Tag Archives: Walt Disney World

Mother’s Day, Keurig Style – A Single Cup Coffee Brewer Review

Yes, I know Mother’s Day is still a week away.  But if you know me, you will be well aware of my Starbucks addiction.  We’ve been considering making this purchase for months, and have browsed the coffee maker aisles of every store in South Jersey.  I almost bought one this morning at Target, but, as I have every other time, I walked out without one.

Then we went to Costco.  And there it was – the Keurig deal too great to walk away from.  So we took the plunge!  And tonight, for the first time, I made coffee!

Now, even if you know me, you may not know that despite  my frequent (sometimes twice daily) trips to Starbucks, I do not like coffee.  My drink always has extra pumps of coffee flavor killing syrup.  That was my biggest concern with the Keurig.

I have seen the light!

With the enormous variety of flavors, I was bound to find some that I liked, and in the variety packs that came with my purchase, I found a French Vanilla that was tasty.  I didn’t want to have to figure out the coffee maker and the milk foamer with company here, so I just added cold milk and some Splenda, and it was a reasonable facsimile of my beloved latte.  With a little practice, it will be perfect!

The machine was super easy to use, and I had coffee in a matter of seconds.  Costco had a great deal – the Keurig Platinum B70, 60 K – Cups, and a personal K – Cup reusable filter (for brewing your own coffee) for $149.99.  It was a great deal compared to the ones we looked at elsewhere.

I’ll probably post another review in a few weeks, just to let you know if I’ve been avoiding Starbucks in favor of my Keurig, but I can’t imagine needing to hit up the ‘Bucks once I become a pro at this Keurig stuff.

I’ll be saving so much money – it may mean more trips to Walt Disney World!

 

Walt Disney World – It’s the Little Things

It’s a pretty big expense when you start to add up the cost of going with your family on a Walt Disney World vacation.  Once you run the numbers for hotels, transportation, theme park passes, and meals, you’re probably thinking the air in your lungs that you breathe while you’re at the Magic Kingdom is the most expensive souvenir you can afford!

Not so.  This is, of course, a theme park built on a mouse; overrun with dwarves; and with the incessant beat of “It’s a Small World” acting as the soundtrack.  That seems to indicate quite a fondness for the little thing.

So when your kids are looking all around at the gift shops, souvenir kiosks, and merchandise markets, fear not.  You won’t have to say no to every souvenir they find!  Steer them in the direction of these fabulous finds – souvenirs that won’t break the budget, cause Dad to keel over, take up too much room in the luggage that has to go home – oh, and that might inspire a love and a lifelong collection!

VINYLMATION:  Well in reach of the range Grandmom might slip into an envelope for the kids to take on their trip (around $10 – $15), these are currently all the rage.  Shaped like The Mouse, but created to be almost anything but, kids seem to love these things – but adults will hunt you down and murderize you for one they need to complete their collection.  You’ll find Vinylmations that are themed on Disney villains, occupations, theme park treats, Muppets, and even the theme parks themselves.  Some are just differently colored, others are a total surprise until you get the package home and open it up.  Best of all, they’ll fit easily into carry-on luggage!

PINS:  Do you remember Chicken Man?  He’s Everywhere!  He’s Everywhere!  So are the pins at Walt Disney World.  You can find pins that start in the $7 price range and go up from there, but talk about something for everyone – and everything!  There are pins that commemorate seasons, events, attractions, characters – you name it, there’s a pin for it.  Pin trading became so popular, that Walt Disney World cast members are often seen wandering the parks with their own collection, so you can stop them and trade with them as you go through the theme parks.  For a relatively small chunk of your souvenir budget, you can buy a pin starter kit, which usually includes a lanyard to put your pins on and four pins – two each of two different pins – one to keep and one to trade.  Some starter sets are geared more toward girls (princesses), some toward boys (Cars), but there are several gender neutral sets, and kids love them.  This is definitely a lifelong hobby you can get your kids started with for less than $20.

BACKPACK CLIPS:  Currently the souvenir du jour in my house, these also come in all shapes and sizes!  They are pretty self explanatory – they are clips that you can attach to your backpack, and hanging from the clip you’ll find a character or something Disney-fied.  Some are plush (Duffy the bear), some are icons (Minnie hat, hands, and skirt), some are hard rubber.  You can clip them to your backpack, handbag, diaper bag, lanyard, or even (with some of the smaller ones) onto a zipper.  These sweetly priced souvenirs can be had from about $7.

PRESSED PENNIES:  Probably the best souvenir for moms and dads who want to spend the last few dollars of their vacation money on the important stuff – like getting home.  And you know that weight limit your airline imposes on your suitcase?  This is no more than pocket change – literally!

For the bargain basement price of only 51 cents, you’ll get this great souvenir – and you’ll find them throughout the theme parks.  Collect them all!  These smooshed, mashed, squashed pennies commemorate your visit to various parts of the Walt Disney World theme park, and if your kids are seriously loving them, for less than $10 more than the cost of the pressed penny (oh yes, I said only 51 cents!!), you can get a binder in which you can store your pennies.  Best. Cheap. Souvenir. Ever!

I know in this economy, it’s harder to stretch your vacation dollar as far as it needs to go.  But these reasonably priced souvenir options add a little spandex to the budget – and put smiles on your kids faces.  And THAT is what vacation is all about!

Disney Holiday Weekends – Worth the Trip?

As if I’m EVER going to say there’s a time when it’s NOT worth the trip!

People ask me, especially during the school year, when you don’t want to yank the kids out of school, if they’ll have time to see and do what they want on holiday weekends during the school year.  With the Martin Luther King day holiday coming up next week, I wanted to just give you a resounding YES!!

Will it be busy?  Yes.  But nothing like the crowds you are going to see during Christmas and Easter week.  You’ll see a surge in crowds that will make you want to use the FastPass system, but it’s rare during holiday weekends like this that you could expect park closures or two hour lines.

Tips for making the most of your holiday weekend and for maximizing your time?

- Use FastPass – This complimentary “ticket” will give you a window of time to come back to the busier attractions.  Instead of waiting in line, grab the pass at the kiosk, then go do something else.  For these busy weekends, as soon as your window opens up, head to another FastPass attraction and get another pass (which you can’t do until your window opens up).  That way, you’ll always have something to look forward to, plus you won’t stress over making it to your favorite attractions!

- Make Dining Reservations – I you want to eat somewhere special or you are specific as to where you must have your meals, book ahead of time.  You can almost always find SOMEWHERE to sit down and eat – even at the table service restaurants – but if your heart is set on Chef Mickey’s or Le Cellier, book in advance.  Reservations can be made up to 180 days ahead of time.

- Consider Park Hopper Passes – I have to admit that we almost never park hop.  And you might think that on a busy weekend, you’re better to stay put where you start.  However, if I know that the parks are going to be busy, I’ll try to hit the morning Extra Magic Hours (which you are entitled to as a Walt Disney World resort guest) at whichever park they are offered, then move to another park after spending that early morning hour.  I might do my top attractions at the next park, move on to a third, then head to a fourth for dinner.  If I’m going to go for dinner, I like to see about doing the park that has extra magic hours in the evening, then I stay put there.  That gives you a longer day in the theme parks, allows you to see some of each park (which can be tough on a three day weekend), and gives you a chance to eat breakfast in one place, lunch in another, and dinner in a third.

Will you find bigger crowds on a holiday weekend?  You will.  But the crowd is manageable if you go with a strategy, and you really can see quite a bit of all four Walt Disney World Parks if you head in with plan in hand.

Disney World Christmas – My Quick List of What Not to Miss

You cannot begin to imagine how excited I get over Walt Disney World at Christmas time!  I start planning next year’s holiday trip probably before I leave this year’s vacation.  Visiting Walt Disney World during the holidays has become tradition for my family, and as much as there is to see and do, there are a few things I encourage you to put at the top of your list.

A Cup of Christmas Tea

The Garden View Lounge at Disney’s Grand Floridian resort is where you’ll find this jewel of an afternoon break.  Afternoon Tea is served daily from 2 PM until 4:30, and honestly, this is a meal – and an event – unto itself.  Choose from a selection of packages that include tea, sandwiches, pastries, scones, and fruit; or opt for the a la carte service, where you can choose the components of the meal you want.  It is a great way to kick off the holiday season, and it’s usually where my family begins our Christmas holiday at Walt Disney World.  We head from the airport to the resort, and we are checking in for a relaxing tea service right around 3 o’clock.  I love sitting with my girls around the table, enjoying their company in a way that we don’t always get to do in the hustle and bustle of home – OR during the hustle and bustle of a theme park vacation.  It’s a must do for me.

World Showcase Santas

Where else in one afternoon can you visit Santa, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, AND the Monkey King?  And where else in one afternoon can you give your kids such an amazing holiday cultural lesson without the whining and complaining that comes normally with trying to teach kids something on Christmas vacation?  I like to clear an afternoon and have the girls go from country to country in the World Showcase to listen to the stories of Christmas in other cultures.  The “Santas” are all wonderful, and the children are glued to the stories of how other kids are waking up on Christmas morning.  You’d think there was a Hannah Montana marathon on, they’re so attentive!  If you can’t give up a whole afternoon/evening, choose the countries significant to your family – perhaps La Befana in Italy can give your kids a glimpse into what it was like when Great Grandma woke up in her country on Christmas day.  I love it when learning and playing are almost the same thing!

Jennings Osborne Is My Hero

Long before his lights became a holiday tradition at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I couldn’t help but admire a man who held Christmas and the joy of his daughter in such high regard that he went to court to defend his right to celebrate both things.  Unfortunately, Jennings lost his court battle, but fortunately for the rest of us who couldn’t get to Arkansas for the holidays, he was kind enough to share his love of Christmas with us at Disney.  If you have ever wanted to burn your neighbor’s house down, because he has the most obnoxious holiday light display on the block, you might want to skip this part of my annual holiday tradition, but if you find joy in the bright celebration that is Christmas, you won’t want to miss the Osborne Spectacle of the Dancing Lights.  I have to tell you, I could do without the dancing part, which was added a few years back, but I still wouldn’t miss a chance to go see this outrageous display of Christmas celebration at least once (but usually twice) during my Christmas vacation.  You’ll see flying angels, marching soldiers, dancing lights, and even snowflakes (yes, in FLORIDA!!).  If you linger after the initial massive crowds when the lights first come on (usually around six in the evening), you can grab a cup of hot cocoa (yeah, I know, it’s 80 degrees – but ya gotta….) and meander up and down the street, soaking up the holiday festivity.  I’d venture to guess this is the very top of the must do list for my two littler girls, but it’s a holiday favorite for all of us.

EPCOT Candlelight Processional

It is here every year that I find the true meaning of Christmas.  Yep, in the middle of a loud, busy theme park.  Surrounded by people whose feet hurt.  Crowded by crying children.  Overwhelmed by all of the “I want…” and “Can I have…”s.  If you don’t find your holiday spirit here, you are not going to find it.

This is the retelling of the Christmas story – remember that one?  No, not the “You’ll shoot your eye out” one – the ORIGINAL Christmas story.  A celebrity narrator tells you of the birth of Christ and his impact on the world.  I gotta tell you, by the time the essay “One Solitary Life” is read, I’m crying.  I’m crying right now just thinking about hearing it.  It is the most moving theme park experience I have ever had, and I cannot wait each year to enjoy it again.  The music is outstanding, and the reminder of the reason for the season much welcomed.  If there was only one thing I could do at Walt Disney World during the Christmas season, this is the thing I would do.  (and after I did it, I’d push to do all the other things!)

This is a can’t miss vacation, no matter what.  I hope you get to enjoy some of the wonderful things my family goes back for year after year, and I hope some of our family holiday traditions become some of your favorite family traditions as well!

 

 

Walt Disney World Moms Panel “Rejects”? I Don’t Think So!

It’s that time of year again.  People I know, respect, and love have applied to be members of an elite group of Walt Disney World experts.  We are the pink wearing, park loving, question answering team of Walt Disney World Moms Panel moms.  We don’t work for Walt Disney World (we are independent contractors, with our own opinions that do not necessarily reflect those of WDW), but we were all, at some point in the past four years, chosen by Walt Disney World to answer questions to people who are planning Walt Disney World vacations.

 

Each year, it seems that I meet more and more people who are anxious to proudly don the bright pink polo that us Moms love to hate.  They ask for my opinion on what it might take for them to join the special forces of the Moms Panel – like what should they say – or not say – when they answer their essays?  Should they go to the Moms Panel meet and greet, dress flamboyantly, wave a banner that flashes in neon lights “Pick Me!!”?  Should they sell their soul, brush up on Disney trivia, or switch teams and start going to Universal Studios?

And this is the day each year that I dread.  As excited as I am for those people I know and love to move on to Round 2, I am so sad for the people I know and love who are not moving on.  I’ve gotten a couple of private messages from people wanting to know why they’re such rejects.  Rejects?  Are you serious?

These are the people I have learned from.  They are the DisBoard members who answer every question with such helpful expertise, you’d think they were Walt Disney World cast members.  They are the bloggers who dedicate considerable time and great effort posting the latest news and special reports from Disney.   They are podcasters that I tune into to make sure I’m on top of my game when it comes to information and advice about Disney. 

Rejects? No.  They are the REASON.  They are the reason there is a Moms’ Panel.  They helped open up the doors on the social media world so that Disney could walk in, step up, and start this awesome panel.

Don’t be disappointed.  Don’t think you did something wrong, wrote something wrong, shook a wrong hand at a meet and greet.  Just know that you spread Disney happiness in a way that the Moms’ Panel aspired to do.  The brand of pixie dust you sprinkle may not be the official, WDW sanctioned variety, but it is no less magical.

I hope we are living up to the legacy you have all established.

Perfect Preschooler Park Time!

It’s the time of year when most moms and dads are running around, picking up back to school supplies, buffing up the back to school wardrobe, purchasing the perfect back to school shoes.

But if you are a mom or dad with a preschooler, who doesn’t need any back to school stuff because they aren’t in school yet, head to Walt Disney World!

Because most of the families with children are just starting back to school, and hesitating to have the kids miss those precious early days back, you’ll find the parks less crowded and the lines a bit shorter – perfect for those sometimes impatient preschoolers! 

Although free dining often offered during this time of year may make it a little tougher to get those cherished dining reservations, we’ve often found at this time of year that we can get last minute reservations for character meals – like ‘Ohana for breakfast or Crystal Palace for dinner.  I love that the lighter crowds make it possible to grab a special meal at the last minute, when I know that my preschoolers were well rested and ready to eat!

I’ve also always found that the characters have a few extra seconds to spend with my littles at this time of the year.  With the lines a bit shorter, and not as many children clamoring for character attention, they’ve just always seemed a bit more attentive to the children going through the line.

 

You can also usually find the Photo Pass photographers – who I think are awesome any time of the year – will snap a few extra candid shots if there aren’t lots of others waiting for character or camera time.  I’ve gotten some of my favorite pictures this time of year!

This is a great time of year to see what your child is ready for!  Because the attraction lines are not as long as they are during other times of the year, if you get to the front of the line for something and your Tiny calls a time out, you haven’t lost that much time if you have to step out of line and skip the attraction.  And speaking of losing time, while I’ve never been a big fan of leaving the theme parks to head back to the hotel for nap time, I was always more inclined to do it in late August/early September, when it didn’t seem as crowded to take a bus or monorail back for some R and R.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year – to be a preschooler at Walt Disney World!  Take advantage of lighter crowds, shorter lines, and fewer children!

Live near Disney, Lose the Magic?

The short answer is – no.

I’ve had a couple of people ask me recently if we went to Walt Disney World as often when we lived in Orlando as we do now that we live 1000 miles away, and really, it was as much my favorite place then as it is now!

Almost as soon as we moved to Orlando, we invested in Annual Passes for all of the theme parks – SeaWorld, Universal, and WDW, figuring since we were in a town where we knew no one, this would be our entertainment budget for the year.  No huge Christmas party to plan and pay for; no monthly birthday parties to go to; no Sunday dinners at Grandmoms.  We knew that with our recent move to Orlando, the budget would be tight, and there was a chance we’d even have to miss weddings and other big family events we never would have thought of missing if we were still living in New Jersey.  I found many afternoons and evenings of solace, wrapped in the comfort and familiarity of Walt Disney World, and whenever I was missing home and family, we went to the theme parks.

The best thing about living that close to the Magic was that you got to see and do all the new stuff right away!  I can remember hearing about a new attraction, and planning our next vacation to head down to Orlando so we could check it out.  It instantly became like planning a day in the park for us – literally – whenever announcement was made of something new and wonderful at Walt Disney World!

Another huge perk?  Restaurants!  I don’t think I cooked for the first six months that we lived in Orlando – then suddenly, my husband reminded me we weren’t on vacation, and at some point, I’d have to actually use the stove at our house.  But in lieu of Sunday dinner at Grandmom’s, we did Sunday dinner at “Mom’s” at the 50′s Prime Time Cafe at Hollywood Studios.  Date nights were never spent heading to Applebee’s or the diner, where we often end up now.  Date night usually included a trip to EPCOT for a beautiful evening stroll around the World Showcase, with dinner at a different location each time.

Not only is the magic still there, but you feel like you become more a part of it when you live that close.  It’s the one thing I miss about not being in Orlando.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s great being home again, near family and friends, with the big Christmas party and the family barbecues.  But I cherish my (gulp) monthly trips to the Mouse, and I know when I get there, it’s

Doing Disney For Father’s Day – Making Dad’s Day Special

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here at all, but my family and I love Disney World.  Yeah, I have mentioned it, haven’t I?  We’ve spent every holiday at Disney World at least once or twice (or twelve times), and we’ve celebrated many occasions at Walt Disney World.  But the one holiday/occasion that often gets overlooked when we think of what to celebrate at Disney, it’s Father’s Day.  It’s at an odd spot on the calendar – usually right before or right after the end of school.  It’s hard to take kids out of school in the last week to get Dad to Disney, no matter how much he begs!  But let’s see how you can give your Dad a Disney Day – whether you can be at the park or not!

These tips below are for Dads lucky enough to be headed to Walt Disney World for their special day:

Let Dad Choose the Attractions

No matter how embarrassing he might be, this is your Dad, and it’s his day to celebrate.  If he wants to do the Laugh Floor, hoping to be THAT Guy, where he gets up, dances some Elaine from Seinfeld spastic and somewhat inappropriate dance, ya gotta let him.  My daughters and I have all vowed to never see the Laugh Floor show again with Jim in tow.  Even we’d have to make an exception for Father’s Day.

Let Dad Choose a Meal

Honestly, I choose the meal virtually every night of the week anyway, so it’s nice to give Dad a chance to choose something he’d like to eat!  There are restaurants at Walt Disney World for every Dad palate, so offer to make an Advanced Dining Reservation somewhere you know he’ll love.  Is Dad a big steak guy?  How about Le Cellier in Canada at EPCOT or the Yachtsman Steakhouse?  Perhaps your Papa likes pasta!  Check out Tutto Italia in Italy at EPCOT or Mama Melrose’s at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Your sports loving Dad might want to grab a bite at the ESPN Club, or maybe he’d like something a bit more adventurous like Sanaa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  From Seafood to Swahili – your Dad will eat like a king at Walt Disney World on Father’s Day!

And Now For Something Completely Different

If your Dad is anything like the one I have for my kids, he doesn’t ask to do much for himself when we go to Disney World.  He likes to let the kids and I choose events or activities, and as a result, we’ve done tea at the Grand Floridian (which our Dad loves, by the way); Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique; and princess breakfasts.  But there are some special things your Dad can do that you might not know about!

How about a chance to dive at EPCOT?  Or maybe your Dad is a train buff and would enjoy the Magic Behind the Steam Trains tour at the Magic Kingdom.  Had Dad always wanted to try a Segway?  They’ve got tours for that!

If your Dad likes to be front and center as opposed to behind the scenes, take him over to the Pirates League at the Magic Kingdom, where he can get made over as a scary pirate!


And if pirates are his thing, celebrate his evening with a Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage!  Dad will enjoy snacks at the Contemporary Resort, then a front row, lagoon view seat for the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom!  What a way to end an awesome Father’s Day!

There really is something special for every Dad at Walt Disney World.  Whether it’s a round of golf, water sports, a massage, or taking in a ball game at Wide World of Sports, your Dad will love Walt Disney World for Father’s Day!  Make this the year he gets that treat!

Disney Dining – A Few Family Favorites

If there were ever two topics I had to choose as my areas of expertise, it would seriously be Disney and food.  I have eaten my way around Walt Disney World to the tune of over 300 pounds, and I’ve eaten my way back down by 150 pounds, so I’ve pretty much tasted and sampled everything there is Disney to eat.

There are some Walt Disney World dining experiences that my family absolutely loves – and I think you’ll be surprised to find that even with three daughters, our favorites don’t tend to be the character meals.  Our vacations at Walt Disney World are often just as much about reconnecting with each other as they are about reconnecting with our favorite Mouse.  Here’s where we enjoy eating the most:

Afternoon Tea – Garden View Lounge at the Grand Floridian

Having all daughters, it seems like a no brainer that we’d eventually have to do tea.  You might be surprised to learn, however, that this tea is not only a favorite meal of my husband’s, but my decidedly anti-tea father-in-law can’t wait to go back, either!  You’ll find numerous dining options here – everything from an a la carte light afternoon tea to the full, fit for British royalty, how dare you still have room for dinner after this high tea experience.

For the littlest teetotaler, you’ll find Mrs. Potts tea – a variety of kid friendly sandwiches (and if they don’t like a particular variety, you’ll find they are very willing to accommodate a picky eater with all of one type of sandwich or another), chocolate milk (served in a tea pot, of course!), and pastries or strawberries.  It’s a big hit with our littlest tea lover.

The adult offerings almost rival that which you will find at Harrod’s in London – although with a much more reasonable price tag.  We never leave the table hungry, and we always leave the table happy.  We’ve enjoyed at least an hour long meal together where we’re talking, laughing, and telling stories – the same as we did when I was a kid at my Irish grandmother’s table for afternoon tea at her house.  I love this experience.

Teppan Edo – EPCOT

We have never shied away from taking our kids to eat someplace that didn’t offer burgers, fries, and chicken nuggets.  Thankfully, you’ll find quite a few options at Walt Disney World to take your children where they can veer off the beaten path that leads them to fast food type of choices and right to where good food can be fun – even if it doesn’t come with a toy!

The kids are so fascinated and entertained by the chef – not to mention sitting at the grown up table (aka grill) – that they hardly notice there are veggies being tossed in with the chicken or shrimp!  I love taking the kids here and watching them enjoy eating a little healthier and enjoying it even more than if we’d stopped for a burger.

The restaurant is not quite as conducive to conversation as some other options, but it’s fun for me to just sit and watch the kids spellbound by the chef.  I’d like to see that creepy looking Burger King catch a shrimp shell in his crown.

Restaurant Marrakesh – EPCOT

Seriously, I don’t know why this restaurant gets such a bad rap.  I can almost always call and get a dining reservation for this restaurant – even if I’m calling at 4:59 on Christmas Eve for dinner at 5:00 with a Candlelight Processional dinner package.  Why is that?

Here’s one reason I love this place – you can sample pretty much everything on the menu!  It can be hard, especially with kids, to go eat at a restaurant with unfamiliar cuisine.  At Restaurant Marrakesh, there are several “sampler” type options that allow you to get a taste of several delicious menu items on one plate.  That way, if there is something your kids don’t like, you haven’t ordered them a whole entrée of it, and now have to grab a turkey leg somewhere because they didn’t eat dinner.

My girls also enjoy the music and the belly dancing.  The atmosphere is fun, it keeps the children entertained, and they never make you feel rushed, so you can sit and wait for the belly dancer at pretty much any time you decide to dine.

And the food – well, I really can’t say I’ve ever had anything I didn’t love.  I’m a big soup fan, especially since my gastric bypass surgery, and I love the Harira soup.  Packed with proteins in a delicate tomatoey broth, it’s a favorite even in the summer.  The kids could eat bastilla – a pastry wrapped portion of chicken or seafood – until they collapsed – and the chicken variety (sprinkled lightly with cinnamon and powdered sugar) is almost like getting dinner and dessert on the same plate!

 

These are just a few of our favorite Disney Dining Experiences.  We have had so many through the years, that it’s hard to pinpoint so few.  I hope these are meals you may not have tried before that you’d be encouraged to try now!