Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Here we go, Steelers!

The season got off to a rocky start, but it's been improving lately.  Regardless, Gracie's level of enthusiasm for the team remains the same:

Brian and I went to the Bills game a few weeks ago and managed to muster up a bit more excitement over being at Heinz Field!!

Their next game is ON Thanksgiving, so we're pretty excited to have something to do that evening while wallowing in our tryptophan-induced coma-like state. 'Tis the season!!  

Monday, November 25, 2013


I'm thankful for many things this year, as always.....for family, friends, good health, a roof over our heads, and food on the table.  I'm also thankful for a patient husband, who, when I showed him the project that I had put together that's pictured above, gently suggested that perhaps taping it to the mantle was not the best option.  Same patient husband also managed to be very calm when wife totally ignored his suggestion and, within minutes of snapping that picture, heard the whole thing came crashing down, pulling off some paint with it. 

Oops.  Anyway, if you're interested in the banner, here is the link to the original free printable file, found at http://www.shanty-2-chic.com  It looked good while it lasted!!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Disney World Souvenirs

First of all, I'd like to state that Disney World knew exactly what they were doing when they planned their parks....gift shop as soon as you come out of nearly every single ride?  Genius on their part, parents worst nightmare!!  And of course, the gift shops are themed to whatever ride you just stepped off of, so the kids are all pumped about whatever that one thing is, now they're inundated with a million toys all set to that very theme.  (case in point: Jake has never cared about Pooh characters, but there he was, stepping off the Pooh ride, sucked into all of the merchandise...well played, Disney....well played.)

Anyway, the kids had received some generous gift cards and gift purchasing from both sets of grandparents and even Brian's boss.  And as you may remember from a previous post, Jake had been earning some extra money with some chores around the house for a few months prior to leaving to save up for a build-it-yourself lightsaber. 

Overall, I think they made some good choices.  Jake got a star wars action figure set (which was a surprisingly reasonable price of $15 for 5 or 6 figures), and Liam picked up a similar set only the characters were Mickey and friends decked out in safari gear.  Liam also got 2 cars (one tigger and one with Mickey and Minnie in it) and Jake picked up some Toy Story stuff to add to his collection...a bucket of army men and an Evil Zurg action figure.  And of course, Jake built his own lightsaber!!

Again, I was pleasantly surprised with the reasonable price tag; the double lightsaber was $24.  I've seen regular light sabers (that you didn't get to build yourself!) priced more than that at walmart.  Of course, once Liam saw his lightsaber, he wanted one of his own, and selected an $8 version that was already put together but featured Mickey Mouse :)  He was sold.

image courtesy of ebay.com
My mom picked up this adorable Alice in Wonderland themed teacup for herself:

And my souvenir was something that I knew I wanted to have going into the trip, and thankfully we were able to do it on the very last night there since I kept forgetting earlier in the trip:

Silhouette of the boys!  We had this done in Sleepy Hollow at Magic Kingdom, I know they also did them on Main Street there.  Not sure about any other parks.  The total cost was around $25 and that included 2 prints and the frame.  It's hanging up in our upstairs hallway and I LOVE it. 

Recent work from Jake and parent-teacher conference

Jake comes home with a lot of worksheets and art from school, which I love seeing.  Yesterday, he came home with two that I wanted to share....the first one he made in art class and he had to pick out pictures of his favorite areas of school (he chose his classroom, the playground, the gym, the cafeteria, and the library), then write what he does in those areas:

We learned during our recent parent-teacher conference that they are working a lot on sounding out words and writing them down with no assistance.  The teacher said that it doesn't matter if they get the spelling correct, that the point of the exercise is to work on sounding out the words and being able to write them down as best they can while sounding them out.  They've sent home a few of these exercises where they are given open ended statements that they have to complete:

In case you can't see it, the statement given was I like the....and Jake completed it with "character Mickey".  I told you he was going through severe Disney withdrawal! I know I'm biased, but I think his little drawing is fantastic...he told me it was a picture of him and Liam at Disney when they met Mickey on the first day and got his autograph.

The parent-teacher conference was a few weeks ago, and the teacher is very pleased with Jake's progress.  She said he's very quickly picking up on the reading concepts and also seems to enjoy math.  She said he seems to be adjusting well socially, and has a few friends in the class that he always pals around with.  Her one area that she suggested for improvement would be that he sometimes forgets that he can't talk to his friends while class is going on and she's trying to teach, though she said as soon as she says something to him, he does stop. I mentioned it to Jake at home and told him he really needs to work on not talking during class.  He said sometimes he's asking the person sitting next to him a question about what the teacher is saying, and other times he wants to tell his friend something and he's afraid he will forget :)  We talked about how he can raise his hand if he has a question for the teacher, if he doesn't understand what she's saying, but if it's just something he needs to tell his friend, it has to wait until an appropriate time. 

All in all, a successful first conference!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Disney World: Surviving with Small Children

 Just joining us for the recap?  Check out all of the previous Disney World posts here!

There are a gazillion of these lists, so I'm sure I will have a lot of the same advice but I wanted to share our experience.  We had a wonderful time, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, but that doesn't mean that sometimes it wasn't challenging!  Here are the tips I would pass along to other parents of younger children (our kids are 5.5 and 2.5)

1.  Rent a stroller.  Don't doubt yourself, don't wonder if it will be worth it, or if it will be a hassle to have.  Just get one.  Jake was long past the age of actually needing one on a regular basis at home, but we were so grateful to have it at the parks! (in fact, I think he utilized it more than Liam did!)  Disney is a LOT of walking...my legs were tired and sore after being there all day, I can't imagine how little legs would survive.  We rented a City Mini Double from Apple Stroller Rental.  We added on a parent console/cup holder and a rain cover for a total of $10 each for the whole week; our total to rent the double stroller for 6 nights, 7 days was $60 (with the parent console and cover)

I didn't get a picture of the storage area, but it was a bit cumbersome to get to since it was fairly compact.  Our method was to take a large tote bag with us to the park; this tote bag included sweatshirts, extra clothes for the boys, and extra bottles of water.  IN that bag, I had a smaller tote bag that had diapers/wipes, snacks, sunscreen, and autograph books.  I carried all of that until we got to the park because you have to fold up the stroller to get on the bus.  Once we got to the park, I took the smaller tote bag out and hung it from a clip on the stroller for easier access throughout the day.  (I carried the camera, my phone, tissues, etc. in a cross body purse so that I could take it on the rides with me)  The tote bag went in the storage area under the stroller and we were all set!

2.  Take your kids there.  Before we seriously considered a trip to Disney, we were more in the camp of "let's wait until they're both old enough to remember".  I'm so glad we threw that logic out the window, because let me tell you, these ages were perfect as far as the actual childhood experience could go.  Were there tantrums?  Yes.  Were they exhausted by the end of the day?  Yes.  Was it all worth it?  Absolutely.  I don't know that Jake thought the characters were real, but he was still enthralled by them.  At almost 6 years old, I don't know how much longer that's going to last, so I'm so glad he was able to have that experience.  And for Liam, those were totally his friends.  They were real and he LOVED them.  It was amazing to see both of their faces light up when they saw Mickey, and hear their little giggles on the rides.

3.  Be flexible. I know this seems to go without saying, but I needed to remind myself of it sometimes. I think for the most part, we did a pretty good job of just going with the flow.  Yes, we knew what days we were going to be in certain parks, and we had one sit down reservation per day, and had a general idea of which rides/attractions we really wanted to do (and had a loose plan of what order to do them in, based on wait times and locations), BUT we knew we might have to stray from that at times.

Going into it, I wasn't sure if we would need to head back to the hotel midday to let Liam take a nap, but as I mentioned in a previous post, he rocked the stroller naps so we didn't have to deal with the hassle of going back to the resort.  However, there was one day where, in hindsight, I could have been a bit more flexible.  We arrived to Hollywood Studios (after a full day at Magic Kingdom the day before) at 7:20am with the intention of staying there for the Fantasmic show at 7:30pm that evening.  Around 3pm, Jake lost it.  Crying he didn't want to do any more rides, he wanted to go back to the hotel and swim, etc, etc...we dealt with it as best we could (and he did come around eventually), but I shouldn't have pushed that much to stay for the nighttime show. So don't be like me and selfishly want to stay for a show if your kids have had it for the day! :)

4.  Order food and supplies. We only had 1 sit-down breakfast reservation for our trip.  The reason for this was 2-fold: 1, it seemed like spending an hour and a half at breakfast was a waste of time when we could be in the parks at one of the least crowded times (at opening) and 2, my kids are ones who wake up starving every day and want to eat the second they wake up.  So the thought of getting them ready and out the door with no food everyday was terrifying.  We opted instead to order groceries from Orlando Theme Park Shoppers, and I was very pleased with the service.  I received estimates ahead of time from 3 companies: Orlando Theme Park Shoppers, Garden Grocer, and Mouse House Concierge and of the 3, OTP Shoppers was the least expensive option so we went with that.  The groceries were there when we arrived and delivered to our room by bell services.  They even threw in little Disney cups as a special treat for the boys!  I also had them deliver diapers, so that was one less bulky item I had to haul down in our luggage.  Next time, I might order less snacks (we really had no idea how much food we would get on the meal plan, see post about that here) so we could have done with less of those items, but the breakfast items and bottled water was key.

5.  Utilize the child swap option for rides. This was a great feature, and we utilized it for a number of rides.  Basically, if you have a child who is under the height requirement for the ride, you let the cast member in line know and they give you a ticket.  That ticket enables someone to stay with the child while everyone else goes on the ride, then that person who stayed behind gets to go on (without having to wait in line) immediately after the first group.  So for example, Liam was too small for Star Tours....everyone but me and Nana went on the first time.  The ticket allows you to ride with up to 3 people, so when the first group got off the ride, me, Nana, and my mom hopped right on it.  (so it works out well since some people will get a bonus ride out of it!)

6.  Bring some stuff from home.  We brought the standard ponchos for everyone, but I also brought along some fun extras for the kids.  And since I'm crazy and have a hard time stopping myself, I took it one step further and made letters from the characters to go along with the little items. I wasn't sure what the kids would think, but they LOVED it, and really thought that each night, those characters were coming in the room and leaving them stuff.  The items they got weren't big (and some nights the "characters" only left the letter saying to have fun, no gifts) but they did each get a small stuffed animal (purchased on super sale at the disney store last black friday, score!), glow sticks and bracelets for the night of Fantasmic, and then again for the last night at Magic Kingdom.  Not only were the kids thrilled to get the glow stuff from the characters in the room, but it prevented them from begging for the overpriced glow items that were being sold in the parks those nights. 

7.  Let go.  Don't actually let go of them, it's very crowded there (and we did experience about 3 seconds of terror when we realized that while walking into the line for Haunted Mansion, no one had Liam's hand...it was one of those, I thought someone had his hand, they thought I had his hand, no one actually had his hand....yeah, terrifying, don't physically let go!)  I mean let go of expectations and rigid rules.  Did the kids need to sit down and eat meals throughout the day?  Yes.  Did I have to lower my expectations and normal guidelines of what is normally considered to be an acceptable meal?  Yes.  They drank a lot more chocolate milk than I would have liked, and had more desserts in a week than they normally do in a month, but that's ok.  It was a week.  Everyone survived.

8.  Bring the grandparents with you.  I know, that's probably awful advice to include in a general list as it's not an option for everyone, but truly, it was a lifesaver for us.  It made it much easier to handle Liam's naps, trips to the bathroom, occupying the children in line, and even getting ready in the morning when needed.  It was also nice because there were a few rides that me, Brian, Nana, and PopPop wanted to ride, but GG and Pappy couldn't because they have back issues....rather than having to rotate everyone on the one ride while they waited, they were often able to take the kids on a different ride at the same time, keeping everyone happy.  And, as I've previously mentioned, I really feel like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the kids to experience with their grandparents. Jake is still talking about which rides he went on with which grandparents and asks me which character they liked the most :)

9.  Get there early. This was fairly easy for us to do since Liam is up at the crack of dawn. But I really think that getting to the parks when they opened made a big difference for us in terms of our enjoyment, and how much we could get done.  It was amazing how many rides we were able to knock off the list in just the first 2 hours of the park being open due to the fact that wait times were practically nonexistent, and there were so few people in the parks at that time (see picture above, we were able to take a castle shot with no one else in the picture when the park opened at 8am our first day!)

10.  Expect the kids to go through severe withdrawal. We have been back from our trip for 3 weeks now, and pretty much every single day, one kid or both has begged to go back to Disney World.  Sometimes there are tears involved....true, genuine tears.  They are experiencing some severe withdrawal, and want go to back now.  Like, yesterday.  Brian keeps saying Disney needs to offer some type of re assimilation program, to get kids back on track to lead a normal life post-Disney. The good thing about this is, they have really started using their imagination since we've been back....I've seen them play everything from parade, to pretending like they're in the park, to studying the maps of the parks to determine what they will do on our next trip.

So there you have it....we survived Disney World with 2 young children and you can, too!! :)  

Who's ready for Christmas??

This kid.  36 days, peeps.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Disney Dining: Rundown & Reviews

photo courtesy of www.disneyfoodblog.com

 Just joining us for the recap?  Check out all of the previous Disney World posts here!

 T-Rex Cafe - Dinner (Downtown Disney)
This was our first sit-down meal on vacation, and I think everyone enjoyed their meals.  The kids definitely enjoyed the atmosphere, though the dinos scared Liam a few times.  But it was very cool inside, so they definitely get points for kid appeal.  The food was good once it came out, but service was sloooow.  We later found out that this tended to be the trend at most restaurants, but it was definitely a slow start to our vacation!  Our reservation was at 5:30pm and we got seated pretty much right then, but didn't leave until 7:15pm. 

Crystal Palace - Lunch (Magic Kingdom)
This was a buffet lunch featuring Pooh and friends.  While it wasn't awful, it was my least favorite meal of vacation, especially when comparing it to the others (though I heard the table next to me talking that the breakfast there is much better than lunch, so maybe meal time selection makes a difference)  The buffet didn't have a huge selection (again, at least in comparison to other buffets later in the week) and it was another slow meal.  Obviously, this was a buffet so we weren't waiting for food to come out, but it took a long time to get drinks, a long time to get our bill paid, and a very long time to wait for the characters to come around.  In fact, we got skipped over by Eeyore altogether, but managed to talk Liam out of waiting around for him.  I had read online that the characters lead the kids around the restaurant in a little parade, but that didn't happen for the TWO hours we were there, so I'm not sure when that takes place!  I hate to gripe about a place, so I will throw in a positive that seeing the kids get excited over the characters and hug them for the first time was a good thing about it :)

Mama Melrose's - Lunch (Hollywood Studios)
We booked this restaurant as the Fantasmic Dinner package, which meant that when we went to the Fantasmic show later that night, we'd have reserved seating and not have to get in line super early to get seats.  Definitely worth it to do!  Fantasmic was packed that night (as I'm sure it is every night) but we were able to get to the theater about 30 minutes before the show and find seats with no problem)  The food here was good (italian) and the portions were huge. A bonus was that with the Fantasmic package, we each received an appetizer in addition to our entree, so the salad was a bonus!

Chef Mickey's - Breakfast (Contemporary Resort)  
As I mentioned in my recap post, this was my 2nd favorite meal of the week!  I'm not a huge breakfast person, but this buffet was just to die for!  And the Mickey Waffles that everyone raves about??  Yeah, those lived up to the hype!  This meal was also speedy (bonus points for that!); our reservation was for 8:20am, we were out by 9:40am.  The characters came around promptly, and later did a little napkin wave song and dance thing, which the kids got a kick out of.

Tusker House - Lunch (Animal Kingdom)
This buffet had MUCH more for lunch than the Crystal Palace did.  I'm pretty picky, so some of the stuff I wouldn't touch, but even with being picky I had plenty of food to choose from.  I had read some reviews online that kids had a hard time here if they were picky eaters (which Jake is), but we managed to piece together a meal for him.  I can't remember exactly what he had, but I know he had some cheese, peanut butter and jelly (they had uncrustables), mac and cheese, and some fresh fruit.  The service here was good, we got held up a bit with our magic bands trying to make the transaction at the end, but the server said they were having wifi issues or something.  They did get it resolved fairly quickly and we were on our way.

Be Our Guest - Dinner (Magic Kingdom)
My favorite meal of the week!!  The restaurant was beautiful, loved eating in the ballroom (we weren't able to request this room ahead of time, but we were able to request it when we checked in for our meal)  Most of us had the steak, and it was delicious.  I would say the only negative thing here would be kind of a limited menu for kids, but they did have whole wheat pasta, which is what Jake ended up ordering (though I'm not sure he ate too much of it, though he did eat the steamed broccoli and Liam enjoyed some of the pasta).  And of course, I already posted about the great cast member experience we had there...if you didn't read it, you can do so here.

Quick Service Meals:
I'm not going to do individual reviews, because really, they were all pretty good and about the same :)  Most places were your standard choices to be expected at a counter service restaurant, but again, the portions were very generous (no issues with sharing with Liam at these locations either)  Here are the places we went:

Cosmic Ray's (Magic Kingdom)
Pizza Planet (Hollywood Studios)
Landscape of Flavors (Art of Animation)
Tortuga Tavern (Magic Kingdom)
Everything Pop Food Court (Pop Century)

Thoughts on the dining plan:
We had the standard Disney Dining Plan, which entitled us to 1 sit down meal, 1 quick service meal, and 1 snack per day.  Since Liam was free on this trip (under age 3) he didn't have a meal plan, but was allowed to eat at buffets and share off of everyone's plates anywhere else.  I was a bit worried about this, as he has quite an appetite, but there was always more than enough food.  In fact, we had a ton of snack credits at the end of the week, so if I really needed to, I could have been ordering additional items for him throughout the week (and in hindsight, should have done so).  Seriously, this meal plan gives you SO much food.  Each meal includes a drink, entree, and dessert, so there were many times where we would end up taking the dessert to go and enjoy as a snack later since we had already consumed so much food!

As far as cost, I'd say it was a good investment for the restaurant choices we made this trip since we were heavy on the character meals/buffets (which are on the pricey side) and gave us the ability to order larger meals that normally we might not have needed, but were nice since we were all sharing with Liam.  

The dining plan also came with a refillable mug for each person; this is the one thing that I felt like we didn't get much value from.  The refillable mug is good ONLY at resorts, not the parks....so maybe if our vacation had more resort time built in it would have been better used, but considering we were there very little, I just didn't feel like we really utilized it a lot.  Which was fine, since it was free, but it's not something I would pay out of pocket for.  

Overall, I thought the dining plan was a good value for us, and it was nice to just show up and have already paid for the meals ahead of time (though tips were not included, so budget for that if you're on the meal plan!)  Whenever we take another trip to Disney in a few years, I would get the dining plan again (and would know this time to use more snack credits as we go!) 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Trick or Treat!!

Forgive me for the fact that we're now closer to Thanksgiving than we are to Halloween and I'm just now posting these. oops!  The Disney recaps were taking over around here!

Anyway, we returned home from Disney on 10/29, so we had a one-day break and then Halloween was here.  And of course, after returning home from a week of gorgeous weather, Halloween was a rain-filled mess.  On the positive side, it was at least warm.  Of course, the kids don't seem to care either way!

We lucked out this year, both of the costumes were borrowed from friends!  Cost of costumes for me this year: $0.  Score!

Brian was trying to get home from work early, but the combo of trick or treat plus a downpour caused him to get stuck in massive amounts of traffic :(  So the boys were stuck with me, which meant that Jake was stuck with Liam, and Liam has short little legs that can only carry him so fast, which meant that Jake grew frustrated very quickly.  Thankfully, a neighborhood mom offered to take him around with her kids, and Jake was super excited to go trick or treating with his friends instead of me and Liam.  (His exact words were, "I'm going to run around the neighborhood with my buddy, Connor...this is SO COOL!!")

Our trick or treat is 2 hours long; Liam made it for about 45 minutes then finally agreed to my bribes to go inside, get out of our drenched clothes, and eat candy :)  That's my boy!  Brian made it home right as we were heading in, so he set off to find Jake with the other family and help that mom wrangle the gaggle of kids she was supervising.  They ended up staying out the whole 2 hours! 

It's hard to believe that we are already halfway through November, with Christmas pretty much around the corner.  We enjoyed the fall season around here, and we're very much looking forward to some downtime with the family over Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Disney Recap: Magic Kingdom (Day 2)

 Just joining us for the recap?  Check out all of the previous Disney World posts here!

Our last day in the parks had arrived *sniff, sniff*  It was another morning that was a bit more leisurely, as the park didn't open until 9am.  We got there around 8:50am, just as they were wrapping up the welcome show.  We stopped once we were right inside the park to try to get some pictures in front of the fall decor, but the kids were not being too cooperative.

 Yeah, that was as good as it was going to get.  Onto the rides! During day 1 at Magic Kingdom, we did all of Fantasyland and all of Tomorrowland, so the plan for day 2 was to do Adventureland, Frontierland, and Liberty Square.  First up, Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride!  The kids were delighted to see that the camels spun around and spit water at you :)

After that, we were right near the Enchanted Tiki Room which was getting ready to start, so we went in there.  Let's just say that was 15 minutes of my life I'll never get back. *yawn*  Moving on, next up was the Jungle Cruise!

Now, here is a part of the post where I have to insert a story that is a bit long, but worth sharing.  We decided that we needed a snack, and since it was 10am it seemed like it was an appropriate time to enjoy some ice cream.  Vacation rules and all that jazz.  For DAYS I had been wanting to have a dessert I had read about that involved 2 huge homemade chocolate chip cookies with ice cream smooshed in the middle.  So, a giant chipwich.  Tried to get one in Hollywood Studios on our way to Fantasmic...line was too long. Tried in Animal Kingdom after seeing Lion King show at the end of the day...stand that sold them was already closed for the day.  Magic Kingdom was our last hope!  We asked around and found where they would be, only to be told they were having some kind of issue and wouldn't have ice cream until later in the afternoon!!  NOOOO!!!  While we were reassessing the situation, we must have looked confused and/or depressed, because a friendly cast member came up and asked us if we needed help.  We told her the story and asked she knew of anywhere else to get them at 10am.  She asked us to wait there for a few minutes.  While she was off working some magic, the kids enjoyed their own ice cream (and Brian enjoyed the infamous Dole Whip, which he gave two thumbs up to) and then he took the kiddos to meet Chip and Dale who happened to be nearby:

Cast member comes back and tells us to follow her...as we're walking, she explains that the only other place to get the chipwich is at the Plaza Restaurant, but they're not officially open yet.  BUT, she called over there and they were making some just for us!!  Seriously!!  We were so excited, and so touched that she would do something so kind (especially for something so silly like needing ice cream at 10am!)  Sadly, we were so excited that they arrived, I forgot to take some pictures of them....but I will tell you they were heavenly!!  So a sincere thank you to Amanda from NJ from the ice-cream loving family at Magic Kingdom that day :)  Here is a photo of the delicious treat from disneyfoodblog.com:

After that, we had a Fast Pass + reservation for Big Thunder Mountain, so we headed there. We even got Jake on the ride!! (video below):

I now interrupt this trip report to bring you some beautiful shots of the castle from that morning:

We went on Pirates of the Caribbean:

And when we got off, happened to stumble up on the Pirates Tutorial featuring Captain Jack Sparrow.  Jake is now a certified Jedi AND Pirate :)

After grabbing lunch, the more daring adults (Brian, Nana, and PopPop) headed off to Splash Mountain while the rest of us sane folk killed some time by riding the Magic Carpets again.

After that, we all met back up and headed to the Haunted Mansion, which is really the only line that we waited in the entire trip.  The posted wait was 35 minutes, but I think that was exaggerated, it was probably closer to 20-25.  I was afraid that Jake would be terrified, but he loved it! Next, we had a Fast Pass + reservation for Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, since the kids loved it so much the first day.

After finishing up there, we headed back toward Storybook Circus, where the kids managed to get themselves pretty soaked in the water play area again:

Then, time for more Dumbo fun!

Then it was time for our very last Fast Pass + reservation, Barnstormer.  I forgot to mention in my first post about Magic Kingdom that this was Liam's favorite ride.  It's kind of a mini-roller coaster, but it actually did go quite fast and have a lot of turns!  Unfortunately, it moved too fast to get a picture of him on it (I was afraid the camera would fly out of my hands) but his face was priceless.  We got off the ride and he said, "That's my ride.  That was SO COOL!  Let's do it again!"  So, he was quite excited for the chance to go on it again!

That ended up being our last ride, as it was time to head to Be Our Guest for our dinner reservation.  Our reservation was for 6:20, but I wanted to check in early to see if it would be possible to request a table in the ballroom; this was the room where it "snowed" and looked gorgeous online, so I really wanted to be there if possible.  They noted the request and gave us a buzzer and told us it might be awhile, they were running behind.  That was at 6pm; literally, 3 minutes later our buzzer went off and we were at a table by 6:10pm....in the ballroom!! :)  The pictures I took in there weren't the best because the lighting was so low, here are some from www.disneydining.com:

Again, I'll do full dining reviews in a separate post and put them all together, but spoiler alert: this was my favorite restaurant.  The food was great and the atmosphere was perfect...it was actually a great way to end our vacation.

And I have to add another story in here about a cast member....while the food ended up being great, the service was a bit on the slow side, so Liam was getting restless sitting at the table.  I was walking around the restaurant with him when he spotted the Beast in his "study"; the Beast was greeting guests, but they told us at the beginning that you have to wait until you finish your meal.  Liam was asking to go in, so I reminded him of that but told him we could watch the Beast from outside of the room.  We were there for a few minutes when a cast member, Vaughnn, came up to us and started talking to Liam.  After a few minutes, Liam said, in his tiny sweet voice that no one can resist, "May I pwease go meet the Beast?"  Vaughnn told me to wait there for just a minute....he came back and ushered us in the room for a private meeting with Liam!!  Here he is, little sneaky thing!

Vaughnn then escorted us back to our table and told Liam to eat a good dinner so he could come back to see the Beast again.  After our food came out, Vaughnn once again stopped by to say hi to Liam and see how everything was going.  Liam became pretty chummy with Mr. Vaughnn and started referring to him as his "fwiend" :)  After dinner, it was desserts for everyone, then time for the group to meet the Beast!

And of course, Liam had to get his picture taken with his new BFF :)

Thank you, Mr. Vaughnn, for making the night great for a certain little 2 year old :)

Up until this day, we had hoped to stay that evening for the parade and fireworks....but once we sat down at dinner, we rethought that plan.  Everyone was just done, we figured it would be best to head out (lesson learned from Fantasmic the week before!)  But, then dinner took much longer than planned, so when we were done with that, the parade had already started.  The grandparents made their way out, but we let the kids stay to watch the parade. Because if we learned one new thing about Liam this trip, it was that he LOVED parades and shows. There was no dragging him away from them once he noticed them.  We left during the fireworks (and somehow, both kids fell asleep in the stroller DURING the super loud fireworks)  So we said goodbye to the Magic Kingdom, and headed back to our resort.

It's a weird feeling when vacation ends....a part of me is always ready to go back home, but there is always a sad part of me, too.  We were so, so lucky to be able to take this vacation, and so extremely grateful that both sets of grandparents were able to join us....not just because they were a huge help (which they were, thank you thank you thank  you!)  but also because we know we made memories that we're always going to treasure, and we're lucky that everyone was there to experience it with us.

See ya real soon. ;)

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