Toddler Disney World tips what when and how

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Toddler Disney World Tips

Thinking of taking a baby or toddler to Walt Disney World?  Use these tips for taking a toddler to Walt Disney World to help turn your stress to the start of making the magic happen!

Toddler Disney World Tips #1 – What to Bring:

Your own stroller – If you are flying, gate check the stroller so you’ll have someplace safe to keep your little one comfortable while you wait.  The basket underneath will also allow you to store a carry on item or diaper bag so you’ll have your hands free at the airport.  Having your own stroller at Disney will give your tiny traveler a familiar surrounding, and possibly more comfort.

Carry-on:  Bring a bag with a supply of diapers/wipes; changes of clothes for an accident; bathing suit; sunscreen; hat; food items or medicines that might be needed until bags are delivered or in case they are lost.

ONE:  Favorite toy/stuffed animal

A Ziploc baggie with a few washing machine tablets/pods – just in case you need to do laundry.

Toddler Disney World Tips #2 – Ship Down or Deliver:

To save room in your luggage or in the car – ship a box to your resort ahead of time with diapers, wipes, powdered formula, extra supplies.

Toddler Disney World Tips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Address it to your resort, but include your name and “Arriving Guest” with the date of your arrival.  The resort will store it until you arrive, and you won’t have to worry about taking up precious luggage space with essentials.  You’ll use most of this stuff up before you go home, so you won’t have to save space – buy those souvenirs!

You could also use a service like Garden Grocer.  This grocery delivery service will shop for the supplies you need and drop them off right at your hotel.

 

Toddler Disney World Tips #3 – Baby Care Center:

Located in each park, these are air conditioned, comfortable areas where you can attend to all of your little one’s needs.  Changing tables, high chairs, and a room for nursing mothers can be found here, as well as a microwave for quick heat up for your toddler’s meal.  You can also buy forgotten items like diapers, formula, and baby foods.  Moms and Dads can use the centers, and there is a place for older kids to watch cartoons while you tend to your tot.

Toddler Disney World Tips #4 – What Not to Bring:

High chairs, pack and plays, bed rails – all are available upon request at no additional charge at your resort/restaurants

Every toy you own – you’ll be in the parks most of the time, and not likely to need many things to play with – but do bring a favorite sleeping buddy.

Other Suggestions:

Stick to a schedule – eat when you do at home; try to remember bedtime and nap time if your kids have one. When making your FastPass+ reservations, avoid times when your little one is likely to prefer napping or eating.

Don’t force them to go to the characters if you sense anxiety – you’ll end up paying for therapy in years to come!

 

Shades of Green – Military R&R At Its Finest

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Shades of Green is an Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC), located within the Walt Disney World Resort property.  As the only AFRC resort in the United States, this is a popular destination, and the resort has more than 500 rooms that can each accommodate at least five guests.  There are rooms that are ADA compliant for those with accessibility requirements, and there are a couple of suites for larger parties.

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As we pulled up to the beautiful flag lined entrance, the gate guard checked to make sure our name was on the list, and you must have your military ID to show him.  We pulled up to the front of the resort, and a valet came over to see if he could help us.  He explained that there was a parking garage available for $5 per day, or we could use the valet for $5 each time we needed them to get our car.  We opted for the garage, which was a multilevel facility with ample parking.

The lobby is beautiful and simple, with comfortable furnishings and a nice fireplace.  The registration desk is in an alcove just off of the lobby, which is kind of nice, because you are removed from some of the noise and busyness of the lobby.

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The room, on the Magnolia side of the resort, was easily as big as a room at the Grand Floridian (and a check when I got home shows the Shades of Green standard room is actually 40 square feet larger than a room at the Grand Floridian).  It’s not fancy, but there were two queen sized beds with comfortable mattresses and a convertible sofa for a fifth person.  Not a fan of the color scheme, but they are definitely aiming for a tropical feel.

SoG whole room SoG sofa bed SoG seating SoG dresser SoG beds

The bathroom was very generous, although I wish they had separated the toilet from the shower, which I think works better for families.  There was a definite lack of toiletries – one small bottle of shampoo, no conditioner or lotion, and a small bar of soap on the sink and in the shower – but I always bring my own, so it didn’t impact our stay very much.

SoG bathroom

One of the pools was open during our stay, and it was a zero entry pool with lots of seating, tables and umbrellas, and room to move around without bumping into people.  The Mickey pool was being renovated during our stay, but just near the pool was a small play area.  Not huge, but it was cute.

The people here were all very friendly and really helpful, from the valet and the front desk people to the store clerks and the room service attendant.  The resort is laid out so it’s easy to find everything – even for the directionally challenged.

We used the room service option for dinner once during our stay, and the food was delicious.  I had the very best steak I’ve had in ages, and the calamari was just delicious.  The portions are not huge, but sufficient.

Overall, our experience was great.  This was kind of a no-frills resort – but the comfort and quality were certainly there.  We paid $95 a room for the night, and taking that into consideration, this was a huge bargain for what we got.  We would totally stay here again.

Lost Luggage – Don’t Let it Be a Vacation Bummer

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Jim and I flew to Vegas one year, with snow on the ground here in Philadelphia.  We arrived at the airport in Las Vegas only to find our bags were snow delayed somewhere in Chicago.  I was wearing stirrup pants (don’t judge – they were still in fashion) and a butt covering, thick wool sweater.  Did I mention it was 90 degrees in Vegas?  I sweat my ass off as we walked to the mall at Caesar’s, only to find out almost everything there was so far over my budget and under my size, I was certain I’d have to be naked the whole weekend.

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There is nothing that can ruin a vacation faster than lost luggage.  Beyond what you need to do with the airline to help track down your bags, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re not devastated in that just in case moment.

1 – Be prepared with your carry-on bag.  Make sure any medications you’ll need are in there, along with money, credit cards, attraction tickets, and identification.  Beyond that, throw an extra pair of panties in there, along with some clean socks.  If you’re going somewhere where a bathing suit is needed, put it in your carry-on.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve tried on 4,298 suits, ordered from 184 different online vendors, and it’s unlikely you’re going to find one you’re comfortable in at the resort gift shop.  Going out for dinner your first night?  Pack a nice blouse – one that will work at virtually any location.

2 – Dress for your destination.  Had I just put on a t-shirt with a sweatshirt over it before I left Philly for Vegas, I would have been WAY more comfortable when I arrived by just taking off the sweatshirt.  Jeans are good just about anywhere, and can be rolled up into a capri pant (or an ankle pant) if your destination is warm.  Another good thing about jeans is that you really can wear them to just about any restaurant – dressed up with that nice blouse you have in your carry on bag.

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3 – Talk to your hotel concierge or front desk.  Before you make that run to the local Walmart to replace your toiletries, check into your hotel.  Most hotels will have a pretty well stocked bathroom – soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion.  Some hotels, however, also keep a supply of toothbrushes and toothpaste, combs, disposable razors, and other small toiletries that might get you through at least your first night or two, at which point, your bags might actually arrive.

4 – Have a positive attitude.  Yes, this is inconvenient.  You might have to spend money you didn’t budget for – although hopefully, you’ll get money back from your airline.  But do your best to make it work.  If you’re vacationing for fun, put the worries on the back burner and have all the fun you intended to have.  If you’re traveling for work, use this to show people what a trooper you are – even without luggage, you’ve shown up on time and are raring to go.

If you let this ruin your trip, it will.  So don’t let it!

 

Alaska or Aloha Bound? Let’s Decide!

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In September of this year, I turn 50.  In March of 2016, Jim and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  We made the decision to do a big summer vacation in the summer of 2015 to celebrate both of these momentous events, and we immediately set about planning our second Alaska cruise.

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But hold on a minute.

There is also a possibility of making a trip to Hawaii.  We’ve never been to Hawaii, and there are certainly things we’d like to see in the Aloha state.  So after completely making our minds up to revisit Alaska, we are now weighing options.

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Over the next couple of months, we’re going to do our research, consider things like activities, relaxation factor, look at the difference in cost overall, and discuss all of the components that go into making this type of decision.  We would absolutely love your feedback every step of the way, and from those of you with more experience in these two locations than we have, your advice will become crucial as we make the final decision.

Keep an eye on the blog for updates in the decision making, or follow along on Twitter – #AlohaAlaskaAnna

So What CAN’T You Do on a Cruise?

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Cruising is my favorite kind of vacation.  You can enjoy the four corners of the world in small, bite sized chunks.  I push cruising to anyone who asks (and even people who don’t), and I am always touting the best things about cruising. So here’s the question most people always ask back – What can’t you do?

I had to think about this.  You really can do a ton of stuff, but there are some things you might want to be aware of if you’re embarking on your first cruise.  So here’s my list of things you CAN’T do on a cruise:

EXTEND YOUR PORT STAY

I assumed most people would know that when the ship sails, you’d better be on it, but honestly, this is a great question.  If your activities cause you to miss your set sail time, you’ll be on your own to get yourself to the next port of call.  The cruise line may be able to help arrange transportation, but you will have to pay the all expenses.

GO ON A PICNIC IN PORT WITH FREE SHIP FOOD

Some veteran cruisers will tell you that you can order a room service sandwich to take with you on excursions so you don’t have to pay for a meal. Or head to the buffet and grab a few extra pieces of fruit to take to the beach with you. That may end up being the most expensive free picnic you’ll ever enjoy.  Fines can soar upwards of $5,000 for taking food off of the ship, introducing produce or meats and cheeses to foreign soil.  Don’t risk it.  Enjoy the local cuisine, or head back to the ship when you feel the hungry coming on.

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GO HUNGRY

I’ve had conversations with people who have said they don’t want to cruise because they don’t do a midnight buffet on cruises anymore.  While it’s true that most cruise lines have done away with the nightly midnight food fest, you can get food on a cruise ship around the clock. Room service is always available, and there are lounges with snacks, deck parties late into the evening, and even late night pizza or burgers.  If you go hungry while on a cruise, you are wandering around with your eyes closed.

NOT VACATION YOUR WAY

Some people want to find a chair by the pool on Saturday and stay put until they have to go home the following Saturday. And some people don’t know you can do that on a cruise. You can board your ship, find your deck chair, and still have your cheeks in the seat when they kick you off a week later.  You do not have to leave when the ship is in port, you don’t have to go to any of the shows, you don’t have to dress up and go to dinner.  This is your vacation – have it your way.  Cruising gives you that flexibility!

Ready to book your cruise? Just remember to take me with you!

 

 

Magic Bands, FastPass+, ADRs, OH MY!

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Remember, back in the day, when you could just show up at Walt Disney World, ride the rides, eat nice meals, have a great time, and go home?  Yeah, me neither.

For as long as I’ve been planning Walt Disney World vacations (approximately 7, 459 years), I’ve had to get up at the crack of dawn at some distant light year from the actual vacation to book a dining reservation at a restaurant for which I personally have no fondness, but I have deemed it an experience my children MUST have to prevent them from ending up in years of therapy for the mental cruelty they suffered at the hands of a negligent mother.

But as if that fun and excitement wasn’t enough to give you hives, there’s more!

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You have, no doubt, heard of the latest technology rolled out at the Disney theme parks.  The aptly named “Magic Bands” have debuted, and boy oh boy are they fun!  They come in pretty colors, you can add little charms to them, a cutie patootie frame around your Mickey head – what’s not to love?  They even have your name on them!  Adorable!

But the responsibility that comes as a Magic Band owner! While planning for a recent vacation, I spent the better part of my days trying to make sure everything for our upcoming vacation is going to be magical for my family.  I spent hours on the phone with Disney IT, when somethings weren’t working out right, and I went back into My Disney Experience dozens upon dozens of times, trying to make sure I wasn’t overlooking things.

And as the vacation date loomed, I didn’t feel ready.  For the first time, I was afraid our ability to navigate the park without stress was going to be impeded.  I worried that the FastPass+ selections I made were not really the ones my kids want.  I feared the kid who could easily ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster a half dozen times would be disappointed when I had to drag her away after one ride, not having the ability to snag FastPasses throughout the day.  It’s like the old fashioned ticket books!

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Well, I can say that the vacation wasn’t a total disaster, but it was super stressful.  My husband declared it “not fun” to have my head buried in my cell phone as we tried to make adjustments to our FastPass+ selections, made 60 days in advance, to accommodate our schedule.  My kids were disappointed I couldn’t snag extra FastPasses to come back to things like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Toy Story.  And we did race through a meal or two in order to make sure we were able to run to our FastPass+ attractions before our time was up.

I am confident that in time, this will be an awesome system.  I loved, for example, not carrying a bag with me, because I didn’t have to store keys or passes or FastPasses.  I breezed right through the “No Bags” line like I’d done it a hundred times before.

But I did need a vacation from that vacation.  The stress of making sure we were where we needed to be so we could enjoy things killed some of the enjoyment.

Or maybe I’m not so good with the winds of change?

Review – Disney Cruise Line – A Price fit for Adults (or not?)

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DreamI will always consider Disney when it comes to vacation.  I love Walt Disney World, and have made some of the best memories with my family on Disney cruises.  From our first cruise ever – the Maiden Voyage of the Disney Magic – to the girls weekend I just had, I have enjoyed every one of my cruises aboard the Disney Cruise Line.

But is it really a cruise for adults?

There are certainly things to do for adults on this cruise line.  The spa services are extensive, with everything from a simple manicure to unique treatments and personal fitness trainers.  With an entire adults only district, you’ll find adult beverage tastings, evening entertainment, and a pool and jacuzzi for adult use only.  If your sailing includes a stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, you’ll even find a beach designed for some real adult relaxation.

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So then it comes down to this – price.

A quick comparison for a weekend cruise in March 2014 to the Bahamas shows me that I can get this type of cruise for as little as $60 per night on a Celebrity ship, with a minimum price on Disney at more than double that.  A five night Western Caribbean cruise for two adults on Disney will run me a minimum (inside cabin, 184 square feet,  lower deck) $2007.70. For $2100, Celebrity will give me a penthouse suite that is more than 250 square feet – not including my verandah.  I will have European style butler service, which includes assistance unpacking and packing; in-suite lunch and dinner service (this is not room service – this is a full, served dinner, exactly like what I would get in the dining room, served in my suite); Afternoon tea; evening hors d’oeuvres; complimentary espresso and cappuccino beverages in-suite.  You’ll get express boarding and disembarkation.  You’ll have a concierge to help you with making reservations for specialty dining restaurants, shore excursions, and spa treatments.

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So what’s the difference?  What would make adults choose Disney over Celebrity – or any other cruise line?

There are die hard Disney fans.  Totally acceptable to see adults clamoring with the kids for photos with their favorite characters or acting goofy over Goofy at a character breakfast.  And the value of Castaway Cay cannot be oversold.  The island is beautiful, the beach serene, the water crystal – it’s the perfect stop.  Another advantage to adults on Disney is the free soda.  If you are a big soda drinker (and you’d have to be a pretty big soda drinker to get your money’s worth), you may be disappointed to find on most cruise lines, soda is not included in the price of your trip.  You pay by the drink, or opt into a soda package, which varies in price based on the length of your cruise.  Disney, however, has machines where you can drink your fill, and sodas ordered with meals are also included.  Some sodas – such as those in cans sold at the snack bar outside the theater – will cost you extra.

Is it worth it?

I think the big draw on a Disney ship is the awesome and extensive children’s clubs.  From the wee ones to the teen ones, you’ll find close to round the clock activities for your kids – including while on Castaway Cay or in port.  They will even come get your children from a late seating dinner to take them to the club activities while mom and dad enjoy their meal in relative peace.

But honestly, for a much lower price on other cruise lines, you’ll find excellent dining options, great lounge entertainment, Vegas style shows, casinos, and even on some cruises, adult classes in computers, photography, cooking, bartending, and entertaining.  It’s a tough sell to spend twice as much on a Disney cruise for adults only, when the biggest bang for your buck on a Disney cruise is the kids’ entertainment.

As much as I love my Disney, if I’m going to take a trip with just my husband, I am more likely to opt for a more upscale experience, such as Celebrity.  I wouldn’t trade Disney for the world if the beauty girls are in tow, but I think my money is better spent elsewhere for just me and the big guy.

Wilderness Lodge and Artist Point – the Perfect Christmas Combination

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Who doesn’t want to go home to their cabin in the woods at Christmas time?  Gather your family around the fire, with a giant pine tree standing in the center of the room, rock in your rocking chair, and enjoy a cocktail and a dinner of freshly caught salmon.  It sounds idyllic to me.

That may be why we try to spend every Christmas dinner dining at this rustic Christmas paradise.

Day 6 5The decorations are not over the top, gaudy, bedazzled and blinged out.  They are earthy and rustic, with a nod to the Pacific Northwest roots from where the resort was conceived.  The feeling of homey warmth consumes you, and it’s cozy despite the grand, vaulted ceilings.

When you combine the beauty of this amazing resort with the amazing food served at Artist Point, you have one of the most perfect Christmas combinations you could imagine.  While the menu may vary when you visit, a staple is the delicious salmon.  The type of salmon varies by season, but the cedar plank preparation imparts a wonderful flavor to the perfectly prepared fish.  Combined with the smokey portobello mushroom soup, hearty and full bodied for a cold (or perceived cold!) winter’s day, this is one of my favorite meals at Walt Disney World.

You have just over 11 months to plan your Christmas season visit to Walt Disney World, and I cannot recommend enough the combination of this amazing resort and fabulous restaurant.  It’s the best of both worlds – a homey, rustic, holiday feeling in the middle of warm, sunny Florida.

Artist Point mushroom soup

It’s Too Hot to go to Walt Disney World!

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Bite your tongue!  Some people – including those of us with school aged children – are bound by school schedules, sports schedules, and even work schedules (says the teacher-to-be), and a vacation to Walt Disney World has to be done during the hot summer.  When it’s hot.  And humid. And did I mention hot?

Summer, though, is the best time to have your cake and eat it too!  You will want to arrange your day to beat the heat, but that will give you a chance to maybe do some of the Disney things you never have time to do!

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My best theme park tip for the dog days of summer is to hit it early and hit it hard.  Be at the park at rope drop, and if you can take advantage of morning extra magic hours, DO IT!  As soon as you arrive, snag a FastPass for your absolutely must do attraction, then get in line for your second must do.  Chances are, you’ll have both of those attractions done pretty quickly, and can move on to your next FastPass and your next attraction.

If you are doing FastPass+, schedule your attraction choices for early in the day or later in the evening.  This will not only help you avoid the hottest part of the day, but it also might help you miss the typical afternoon thunderstorm Central Florida is known for.

By lunch time, you’ve probably melted to a puddle bodily fluids.  You’re ready for something cool, comfortable, and away from the theme parks – something you might not think about if you were there when it was cooler.

Now is the time to take advantage of the OTHER side of Walt Disney World!  Check out Downtown Disney for some shopping and a nice lunch.  Head to the AMC 24 at Pleasure Island, where you can do a Fork and Screen movie/lunch show, enjoying the hottest first run movies in cool comfort.  How about the so hot it’s cool Splitsville for a game of bowling and one of the best burgers at Walt Disney World?

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Have you ever done DisneyQuest?  A hot afternoon is the perfect time to visit this gaming mecca, with virtual reality, arcade, and video games galore.  You can grab a quick bite to eat here – and save room for some of the great desserts!

Take the afternoon off to take a dip in the pool.  Pop on the monorail for some resort hopping afternoon shopping.  Or enjoy the heat of the afternoon in a spa getting your nails done!

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A hot afternoon is a great time to enjoy some of the Walt Disney World attractions you may typically overlook, so when the heat index is rising, split your theme park day in half.  With an attraction packed morning and an afternoon cool down, you’ll be ready and refreshed to shut the parks down at the end of the day!

 

30 Days of Thanks – Day 20 – Thankful for Disney

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So, you had to know this was coming.  I wouldn’t be able to get through 30 days without being thankful for the Mouse and all it’s meant to me.

My first real vacation with Jim was to Walt Disney World, and my honeymoon was to Walt Disney World.  That made the earliest happy memories, the foundation of my life with my husband, of Walt Disney World and how much fun we had together.

When we moved to Orlando in 1993, the first thing we did – without jobs to pay for them – was buy annual passes.  We were thousands of miles away from family and friends, and having a fun, familiar place to go while people at home were enjoying turkey dinner on Thanksgiving or celebrating a family birthday we couldn’t be home for took some of the sting of homesickness away.

EPCOT is where Eilis took her first steps unassisted, and it’s where Granuaile had her first popsicle – and Itzakadoozie pop that gave her baby brain freeze.  We’ve got wonderful memories of Brighid dancing in a parade, Eilis hugging Donald Duck, Granuaile window kissing Goofy.

Then, in November of 2008, when I was selected to be on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, I acquired a whole family of amazing people who have become my lifelong friends.  Along with them, I’ve been introduced to others in the Disney community who have taken up residence in my heart, and I can’t imagine what life would be like without them (I’m talking to you, Jackie P  and my bonus children, Amy and Anthony!!).

Today, with all of y’all’s eye rolling and fake gagging when I mention my beloved Walt Disney World, I’m so thankful for Disney.  And I’m so thankful for the people it’s brought to my life, enhancing it in ways I’d never imagined possible.