend, despite the extra work. We’re looking forward to doubling the space in our garden this year and putting up a beautiful wooden fence. Just in time for planting time! Our seedlings are looking okay as we attempt to get them used to the sunlight without burning them up. I’m excited for tomatoes and fresh lettuce again! Summer, here we come. (Any time now!)

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Easter Hunts

Easter this year was another gorgeous sunny day, despite being in late March. We managed to get dressed in time for church before the kids were able to find their eggs (though plenty were pointed out before we left).

When we got home, it was egg-seeking time!

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This year, the Easter Bunny hid some eggs in the basement, too (but not outside like last year).

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In their baskets this year were underwear, pez and gummy bears and a book as well as squishy caterpillars. Jameson had some little marble puzzles while Coraline got some socks, a shirt and stamps and stickers. They each got a craft as well: Jameson got some foldable little robots, since he loves making paper airplanes, and this was a hit. Coraline got a make your own bouncy ball kit which definitely required supervision for them both (Aunt Melissa got to do that), and pretend snow.

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At Grandma and Poppa’s house later that day, we always enjoy an outdoor egg hunt. The kids had to wait for Aunt Melissa to come over before seeking, though!

Tackling grandpa

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Coraline kept opening her eggs and eating her candy rather than searching for more eggs. Meanwhile, Jameson, who is kind enough to share with his sister, was very seriously looking for as many eggs as he could.

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After egg hunts and lunch, we played by the creek and daddy let Jameson into the creek for the first time with his new water shoes that he got in his Easter basket at Grandma and Poppa’s house. Jameson was concerned about getting his shorts wet, but thrilled to be walking around in the creek.

It was a great Easter, and warmer than last year. I was excited about Coraline’s last minute dress find. It was such a lovely spring color and she loved wearing it (always a plus).

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Jameson’s First Mile

Jameson finished his first mile run March 23, no walking. I slowed our pace, and he did a good job pacing with me. He was so proud of himself! And I was proud too. We ran fast enough that I regretted wearing the jeans (too lazy to change). The mile was just around our neighborhood to the “neighborhood lake”. I read that we shouldn’t let kids overdo it (just like a puppy), so I made him run-walk the way home.

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Italy Finale: Venice, Part 2

On our last day in Venice and final day of our vacation (I don’t think leaving the next morning counts as a day of vacation), we had a special tour planned at the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). I booked us for a behind the scenes tour called the Secret Itineraries tour, and it was a lot of fun. Not to mention, our tour guide spoke excellent English so that we could really appreciate and enjoy what she was speaking about.

This tour takes you through secret rooms in the palace, and to where the infamous Casanova was held. Afterwards, we had time to visit the main rooms of the museum.

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This is the Giants’ Staircase leading into the courtyard, where we met for our tour. We learned about the politics of Venice and who really ran things (not really the Doge). The position had a very modest office, surprisingly.

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I bet you can guess what this room was for.

We saw a number of cells for the upper class (lower class prisons were elsewhere part of the main museum) and got to go in a couple. They were stark, dark, and had low ceilings. The doors on some of these were super small.

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Coming out of the cells and prisons of the upper class, came out a secret door to view a room in the main area of the palace, and then finally came out to actually visit the rest of the grand rooms of the palace.

A lot of the rooms have been refinished, so only 3 rooms have original flooring, once of which is below.

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This is a secret message slot in the wall.

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This unbelievable work of art is inย one of the largest rooms in Europe and actually the longest canvas painting in the world, Il Paradiso.

I love capturing beautiful ceilings.

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Last we visited the final area in the palace, and crossed the Bridge of Sighs. The name supposedly refers to the sighs of prisoners who see their last view freedom as they glimpsed the lagoon through the window.

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Also located along the Piazza San Marco, next door to the Doge’s Palace is also St Mark’s Basilica. You can pay to gain entry around a certain time, which we chose to do. It isn’t advertised really, but between 11:30 to 12:30, the ceiling of the church is illuminated in all it’s gold glory.

We had the opportunity to see the illumination for the first 15 minutes or so of our visit, and the difference was simply indescribable. From the bright gold to a dim ceiling. St. Mark is buried here beneath the altar and you can see it behind glass and bars.

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After our last scheduled stops of the day, we did some shopping. We stopped at a store recommended by our hotel as having true Venetian glass (this is a sketchy industry in Venice, and we didn’t have the opportunity to visit the traditional glass blowing island off the coast).

I am still not certain that is the case for the jewelry we bought, but at least some of the glass in his shop was hand blown, as he was working right there as we shopped (and happily gave me permission to take his photo).

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Another Venetian specialty is apparently squid ink pasta. I got some for lunch, and mine came complete with parts of the squid. It’s best to get this in season rather than a re-hydrated form of the sauce, and I was in luck. It was definitely an experience. I was okay with the sauce (particularly with closed eyes), but the squid itself was pretty touch and chewy and not super enjoyable.

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We also visited Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. We visited most any church that was along our way and open, though most of the churches in Venice cost money to view. Several Doges were buried here.

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Our final item on our wishlist included a traditional gondola ride. Say what you will about the tourist factor, we chatted our gondolier up after about 5 minutes into the ride and he warmed up likewise and it turned into a very enjoyable ride. We took some side canals, and I enjoyed seeing the view from the water. He even took a very good photos of us when we were done!

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After another dinner at our new favorite spot, we wandered for the rest of the evening. We walked from what seemed the northern most edge of Venice to the south. We ended our night and our vacation in St Mark’s Square with gelato, of course.

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Our travels from Venice to the airport were simple, though paying the hotel the day prior was not since their credit card machine broke and mom had to visit two separate ATMs to withdraw enough cash to pay them. That part was uncomfortable enough that it was almost not worth the prime location and price of our stay.

We hopped aboard the boat that goes directly to the airport with the tickets we bought the previous day, and we were on our way! Getting relieved of our luggage at the airport was quite nice after hauling it around during our trip. We didn’t travel like my college self would have, but we also didn’t travel in style, so that luggage definitely got heavier over time without any strong arms to help us! We did okay though, and while I would’ve loved one more day to see the Venetian islands, I didn’t feel like we left the city, or any of the cities, with missed opportunities. We saw all of the things we wanted to see, and did everything we really wanted to do. We ate well, walked a lot, and finished our long days with a bottle of wine.

Arrivederci, Italia!

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