so you’re waiting to go to walt disney world!

This will be my LAST post in the Walt Disney World Series… but do not fear! I have so many fun things in store for my very favorite time of year: AUTUMN! Back to school, holidays, apples, slow cookers, cardigans… OK, I’m getting a little carried away because all of those things sound fantastic. Also fantastic: DISNEY!

Not so fantastic: waiting for Disney.

But that’s what this post is specifically designed for. How can you pass the slowly dragging days on your “WDW Countdown app?” (As of this writing, we are at 31 days, for the record.)

(Also: what do you mean, you don’t have a WDW Countdown app? You will now. It’s OK.)

Waiting is hard, but we find ways to make it more tolerable and more fun. And, occasionally, lucrative.

THE MONEY CHORES

Our “Money Chores” are special jobs Boone can do to earn Disney money. I have each chore and the amount of money it’s worth (ranging from 50 cents to $2) on a bulletin board in our living room. Boone is under absolutely no obligation to finish these chores — they are different from his normal, daily chores. He does, however, understand that if he chooses not to complete these, he will not get any extra spending money on the trip. 

To make it easy on mom and dad, who live in a world of “do you take credit cards? Excellent,” I have a small jar to collect the “finished chores.” Once the chore has been completed (and we check), we remove the card with the chore and amount, and place it in the jar. I’ll make a run to the bank a few days before our trip to withdraw the money that Boone earned.

The money chart, plus an old picture of Boone in soccer. (Where are those pictures supposed to go? I don’t think wallet pictures are a thing in 2016.)

CRAFTS

Hi friends, I have something I need to admit.

Here goes…

I am not crafty.

(Phew.)

(I’ve admitted this before? Oh, right. Only always.)

And here’s my real problem with crafts: I like things my way. I like things perfect. I am an INFJ with perfectionism and I don’t like to delegate or complete tasks I’m not sure I’m awesome at. I knew I wanted to sit down with Boone and giggle and craft and talk about Disney World together, but I didn’t know if I would be able to separate my need for control from my yearning to let him do his thing. Surprisingly, I let him take the lead. I prepped crafts and offered beginning instruction, and then I said “go.” And we giggled. And we talked about the Haunted Mansion. And I cringed when he went crazy with a spray bottle or cut the most jagged looking “straight line” you ever did see, but I kept my mouth shut.

And in the end, we have perfectly imperfect crafts and I learned a thing or two about my own desire for control and the importance of including your children and giving them freedom.

(HAHAHA on that second part. It would have been great if I had really learned that lesson. Mostly I stare at jagged lines and think must… redo… paper rings. I know I should learn about inclusion and freedom and you know what? I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep giving crafts and saying “go.” Until then, know this is my struggle.) 

At the advent of Pinterest, I thought I could change my craft-averse ways. I had so many boards of things I would create. I daydreamed spending long hours at Hobby Lobby and somehow turning broken chairs into coat hooks, or something. Oh, this never worked. I just don’t love crafting, and I don’t have much patience for it. So if you, like me, are craft-challenged (or you just want a couple crafts you can crank out in a very short amount of time), read on!

The Family T-Shirts

Oh, yes. Oh, yes we are that family. The family wearing the matching shirts as they walk through the happiest place on earth. (On day 1, anyway. After that it’s a bit of a free-for-all.)

In the past, we’ve made shirts with homemade iron-ons. We’ve also done tie-dye. This year: bleach Mickeys!

Boone sprayed all of our shirts, and I think he did the best with Jonah’s. What a little winner!

Mine… is… made with love. Made with love. Don’t fix love, Jennie, you don’t fix love.

This is an incredibly easy craft with only the following necessary supplies: non-white t-shirts, freezer paper, a printer (not entirely necessary, but it does make things easier), a spray bottle, and bleach. A full tutorial for this craft can be found here: Bleach Mickey T-Shirts

The Paper Ring Countdown

I’ll be honest, this craft  was inspired by the good old days of kindergarten. Cut construction paper into rings until you have enough for your countdown (as previously mentioned, we’re starting at 31). On previous trips, when we have done this craft, I would alternate black, red, and white paper rings (as we did again), but I’d embellish the rings in cute ways: black Mickey ears on the black rings, yellow “buttons” on the reds… and now I have two kids and summer just keeps happening, so we took Michael Scott’s advice and [KEPT] IT SIMPLE, STUPID.


We’ll rip off a paper ring each day and get ridiculously excited as the chain gets shorter.

Whatever kind of family vacation you plan for yourselves (and if it’s WDW, good for you!), know this: family vacations aren’t always relaxing. They aren’t the drink in your hand/toes in the sand vacations that parents in television shows seem to regularly take (where are your kids, huh guys?), but they can be FUN. You’ll be tired. You’ll be cranky sometimes. But, if you play your cards right, you’ll giggle and take pictures and not be responsible for making beds or cooking food for a week or so. 

Happy planning!

so you’re traveling to walt disney world!

If you’ve been following my Walt Disney World posts, you’ll know that I’ve written about a general overview to your Disney Parks vacation here and a more in depth look at the parks and the food here. Now that you have that Disney vacation in your sights, today’s posts will help make your travel and prep plans a little easier.

GETTING FROM POINT A (your house) to POINT B (Disney!)

What method of travel works best for you and your family? Car, plane, RV? Whatever method you choose, if you have kids in tow, entertainment is a must. Since we have, as a family, only traveled to WDW by plane, I’ll be focusing on this method. If you are getting there in a different way, however, you can adapt some of these travel tips so they work better for you.

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Boone’s first trip to WDW; yes, he was seven months old.

Our plane trip will consist of a two year old, a five year old, and two adults — along with the rest of the passengers on the plane. To make an attempt at peace, I’m working on “Plane Bags” — small backpacks/tote bags filled with quiet but entertaining plane activities. Some of the items will  be things we already own (Boone’s Kindle, for example), and some will be brand new (like a draw-your-own Pokemon book I found on zulily.com a couple of weeks ago). I’ll also include gum (for Boone) and suckers (for Jonah) to help with the flight ascent and descent. The kids will be given these bags at the airport and will know nothing about them ahead of time.

For that time when we just need some extra help, here are some free printables that I’ll be bringing along with us as well:

Traveling with Toddlers (Q’s to ask, BINGO)
Games to Play at the Airport

OF COURSE, despite your best efforts, kids will be kids. They’ll get bored. They’ll get hangry. (So might you.) I feel better going into a situation armed with goody bags and worksheets, because at my core I’m nothing if not premeditated (and I’m also a teacher).

WHAT TO PACK?!

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Pack stuffed animal friends, because you never know where they’ll end up after your room is cleaned…

There are a zabillion websites out there with tips on packing. Fit all of your belongings in a ziploc bag! Live exclusively out of your carry on! Literally hire movers to bring all of your earthly possessions to your resort for you!

…or something like that.

Look, if you’re here looking for things like “don’t forget clothes, a toothbrush, a bathing suit, shoes,” you’re out of luck. Except for that sentence right there. That one’s free. Instead, I’m throwing together a quick list of things that would be helpful to have at Disney that you may not think to bring. Ready? Here goes.

-Ponchos: Orlando is prone to frequent mid-day rainstorms, especially at specific times of the year. There are plenty of ponchos available at the parks, but they will cost you. The ones you can pick up at your local dollar store will work just fine (and you won’t feel too bad about wadding it up and throwing it away after you’ve used it, because I’ve never met one person who can actually refold a poncho to it’s original size). Bonus: people hide under awnings in rainstorms. Put on your $1 poncho and hit rides without waiting!

-Glow in the Dark stuff: You can buy this stuff EVERYWHERE — especially during fireworks shows — but they cost a lot and are quickly forgotten. Pick these up at the dollar store when you’re buying your ponchos.

-A spray bottle: Florida is hot. Grab one of these to mist yourself with coolness when the sun is showing no mercy. Also spray your kids. They love it.

-A refillable water bottle: Make use of the many drinking fountains around the parks and keep yourself hydrated without buying drinks (or using snack credits). In the past I’ve brought a Brita Water Bottle with its own filter to keep my water tasting the best.

-Breakfast bars: We usually eat breakfast in our room at the resort before hitting the parks because 1) it’s a time and money-saver and 2) some of us get hangry if we don’t eat within ten minutes or so of waking up (guilty).

THE WAITING…

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Truthfully, I don’t craft often, but when I do… it’s for Disney.

It’s the hardest part. I know. Believe me, I know. Once you’ve booked the trip and you’ve started making goody bags and stockpiling glow-in-the-dark bracelets, you will want to get moving! But unless you’ve booked a trip in the very near future, you’ll be waiting. And you’re still waiting now, because next week I’ll have some fun activities and crafts to help pass the Disney waiting time!

Sending nothing but magical wishes your way…

so you’re going to walt disney world!

Now that you’ve read all about my personal love affair with WDW and the nitty gritty details to planning your own vacation, now it’s time for the fun stuff (OK, you got me, it’s all fun stuff): PARKS and FOOD!

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You’ve got a friend in these three (brb weeping)

THE PARKS!

Walt Disney World is divided into four major theme parks: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Each of these parks is a world in and of itself; it will be impossible to see everything in each park in a day, or even a trip. I’ll take a little time to tell you about each park and the goodness it entails.

Magic Kingdom — this is the iconic land you think of when you hear “Disney World” (or Disneyland for that matter — the Magic Kingdom in Florida is modeled after the original park in California). From the main entrance, you walk down a nostalgic “Main Street” in the shadow of the majestic Cinderella’s Castle. The park splits off into several different themed areas with a variety of rides, shows, and shops. Fantasyland has recently expanded, and it, along with the semi-new Storybook Circus area, is wonderful for children of all ages (but especially littles!). Here you’ll find the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, kid-sized roller coasters, and several kid-friendly characters. You may find the Magic Kingdom to be the busiest park depending on when you go because there is a general opinion that it is the best park for kids. While this is a great park for kids, so is…

EPCOT — or the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. This is divided into two main sections, the World Showcase and Future World. Future World is science-themed, and kids will absolutely love experimenting at Innoventions or talking to Crush from Finding Nemo in the Living Seas. The World Showcase has food and customs from a variety of countries around the world. To make the most of Boone’s cultural experience on our next trip, we are asking him to meet a different cast member from each country and learn how to say “hello” in their native language and share one interesting fact about their country. When we visit (in September), the annual Food and Wine Festival will be taking place, so Jason and I will be eating and drinking our way around the world while Boone soaks up knowledge. Everybody wins!

Hollywood Studios — Although my answer changes by the minute, I think Hollywood Studios is my favorite park. It is themed with a vintage Hollywood vibe, and I love classic movies, so The Great Movie Ride, a ride that “drives you through” several iconic movies (including my personal favorite, The Wizard of Oz), is one of my favorites. There are also some Disney Junior shows here, and since I have little kids now, we’ll certainly be looking for some of our favorite characters. The fireworks show in this park is called Fantasmic! — and it is truly a spectacle. Fireworks, water works, animation, characters — this one has it all. It will keep even the sleepiest toddler (or mama) awake and happy at the end of the day.

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What can I say? Disney takes a lot out of you when you’re 2… or 30.

Animal Kingdom — This is the newest park, and it, along with Hollywood Studios, are generally my “one day” parks. I can usually see all I want to see in one solid day (note “all I want to see” and not “every tiny little thing”), whereas I may want to revisit Magic Kingdom or EPCOT to feel satisfied. The Animal Kingdom is NOT a zoo — but you will find many animals of all kinds here! There is a safari ride and several trails packed with interesting animals and lots of fun facts. Additionally, there is a dinosaur land (which is fantastic for my little dino-lovers!) and a truly spectacular roller coaster (Expedition Everest).

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I am never ashamed to admit that I love me some turkey leg.

THE FOOD!

Disney does many, many things well — and food is absolutely no exception. Snacks are available at almost any section of the parks, and unlike some theme parks, Disney does allow you to bring in your own food. (They’ll inspect your bags at the main entrance of each park, but they aren’t looking for your goldfish and graham crackers, fear not.)

For meals, if you want to eat in the parks (and you do!), your options are quick service or table service meals. The quick service are the WDW fast food option, and the prices are higher than your typical fast food — $10-$15 a meal. The portions are huge and easily shared, however. The table service meals can cost quite a bit more, but in the past we’ve only chosen one or two table service meals (because in addition to costing more, the “meal experience” takes longer than the quick service meals, and you generally leave feeling… quite full (and if not, congratulations on your restraint!).

One nice option for all of you planners is the Disney Dining Plan (DDP). You pay a set amount when you purchase your accommodations and tickets, and each member of your party has set meals or snacks for the day. So by the time you visit the parks, you aren’t shelling out cash for food — all of your meals are prepaid. There are different options here — the quick service plan has two quick service meals and a snack for each person in your party for the day. The standard plan has one quick service meal, one table service meal, and one snack for each person per day. The deluxe plan has three quick service OR table service meals as well as two snacks per day.

That is a lot of food. But no judgies.

I’d like to take a moment to point out that many “snacks” can serve as full meals (or at least a very filling pick-me-up) and that, as previously mentioned, portions are huge. When we are visiting in September, we are receiving the standard dining plan free with our stay (we chose to pay to upgrade from the free quick service plan, actually). I can already tell you we will leave WDW fuller than we were when we first arrived. This will also be our first trip wearing Fitbits, though… so I fully plan to let all of my Disney steps justify the eating.

MUCH more excellent food info can be found at www.disneyfoodblog.com. Just don’t visit the site hungry… you’ll see what I mean.

THE OTHER STUFF!

WDW has two water parks that I have personally never visited, but if you’re a water play fan, I’d encourage checking out Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. These parks are not included in your park hopper tickets; you’d have to specifically add the “water parks” option.

And for Disney fun without paying any sort of admission, check out Disney Springs (formally Downtown Disney)! There’s lots of shopping (including a year-round Christmas shop… I’m a fan) and restaurants as well as entertainment and performers. If you want a break from lines and rides but still want some Mickey Mouse in your day, Disney Springs is the place for you.

Whew! I hope today’s installment has helped your Disney-thoughts come together a bit more. While I’m not a “real expert,” I’d be happy to answer any Disney Q’s you may have (about traveling with little kids or not!). Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks for reading! Next week — travel tips and what to pack!

so you’re thinking about walt disney world!

I can’t believe I’m writing about Walt Disney World.

Background: I love Walt Disney World. I love it so much that I like to formally call it “Walt Disney World” instead of “Disney World” when I’m talking about it in general. Let’s pay our full respects to Mr. Walter Elias Disney, shall we? My first trip to WDW (as I’ll likely refer to it from here on out, but please continue to read “Walt Disney World” if you don’t mind) was back in 1998. I was in middle school. You may think that I was ~too cool~ for a family trip at that stage in my life, but let me assure you, I’ve never been too cool for anything in my life ever.

I knew right as I waltzed through those Mickey adorned trellises in my shockingly white keds (fake keds) that I was entering someplace special. Every single employee (or cast member, as they are referred) was 100% in. Nobody was mentally checked out. Nobody appeared bored. Every person working was happy, engaged, and smiling like I’d never seen people smile before in their life. As an awkward preteen at the precipice of the real world, I was thrilled to be at a place where reality seemed incredibly far away. I’ve never really lost that feeling.

The first time Boone went to WDW, he was seven months old. The second time, he was two. The third time, he was also two.

Boone’s first race was at WDW, of course.

The fourth time, he’ll be five, and Jonah will be two.

You could say I have a problem. But I don’t! I have a solution! A solution to the harsh realness of everyday life.

You could also say I’m being melodramatic and I should probably visit a national park sometime. I DO THAT TOO, OK! Let’s just pretend this obsession is perfectly normal and makes perfect sense.

And now to the crux of the post: So you’re thinking about going to Walt Disney World!

I won’t try and convince you this is the vacation for you (it is). I will simply pass along my advice and you can choose to accept, ignore, or third party your way through this advice in the way of your choosing. I’m not an official WDW Travel Agent (though you’ll hear from one later in the series).  I’m just a girl, standing in front of a mouse, asking him to recognize her love. Let’s dive in.

WHEN TO GO?!

WDW is alive in Spring, when flowers are blooming and trellises are shaped like Lightning McQueen. WDW is hauntingly perfect in Fall, when Mickey jack-o-lanterns adorn basically every open space. WDW is magical at Christmas, with trees and decor that would make even the smallest Grinch heart grow three sizes.  WDW is crazy in the summer because the entire world is there and the air is so humid you can basically eat it but it is STILL wonderful because they do not skimp on the A/C.

So… When can you go? You can have a fantastic vacation regardless of the time of year. If you can swing it, I would recommend trying to go during “non-peak” times. This may mean pulling your kids out of school (if they are in school) or staying home on Spring Break to save money for a vacation in September. Or February. Not only are lines shorter and shorter crowds smaller during the non-peak times, but it is during these times when Disney is prepared to offer its greatest discounts, one of the favorites being free dining.

Yes, free dining means your meals are free. The amount of free meals you receive depends on where you’re staying (unless you choose to upgrade the plan you’re comped), but believe me, Disney food does not disappoint. Instead of raving about it here, I’m going to refer you to The Disney Food Blog, where you can get lost for a hours in a virtual wormhole of Dole Whips, Mickey pretzels, cupcakes, Mickey waffles, and any other snack your heart didn’t even know it wanted. And you’ll hear more about Disney food next week!

The catch… to earn free dining (or many other Disney-offered discounts), you have to stay on the Disney property. Which leads us to…

Jason enjoying a “LaFou’s Brew” in the Magic Kingdom.

WHERE TO STAY?!

Seriously though, you should stay on property. There are various “levels” of resorts, from value to deluxe. The value resorts will still run you $100-$200 a night, depending on season. Moderate resorts are generally $150-$300, and Deluxe resorts generally start around $300 and climb from there. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, and the good people at AllEars have a fantastic website for accommodations (and just about everything else, if you’re getting really deep into trip planning), so check them out if you want more detail (and lots of pictures!).

For what it’s worth, Jason and I stayed at a moderate resort on our honeymoon (oh yes, we are those people… Come on, are you really surprised?) but every other time we have stayed at a value resort. The moderate and deluxe resorts are gorgeous and quiet, but when it comes down to it, we’re only using our room to collapse in at the end of the day. The value resorts serve that purpose well.

Staying at a Disney resort has other benefits — all transportation is covered for your stay, including a complimentary bus ride to and from the Orlando airport. Those staying on property can also easily send souvenirs back to their rooms free of charge and enjoy extended park hours.

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY?!

This comes down to what you can make work. I would recommend — at the least — a four day park hopper pass, if you want to see it all (in general). You have options when buying tickets — a “base ticket” allows you to visit one park (non-water park) per day. A “park hopper” allows you to visit multiple (non-water) parks in a day. One day ticket prices seem steep (and they aren’t cheap, I’m being honest), but the ticket prices become more reasonable the longer you stay. For an adult during “regular season” (March 11-31, May 27-31, June 1-30, July 1-23,  November 20-27, and December 2-31) a one-day ticket costs $117.15, but for a four day pass, the cost is $346.13, making each “day” cost roughly $86. More info on ticket prices can be found at The Mouse for Less.

So are you hooked yet? Mildly interested? Already a Disney fan looking for a fix wherever the Internet will give you one? Tune in next week for a more in depth look at the individual theme parks inside Walt Disney World and a brief glimpse at the joy and delight that is WDW FOOD!

Thanks for indulging my fantasy to write about Walt Disney World. Have a magical day!