A List Maker's Life: September 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Bo Do Bleep" in a Minion Mayhem Suite: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel Kids Suites

Typically when we travel as a family the accommodations get the short stick in the budget.  We search online deals and group marketing sites for the least expensive rooms we can find and cross our fingers they won't be too bad when we arrive.  Just another reason why we especially look forward to Family Forward.  In addition to amazing entertainment, delicious dining, quality programs, and great people we know  Loews Hotels can not be beat!  The attention to guests, thematic experiences, and comfort of the rooms is like no where we have ever stayed before.

During this year's Universal Orlando experience our expectations of a great hotel stay were far exceeded when we were gifted an extended stay in an upgraded suite.  Kevin and I were thrilled for the kids to be able to sleep in Gru's rockets and live the movies even while they were dreaming.

"Authorized Minions" are welcome to a virtual tour of the newly renovated Kids' Suite at Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort.

The vault-like entry door separating the rooms raised the "kid thrill-o-meter" even before they stepped foot into their half of the suite. Just beyond this door the carpet is inlayed with a minion welcome mat and true to size minion decals create silly scenes all over the walls.

Tucked into a cubby on one side of the room, Gru's large steel desk offers a perfect place for studying park maps, plotting out adventures, and putting together toys collected as souvenirs. In each corner of the room is a unique industrial looking lamp. 

Sleeping accommodations in the minion room included two full size beds.  The bright yellow bedding was embellished on the ends with throw blankets made to match Gru's notable grey striped scarf and bright blue throw pillows which serve as a reminder of Loews commitment to making even the littlest guests feel like "1 in a Minion."  The attention to details is remarkable!

The other side of the room holds an oversized, red chair designed to replicate a chair from Despicable Me. Our kids didn't spend much time relaxing in it, but they sure did enjoy reenacting movie lines as they spun dramatically from back to front. 
This particular suite included access to a small balcony over looking the water - a great spot for watching the water taxis scoot back and forth between the hotel and parks.  The kid sized table and chairs is ideal for snack time or a room service breakfast.
The suite isn't all about the kids though. Parents will appreciate the serenity of the d├ęcor and the king size bed in the adult suite.  This room also had a small table, an oversized foot stool, and a pull out sofa bed. 

There was something amazing about being able to close the door on our minions and their bed jumping mayhem, while we enjoyed a quiet moment and a diet coke in our fancy glasses. 

Cheers to the perfect balance of excitement and relaxation all in one great suite!
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There is more than one Minion Mayhem Kids' Suite at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.  After looking at pictures from another Family Forward attendee it seems important to mention the rooms are not exactly alike.  The two suites I have seen have many of the same delightful details, but the layout may be a bit different from room to room.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Just a few days shy of his 4th birthday our littlest babe took his first steps into the big, wide adventure of preschool.  His back pack has been stuffed and hanging next to the others since the 1st of September - the promise of, "yes, you do get to go to school this year too!" and the reminder of "how many days until school starts?"
"There will be tears tomorrow, " I warned Kevin.  Certainly not for Gabe though.  His smile couldn't have been bigger as he finally took his turn posing for the back to school mamarazzi. 

A bit tentative upon his arrival at Little Hawks, Gabe wasn't interested in any more photos by the school sign.  He needed to find his hook, his name, and his tag. 

While his teachers prepped him for our goodbye and offered him many opportunities for getting involved in activities Gabe became a frequent momma hugger.  I was concerned this was the precursor to a crying fit. I bent down to let him know face to face he would have a great time and I would be back soon.  He spoke first, "One more hug mom then I need to go play." Gabe was as worried about me being alone as I was worried about him being safe and happy.  This is where I would have expected my tears to come.  I smiled and walked to the car.

Talk about feeling lost.  Gabe and I have probably spent more one-on-one time in his 4 years than I've spent with all three other kiddos combined. Thank goodness for my scheduled appointment to fill the morning's hours. The nurse asked how my kids were doing?  How old are they now?  Is everyone in school?  This may have been when I expected tears, round two.  I smiled and told her all about Gabe's exciting first day of school.

Walking in for pick up I watched as Gabe waited patiently for his name to be called for dismissal.  He jumped up and ran to me for another big hug. 
"I got a book order.  We went on a hike.  I saw fish.  I played with Ms. Carlee.  I have friends named Isaac, Valentine, and Axel.  We had chocolate milk and strawberry cereal for snack.  I painted.  I want to show you the birds..." 
On and on he went, right there in the school coat room, answering all the questions I typically ask the big kids when they arrive home from school without being prompted by my actual questions. Still chatting as we headed out the door he froze in his tracks "I forgot to say goodbye.  I have to go say goodbye."  He popped his head back in the coat room and in his loudest, happiest voice shouted "Goodbye teachers.  Goodbye friends."
Then the two of us hopped in the car to head home for lunch. 
"I Love School, Mom!"
I smiled and those most expected tears fell at the most unexpected moment.
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*Taken from my back to school post on FB.
There were many heavy days in 2010, before I met him face to face, when I worried and wondered how our newest babe's firsts would look and feel for both of us. Today was another "more than we could ask or imagine" day. Gabe had a wonder full first day of school! #ohmeoflittlefaith

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventures at #UniversalOrlando

As a family of readers we love getting caught up in a great story.  Sometimes the characters are so well developed their emotions are felt deeply, in real time.   The author pulls us along on a roller coaster plot ride.  Some plots are predictable and the endings just as perfect as imagined.  Other times the conclusion leaves us wishing for a choose your path option like the books we remember from middle school - the books written from a second-person point of view handing over the role of protagonist to the reader, giving choices to determine the main character's actions and the plot outcome.

Universal Orlando puts exceptional detail into each of the stories it retells through their action packed attractions.  No matter the story, one can not help but get caught up in the elements.  Throughout the parks they have also built in opportunities to personalize the plot, change the course, and choose your own adventure!

Disaster Ride
Our family really enjoyed Disaster Ride.  It is described as a major motion picture starring you! Each group entering Disaster Ride has a unique opportunity to be involved in the action and production of a feature film. While I am convinced Kevin would have made the perfect hunky, strong guy he unfortunately was not chosen this time. Part of the ride is a humorous demonstration of behind the scenes creating of outrageous movie effects, but it ends with an actual runaway car ride through earthquakes, floods, and fires. Screams of fear or screams of laughter?  You won't know until you get into the movie!

Gringott's Goblins
While waiting for the incredible Escape for Gringotts experience visitors weave through an elaborate re-creation of the inside of a magical bank.  If your family is anything like ours, you will be too caught up in the chandeliers and marble floors to even realize this choose your own ending option.  After the fact we learned, if you strike up a conversation with the bank's head teller you may be surprised to hear him answer your question.  Each unique question receives an equally unique & appropriate answer. Spend the rest of your time in line contemplating how Universal made the talking goblin magic possible.

Men in Black: Alien Attack
 We lost count of the trips collectively taken through Alien Attack.  Every ride through Men in Black ends with a different outcome.  The number of passengers per vehicle, the speed of the trigger fingers, and the accuracy of aim alters the score and accolades in the final moments of the ride.  Collaborating with others his age in the #FamilyForward crew, Gavin continually improved his game by figuring out secret spots and tricks to aide in his promotion to professional MIB agent status. For our younger children, the creepy aliens were just outrageous enough to not be frightening. Fire up and save the planet or stand down and submit to the scum?  Dun, dun, dun...

High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Ride
This attraction provides a great overview of Seuss Landing from high above (and through) the roof tops.  While it is obvious there are two separate tracks, the kids did not know until they tried both the tracks not only follow different paths, they tell different stories.  A simple switch from the ABC Line to the Star Line will change the adventure and the ending.  High in the Sky Trolley is by far the most talked about favorite from our three year old theme park go-er, and our whole family enjoyed the view from a cart with just enough speed to catch some wind in our hair. "Again! Again!"
Hogwarts Express
Being careful to not give away too much of the magic before you are able to experience it for yourself we will keep this one short and sweet.  Be sure to travel both to and from Diagon Alley for two unique experiences.  The destinations are not the only difference on the round trip train ride. Aren't you curious how Universal replicated the famous Platform 9 and 3/4?  We were too!

Interactive Wands
Throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, Potter enthusiast have multiple opportunities to change the story, the characters, the displays, and the problems with a flick of their interactive wizarding wands.  In addition to being the perfect souvenir, the interactive wands have the potential to provide a day's worth of engaging in the story.

The Knight Bus
While visiting Diagon Alley strike up a conversation with The Knight Bus driver. Each conversation is authentic, individualized, and entertaining.  The Shrunken Head is a humorous and quirky conversationalist as well. Not only will you create a new dimension to the Harry Potter experience, you will walk away from The Knight Bus with silly stories to tell and a case of the giggles.

Are you ready to get in the story?  Have you visited Universal Orlando?  What Choose Your Own Adventure moments drew you in to the story?
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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Show Stopping, Jaw Dropping #FamilyForward Moments

This year Mom It Forward blew us away with another amazing Family Forward Universal Orlando Adventure.  There are so many notable moments, but I wanted to share a list of the top show stoppers
Happy Flash Mob
In a theme park as exciting as Universal Orlando everyone's focus is driven toward riding the next great attraction, meeting the next fun character, and getting quickly to the next express line. Yet, a crowd of hundreds milling around and breaking into a groove upon the first beat of Happy by Pharrell is still a significant attention grabber.  We loved the unique opportunity to learn this dance from a group of Universal Creative Team dancers, as well as a crew of dancing minions, before heading out to the street with our performance.

Diagon Alley: Gringott's Dragon
The newest addition to the Harry Potter experience at Universal Orlando is Diagon Alley.  There is so much to explore in this back alley of London and we have a huge list of memories from our private evening in Diagon Alley, but the Jaw Dropping centerpiece is the famous Gringott's Bank topped with an impressive fire breathing dragon.  The life like dragon caught us off guard with every one of his frightening roars! (side note: each roar was appropriately followed by one of Gabe's impressive screams)

Croc on the Loose
Dr. Brady Bard and the team from National Geographic Kid's Animal Jam joined Family Forward for an informative and engaging presentation on the difference between crocodiles and alligators.  The kids were loving it, in fact the crowd was following Dr. Bard around the room captivated by his every move.  After each child had a chance to safely see the crocodile up close, Dr. Bard explained, once on their backs crocs find themselves very vulnerable and act paralyzed.  This particular croc must have wanted to shake things up a bit and so it did....by defying his norms and leaping off the table into the "pied piper's" captive audience of little ones. Yes, this really happened.  For the record I didn't run, but I may or may not have grabbed a 5 year old and jumped on top of a banquet table

Blue Man Group
Talk about a SHOW!  From the time you are seated until the final curtain call #BMGOrlando is 100% entertaining. The crowd is engaged.  The paint is flying.  The music is loud.  The happy hormones leave everyone with wide smiles. One might think the show has peaked, and the 10 year old boys in the audience could not possibly laugh any harder, when the dancing blue men begin to list 100 different words for their shaking heinies.  No, it is not the end, they finish off the show with the most amazing display of floating lights, bouncing balls, and streamers.  Streamers galore!  Watch out Halloween, the Blue Man Group is on the short list of family costume ideas.
30,000 Give Kids the World Stars
Decidedly, the most moving moment of Family Forward '14 came on our tour of Give Kids the World Village.  At the center of the resort is The Castle of Wishes.  Every child whose Make a Wish gift has brought them to the village is given a star to shine forever in the bell towers of the castle.  Our tour guide reported the 30,000th star was hung this summer. Staggering statistics, but at #GKTWVillage the focus is on making happy memories for families instead of focusing on the sad in each story. However jaw dropping the request from the kiddos retreating at GKTWVillage, the volunteers are taught to never say "no!"  As a result, they serve a whole lot of ice cream for breakfast ;)  While the property, the volunteers, and the offerings here are remarkable everyone reiterated they "would love to close GKTWVillage down tomorrow if it meant there were no more sick children.

Looking forward to sharing more about Family Forward's Choose Your Own Adventure moments soon!

Has your family ever seen the Blue Man Group? Have you ever explored Animal Jam's Kids' Community? Do you know the difference between an alligator and a crocodile? Are the words Gringott's and Diagon Alley new to your vocabulary? 

Have you had any show stopping, jaw dropping moments this week?

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fight or Flight? I Do Run, Run!

Every year as the August days creep by it happens.  Seems to start with a little knot and a few bizarre dreams.  It doesn't take long for it to turn in to a full on fight or flight scenario.  We run.  I plan as many adventures as possible to fill the diminishing daylight hours.  We enjoy a week Up North escaping all routines, technology, and commitments.  This year we kicked it up a notch with a 10 day family Florida road trip - quite purposefully planned to end less than 12 hours before the school bus would arrive in our neighborhood.  If we skip the open houses, miss the orientations, opt out of the kinder camp, and forget about the practice bus ride just maybe none of it will be able to happen after all. 

My not so subconscious thoughts reign.

Sensibility knocks just enough to prompt the laying out of first day outfits, setting of the back to school breakfast table, and celebration of School Year's Eve before running far and away.

  A good thing, I suppose, because this still happened...
...like whiplash.

Our family of 6 vacationing together for 3 weeks, then BAM! 3 of my favorites in a new school. A kindergartener I swore I would never let out of our nest.  I hate it. 

Thankfully, they think it is the best change we have ever made AND they have loads of amazing August memories to get them through until next June.
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P.S. In my continued stat of denial I will likely fill this space with Orlando adventures in the coming days.