5. The beach - we rested our feet and spent a day at Cocoa Beach in between our park days and welcomed a day of relaxation with our toes in the sand. I loved Cocoa Beach. It was a bit livelier than our beach days at Tybee last summer, however, not as touristy as I expected. It was quiet when we arrived and Beau and Cruz wasted no time getting in that water. Last year, Cruz was timid in the ocean, preferring to stay on shore with Grandma and build sandcastles. This year was a different story! Beau took him out a little farther than this mom was comfortable with and they created a game of fighting and smashing the waves as they crashed against them. Cruz, being far shorter than Beau, would swallow a mouthful of saltwater with every wave, but would get right back in the thick of it, arms up ready to fight.
We played in the water and built a pretty great sandcastle before heading up to check out the famous pier. This was maybe my favorite part of our entire trip. The pier had three or four beachside restaurants that served drinks out of hollowed out coconuts, fish tacos, and lobster rolls. We walked to the end, ordered a few fruity drinks, watched some fisherman catch red fish, and made friends with the pelican perched up on the deck. We watched a single dolphin casually swim in the distance and Cruz made friends with the bartender, helping her clean up trash off the deck with the garbage grabber and earning a virgin daiquiri in exchange. He fit in quite well with the clientele at Cocoa, looking like a miniature surfer boy with his sandy blond hair and dark skin.
We ended our beach day with a seafood boil at Keith's Oyster House on the opposite end of the pier. Every time I find myself on the coast, I crave seafood and am always on the hunt for a local joint that serves seafood boils on the beach. I've always been a little disappointed...that is, until now. We seriously had the best shrimp we have ever tasted at this place, and ate barefoot with the ocean breeze blowing through the screens as we squeezed limes into beers and toasted to life on the beach. 'Tis a good life.
4. Move It, Shake It, Celebrate Parade - this was one of my favorite parts of our entire trip because it was just perfect Disney. Around 3:00 on Tuesday, we found a spot on a curb right in front of the castle and awaited our Disney friends to join us in the street. Soon, the streets were lined with colorful floats and dancers dressed as jesters, singing, dancing, and waving at the smiling kids. There were jesters on stilts, some waving long ribbon wands, and others meandering through the crowds, high-fiving little hands and getting people on their feet. Soon, floats carrying our favorite Disney faces starting parading by and Cruz's eyes lit up. He pointed and screamed their names as he spotted them - "Woody!" "Mr. Incredible!" "GOOFY!!!"
After the opening song, the floats stop and Mickey, the MC of the show, asks everyone to join in on a dance party in the street. Kids young and old fill the streets, dancing with characters, snapping pictures, and singing along. It's cheesy, but absolutely everything that Disney is all about. Cruz danced his little heart out with Chip and Dale, got a few hugs from Woody and Goofy, and was smiling ear to ear as they paraded through and waved goodbye. It was adorable.
3. "Frozen" Summer - I should have known Disney would play up the whole Frozen mania this year and Cruz's friend Olaf's face was plastered all over the parks. The theme of Hollywood Studios was centered around Olaf's desire to live in summer and they played up the theme wonderfully in so many ways. We purchased our very own Take-Along-Olaf to ride with Cruz in the stroller all day, spent lots of time exploring Wandering Oaken's Trading Post and Frozen Funland, and sang our hearts out at "For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Singalong Celebration." We sang to all the favorites with Kristoff, Anna, and Elsa, laughed at the thousands of Frozen fanatics in the audience, and had a snowball fight at Oaken's Trading Post afterwards. Yes, you would have thought three Iowa kids would have forgone the opportunity to build our very own snowman in the real snow land, but in the middle of another 95 degree day, we welcomed the opportunity to play in the snow with our flip flops on. We definitely looked like Iowa kids in the middle of all those southerners, wasting no time throwing snowballs or sneaking handfuls down each others' shirts. At first, Beau and I both wondered why we agreed to stand in line for 20 minutes for a big indoor field of snow, but afterwards, admitted it was one of our favorite parts of the day.
2. Kilimanjaro Safari at Animal Kingdom - we had heard lots of great things about this attraction and chose it as our first stop of the day bright and early Thursday morning. We got there right at opening, walked briskly across the park to the land of Africa, and hopped on our safari car with less than a five minute wait. We were immediately swept away to the land of Africa, and we got up and close and personal with many of its beastly wonders. Our travel guide commented that the animals were giving us quite the show that morning, evidenced by the family of giraffes taking their sweet old time crossing the road in front of us, an elephant and her baby drinking some water next to a colony of pink flamingos, an enormously sleepy hippo snoozing in the swamp at our feet, and a group of rhinos casually blocking traffic until some zookeepers corralled them off the road with treats. All this with music from Tarzan and the Jungle Book, and off course, Lion King, playing in the background, and an informatively witty tour guide setting the mood and teaching us about the land these creatures live in. I could have sat in that safari car all day long and I'm convinced a zoo will never be the same again!
1. Our last night - was definitely one for the memory books. We were tired, our feet were sore, and we had to be up at 3:00 in the morning to make our 6 am flight home the following morning. We spent all afternoon contemplating whether we stay for Hollywood Studio's fireworks or call it early. After regaining some energy and adrenaline after belting out Let It Go and throwing snowballs, we decided to stick it out and see what this Frozen Fireworks Spectacular was all about. Turns out, it was the best decision we made all week. The entire show was once again centered around Frozen. After introducing the characters and hearing about Olaf's summer in the park, our eyes were glued to the sky in awe as a fifteen minute fireworks show set to a montage of favorite Frozen songs. The way the fireworks at all of the parks tells such a story with the colors, tempo, and music is amazing. But nothing compared to Elsa's final performance, with a climax of blue, white, and gold fireworks, all set to "Let It Go." And at the end, after a mind-blowing finale of the most amazing fireworks you have ever seen, she throws her hands in the air and the sky fills with snow. Yes, real snow fills the sky and streets of Hollywood Studios, amidst its palm trees and brightly lit buildings and swarms of people, oohing and ahh'ing and hugging each other and just looking happy. There was magical snow in the air at this very magical place.
And there you have it, a glimpse at our favorite parts of our very first Disney vacation. Tonight, Cruz and I watched youtube videos of our favorite Disney songs - you know, the big ones like "I Just Can't Wait To Be King", "Prince Ali", and "Shoo Bop She Do" from Tarzan, and danced and sang in the living room. And it's been two weeks since we stood in front of that big castle, but you know, it lives on in those songs and in our dance parties in the living room. That's the magic of Walt's world - it transports us to our youth, to seeing those classics on the big screen for the first time, crying big tears when Simba says goodbye to Mufasa under that star filled sky or whispering right along with Sebastian and Flounder, "keese da girl" as Ariel and Eric wade through the water.