So many people have asked me why Andi didn't go along and the short answer is - he didn't want to. I can't imagine Andi enjoying any part of the Disney experience so we thought it best to go our separate ways for this trip. I, on the other hand, am always looking for an excuse to get away during the winter and Tory is at the perfect age to experience the magic of Disney. Even better - Lindsay kindly organized the entire trip for the three of us, so Tory and I simply had to show up and enjoy ourselves.
Lindsay, Tory and I boarded a plane from Minneapolis to Orlando for our weekend away together. A winter storm threatened to ruin our travel plans that day, but the wind and snow stayed South of the Twin Cities and fortunately we made it to Florida with no issue. Tory is such a rock star junior traveler. We watched movies on the plane and colored pictures until our flight arrived around 6:00pm. From the airport, we shuttled to Animal Kingdom Lodge via Disney transportation, and found a quick dinner at the hotel after we arrived.
I highly recommend Animal Kingdom Lodge. Every last detail inside the hotel made it feel as if we were staying in the African jungle. After we checked into our room, the three of us walked around the hotel property to check out the sights. We stumbled upon an area with special night-vision binoculars to watch the exotic animals roaming on the property grounds. It was neat! We saw wildebeests, gazelles, birds, bunnies and giraffes and something about watching these animals through night-vision binoculars made our experience even more special.
The next morning, we were pleasantly surprised to find animals right outside our balcony. We knew there were animals on property, but we didn't expect to see them directly outside our hotel room. Lindsay and I sat on the balcony and took in the morning sunshine while we waited for Sleeping Beauty - aka: Tory - to wake up for the day. Once she did, we stopped for a quick breakfast at The Mara, a quick-service restaurant at Animal Kingdom Lodge, to grab yogurts and fruit before hopping on the Disney shuttle bus to Epcot.
Lindsay chose Epcot as our first park to visit because it's the home of Elsa and Anna, and the new Frozen ride. Forget Mickey and Minnie; Tory is all about the Disney princesses so our goal was to meet as many of those characters as we could. Lindsay made us reservations for a princess breakfast at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall so we'd have a chance to see several right away.
Neither Lindsay or I were sure what to expect at the princess storybook dining experience. A waiter seated us, took our drink orders and invited us to fill our plates at the breakfast buffet displayed in another room. We did as such, and returned to our table to find one Disney princess after another parading by our table. It was a little overwhelming! Tory was literally speechless as Aurora from Sleeping Beauty greeted her first. "You seem a little sleepy yourself this morning," she told Tory. I think she didn't know what to think, and neither did Lindsay or I. Ariel came by the table next, then Snow White and Cinderella, and slowly Tory warmed up to the idea of meeting the princesses and having her picture taken with each of them.
It was next to impossible to eat anything because there's was so much commotion at our table. Boy, was it sweet though! Tory was wide-eyed in amazement as each princess came over to speak with her. Our favorite was Ariel who commented how similar Tory's Jasmine outfit was to her own dress. "I'm not sure what to call this flouncy stuff," she said as she lifted the fabric on her dress. "Human stuff."
After our second breakfast of the morning, we walked around the big lake in the center of Epcot to visit the different "countries" there. I rented a stroller for Tory upon Lindsay's suggestion, and I'm so glad I did. Our trip would've been a lot of walking for Tory, and I was thankful I didn't have to carry her. (I rented through Orlando Strollers, by the way, and it was super easy. The stroller was waiting for me at the hotel concierge desk when we arrived and I simply dropped it off there when we were done with it. Easy!)
We had an hour until our FastPass reservation for the Frozen-themed ride, so we decided to take a chance and hop in the line to meet Elsa and Anna. We'd checked the day prior, and knew the line got to be pretty long for this attraction, so Lindsay thought it best to do right away if we wanted to meet them. Luckily, we only had to wait for about 20 minutes until we had the chance to meet them.
Tory had the "meeting princesses" thing down by the time we saw Elsa and Anna. She embraced each one in a great big hug and seemed absolutely amazed to be standing in their presence. I appreciated how each of the Disney princesses were in a private meeting room so it was quiet from outside noise. It felt like you had their undivided attention for those few minutes.
In Epcot's China, we stopped to have Tory's face painted. My sweet girl didn't ask for one plastic trinket during our entire Disney trip (not that she couldn't have; my Magic Band was ready and willing to spoil her rotten that weekend!) so I thought face painting would be a fun and unique treat.
Lindsay wanted an Oktoberfest beer in Epcot's Germany but we were all so full from our two breakfasts that morning, we couldn't possible dream of eating something more. We continued through the villages until it was time for our first FastPass at the Frozen ride.
I'm a Disney newbie, so I didn't really understand the whole FastPass line thing - so glad Lindsay knew what to do. We used a Disney park app on our phone to check wait times for rides, locate restaurants and restrooms, and keep track of the FastPass selections we'd made. (For any Disney newbies like me, FastPasses allow you to skip the line for popular rides. You only get a few of these during our park visit.)
The Frozen line was really long, so we were glad to scoot right to the beginning. The employee asked the three of us if we wanted to sit in the front of the boat, and we say "absolutely!" even though I wasn't completely sure how Tory would react to the ride.
She ... wasn't the biggest fan. The Frozen ride wasn't scary at all, but it was dark, the boat traveled backwards for a portion of the ride and went down a small hill which she didn't appreciate. "Scary!" was her exact phase in this photo. (It wasn't.)
Afterward, we continued to wander through the various countries. Tory enjoyed an ice cream cone from France's L'Artisan des Glaces, and Lindsay eventually did get a German beer from one of the stands we passed.
We stopped in Morocco and learned Jasmine was there! There was only a 10-minute line, so we had to meet her. After all, Tory wore her Princess Jasmine costume to Disney that day.
The three of us walked over to Future World on the other side of Epcot for a chance to ride Soarin.' Tory's school friend had told her about this ride, so she was determined to ride it. We didn't have a FastPass for this one, so we waited in line for an hour to ride it. It was ... long. Fortunately, was content to watch the PBS App on my phone while we waited, and Lindsay and I had a fun time catching up with each other.
Tory did NOT like the Soarin' ride - surprise, surprise! In her defense, it probably was too much of a thrill for a five-year-old. Lindsay and I loved it though. It felt like we were hang gliding through some of the most breathtaking landmarks and sights in the world.
We walked outside the complex after the ride was over and nearly had a heart attack when we discovered our stroller was missing! It wasn't in the "stroller parking spot" we'd left it, and Lindsay and I both started to panic. We hadn't left any valuables in it, but it did have our coats and water bottles -- not to mention I didn't take out the insurance on the rental. Fortunately, we found it a few minutes later parked in another spot along the rail. Someone had moved it apparently. Oy.
Tory snapped this pic of the Epcot ball as we pushed our way to the park exit. Isn't it great? She's becoming quite the photographer.
Around 5:00pm, we decided to head back to Animal Kingdom Lodge for the campfire and s'mores party. Of course, the shuttle ride took longer than expected and we missed the s'mores by 10 minutes. Tory was disappointed because s'mores are her favorite dessert on the planet, but she managed her disappointment well. I was impressed! We decided to have dinner at the hotel's Sanaa restaurant. We didn't have a reservation, but the kind staff made a place for us.
The food was African-Indian themed, and really tasty! Lindsay and I ordered a appetizer of seasoned Naan breads with nine sauce accompaniments to start, and I think we'd forgotten we hadn't had anything to eat all afternoon. We scarfed down that plate of bread and still had room for our ethnic entrees. Tory had a cheeseburger and fries for her meal (very thankful every restaurant had kid food) and she even got her s'mores / dirt cake dessert in the end.
The three of us were exhausted after dinner, so we retired to our hotel room and went to bed. We had a great first day at Disney's Epcot Theme Park. Next up -- Magic Kingdom!