Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bento: Halloween

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Disney with Kids: Checklist & Packing List for Parks - Part 5

Today's post is super short so that it's an easy at-a-glance reference.  

Emergency Kit for EVERY Day:
Keep these items together so you know you have them.

  1. Sunscreen
  2. Anti-bacterial Soap
  3. Baby wipes (even if you don't have babies, these can be a life saver with spilled drinks, dripping ice cream, etc.)
  4. Tide-2-Go pen
  5. Band-Aids
  6. Miniature sewing kit (yes, really)

Daily needs:
Each day, you will need to pack and check for these items.
  1. Park Passes!
  2. PhotoPass or PhotoPass+ card(s)
  3. Sunglasses/hats
  4. Insulated drawstring backpack for snacks, drinks, and lunches (lays flat when empty)
  5. Water bottles / Sippy cups as appropriate
  6. Snacks
  7. Lunches
  8. Goody or treat for the kids (activity, special snack, pin/button, etc.)
  9. External battery charger for phone
  10. Extra batteries and memory sticks for your camera - before you pack your camera for the day, take a picture of your children so you have an image of what they are wearing, etc. in case they wander off.
  11. Identifying phone number on/for your children (ID bracelet, wrist band, sharpie on upper arm, business card in their pocket, etc..)
  12. Discuss a location as soon as you arrive at the park to discuss meeting locations in case you get separated.

As needed:

  1. Emergency Ponchos (cheap in WalMart or Target in camping departments)
  2. Extra clothes for little ones for accidents OR for after water rides
  3. Extra bag for wet/soiled clothes
Need to book?
If you haven't booked your Disney vacation yet, I would LOVE to help you!  I am an Authorized Disney Vacation planner (in addition to being a mom of 3 munchkins.)  You can check out my website or Facebook page to contact me.  

Other Disney trip topics:
Where to Stay
Preparation & Packing
Tickets, Schedule, & Parks
DIY Autograph Books

All Disney posts.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Disney with Kids: Tickets, Schedule, & Parks - Part 4

There truly is so much to share and to learn to make the most of your trip, so I'm going to dive right back and and get to the nitty-gritty.

The first time we went to Disney, we bought the Park Hopper option with our tickets.  There is so much to do in every single park that there's no need to leave, make your way to a new park, go through the admission process to the 2nd park, etc.  It's an extra $59 per ticket, and with a family of 5, that's a nice little chunk of change.  However, if you are staying on property, it's a GREAT way to make use of extra magic hours and then hit a different park with smaller crowds.

Just for perspective, you need to understand that Disney World is over 40 square miles big.  That's twice the size of Manhattan!  This isn't something you do in a day.  There are over 70 miles of road within Disney World.
The day you arrive, it is likely that you don't have time to make it into one of the Parks.  After you settle in, do grocery shopping, or whatever is required, maybe head to Downtown Disney for dinner and ice cream.  There is plenty of excitement without the cost of an additional day's ticket and the hassle of admission and security checks.
Sharing ice cream at Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop in Downtown Disney
Phineas & Ferb challenge at Downtown Disney

When lining out your schedule, determine which parks you KNOW you want to see, and then possibly plan on an extra day to go back to your favorite park to either repeat your favorites or explore the things you didn't have the opportunity to on the first day.  

Disney transportation always takes a little longer than what you might expect; remember, the park is HUGE!

We have done Disney every day for 5 or 6 days straight, but we have found that taking a day off here and there can allow you to really enjoy your Disney time more.  On our days off, we may go through Downtown Disney (no entry fee), spend time in the Lego store, enjoy some ice cream, search for our Christmas ornaments (we get one from every trip,) or even head out to swim with the dolphins.  

Doing two or three full days of Disney is exhausting for everyone.  Some down time can really make the last few days more fun.  Our last trip was perfect for us.  

Day 1 - Arrival, groceries, settle in, dinner at the house
Day 2 - Epcot
Day 3 - Magic Kingdom
Day 4 - Hollywood Studios
Day 5 - Day "off" - Downtown Disney
Day 6 - Epcot
Day 7 - Day "off" - Thanksgiving dinner, laundry, packing, Disney movies for kids and football for my husband (We came home with CLEAN clothes instead of piles of laundry to boot!)
Day 8 - Fly home

Yes, you read that right, we chose to skip Animal Kingdom this time.  Everyone has their favorite parks, and one of my dear friends and I have differing opinions on this.  We LOVE Epcot (hence the 2 days for the massive park.)  My friend and her family LOVED Animal Kingdom, and Epcot was their least favorite.  I think some of it may have to do with the age of our kids, too.  Epcot has a ton to do for the bigger kids, and Animal Kingdom is great for the little ones.  More on the individual parks in a bit.

Most importantly (even if it's overwhelming), you really do need a PLAN/schedule.  Yes, you'll still need the willingness to be flexible based on the needs of your family, but if you don't plan ahead with what you need to take to Disney, what you need each day in the parks, how much you are willing to spend (and what is realistic), what things are most important for you to accomplish in the park, then you will be frustrated.  

Along those lines, if you see another Disney guest do something nice for you and your family, report it to the nearest Disney staff.  Disney is great about recognizing good deeds.  This is part of the Disney magic.  Also, if you give each of your kids the challenge to do something nice for someone else each day in the parks, the focus no longer becomes "Me! Me! Me!" but those around you.  Lead by example and extend that kindness to others; you may be surprised at the way it makes your trip even more magical.

The best day to go to a park is the day AFTER it has a late Magic Hour.  Many of the other guests plan to attend those parks when they are open longer.

When you navigate the park, consider starting toward your left.  We are programmed to "stay right" on roads, etc., but if you go left and work your way "backwards" around the park, you will be going opposite the traffic flow (and crowds.)  Of course, FastPasses will dictate when you need to be in certain parts of the Parks as well.

Morning - Park Arrival & Naps:
I recommend getting to the Disney Parks as early in the morning as you can.  (When they open is ideal.)  However, you know your kids - we do NOT wake ours up in order to start our Disney days.  If they are sleeping late and I wake them early, I'm setting myself up for a day of meltdowns and frustration.
Upon arrival to your first, pick up your FastPasses for the day (more below), and then redeem your voucher for your PhotoPass+ or pick up your PhotoPass(es) for the trip.  They had said that we couldn't combine PhotoPasses and PhotoPass+ cards, but at the end of the trip, they did. So even when my husband and I were split up with the kids, we were still able to use a free PhotoPass for "regular" pictures and the PhotoPass+ for rides and other pictures.  I'm not promising that they'll do it, but it worked out for us.  
If your kids can nap in a stroller, then by all means make that happen at the time that works best for your family.  (After lunch was our nap time.)  The adults would either push the stroller around for continued motion or sit down and put their feet up for a moment.  Alternatively, one of us would stay with sleeping children while the other took our oldest to do "big kid" rides.  Another option is to find out about "slow" and "dark" rides, because they can be just soothing enough to lull little ones to sleep.  We have a favorite for this at Epcot, Spaceship Earth, and we save it specifically for nap time. 

Night Time Spectacular Shows - How long to stay at the park? Have a plan in place and know the times for the Night time spectacular shows at the park.  For example, Hollywood Studios does Fantasmic twice at night.  We knew that we needed to make the early show, or our kids wouldn't last.  Also, know that Fantasmic is a little scary; no one told us that.  It can be terrifying for a toddler.  The Electric Parade at Magic Kingdom is great, but you need to arrive early if you want a good viewing spot.  These people are SERIOUS.  Epcot's IllumiNations is probably the easiest to see, and you have mobility while you watch it which is helpful when your littles are tired.  The Magic Kingdom's Wishes Nighttime Spectacular is a must, and you can see it from the ferry if you choose to leave immediately after the Electric Parade.  However, you can only see Tinkerbell's flight if you stand somewhere in the Cinderella Castle forecourt or on the surrounding bridges. 

Know what rides you want to do in each park and the height requirements for each.  As soon as you enter the park, have one person take the admission tickets for the number of people that will want to ride that ride to a FastPass kiosk if applicable.  If you have little ones that won't be able to ride the rides, you can also get FastPass tickets with their admission tickets and then others can ride twice in a row.  (Our oldest thought this was awesome!)  
Another thing to know is that Disney offers "Child Swap" or "Rider Switch" or "Parent Swap." No, you don't get to trade your kid or spouse in for a new one, but it does mean that you can ride a ride while your spouse stays with your kids.  Then when you finish the ride you hand the "Child Swap / Rider Switch Pass" (similar to a FastPass) to your spouse, your spouse can ride while you stay with your kids.  If you have a child that does want to ride and one that doesn't, the "riding" child can actually ride with both parents and ride twice.  

The Parks:

Random tidbit - they do not sell gum in any of the parks.  This is an effort to keep the parks clean.  Considering how many people come through the parks daily, they keep the parks immaculate!

Right when you enter the parks, there is an area with FREE special occasion buttons: First Time at Disney, Birthday, Anniversary, Family Reunion, etc. If anyone in your group hasn't been before, pick up a First Time Visitor button, and all week the Disney employees will congratulate you/her/him and ask how she/he is enjoying her/his first trip to Disney. Kids love the attention. Birthday buttons will get acknowledged with well wishes and sometimes with song. It is a lot of fun to watch!

If you made your own character Autograph Books and took my advice on noting where to find each character, then you've got a head start on making sure you meet your children's favorite characters.  When you enter the park, grab a little sheet that has all of the meet and greet times for the day.  The times CHANGE, so it's not something you can do too far in advance.  Make note of the "must meet characters" and work them into the schedule you've already made.  Don't worry about Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, or Goofy, because you will meet them either in Epcot or around each of the other parks.  Also, if you've scheduled a Character Meal, don't worry too much about those characters either, because they will come by your table to interact with the kids and sign books.

You'll definitely want maps of the parks, and this is a great way to customize the maps based on what's most important to your family or specific to certain trips.
Turk - before we realized the importance of PhotoPass so we could ENJOY the moments as they happened
Our sweet little man had picked up acorns to give to Chip & Dale on his
very first visit and carried them around with him until he met them.

Animal Kingdom is great for the little ones, but it is a really big zoo.  You can see a ton of animals in the exhibits and on the trails.  The Tree of Life is awesome and worth seeing.  For the big kids, Expedition Everest is a must.  For the little kids (unless they are easily scared), take them to see the 3D show It's Tough to be a Bug!
The Boneyard seemed like a great idea to let our (then) almost 4 year old run and play (mind you this was only ONE child.)  We had 2 adults there to watch him as he entered on one end and then "catch" him to follow him on the other.  He disappeared.  It.was.terrifying.  I approached a Disney cast member, and she wasn't much help.  We frantically called for our son and finally found him happily playing, but I will *not* take my 3 kids in there by myself.  Call me "chicken."
There are a ton of educational opportunities within this park, and for that I did like it.  Our experience in Rafiki's Planet Watch was great, and it is definitely worth the Wildlife Express Train ride to get over there.  Just be sure to do it earlier in the day, because that section of the park closes early.
Recommended Nap Time Ride: Wildlife Express Train (~10 minutes) or Kilimanjaro Safaris (~20 minutes)

Our oldest made silly faces in almost every single family picture during the trip.
It was chilly enough at night in November to put jackets on all of the kids.
Magic Kingdom is a must if you've never been to Disney because of Cinderella's Castle alone.  With the newer additions to the park, this one remains relevant.  
Fairytale Hall is the only place I saw with FastPasses for character meetings (Cinderella and princesses), and I wish I had realized it BEFORE we stood in line for an hour.
Shopping on Main Street is still a must!  It's a small town feel and great fun - candy shop and all. 
Similarly, who can resist the giant Prince Charming's Regal Carousel?  
Country Bear Jamboree is one of the very last attractions that Walt Disney personally helped develop, so although certainly not my favorite (or that of my children), it was interesting to see once.
Mickey's PhilharMagic 3D show is one that my kids all love.  Seeing them reach out to "touch" the show is always awesome, because the magic is so real. 
Under the Sea had an early reveal that we were able to see, and they did a great job with the "wait" portion for the ride.  There were so many cool things to see during your time in line that you didn't mind waiting for the ride.  People were actually stopping to watch elements along the "line" even when there weren't people in front of them.
Space Mountain is a must for the thrill seekers!  This is one that with your PhotoPass+ you can get your pictures for free.
Pirates of the Caribbean is a little scary, so be warned.
If you don't have girls, this park may be your least favorite, but it's still worth seeing once.  
(They do sell alcohol in The Magic Kingdom now, too.  For years it was the only one that did not.)

Silly faces continue...
There is SO much to see and do in EPCOT that you could easily spend 2 days in this park alone.
Be sure to stop at the Character Spot to ensure that you get autographs and pictures with all of the major Disney characters.
If you have kids that are 5 years old or older, then Agent P's World Showcase Adventure can make the World Showcase much more fun and educational for them.  (There's not truly an age limit, but it's certainly targeted at 7-13 year olds.)  Your child will get a small cell phone and a secret agent name at one of the designated locations.  They will receive directions and clues, and at each successful step in the mission, the world around them will interact with them when they aim their spy phone at the "find."  It makes the details around them truly come to life and seem a bit more magical for the "too cool for school" age kids.
Kidcot Fun Stops can make the World Showcase more fun for even the little ones.
Journey into Imagination with Figment is a great little exploration ride and then interactive experience for little kids.  I didn't know who Figment was the first time we went, but I made sure to take the twins (by myself) last time while my husband and older son did Mission: Space. 
Mission: Space is definitely a thrill ride.  I love rollercoasters.  This is not a rollercoaster.  I've ridden it once.  I'  My husband and son LOVE it.
Soarin' is a great "ride," and although it isn't a 'coaster, it's still one of my personal favorites.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends is good for the little ones and Turtle Talk with Crush can be pretty funny, too.  While doing that, grab a picture inside the shark, watch the diver in the tank, and look at the aquariums.
Beyond what you SEE at Epcot, there are so many other things to DO.  Are you interested in cheese?  Take a cheese class!  What about wine pairings or mixology?  They do that, too!
Each country has at least one restaurant that is themed with their native cuisine, and many of them require reservations (French and Canadian always seem to be booked.)  The French restaurant, Chefs de France, is fabulous, and Ratatouille makes appearances as well.  We have had a black & tan on the patio of the Rose & Crown Pub in England and had wood-fired pizza in Italy at Via Napoli. We've had a margarita in Mexico, too.
Slow down and enjoy it!  There is entertainment around every corner, so even if you have an idea of what you want to do next, don't miss out on magical moments and discovery.
If you can stay for IllumiNations, it's worth it!
Recommended Nap Time Ride: Spaceship Earth or Living With The Land

Snow White made the entire trip magical because of this one interaction.
We had missed her the day before, and she wasn't even in a character spot, but when she
saw me telling our daughter, "There she is!" Snow White didn't miss a beat.  She said, "Hello, Princess,"
took her hand and led her to a quiet spot to talk to her, take pictures, sign her autograph book, and she even kissed
her cheek.  Our daughter didn't want to wash her face.  She pressed her cheek to the autograph page to "save" it, and then decided she could also share it with her brothers by pressing her cheek to theirs.  *heart melted*
Hollywood Studios:
I think this park is often overlooked.  It is smaller than the others, but it has some really great attractions.  If you book far enough in advance, you can even have dinner with an Imagineer.
Studio Backlot Tour is definitely worth seeing.  It's a behind the scenes look at special effects, and it takes you through waterfalls, fire, etc.  
If you like the special effects, you may also want to see the extreme stunt show, Lights, Motors, Action!, that even our 3 year old enjoyed. 
If you have little ones (Disney Jr. age), then you'll want to go to Disney Jr. Live On Stage.  The last time we went, the lines were incredibly long, and twice they cut the line short before we got up there, so if the line is short, jump in it!
Rock'n'Roller Coaster is a must for the thrill seekers.
Toy Story Midway Mania is a favorite for ALL ages.  If you ask everyone to agree on one ride, this one is it.  Be sure to get a FastPass for the 4-D moving target experience.
If your kids love the 3D shows where they reach out to "touch" the characters on screen, then head over to MuppetVision.

Need to book?
If you haven't booked your Disney vacation yet, I would LOVE to help you!  I am an Authorized Disney Vacation planner (in addition to being a mom of 3 munchkins.)  You can check out my website or Facebook page to contact me.  

Other Disney trip topics:
Where to Stay
Preparation & Packing
DIY Autograph Books

All Disney posts.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Disney with Kids: Preparation and Packing - Post 3

There is no getting around the fact that a Disney trip is expensive.  We feel like it has been worth every penny in regards to the experience and the magic as we watch our kids.  That doesn't mean we can't be smart about making every detail special.
I talked about the actual travel activities and goodies, but what about while at Disney?   There are SO many items that your kids will want, and they add up!  Even though you may splurge on items while there, it's nice to have a few "treats in your back pocket" that make the budget go a little further.

In the months leading up to our trip, I scoured stores and the internet and watched for sales on pajamas, shirts, glitter hairspray, face jewels, princess costumes and shoes, tiaras, Disney pins, glow sticks, stickers, and plush Disney characters.  Sound excessive?  It wasn't.

Before we left for Disney, we got Mickey and Minnie plush characters for the kids.  To bring as little attention to our son's need for sensory input, I chose to fill Mickey with weighted pellets instead of bringing a weighted lap pad.  I carefully took out about 2 inches of stitching in his bottom, and I pulled the stuffing from his body, legs and feet.  I used a funnel to fill him with weighted poly pellets, and I sewed him back up.  Because he weighed so much, we had to carry him on the plane instead of checking him, but it was good to have him for the flight, too.
The twins in their sock monkey pajamas with Minnie and weighted Mickey Mouse before leaving our home for Orlando.
Knowing that the day we arrived in Orlando, we wouldn't actually "do" Disney but rather get groceries, settle in to the house, and try to get a good night's rest, we gave the kids new Disney pajamas.  The excitement was almost too much to contain.

Folding and then rolling shirts up with the design facing out and tying it up with a ribbon makes for pack-able gifts. We ordered customized Mickey shirts (and matching pants for our daughter) from StealingKisses  for the entire family: we had Perry the Platypus, Mickey and Minnie Mouse shirts.
Shirts (and Zebra pants) from Stealing Kisses.  Notice the red and black Mickey shirt has Mickey Mouse's autograph on the shoulder after our character meal with Mickey.
As awesome as the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is, we weren't going to be doing that daily, so I brought glitter hairspray, face jewels, new princess dresses, glittery ballet flats, and a tiara.  This allowed her to be dressed as a princess almost every day.  It meant that I spent a little extra time getting her ready in the morning, but it was so worth it!  (Book your princess's BBB appointment as soon as you book your trip.  They fill up months ahead of time.)
She was completely starstruck after Snow White kissed her on the cheek.
She wanted to "save" it, so we pressed her cheek to her autograph book page.  She decided then that she could also share it with her brother, so she pressed her cheek to his.

 On her way to meet Cinderella with her autograph book in hand.  Talk about Disney Magic!
Just so you know, we did see "boy" characters as well.  
We bought glittery ballet flats in black, silver, and gold to match all of her clothes for the week.
Do you plan on staying for some of the awesome night time shows at the parks?  Hollywood Studios' and Disneyland's Fantasmic, Magic Kingdom's Electric Parade, Wishes Nighttime Spectacular, Epcot's IllumiNations are all shows in the dark.  You can buy a tube of 10 glow bracelets for $1 at Michaels; pass them out just before all of the vendors break out their glowing flashing items.

Throughout the parks, the kids will be offered character stickers (see the round Mickey sticker on the Mickey Mouse page below.)  The first trip, we tried to coordinate them with the autograph page of each character in the small Disney Autograph Book that we purchased at Disney.  This last trip, the kids put them either in their custom autograph books or on their shirts or where ever else suited them that day.  A sheet of Disney stickers for the kids to adorn their autograph books is an inexpensive "treat" and activity for any time - whether still at the Parks or waiting in the airport for the flight home.
The Autograph Books I made on my computer in Publisher and had bound at an office store.
Read how I made them HERE.
If you're crafty, you can make pins or necklaces for the kids with their favorite characters.  If you aren't (or just don't have the time,) check Etsy!  

Are you taking (or renting) a stroller for Disney?  Although they have a decent system in keeping the hundreds of strollers fairly organized, I would encourage you to take something to easily mark your stroller.  Whether you make signs and laminate them that say "This stroller belongs to LAST NAME family" or if you just bring a brightly colored scarf or bandana, it will make your life easier.  If you choose to make signs, laminate them.  Why make 2?  Because if it does rain, even with lamination, it's possible that it will be ruined.  You can attach them to the stroller with gift wrapping/curling ribbon.  Use brightly colored paper for your sign to stand out even more, and put your cell phone number in a smaller font on the back of the sign for further identification.

If you are telling your kids about the Disney trip before you go, you may consider finding someone to do "Fairy Godmail" for you.  Essentially, you have someone send your kids a postcard from their favorite Disney character saying, "I can't wait to see you!"  or what ever you want.  Then, when you go, you can pay it forward and do the same for someone else.  Please remember to be safe about giving out your children's names and your mailing address.  *Note: It is easier to find postcards in Orlando at the stores than it is at DisneyWorld.  So, be sure to pick them up when you're at WalMart or order some ahead of time.

My husband was in Florida for work a few months before our trip, so he brought back Mickey and Minnie ears, water bottles, etc. and said that Mickey and Minnie had sent them as a gift to let them know that they were excited about the kids coming to visit them.

Last, but certainly not least, plan on a PhotoPass or PhotoPass+ or MemoryMaker.  On our very first trip, I didn't know anything about autograph books or PhotoPass before arriving, and we missed some of those moments because of it.  If you're getting the PhotoPass+, you'll need to order it before you leave (with enough time for it to arrive to your home.) Disney photographers are positioned throughout the Disney Parks (and always at Character spots) to capture the most magical moments of your vacation.  When you buy PhotoPass+, you can have all your photos from the photographers throughout the parks plus some from specific character meals and rides. You are able to enjoy the moments - truly be present in those moments - without having to be the photographer and you can get everyone in the picture in the process.

Need to book?
If you haven't booked your Disney vacation yet, I would LOVE to help you!  I am an Authorized Disney Vacation planner (in addition to being a mom of 3 munchkins.)  You can check out my website or Facebook page to contact me.    

Next up: Tickets, Schedule, and Parks

Other Disney trip topics:
Where to Stay
Autograph Books

All Disney posts including Elf on the Shelf ideas.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Despicable Me: Twinkie Minions

Our family is doing a Despicable Me theme for Halloween, and I *had* to make a fun treat with the minion theme.  These cream-filled cakes are "painted" with yellow and blue candy melts, given candy eyes, drawn on with black icing, and given chocolate sprinkles for hair.  They came out SO cute! (If I do say so myself.)  Enjoy!

Disney with Kids: Where are you staying? Hotel? Disney Resort? Condo? House? - Post 2

You know you're going to take the family to Disney, but you need to pick dates and book your "home away from home" for your stay.  Every family's needs and wants are different, and I certainly know that importance of convenience, the overall price tag, or other needs will impact the decision as to what is right for YOU.

Disney property:
You start doing the research, and the convenience of staying at a Disney hotel or resort sounds fabulous: free shuttles from the airport, free transportation to the Disney Parks, have some of your Disney purchases delivered to your room, extra Magic Hours, Magic Bands, early reservations for restaurants, and resort entertainment.  Then, you see the price tag, and you don't want to have to put a lien on your house to afford this magical experience.  The transportation between resorts and parks (no, you cannot just walk from one to the other) is sometimes slow.  The buses DO drop you off right at the front doors, so there is no parking and walking/shuttling to the entrance.  Disney is great about accommodating food allergies as well, but it can also be a hassle if you need to go through that routine 3-4 times a day for 4-8 days.  They try to make it as easy as possible, but outlining each person's needs for someone else at every meal just isn't "easy" if you have several food allergies and special dietary needs within the group.  This also isn't conducive to making meals in your room or putting the little ones to bed before the adults go to bed unless you pay for a suite which can be upwards of $2K per night - UNLESS you stay in a cabin at Fort Wilderness which is an amazing option. Ultimately, this didn't seem like the "right" choice for our family with the kids still being so small and traveling with another couple, but we are really looking forward to it for our next trip!
Disney World Grand Floridian
Rental home or condo:
With VRBO and HomeAway, there are SO many options for places to stay.  We have selected different homes around Disney during our trips, and we have found some homes and areas that we love.  There are some that are less than 5 minutes to the gates of each Disney Park.  Many have strollers available for you to use during your time there.  Some have Disney themed bedrooms for the kids (but still nothing like a TRUE Disney hotel themed room.)  Most have pools (and legally required locks for child safety.)  Having separate rooms for the kids, a full kitchen, multiple bathrooms, etc. all are high on our priority list. We found all of this in a 6 bedroom only 2 miles from Disney for 9 days for roughly $1,500 (a week was $1,240 in low season, $1,350 in mid season - when we went, and $1,530 in high season.)  We shared the home with some friends of ours, so it was only about $750 for each family for NINE days.  Look at the listing and make sure that it has reviews, read them, and be certain you are not the very first renters.  We have never had any issues, but it's good to do your research.  Not all of the homes are in the best neighborhoods.  In fact, some of the rental homes are in some sketchy areas.
You will also need a rental vehicle with a house/condo, and the Disney Park parking lots are huge (but very well marked.)  I would encourage you to take a picture of the lot name you park in each morning or write it down.  We really like the flexibility of a rental and leaving the stroller in the car at night, being able to run to the store, etc. 
The Princess room at the last home we rented.
Spreadsheet I use to compare potential properties (will work with hotels and resorts, too.)  We were considering traveling with 2 other families which would have made the 6 bedroom home only $463 per family.  I shared this spreadsheet with the other families so that we could find something that fit everyone's needs, and then we selected our place together.
Having been to Disney before, we know how much our family can handle in a day and how many days we can go before we need a "day off."  We can do 2-3 days, and then we need an "off" day.
There is a Costco and several grocery stores, so come with your grocery list and meal plan to make it an easy stop upon arrival.  This is also a HUGE relief when you have little ones with food allergies; the constant stress of eating out for every meal is gone.
We had breakfast at the house every morning.  That left only 2 meals per day that would potentially be on Disney properties.
We packed lunches and snacks for most days.  I have a fold-flat insulated drawstring backpack that we ALWAYS take to Disney for lunches.  It's awesome, because it's a flat rectangle when not in use, but it can keep sandwiches or water bottles cold through lunch time.  One frozen bottle of water can act as your ice pack, and it can be the one you save for the latter part of the day.  You can find them on Amazon for about $10-$20.  If you don't want your sandwiches to get squished in a backpack, plastic pencil cases can hold 2 sandwiches.  We throw the whole thing in the "basket" under the stroller so fruits and crackers don't get beat up too badly.
With kids, snacks are a must! 
We eat a dinner or two at the house as well on days that we finish early or take a "day off."  Even if you don't love to cook, there are so many options for easy menu ideas that can save you a fortune when you want to really splurge on your other Disney Table Service meals while in the Parks

Character Meals:
As soon as you book your hotel/house/condo, figure out your preferred timeline and BOOK DisneyWorld character meals (here for Disneyland character meals) and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeovers in Magic Kingdom or Downtown Disney (here for Disneyland BBB.)  These book up WAY ahead of time, so if there's something you really want to do, book it early. You are able to book them 189 days before your trip if you are staying at a Disney property.  Even if you don’t get in when you call at first, keep calling! Set a reminder to call once a week in the months prior, and call daily the month of your trip.  Even while you are at Disney, call every day if you are looking for a specific reservation, because you may be able to get in.
*Please don't double book your meal reservations at multiple restaurants.  Although I completely understand that you don't truly know if you'll want Mexican food on Saturday night 6 months from now, when you book reservations at multiple restaurants, you take that opportunity away from other families.  Let's be respectful of others and spread the magic!  (Besides, now they charge you a fee for reservations that aren't cancelled 24 hours in advance.)
One thing we did on this last trip that I wish I had thought of sooner was to have the characters sign articles of clothing with their picture on it.  The characters will want Large pens or markers to hold, so be considerate of that even though small Sharpies are convenient for you, they aren't for puffy hands.  I digress....Our son was wearing a personalized Mickey Mouse shirt, and we had Mickey sign his shirt during our character meal.  You know exactly which characters you'll be meeting during that time, so it's a great opportunity to have them sign a shirt or hat or something that the kids can use often long after they return from Disney.  It also gives them something to show the character and "connect" during their meeting.  (More on personalized autograph books can be found here.  They were VERY well received by the characters and even allowed them to "talk" about "I remember you from last time!  You've grown SO much.")
The customized shirts the kids were wearing for the character meal (before Mickey came over.)
I bought them on Etsy - far left is Perry the Platypus, middle is Mickey Mouse, right is Minnie Mouse.
Once we had a general idea of where we were staying, we were able to plan out meals and create a budget.  This budget was more than generous for what we spent, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.  We didn't commit to reservations for all of our meals, but we knew how many meals we anticipated at home and how many at the parks.  Then, if the kids were "done" earlier than expected, it was okay.
Need to book?
If you haven't booked your Disney vacation yet, I would LOVE to help you!  I am an Authorized Disney Vacation planner (in addition to being a mom of 3 munchkins.)  You can check out my website or Facebook page to contact me.  
Next up - Disney with Kids: Preparation and Packing

Other Disney trip topics:
Where to Stay
Preparation & Packing
Autograph Books

All Disney posts.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Disney with Kids Tips & Tricks: Travel - Post 1

As a mom of 3 kids (and crazy enough to take them all to Disney World at the ages of 7 and barely 3) and a planner, many of my friends and acquaintances call to ask me about tips and tricks for traveling to Disney. I'm determined to put it all in writing to share with all of you who are trying to prep for a Disney experience.  
I'm not going to tell you what the most current app is for finding out the wait times for rides are - there are plenty of places to research that (and I used several), but I am going to share with you little tips that can save you money and sanity.

A little about us that may give you some perspective into our trips.  The first time we went to Disney World, the twins were only a twinkle in God's eye, and our oldest was 3 and a half.  The first time we took the twins, they were barely 3, and one has sensory processing disorder and several food allergies.  
You may wonder why we didn't wait until we were absolutely certain that the kids would remember all of it?  We wanted them to be able to enjoy all of the magic with the innocence of small children, and they DID!  We have pictures of the wonder as our oldest met his favorite character, our daughter (having just learned to skip) skipping through the parks in her princess dress, and our little guy looking up in awe at Mickey and Pluto.  I'm so glad we didn't wait.  We will go back next year which will make them 5, 5, and 9, and they'll remember it all, but it will be a new and different experience for each of us - no doubt another that we'll treasure for other reasons altogether.
Dog-pile on Daddy while at the airport
Let's start with how are you getting there:  Driving?  Flying?
We fly to Disney (but we have made other long road trips in the same time frame, so I have tips for those, too.)  It was our first time to fly with the twins, and they all still required carseats.  We flew Southwest because we had several free flights because of airline miles, but it also meant that we needed to alert the airline about the peanut allergy and that we bring EpiPens on board.

EpiPens  (non-issue if driving)
Many experts will suggest that you do NOT run EpiPens through airport security scanners.  IF you need to bring EpiPens on the plane, I would highly encourage you to make sure that they are the ONLY item(s) that the person bringing the EpiPens through aiport security carries.  Ultimately, because it hasn't been scanned and contains a liquid, security will pat down the EP carrier AND go through ALL of their belongings.  Because we didn't realize this, I was carrying a backpack full of carefully packed items to entertain, feed, and treat the kids on the plane ride as well as my personal items.  So even after I was checks, my shoes were sprayed and tested, the EpiPens examined,  Ugh.  So much for all of my careful planning and packing.  Note to self - do not EVER do that again.

Carseats (non-issue if driving)
If you do research regarding transporting carseats on airlines, you might find that they may suffer the same damage they would in a car accident.  When you've spent $250 per seat, you don't want to risk that kind of damage.  We wrapped them in bubble wrap, used packing tape, labeled them with our information, and tucked them each into an over sized trash bag used for yard debris.  Ours all came out just fine.  (I am not guaranteeing your results if you do the same.)

My husband and I went back and forth on this.  I wanted to gate-check the stroller so that we could more easily navigate the airport with the kids.  He didn't want to hassle with it, and he wanted to check it at the curb.  Ultimately, we chose to check it at the curb, and we survived.  We knew before we left that we would take our Sit-n-Stand stroller and leave it at the home we were renting.  They had a couple of strollers there, but we really wanted a double stroller for the twins.  We didn't expect to use it again much except for trips to Disney, and if it's no longer there when we go back, we won't be heartbroken.  You can also rent strollers at Disney for the time that you are there.  They are expensive, but it can also save you the hassle in the airport.  You can also rent them from an off-property company that will even deliver them to/pick them up from your hotel/resort.  Even if your kids are big enough to not need a stroller, having one to haul around everyone's belongings is awesome!  Adding a couple of stroller straps can also be helpful, just be mindful of the sign you'll be using to identify it. (More on that in Preparation & Packing.)
Cake pans, reward tickets, games, magnets, and activity buckets for long road-trips

You know your kids better than anyone else, but consider bringing items that they have NOT used before.  Maybe a new coloring book or lap-sized chalkboard from the dollar store?  A cookie sheet or cake pan full of magnets, magnetic "paper" dolls, or other activity.  Cookie sheets and cake pans can be great for the car or a plane, because they help keep items from rolling off into the floor, and you can nest multiple pans for multiple kids before passing them out for the trip.  It's also possible to paint them with chalkboard paint (just make sure you get the paint that works for metal surfaces) to create yet another way they can be used - think Tic-Tac-Toe, artwork, etc.  Here is a list of free printables to create your own activity book.  Of course, we all know how convenient an iPad or smartphone can be when it comes to appeasing little ones, but we like to save those for the end of the trip when everyone is most restless. 

Rewards & Tracking
Regardless of if you're driving or flying, consider picking up or making little "rewards" (stickers, new magnets, Bingo game cards for the whole family, word searches, puzzle erasers - a favorite in our family, etc.)  These can be passed out at timed intervals for good behavior, and it breaks up the trip into manageable time frames for the little ones.  When driving, we have implemented a ticket system for long drives.  Every hour, we would pass out a ticket for good behavior during that time, and an "bonus" tickets could be rewarded at any time for sharing with each other, etc.  Then, every 2-3 hours, I would open the "store," and the kids could trade in their tickets for rewards from the goody bag.  On an airplane, it is easier to forgo the tickets and just pass out rewards as needed; the tickets are more cumbersome across plane aisles and rows.
In addition to the rewards, we tied a ribbon from the back of the car to the front of the car along the passenger side and attached a cardstock car to the ribbon with modified paperclips.  The ribbon was marked in equal measurements, and the paper car started at the very back end of our vehicle.  As each hour (or 50 miles or other measurement) passed, we moved the car along the ribbon to the next mark.  Not only did the kids enjoy watching our progress, but I even found that my husband would reference the moving cardstock car to see how much further we had to go.  This eliminated the "are we there yet?" and "how much longer?" questions.  It was AWESOME.  In response to those questions (which only happened early on in the trip,) I would respond, "Where is the car?"  Eventually, they would say, "MOM!  Look!  We are soooo far from home!"  or "We are more than half way there!"  Ah, happy mom.  

Snacks, Treats
Depending on the age of your little ones, what foods you allow, and what your family's needs are, this should be catered to your family.  When considering snacks and treats to pack for the actual trip, be sure to have something that can help with ear-popping (jelly beans, Starburst, baby bottle, fruit chews, etc.)  Be sure that your snacks are easily portable and that you have kid cups with lids, because the airline cups with lids do not pass muster when it comes to little ones.  

Sensory Processing Disorder
I made a ton of magnets with pictures of the different activities we would encounter and bought a small magnetic dry erase board to create daily schedules.  I taped a ziploc bag to the back of the dry erase board to hold the magnets.  It made it easier to help discuss the day and expectations as well as make changes to the schedule quickly if needed while still providing an easy visual reference.  
We brought the Listening Therapy mp3 player and special headphones, a weighted vest, weighted blanket for sleeping, a weighted Mickey Mouse (more on that in a post about preparation and packing,) and all of his paperwork from doctors and therapists.

Need to book?
If you haven't booked your Disney vacation yet, I would LOVE to help you!  I am an Authorized Disney Vacation planner (in addition to being a mom of 3 munchkins.)  You can check out my website or Facebook page to contact me.  

Next up - Disney with Kids: Where are you staying? Hotel? Disney Resort? Condo? House?

Other Disney trip topics (more to come):
Where to Stay
Preparation & Packing
Tickets, Schedule, & Parks
Packing List for Parks
Autograph Books

All Disney posts (including Elf on the Shelf ideas.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bento: Finally Fall

It finally feels like fall here in Central Texas.  It's 55 degrees and raining this morning, and I *love* it!  I'm looking forward to being able to open the windows for the cool air.
The Laptop Lunch containers for today's lunch are filled with a potato bread sandwich (cookie cutter used for bat outline and colored with Wilton Food Writers), silicone cup with almonds and a leaf pick from, silicone cup with a homemade Pumpkin Maple and Cream Cheese Whoopie Pie.  I created dried apple "ghosts" (Wilton Food Writers) that are fun and SUPER easy, and the final container is filled with dried blueberries and a scarecrow pick also from ATFS.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lunch face

A sandwich cut in half and stacked with a pair of creepy eyes combined with apple slices turned jagged teeth create a lunch face. Dried blueberries with a stray eyeball and granola bar bites finish out this quick Laptop Lunch.

The twins were at home today for lunch, and I made ham, cheese, avocado, and lettuce sandwiches topped with a mango slice for a smile.  Silicone cupcake liners hold raspberries, applesauce, and googly eyes (rings and picks) from

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lunch: Out of Bread

Last night, I realized we only had 2 slices of bread left for today's lunches. This morning, we made pancakes, and we made some extras to use as bread. Some Wow Butter and honey made for some great impromptu sandwich treats. Fresh raspberries, yogurt covered pretzels, and Gogurts finish out these three lunches.
Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bento: October, Halloween, and Nut-free "Butterfinger"!

 I pulled down the Ziploc bag of Halloween pics, rings, etc. this morning!  The little man requested a ham and cheese sandwich, but they're always soggy if you make them ahead of time, so this is deconstructed.  The ham was patted dry and placed between the bread slices with a slice of cheese.  Lettuce (hiding a finger) and tomatoes are in separate containers.  Baby carrots (hiding a hand) and Gogurt are snacks, and the nut-free "Butterfinger" bite will be a special treat. (Nut-free "Butterfinger" = 1 jar Wowbutter + 1 lb. bag of melted candy corn mixed, cooled, cut + dip in melted chocolate.)  These are all tucked in Laptop Lunch containers with lids.

I'm sharing this one, not because I expect it to inspire you in any way, but rather to share my learning experience.  
The other day, we were running really late, so the Despicable Me minion is made with cheddar cheese and a food writer. (Our family is doing a Despicable Me theme for Halloween this year.) HOWEVER, I do NOT recommend trying to draw on cheddar.  I don't buy American cheese, because it isn't "cheese."  Unfortunately, American cheese is also a lot easier to decorate because of the moisture content.  I will be working on other Despicable me foods in the coming weeks, too.
Gogurt, fruit snacks, and a Nutri-Grain bar finish out this "we must go NOW" lunch.