Bed bugs – The Things You Need to Know Before You Go

That, my traveling friends, is a hotel mattress suffering from a bed bug infestation.  And it is the absolute FIRST thing you need to know before you enter your hotel room while you are on vacation.  It doesn’t matter if you are staying at a four star luxury hotel in downtown Manhattan, or a roadside motel in small town, USA – bed bugs do not discriminate!  Everyone needs to be concerned.

The biggest impact, both physically and financially, of bed bugs can be completely avoided if you know how to spot the problem before it affects you and your vacation.  When you check in at the front desk of your hotel, you are probably ready to retire to your room, get yourself situated, unpack your things, and relax.

Stop.

Once you are given your key, head to your room.  Bring your bags in only as far as you can to close your door, but don’t bring them all the way into your room.

Pull the covers back off of the mattress, and paying special attention to the corners of the bed and the seams, look for the obvious signs above – the bugs themselves – or the fecal trail that the bugs have left behind.

If you find any telltale evidence of a bed bug infestation, immediately return to the front desk and ask them to assign you to a different room.

Even if there are no immediate signs of bedbugs in your mattress, you will want to still keep your luggage elevated off of the floor.  Use the luggage stand most hotel rooms provide, or place luggage on top of the dresser.

Check inside the dresser and the nightstand for bugs or remnants of bugs (which may be the exoskeleten shed by bugs as they grow).  Don’t put anything inside the dresser or nightstands if you suspect that an infestation exists.

Beware of areas where the wallpaper is peeling away.  The bugs can get behind the wallpaper and become a problem if you place your clothing or luggage near these areas.

Bed bug bites are itchy and extremely uncomfortable, so if you’ve managed to ignore the warning, hop right into bed, and wait until the morning to check out your surroundings, don’t worry about contracting any bug borne illnesses or diseases.  You will know in relatively short order if you’ve encountered an infestation by the raised red bumps that appear on your skin and the itching you suffer.

The best treatment is just a topical cream, such as a triple antibiotic cream (Neosporin).  However, constant scratching can open up the bites, exposing them to secondary infections.  If this happens, you might want to check in with your doctor to seek treatment with medication that can’t be obtained over the counter.

Getting rid of bed bugs once you have them can be a chore, and if you’ve found out your hotel room was infested after you’ve unpacked – or worse, after you’ve gone home – it can be an expensive hassle to get rid of them.  The first thing to address is your laundry.  Everything must be washed at a temperature of at least 120 degrees (oh, the shrinkage of those delcates!!).  If you have items that can’t be washed at that high of a temperature, you can freeze the items (temperature below 32 degrees), but they must remain in freezing temperatures for a minimum of two weeks before you can use them.  There are heaters that will kill the bugs, and may be useful for non-washable garments, but they can be quite expensive to purchase.

An exterminator is a must, and not only your bedroom furniture, but all the furniture in your home must be treated.  Anything that can’t be treated – either by extermination, hot washing, heating, or freezing, should be disposed of.  Vacuum all areas of your home that can be vacuumed, and immediately dispose of the bag.

Your best course of action is to prevent infestation, so be prepared when you travel.  Refuse any room that shows signs of infestation, and check to see if your hotel has been listed at www.bedbugregistry.com so you know to be especially diligent in checking hotels that have already had a problem reported.

Don’t let this put a damper on your vacation.  Just be cautious so it doesn’t end up ruining your trip.

Goodnight, Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite

I love my sister, Megan.  She’s fun, she’s funny, and she’s a wealth of hypochondriacal (is that even a word) information.

So it should come as no surprise that Megan, who is planning a trip to Orlando, found a website called www.bedbugregistry.com .  If anyone was going to find this website, it would be my sister.

She went and checked on her hotel for her upcoming trip, and thank goodness – both for her sake and the hotel’s – they have not had any reports on bedbug problems.

“What hotel are you staying at?” she wants to know.  Saratoga Springs, I tell her.  And of course, being a Disney World resort hotel, loaded with magic and filled with pixie dust, there aren’t any bedbugs there.  “You’d better check it out anyway.”  And I do.

Ummm, oh. my. gosh.

While there are no reports at www.bedbugregistry.com regarding my specific resort, there are 23 reports relating to Walt Disney World resort hotels!  23!!!  They include everywhere from Disney’s Value resorts (Pop Century and the All Stars), some of the moderates (Port Orleans is mentioned), deluxe resorts (the Polynesian), and even Disney Vacation Club properties (Kidani Village).

When I finished scratching myself from head to toe, I realized that this is a big problem – not just for Walt Disney World – but for hotels all over the United States.  There are very few chains not affected, and it doesn’t look like any state in the country has been spared the resurgence.

I’m coming up with a list of things you can do to make sure you don’t end up suffering the consequences of bedbugs.  While you go figure out a way to stop scratching, I’ll be right back with that list so we don’t all end up looking like this guy

Jersey Week at Walt Disney World – Fuggedabowdit?

Hey, how YOU doin’? Youse guys ah tinkin’ about goin’ a Disney Weyld? Dinnit youse hear? It’s gonna be Jersey week!  Whaddya kiddin’ me?

Hide your spray tan, fellow Walt Disney World vacationers, Jersey’s coming!

Each fall, during November, the New Jersey Education Association has it’s annual convention.  The convention usually takes place on a Thursday and Friday during election week.  For public school students, this often means having off three days that week, and for many families in Jersey, it’s a great time to head to Walt Disney World without having the kids miss too much school.

So what’s it like for the rest of youse?

Honestly, there aren’t THAT many New Jerseyans fleeing the state to go to Walt Disney World.  You may notice that there are more people from New Jersey in the theme parks, but there isn’t a mass exodus from the Garden State to the Sunshine State.  The parks may be a bit more crowded than usual for this time of year, but for the most part, November is kind of a quiet month until you get to Thanksgiving.

I’ve had people tell me it was crazy busy during Jersey week, but we’ve been there during Jersey week (of course, being from Jersey, it’s almost required that we do it at least once) and we have not felt like the lines were long or we couldn’t find tables to sit at for lunch.  I can go online right now and book rooms without any trouble, so rest assured that every room at every resort is not filled with The Situation and his crew.

So, don’t mind if the popcorn carts are selling water ice; and Cosmic Ray’s is handing out Italian hoagies instead of rotisserie chicken (just kidding).

But I’d pay attention if Vinnie and the gang akses you to show some respect and let dem get to da head a da line.  The bulge in his pocket does NOT mean he’s happy to see you.

Beware the fist pumping princesses.

Anna’s Tips for Cruising 4 – Excursions

To Go or Not To Go, that is the question – Excursions.  Your cruise line will give you a bunch of options with regard to the excursions they offer, and I will tell you that I go back and forth on the excursion bandwagon.  Your mileage may vary when it comes to the value of an excursion for you and your family, but here is my best advice.

If you just want to hit the beach, hit some shops, or do a quick tour of the port, you are probably better off on your own.  There are usually reliable cab services and other drivers waiting to take you to your destination – and some spots are within walking distance of your ship.  Other locations have shuttle services run by the city, town, island, or port, and it’s usually reasonably priced to hop on the shuttle to head out to see some sights (some shuttles – like in Belfast, Northern Ireland – are free to go from the ship into the city and back).

On the other hand, if you are hoping to see some of the famous sites in the areas where you are traveling, you should consider two options – a cruise line organized excursion, or finding a private tour company.

If you are going to be visiting Rome, for example, you are likely to find on your own that lines for anything you truly want to see are long.  Many group tours bought their tickets in advance, and they will just send someone to pick them up to take the group inside.  You may find that you can only access certain things during specific times of the day, and on your own, you might not know what those times are unless you’ve thoroughly researched in advance.

This was our tour guide in Rome, where we did a privately arranged tour.  Our guide was AWESOME, fabulous with the kids, and I can’t recommend him highly enough.  His name is Manilo Tranquili, and you can find him at

http://www.limousineserviceinrome.com/

It can be tricky to find a tour guide on your own that will be reliable.  it can absolutely be done (and I did it myself on our second third trip to Rome), but you have to be willing to put in the time and effort to make sure the company you are dealing with is reputable and can take you where you want to go to see the things you want to see.

I often tell people, if it’s your first time, opt for a professional (get your mind out of the gutter, people).  Book an excursion in advance with your cruise line, and be assured that you are most likely going with people who have done this before, are well organized, and if nothing else, will get you back to the ship on time!

Anna’s Tips for Cruising 3 – Free Babysitting

Free Babysitting!! This is your vacation, too, Mom and Dad, and while I know for me the temptation has always been great to want to spend the whole time with my kids, my kids are finding it much more appealing to spend time without me, despite my reminding them of the hard pregnancies and difficult deliveries I had with each of them.  If your children are over the age of 3 and potty trained (check your cruise line to confirm that the age is correct on your voyage), they are eligible to participate in the kids’ club activities aboard your ship.

Now, kids’ club activities vary not only from cruise line to cruise line, but may also vary from ship to ship and destination to destination.  If a ship anticipates very few children onboard, they tend to limit the number of hours and the activities for children.  We have never been on a ship with NO children’s activities, but I have heard that there are sailings where the number of children passengers is so low, there are no planned activities for children.

However, hands down, the best cruise line for children’s activities is the Disney Cruise Line.  This has absolutely nothing to do with my love of all things Mickey Mouse, but is rooted in pure fact.  Kids Club activities onboard the Disney ships begin early in the morning (by 8 AM usually) and last well into the night – going as late as 1 AM in many cases.  The activities include arts and crafts, character interaction, and lots of physical activity to keep the kids moving, dancing, and grooving.  My kids would check in at the earliest possible opportunity and not check out until it was time to disembark if it was up to them.  While they have enjoyed activities on other ships, the children’s activities alone almost justify the price of a Disney Cruise.  Phenomenal is the best way to describe the kids’ clubs with Disney.

Next port o’call – cruise excursion tips

Anna’s Tips for Cruising 2 – How low should you go

Another consideration when booking a cruise is what deck on the ship you’d like to be on.  As someone who comes from poor Irish stock, I have to tell you, the lower decks on a cruise ship always scared me. Visions of My People on the Titanic, stuck in steerage, unable to get to the life boats – not a good picture in my head when I’m booking a cruise.  I felt it was much better to be closer to the top of the ship, nearer the lifeboats, so that if there was an emergency, I could get there before the ship went down.  I know – not the happiest way to book a cruise.

Well, we took a recent seven day cruise, and our trip was free.  Beggars can’t be choosers, as they say, so while I was pretty upset that were were on Deck 2, there was very little I could do to complain about the location.  We joked about being lower than most of the crew members on the ship, and we were just down the hallway from the shipboard hospital, so I figured we’d be exposed on a daily basis to people walking by with typhoid fever.  But now that we’ve sailed, I have to say, it was one of the best locations we’ve ever had!  We boarded the ship, went to lunch, and were able to go to our cabins at 1:30.  By 2 o’clock, all of our luggage had arrived, and we were able to start unpacking.  This NEVER happens for us!  Usually, we are lucky to get all of our luggage in time to change for dinner.  We experienced very little rocking, despite having some moderately high seas on a couple of the days of our trip.  The rest was peaceful, and except for the occasional squeaking sounds, it was really a great cabin.

We were only a floor below most of the dining rooms, convenient to the elevators to get where we needed to go higher on the ship, and on our last night, our luggage was picked up almost as soon as we put it outside the door.  Awesome location.  So if it means saving a few dollars, making the trip more affordable, don’t hesitate to choose a lower deck – or better yet, just ask for an outside guarantee.  This guarantees you an outside cabin, but they will fill you in where they have available room.  You may get a lower deck, but you might also find yourself upgraded to a verandah cabin!

Next stop on our cruise tips – Free babysitting – !!

Anna’s Tips for Cruising Part 1

“Aruba, Jamaica, ooohh I wanna take ya; Bermuda, Bahamas, come on Pretty Mama…”

Yeah, so I don’t have the best singing voice, get over it.  And the song, well, you won’t find it on too many top 10 lists.  Sue me.

Back in the day – and that day meaning before I had a houseful of kids – I owned a travel agency specializing in cruise travel.  It was called the Cocomo Cruise Company (I loved that song), and while I didn’t have a chance to run the agency very long before we were leaving South Florida for New Jersey – and taking a new baby with us – it did help me to find a love of cruising – a love that began to flourish thanks to my in-laws.

My mother and father-in-law are frequent cruisers, and my father-in-law was a Walt Disney World cast member when the Disney Magic was built.  A lottery was held to determine who the passengers would be on the Maiden Voyage of the Magic, and my father-in-law was lucky enough to be chosen!  There were five of us boarding the vessel, and I thought I had never seen anything so elegant and wonderful in my life.  At least as beautiful as the nicest hotels, the ship held Magic and Wonder at every turn, from the amazing restaurants to the incredible shows.  While the trip was not without it’s mishaps (it was, after all, Disney’s first foray into the cruise business), it was wonderful, memorable, and something I knew I wanted to do again.

Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about cruising – like what’s important, what’s worth paying extra for, and even some stuff about tipping – the good, the bad, and the so ugly, we shouldn’t mention it.  But we will.  Because we’re like that.  So here are some of my best cruising tips.

1 – Inside? Outside? Verandah? Oh My! – When you hear the call of the deep blue sea, and that call leads to a call to your travel agent (and I know two phenomenal ones, so if you need numbers, let me know!), one of the first things they are going to ask is whether you want an inside cabin, an outside cabin, or a cabin with a verandah.  Now, I have to tell you, I have been on many cruise ships, and on at least a few of them, I’ve been with sick children – or I’ve been sick myself.  While this is something you certainly can’t plan for, it might be something to consider.

If you are looking at a standard sized cabin – as opposed to some sort of suite – it won’t matter in terms of size or storage if you book an inside or an outside cabin.  For some people, there is a concern that they will feel claustrophobic if they don’t have a window, so if you don’t think you can make it through the length of your cruise without a window in your room, don’t book an inside cabin.  If it doesn’t matter one way or another, consider the amount of time you will actually spend in your stateroom.  If you plan to spend your cruise lounging around the cabin, ordering room service, and watching television, you might want to spring for an outside cabin so you can at least periodically allow yourself to see the sun.  If you are booking excursions, plan to be up and out each day doing things in the ports or on the ship, it probably doesn’t matter.

Now for the verandah.  A couple of cruises ago, we spent a week on a ship, sailing to Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Key West.  During the trip, my middle daughter got sick.  Then my youngest daughter got sick.  Then my husband got sick.  I spent quite a lot of time in the cabin, and with the two sick children, I spent a lot of time trying to be quiet so they could sleep.  Having a verandah on that cruise probably saved my sanity.  I didn’t get to go off the ship in Grand Cayman, so the closest I came was to take pictures from my balcony on the ship.  Having the verandah allowed me to go sit outside, enjoy some of the sun, and not disturb the girls sleeping inside.  It gave me a place to go to feel like I was “out” of my stateroom, and I have to say, even in the evening, while the rest of the family was at dinner, and I was sitting with a sick kid, it was nice to be able to step outside for just a few minutes and enjoy an ocean breeze.  It also allowed the sick children, who did not get to enjoy the kids’ activities, a bit of a breath of fresh air and sunshine.  I would say that having a verandah on that cruise was well worth the extra money spent to have one.  Again, getting sick is not something you can anticipate, but if you do plan to spend time relaxing in your cabin, consider a balcony.  Also, if you plan on going somewhere where the scenery would be amazing, you might want to budget for a balcony.  I haven’t been to Alaska yet, but I don’t plan on cruising there unless I have a balcony cabin.

Next tip – How low should you go?

Don’t go to a comedy club with my husband

Twice.

What’s that saying – burn me once, shame on you.  Burn me twice, shame on me.

If you’ve ever met me, I think I come off as kind of quiet, shy, and whatever the opposite of flamboyant might be.  I’m sort of vanilla, who just happened to end up married to rocky road.

So last Halloween, the first time we took my husband to the Laugh Floor Comedy Store at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, I was worried when they appointed him “That Guy”.  “That Guy” is the guy that they keep coming back to with their jokes, and most “That Guys” sit there with a confused look on his face, and lets himself be the butt of all jokes.

Not my husband.

The first time, every time they put the camera on him, he smiled, made hand gestures, and at one point, started pointing at me, leaning in to grab a kiss.  Can you say “mortified”?  Sure you can.

So I should have known better a few weeks ago when he excitedly asked to go into the Laugh Floor again.  Memories should have come flooding back to me, but no.  It’s like childbirth.  It’s excruciatingly painful when it happens, but the memory wears off when it’s cushioned with a year’s worth of smiles and happiness.

And there I was, seated next to “That Guy” again.  Only this time, determined to make a bigger ass of himself than he did the first time around, every time they put the camera on him, he got up and did some kind of a dance – not as good as the one Elaine did on Seinfeld.  More like this one:

Then of course, he insisted on sliding closer to me on the seat, despite the fact that not only had I moved as far down the row as I could, but I was holding another man’s hand and another woman’s child to make sure no one could possibly think that That Guy was My Guy.

The cast members, however, thought he was hysterical.

It’s a pattern.  During a comedy show at Downtown Disney, when asked for the names of common household items, That Guy yelled out “chainsaw!”.  Seeing the Amazing Jonathan in Plantation?  I think the crowd laughed more at how loudly and oddly Jim was laughing than they did at Jonathan’s act.  And our first comedy show together – which we went to in the middle of a wedding reception for one of his aunts when a cockroach crawled out of the salad plate – I thought it was quirky and cute when he shouted out to the stage when they asked for suggestiosn.

Never again.  There will be no more Laugh Floor for This Girl.  At least not when I have That Guy in tow!

Oh – and let this be an apology to my cousin Rick, who is a phenomenal Improvisational comedian in Philadelphia. Now you know why we never come to the show!

Wine and Dine Weekend – Breakfast at Wolfgang Puck Express

I have to thank my dear friend and Disney Mom Joanne for turning me on to Wolfgang Puck Express.  I have to admit that for all the years we’ve been visiting Walt Disney World, we overlooked this restaurant every time.  We had eaten once at the regular Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Downtown Disney West Side, and it wasn’t so fabulous that we wanted to go back.  So we haven’t.  Which is probably why we never discovered this hidden gem at Downtown Disney.

OMG – two words.  Breakfast pizza.  Yes, pizza for breakfast – and not the way you ate it when you were in college – cold, right out of the box your roommate bought at lunch time the day before, praying e-coli couldn’t have set in over the course of the 16 hours it had been sitting on your dorm room floor.  This is fresh, piping hot, and delicious.

Wolfgang Pucks Downtown Disney breakfast

The thin, crispy crust is topped with scrambled eggs, apple wood smoked bacon, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, plum tomatoes, and then drizzled with ranch dressing.  Oh come on – you haven’t tried it yet!  It makes perfect sense once you’ve had it in your mouth.  This is so delicious, I’d eat it for any of the three (or four, or five) meals a day that I eat.  And as far as gastric bypass patients?  I have no trouble with this at all – and I often do have trouble with scrambled eggs.  I’ve had this pizza in two visits, and both times, the eggs were cooked perfectly, not dried out and prone to sticking in my pouch.

Next on our table was the crispy cornflake French Toast.  They give you a knife and fork to eat this with, but we ended up just picking it up with our hands and dipping it into the syrup.  This is not your Grandmom’s French toast.  This is a sliced bagel, dipped in egg, then liberally treated to a dusting of cinnamon sugar and rolled in cornflakes.  The meal is dense and delicious, but for us gastrically altered folks – not friendly.  If you can handle the sugars and the carbs in this meal without dumping, that bagel will sit like a ton of bricks in your stomach.  Have your husband order it and take a bite – that’s what I did!

Wolfgang Pucks Downtown Disney breakfast

Rounding out our breakfast selections was the breakfast pocket.  First of all, we had way too much food for our family of five, and we ended up leaving that piece of french toast you see above you and half of the breakfast pizza.  But, I thought it was better to get one more thing, and the pocket appealed to Eilis, so we ordered it.  This is essentially the breakfast pizza, except with different toppings and folded over, like a panzarotti.  In addition to the eggs, bacon, and cheese, the pocket also includes ham, mushrooms, peppers and onions.  It’s huge.  Be prepared to share!

It cost right around $40 for the five of us for breakfast, and that included two bottled orange juices and a bottle of water.  This is probably about $25 more than we would have spent if we had run out to McDonald’s to grab breakfast from their dollar menu, but we could have easily eliminated the $9 for the pocket and everyone would have been satisfied with the amount of food they had eaten.  So for just over $30, this would have been a fabulous breakfast.  For $40, it was still pretty darn good.