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Photo 82/365: Disney diary day 4

Animal Kingdom!

Think glorified zoo, really. Only Disney-fied, so way more fun. Some highlights:

Calvin participated in the Wilderness Explorers activity, which had us hiking all over the park in search of "rangers" so he could earn "badges" by learning some neat ecology facts. Two things. First, we were disappointed to learn that the badges were just stickers. Second, depending on your age and knowledge level (Calvin is at the top of the range), this will be just a hunt for stickers, not an educational activity. That's okay, it was fun.

Meals! We scarfed down breakfast at the Rainforest Cafe, and enjoyed a character lunch at the Tusker House that was delicious, but nothing, and I mean nothing compared to dinner at Tiffins. That was to die for. 

And Pandora was a delight to behold, especially after dark.


Photo 81/365: Disney diary day 3

Magic Kingdom!

We started this day just like we did day 2 in Epcot: with breakfast reservations at Be Our Guest before the park opened. I cannot say enough about this—for families who are comfortable getting up early, early breakfast is so rewarding. The quiet of the park, the space for picture taking, and the short ride lines immediately following the meal...not to mention that the parks in general seem to just get busier throughout the day, so the morning hours are the best. 

Our original plan included reservations for breakfast and dinner and a sort of "play it by ear" attitude about lunch. This wasn't a bad plan, but we were less than impressed with the counter service meal options, especially with regards to getting the most out of our meal plan. Ultimately it meant more leg work, more standing in line, and less food. We used the order ahead aspect of the My Disney Experience app, which saved us a lot of time in lines, but we still went back to our room and immediately added reservations wherever they were missing for the remainder of our trip. 

Favorites from today? Photos, photos, photos! Our favorite rides were the Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride, the Speedway, the Carousel of Progress, and the People Mover. And, of course, meeting Stitch.


Photo 80/365: Disney diary day 2 (and my take on some tips)


Epcot is arguably my (maybe our) favorite Disney World park. We love traveling the different countries, our favorite rides are here (Figment and Spaceship Earth), and you just can't beat the food options. Unlike the other parks, where table service restaurants are few and far between and adult beverages are just as hard to find, Epcot is swimming in great dining and drinking options. We had lunch in Morocco at Spice Road, a beer in Germany, a sparkling wine in Italy, and dinner in Japan at Teppan Edo, where they cook the meal right on your table. We made great use of our overkill meal plan by ordering one of everything that sounded great and treating it like a shared plate meal. It was delightful.

I did a lot of research before embarking on this trip, research that resulted in quantities of information that rivals our meal plan for over-abundance. Top ten (or so) lists are the big thing, of course: best tips, best snacks, best meals, best shows, best photo-ops. I took in as much as I could and here are some take-aways that I am really pleased with so far:

1. Breakfast reservations for before the park opened.
This was awesome. Possibly one of the best things we did all day. We'd made reservations for the Garden Grill for 8:00am. The food was great, we dined with characters, and we started our day with mimosas, but the best part about it actually was being in the park before everyone else. That meant not only did we miss out on long entrance lines, but we got to see neat aspects of the park before they were gunked up by pedestrian traffic.

2. Disney PhotoPass (and Memory Maker)
Family pictures on vacation are hard to grab, someone always having to play photographer and whatnot. But Disney's PhotoPass photographers waiting to take pictures of your whole family. And the whole magic shot thing, where they shop in graphics after the fact, takes on a sort of "collect them all" aspect that gave us an added activity throughout the day (plus something to giggle over when we looked at our shots on the Disney app while waiting for food or in lines). We added Memory Maker to our vacation package so that we would have unlimited downloads of all our shots for keeps, but you can easily have them shoot with your camera, or select pictures individually for download later.

3. My Disney Experience App
Speaking of the Disney app, that was another winner we were really glad to have. With it we were able to view our photos, manage our reservations, find our way through the park, and keep track of our schedule. 

4. Agent P's World Showcase
And speaking of scavenger hunt type things, the spy game in Epcot, Agent P's World Showcase adventure, was a lot of fun for all the kids in our party (that being three of us, you see).

5. Pin trading
In my pre-trip research something I came across was the tradition of pin trading. The existence of this activity escaped my notice on our last trip, but you'll see lots of Disney cast members wearing lanyards with a number of pins on them throughout the parks. Kids (of all ages, really) are encouraged to engage cast members for trades. I liked the idea of having something fun to do throughout the park aside from the various park games), and I took the recommendation of several other moms and bought a collection of pins off eBay for a major discount before we left. Pre-purchasing like that is a controversial practice, but I think there's a difference between collecting and participating, and participating provided a lot of fun for both Calvin and myself over the course of the vacation (and even led to one very, very special activity on our final day...)


Photo 67/365


Photos 46-49/365 (series: ACDA Honor Choir weekend in Chicago)

Last fall Calvin auditioned into the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Honor Choir. This is a selective choir assembled annually of auditioners from all over either the region or the nation, in alternating years, to sing at the ACDA conference in February. This was a regional year, and Calvin, along with three other boys from his choir, were accepted into the Elementary Honor Choir. Music arrived in January and practice began in earnest—the performers were expected to arrive with their music learned and memorized because their time to rehearse together with the director is limited. Very limited. In fact, the elementary choir had just one and a half days, though long days they were. 

The weekend awakened something in Calvin. Beforehand he practiced with his usual ease—he learns music quickly, and tends to take its simplicity (to him) for granted—and he arrived well prepared and eager for the event. These were things I expected. What I had not expected was the way he took to the intensity of the weekend. He may have come out of each several-hour-long rehearsal glassy eyed and melting, but he basked in the weight and responsibility of it all.He loved feeling important, with both parents going to obvious lengths to make sure favorite meals were served up at his leisure, and whisking him to and from rehearsals and social gatherings (a pool break after dinner and a lunch date before the concert) with friends. His joy was especially visible in his drama—the back of a hand wiping an exhausted brow, or the sighing plea for a stress relief tea. That was when I realized that he enjoyed acting the part of the pressured singer as much as anything else. He ate it right up.

The trip was challenging, but also rewarding for Calvin on many levels. At nearly 100 kids strong this was a large group for him to work with, and the music was different from the usual Boychoir program. The director of the Elementary Honor Choir this year, Francisco Núñez, a MacArthur Fellow (recipient of the 2011 Genius Grant) and the founder of the Young People's Chorus of New York City, proved to be an energetic conductor who loves music and children. In the Friday afternoon rehearsal, he happened to pick Calvin out of a sea of hands to answer a simple question. Calvin answered so well that he was asked to answer all the rest of the afternoon's questions, no subsequent hand raising required.  

Jon and I also found much to enjoy over the weekend. Required to stay in the fancy conference hotel as chaperones but not required during rehearsals, we were free to fill that time as we pleased. We filled it with pastries, coffees, a walk out on Navy Pier, a dinner for two in the upscale hotel bar, and lots of rich together time. And our weekend didn't actually begin and end with choir, either. We love to travel as a family, from the car trip and stops along the way, to nights spent visiting after dark in a shared hotel room. Plus we actually started the weekend a day early with a delicious and entertaining Chinese New Year dinner at Duck Duck Goat with my brother and his wife, and then, following the Saturday concert, ended it with wine, sushi, and Olympics at their always relaxing West Loop loft. They know how to show visitors a good time. 

But the best thing about our weekend, aside from the coveted couple time alongside the chance to see our son blossom in a new environment, was the concert itself. It's amazing what a group of very talented kids can do with just a day and a half. 

A very foggy Chicago

A room with a view

Chinese New Year Pris fixe dinner at Duck Duck Goat

complete with Chinese New Year dragon visit

Bright bushy tailed for rehearsal

Relaxing during lunch break

While the kid was away, the parents at play...

Photo op with famous director at the end of afternoon rehearsal

pool party during dinner break

A little bleary eyed for the last rehearsal of the night...

Parent alone dinner time...

An autograph at the end of the full day of rehearsal

Rehearsal came early on Saturday morning

Lunch before the concert, kid version...

Lunch before the concert, adult version...

Beautiful snowflakes to end the weekend

One last stop on the way home...