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Disney World – Part 2

Oh my goodness, Hollywood Studios day.  My favorite day from the trip (and I don’t think Hollywood Studios has ever ranked as my favorite day).  The park is really turning itself around thanks to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land!  We had an absolute blast at Galaxy’s Edge and the day will forever be etched in my happy memory bank.

The weather was forecasted to be cold.  And even though we are Wisconsinites, we aren’t stupid.  We bundled up, wore our winter coats and hats, and were so grateful that we did!  It was in the low 40s and extremely windy… but I think that helped to reduce the crowd levels, so it was an overall win for us.

We got to DHS right at park opening and headed straight for Galaxy’s Edge.  Mike was dying — his beloved Star Wars came to life!  I was also dying, but not quite to the scale that Mike was.  Our first stop was Smuggler’s Run — which is essentially a magic motion ride where you get to pilot the Millennium Falcon.  It was SO FREAKING COOL.  You ride with two other parties.  Mike and I were the captains/pilots.  Another party served as the shooters.  And the last party served as the engineers.  It was an interactive, fun, absolute joy of an experience.  The technology has come a long way in that even though it was a magic motion ride, neither one of us felt too queasy afterward.  Two thumbs up, Disney!

After Smuggler’s Run, we walked around and just tried to absorb everything.  So much to see, so many details, and fun fact: there are no signs in English anywhere.  Everything is in this mystery Star Wars language, which really added to the experience and made you feel a little disoriented, in a good way.

We stopped and tried blue and green milk.  Blue was the winner in our book by far! It tasted like candy. Mmm. We visited the shops, which only allowed one party in at a time. We sat down and rested and watched Chewie and Rey and the Stormtroopers come out to play.

By this point it was nearing lunch time and I wanted a Toy Story grilled cheese, so we left Galaxy’s Edge and headed to Toy Story Land.  Oh.  My.  GOD.  Toy Story Land was one of the most precious things I’ve ever seen.  You feel like you’re in the movies.  Primary colors everywhere!  The pull at my heart was intense — like you’re walking through your childhood all over again.  It was magical.  I hope that I ever lose that sense of wonder and awe — and the ability to see and feel that kind of joy.

I had my grilled cheese at Woody’s Lunchbox. It’s not an average grilled cheese.  They used 4 different cheeses, garlic and mayo on the bread instead of butter, etc.  So good and so worth it.

We headed back to Galaxy’s Edge for two reasons 1) Mike’s reservation at the Droid Depot and 2) Rise of the Resistance!

The Droid Depot is basically Build-a-Bear for Star Wars geeks.  It was so awesome!  You can make a BB or an R2 — and you pick all your parts and then a cast member helps you to assemble the droid.  You leave with a “living”, “breathing”, working droid that beep-beep-boops and whizzes around.  It was such a charming experience.

By this point in the day, my back was killing me.  Like, I-need-to-sit-down-for-a-while killing me.  But our Rise of the Resistance boarding time was approaching so I had to suck it up and pretend to be psyched.  I mean, I was psyched, but I was also a little grouchy and in a lot of discomfort.

Rise of the Resistance was incredible. It was unlike any ride I’ve ever been on.  It was a 20+ minute experience. You feel like you’re in the movies… it’s the only way I can describe it. Because of the length of the ride and the level of production involved, you have to reserve a boarding time in advance.  You have two chances to do this: 7am and 1pm.  Mike fired up the MyDisney app at 7am that morning and got us our boarding position.  You then have to check the app throughout the day to find out what time corresponds to your boarding position.  We were in position #59… and we kept checking back until they were able to give us a window of time: we had to be at the ride and ready to go between 1pm and 1:30pm.  The entire process was a little confusing at first and slightly counterintuitive, but we figured it out .  And after we experienced the ride and realized how involved it was, it made total sense why they do it that way.

But honestly, that ride was great.  I’m not a huge fan of crazy rides and don’t do well with extreme spins or drops or loop-de-loos, but I was A-OK.  You sit with another group on a trackless car.  The trackless car takes you through the entire ride experience… moving from room to room to room as you join the Resistance battling the First Order.  It’s a dark ride with a lot of lights and flashes and noises and spins and a drop (nothing too scary though — I honestly thought the drop on Pirates of the Caribbean was bigger).  It’s a must see, 10/10 ride!

After Rise of the Resistance, we had some time to kill before our dinnertime reservation at Oga’s Cantina.  We decided to drop all of our souvenirs (including Mike’s new droid) off at the car and ride the new Skyliner.  The Skyliner has stations at DHS, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Pop Century, EPCOT, and a few other resorts I can’t remember off the top of my head.

We loved the Skyliner! It was smooth and not crowded.  It was nice to just have a moment alone in our little skyliner car — we enjoyed the quiet and the ability to put our feet up and relax. It definitely helped my lower back feel a little better! We rode the skyliner to the Caribbean Beach, got out, walked around for a bit.  Then took the skyliner to EPCOT.  We walked around the boardwalk area of EPCOT and then boarded a boat back to DHS.

We headed back into the park and had dinner (burgers and an Oreo funnel cake) before our drink reservation at Oga’s Cantina.  Oga’s was a hoot.  It’s basically just a bar (they serve just a few food items) — with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available.  All of the drinks are colorful, fun, and many of them have dry ice as a feature.  It’s kid-friendly, so don’t let the fact that it’s a bar scare you away if you’ve got kids in tow.  You can’t just pop in though… reservations are a must!

After Oga’s we headed out and stopped to watch Kylo Ren interact with the crowd.  Kylo, as you know, is kind of a dick.  But he spotted a little boy in a wheelchair and told him to come up to the front — then he said that the boy would do great things in life and have many talents.  It was such a sweet moment — the moments you see all the time at Disney.  They train their cast members so well and it’s so sweet when kids are singled out and made to feel so special.  The magic of Disney, right?

We made one more trip through Toy Story Land — and this time rode Toy Story Mania because there was no wait (unheard of in normal times!).  I beat Mike!  Woot woot!

It was nearing park closing time but we wanted to go on one more ride:  Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.  This is the ride that replaced the Great Movie Ride (which I loved but admittedly, it was becoming very outdated).  Overall it was cute (dark ride, trackless cars, lots of neon colors and lights), but omg, there was one section where your car goes into this room with Daisy Duck at the helm… and Daisy pretends to conduct an orchestra… and your car moves and sways with her conducting motions.  I. Wanted. To. Barf.  The worst part of the entire day was that bitch Daisy!

But I survived sans barf.  The park was closing at this point, so we headed back to the car and back to our hotel to crash yet again.  It was such a delightful day at Hollywood Studios.  Up next: our last day… at the Magic Kingdom!

Good morning, WDW!
The Star Wars nerds were ready to go!
Mike… dyingggg. Picture with the Millennium Falcon!
The waiting area for Smugglers Run.
View from the queue.
The Droid Depot!
I wasn’t kidding about it being cold!  And mmmm BLUE MILK!
The attention to detail was impressive — C-3PO and R2-D2 footprints!
Ahhh, so cool!
Mike’s turn at the Droid Depot!
Choices, choices.
I loved that green BB up on the shelf! I wish they had green ones available to make!
All set to come home with us! I like that Mike chose a BB (cuter, imo). And the red/black kind of gave it a Sith vibe.
Rise of the Resistance!
Stormtroopers everywhere!
I tried to take pics on the ride but this was about all I could get.
Kylo Ren.
Oga’s Cantina!
May the Force be with you.
And so marks the end of my Galaxy’s Edge photos.  Moving on to the rest of DHS now!
Just the cutest!
Slinky Dog Dash!
Woody’s Lunchbox! Look at the Babybel chairs!
Brio train benches!
Even the bathrooms were adorable.
Say it with me now… “The claaaaawwwwww!”
A completely empty Toy Story Mania
Love the attention to detail… making the pink crayon used instead of sharp.
That little girl was almost as excited about the Mickey balloons as I was!
Of course I had to get a Starbucks strawberry refresher. Starbucks while traveling always makes me think of my momma. I hope I can convince her to visit DHS soon so she can see Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land, too!
On our way to the Skyliner… I just liked the colors here.
Finally.. a little rest. It was so lovely.
Walking around the Caribbean Beach Resort property.
We passed a Star Wars car! And check out that yummy Oreo funnel cake! When on vacation, right?
I no longer like Daisy Duck (IYKYK..)

Disney World – Part 1

On Monday morning, we packed up the rental car and drove over to the empire that is Walt Disney World.  We chose to stay at the Contemporary.  I’ve stayed there numerous times before and I adore it — it’s not themed to any great extent and has a slight industrial feel to it, but I love the open interior, the close proximity to the Magic Kingdom (seriously – it’s a 5 minute walk), and the fact that the monorail runs right through the hotel.

Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we drove over to EPCOT.  Disney during the pandemic is a little different.  You have to make park reservations.  So instead of being able to buy a general park ticket, you have to make a reservation to attend certain parks on certain days.  We chose EPCOT for February 1, Hollywood Studios for February 2, and the Magic Kingdom for February 3.  After 2pm each day, you can park hop (if you paid for the park hopper feature on your ticket).  All of this is a way for Disney to keep crowds manageable and as safe as possible.  I would say that during our time there, the parks were at 25-30% capacity.  The CHILLY, windy weather (like… 42 degrees with 30mph gusts of wind) also helped to limit crowds, I would imagine.  We wore our winter coats and hats on our days at Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom!

Anyway!  We arrived at EPCOT shortly before park opening and spent the majority of the day there.  We park hopped to the Magic Kingdom later that day!  Here are my bullet point highlights and lowlights of Day 1!
  • Much of EPCOT’s Future World is under construction, but we were able to ride Test Track, which is a great ride IMO.  Wheeeeeeee! And since we went to Test Track first thing, our wait time was only about 15 minutes.  Oh, and the parks are not doing Fast Passes at the moment — another COVID restriction or precaution, depending on how you look at it.
  • We spent the majority of our time walking around the World Showcase.  We stopped at every country.  Mexico is always a favorite — I got another sugar skull to take home (neon pink this time!).  Mike got a turkey leg in the America pavilion.  We tried lobster poutine in Canada. We picked up some Lunar New Year items from China (as we were planning to celebrate with the kids upon our return). The Morocco pavilion was beautiful but empty — though I heard rumor that the operations were shut down due to legal issues between Disney and the Morocco vendors.
  • We were walking through Italy and all of a sudden the background music became really loud.  Like, AGGRESSIVELY loud.  We turned around and there was Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, etc doing an impromptu parade!  Really cool!
  • Because of COVID, there are no scheduled parades or shows at any of the parks. But they do unplanned, surprise parades throughout the day — which is almost a better way of doing it, I think!
  • We wrapped up our time at EPCOT with a few of the Festival of the Arts treats (almond cake for me and a pop art bloody mary for Mike), a ride on Spaceship Earth, and then headed back to the hotel to our room.
  • After we got settled in, we walked over to the Magic Kingdom.  I love the Magic Kingdom… it will forever be my favorite. It was chilly and we were tired, but we walked around Main Street, rode the Haunted Mansion (my favorite Disney ride), and rode the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
  • Funny story about the teacups.  Mike is NOT a fan.  At all.  But because he loves me, he decided to ride with me with the promise that I would not spin our individual cup.  Deal.  While he was trying not to vomit, I was extremely distracted by the fact that there was a GOLDEN RETRIEVER ON THE NEXT TEA CUP OVER!  A woman and her service animal.  But OMG, it was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen and I spent the entire time on the 2 minute ride taking pictures of the doggo.
  • Mike was lovingly annoyed that he went on this ride that he hates and I was entirely distracted by the dog!
  • We walked back to our hotel, had a late dinner, and crashed hard.  These Disney days are tough!  I think we logged around 20,000 – 23,000 steps each day at the parks.  Check my next post for our Hollywood Studios fun!

Me and my orange balloon, which I bought the night before at Disney Springs.  They never have orange balloons! I was so excited! (you all know how much I’m obsessed with Mickey balloons)
OMG OMG OMG OMG
Mexico! One of my favorite pavilions.
We found Elsa in the Norway pavilion.
Impromptu parade!
Blech! Not my thing but a Disney classic for sure.
Lobster poutine was excellent.
The infamous purple wall.
Mike… not loving life at that moment.
DOG. ON. THE. TEACUPS!
I REPEAT: DOG! ON! THE! TEACUPS!
WHAT A GOOD BOYYYY!

Florida

Mike and I spent about a week in sunny Florida.  Our first time traveling anywhere since the pandemic began and our first time traveling together (we did well, I think!)

So what was traveling during a pandemic like?

First of all, I know and realize that we were doing what we were not supposed to be doing. Traveling. We were those assholes. I know it, I acknowledge it, I own it. I understand if you are beyond annoyed with us and the choice we made.

We had no idea that we’d still be in pandemic hell now when we booked this trip last spring. And Mike’s TEDx Eustis talk was a non-negotiable. It was happening and it was happening in person. So we rolled the dice and decided to go.

I had A LOT of anxiety before this trip. Normally I get so excited for vacations but this time I had a pit in my stomach about it. But honestly… it was amazing. I was beyond impressed with all of the precautions and rules and changes that the airports, theme parks, restaurants, etc implemented. We were masked 100% of the time — as was everyone else — unless we were actively eating or drinking (and even then, we were away from other people). If we took pics without a mask it was because there was not another soul around us. Our temperatures were taken before entry to the parks every day (we went to Disney but more on that in other posts!). The queues for the rides kept people spaced 6-8 feet apart and had plexiglass barriers everywhere. Hotel check in and out was contactless. No housekeeping unless requested. Stores had capacity limits. The parks had capacity limits. If you thought the parks looked empty in my photos it’s because they were. It was all so weird but also so wonderful to see everyone cooperating with all of the changes.

Now I know that there are no guarantees and even with all these precautions and our best efforts, we could still get COVID. For the next few weeks, I tracked my temp on a daily basis and I wasn’t around my parents without all of us being masked, etc. (As I’m writing this now, three weeks later, I can say that we are all fine and no one got COVID due to our trip — and for this we are lucky!)

But the biggest positive of this vacation was what it did for our mental health. We were so excited everyday — happy with renewed energy. The change of scenery was much needed and we didn’t take it for granted.

I’m breaking the blog posts up — a general Florida post plus many separate Disney posts.
I like reading trip re-caps with bullet points, so here we go!
  • The reason for our whole trip was the fact that Mike gave a talk at TEDx Eustis;  his talk was titled “Resolving Conflict in a Polarized Society” — he did great and I enjoyed the TEDx event more than I thought I would!  (I’m a TED newb) Mike started TEDx Oshkosh, so TED is a major passion of his.
  • Eustis, FL is not much to write home about.  It’s next to Mount Dora, which was much cuter and nicer (read: wealthier).  It was like a Menasha/Neenah dynamic between the neighboring communities.  We spent more time in Mount Dora simply because there was more to do and see.
  • We stayed at a Hampton Inn in Eustis and our time there was consumed with TED events.  But we did make a trip to Waffle House!  And after the TED event wrapped up, we headed to Mount Dora and had an amazing Cuban dinner.
  • We left Eustis on a Sunday morning.  We kept seeing orange groves everywhere and figured there had to be an orange-themed tourist trap somewhere for us to visit — and sure enough, enter The Showcase of Citrus!
  • The Showcase of Citrus was cute and charming and ever so slightly rough around the edges — it was like the citrus sister of Wisconsin’s Little Farmer.  We walked through the orange groves, drank orange slushies, bought kitschy souvenirs… in short, we greatly enjoyed our time there and would definitely recommend it!
  • Our next stop was the Margaritaville hotel.  We decided to spend one night of our trip there because a) Mike is a Parrothead and b) the resort is brand new and we wanted to check it out.
  • OH. MY. GOD. It was so gorgeous!  From the moment we walked through the doors we felt at ease, relaxed, and just happy to be there. It’s a beautiful property and I would highly recommend it to anyone in the Kissimmee area.
  • We only had a day there — but we walked around, enjoyed the warm weather, had lunch and drinks by the pool — and then went to Disney Springs at night (more on that in another post)
  • We were sad to leave paradise the next morning, but excited to head over to Walt Disney World!  More on that leg of the trip in other posts.

Ready to fly out of Appleton.
You know I’m a sucker for oversized roadside attractions — like this giant pencil!
Waffle House!
Mike + Me at TEDx Eustis!
My smart cookie cutie.
The event was held at a movie theater so that social distancing could be accommodated.  Hurrah for reclining seats!
Cute Mount Dora.
Mike + my delicious pina colada!
The patron saints of Florida: the Golden Girls!
So we drove past this crazy house and Mike said, “that’s a spite house.” I Googled it and sure enough, it’s a spite house.  The homeowner painted the fence first and Mount Dora said no no, your fence needs to match your house.  I like to imagine those homeowners saying, “OK, hold my beer…”
We found a roadside donut truck on the day we left Eustis. What a delightful send off!
We drove past this and Mike did a U-turn without me even saying anything, “I know you’ll want a photo.”  He is the greatest person.
The Showcase of Citrus!
I LOVE ORANGES.
Romantic stroll through the orange groves.
And oh oh oh yes, they have a monster truck school bus! We chose not to spend $35 bucks a person on this but holy cow… what a sight.
Orange slush.
A breath of fresh, much classier air: the Margaritaville Resort.
Mike fell in love with that pillow but we can’t find it anywhere to purchase.  They missed an opportunity!
View from our balcony.
Bucket of drinks because why not?
Condos – I would take the orange or yellow one, plz.

January

Almost a few WEEKS late.. but better than than never (or pregnant, as Blanche Devereaux would say). Not much was going on in January — I’ll have more to report for February… I spent a week in Florida and it was awesome.  But more on that later this month! Gracie smiles!
We went to Build-a-Bear and the GB Botanical Gardens with the kids.
Mike & I celebrated 1 year on January 3.  We celebrated with mozzarella sticks.
January brought some truly beautiful winter scenes – the rime ice was incredible!
And I took down Christmas and put up Valentine’s.
The gigantic inchworm was on clearance at Fleet Farm… and looks just like Sadie’s favorite toy (a Sadie-sized version of that inchworm).  She loves the big one, too, and it cracks me up.
Party Cityyy!
Mike and I spent HOURS listening to 90s music one night… and it was such an unexpectedly awesome and fun night.  Long live the great 1990s.
If you haven’t already, watch the History of Swearing on Netflix.  It’s great fun.
Mike made a new drink — the imPEACHmint.
Made penguin cupcakes for Mike’s virtual Antarctica day with his kids.
All three dogs have been hanging out with me lately because my parents are remodeling their bedroom/bathroom… and the construction causes non-stop barking by the Gs. It’s pretty great to have three doggos around.
So I guess the dogs got high one day while I was at work.
When a friend brings you a Diet Coke during your work day… the day is improved 100x!
I also made the most obnoxious blanket of all time to keep at Mike’s house. He looooooves it. ;)
We lost the NFC Championship game. Womp womp.
See ya in a few weeks with Florida posts!

December

Here’s the photos from the last month of crazy weird 2020.  Maybe 2021 will be more normal.  Maybe not.

Happiest of birthdays to Mike (made him a Death Star cookie cake)
Virtual Chicago trip with Mike’s kids – I was in charge of rainbow cone, a science experiment, and some dinosaur digging!
Scenes of the season.
Michelle & I went to the Garden of Lights
A killer winter sunrise. I think December skies are some of the best.
I made fleece blankets for the kids for Christmas.
Sadie testing out the Baby Yoda bean bag chair (in reality it went to Mike’s son for Christmas)
The Rainbow Atlas was a gift from Bethany – how perfect for me, right?I made a gingerbread dumpster fire! :)
Holiday baking. I miss my grandma.
A little roof damage. How very 2020.
We got FIVE POUNDS of Oaks chocolate from a client. Holy god.
Went to the River Domes with Mike + kids!
Subtle earrings, right?
Christmas Eve at Mike’s.  Brandy slush afterward.
Baby Yoda is the best tree topper! I couldn’t decide between his blue macaron or the orb… so I went with both.
Golden Girls mugs from Mike’s kids! swoon.
See ya, 2020.