Friday, January 12th – Wilderness Lodge Arrival and Dinner at Artist Point
It was that time of year once again, when the Hayes’ family birthday rotation kicks itself into high gear. We don’t get much downtime between the Christmas festivities and the first birthday of the year, that of our little buddy Sawyer. Because his birthday falls on the 23rd of January, we often begin the celebration early by taking advantage of the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend to begin our celebration. This year we were excited to kick off Sawyer’s birthday celebration with a staycation at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort! The boys were beyond excited for our weekend stay when we greeted them after their after-school art class. I was working from home so we all walked back from school, changed into our Wilderness Lodge clothes (because that’s a thing) and headed out to the resort.
A relatively uneventful drive later, we arrived at the Wilderness Lodge Resort, checked in at the front desk, and made our way to the fifth floor to locate our two bedroom villa. Colonel and Kee were going to be staying with us as well to celebrate Sawyer’s Birthday Fest, so we got a room that we could all share. When we arrived in the room the boys were eager to check out the newly renovated Copper Creek rooms overlooking the pool. We were all quite impressed by the layout and decor, but I was extremely impressed by the number of USB charging ports that they had built into the outlets around each of the rooms (yep, that is how cool I am)!
Emily sprang into organization mode, getting us unpacked and set up for our three night stay, while I poured the Queen a glass of wine and got the boys some popcorn and pretzels to help curb the hunger pangs that were setting in. Emily had packed some fun decorations that we put up in the main room to help Sawyer’s Birthday Fest feel a little more festive. She also put together a welcome basket for the boys with some goodies to make their stay extra special. As you can imagine the boys were super patient waiting for Emily to get done with her tasks before they could uncover the mysterious gift basket. (No.)
Colonel had to work late into the afternoon at Disney’s Magical Express, so their arrival estimate was around 7:15. We had already watched our first round of must-do’s, so we found a show on the Disney Channel that would occupy our time until they arrived. The boys were getting hungry and the arrival of Kee and Colonel could not have come at a better time. We called up their bags from bell services, and I headed down to put our name in at Artist Point for dinner. Our plan to eat a casual meal at the outdoor, open-air “cozy lounge” was thwarted by temperatures in the high 40s after dark. We opted instead for the hour wait to eat indoors in the relative warmth.
The hour wait for dinner gave us a little time to explore the resort and get a few much-needed tasks complete. The boys had seen somewhere that, with the new MagicBands, you can switch out the middle parts of the band and exchange with another band, thus making it multicolor. Knowing this they ordered red and yellow bands so that, when combined, they would look like Iron Man colors. This was a great idea in theory but once we looked at the back of the bands, we discovered you needed the world’s smallest screwdriver to detach the middle parts of the band. Well, as luck would have it (I guess), the Merchandise shop had received a few of these inquiries before because they had a complete screwdriver set just for the occasion. It took me about ten minutes to perform this operation as my large fingers are not cut out to maneuver a screw the size of a nose hair (although Emily will tell my my fingers are quite familiar with nose hairs). I finally finished the operation as you can see in the photo above.
I also took this opportunity to visit the front desk to get a couple of our magic bands that weren’t functioning to unlock the door fixed. We grabbed some cozy seats in the lobby and waited patiently (not really) for them to send us a text message telling us our table was ready. The only thing keeping the boys from falling asleep in their chairs was their hunger. As the sun was rising (Emily has taught me the art of exaggeration), we were finally called into our dinner reservation and we headed into Artist Point.
The dinner and experience were well worth the wait. We had Donald as our server, and he was great. We got a few cocktails and polished off a couple baskets of bread before our dinner was served. Three of the four adults made the perfect choice, ordering the roasted chicken which was delicious. I ordered the halibut which sounded amazing on the menu, but was just alright in actuality. Emily was kind enough to share her chicken with me, which I would definitely get if we came back. We told Donald that we were celebrating Sawyer’s Birthday Fest, so not only did he bring Sawyer out a cupcake, he also brought one out for Hunter which I thought was a nice gesture. Emily ordered creme brûlée to go (because birthday calories don’t count according to her) and we headed back to the room.
The boys had a couple gifts to open when they returned to the room. Emily got them some camping/wilderness themed pajamas for their fun Wilderness Lodge weekend. We got our pajama picture and called it an evening.
Saturday, January 13 – Disney Springs & Epcot
After a cozy night’s sleep in our resort, I awoke early to the sounds of a lot of heavy sleep breathing. I snuck out into the main room of our two bedroom villa with my iPad and keyboard to spend some quiet time writing about our prior day adventures. As is the case on most of our staycations, the family was slow to rise and get moving. These quiet mornings are a nice opportunity to relax with my thoughts, my blog, and a cold refreshing Diet Coke.
As the rest of the tribe awoke to start the day, we took the slow paced morning opportunity to get Colonel and Kee set up on their new iPhones. During the holidays Colonel mentioned that he wanted to get he and Kee smartphones so that they could be part of the 21st century. We purchased the phones a couple weeks back and thought this would be a great opportunity to show them some of the phone features during our resort downtime. I got the two phones set up (with a little brow sweat and an hour on the phone with Verizon), and we updated both of them just in time for our mid-morning breakfast.
When Sawyer arose, he mentioned that one of his favorite things on the Disney Cruise is when I go up to Cabanas and pick up breakfast and bring it back to the room. He asked if I could do that for his “Disney’s Wilderness Lodge birthday weekend” and I, of course, agreed. Colonel accompanied me down to the Roaring Fork restaurant, and we got a couple of waffle breakfasts for the boys and breakfast platters for the adults. The highlight of the experience was when we returned to our resort floor, only to find that neither one of us knew what room number we were. Lucky we guessed the right one after my text to Emily went unanswered.
Breakfast was delicious as the chefs prepared a unique twist to the basic breakfast platter. The biscuits that we have come to enjoy over the years were different, containing ham baked right into them, but quite a tasty surprise. They boys had no problem knocking out their waffles. We ended up having an auction to determine who would get Sawyer’s remaining bacon strips, which of course Hunter won. We took the rest of the morning to complete the final steps of iPhone preparation so that Kee and Colonel could take their new phones on our afternoon and evening expeditions.
After all technology had been set up it was time for our first planned activity of the weekend, Disney Springs. The main objective of the Disney Springs visit was to get Sawyer a birthday Lego gift and for Hunter to get one remaining Christmas gift from Kee and Colonel that was ordered but never arrived. We packed tightly in the Hayes’ family truckster and made the relatively short drive to Disney Springs. We wasted little time beelining straight to the Lego store to try and pick from the hundreds of sets. After quite a bit of back and forth the boys landed on their Lego projects of choice, and their generous grandparents graciously purchased their new toys.
Our next stop after the Lego store was the Co-Op to check out the D-Tech store for iPhone cases for Kee and Colonel’s new phones. Colonel was happy to pick one off of the wall that had Mickey and the year 2018 on it. Emily, Hunter, and Kee stepped up the to kiosk to design a case for Kee, complete with her name and all. Both were happy with their purchases, but because Kee’s was customized, we needed to return in 40 minutes to pick it up. This conveniently gave us just enough time for an afternoon snack break. I headed over to Wetzel’s Pretzels to pick up the boys’ favorite treat, and the rest of the group headed to Wolfgang Puck Express to get a few hearty snacks and drinks. The boys ended up sharing a pizza and pretzels and the rest of us shared fries and chicken tenders. It was a nice relaxing break before we needed to return to pick up Kee’s case.
We had afternoon and evening plans at Epcot so we were ready to wrap up at Disney Springs. Emily thought the quickest route back to the car was through the Arribas Brothers glass store so we made our way through with our two boys, passing the multi-thousand dollar, highly-breakable collectibles on our way out. I am sure this walk ends in disaster for some. We safely made it to the exit doors, like our own family version of Wipeout. “Hands in pockets. HANDS IN POCKETS!!!”
On the walk back to the car we noticed that the weather was starting to cool off considerably, so we made a quick pit stop at the resort to pick up some coats before making our way to Epcot. When we arrived we were quite taken aback by the fact that we had to park out in the rarely used Explore lot, which meant there were quite a few people enjoying Epcot already. We were reminded on our way in that it was due to it being the first weekend of the Festival of the Arts festival as well as the long weekend. After a lengthy walk into the park, through a busy front entrance, we finally arrived just in time for the main event for the boys, Test Track. One of my favorite Epcot memories was two years ago almost to the day that we enjoyed Sawyer’s 4th birthday at Epcot where he went crazy with excitement on the outdoor portion of the Test Track ride (check on the video on the link). In fact, one of the standing traditions for Sawyer’s actual birthday is to visit Epcot, which Emily has kept going for his entire life.
The ride was fun as always, although they were having technical difficulties that were causing the cars that we created not to show up during the driving test. It was still fun, and refreshing to feel the cool January air on our faces as we took to the outside track, getting the car up to 64 MPH! I think the boys’ favorite part of that ride is to design the car. They tried to make it look like an Aston Martin, a car I had never heard of until Hunter came along.
We had a little time to spare before our dinner reservations, so Emily suggested that we head to Mexico to ride the boat ride. Well, to be honest, I am not sure if it was the boat ride that was luring her to the great country of Mexico or the Maelstrom Margarita that was calling her name; needless to say, nobody was getting in her way. I offered to stand in the drink line while the rest of the family went on the boat ride. I patiently waited with my park-going compadres, many whom looked like they needed a drink more than myself. You know Epcot is busy when the line for the boat ride snakes back to the entrance of the pavilion. Apparently Emily almost punched someone out in line for cutting (not really, just stern words and mean faces), so she really earned that margarita. I weaved my way to the bar and picked up a couple of cold beverages just as the rest of the gang had finished their tour around Mexico.
It was getting close to time for the main event of the evening, dinner at the Garden Grill inside The Land. We strolled back through the park, walking through the inside area behind Starbucks to get a little warmth. In the building we discovered an art exhibition by kids from the Crealde School that Sawyer really enjoyed looking at. He thought it was neat seeing art by kids who were the same age that he is.
We arrived at The Land about 30 minutes ahead of our Garden Grill reservation time, and they indicated that they might be able to seat us early but, being a larger party, we would likely wait until our reservation time. They gave us our pager and we headed over to the seating area, only to get buzzed 45 seconds later that our table was ready. We were escorted to our table by a friendly Seater named Jim who is from Two Rivers, Wisconsin. We traded stories and grins about our weather fortunes ending up in Florida. We then were introduced to our server, Bob, would could not have provided a more perfect ending to our day. He had a joke and a comeback for every interaction and kept the boys thoroughly entertained with his trivia and jokes. He was totally perfect with both younger and older kids, as he teased Hunter relentlessly and went easy on Sawyer. Hunter is at the right age that he took it very well.
The location was a family style dinner with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pot roast, mac-n-cheese, and fries for the boys. The dessert was the best part as they had pound cake, berries and whipped cream for the adults and cookies for the kids. They even brought out a piece of chocolate birthday cake for Sawyer. The characters also made appearances, with Farmer Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale making multiple visits throughout the evening, playing with the boys and posing for pictures. The meal was good, but the Characters and service took the experience over the top!
After dinner was finished we bundled up and made the chilly walk back to the front of the park. We agreed we would take the tram because we were parked so far away. The brisk night air helped keep us alert on the ride to the car as we hustled down our row. We returned to our hotel and got comfortable in our cozy pajamas in our room. Emily spent the evening providing her iPhone tutorial as the boys we eager to get their Lego sets constructed. The highlight of Emily’s evening was creating Bitmojis for her parents to use on their new devices. Another full day of Disney fun, capped off by a relaxing evening at the resort.￼
Sunday, January 14th – Magic Kingdom & More
I arose once again at the crack of dawn, and most of the other suite mates took the opportunity to sleep in. I took my spot at the kitchen table with my keyboard, iPad, and Diet Coke to capture the highlights of the previous day. Blogging really gives you an appreciation for how much actually happens in a day. Just as I was putting the last period on the section above, the gang started to arise and make their way out.
The morning was relatively chill as Colonel and I returned to the Roaring Fork to pick up breakfast for the gang. Another batch of waffles, bacon, and a few breakfast platters were requested and delivered. Emily ordered a side of cheese grits for the second day in a row because she enjoyed them so much the previous day. We made quick work of breakfast and spent the rest of the morning relaxing and getting ready for the afternoon. This gave the boys time to play with the new Lego sets the received the previous day.
After everyone was showered and ready to explore the world outside of our room, we headed out to check out some of the new areas of the Wilderness Lodge Resort that were recently completed. They built a new outdoor bar and quick service location, Geyser Point, which is a really neat spot. Had we not just eaten, and if the lake breeze wasn’t so cold, we would have given the place a go. We will come back when the weather returns to our normally scheduled 70s and 80s. We walked around the new cabins that were built on the water which look absolutely amazing. There were some great spots to capture some photos which we took advantage of. There is also a geyser at the back of the resort that I wanted to capture in a time lapse but after I set it up I realized I was right in the path of the wind so the GoPro, along with myself, got totally covered in water.
After some time in the cool weather outside, and a few family photos, we decided to pick up a lunch snack and head up to the room to rest up for our Magic Kingdom afternoon and evening plans. We got the boys some fruit and healthy snacks because they had eaten quite a bit of junk over the weekend. I took a nap while the rest of the group chatted, played, and learned more about their new iPhones.
The main event of activities was finally upon us as we changed into our Magic Kingdom outfits, and additional layers, and headed out to the dock to take the boat to the park. Because we were all properly dressed, the boat ride which was on the cool side, actually wasn’t too bad. The guys rode in the outdoor section on the back as Emily and Kee enjoyed the indoor section of the boat. We arrived just as the Town Square area of the park was getting ready to view the afternoon parade.
Since the parade wasn’t in our plans that day, we took an escape route by riding the train to Storybook Circus to position ourselves for our first FastPass of the day, the Seven Dwarfs’ Mine Train. This has been one of Hunter and Sawyer’s favorite rides for as long as they have been tall enough to ride. Today however was Colonel’s first time on the attraction. Because Kee is not a fan of these rides, I agreed to sit the ride out as well so we could have an even number of riders allowing them to sit together. I was trying to capture a video of them from the outside of the ride but unfortunately missed their car as it zoomed by.
Our next stop and FastPass was for the Tomorrowland Speedway so the boys could take their turn driving… err… smashing into the guide rails 200 times. Emily rode with Hunter, followed by Kee and Colonel, and Sawyer and I were the number three car. We were on Colonel’s tail the entire time which he said was due to the fact he had a slow car, but Sawyer and I thought it was more due to his cautious driving. Cautious is not a word I would use to describe Sawyer’s driving… good thing he is turning 6 and not 16.
After our Speedway experience, it was finally time for the main event of the day, dinner at Be Our Guest restaurant. Emily, Kee, and the boys had taken an afternoon the previous week to watch the Beauty and the Beast live action movie in preparation of the experience. We frequent Disney quite a bit as a family, but Be Our Guest is a location that we have never eaten at as a family ever since it open in late 2012. I would have to say Emily was the most excited of all of us to partake in the dining room experience. Similar to our dinner the previous night, we checked in about 30 minutes early and were buzzed for our seats within a minute of checking in. The greeter handed Sawyer a Lumiere figure to carry, and we made our way toward the Beast’s castle. We were escorted through the ballroom to our table which was located in the Rose Gallery section of the restaurant. The dinner was delicious as three of the four of the adults got the steak frites, and Colonel got the shrimp and scallops. The boys got the famous castle grilled cheese of which Sawyer ate about 3 bites (if I’m being generous). The table shared a few of the desserts that were brought over via the dessert cart. They, of course, had the “try the grey stuff” themed dessert which they said was good, but was basically grey buttercream. After wrapping up our meal, we stopped by to have a meet and greet with the Beast in his Library on our way out of the restaurant.
As we exited the castle the sun had gone down, lowering the temperature by a few degrees and requiring us to put on our last layer of clothing that we brought. Although we were all quite tired, there was one more FastPass and stop that the birthday boy wanted to take part in, Peter Pan’s Flight. The route from the castle to the attractions in Fantasyland was an absolute mob scene. It looked like Cinderella’s castle had a construction wall around it so everyone had to travel around the carousel. We took our magical flight around Neverland and after we landed we were all ready to land in our pajamas.
We took the long, chilly walk back to the boats and sailed back to the Wilderness Lodge Resort. We all, except rogue Colonel, were grateful to be seated in the indoor section of the boat as the lake winds were adding even more chill to an already chilly evening. Back in the resort room, we got into our cozy clothes and all watched one of the most amazing ends to a playoff football game I have ever seen, as the Vikings scored a last second touchdown to beat the New Orleans Saints. After the football game we played a rousing game of Disney Apples to Apples, which got quite intense. A quick game of Camping Bingo was the cap to another fantastic day of Sawyer’s Birthday Fest. We got the beds set up and called it an evening.
Monday, January 15th – Whispering Canyon & Disney’s Hollywood Studios
I woke up grateful that it was Martin Luther King, Jr., day today which, along with being a great day to celebrate a great man, was also a day off of work. This allowed us to extend Sawyer’s Birthday Fest vacation one more day.
One of the least looked forward to days in life is the day you have to leave your hotel/resort at the end of a fun vacation. With kids this day becomes twice as stressful because you have absolutely no idea what tiny sections of the room they have crammed their toys into as they were playing with them. Our last morning at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge was a catch 22. On one hand we all did a great job sleeping in. On the other hand this didn’t leave us a ton of time to get our stuff packed and ready to go. We managed to do our best to get focused and get out the door in time for our 10:15 breakfast reservation at Whispering Canyon.
Emily once again delivered on her amazing planning abilities as the Whispering Canyon was a perfect end to an amazing Disney stay. If you have never eaten there the place is an absolute riot. Our server for the morning was Tom, who asked to be called Tomahawk. He happened to be from Wisconsin as well, so we shared our love of the Packers. He was the perfect server for that location as you could tell he really enjoyed his job and also enjoyed poking fun at his dining guests. When Hunter ordered a milkshake, he delivered it by singing, “MY MILKSHAKE BRINGS ALL THE BOYS TO THE YARD!” One of my favorite things to watch is when you ask for catsup at the restaurant the servers scream to all of the dining patrons that you need catsup, at which point every single bottle of catsup in the restaurant ends up on your table. This, of course, happened to us when Emily request catsup for her potatoes. The breakfast was delicious and entertaining as we cleaned our plates and said our final goodbyes to the Wilderness Lodge.
There was one more stop on our weekend of fun, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The last time we were at Disney’s Hollywood Studios was for the Christmas celebration that included the Jingle Bell Jingle Bam fireworks. During that visit, Sawyer really wanted to ride Star Tours, but the wait was so long we promised him that we would return to ride that. Emily, of course, had arranged a FastPass for the attraction so we wouldn’t have to wait to ride. We got to the Studios around 11:30 which gave us some time to stroll up Hollywood Blvd. and enjoy the beautiful crisp January weather. We got to see the Storm Troopers walk up Hollywood Blvd. to the stage in front of the Chinese Theater. We took our time weaving our way back to Star Tours and arrived just in time for the FastPass. This is a ride that I absolutely cannot handle, so I was glad that Colonel and Emily were willing to take the boys. They really enjoyed the ride, but Hunter came off the ride not feeling his best. I think he has got my genes of not being able to handle motion too well.
Emily and I went a picked up some Sprite for Hunter and some sodas for the rest of the gang while he sat on the ledge to recover. He ended up rounding the corner and feeling good enough to continue our walk around the park. Although we had a FastPass booked for the Muppets 3D Show, the group was pretty theme parked out so we agreed to grab and snack and head out. Hunter was feeling good enough to polish off a pretzel and Emily, Sawyer, and I got churros with our Disney holiday coupons.
There was one more request to walk through the stores on our way out of the park. Hunter bought Sawyer a Lumiere keychain because Sawyer SO wanted the Lumiere from the Be Our Guest Restaurant from the previous night (but our research determined it to be a $55 purchase). Hunter, knowing how badly Sawyer wanted his own Lumiere, didn’t hesitate when he saw this keychain. What a thoughtful brother. That was pretty much all we had left in us as we grabbed the tram and headed back to our cars and drove home.
I really enjoy writing these blogs because it helps us to remember and realize all of the amazing things that happen over the course of a few days. Everyone enjoyed spending time together and sharing the first round of Birthday Fest with our buddy Sawyer. As of today he will only be five years old for another 7 days… wow, time flies! If you made it to the end of this blog post it would be awesome if you would take a moment and leave a Happy Birthday comment for Sawyer below!