Florida Vacation Day 5: Clearwater Beach

I had no idea that Orlando was land-locked, and although it was disappointing that we had to drive a couple hours to get to a beach (after already driving 23 hours to get there), I was super excited when everyone agreed to go to Clearwater Beach. We've been there several times when visiting friends in Tampa, but our most recent trip was three years ago when I was pregnant with Mollie - you can see pictures of that trip here. The last time we went, we found this awesome stretch of beach with almost no people, so that's where we headed for on Monday. Luckily, the parking lot for that part of the beach is right next to a restaurant with amazing food, so we were able to easily find the same area AND have a super delicious lunch there again!

We spent our beach day taking turns standing in the water, watching the kids and relaxing in the shade of our rented umbrella (worth every penny if you ask me). The kids had a blast, and it was so much fun to watch them. It always makes me smile at how easily all of the girls seem to jump into to being best buddies even though we go months in between getting to see the Ohio clan. IMG_7870 Blog01 Blog02 Blog03

I'm not sure whose idea it was, but Eric asked me if it was ok if he buried Natalie in the sand with Elizabeth & Aubrey. I had to see that! So we watched while he made a 3-headed mermaid out of the three 4-year olds. :) Kara was busy doing her own thing, and Mollie (not surprisingly) declined. ;) Blog04

We had lunch at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, right on the beach. Their Grouper (in any form) and She Crab Soup are A-MA-zing! I really hesitated to get hot soup, sitting outside on the deck in the sun, but I was soooo glad that I did. It was just as good as I had remembered.

Mollie was a little bit hesitant about getting in the water earlier in the day, but I took a walk with her up and down the shore and we kicked up big waves as we walked, which she thought was really funny. I also remembered swinging Natalie so that the waves rolling in brushed her feet and how much she enjoyed that when she was a little younger than Mollie, so we did that and she really got a kick out of that too. It was as we were walking that I remembered it was almost exactly 3 years to the day since I'd been walking the same shore, quite pregnant with Miss Mollie, so I told her that, and she thought that was neat. They love it when we talk about how Mollie kicked me in my belly, but Natalie was just hanging out being comfy. Blog05

After a lovely morning and afternoon on the beach, we headed back to Kissimmee, and the girls slept the whole way! That night we all got take-out on our own and then - what else? - the girlies swam in the pool all evening.

Instagram photos from the day: RoadTrip9

Next on deck: MAGIC KINGDOM!!


Florida Vacation Day 4: Epcot

Sunday morning, no alarm clocks were needed as the five girlies were up and at 'em in plenty of time to get us all to Epcot right as the Future World part of the park opened. I'm sure the excitement of being on vacation, going to Disney World, and sleeping in the same room with their cousins (over the course of the week, they all took turns sleeping in two bedrooms with two twin beds in each) all contributed greatly! It was exciting to be driving onto Disney property for the first time for me. We got decent parking spots and skipped the tram in favor of just walking so that we didn't have to collapse strollers or anything. Our trip took place during the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival, and while I'm sure that Epcot is always very pretty, it was absolutely gorgeous during our trip. It was so much fun to see the creative ways that so many characters and scenes were displayed with flowers and plants and other natural materials! I was so glad that we were able to go during the festival! Of course we had to get some family shots with Spaceship Earth to begin with! Too bad the girls were too excited to hold very still or look happy! ;) EpcotBlog01

As we walked further into the park, who did we see but Daisy Duck! Our very first character sighting! We got in line and the girls took turns having Daisy sign their autograph books and having their picture taken with Daisy. Mollie was absolutely NOT going to even get out of the stroller, much less give Daisy a hug. We definitely didn't want to upset her, so we totally let her be, hoping that she would warm up to the characters as the day (or week) went on. Natalie was a little timid herself, so Brad had to visit Daisy with her. EpcotBlog02

Our first ride was Spaceship Earth, which was the perfect way to start our day. The line was short, and the ride was interesting and not at all scary. There are even a couple of fun things at the end that gave us all some giggles. After that, we got Fast Passes for the Test Track ride and then just walked around looking at the scenery. I really just cannot say enough how much I loved walking around Epcot's World Showcase! It was gorgeous and so interesting! I haven't traveled much, and it was so much fun to feel like you were going from one foreign country to another. It made me want to travel to all of those places for real. Maybe I'll settle for another Disney trip again soon! :) We missed SO MANY things at Epcot that I really feel like the next time we go, it will probably seem like a brand-new place! EpcotBlog03 EpcotBlog04 EpcotBlog05 EpcotBlog06 EpcotBlog07

While we were wandering through the countries, we got to meet Belle in France, Mulan in China, and Snow White in Germany (where we stopped for lunch and had really delicious bratwurst and sauerkraut). Belle didn't seem to be especially talkative, but she was sweet. The girls still weren't feeling brave enough to visit with the characters on their own, so Brad went with them again to talk to Belle. EpcotBlog11

The girls love the movie Mulan, and I was excited for them to meet her. Her line was the longest we'd seen to that point (but it definitely wasn't the longest we would wait in by the end of the trip) and there was no shade. I felt bad for Mulan, dressed in all those thick layers! She seemed to be doing just fine though. She was really neat - she asked Natalie if she had seen her movie, and when she told her that she had, Mulan said, "Well, keep watching my movie, because you know every time you watch it, you become just a.little.bit.more.brave." Natalie has absolutely remembered that advice. I actually don't know what Mulan said to Mollie, but she became a fan superfast, and she literally snuggled into Mulan's chest. It was absolutely adorable. The photos I got don't quite do it justice! EpcotBlog13 EpcotBlog12

On our way back around to Future World, we ran right into the line for Snow White! Now, THAT was a long line (although still not the longest we'd wait in). I couldn't hear what she said to Natalie at all, but she greeted her sweetly right away with a big hug. I'm not sure why, but Mollie decided not to get out and talk to Snow White. Maybe she thought it would be wrong to hug another princess so soon after falling in love with Mulan? ;) EpcotBlog14

After sight-seeing and lunch, we headed back to Future World so that the adults and big kids could ride Test Track. Deb and I stayed back with Elizabeth, Mollie, Caleb & Levi. It sounded like all of the others really enjoyed the ride, and we were glad that we let Natalie go on it. The only other ride that our family did was The Seas with Nemo & Friends, which was a lot of fun and definitely perfect for even the littlest of our crew. We rode around in a big shell trying to find Nemo, mixed in with animated sea life as well as real sea life. It was a really unique idea and the kids loved it!

After Nemo, we raced back to United Kingdom in World Showcase so that Natalie & Mollie could meet Mary Poppins & Alice in Wonderland. Luckily, their little areas are really close together, so we met Mary at the end of her shift and Alice at the very beginning of hers! Mary was sweet, but still very much what you'd expect, ever-so-slightly stern and in charge. She was almost done chatting with Natalie (who wasn't really saying much back to her), when Mollie walked up too! She asked her name, and Mollie didn't respond. To that, Mary replied, "Well, if you won't tell me your name, I'll be forced to call you 'Natalie's Little Sister!'" so I said that her name was Mollie, and they posed for a little photo. EpcotBlog09

Sheila got all of the kids "First Visit" buttons to wear, and when Alice saw their pins, she said, "Oh, so I see this is your first visit here. I'll tell you something, during my first visit to Wonderland, I didn't know anyone, but I met SO many new and wonderful friends, so I have a question for you. Could I be YOUR new friend here?" The girls nodded, and she said, "Well, now that we're friends and I've signed your book, let's take a picture together!" EpcotBlog10

After meeting those two ladies whose movies are near and dear to Natalie's heart, it was quite apparent that our girls were done for the day. They were quiet and their eyes just looked like they could fall asleep at any moment. We considered some other rides or trying to meet up with the rest of the family, but the girls were just so exhausted that we decided to head back to the house. It seemed like as soon as we made the decision, they both totally conked out in the stroller, which really isn't made to be a sleeper for two. They slept all the way home and then let us relocate them to their beds where they took a nice long nap! EpcotBlog08

Eric was the birthday boy on Epcot Day, and he chose to have grilled steaks, hamburgers, fries, yummy corn on the cob, and fresh pineapple for dinner. After our dinner feast, the girls spent the evening playing in the pool - what else?! Mollie was really, really nervous about getting into the water. She hurried around here and there with her puddle jumper on forever, without touching even so much as a toe into the water the night before. She started off the same way again that night, but she had her eye on Levi's turtle floatie and finally asked if she could get in it. It was adorable watching her float around the pool with her puddle jumper plus the blow-up turtle. Natalie discovered jumping into the pool at some point and became totally obsessed with it. It was pretty much every night's business to DRAG the girls from the pool for showers and bed!

And, the day's obligatory Instagram phone download: RoadTrip3

Up next: Clearwater beach!

Florida Vacation Day 3: Harry, Seuss, & the House

On Saturday, we woke up bright & early and made our way to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. Our main goal was to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but Seuss Landing was a must-see as well! It was a gray day that was already supposed to be light crowd-wise, and that proved to be true...UNTIL we got to Harry Potter. It was crazy, crazy, crazy crowded, but it was SO cool to be able to see Hogwarts and the snow-capped roofs of the village of Hogsmeade right there from the park! I wanted to stop and take pictures every five seconds! There were tons of people lined up at barrels in the street to buy Butterbeer or Pumpkin Juice and we just missed a group of students from Durmstrang giving some kind of performance! Unfortunately, we weren't able to ride the rides since it was just our little family at Universal, but we still had fun wandering around the "town." We went into Zonko's, then let the girls choose candy in Honeyduke's. So fun! Blog01 Blog02

I loved seeing the Hogwarts Express and the Owl Post! Blog03

The highlight of our Harry Potter fun was having lunch in the Three Broomsticks! I had frozen Butterbeer (in a fun plastic souvenir mug) and Brad had regular Butterbeer, but we all sampled each other's. I had no idea what to expect, but it's similar to cream soda with a little bit of butterscotch. Then it's topped with butterscotch foam or ice cream. SO.GOOD. I've been craving another one ever since I finished mine that day! Funny story - I really wanted a straw for my drink (it was like trying to drink a slurpee with ice cream on top with no straw or spoon or anything), so Brad went to get a straw from where the other condiments were. He didn't see one, so he asked a (completely in-character) hostess. She said something like, "Well, I'll give you a hint. It's very near by. Although, I must ask, for what do you NEED a straw?" Brad told her that it was for a Butterbeer, and her reply was,"Oh my. While I cannot stop you from using a straw with your Butterbeer, we do not advise it! It will cause your Butterbeer to foam over!" Brad took a straw from her anyway, and we had no "foaming over" issues. :) We all had a traditional English meal of fish & chips, and they were quite yummy! The Three Broomsticks was awesome - it looked just like the movies. If you looked upstairs from our table, from time to time if you paid close attention, I noticed that you could see the flickering shadows of what looked like people talking upstairs. Blog04

Unfortunately, we weren't able to ride any of the Harry Potter rides since the girls aren't big enough and we didn't have anyone to stay with them and we didn't want to ride alone. Someday, though! When our girls are bigger we will absolutely go back and experience it all!

From the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we went to Seuss Landing, a really neat "land" full of everything Seuss-like and several completely kid-friendly Seuss-themed rides. Blog01

Our first ride was The High in the Sky Trolley Train Ride. I was really nervous about how Mollie would do with rides, but I thought if she didn't want to go on, it wasn't a big deal - she and I would just wait while Brad and Natalie rode. The ride was not scary at all, and Mollie willingly got right on and did great. She did get a little nervous when we went out over the water, but she was ok by the end, and the first thing that both girls said when the ride was over was, "That was FUN!" I'm pretty sure it's the first real ride of any kind that the girls have ever been on. From there, we went on the Caro-Seuss-el, which was a definite favorite. Blog02

The next ride was One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. This is really similar to the Dumbo-type rides at Disney. I was really uncertain about Mollie, rightly so this time. Brad and Natalie got into one of the fish, then I tried to sit Mollie down in the next one with me, but she was not having it. Never one to make a scene, I scooped her up and we watched them from outside. I was sort of glad because they ended up getting pretty wet! Of course, after it was over, Mollie decided it looked like fun, but we were already on to something else - The Cat in the Hat Ride. We got to ride around inside the story of The Cat in the Hat, together in a blue couch! It was cute, but actually a little scary for our non-thrill-seeking girlies. The Cat causes quite a lot of havoc and the couch does a lot of spinning, so the girls were a little uneasy about all of that, but it turned out just fine. Blog03

Our final stop was a play area in Seuss Landing called "If I Ran the Zoo." It was really cute - lots of things for the kids to twist and turn, poke, crawl under, and spin. One part had little holes you could peek into to see things, and the last one said it was a photo surprise, so I took a picture and it was a reflection of Natalie next to me, looking through a different hole with her nose pressed against the window, so I took one of her and one of Mollie. Those were good for lots of giggles. :) There was a tall white furry Seuss creature who would play tic-tac-toe with you electronically on it's belly, and Natalie got a kick of that. Then there was another guy in a bathtub who you could twist a lever to make him come out of the tub and then spray water. I don't know if this part had a name, but there was a manhole cover, and when you stood on it, it was like you could hear someone in a goofy voice underneath who supposedly was suffering from a bad cold. Natalie would stand on it for a long time and just when you were sure it wasn't going to actually do anything other than talk, it would "sneeze" and water sprayed up onto the person who was standing there. Mollie wouldn't stand on it, but Natalie thought it was fun and did it a couple of times. Blog04 Blog05

After exploring all of Seuss Landing and walking around just a bit in the rest of the park, we decided to head over to the vacation home where the whole family was staying. The house was nice, just about the perfect size for our family (although 7 bedrooms would have made it perfect, instead of 6). It was in a really nice gated community with a big shallow pool, but each home also had a private pool on the lanai with a soft mesh fence that we could lock so that we could sit on one side with the babies and watch the girls play in the pool. It was the perfect setup. Natalie was so anxious to swim that I came upstairs looking for her and found her totally naked, rummaging through bags like a small crazy person, trying to find a bathing suit. Pretty funny!

And here are my Instagram phone pics from the day: RoadTrip2

Up next: EPCOT!!!


Florida Vacation Days 1 & 2: The DRIVE

First of all, I feel like I need to apologize to family, friends, my girls, and myself for not posting more often! I've been so busy with my photography business and also definitely enjoying my family that I just haven't found enough time as I'd like to WRITE about it. But a ginormous trip to Disney World is the perfect reason to jump back on the blogging wagon in a big, fun way! So without further ado, here's the first in a long series of posts with many, many photos! :)

We started out our journey around 4:00 am on April 12. Everything was going smoothly: Brad had almost everything packed into the Rondo the night before, we got the rest of our things packed in, woke the girls, and they each went potty with no complaints. When I bought Natalie into the car, Mollie was excitedly waiting there, WIDE awake, talking about Dis-en-ee-wall, as she calls it. It was adorable. So, we set off on the highway. AND THEN...we were about 20 miles down the road and I realized that I didn't pack the tickets. I'd left them out on the counter as soon as I got them in the mail, but then things got set on top and they never made it into the car! So, I was so embarrassed and felt terrible for wasting time, but we turned around and got the tickets. I'd have to say that was the LONGEST trip we've ever made from Moore to OKC. After that, things went great! A couple of hours later, I realized another mistake that I'd made (go ME, right?! Ugh), but we got that figured out, and luckily that only cost us a few dollars and ZERO extra time on the road.

We did stop at a really nice Holiday Inn on that first night. We didn't have time to swim or anything, basically just hang out a bit to unwind and get some rest in our comfy beds, Brad with Natalie and me with Mollie. I'll just say it's hard to say who had it better - Natalie is big enough to just go to sleep, but Mollie still thinks it's great fun to be in the bed with another person, so she pinched and poked me, but all in all, she snuggled up close, and fell asleep, and that's pretty sweet in itself.

We got into Orlando Friday, but we couldn't check into our house until Saturday. Al & Deb flew in with Caleb while Eric, Lisa, & Aubrey drove from Ohio. The Hilton that Lisa found beforehand for all of us was sooooooooooooo incredibly nice! After all that time in the car, I didn't want to leave! The rooms were gorgeous, the pools (yes, PLURAL, poolS) were gorgeous, and the weather was amazing. We ate dinner by the pool and then let the girls play in the water before bed. They had a blast. Mollie surprised us by getting right into the water in the zero-entry pool with no hesitation, and by the end of the evening, she was laying in the water, splashing around and playing! I'm super excited for pool time for us this summer - last year, she was way too scaredy to even play in the baby pool happily. We had a super great stay there, and after warm baths for the girlies, Mollie had a crazy spell of running and yelling and basically losing her little mind. So we put her to bed (this time in Brad's bed), and she was asleep within minutes. SO funny how little kids get when they are exhausted and how quickly they can go from CA-RA-ZY to ASLEEP. I think Natalie was having a little trouble relaxing since she was excited about going to Universal the next morning, but we all finally did get some good rest!

The entire trip from OKC to Orland took . . . wait for it . . . drumroll . . . 23.5 hours. Yeahhhhh. Good times. OK but seriously, it really wasn't that bad, and we most certainly saved over $1000 vs flying & renting a car in Orlando! So no regrets here! During what I'll refer to as our Big, Fat, Florida Trip, I started using Instagram to busy myself and document our trip. Here's my "phone dump" from the two days that we spent on the road, ending at the Orlando Hilton.


Up next: Day 3: Universal Islands of Adventure!