Archive for 2013

Coping with the Sass - How?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I spend a LOT of time in the car. I rely on satellite radio and my own iTunes library to keep me entertained (relatively sane) in Boston traffic on 95/128 (whichever, whatever, they are both awful). I have been more than entertained lately listening to Disney related podcasts that I stumbled onto through Touring Plans. Some of these are seriously laugh out loud hysterical and if you are into The World like me, I highly recommend checking them out. I'll put some links over there on the sidebar.

During a recent Disney Hipsters podcast (episode 77) the topic of alcohol in the Magic Kingdom was hotly (not really) debated and while I am firmly opposed for my own reasons, Jaime argued that alcohol is quite necessary to manage a day in the parks with young kids. I was instantly transported in time back to 2011 to this wonderful moment frozen in time by my husband. Not sure why he took it, but there it is, forever etched in our family history. In fact, I thought about this moment (and others like it from that trip) and changed my twitter avatar the very next day, submitting it as Exhibit A for the PRO side.

Look at that sass. Really soak it in. Take note of the "I don't care what you are saying to me and I refuse to even point my body in your direction" shoulder toss. Please note the amazing Itzakadoozie popsicle in her hand after she has TWICE gone on Big Thunder Mountain. Check out that stellar parenting on my part. I executed that "finger point" all through that trip. It wasn't until our last night when we had a heart to heart with another young family in line for Pooh and Tigger that we realized we were not alone in this complete and utter disregard for respect, sass, frass, and in general looks like this:

Poor baby was waiting for Hollywood Studios to open so she could be ushered right onto Toy Story Mania. It was a really rough morning. I don't get it either.

So how to deal with the sass. There is plenty of stress associated with going to the happiest place on Earth and even though that just doesn't make any sense, it is unfortunately very true. Planning and execution, every step of the way littered with pixie dust land mines. WDW4Families,another podcast of the now retired Touring Plans Podcast Network, covered this pretty comprehensively in Episode 38.

The lethal combination of stress and young children with a dash of Florida heat just for giggles makes this perhaps the most challenging family vacation you will ever have. You need to prepare for your children to run amok, to refuse to go on ANY rides (true story), to have eyes only for the pool at your resort, and to show you such utter disregard that you will look to your partner and communicate through that magic parent telepathy; "is this really happening?" He will reply with the look that says, "why did we spend all this money again?"

My daughter was four on our first trip and old enough to understand expectations, but she was just so full of energy and excitement and admittedly sugar, she was goner the moment we landed.  It wasn't all doom and gloom and if you are reading this thinking of postponing your trip until your kids are older, or when they will remember it, or when they can show you the respect you deserve as their parent, please don't.

Exhibit B.

Exhibit C.

Exhibit D.

It was not a stress-free trip. It was not all "unicorns, show ponies, where's the beef?" It was not blissful every waking moment of each day. It was not the perfect vacation.

It was magic. I had tears watching my daughter's face when her most favorite Princess Ariel was announced into the Banquet Hall at Cindy's. She had such true magical belief in that moment and how could any kid contain that kind of busting out of their skin magic? We head back to Disney in January and I know enough to expect some sass from both my kids. I expect shyness and tantrums and exhaustion and utter refusal to do things I know they would love just because being difficult can be fun sometimes. It doesn't make me rethink my plans at all.

How to cope with the sass:

* Remove them from the situation and redirect. Take a walk, go look at something else, suggest a snack or a sip of water, spend another 45 minutes at the Winnie the Pooh play area, whatever it takes to move past it. My son is still very open to this "squirrel" strategy a la Doug from Up.

* Don't make silly threats you don't intend to follow through on. "We will leave the Magic Kingdom and never come back!" (unless you really REALLY mean it)

* Breathe deeply, this too shall pass.

* Get a stroller for your big kids too, deal with the looks of passerby. A safe place to be alone and away from all the in your face stimulus can do wonders.

* Try not to remind them how much you paid for this trip, today's ticket, the ice cream they just enjoyed. Little ones have NO concept of money, two dollars and two hundred might as well be the same and all you are doing is stripping the magic away. It's hard to have fun when you are thinking of the money Mom and Dad spent to do this and honestly, does a three year old care?

* Remove, refresh, restart. If all else fails and you have to leave the park (it happens and it isn't the end of the world), allow some time for everyone to put what happened behind them, rest, and restart again when everyone seems ready to try again.

* Consider pushing through. We tried to nap my 20 month old everyday, religiously leaving the park to go back to the hotel, and each day he fell asleep en route and woke up the moment he hit the room's AC. Our last day he was an utter MESS and we decided to just push through, somehow got him to sleep in the stroller and it was the best day we had.

* When all else fails - Mickey Bar.

The big take home: Traveling with little ones is a huge GAMBLE. It is not relaxing. Vacations with kids are not vacations. You are there to be together, to have fun, and to make important family memories. They might not remember the trip, but you will. Try to spend it in a way that will make you recall less Exhibit A and more of those magical moments your children experienced in a world where there doesn't seem to be a lot of that left. Accept that there will be sass, but have a plan to put it back in its place so you can all continue onward to the next opportunity for pixie dust.

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Must Have Day Pack for Families on the Go - What? How?

Friday, October 18, 2013

The day pack; Consolidating your family's needs for the day into one small, comfortable to carry, and easy to access bag.

We might not always venture as far away from home as Walt Disney World, but our family of four is often out and about. I always say that we function far better on weekends when we get out of the house together than if we stay home and lazily sit around in our pjs. The adults in our house would probably opt for pjs over an outing, but we are far too sick of cleaning up the playroom to argue this point.

When you have littles, you also become their personal Sherpa. You become the holder of both treasured items and trash. You are the provider of the magic tantrum avoidance snack. You are the keeper of the amusements. There is lots to manage. There are many thoughts of a wreckless youth when you could slip your debit card and ID in your back pocket and walk out the door. (Yes, in the time before cellphones.) Those days are over and you now require a BAG.

Allow me to introduce you to the most amazing day pack ever. The CamelBack Day Star (recently redesigned!). I chose this bag because I knew that I would likely be the one carrying it, otherwise I would be annoying my husband to stop and let me get this or that or tuck this in or having a hissy because he had rummaged through it to get something for me and moved the diapers and WHERE ARE THE DIAPERS? (Yes, you can go with a diapered child with this pack and STILL have room! It is Uh-Mazing!) You could say I am a little Type A. Besides, he would be pushing the children in a stroller through the early fall Florida heat, how could I also ask him to carry the bag?

The Day Star is designed for a woman's body and is extremely lightweight. It is the most comfortable pack I have ever carried and even when it is very full, I never feel strained carrying it (unless a child hops onto my shoulders and then we are VERY uncomfortable). I have this bag on in nearly every photo from our trip in 2011. The only time I am not wearing it was when we might have taken a shot on the Carpets or Dumbo and that is because it so easy to take off and a cinch to stow at your feet.

This bag will meet all your needs; a large main body compartment for organizing bigger items, snacks, and in our case loveys. The zippers for the main section do not zip all the way down the sides which can make it a bit more challenging to get to what you put at the very bottom, but I like that because it also control my overpacking urges. The side pockets are a stretchy breathable mesh for phones, point and shoot cameras, tour maps, Times Guides, water bottles, or wet socks. There is an additional zippered pocket in the front that has a few smaller zippered pockets for other items. Mine always has a mini first aid kit, ibuprofen, and we found it was a good sunglass stash spot.

The best part of this bag by far is the CamelBak water reservoir, which comes included. We had never had any experience with a reservoir before we took this to Disney World and it was easy to use.  Even the world's greatest skeptic ("you spent how much on a BACKPACK?!") was practically attached to the bite valve for the entire trip. We filled it with a mix of ice from the machines at the resort and bottled water we had purchased in the morning and it was cold for most of the morning until we filled it up again. It made for a really easy way to keep the kids hydrated and a distraction in line for everyone. When my not yet two year old son got a little antsy during an attraction, as toddlers will do, this worked 99.99% of the time to keep him occupied. It distracted him from his momentary disinterest enough to bring him back to a place of peace and that made me one very happy Mama.

One note on the Bite Valves. You must bite the valve before it will work and when you are asking small children to bite things, they often do. We have needed some replacement valves which are very easy to find and affordable (recently spent $12 for a pack of 3).

Lest you think this bag would be one and done, we have used this bag for countless other things with great success. This is her third season of college football, third year apple picking, and she continues to meet our family's needs, even as the kids grow. Our Day Star is our go to for every family outing, whether it is an adventure outdoors or in. I could not more highly recommend you check this out.

Now. What to stuff her full of for a day at the parks?

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Lo, the packing - How? What?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Have you ever heard anyone say, "I'm going away and I cannot wait to PACK?!"

Me neither.

As a Mom, I'm not just packing for myself. Moms pack for themselves, the kids, and for things that the family might need on the plane, in the hotel, and in the parks. I'm not knocking Dads. I just don't think that they as a whole take responsibility for the family packing responsibilities.

Packing is my achilles heal. I tend to bring more than I need for fear of not having something I might maybe need. I also tend to overthink my packing strategy. This results in towers of clothes, amusements, toiletries, and various odd items that I edit down to what I deem essentials. Towers. I stare at these towers and wring my hands as my husband "finishes" packing and lounges on the bed while I hold my head in despair. He always asks what he can do to help (true!), but since I don't really know what I am doing either, I just grumble and continue.

Not exactly a resounding endorsement for my packing advice, I know, but I am hopeful this can be useful based on our experience in what we brought vs. what we actually "needed."

Before anything else, check the historical weather conditions for the time frame you will be traveling. For our upcoming trip in January, the weather is a bit more unpredictable, so be sure to check before you begin. (This means that I will ask my other half to bring pants and a jacket and he will ignore me and pack just shorts and t shirts thus refusing to admit he is chilly the entire trip despite potential cool temps.) You know how to dress your family. We traveled to Orlando early fall in 2011 and it was approximately the heat of the surface of the sun while we were there. It was all moisture wicking and workout friendly breathability all the time.

Must Pack Items:

Comfortable Sneakers - flip flops while comfortable are not suitable for walking several miles per day.
Single Use Laundry Detergent & Quarters- I hate doing laundry on vacation, but we were sweaty and the idea of bringing all that home in that state made me sick to my stomach. Bring quarters to save yourself time trying to make change.
Sunscreen and Face Stick Sunscreen - Essential. The glue stick versions will work on the most squirmy toddler
Ponchos - spend pennies at home or $$$ there, just don't leave them in your hotel room the way we did on the night the rain was falling sideways
Hand Sanitzer - it comes in travel sizes for a reason
Autograph Book and Fat Pen (buy ahead!) - I urge you to consider buying this in advance online or at your local Disney Store to save you the crunch searching for one before you head to the parks. Larger barreled sharpies are easier for the characters to use, pick one up before you travel.

Packing Errors:

Too many snacks - I packed lightly on snacks for the flight and we scheduled a grocery delivery which covered most of our snack needs for the time we were vacationing. We spent about $70 and it was delivered right to our door. You can bring food in and we definitely did! More on this later!

Too many amusements- Our kids were pretty happy with the "on-flight entertainment" and though they did dive into the stickers and coloring books a bit, I definitely brought way too many things to do. We picked up things at the parks and they would have been quite happy with just those things to play with. Novelty rules.

* A packing nugget I utilized last time was to use large ziplocs to pack the kids; one bag for each day from head to toe. Grab a bag, apply clothing. It was very easy and I wasn't left searching for clean socks or that random shirt that went with these shorts.

* Little girls love to dress up. We bought a tulle tutu from an Etsy seller with an Ariel t-shirt for my daughter to wear to have breakfast with the Princesses. No hot costume. She looked completely adorable. Every Princess commented on her skirt. I also brought along two tiaras that she wore pretty much everywhere which was a big hit.

While I have some admitted shortcomings in packing the entire family for the trip, I more than make up for that in my park packing. We are a family on the go and I'm going to also share how we have perfected our day trip packing down to the bag your family NEEDS.

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Calendar Olympics - When?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Where do I even begin? I know how you feel, I've been there. You are investing time (valuable) and money (lots) and you want epic memories and there is just so much to do. Where do you even begin to tackle this monster? Take a deep breath and enter my favorite part of planning a trip to Disney; the itinerary.

You must begin at the beginning and that is determining THE WHEN.

There are many resources to help you with the decision of when to visit, what day to visit each park and even look ahead at the park calendars to plan for not to miss things like the evening electric parade or fireworks. Perhaps for example, you are planning a short trip and want to make sure Wishes is happening sometime during your trip.

Note: Crowds are supremely important to me. I need to have a very clear expectation for what we will be up against or better yet, how to avoid the busiest park any given day.

My go to resources for planning THE WHEN

Your First Visit

Touring Plans (there is a small subscription fee to utilize all this site has to offer, but I find it is well worth it)

Just as I have done for my initial trip planning, you will likely spend a couple weeks getting lost online debating travel dates and whether or not you can accomplish your trip goals for the dates you have chosen. You will compare airfare and maybe peek at your favorite ADRs availability if you happen to be planning a trip with under 180 days out.

The order of importance to me in selecting dates to travel:

1. Crowds
2. Weather (heat at this point is a deal breaker for us)
3. Crowds

Maybe you have different planning priorities, but those sites listed above and over there on the sidebar again should help you better determine when you should book your trip to The World. It might take you hours, days, weeks to even get that far and then, you have only just begun. That whole weekend, week, ten days, two weeks exists out there as a blank slate waiting to be filled. I love the planning and even if you don't, utilizing these resources or seeking the assistance of an Authorized Vacation Planner should make it smooth sailing for your daily itinerary.

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If you have a little girl who is coconuts for Princesses - Where? How? Who? When? What?

Monday, September 16, 2013

If you are traveling with a little girl between the ages of two and eight, it is doubtful you have found a way to avoid the Disney Princesses. Being a huge Disney fan, I embraced the allure of far off places and big dresses early on and my daughter was well versed in all things Princess. She is now six and a half and I know that the timer is ticking on both her belief in their existence ("Mommy, do the Princesses REALLY live at Disney World? Are they just people dressed up?") and her enjoyment of their stories and skirts. Thankfully, Disney has added some pretty terrific Princesses into the mix with stories of independence, strength, and fortitude.

If you DO have a Princess fan traveling with you, it won't take long for you to see that they offer character meals with the Princesses. Getting one of these meals requires some planning and execution.

First things first.

Where can you dine with the Princesses?

Cinderella's Royal Table (CRT)

Dine IN the castle, overlooking Fantasyland. Princesses make appearances at all meals. Breakfast is traditional pre-plated family style, which is sure to fill your bellies for a head start on the park with very little need to stop for a snack before lunch. We like the caramel apple stuffed French toast. I haven't had lunch or dinner there, so can't really comment on those meals. Be advised, there is a scheduled refurbishment for winter 2015.

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Located in Norway in the World Showcase at Epcot, this setting offers a similar experience for meeting the Princesses who like CRT, make appearances at all meals. We had dinner here on our trip in January 2014. I was a bit gun shy on introducing our kids to this style of food with an already very big dining distraction. OK, in all honesty, I didn't think the meal would appeal to my husband as much as the CRT meal and pleasing him is sometimes just as important.  The menu is not nearly as untraditional as you are imagining and has the addition of a "Taste of Norway" cold buffet offering traditional Scandinavian cold foods like meats, cheeses, and salads as a starter to your experience. My one criticism is that there is a side area off the main hall which detracts a bit from the experience of the meal if you happen to be seated there, as we were.

For our first trip with the kids, I made an ADR (Advance Dining Reservation) for the Princess Breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table the very first morning of our trip about three months BEFORE we even booked airfare. Meals start booking 180 days out and if you have specific things in mind, it behooves you to plan ahead and book early to avoid disappointment. Character meals do require prepayment with a credit card, but can be cancelled if your plans change. For us, a Princess Dining ADR seems to be the final step before we (and I mean I) dive full on into planning and making reservations and you know, general craziness.

Not only will your Princess delight in meeting the characters as she dips her bacon in maple syrup, but there is an added bonus to the Princess meal (beyond the photos with Cindy). Character meals at Magic Kingdom and other parks begin seating well before park opening, usually by an hour.

Check your Extra Magic Hours/EMH! If you are using this as a get ahead strategy, do not choose a day with EMH! You will be sitting down to eat while other guests head to Space Mountain.

If you have early risers (and even if you don't), book a breakfast as early as possible. You will gain early entry to the park, fill your belly while guests gather outside the gates, and as you wipe the corner of your mouth with your Royal napkin the park will open and you will already be beyond Main Street in Fantasyland.

Book those character meals as early as you can and if it is important to you, plan them in such a way that they can assist you in having a smooth and short wait at your first few attractions. Just as important as booking that breakfast is booking it for the right day. I'll show you how to tackle that mountain next time.

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I am your Disney Go To - Who?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I first went to Disney World when I was four years old and my brother was just two. I spent a few months working a popcorn wagon (which I cleaned each night with vinegar and a knife) and serving chocolate covered Mickey Bars during my College Program in Outdoor Foods (ODF forever) at the Magic Kingdom in the fall of 1998. I wore ridiculous costumes (knee high socks with a bow tie and newsie hat, curtain fabric knee length kulots with black socks and a plaid flannel shirt, a skirt with so much crinoline I looked like Galinda from Wicked, you get it) and played in the parks on my days off, stopped for sushi in Japan on my way home with my boy Brandon, listened to the Double Live Garth when Shane drove me home, and ate after hours at IHOP on our way back to Vista Way more times than should be legal (pretty sure I was always the pancake catalyst). I was so overworked at the end of my "program" which conveniently ended just after the busy holiday season that I swore I wouldn't return until I had my own kids. The moment my daughter was born in 2007, my Disney itch started and it wasn't long before I was trying very hard to convince my husband that she would love Disney World. We took her when she was four and her brother was 20 months old, a trip I somehow arranged during an away Boston College football game in Orlando that ended up being a night game that we couldn't attend with small kids. Oops.

This past year I have been asked multiple times to assist others plan their Disney Magic and I always get super smiley and giddy and jump online to look up crowd calendars and help them plan as much as they will allow me to. I would hop into their luggage if they would let me and grab a flag and tour them around in matching t shirts. No one has invited me to do that yet, but I'd be down. Is it worth it to get a Park Hopper? What age is too young? Which character meals? What parks should we go to if we only have two days? Where should we stay? I love all of these questions and more than that, I love watching these friends go off on their magical trip, and I spend the week they are gone trolling the internet for more photos of their wide Disney smiles.

My husband looked at me tonight with TWO requests for my Disney insight in my inbox and remarked how happy I was typing away about potential trip dates and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. It's time to share all that info here. I learned a great deal while I worked there, but a lot of the really helpful info is just under your nose on the web. You just need to learn where to find it and I am here to point you in the right direction. You need a flexible plan to travel with little ones. I LOVE a good plan.

Introducing, Coconuts For Disney; WDW Who, What, Where, When & How

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Disney Defined - What?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

While planning your trip you may come across many acronyms and language specific to WDW that you may need some help interpreting.


AK - Animal Kingdom
BB- Blizzard Beach
CM - Cast Member (employees)
DCL - Disney Cruise Line
DD - Downtown Disney
DDM - Downtown Disney Marketplace
DDWS - Downtown Disney West Side
DDP - Disney Dining Plan
DL - Disneyland
DVC - Disney Vacation Club
EMH - Extra Magic Hour
EP - Epcot
FD- Free Dining (a popular discount often offered in the fall for a rack rate accommodation and free dining)
FDP - Fantasmic Dinner Package
FP - Fast Pass
Guest - that's you, the visitor
HS - Hollywood Studios
LOS - Length of Stay
MCO - Orlando International Airport
ME - Magical Express (transportation from MCO to your Disney Hotel)
MK - Magic Kingdom
MSEP - Main Street Electrical Parade
MYW - Magic Your Way (an addition to your room reservation for park tickets)
PH - Park Hopper (a park ticket that allows admission to multiple parks in a single day)
PS - Priority Seating (there is no "reservation," just a jump to the front of the line
PS&D - Play Stay & Dine (popular discount that combines a rack rate accommodation with child prices for tickets and dining plan)
Rack Rate - a non-discounted room rate
RO- Room Only (as in discount)
TL - Typhoon Lagoon
TTC - Ticket and Transportation Center - the hub of Disney Transportation; bus, monorail, ferry
The World - anything within the confines of Disney Property
WDW - Walt Disney World
WS - World Showcase at Epcot

AKL - Animal Kingdom Lodge
AOA - Art of Animation
ASM - All Star Music or Movies
ASS - All Star Sports
BC - Beach Club
BLT - Bay Lake Towers
BW - Boardwalk
CBR - Caribbean Beach Resort
CR or CONT - Contemporary Resort
CS - Coronado Springs
FW - Fort Wilderness
GF - Grand Floridian
OKW- Old Key West
PC - Pop Century
PO - Port Orleans
Poly - Polynesian
POFQ - Port Orleans French Quarter
POR - Port Orleans Riverside
SD - Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin
SSR - Saratoga Springs Resort
WL - Wilderness Lodge
Y & BC - Yacht and Beach Club

ADR - Advance Dining Reservation
CG - California Grille
CRT - Cinderella's Royal Table
CM's - Chef Mickey's
CP - Crystal Palace
CS - Counter Service (sometimes also QS)
FFC- Flying Fish Café
GG - Garden Grill
H & V - Hollywood and Vine
HDD(R) - Hoop De Doo Review
LTT - Liberty Tree Tavern
WC - Whispering Canyon

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