[On our way to the plane]
The plane trip there was fine, although I was a little annoyed that I had specifically packed so that we could carry on all our luggage so we wouldn't have to wait for our checked bags, and we ended up having to gate check a bag (which we could only pick back up at baggage claim instead of plane-side). Our flight had already been pushed back so that we would be getting in just before 8pm, and since the girls normally go to sleep at 8:30pm and we'd have a long (and early) day ahead of us the following day, I was trying to streamline the process once we landed in Florida to get the girls to bed and settled as quickly as possible. It ended up working out well enough, though, since the bags came really fast this year, so I already had our errant suitcase in-hand by time Ryan worked out where we'd pick up the rental car.
It was pretty warm when we got there, and with the stress of trying to install an unfamiliar car seat and trying to do it quickly so everyone could get to bed, I was sweating and frustrated within minutes. I would consider this completely out of character for me, but I started complaining about the heat (I normally love the heat!), which seemed even stranger juxtaposed with Ryan later mentioning how much he likes the smell of Florida. I don't know what was going on, but between me complaining about heat, and Ryan liking something, vacation was doing something funny to our heads ;)
Anyway, we stayed at the Pop Century Resort this year, and made it there without too many difficulties, and then got the girls off to bed. The next morning, we met Ryan's parents at the food court, and then got on the bus to Magic Kingdom once we'd eaten breakfast. The traffic was just awful, though, and it took us close to an hour to get there (I think it's normally more like 20 minutes). AND we didn't have seats... well, officially, at least. I was more ok with us sitting on the floor rather than dealing with uncomfortable, bored kids who keep falling over as the bus jolted forward, so we did that instead :)
[Josie comforting her kitty cat (aka Audra) on the long bus ride]
I was originally going to leave Audra with Ryan for the first day at Magic Kingdom, but at next to the last minute, decided to bring her too and see how it went. Since it was only supposed to be Josie the first day, all of the FastPasses I had gotten months in advance were geared towards what she wanted (i.e., roller coasters), so I scrambled to get other FastPasses for Ryan's mom that she could use with Audra. First up was Dumbo for them then, while Josie and I went on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, although we met up with them again afterwards for a photo op ;)
We split off again so Josie and I could go on Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain, neither of which we had done last year. I had also never been on Splash Mountain before anyway (I think it was either still being built or had just opened the last time I went to Disney as a kid), and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it - although my favorite part was really after the big drop into the water at the end. We were sitting in the front of our log, and Josie and I both got completely soaked so she immediately started crying "My dress! My dress!" I was trying to calm her down and it seemed to be working until she asked "Is this real water?" and when I confirmed that it was, in fact, real water, she went back to crying "Ah, my dress!" She did eventually get over the soaking, and Splash Mountain is now her favorite ride ;)
We then went to Liberty Tavern for lunch, where the girls must have been famished as they thoroughly impressed our waiter by consuming everything put in front of them: salads, pasta, green beans, and tea.
We finished off Audra's day at the park by going on "it's a small world", and then dropped her off to Ryan at the front of the park for nap-time.
[it's a small, small world]
The rest of the day for us was a flurry of FastPass magic. I'm pretty sure that is now my favorite part about Disney - the challenge of working the FastPass system to maximize the number of rides we could go on while minimizing wait times. For the uninitiated, three FastPasses can be booked a few months in advance (if park tickets are also bought in advance and linked with a resort stay, I believe). Once those three passes are used, then individual passes can be selected one at a time as they are used. So I had previously booked the three FastPasses each day for the rides that tended to have the longest lines, and then was able to see via the Disney app what rides had FastPass timeslots available after that so that as soon as we scanned our wrist bands to use each FastPass, I was immediately on my phone to book the next available FastPass. It led to probably more walking back and forth across the park than we would have done otherwise, but we also got to go on a lot of rides and waited in only two standby lines the entire first day, so I still think that was a significant win :)
I apparently didn't take many pictures during the afternoon, though, so here's one of the few, of Josie watching a performance in front of the castle.
The next day, we headed back to Magic Kingdom for a half-day with both girls and both of Ryan's parents. The girls got to meet Ariel before our first FastPass of the day, since the standby line wasn't too bad.
Except then we went on the Jungle Cruise, which was quite the experience. So we went on a boat in steady rain, the guide told jokes that were all well above the girls' heads, and the girls seemed fairly perplexed about all the animatronic animals and headhunters we were passing (I was too a bit - is it still cool to joke about shrunken heads?). We then headed into the Crystal Palace to dry off, have lunch, and meet some Winnie the Pooh characters. Josie was an old hand at the characters, but Audra did well too, agreeing to meet all of them except Tigger, who she determined was a little too scary for her.
Once we were done at the park, we headed out to Ponce Inlet, with Audra conveniently falling asleep for the last 10 minutes of the 1 hour+ drive. Last year, the beach portion of the trip seemed a bit too short at 2.5 days, so this year we did an additional day at the condo, which seemed a lot better - long enough so that we didn't feel so rushed, but hopefully short enough so that we didn't drive Ryan's parents too crazy :)
We went to the Marine Science Center, where we got to pet stingrays (which were surprisingly slimy and squishier than I was expecting), see a moray eel, visit the turtle hospital, and see the bird rehabilitation area - we even got to see bald eagles, which I at least was really excited about, although perhaps the rain was dampening the girls' enthusiasm since they did not seem to care about seeing our national emblem whatsoever :-\
[Josie and some cownose rays]
[This eel freaked me out]
[Not a real turtle... didn't stop Audra from giving it a hug anyway :)]
Next day, we did the same thing, with the girls content playing on the beach for hours, and then going in the pool to splash around on the boogie boards. Audra is not a fan of water less than bathwater temperature, so she only consented to going in the pool for a little while, but Josie clamored to go jump waves in the ocean, and swam and kicked her way around the pool long after I finally took Audra up for her nap.
[Josie's face really adds to this picture]
[Josie somehow kept getting possession of Audra's new Little Mermaid bubble wand]
We went out to the beach one last time in the morning before we flew back home, and it was chilly enough that Ed was able to fly his drones on the fairly deserted beach while Audra proceeded to demonstrate her balance skills as she did some final digging in the sand.
Anyway, the week we got home was also the week of Audra's birthday party :) Audra had picked Chuck E. Cheese's for her party, in no small part due to Josie's influence, but I was fine with that because it's the cheapest of the party locations by us and everybody likes small children screaming with glee and running amok... right? ;) We did an early timeslot on Saturday again (the day before her birthday proper), mainly because it's really not that crazy then (not like the 3pm party we had gone to recently for one of Josie's friends, where I was completely stressed out trying to keep track of both kids in the absolute mayhem that was Chuck E. Cheese's at that time). Audra consented to doing at least half of the special birthday kid stuff (more than I was expecting!), my dad and stepmom came down from Michigan to join the party, and I'm pretty sure the adults had as much fun as the kids :) All in all, we had a great time.
[Audra was not really into the song and dance part of the festivities]
[She warmed up to Chuck E. Cheese a little more after some cake]
[Little kids hugging is so cute]
[My favorite picture of the day - my stepmom, mom, and aunt discussing strategy for the Spongebob game]