In March we embarked on our first long road trip with both girls. John’s father lives in Florida on Lake Okeechobee. It is a long way from where we live, but then again, everywhere in Florida feels like forever away.
We left on a day John had to work so I was the one to pack the car up. John’s mother, Irene, drove him to work in the morning and then the girls and I drove the van to his work to pick him up and get on the road from there. We knew we were going to break up the trip – we had to – so we didn’t mind getting on the road a little later in the day. We were hoping to make it to Jacksonville the first leg of the trip, but after frequent stops (three year olds have small bladders, imagine that!) we realized once we were stopped for dinner somewhere in South Carolina that we were going to have to settle for Georgia as a stopping point. When we headed down 95 we started calling hotels for vacancies from where we were in South Carolina to Jacksonville and we weren’t having any luck. We didn’t know how much longer we would be able to drive that night before needing to stop. We needed gas once we were in Savannah so we got some gas, and then pulled our van over in the parking lot of the gas station, it was crazy busy, and John just kept calling hotels that were in the area they were all completely full. We could only find one opening and the hotel happened to be at the exit where we were so we said we’d take it! It was pricier than we wanted to spend for just one night but it was the only thing we could find available at the time. This made me realize we should’ve put more planning into our trip and gone ahead to pick exactly where we would stop for the night and make reservations in advance, but we had no idea how busy it would be. It happened to be Spring Break for many colleges and schools so everyone was going to Savannah or Hilton Head or heading further south to Florida and had snatched up all the hotels. But this is how we found our favorite hotel chain, the StayBridge Inn and Suites.
Our hotel room was more like an apartment and it was so lovely. The girls were SO excited as the stretched their legs running around the rooms. After the frustration of our travel so far from not knowing if we’d have somewhere to sleep, it was nice to settle into a comfortable hotel for the night. In the morning we packed our bags, got ready, ate breakfast, and then headed back on the road for the longer leg of the trip. John’s dad’s house is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Thank goodness for GPS because I don’t know how we would’ve found it without it. There’s not much to say about our trip down, the girls were great in the car, we had frequent albeit quick stops, no crazy traffic, just a long drive.
We were so happy to get to our destination. The house is on a little canal that connects to the lake. We unpacked the car and settled in our room and set up some toys for the girls, and chilled out at the house. We didn’t do much the first day, just hung out around the house and ate dinner, we got the girls down to bed and then the adults watched a movie.
The next day we took out the golf cart and road around the area which both girls loved. They live in a quiet, country setting and it was fun getting to tool around in the golf cart outside. Lyra also swam in the pool and hot tub. When Lucy was down for her nap, Mim (John’s dad’s partner) stayed with her and the rest of us went on a boat ride. John’s dad, his name is also John, had a couple boats and we took the bigger one out with Lyra. She loved it. We went all around the canal and up into a bigger part of water and saw so many alligators. It was a little scary, to be honest, because they just appear out of nowhere and then they sink without a trace. I wasn’t too worried about Lyra falling in, but that fear was still there – I mean, if any one of us had fallen in for any reason, we would probably be eaten pretty quick. We did see a lot of baby alligators which were so cute, but we also saw quite a few big alligators which were … not.
On our last day at John’s dad’s house we had a lazy morning with more golf cart rides and hanging out on the porch and then we packed up because all of us – John’s dad and Mim included – were heading to Orlando to do a day at Magic Kingdom the next day. It was a two hour drive up to Orlando and we stayed at Buena Vista Suites which was close to Disney Springs. It was a great hotel for being close to Disney even though it was not on property. Once we checked into our hotel our family cleaned up and rested a bit before John’s dad and Mim got there, they left a little after us. We decided to go into Disney Springs that evening to eat at the Rainforest Cafe and we also had to go to Guest Services to figure out something with our tickets to the park. Dinner was fine and then we walked around a bit, it was raining at this point, and headed to Guest Services which was packed because people were sheltering from the rain. We had a very long wait before we could be seen. Lyra, however, didn’t mind – she was going around talking to everyone and making friends, my little extrovert. While it wasn’t fun having to wait for a long time in a crowded area where all the seats were taken, I do have to share this sweet tidbit: Lucy needed to nurse while we were waiting. I am not shy about nursing in public but there was nowhere for me to sit so I asked a cast member if they knew of anywhere I could go with a chair so I could sit and nurse Lu. A cast member immediately cleared out one of their offices and told me to go in there and take as much time as I needed, they closed the door for privacy as well. I was very touched by this gesture. They didn’t hesitate to assist and find a solution even though they were very busy at the time.
For posterity’s sake I’m going to write about this day at Disney, though it honestly brings back really unpleasant feelings for me, it has a happy ending, very happy.
Our day at Disney was honestly kind of a bummer. We didn’t know we were going to Magic Kingdom until a little before our trip and we didn’t have our tickets in hand until a couple days before, so we were unable to schedule fast passes and dining in advance.* When I got on the My Disney Experience app fast passes were unavailable for the things we wanted to do with the girls until night time when we weren’t going to be there. We hadn’t planned on taking the girls until they were a little older so we didn’t know how they’d do at the park. It was also Spring Break and one of, if not THE, busiest times of the year for Disney World. The park was very crowded. We were shoulder to shoulder with people the whole time, we had a huge stroller that was hard to move through, by the time we actually set foot on Main Street USA we had already been waiting in some line or another for hours. With two little ones, waiting in line, where you cannot take your stroller, is hard when wait times are 90 minutes +. We weren’t able to do a whole lot. Lucy was also cutting her molars at this time so she was super fussy. We rode only a few rides because we had to wait so long, but at least Lyra got to meet Minnie Mouse and Daisy. Towards the afternoon when the girls were way over stimulated and tired of waiting in line, we called it quits and decided to head back north. John’s dad and Mim were going to stay a little longer (they are both Annual Passholders, by the way, so they can go to Disney whenever they want), but not long after we were on the road they texted us and told us they decided to leave too because wait times were almost all over 2 hours and bus loads of high school kids were entering the park. I was very upset by the whole day, I get teary just thinking about it. We love Disney and we had such a horrible time. I was crying on our drive back to Savannah because Lyra had asked why Mickey wasn’t there and we didn’t know how to explain to her that the line was over two hours long to see him. I wanted so badly for it to be a fun day at Magic Kingdom and it wasn’t. But it was in the car on the way home that John and I decided sometime before the end of the year, we would come back with just Lyra and take her to Magic Kingdom and do it the way Disney makes you do it, by scheduling every little thing far in advance so you could see the things you wanted. I didn’t want to play that game, but I was going to if we had to. And to make a long story short, John wrote to Disney to tell them about our experience and someone called us to talk about it, after speaking with us they gave us tickets to come back. We have a lot of issues with Disney – it is a billion dollar corporation after all – but their customer service is one of the best. So I started planning our trip and 180 days in advance I found myself waking up to make dining reservations, but that is a story for another blog post. (Spoiler Alert, it was the best trip ever, so I promise this has a happy ending)
*John and I hadn’t been to Disney since 2011 and at that time they were using the old fast pass system so we were unaware how the new one worked until it was too late. If you are going to Disney World you need to schedule MONTHS in advance. You need to schedule dining reservations 180 days in advance and fast passes you need to schedule 60 days in advance, at least if you are staying on-property, if you aren’t you can only schedule them 30 days in advance. This new system makes deciding to do a day at Disney spontaneously absolutely impossible. It also takes most of the flexibility out of what you want to do at the park which is hard when you have little ones. You want to kind of follow their lead, but if you haven’t made your itinerary 60 days in advance, you’ll most likely be waiting in long lines if you are there during a peak season. We understand why this system is implemented, but it still doesn’t make it fun if you aren’t aware how you have to play their game. But we know now.
So anyway, the drive back to Savannah was quiet because the girls were tuckered out and John and I were both sad with how the Magic Kingdom turned out. But we were so happy to roll back up to the StayBridge Inn and Suites that night, where we had called ahead and made reservations. We got some take out food and brought it back to our hotel room, watched a movie, ate dinner, and passed out.
The next morning we took our time hanging at the hotel, eating breakfast, and then eventually got on the road and continued on home to North Carolina.
I hate that I had the sad chunk in this post, but it’s worth remembering. We had such a fun and relaxing time down in Florida even though our one day was sour. It was such a nice, quiet place and it was fun taking golf cart rides and boat rides and just catching up with John and Mim. It did help that very quickly after this trip we had plans to meet back up with John’s dad and Mim at the Magic Kingdom to really do a day at Disney.