Our Babymoon: the Space Coast & a non-Disney Disney Vacation

It’s been a minute since I’ve posted here, and I do keep meaning to post about the awesome trip to London I took with my dad several months ago, or the week we spent in Lake Tahoe, or even the overnight splurge at Opryland Hotel and the Soundwaves waterpark that we did for my birthday. But alas. I don’t have a good excuse for not keeping up with this except that I’ve been mentally and physically drained…. I’m 32 weeks pregnant, and the last thing I usually want to do after a long day of work is look at a computer screen or use my brain. The Mooch makes me very tired!

But, we just had a lovely, restful yet active vacation in Florida that I want to document while it’s fresh in my mind 🙂

A Babymoon?!

The babymoon is still a relatively recent concept, and one that I fully support: one last hurrah of a vacation for the expecting parents, one last adults-only trip where they aren’t juggling kids with them or worrying about kids they left back at home. With about two months left of this pregnancy, we figured it was the perfect time to sneak in one last trip before the Mooch arrives (and before I can’t fly anymore).

The Space Coast?!

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Sweaters?! On the beach?! Hey, at least it’s sunny!!!

In 16 years of living in Florida, I had never been to Kennedy Space Center or Cape Canaveral. So last summer, when we were on our Northeast road trip and a fellow home exchange couple from Cape Canaveral needed a last minute place to stay in Nashville, we said yes figuring it never hurts to have a free place to stay on the beach in Florida.

When we found out I was pregnant, I immediately thought that redeeming our half of a non-simultaneous home exchange would make for the perfect babymoon… and because I am never content to do just one thing or go to just one place, I tried to cram in as much other Florida fun as I could into our week off work. St. Augustine, another place I had somehow never visited (even though I went to school in Jax for 2 years), would be a fun day trip, and since we have to fly in and out of Orlando anyway, what if we splurged on a couple nights at a Disney resort?

So the Space Coast it was!

Of course, we had no idea a cold front would move in the day we fly in, but alas. The condo was nice, literally steps from the beach, and had a hot tub. It was a short drive to many restaurants where we enjoyed lots of fresh seafood, and to Cocoa Beach, where we got super touristy, visiting the famous pier and playing some putt putt with alligators!

 

Our day at Kennedy Space Center was kind of a bust because, in a non-Ashley fashion, we did not do any research, and didn’t realize it was multiple complexes in a theme park-esque set up. We assumed it would be kind of like a giant museum, and went there on one of the rainy days of the week, without any sort of rain gear. We got drenched in the downpour, and missed out on much of what we could have seen. But we still had a good time and learned lots. The exhibits we did see were fantastic, well-designed to appeal to both adults and kids, to those who want to learn every little detail and to those who just want the high level overview. It was super cool to get to see the Atlantis shuttle up close, and the IMAX movie we watched about space exploration and the ISS was fascinating (even managing to distract me from the baby dancing on my bladder for 30 minutes). We’ll just have to bring the Mooch here one day in the future, on a sunny dry day, to catch up on all of the things we missed. (Every kid goes through a space phase, right?)

 

Our day trip to St. Augustine was much more successful in that it did not rain nor was it freezing. We got in a ton of walking, exploring the historic downtown area, visiting the Fountain of Youth archaeological park, and visiting the newish St. Augustine distillery (which is making Florida’s first bourbon since prohibition). Of course, our tour of St. Augustine really turned into Ashley’s tour of St. Augustine’s restrooms, since the Mooch was riding low that day, tap dancing on my bladder. Oh, the joys of pregnancy.

 

Overall, we enjoyed our time on the Space Coast, relaxing and sleeping as much as we could. There’s not a whole lot to see or do in the Canaveral area, so we’re both glad that we decided to splurge on a couple nights in Orlando.

 

Non-Disney Disney Vacation?!

IMG_20190130_115417.jpgWhen I first proposed the idea, Justin wasnt so sure, but I think our two nights at Walt Disney World were the most fun of the entire trip! And we didn’t even go to any of the theme parks (hence, why I call it a non-Disney vacation).

Many years ago, in college, a couple girlfriends and I had a super fun day exploring the theme park area without actually going to any theme parks. As much as I would love to have spent a day or two doing the Disney park thing (because I am a HUGE theme park junkie), Justin wasn’t that interested and I knew physically, at 31 weeks, I just couldn’t do it. I’m lucky if I can go an hour without peeing, often struggle with SI joint pain, and waddle around so slowly, Betty White could lap me.

So we had to get creative, and we had so much fun!

 

Stay on the Property

We splurged on two nights at the Port Orleans Riverside resort. It’s been over 15 years since I stayed on Disney property, the last time being in high school when we stayed at whatever hotel was hosting my brother’s karate tournament. And since we weren’t spending $220+ on park tickets a day, we could spend that on our accommodations.

Port Orleans Riverside was nice; a bunch of separate two-story buildings, separated by winding pathways and canals, instead of one big hotel complex. It was quiet and the grounds were beautiful. Food options on-site were kind of limited, and the pool area was fine (After seeing the one at the French Quarter, I kind of wished we’d stayed there). But there was a hot tub where we met lots of other guests escaping the polar vortex, and the pool was surprisingly heated so I got in some floating time on the one warmish day we had.

(For some reason, I have no photos of this hotel LOL)

 

Do the Monorail Resort Bar Crawl

You can no longer sit in the front of the monorail (sadface) but it’s still a fun, easy, and free way to get around and have some fun. The main loop takes you from the Magic Kingdom to three iconic Disney resorts: the Grand Floridian, the Contemporary, and the Polynesian. The last two were the first two resorts on property, both built in the early 70s (so it’s not exactly ‘contemporary’ anymore….. lol. In fact, it’s just a giant beige building. But it IS the site of Nixon’s famous “I am not a crook” press conference, so there’s that). The Grand Floridian is beautiful, styled after the Victorian-era (with some light Alice in Wonderland theming thrown in), and seems like the place that old, rich, white people like to stay. (It’s really boring.) But the Polynesian is AWESOME, giving off serious mid-century tiki vibes, and has had Moana and Lili & Stitch theming added to the mix.

But the real point of visiting these three classic hotels is not just to time travel through architecture history, but to drink your way through them. We encountered another group doing the monorail bar crawl on our adventure, and even though I couldn’t really partake, I did have a delicious mocktail at the Contemporary. (I will say, that Disney caters well to the young, the pregnant, and the old, so they always have non-boozy options!)

If you can arrange your tour to END at the Polynesian, I would recommend doing so since it’s by the far the best hotel and has multiple bars to check out. Due to the cold, all of the pool bars were closed, which was lucky for us, because they opened up Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto early and we are so glad they did. It was hilariously cheesy, with ridiculous special effects, with pretty decent food and cocktails! The servers have to shout certain things depending on the drinks that get ordered, which will trigger certain things to happen inside the teeny tiny tiki bar (like a volcano explosion, or a hippo needing two shots of rum). You can tell they get tired of the act, but everyone was super friendly and chatty. Highly recommend as a place to be enjoyed by both adults and kids.

 

Free Transport = Rides!

IMG_20190130_143746The monorail is still pretty cool, even after all of these years. If only there were more of it! We took the bus (which can take you around the entire 47-square mile property for free) from our hotel to Epcot, where we got on the monorail. That took us to the Ticket and Transport Center, where we switched to the line to do the loop mentioned above. On the way back, we chose to go back to Epcot to take a bus back to our hotel, but we could have taken the Ferry boat (another ride!) to a number of hotels. Or we could have caught a Ferry from Epcot to a different number of hotels. (For a full list of water transport options, check out this list.)

We did take the (smaller) ferry boat from our hotel to Disney Springs, which took about 20-30 minutes. It was really nice and peaceful – but bring a jacket if you go during a cold spell!

Starting later this year, you’ll be able to take the Skyliner (another ride!) and get a birds-eye view of much of the property! If someone does this, please take pictures. I wanna see!

 

Go on a free tour!

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The beautiful Animal Kingdom Lodge

Many of the resorts offer free tours. Wilderness Lodge, the Art of Animation, and the Boardwalk resort all offer some sort of behind-the-scenes tour. The Animal Kingdom Lodge offers two tours: a cultural tour at Sanaa, one of the restaurants, and a culinary tour. Every day at 4, there’s a 30 minute tour of at the other two restaurants, Jiko and Boma, led by staff members from various African nations, where they share information about the design of the restaurants, influences from African countries, and let you taste some of the food.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge actually has a FULL day of (mostly) free cultural and educational activities, and you don’t even have to be a guest to take advantage of many of them. Just get a flyer from the concierge with all of the daily times and descriptions! You can also see some animals at the Lodge, including ostriches, zebras, and giraffes!

 

Eat Your Way Through Disney Springs

Eating on Disney property isn’t cheap, but when you’re not spending money at the parks, you don’t have to worry as much about the cost of your dinner.

Our first night, we ate at Boathouse, a restaurant we had discovered and fallen in love with when we attended a work conference on Disney property in 2017. I was doing Whole30 back then so I didn’t even get to enjoy most of the good stuff then, so I more than made up for it this time.

Our second night, we ate at Paddlefish, which is a bit pricier than Boathouse but the meal blew every other place out of the water. Definitely the best meal of the trip, and maybe the best meal of the month! The food was incredible, so if you like seafood and can splurge on a few plates of seafood, go to Paddlefish. You won’t regret it.

On our third day, we had lunch at the epically cheesy dinosaur-themed restaurant T-REX. The food was fine if overpriced, but the menu was definitely a crowd-pleaser offering something for everyone including picky eaters. I was able to eat healthy, with the kale and quinoa salad. We sat at the bar to avoid the line and to take advantage of the beautiful aquarium. The ambience of the whole place makes up for the mediocre food.

 

Take Cheesy Pictures

No matter where you are on Disney property, you are not far from a photo opp. So don’t let one pass you by!

I wish we had made it over to the Pop Century and Art of Animation hotels since they boast lots of giant sculptures perfect for cheesing it up. But alas… next time. 🙂

 

See All of Disney Springs

Disney Springs offers tons of shopping, if you’re into that sort of thing, and so much food, but it also offers hours of entertainment for kids and adults of all ages.

    • The massive Lego store has tons of building tables set up, and was hosting a vehicle race while we were there — build a thing on wheels, and race it against other peoples’ creations!
    • The AMC theatre has dine-in options!
    • If we had known about the Void, a fully immersive VR experience, ahead of time, we would have considered checking that out. The description on the website and the Trip Advisor reviews are really good!
    • Cirque du Soleil!
    • There’s lots of live musical entertainment at any time of day or night, whether at one of the venues (House of Blues, the Edison) or out on one of the public performance areas. 10 years of living in Nashville means we tend to avoid live music, but it’s there for those who want it.
    • The hot air balloon ride!
    • Bowl at Splitsville!
    • A classic carousel!
    • Eat free chocolate samples at the Ghirardelli shop

Buy a souvenir!

IMG_20190130_184834.jpgYou can’t go on vacation without taking home something special. And Disney offers you no shortage of opportunities to spend your money on memorabilia. Justin didn’t grow up with Disney the way I did or have a particular love for any Disney characters the way I do, and he also prefers to spend money on experiences and food and drink. So while he splurged on drinking his way through Disney, I bought myself the coolest hoodie in the entire world. And then we also decided to buy a stuffed Stitch for the Mooch’s nursery, which is outer space themed. (We debated for a hot second about getting the really BIG Stitch, but couldn’t justify the cost or how to get it home haha.)

I had wanted to find a cute tank top (to wear post-pregnancy, lol) but was disappointed by the quality of all of the clothes in all of the gift shops. I had expected softer materials, but most of the shirts and tanks and PJ pants were made of that thicker, scratchier material (cheaper to make, sure). I would have hoped the Mouse would have spent a few extra cents on nicer fabrics. But what can ya do. My hoodie is super soft and makes me laugh every time I see myself in it, so I’m satisfied 🙂

Things We Considered Doing But Didn’t

We had so much fun doing terribly at putt putt in Cocoa Beach, that we thought about checking out the Winter Summer Mini Golf on our last day. But I was really worn out and didn’t think I could stand for long periods of time.

Visit the Disney Boardwalk Resort, a Coney Island-inspired resort, featuring carnival games, snacks, street performers, a dueling piano bar and more.

Visit the (creepy Stepford) town of Celebration, a planned community by Walt Disney Company, to see a modern-day Mayberry and walk around the Main Street area.

Watch a movie. I think most of the hotels (at least all of the ones we looked at) offer free movie screenings multiple nights a week.

Sit by the fire. Many of the resorts also have camp fires and some offer free s’mores fixins!

Watch the fireworks! You can see the Magic Kingdom fireworks from many of the nearby hotels, including the Contemporary, the Polynesian, and Grand Floridian.

• • • •

There’s plenty to do on Disney property without ever actually stepping foot inside the parks. But next time, I hope we get to go to at least one, to satisfy my theme park cravings. 🙂

Overall, this babymoon was exactly what we needed. A brief escape from the real world (and the unseasonally cold winter temps), a break from work, relaxing alone time, some physical exercise, and lots of good seafood. Now, I just need to get through the next two months of pregnancy, work, and life, before we get to the meet the Mooch in person! Let the countdown begin!