Monday, June 18, 2012

Sanibel Island

Ahhh, Sanibel Island. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I think I love you. Going to Sanibel Island over our trip to Disney World was a bit of a stretch. It took some scheduling, some maneuvering and a lot of planning. We flew into Orlando to go to Disney and flew out of Ft. Meyers since it was much closer to Sanibel. We had to chose a hotel, rent a car and find the island. I have to tell you, all the extra planning was worth it.

Our drive to Sanibel was uneventful but longer than we had expected. We drove through a lot of small Florida towns. I wish I would have been able to take pictures of all of the semi trucks filled with oranges. We drove past several orange groves. I wanted to hop off the highway, roll down the windows and take in the sweet smell. But, I didn't. As I said, the drive took a little longer than expected. But once we saw that bridge, we knew we were there. What a beautiful view of the ocean. What a beautiful island. They advertise their sand as "white sugar sand". No lie my friends. White. Sugar. Sand. We loved it so much we brought some home. Yes, I am that person that stuffs shells and sand into my carry on luggage. Again, sorry if I hit you in the head with that luggage. It was heavy.

Sanibel Island (at least at the end of May) is far from "touristy". We had the beach to ourselves when we woke up the first morning. Of course, we were out on the beach by 7:30am. But oh what fun! We walked, we swam, we shelled. Oh my, the shells! If you went out into the water just where the waves were rolling in, you could pick up amazing shells with your toes. That was the prime picking spot. We found whole clams, conch (pronounced conk), tiger stripe shells, buttercup learn all these names when you spend 3 hours in a shell shop. Of course, there were all kinds of shells on the beach too. But if you wanted to "prime" shells, you had to dig with your toes. Small price to pay for some great souvenirs.

Before we left Orlando, we stopped at a Ron Jon shop and bought the boys (all three of them) skim boards. All three boys had a blast on those boards. The technique was a little tough for Cam. The board was a bit heavy for him to throw. He couldn't quite throw and run at the same time. Colin picked it up a little quicker. He was able to make a few good runs at the board and skim across the water. And then there's Steve. He is talented at every sport he tries. That guy amazes me. I can barely stand on my own two feet when I walk and chew gum. He can skim across the water and turn a 360. No experience. Just determination. Pretty amazing.

It did rain while we were there. In fact, it rained a lot. There was no lightening, so who cares. We stood in the ocean and played while the rain hit our faces. We swam and shelled for two days until we dropped. On our last day at Sanibel, we had about 7 hours to spend at the beach. The boys lasted 2 hours. They were done. Cooked. Chicken fried. We went back to the hotel, took showers and headed out.

So, I fully and highly recommend Sanibel Island. I fully recommend our hotel. It was modest but had everything we needed. We even had a fridge and microwave. Although there was not a cabana boy to bring drinks down to the water for me, there was a bar. We really didn't have time to sit and sip a drink. It seems that our vacations are more action packed and athletic than most normal families. We don't sit still much. I stopped long enough to take a few pictures but other than that we were playing, swimming and shelling for the entire day and some of the night.

I hope that the pictures speak for themselves. This island made me want to be a beach girl instead of a mountain girl. I loved the heat. I loved the sun. I loved the ocean smell and the beauty of each different shell on the beach. Disclaimer: I did tell Steve that I am now willing to move, but only if we live ON the beach. Not near the beach, not close to the beach, ON the beach. That would make me one happy girl. Here's the strange thing, I hate swimming. I actually don't like water. But I LOVE the beach. I can tolerate swimming in the ocean. The fish and swimmy creatures don't bother me. It's a weird connection; me and the ocean.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Florida Part III

After surviving our first day at Magic Kingdom, we went full speed ahead to Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Downtown Disney (again).

Here are my top 10 things I have learned about our trip to Disney:

1. It does pay to go to Disney in the "off season", however, do not stay at French Quarter Port Orleans. The bus service was terrible. We usually waited at least 45 min. for transportation to any park each morning. It did not matter what park we went to, the busing service was terrible. Also, for some reason, the second time we went to Downtown Disney the bus dropped off all of the Port Orleans Riverside passengers first. This did not make any sense to me as he drove right by our stop to get to the others. This extended our bus trip by a good 30 minutes. If you can afford it, stay at a "deluxe hotel" that offers monorail service. Here we are waiting for a bus, again.

2. If you can take a boat to your destination, do it. We waited 10 minutes for a boat, got there faster than the bus and had a great "tour" of some of the other Disney hotels.

3. Bring ponchos! Any poncho will do. Bright orange, camouflage, pink. Just as long as you don't end up paying out the nose when you get caught in a strong rain. Speaking of rain, the second you *think* it is going to rain, get out the ponchos. The Florida rain comes down hard and fast! We were drenched the first time before we even had our ponchos out of the backpack.

4. Unless your kids are really really into water parks, don't add these on to your tickets. If you have a pool at your hotel your kids will probably be happy enough with that. The water parks don't have much more than Water World here in the Denver area (except for the neat decorations). There is one huge water slide that I would probably never allow my kids to go on anyway. But other than that, a water park is a water park. Plus, my kids would be too exhausted to do a water park and a Disney park all in one day so although we added the water park feature to our ticket, we didn't go to any of them.

5.  If you can swing it and you have enough time, book a trip to Universal. I wish we would have had time go to the Harry Potter area this year at Universal but we just didn't have the time.

6.  If you have a girl and they are interested (or insistent) on getting signatures from all of the princesses, book a character meal. It's pricey but will be well worth the money. You can get all of their signatures at once and then not have to worry about standing in all of the long lines and when the characters are going to take their breaks as you are standing the the long line. Sure enough, you will be the next person in line and they will take a 30 minute break. Book a character meal. You will be glad you did.

7. The Disney Magical Express is hit or miss. Two years ago when we went in early June, we waited an hour for a bus. This year in late May, we didn't wait a second. It's probably worth the price to have them gather your checked luggage and cart it to your hotel for you, but don't be surprised if you have to wait an hour or more for your bus.

8. Give you kids a budget and once it's spent, that's it. Our kids knew how much they had to spend and priced out the things they wanted. Since we knew you could find most "standard" items in the shops, we had them pick out a few things and then think about it for a few days. If they found it in a shop 2 days later and still wanted it, they bought it.

9. You can take snacks, sandwiches, water bottles....just about anything you want into the parks. If you are on a budget, make some pb & j and bring some cold water bottles. This will save you a little on lunch.

10. Take your cues from your kids. If they are tired, take a break. If they are hungry, stop to eat. If they are just done, go back to the hotel and watch a movie. You spent all that money for a fun family experience. Make the most of it for YOUR family. Not for the family that Disney would like you to think that you have based on their commercials.  

Up next, our trip to San "ahhhh" bel Island.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Florida Part II

After we arrived at our Magical Destination via the Magical Express, we headed off to Downtown Disney. On a Saturday night. During Memorial Day weekend. Bad idea. It was super busy. We could barely make our way through the crowds.  If you are going to go to Downtown Disney, do it on a week night. In my opinion, it will be easier to navigate on a week night. Less locals. As far as shops and eateries at Downtown Disney, we really like Cookes (fish and chips are great!). We also ate at a sandwich shop that makes great smoothies. A little expensive, but everything is expensive at Disney.

Don't forget to browse the Pin Shop, Lego Store and Team Mickey. These were some of our favorite stores in Downtown Disney. If you want sweets, there's Goofy's (candy) store and a lot of ice cream places around too.

The next morning we headed to the Magic Kingdom. No transportation problems. We went right to Space Mountain for a very short 20 minute wait and then to Buzz Lightyear for another short 15 minute wait. Then we cruised to the other side of the park, got fast passes for Big Thunder Railroad while we rode Splash Mountain. In between the two coasters, we had enough time to eat lunch. If your kids are weary and weepy, feed them. A snack probably won't cut it. Get them out of the sun and into a place where they can sit down for a bit.

We did not buy any type of meal plan this trip. Our kids just don't eat enough to make it worth it. We took (in our checked luggage) two sleeves of bagels and a small box of individual Jif Peanut butter cups. Steve eats a bagel and peanut butter every morning for breakfast so for him, add a cup of coffee on our trip and breakfast was served. For the boys, we went down to the cafeteria style restaurant and asked for some cream cheese. Because we had a fridge in our hotel room, we also bought a container of milk from the gift shop and two individual bowls of cereal. Much less expensive than buying breakfast everyday in the hotel restaurant. Also, quite a time saver in the morning. The boys could wake up, have breakfast in bed and watch a little tv and then head out for the day. We weren't against buying them breakfast from the restaurant but our kids are cereal and bagel type kids. We did get them waffles twice on our trip along with chocolate milk to drink.

I also brought a lot of portable snacks. I actually packed apples in our checked luggage too. I put in a few plastic knives so I was able to slice up some cold apples (stored in our fridge) and serve them with the Jif peanut butter. This was a nice treat when we got back to our room each night.

Everyday when we headed out the boys helped me fill up their water bottles with ice. Then we put a little water in them. They had a nice cold drink when they needed it at the park. We also packed a bag of snacks for each day. A safe bet is two snacks per person per day. We never ate that many but had them just in case. In the afternoon the kids had ice cream or a cold snack from one of the vendor carts.

Sunday happened to be our first full day at Disney. Every Sunday at Magic Kingdom they have a 9pm light parade followed by a 10pm fireworks show. We didn't think it would be a problem for our kids to stay up this late since they hadn't caught up to "Florida time" yet but it proved to be too much. Sitting for an hour to save our spot for the Illuminations light parade took the stuffin' out of our kids. Cam fell asleep on Steve's lap and never really woke up for the parade.

When the parade was over, we moved out into the Magic Kingdom street to watch the fireworks. Too much. Cam fell asleep standing up. Colin was very unhappy (tired). It was not that big enough of a deal to any of us to stay and make our kids miserable so we walked on out to the bus station.

Ironically, we missed our bus by about 10 seconds and had to wait for the next bus. 5 minutes into our wait, the fireworks started. Although we couldn't see the fireworks that were near to the ground or the drama between Tink and Captain Hook in Cinderella's Castle, we still got to see the fireworks that were high in the air. The kids were delighted and we missed the 2 hour rush that happens after the fireworks.

My recommendation, don't try to do Illuminations and fireworks in the same night. Illuminations was neat but outdated. The parade was not that long and the music is annoying.

They have the fireworks every night at 10pm. It's worth the watch if your kids can stay up that late. But don't try to combine the parade and the fireworks. Too much waiting around for the kids. However, if you stay for the fireworks, be prepared for a rush out to the transportation station and a long wait back to the hotel.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Florida Part I

I have so much to say about our vacation to Florida. This post is going to be divided into several separate blogs. They might not be written in order but they be chalked full of great information. Or at the very least, maybe they will make you smile, dream of your own beach vacation and/or just make you turn off your computer and go to bed.

So here it goes....

First of all I have to say that it was a very bold move to take a week long vacation right after the last day of school. my Type A, Make a List for Everything, Get Things Done in Order personality had to adjust to the Leave It Behind, It Will Still Be There When You Get Back land. It seemed to work out just fine as all the work that I left on my desk two Friday's ago was still there when I got back 8 days later. Darn. The Little Work Fairy didn't come and complete all of my work for me.

Anyhoo, I case you haven't heard, we surprised the boys with a trip to Disney World AND Sanibel Island. You see, we have two boys that never agree on anything. What do you want for says pot roast and the other says nachos. What should we do says the zoo the other says swimming. Steve and I have discovered that it is best to just make the decision ourselves. So at the risk of not disappointing anyone with our already over the top surprise, we fit in everyone's hopes and dreams on our family vacation; Disney World and the beach. Well, technically Cam wanted to go to Hawaii but he seemed to do just fine with the lesser alternative of a beach that we picked out for him.

So Saturday morning rolled around and we waiting a little impatiently for the boys to roll out of bed. Seriously, I think that is a first for us. We never wait for them to get out of bed. We are usually telling them to try to sleep longer or asking them why they got up so early. But on Saturday we had planned on leaving around 7:30am. Cam didn't get up until 7:00am.

Once they were both awake, we sat them down on the couch and told them that they needed to get dressed (in their special Disney issued t-shirts) and eat breakfast because we had a trip Disney World and the beach and we needed to catch a plane in about 2 hours. You might suspect that our kids jumped up and down, hooped and hollered and showed general excitement. Nope. Nada. Colin said "Really?" Cam said. "Today?" That's it. That's all. No over excitement whatsoever. Months of planning. Days of secret packing. Nada. Don't get me wrong, they were happy. But I won't even bother to post the short video that was have of our surprise. It's a total let down to what you see on tv. Those parents must be way cooler than us. 

So, off to the airport we went. With 8 bags and two booster seats. Yes folks, that was the Silva family hitting you in the head as we walked by you with our massive carry on bags. Sorry.

Colin brought his favorite stuffie, Yellow Dog, along for the trip. Yellow Dog and I go way back. He was my stuffie from the age of 6. That dog has been around! Despite telling the boys they could bring 2 stuffies each, we ended up with 7 each.

The flight to Florida was very uneventful. Thank you God. I hate flying. Every time I get on a plane I remember how much I hate flying.

So, we arrived at the Orlando airport without a hitch. Boarded the Magical Express to the Port Orleans French Quarter Resort without a hitch. Checked in without a hitch. I attribute all of this to my mad planning skills but really we were just lucky. Any number of things could have gone wrong but didn't. Magical indeed.

To be continued with our Disney experience and the suggested "do's and dont's of Disney with a 6 and 8 year old.