The Disney Wonder

Just before the weather got cold in Ohio in early November, I had the opportunity to board the Disney Wonder on a two night test cruise! Uncle Tyler scored us this awesome opportunity. However, Brian wasn’t really up for going, and I didn’t want to take Coraline myself. I thought two young kiddos myself might be a little much. It really worked out perfect though because Aunt Holly wanted to go, and we had a limited number of tickets anyway.

So Jameson and I boarded a plane (or three) for a three nights away from home. I tried to get us cheap flights since this was such a short stay, so the travel day was pretty grueling. Jameson was a trooper, and I hadn’t flown Delta before, but they treated Jameson like royalty. I really enjoyed our flights, aside from layovers (which was my own fault, trying to be cheap). That’s probably the last time I will do two stops for a trip unless there is literally no other choice.

Our first night, we stayed with Uncle Tyler in his apartment, and ate out for breakfast the next morning. Then we had a drive and wait time to board the ship. Our two night vacation was really spent with a lot of waiting. An exhausted Jameson was a little slow picking up on the surprise- we hadn’t told him anything. Though he was pumped about using a booster seat in the car! The ships were easy to see in the distance about 10 minutes before we pulled up, and it took Jameson until we were right upon them to notice!

We did have a cranky first evening after a couple long a days of flying, driving, waiting and standing. Jameson is therefore not in this photo.

We enjoyed the launch party complete with singing and dancing, but were disappointed that the kids pool area wasn’t open. The center pool was, so Jameson swam around in that instead and loved it, but we were all a little bummed because the kids splash area looked really fun! After all that standing, flying, driving and waiting though, we did have a cranky first evening, so, Jameson wasn’t in this photo, ha!

We sent Jameson away to the kids area that night while us adults watched the “Golden Mickeys” show the first night because of that, but Jameson enjoyed himself there despite that (I was truly surprised he let me leave him there, but it helped we had walked around to introduce him to the kids stuff earlier during the parent visit period Open House). It was pretty awesome, particularly the Toy Story themed area.

On board, he enjoyed more ice cream, the hot tub and pool, and awesome new kids play spaces. Stayed up late, met Louis the alligator, watched Frozen the musical, went shopping.

I got up early to get some shots with the good camera for the sunrise. We were graced with the presence of a helicopter, shooting footage for future marketing, which was pretty cool.

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Overnight, we had been traveling to the Disney private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay (pronounced Key). This was such a blast!

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Swimming in the Bahamas at Castaway Cay

Enjoyed his very first (ocean) beach day yesterday. Bar was set pretty high.

We buried Jameson in the sand twice, used snorkel fins and swam to the first buoy, had ice cream 3 times, drank “fuzzy” lemonade, biked the island, loved the beach.

When you bike around the island, you get to bike down a huge landing strip. The expanse of that huge road narrows to proper biking paths. We made sure to explore all the roads before we returned our rentals.

Jameson didn’t really get a feel for the snorkel very well, but wore the goggles and fins pretty far out. It was hard work! I couldn’t get him to look in the water much once we were further out though, because he was convinced there were things at the bottom which were cause to fear. He was so brave despite and was pumped to reach that first buoy! If you go further, there is more stuff to see, almost like a scavenger hunt in the ocean.

Buried in the sand twice, used snorkel fins and swam to the first buoy, had ice cream 3 times, drank fuzzy lemonade, biked the island, loved the beach.

That evening was much more pleasant for him than the first. On board, Jameson enjoyed more ice cream, the hot tub and pool. He stayed up late, met Louis the alligator at Princess Tiana’s restaurant (a truly stunning venue), watched a spectacular performance of Frozen the musical with us, and went shopping. He was introduced to Sprite, which is now his drink of choice when going out to restaurants. He loves the fizzy pop now.

We made sure to visit with another character, since Jameson missed out on the first one. We had to dance a little for our photo, haha.

Also saw Chip and Dale! Always a favorite. We danced for our photo.

The most hilarious moment of our short vacation was the family photo. The photographer assumed Uncle Tyler and I were parents to both Aunt Holly and Jameson. She made sure to snap some shots of just “the kids” together, and got some awkward and hilarious photos of Tyler and I posing together. We really weren’t containing our giggles, but played along.

Overnight, we sped back to port, and I made sure to capture some photos of the gorgeous sunset before our trip was officially over.

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I can’t thank Tyler enough for letting us join him and see all his hard work aboard the Disney Wonder!

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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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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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Italy: Venice, Part 1

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since our big trip to Italy! Also hard to believe it’s taken me this long to finish recapping the experience. Today we’re going to go back to Venice. But before that, we stopped at San Marco in Florence. San Marco is famous in part for the paintings by Fra Angelico in the rooms of the old rooms of the Dominicans.

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My favorite part though was the old manuscripts, because this was the first place I had seen that allowed photography. I am knowledgeable enough to know that you should never use flash when dealing with old, decaying paper or works of art, but even still, most places do not let you take any photographs.

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It was definitely worth the final stop before our train to Venice, and we were also happy that the skies were clearing up from the rain and clouds the days prior. Our first impression of Venice was two fold: confusing, but also amazing. Here we were, no intimidating traffic!

I had been really nervous about Venice, and had researched where we needed to go outside the train station and which boat to board (Vaparetto), so of all the cities, I was the most prepared for this one. Even still, it took a little while to find our hotel San Salvador whose entrance was hidden down a little alleyway.

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We chose the hotel because it was close to the heart of the city without being too expensive, but that also meant traveling a bit further with our luggage in hand.And because of that, we were also dealing with crowds and bridges. Bonus: we got to share a bed. ha!

But we made it, and we did find ourselves really acclimating to this city more so than the others within a day of being there. We were much more relaxed about getting lost once we didn’t have our luggage dragging behind us!

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After unloading and getting information about places to eat, we headed out to the heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco. It’s the only “plaza” in Venice, with all other areas called Campos or “squares”.

We had tickets for the inside of Basilica di San Marco in a couple days, but we viewed the outside and around the plaza, and decided to go ahead and line up for the Campanile. There’s no stairs for this tower, just a cramped elevator. The skies were cloudy and it was cold, so we figured this would be the shortest line we’d see during our stay (and we were right!).

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The views are nice, but while we were up there, the bells began to ring. It was loud. And startling.

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That evening, we started what became a nightly routine of meandering around the city at night, though this first night, we were just searching for a place to eat dinner! We had decided to try Pizzareia Casa Mia, and we didn’t realize how popular this restaurant is.

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We got lucky and arrived early enough to snag a table and split a bottle of wine. I ate a sea food dinner and my shrimps had eyes. After dinner we returned to the Piazza to look at it at night.

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This is the infamous Bridge of Sighs, which I explained to mom that we’d be learning more about in the coming days.

The next morning, we woke early to watch the start of the Vogalonga! I didn’t know about this event until after we booked our vacation, but we were excited to be able to watch a local event like this. There are two boat races in Venice, the more famous one later in the year.

This one started with a protest of the motor boats that have overtaken Venice. While I appreciated being able to travel as needed to and from the city, within it’s bounds, mom and I didn’t need the motor boats and walked everywhere. So, I could understand why they wanted those quieter waters back, especially this day when all the motor transportation are shut down for the race.

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The best places to watch the Vogalonga are the beginning at the Piazza, and several hours later at Cannaregio, a section of Venice to the north where the boats funnel through a narrower canal on their way to the finish.

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The waters were very still. We wandered the city for the most part. Because it was Sunday, a lot of churches were closed for visitation, so there were only a few things on our to do list for the day. The forced slowness of the day was a little annoying for me, but it didn’t bother mom. It did help set the tone of our more relaxed visit to Venice than the other cities during our travels.

We had breakfast at a place that doesn’t much deserve the name and moved on from there quickly. We definitely missed the breakfast buffets at the previous hotels.

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We walked to a south east end of the city to Santa Maria della Salute, which we were able to go inside. It was cool to walk to the very tip of the city outside the church here, standing at the edge of Venice and looking back at the Piazza.

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We walked from south to north, the entire stretch of the city, to watch some more of the race later that day. This was more fun than the early morning launch because of the cheering, excitement, and the bells that Venetians rang from their windows.

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We had a few other stops after the race, including the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.

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Also, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.

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The ceiling of the church of San Stefano was too amazing to not photograph, though we were not supposed to. I avoided flash and didn’t photograph any of the alcoves or other sacred spaces in the church, but I simply had capture this amazing intricate ceiling.

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We even managed to find the spiral staircase all on our own. It was definitely off the beaten path and difficult to find around the narrow alleyways and vague directions we had.

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All in all, it was a day of exploration of the city of Venice. We started to feel comfortable wandering around without being entirely certain where it would lead. We started to enjoy it when we were actually away from the crowds of people in the more distant parts of the city.

For dinner, we chanced upon Bacaro Osteria Barababao, and we loved it so much that we returned there for dinner again the very next night. We spent the evening wandering Venice, feeling very comfortable in this city lacking cars. Of course, I’m certain there is crime, but the lack of a big nightlife scene and the fact that many visitors only come for the day meant the nights seemed much quieter and felt very safe.

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If you haven’t guessed yet, Venice was my favorite city to visit, and a wonderful way to conclude our trip. I have one more full day in Venice to share with you before we boarded our flight for home.

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Italy: Chianti Country

It’s been a while since I last recapped some of our Italy trip! We visited Rome, Pompeii and Florence. Then we took a day trip from Florence to Chianti country in Tuscany. Chianti is the only wine my mom would drink, and it was happenstance that that was within driving distance to Florence!

The morning of our day trip was downright rainy, and we finally caved and bought a cheap umbrella, which broke after a couple days use, but served it’s purpose. We cross the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge to get to our meeting point on the other side of the river.

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Our first stop was Corzano e Paterno, a winery but also a farm, cheese maker and olive oil maker. We started in their cellar and were introduced to their extra large traditional wine barrels, so large that someone can fit inside to prepare it for the next batch of wine!

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The rain was a mixed blessing. We were happy that it was raining on a day where we had plenty of indoor activities, but we missed out on walking among the vines. However, the tour made up for it by letting us see how their cheese is made! After we finished up in the cellar, we took a detour to see:

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It was truly fascinating! The tour we took was called Super Chianti Wine Tours, and we loved our guide and driver. He spoke to us a lot during our visit, though we heard from the winemakers directly as well. At Corzano e Paterno, we also got to have a little tasting that including cheese and olive oil.

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Our guide (above) spoke to us about the region and the rules around Chianti and other varieties of wine. Mom learned how to observe the color of wine and took a lot of photos of her wine’s reflection.

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What we truly loved about this tour was that we learned how Italians appreciate their wine and how it goes with the meal. It’s an attitude toward meal time and relaxation and company with friends that mom hadn’t really learned to associate with wine, and the tour ended up being a favorite experience of our entire trip.

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Our lunch stop was at Antica Macelleria Cecchini, and we experienced a phenomenal meal (with more wine) in a family style manner. The butcher is located across the street, and the whole experience is in a charming hilly town in Panzano. The cobblestone steep streets and the city on the hill felt quintessentially Italian.

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We had one other winery to experience after lunch, and we went to Poggio al Sole. The winemaker and owner here had a fascinating life, uprooting and moving to Italy from Switzerland for the land to become a winery.

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Overall, we left with a true appreciate for Italian wine and really enjoyed our day trip away from looking at maps and trying to figure out the next tourist site! I think the tourist sites were important experiences, but it was wonderful the way we progressed with our trip feeling more and more relaxed as it continued on.

Our tour dropped us off at Piazzale Michelangelo at our request, known for picturesque views of Florence. It was a bit far for us to walk there and back to see, so we were happy to end there and just walk back to our hotel from there. And the views were as promised:

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Mammoth Cave

Brian and I also got to have our own getaway in late August to Mammoth Cave. We dropped the kids off at my parents house “on the way”, and enjoyed a very large and beautiful cabin all to ourselves in Kentucky.

Our first stop was, of course, Mammoth Cave. We didn’t get to do an spelunking or cool tours like that since they were offered at limited times and already full, so we joined a large herd of tourists like us for a traditional tour. I almost regretted not bringing my regular camera, but just like it was wonderful to freely take photos in Hocking Hills, it was similarly but differently wonderful to not feel like I had to take any photos at all.

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Brian and I also did ziplining for the first time. I thought I might be scared, but our guide was an expert and all I felt was excitement. I was first off the platform, no problem.

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We planned one night out and one night in, cooking in our awesome cabin. On our night in, Brian cooked on the grill and it started raining lightly, but I hung out on the wrap around porch and it was still perfect facing out of the cabin to what looks like limitless forest. Also, creepy once it’s fully dark. But wonderful at sunset no matter the weather when you are warm, with wine, on a wrap around porch in the country while your husband is cooking next to you.

Though I don’t have any photos, I think one of my other favorite parts was just the driving around, especially on the way to dinner out to the tune of Johnny Cash. The countryside was amazing, full of farms and fields and forests.

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The next day we did kayaking. This was an endeavor that I was worried about, because for the first time I was getting my own kayak and Brian his. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to keep up or get tired. I was tired, but I made it just fine! There’s even a little shallow cave that when the water isn’t too high or too low you can go in with the kayak, which we did.

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In the center of the river there are a few “islands”. We stopped at a couple, and Brian found a giant live mussel (which we put back as requested by the livery operators but sadly was found and removed by two girls after us).

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We finished our tour at the ferry (we used the ferry in our car daily which was fascinating), and we drove back to Mammoth Cave to explore the grounds around it. There are several caves and underwater deep cave features.

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This photo right here is the moment when I wished I had my regular camera. In my opinion, aside from hanging out with Brian, this was the highlight of the trip. The baby deer was steps from us, unafraid, and walking across the path to it’s mother. We came upon it at the perfect time.

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We had a nice trip away, and it felt so good to get out in the fresh air. I was really happy with how good I felt since I had been running a lot. I really felt like I was keeping up and felt strong and alive hiking up through the woods for hours. I told Brian that a couple years ago I wouldn’t have performed nearly as well. I think he disagreed, but I know that I’ve been feeling very well since I’ve been running in earnest through this summer and fall.

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