For me, going home for the holidays now means going to Florida. My Thanksgiving 2015 trip ended with a visit to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. I went on Saturday, November 28th. And yes, it was as busy as you would imagine it might be. By the time I got to Disney, I was tan from spending five days on the beach in Venice, Florida. I also grew a beach beard in that amount of time. Going back to work and getting compliments was fun.
I grew up going to Venice, Florida on Summer Vacations.
In August 2015, my parents decided to permanently vacation in Venice by moving there. On November 21, I made the (very) long drive down to spend Thanksgiving with the family at the beach.
Venice is on an island, and it is known for the shark's teeth you can find on the beaches. I have decades of experience finding them.
My parents live about a mile away from Caspersen Beach, which is a great place to find shark's teeth. These are just some of the many that I found on this visit.
Downtown Venice is home to a number of shops, including a shell shop that I always have to see. They always have funky stuff that reminds me of Gilligan's Island.
Venice had a Christmas Parade on Saturday, November 28th (I missed it because I went to Orlando). People were allowed to stake their spot for the parade on Wednesday, November 25th after 6PM. It was kinda wild.
Venice, Florida is known for its Cheetahs, apparently.
I'm wondering if the people who had this made were thinking of Busch Gardens in Tampa (which isn't far away).
My buddy, Reed Randolph, goes to Ringling College of Art & Design in nearby Sarasota. I saw this at a store in Venice and thought of him.
It's a small world, after all: My parents' next door neighbor has a son who attends Ringling, too!
When I was in college, I made this bronze tree based on Splash Mountain at Disneyland in California. My Dad asked me to make the Elves (which are made out of Sculpey) in 2007. They live outside in my parents' back yard now.
These days, the Elves share their tree with lizards.
Florida souvenir Disney merchandise has been around for as long as I can remember. I saw this Monsters University Florida Keychain at the Venice Walmart.
My close friends, Liz and David (and their three kids) moved to Orlando in December of 2014. My plan was to finish my Thanksgiving trip with them at Walt Disney World on Saturday, November 28th. Late on Wednesday night, my friend Liz texted me asking if I had got my ticket yet. I had not. She said I better get it now so we can schedule Fastpasses. So I got online and did that quickly. At midnight, Liz was able to book the coveted 8:50PM Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Fastpasses for everyone for Saturday night.
On Friday, November 27th, I left Venice at 5:00 PM and headed to Orlando. Driving on I-4 passing through Walt Disney World, I got very excited. By the time I got to my friends' house, and we unwound and watched an episode of Portlandia, I was wired. I think I slept two hours, maybe.
The plan was for us to be out of the house (in Lake Mary) by 10:00AM, which we accomplished. We decided to stop by the McDonald's at the CrossRoads of Lake Buena Vista, and eat on the drive to the Magic Kingdom parking lot.
We parked in the Peter Pan lot, and then walked to the Transportation and Ticket Center. We hopped on the Monorail (the kids loved the Star Wars monorail, which we did not ride). Finally, we were at The Magic Kingdom!
I would not say that my friends are Disney fanatics, but because they are here all the time, I can safely say that they know more about how this place works and how to get around more than I ever will.
We were actually talking about the Barber Shop. David wanted to get his hair cut---so we found that on Main Street. It turns out they were really busy! You do need an appointment to get your hair cut.
Walt Disney World knows how to put up a Christmas Tree.
So, I got pictures of the animated windows at the Emporium on Main Street. The windows are for Mickey's Christmas Carol.
While looking at my pictures, I realized that, much to my horror, I never actually went in to the Emporium on this visit! Aaaaugh!!!!
Getting the detail for these windows would have been much better at night, I think. But my camera battery was dead by then.
At first I was disappointed with these pictures, but looking at them now, I like that you can see the sunny day on Main Street.
Going in to this trip, we knew that not everything could be done in one day. I did everything that was a priority to me, and I was happy with that. There was no way we could have done more in one day.
We did not even set foot in Adventureland (though I saw the Flying Carpets as we walked by in Frontierland). I also did not enter Storybook Circus. The only Beauty and the Beast thing I saw was Enchanted Tales with Belle.
Somehow I also totally missed the Hub and did not get a good picture of Cinderella Castle.
Looking at this food got me thinking. I've only been to a few restaurants at the Magic Kingdom: Pinocchio's Village Haus, Cosmic Ray's, and Pecos Bill's Cafe. That is crazy.
Even though there is an attraction called Pete's Silly Side Show at the Magic Kingdom, you can't meet Pete anywhere. Here you can at least see him in a window.
This is the first time in a while that I've been to Walt Disney World with kids (ages 10, 9 and 8). It was fun! It helps that they really know their way around the parks.
Being in Orlando, I could not help but think about what my friends' kids are really interested with. The two older kids love Star Wars in a big way. All three love Mario. And all three love the LEGO Movie. They really are the target audience for this part of Florida.
It's time for spirited fun at Walt Disney World!
Here we see the Anheuser-Busch Clyesdale. Wait, no, that isn't right!
This horse had to weave through a sea of people.
The first attraction we rode was Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. I had an insanely high score, which was a first for me. I must have hit a secret target. Then the ride stopped and the work lights came on. And the scores were wiped clean. Noooooo!
We split up in Tomorrowland. The party I was with went to the PeopleMover while the others had Fastpasses for the Tomorrowland Speedway.
Those of us with Fastpasses for Space Mountain did that next. Woo hoo!
Robot Pluto was not the craziest dog-related thing I saw at the Magic Kingdom. I saw a family carrying a live Yorkie in their backpack.
While in the area, we also rode The Mad Tea Party and The Little Mermaid attraction.
We split up again, and some of us had Fastpasses for Splash Mountain. We also went on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
The wait for Big Thunder was not too bad. I accidentally got a good shot of the dinosaur bones.
The kids needed a snack break, so I went off on my own to do The Haunted Mansion. This was also my first time seeing the new Tangled area in Fantasyland, which is really pretty.
The biggest downside to the Tangled area (the "Tangled Toilets") is that the ambient music for this area (chirping birds) seems to have eliminated the howling wolf sound at the nearby Haunted Mansion. Boo!!!
This was my first time seeing Enchanted Tales With Belle. I got to see it with two of the kids (one of which was playing the Beast) so that was fun. The kids really seem to like it.
Is Lumiere an animatronic or a puppet, or a hybrid? I'm not sure, but he is impressive. Belle was really sweet with the kids (and adults) who were in the show.
We took in a showing of Mickey's Philharmagic (which had no wait) and then went to Pecos Bill's Cafe for dinner. Bill's has a brand new menu (burritos and rice bowls). One thing we liked about Pecos Bill's was the topping bar---you can really load up on corn dressing (is that what it is called?) and salsa and cheese. They had a cool little Country Bear Jamboree plastic jug that I wanted, but did not get. After dinner, my friends showed me one of the real alligators that lives near Splash Mountain's boardwalk!
Don't climb over the fences in Frontierland, kids!
I had a Fastpass for a night time ride on Big Thunder Mountain---which is my favorite time to go on that attraction---love the dancers in the building in the town of Tumbleweed. We also got in multiple rides on Splash Mountain, which was pretty much a walk-on.
We left Splash Mountain and noticed The Main Street---err, Disney's Electrical Parade marching towards us. We stopped and watched, and then realized that if we did not leave, we would potentially miss our Fastpass for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and then miss some of the Fireworks show.
We did basically see the Parade in its entirety as we walked to Fantasyland. We made it to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which I really enjoyed. I did notice that they are very serious about not letting people sneak in the Fastpass line for the attraction---there was a second Fastpass checkpoint!
We left the Mine Train just in time for the Fireworks, which we saw in Fantasyland. We kept looking towards the castle and then behind the castle to see all the pyro. Great show!
The last visit was the shops in Tomorrowland. I had promised the kids that I would get them a toy for Christmas. It made getting myself something easier, I think.
I got a Peter Pan Disney Racer to go with the Captain Hook Disney Racer I got a few years ago. Appropriate that we started the day with Peter Pan and ended with Peter Pan.
One of the kids chose a Snowtrooper Star Wars Disney Racer. The other two chose Disney Collector Packs.
I got a Villains Collector Pack for myself, which had some great characters. I really wanted Pete---oh well.
I also picked up these magnets to give to co-workers back in the real world.
I regret not getting one of these for myself.
After a Ferry Boat ride, we got to the Parking Lot Tram and then to the Peter Pan lot. I think we got back to the house in Lake Mary at 11:45PM. I got up early and started my long drive home at 7:50AM.
I was sad to go, but I will be back to Florida very soon. Real soon. Like, in a few weeks. So I can't complain.