Sunday, June 01, 2014

Vacation Wrap-Up

 I am completely overwhelmed by the 800+ pictures I took last week.  WHILE WE WENT TO WALT DISNEY WORLD AND THE BEACH.  And had the best time ever.  SO much more fun than I thought the trip could possibly be.  The idea of packing up all the children and all of their stuff and dragging it 900-some miles across the country seemed really daunting, but you know what? It was easy and delightful.

I mean, there were some moments.  Like hauling 2 large Britax car seats on roller carts onto the airplane and buckling them into Dorothy and Cooper's seats while the kids and a million other passengers stood impatiently in the aisle.  Or mentally preparing to spend ANOTHER afternoon in the 95-degree humidity listening to the babies scream and standing in lines (which did not happen!  the babies suddenly learned to live with no naps and 11pm bedtimes, and the weather got magically 20-degrees cooler, and we got on 8 rides in a row no problem).  Or realizing our beach resort, which calls itself a resort had NO PRIVATE BEACH.  A PUBLIC BEACH?  Are you KIDDING me?

But we had such a wonderful, amazing time.  The kids cried-- CRIED-- this morning because they didn't want to leave.  One night at Epcot, apropos of nothing, Harrison said "I've been here before."

"No you haven't," I said.
"In my dreams I have," he told me.
I was completely charmed OF COURSE.  "Is it better or worse?" I asked.
"Better," he said without hesitation.  "And you can do anything in your dreams."

HAVE YOU EVER?  I mean, how sweet is that?

I couldn't think of a good way to deal with the bajillion pictures I took (and this does not count the stacks and stacks of Instax pictures), so I am going to divide them into categories which should help my lack of segues.  Like this one.


I believe we talked a bit about how much I hate to fucking fly, right?  Well, I SURE DO.  But I did it, damnit, because I really didn't want to spend two days in the car with my children.  And I was paranoid as hell, which is why we bought Dorothy a seat that she never sat in.  Turbulence, you know.  And we had to fly out of Chicago because I wanted a direct flight-- only one take off and landing.  And we didn't board early despite all of our shit because I didn't want to spend any more time in a tube than I had to.


We drove to Ben's parents' house in the Chicago suburbs last Saturday and left our car there and caught a huge gaudy white limo to the airport.  Harry was in heaven.
 Jack also thought it was pretty cool.
 So did Ben.
 Even the babies were happy.
 We took a moment curbside at O'Hare to survey our amazing amount of luggage.  Which?  Spoiler alert:  We over packed by about 2 suitcases. I bet you did not see that one coming.
I tried to nurse Dorothy during take off like everyone says you should but of course I was so panicked that she did not get a let down.  Instead, she literally inhaled my abject terror and freaked out.  I jammed her in her chair as the wheels were leaving the tarmac and then I sort of lost touch with reality because takeoff was super bumpy.
 Ben switched me as soon as he could, and I got to go sit next to our living teddy bear child who LOVED flying and was an absolute dream.

Harry and Jack were great, too, even though they trashed their row like nothing I have seen before.  It took us so long to deplane that the cleaning crew came on board, and Harry kept saying "So sorry about row 22."
 Dorothy eventually stopped screaming to sleep for awhile.
 I got some help from my friend Tito.
 And I could enjoy the view.
 Drunk.  At 10:00 am.
 Cooper fell asleep on our way to the rental car terminal.
 Where Dorothy needs a quick meal.
 No exciting travel to report as we got our red Dodge minivan in Tampa that Harry called our imitation car and drove to Clearwater beach.  We spent a couple of days by the Gulf (more about that soon) and woke up early on Monday to drive the hour and a half to Orlando and DISNEY WORLD!! (we were going the wrong way in the picture below).
 Our hotel!!
 Our return flight left at 7:20 yesterday morning, and we knew it would be an early day.  We had a 5 am wake up call, left the hotel at 5:20, and got to the Orlando airport by 6.  It took awhile to return our rental car and go through security.

Oh, security.  Do you know how many plastic bins we needed for our shit?  A lot of them.  And our ginat car seats had to come off the roller carts and be x-rayed, only one of them was too big to x-ray through the machine, so it needed a special pat down.  You get the idea.

After seeing all the MERS signs all over the place, I insisted that we stop to wash our hands really quick on the way to the gate because we had Trader Joe;s fruit crushers, cereal bars, and fruit leather strips along with Organic Valley milk boxes to give the children for breakfast on the place.

By the time we got to our gate, I noticed with some surprise that it was after 7 and people were already boarding.  We milled about for awhile behind a couple waiting in line (hint-- it was not a line for our plane) and were totally startled to hear a last call boarding announcement for our flight  even though there were tons of people still lounging around the gate (hint-- not our gate).  We were still struggling to buckle in the babies' eats when the captain said we were clear for departure and the cabin doors were closed.  5 more minutes and we would have completely missed our flight.  Now I regret telling Ben he shouldn't have spent $100 at the curb for an overweight bag instead of doing some repacking-- he insisted he didn't have time, and you know what?  HE WAS RIGHT.

I sat with Cooper and Jack, and Ben handled Dorothy, who was not screamy AT ALL and took a very sweet lap nap (never did ride in that seat...), and I didn't even have time to get scared or want to bolt because before I knew it we were in the air, and takeoff was the smoothest one I've ever experienced.  You know when you see planes leave the ground and they look completely steady-- that's how we felt.  And the pilot kept making announcements to point out Disney parks and then cities as we passed them.  Very dad-like.

Jack watched The Lego Movie on my iPad.  Cooper watched Paw Patrol on his iPad.  I graded for my online class and looked at the Facebook.  It was lovely.
 Our limo picked us back up in O'Hare, and Cooper enjoyed his leash.  Sometimes we would forget what we were doing and drop it, and he would very seriously hand us the end of it.  He's an excellent pet. (Yes, Harrison is wearing a light-up Michael Jackson glove.  EVERYTHING IS AWESOME).
 Dorothy had a donut and milk in the car.  Because why not?  We have eaten like shit for a whole week because there are no rules on vacation.
And then we drove home, unpacked, and began the massive pile of vacation laundry.

Traveling with 4 small kids?  Not hard at all.


I really wanted a beach vacation, but we ultimately decided to go to Disney because we figured the kids would suck on vacation, so we might as well take them somewhere totally kid friendly.  But I couldn't help still wanting the beach, so we went to Clearwater for 2 nights.

Clearwater?  Is kind of a pverty stricken hellhole, but the water is GORGEOUS.

Here is my TripAdvisor review of our hotel which really sums up our experience:

My family of 6 stayed in a 1 bedroom premium ocean view suite for 2 nights before heading to Disney World. There were some great things about this hotel. The room was very large, and the bathrooms in it were lovely. We had wonderful views of the water from the 3 decks off of our room. The pool deck was gorgeous with a jaw-dropping view of the Gulf, plenty of lounge chairs, a gated baby pool, and a great bar/restaurant with poolside service and fab drink specials. There were really nice, well-appointed and clean bathrooms poolside, and the beach towel check was conveniently located both at the pool and on the beach. Additionally, the breakfast buffet was good, and the nicer restaurant on the property had a free dinnertime kids' buffet. The staff was incredibly helpful and friendly as well. HOWEVER, this hotel is located across a busy street from a dirty, loud, crowded, smokey PUBLIC beach. You can rent cabanas and lounge chairs, but save your money because a huge group of locals smoking cigarettes will plop down right in front of you with a tent, a radio, and a buffet table to hold their coolers of food. Do not let the Hyatt's website fool you, the beach is NOT PRIVATE. It was wall-to-wall people the whole weekend, and we could barely find space to build a sand castle even though we rented both a cabana and a pair of lounge chairs with an umbrella. Seriously, this beach was unlike anything I have ever seen before with its overflowing trash cans and people EVERYWHERE. I mentioned the great poolside drink service as a positive, but the negative that goes along with it is the amount of sloppy dunk people in the pool. By the end of the afternoon, there were couples making out in the water as well as adults playing a rowdy game of beach ball all over the shallow end. As a final negative, the rooms were really dirty--- our feet got black on the bottom from walking around them, and the housekeepers did not replenish towels, glassware, or toiletries.

And then the day we checked out this happened:  OMG SHOOTING AT THE BEACH WE JUST LEFT.

But still, we had a lovely time, and the babies were really well behaved and fun-- definite beach vacation material.

 Jack's favorite part of vacation:  ordering room service dessert before bed.
 Dorothy liked it, too.
 Dorothy spent a lot of time very carefully cramming shoes in a side table drawer.

Despite the scummy beach, the Hyatt was lovely, and I will miss the beach until we meet again.  (I realized I like going places MORE than I hate flying).


We started out with a gluttonous sundae over lunch at our hotel ice cream shop, walked to Epcot where the kids almost melted in the horrific heat and bought misting fans as their first souvenirs. From Epcot we rode the monorail to the Magic Kingdom-- Dorothy's favorite because it reminded her of Shiny Dinah her favorite book ever and jumped on the Little Mermaid ride, the Buzz Lightyear ride, and the Dumbo ride before waiting out some rain, eating dinner, buying hats, taking the ferry, and walking back home through Epcot so we could drink beer and eat delicious fish and chips.  No alcohol at Magic Kingdom (except at the Be Out Guest restaurant).


We started the day with a character breakfast at Chef Mickey's and when we go back to Disney, we will do more of these early morning breakfasts because they were fun and got us to the park before the horrid heat and long lines kicked in.

Cooper made this post card for Ben's parents.  He would not let me address it because he wanted to do it himself.  Should be there in no time.
We spent the day at the Magic Kingdom which was completely jam packed with people and got there so early that Princess Jasmine was hanging out  at the flying carpet ride and RODE ON OUR CARPET.  Jack nearly broke his legs climbing over the front seat to sit with her.  We rode stuff all day-- Dorothy liked the Small World ride for 5 minutes.  Unfortunately, it's a 12-minute ride.  Erm.  We went back to our hotel when we could not stand the heat for another minute and swam in the fabulous pools (seriously!  a million pools! all with sand  bottoms!) before getting cleaned up for dinner at The Tusker House at Animal Kingdom, which was easily our favorite restaurant.  Ben and Harry rode Expedition Everest, and we had fun in the Chester and Hester section of the park which had cute carnival games and a couple of rides.  We had to leave when Cooper threw a fit after getting off a dinosaur ride-- he threw fits in line for rides and when rides came to an end.  The actual 3 minutes he was on the ride were smooth sailing.  Both babies collapsed in a pile of exhaustion.


This was the day that we started wishing our vacation were longer because we finally got into a rhythm and even the napless babies were happy and flexbile.

We had a quick breakfast at our hotel and went to Hollywood Studios to ride Toy Story Mania and meet Buzz and Woody before we had a brunch at the Sci Fi Drive In with Star Wars characters.  Not only did the kids love eating in a car, but they thought meeting Darth, Boba Fett, and a bunch of storm trooper sand other guys was awesome.  Ben and I loved the mimosas.

We stayed at Hollywood Studios long enough for Ben and Harry to ride Tower of Terror and for the little kids to meet Sophia the First and Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates.  Then we died of heat exhaustion so we spent another hour at the hotel pool before cleaning up again.  This time we went to Downtown Disney for dinner and souvenirs and to Epcot for fireworks.  We didn't come home until 11, and all the kids passed out immediately.


After a leisurely morning at the pool, we kicked the Magic Kingdom's ASS this day.  We had lunch inside Cinderella's castle and met a shitload of princesses.  Ben and the boys rode the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Cooper was a little scared because he went down the 40-foot water slide at our hotel in the morning and had a mini panic attack-- mini because of his size, not the size of his anxiety.  OOPS), and Ben and the big boys did Space and Splash Mountain.  I think we went on 10 rides, including a repeat of Buzz Lightyear for Coop and the Dumbo ride to bookend the trip.  I had a panic attack of my own on the People Mover which is just a tram that goes around Tomorrow Land and is not scary at all EXCEPT it goes through Space Mountain really slowly.  It was pitch black and really stuffy and I FREAKED OUT thinking we might get stuck.  We didn't, but then the ride stopped after we got off, and I felt vindicated in my anxiety.  I actually got out of line for the Pirates of the Caribbean because it was so stuffy and underground, but Ben and the kids went on AND GOT STUCK FOR AN HOUR.  That's when I stopped going on inside rides.  We stayed at the Magic Kingdom for dinner and the parade, but we left before fireworks because the children were exhausted, but happily exhausted.


We decided to spend our last day at a fun character breakfast at the Grand Floridian's 1900 Park Fare. (GUMMY BEARS on the buffet and really strong cocktails on the menu) Then we had lunch at the pool where everyone got a little bit of a sunburn (PARENTS OF THE YEAR) and headed to Epcot for the rest of the day.  I love Epcot because the food and drinks are delicious, but the rides?  Kind of suck. We could not get on Soarin', but we did do Nemo and Friends, Mission Space, and Test Track (and by we, I mean Ben and the boys).  We ate and drank around the world and watched fireworks again.  Ben and I were pretty much half drunk all day which was festive and irresponsible.

 As I am sure you can tell, we ate HORRIBLY.  I blame the quick service meals which are basically all garbage.  Harry had bacon cheeseburger mac and cheese for goodness sake.  IT WAS SO GOOD.  Also included in the dining plan is an endless mug that can be filled with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, water, or a fountain beverage at your resort.  Not really any kid-friendly options but water.  The fountain had lemonade, but it had fake sugar.  The kids had a couple of orange sodas, and while I cringed, I looked the other way because VACATION.  Next time, we will upgrade our dining plan to the one that is all table service because the buffets were the healthiest, gummy bears not withstanding, the easiest, and the best for kids like Dorothy who are too young to qualify for their own meal plan.  (And yes, I know the dining plan is pricey, but OMG it was so easy, and with 4 small kids, I am all about ease as my number one decision maker.  It would probably be a cost saver to stay in a villa instead of in 2 hotel rooms and pack our own lunches, but I just can't even.)


Yes, we will go back.  We all had more fun than I ever could have expected.  And yes, we will stay on-site and eat what Disney thinks we should eat and buy what Disney thinks we should buy and ride what Disney thinks we should ride because that's part of the awesome.  I never ever thought I'd say it, but I LOVE WALT DISNEY WORLD.

Next up, though, in the Griswold family vacation planner:  a beach vacay for next summer-- gimme your best beach suggestions!!


  1. West coast beaches! San Diego, obviously, or San Luis Obispo for slightly less crowded/touristy. Your vacation pics are awesome! Love that you bought the weird Elsa/Anna up her skirt doll :)

  2. Bethany Beach in Delaware is a great East Coast beach. But you have to go in July or August or the water temps are too cold to enjoy.

  3. Bethany Beach in Delaware is a great East Coast beach. But you have to go in July or August or the water temps are too cold to enjoy.

  4. LOVE the Outer Banks in North Carolina. I suggest going in July or August -- We went last June and the water was a little chilly. But very fun location for families. Our entire extended fam rented an ocean front home and stayed for a week -- We'll definitely be back.

  5. Anonymous2:15 PM

    Awesome family !
    Lovely babies really what more could Ben want
    -usual anonymous