what i learned on my summer vacation

what i learned on my summer vacation

It’s officially back to school time for us. My big kid started today, and my little kid starts tomorrow. Second grade and preschool, respectfully. I kind of thought by the time I sat down to write this post it would be full of HALLELUJAHs and WOOHOOs, but you know what? It’s bittersweet.

Weird, I know.

I love school. I particularly love back to school. There are some kids who thrive in being away, being social and interactive outside the home, and my kids are those kids. I can plan fun summer activities every single day until I collapse (which is usually the case) but it’s always more fun when someone else does the planning. So you could say we’ve been ready for the first day of school since… the last day of school.

I started summer thinking that it would be awful. That despite our fun planned activities, our house would be a tornadic disaster (check), kids would complain about our fun planned activities (check), bedtimes would be a joke (check check) and I would generally hate summer (…not check).

I love my kids. I feel like that’s a necessary thing I should say. But I’m a full time stay-at-home-mom married to a doctor with a crazy schedule. …and I’m an introvert. To sum up: mama needs a break.

But I am premeditated, so I went into summer with lists and plans and dreams and goals. And yes, my house was a mess, and my kids complained, and bedtimes were insane, but we sucked the marrow out of summer. We swam, biked, ran, camped, played, snuggled, read, drew, fished, boated, watched movies, ate snacks, roasted marshmallows and hot dogs over a bonfire, had picnics, and, honestly, we had fun every day.

Don’t get me wrong: some days I wanted to rip my hair out. Some days I wanted to find that swear word book about going the BLEEP to sleep and read it with a ferocious intensity. Some days we watched more screen time than is recommended. Some days we stayed in pajamas all day.

If this doesn’t sum up summer in one photo though…

I think my problem with summer is that well, for one, I don’t like being hot. But for two, it’s an up close and personal reminder of how big my kids are getting. The first time we go to the pool, I’m reminded at how much better they can swim this year. The first time we mini golf, I’m blown away at how quickly they can sink the ball. I know these changes take place over the school year also — and to some extent, exclusively — but when we’re doing the same summer activities year after year, it’s like a real life time hop. I see them this year and I can see every year that came before. And it’s a lot for my heart to handle.

So I have decided, my new plan for summer vacation is to overdose on it. To continue to do ALL OF THE THINGS so that during the cold school year the memories of our fun can keep me warm.

But for now, I will leave the planning up to the teachers, I will trust others to protect and care for the hearts of mine that live outside of my body. I’m sitting in a quiet, clean house, drinking coffee and enjoying the quiet.

But also… I kind of miss the noise.

how to survive your summer in 51 easy steps

1. Make a plan called “How to Have the Best Summer Ever!”

2. Realize on the second day of summer that your plan is garbage.

3. Make a new plan called “Our Carefree Summer!”

4. Don’t tell everyone that your new summer plan is actually called “Dear God help us I miss the structure.”

5. Send your three year old back to his room every morning at 6:00 am.

6. Purchase a fancy color-changing clock for your three year old that will glow green when he is allowed to leave his room in the morning.

7. Say “Stay in your room until your clock is green” every five minutes starting every morning at 6:00 am.

8. Coffee.

9. If June: buy expensive mineral sunscreen and have your children stand like statues while you slather it on like spackle.

10: If July (or mid to late June, whenever you crack): buy cheap spray sunscreen and mist in your child’s general direction. Ask them lovingly to “close eyes and pinch noses.”

11. Just come to terms with the fact that sand will be everywhere.

12. Cry a little bit when you see the first back-to-school display.

13. Cry a little harder when your six year old learns super soakers are a thing.

14. Wine.

15. Teach your kids that the “S Word” is “Snack,” and we do not swear.

16. Glance into your child’s room to see clothes and sand and toys and books and bedding everywhere. Then say a different kind of “S Word” and just shut that door. Shut the door.

17. Try not to look too excited when your kid says he’s tired. “Do you want to TAKE A NAP DO YOU WANT TO TAKE A NAP?” Nope, he’s good now.

18. Visit every park that’s ever existed. Pack every vegetable and cracker and fruit you’ve ever owned. Listen to children complain about being bored and hungry.

19. Attempt to put your child to bed when the sun is still very high in the sky.

20. Try to explain daylight savings time and end up crying and exclaiming that it really, truly is bedtime, no matter what it looks like outside.

21. More wine.

22. Curse the “young adults” next door who are being loudly unsupportive of your belief that it is, in fact, bedtime.

23. Send your kid back to his room.

24. Send your kid back to his room.

25. Send your kid back to his room.

26. Go to sleep.

27. Wake up; send your kid back to his room.

28. Make a mental note to research how tiny humans function with so little sleep. You never will, though. You’re too tired!

29. Buy school supplies far too early. Think about teachers. Mentally send them a fruity cocktail. They earned it, man.

30. Start planning activities that are an hour or two away, just for the air-conditioned kid-buckled driving time.

31. Watch your kid swim the entire length of the pool underwater, when last year he wouldn’t even go down the slide.

32. Realize that summers really go pretty fast, even if sometimes they seem kinda long.

33. Remember it’s your three year old’s last summer before he starts school — preschool, sure — but school nonetheless.

34. Watch your six year old ride a bike without training wheels, after summers of complete bike apathy.

35. Sit in the grass with your kids and catch fireflies long after they should be in bed.

36. Think “this summer thing isn’t so bad.”

37. Get up too early, stay up too late, overplan the warm July days you have left.

38. Vow to do the same when it’s August.

39. You’ll sleep when you’re dead, anyway.

40. (Or when school starts.)

41. (Or when daylight savings time FINALLY ENDS.)

42. Stop rolling your eyes when people say, “oh, they’re only young once.” Even though they’re actually young for like 12-18 years or however you want to gauge it.

43. I mean, they are only young once.

44. At least, they’re only six and three during summer once.

45. So decide to just “soak it all up.”

46. Except for the sand.

47. I mean, you’ll soak that up anyway without even trying.

48. Maybe invest in some industrial strength blackout curtains.

49. Buy lots of coffee and wine.

50. Embrace your summer fully.

(51. And pray for all of the teachers. Their time is coming. You know it, I know it, they know it; pray, just pray, just pray.)

Happy summer to all, and to all a good bedtime. (Or wine.)

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!