Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Disney Post - Now, easier to follow!

Hi friends,

I wanted to let you know that I updated the titles of the Disney Post.  They are now listed as part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.  I thought it would be easier to figure out the order if  I included this in the titles.  Again, please let me know if you would like to share some of your own tips!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Smartphone readers - please read!

Hey friends,

I was recently checking my stats and found that one of the referring sites is  I don't know if this means that someone at is trying to hack into my account (which would be a total waste being that I only have three followers) or if it means that one of my readers has service from this company downloaded on their smartphone.  The service (I did some homework on this!) tracks every move you make on your cell phone - mostly used by jealous spouses/partners, etc.  They can listen to your calls, see every text message, track your location via GPS, and view every website you access.  I just wanted to let you know that if you've read my blog in the past month via your cellular device, there is a chance that you may (unknowingly) have this service. 

Just a friendly heads up!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Disney Post Part 4 - Tips for the Trip

Well, this is the final installment of The Disney Post series. I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it!

Today's post is all about the trip.

1 - What you need for the park
As I mentioned on the last post, I had a bag for the park (in addition to the hubby's bag of cameras) - as a reminder, this bag had:
  • A wristlet with money, debit card, ID, cash, room keys, park passes
  • A folder to contain itineraries, and park maps
  • A note book with notes about things we wanted to do, restaurants we wanted to try (for counter service restaurants), and a list of which rides we wanted to ride first at each park
  • My favorite planning book about Disney World.
  • A gallon size plastic bag with park essentials: hand sanitizer, sunblock, bandaids, triple-antibiotic ointment, stain remover wipes, hair brush, ponchos, tissues, pain medication, a small deodorant stick, wet wipes, a small flashlight, moleskin and blister bandages
  • I also left some room for jackets since we were there in January
  • If your child is frightened easily by the automatic toilets in the parks, you could also pack self adhesive notes to cover the sensor on the toilet
We also packed the kids small totes (we would just hang this on the stroller) - we took out the coloring pages so that there was only park-essential items in there:
  • Autograph book and pen
  • Sunglasses
  • Spillproof water bottle
Also, don't forget your strollers, snacks, and water bottles.

If it's first thing in the morning, bring a bag of cereal for breakfast. That way the kids can eat at the bus stop or in the park.

2 - Transportation
Since we stayed on-site, we had no use for a rental car. We took the Disney bus line to the parks each day (the drivers do not accept tips). We could also take a ferry to downtown Disney. I would arrive at your bus stop expecting to wait twenty minutes for arrival. Often it doesn't take that long, but sometimes it does.

3 - Photo Pass tip
If you're like us, one of the very first things you'll do at the park is get your photo taken. We (as mentioned earlier) paid in advance so we already had a Photo Pass card. Unfortunately, we forgot it at the hotel. Luckily, you can link as many Photo Pass cards as you would like under one account. So, my recommendation is to snap a picture of your Photo Pass card. That way, if it gets lost, you'll still have the card numbers to access the photos.

4 - First Visit
If it's your first visit (or if you're celebrating a special occasion), stop by Town Hall. They'll give you a special button to wear. You may even get special treatment (one of the cast members saw us with our first time buttons and let us walk right onto a ride).

5 - Rides and Attractions
We let the kids decide what we were doing and when. The only exception was when we first arrived. We found out (from books and friends) which rides tend to have the longest waits. We would head to that ride first. If the wait was over 30 minutes, we got a fast pass. If it was under 30 minutes, we rode.

Also, if there's a parade or firework show that you don't want to watch, go to the popular attractions then. The wait will be significantly shorter.

If you have small children, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the rider swap option. Our daughter was too short for some rides, so I would take our son on a ride and tell the cast member at the ride entrance that we wanted to do a rider swap. They would give me a rider swap pass, which is like a fast pass, except that you can bring three people back with you. After they were done riding, my son and hubby got to ride by going through the fast pass line. It was awesome.

6 - Meals
Since we had a meal plan, we got a sit down meal and quick service meal each day. The kids ate cereal for breakfast on the way to the park each morning. We would eat lunch around 11:00 each day, this helped us to avoid to lunch crowd and ensured that the kids would be hungry for dinner. The meals are pretty big, normally a drink, entree, side, and dessert.
We ate dinner around 5:00 most nights. The longest we waited was five minutes for a table. One night we ate at 6:00 and had to wait for 30 minutes for our table to be ready. So I would definitely recommend eating earlier if you can.

I would never use a snack credit on a soft drink or bottled water. You can bring your own bottles of water or get free cups of ice water (or hot water) during the day. If you bring instant drink mixes with you - it's easy to make some lemonade or hot tea/coffee for free. Instead, use your snack credits on something mouse shaped, or really, whatever you want (my favorite was a Dole Whip at Magic Kingdom). We would often share our snacks which meant we had PLENTY of snack credits for each day. In fact, on our last day, we had seven snack credits left, so we bought the kids Mickey Mouse gummies and Mouse shaped rice krispie treats for later. I personally would only use snack credits on something that costs around $3 or more.

7 - Extra hours
As a Disney resort guest, you are able to spend time at the parks when they are closed to the general public. We found a television channel at the resort which listed all the extra hours for each night. They don't advertise the extra hours very well, and had we not checked the channel, we wouldn't have known that for us, Epcot closed at 12:00 am instead of 9:00 pm! There were literally no lines.

8 - Journal
Each night we would write all about our day. We talked about what we did, where we ate, etc. My favorite part was asking the kids what their favorite part of the day was. It amazed me that sometimes in such a huge, magical place; their favorite part was something as simple as 'riding next to Daddy in the race car'.

Disney World is wonderful and magical, (and expensive) - hopefully some of these tips will save you some money, or help to make your trip a little more magical. If you want specific restaurant or activity recommendations, please let me know. Thank you so much for reading my posts. And please, let me know what special tips you have!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Disney Post Part 3 - Packing

This is the third post in my Disney series. Today I'm going to focus on packing.

First, I would recommend finding a checklist online. This will help you remember all the basics, clothes, toiletries, etc. You can find that information anywhere, so I'm going to focus on tips given to me by friends and things that helped us save time when we arrived.

We chose to separate our luggage based on need. I'm a little neurotic about certain things, so some of this may be overkill, but it really did help me to know exactly where things were which saved us some time and stress.

1 - Bags for the flight
We had two bags that we took on our flight.
The hubby carried on a backpack (which we later used at the park). This had our camera and camcorder as well our chargers, and extra memory cards. We also packed swimsuits in case our room wasn't ready when we checked in at our resort.

I carried a shoulder bag which had several, smaller bags inside.
I had small totes, one for each child. Each of these totes had a cuddle buddy for the flight, coloring pages, stickers, crayons, fruit snacks (to help with 'popping' their ears during the ascent and descent), lollipops, an empty spill proof water bottle (for the park), autograph books with a pen, a glowstick for the first night, and sunglasses.

I had a park tote that would prove irreplaceable during our Disney trip. Inside this bag was my wristlet (you do not need a purse in Disney) with my ID, health insurance cards, debit card, and some cash for tips (you'll want to tip mousekeeping, tip at table restaurants, and also tip the driver of the shuttle to and from the airport). Having a wristlet was also very convenient to hold our park passes and room keys.
  • A folder to contain itineraries, boarding passes, park maps, and envelopes for the tips for mousekeeping.
  • A notebook with notes about things we wanted to do, restaurants we wanted to try (for counter service restaurants), places to use our snack credits, and a list of which rides we wanted to ride first at each park. We also used this as a journal.
  • My favorite planning book about Disney World.
  • A gallon size plastic bag with park essentials: hand sanitizer (make sure it's under three ounces for the flight), sunblock (again, under three ounces), bandages, triple-antibiotic ointment, stain remover wipes, hair brush, ponchos, tissues, pain medication, a small deodorant stick, wet wipes, a small flashlight, moleskin and blister bandages. For the liquid items: sanitizer, ointment, sunblock; you'll want to keep them in a quart sized baggie so that they're easily removable for x-ray when you're at the airport.
  • I also left some room for jackets since we were there in January.
  • If your child is frightened easily by the automatic toilets in the parks, you could also pack self adhesive notes to cover the sensor on the toilet (a family member gave us this great tip!).
2 - Checked luggage - toiletries
We used one bag for all our toiletries. Of course there was shampoo, body soap, deodorant, toothbrushes etc. - but some things that most people don't think about packing were also very helpful - hand soap (they do not provide it in your room), a small package of laundry detergent, a larger bottle of sunblock, and a larger bottle of hand sanitizer.

3 - Checked luggage - clothes/toys/food

We packed our food in a large, plastic shoebox. Before we left our house, I measured a cup of cereal into sandwich sized baggies so that each morning, we could just grab a baggie and go. Having the food in the shoebox kept everything from getting smashed in the suitcase. We also packed some plastic grocery bags to put our water bottles and snacks in each day.

We brought a couple things that our kids sleep with every night (favorite stuffed animal or blanket), but they really didn't need any toys while we were there. We woke up, went to the park, explored our resort or swam, then went to bed. If you pack glowsticks, you want to put them in a zipper bag just in case they break.

Probably my favorite tip of all was an easy and space saving way to organize clothes for the kids. I used a bunch of gallon sized zipper bags to store their outfits. For each day, I put a pair of shorts/pants, shirt, underwear, and socks (and hairbow for the girl). I also labeled each bag (taking into account the weather forecast) with their name and a day of the week. This was a great time saver as each morning, we just grabbed their bags then got them dressed. We could also put their dirty clothes/pajamas in the empty bag when we were done.

You also want to make sure to have comfy shoes for everyone - you'll be walking. A lot.

We used cable ties to secure each bag. We placed a heavy-duty nail clipper in the front pocket of each bag so that we could easily open the bags when we arrived. We also packed extra ties in the front pocket of each bag for the flight home. We used big, obnoxious bows to mark our luggage. This made it a breeze to pick out our luggage (that looked like everybody's luggage) when we came home.

4 - Strollers
We chose to bring an umbrella stroller for each child. This saved space in our hotel room. One thing that I'm really glad we did was mark each stroller with a big (glittery) bow. There were several strollers there that looked just like ours, and the cast members at Disney often rearrange the strollers when you're visiting an attraction. Having the bow made it very easy to find ours in a sea of hundreds. At night, you could also use glowsticks to mark your stroller.

I hope you are finding these tips helpful. Again, I am not a Disney-expert, so please, if you have any tips to add, I'd certainly appreciate it!

Check back for the last post in this series - all about tips for when you're in the park.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Disney Post Part 2 - Tips for before the Trip

Thanks for coming back for my second day of tips. Today I'm going to focus on some tips for after booking, but before arriving.

1 - Restaurant Reservations
One of the best tips I got from a friend was to book restaurant reservations as soon as possible. Once you are within 180 days of arriving, you can begin making reservations. We read online reviews, checked out the Disney website for menus, and read a few books about the restaurants. We then decided to pick restaurants based on which days we would visit each resort. We chose to only use our table service credits for dinner (with the exception of a character breakfast). Our travel agent made the reservations for us and got us confirmation numbers for each meal. We also decided not to use a table credit on our last day. We wanted to be able to go to whichever park the kids liked the best and not have to worry about being at a restaurant at a specific time on our last night there.

2 - Photo pass
At Disney World, there are lots of photographers who will gladly take photos of your family. You're given a card to 'load' the photos on so that you can access them online. If you choose to order photos once you return, they cost around $12-14 per photo. Or, you can purchase all the rights to your photos for around $150 (as of March, 2012). However, if you pay for the rights before your trip, you save $50 ($100 for all the photos). We opted to do this. All in all, I'm happy with the purchase.

3 - Busy items for traveling
Before we left, I purchased Disney stickers and activity books from the dollar section at my favorite retailer. I also made a free activity book for the kids. If you do an online search for "free Disney Coloring Pages" you can print pictures of your child's favorite characters to color. There were also some fun activity pages (dot-to-dots, word searches, counting pages, etc.) that I printed for the kids. These were life-savers during our flight.

4 - Shopping before the trip
We decided to buy a Disney shirt for each of our children for each day. We were able to get clothes on clearance on Disney's website and at different department stores. We saved quite a bit compared to buying clothes there.

We also bought some sort of light up toy or glowstick for each night. Your kids are going to want some light up toy while you're there, so why not buy them in advance for MUCH less? We bought glowsticks from the dollar store/craft store, and bought light up toys at our party store.

5 - Snacks and drinks
I recommend packing many snacks for your trip. One thing I would mention is not to pack dense items like chocolate or peanut butter - if these items are in your checked luggage, TSA may have to search your luggage as these items can look like explosives on the x-ray image. We packed baggies of cereal and pop-tarts for breakfast, bags of crackers, cookies, and chips, and single drink mix packets to add into water.

A few days before our trip, we also had bottled water delivered to our resort (via Costco). This was nice to have at the parks each day.

The next blog will be about packing for your trip. Thanks again for reading!

The Disney Post Part 1 - Before and During Booking

So in late January we took our first trip to THE Disney World. It was awesome. We had such a good time that we are already talking about going back. So, I thought I would create a post about money saving ideas, time saving ideas, and just helpful information. It will hopefully help some of our friends who are planning trips. And, whenever we go back, I can also look back at this post to refresh my memory. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am in NO WAY an expert on Disney travel. Like I said, this was only my first trip, but I did pick up a few tips (please, feel free to add some of your own!)

Before and During Booking:

1 - Picking a date
The very first thing we did was contact a travel agent that specializes in Disney vacations. We chose Build a Better Mouse Trip. We asked if there were any free dining promotions, then decided to travel during those dates (free dining saves you over $600 for a family of four compared to purchasing a dining plan). We also checked out Disney's website and made sure that we didn't book a trip during any other events (dance competitions, marathons, etc). This gave us a list of certain dates that we would prefer to visit.

2-Choosing a flight
Next, we were ready to start planning our trip. My husband signed up for low-fare alerts from airlines. When the hubby got an alert saying that airfare would be $69 per person, we chose our travel dates. We decided to book our own flight online so that we could get the inexpensive tickets ASAP. We also opted to take the earliest flight to Orlando - this meant we almost spend the whole day at the park. We chose late afternoon for our departure - this way we could sleep in and just relax on our last day there.

3 - Booking the trip
Next, we contacted our travel agent to tell them during which dates we wanted to travel. As I mentioned above, we decided to travel during a free dining promotion. One thing to note is that you get different plans based on what type of resort you choose- for example, if you stay at a value resort during the free dining promotion, you get two quick service meals (think food court type meals) and a snack each day for each person. If you stay at a moderate resort (this is what we chose), you get one quick service, one table service (sit-down), and one snack per person. If I would have done my research, I would have discovered that we could have stayed at a value resort then paid a small fee to upgrade our plan to the one with the table service. This would have saved us money overall since the moderate resorts cost more per night.

4 - Choosing a resort
Our travel agent helped us pick a resort. We chose Port Orleans, Riverside. Like I said, we stayed in a moderate resort. Part of the reason we chose moderate is ignorance - as mentioned above, I didn't know that I could get the better dining plan while staying at a value resort. Some other reasons we chose the resort we did was that moderate hotels have refrigerators in their room, values don't (unless you pay extra). There is also some extra space in the moderate rooms compared to the value resorts. We specifically chose Port Orleans because they had very high traveler reviews compared to other Disney resorts. We also like that the grounds looked so beautiful, that there is a restaurant and food court (which, by the way, we didn't use), that there are multiple pools, and that there are many activities (outdoor movies, fishing, horse drawn carriage rides, ferry rides to downtown Disney). When you choose your resort, I would recommend talking to your travel agent, reading traveler reviews online, looking at amenities on the Disney website, and borrowing some Disney World planning books from the library. If you get an unofficial book, you can get unbiased reviews on your resort. We read the books after booking and were pleasantly surprised that we would have still picked our resort.

5 - Transportation from the hotel
When you book your hotel, your travel agent can also arrange for you to have transportation to your resort from the airport. They'll also deliver pick up your bags from MCO and deliver them to your room.

6 - Park tickets
When you book, you'll also want to decide how many days you want to visit the parks. We arrived on Monday morning and departed late afternoon on Saturday. Because of this, we chose to get park tickets for five days. We decided we could spend Saturday in downtown Disney.

We also opted to get park hoppers for all five days. Honestly, for our family, this was a waste of money. We only 'hopped' one day. For our next trip we'll either not do hoppers at all, or just get them for one or two days.

Please check back in the next couple days for some tips before the trip. Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 2, 2012


Well look at that. Two posts in two days. See, I promised :)

So last week I made the decision to join Pinterest. Can I just say that it is already a love-hate relationship? I love getting ideas on fun things to do with the kids and yummy food to make for my family. I like that there's so many creative people who have ideas on how to reuse everyday items in order to make something beautiful or useful. Plus, I've found so many ideas on how to use the space we have to make a stellar homeschool classroom. And lots of wonderful teachers and parents have posted creative lesson plans that have encouraged me to find fun ways to teach (I already have an idea on a Lego day - using Legos for math, science, and English). I like the inspiration to take things that I already have and use them for a greater purpose. I like that I can use it to help me better educate my children and feed them nutritional meals (don't look at my current pins, the ratio of chocolate to healthy is like, 3:1).

However, I have come to the realization that I cannot focus on 'dream whatever' or 'if I had a million dollars' or 'future this or that' ideas. I certainly don't think that it's wrong for anyone else to look at these and get ideas, so please don't think that I'm looking at other peoples pins in judgment - in fact, some of the pins I've seen have been AH-MAZING. I've just come to realize that for me, I cannot spend time focusing on things that I don't have. I refuse to let myself become unhappy by seeing all that I wish I could have. Rather, I need to focus on what I do have. In terms of non-material things, I have FAR more that I deserve. I have love from a great hubby, two fantastic kids (they pretty much adore me), and I have the greatest family and friends. I have freedom, I have life. Stuff is just stuff. Materials come and go, but love and the effects it has on you is forever. So, today I choose to focus on the good. I choose to focus on my blessings, and not compare them to other people's blessings. Bottom line: I am blessed. Period.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Almost a year?!

So I have not blogged since March 8, 2011. How ridiculous is that? I've decided I'm not going to wait this long anymore. That's my commitment to you and the two other people that still read this blog :)

So here's the past year in a nutshell:
  • The kids are good - I now have a three year old and five year old, how did that happen?! X goes to preschool fours days a week and absolutely LOVES it.
  • We took the kids to Disneyworld and they absolutely loved it. In the six days we were there, I fell in love and learned lots of tips on how to save time, money, and sanity there. Maybe I'll do a blog on it.
  • We went back to Iowa last month. X-Man had a great visit. Every time we go the doctor is surprised at how good his feet are looking. I credit it to Dr. M fully correcting his feet, nightly stretching, nightly bracing, and daily prayer by those who love us. Thank you so much if you're one of them!
  • We made a very exciting decision in the past two weeks. We're going to home school X-Man (kindergarten) next year! Over the next few months I envision this blog becoming a place that I can record and store lesson plans including the ones that are greatly successful and the ones that are less than perfect. I hope you stick around - I see many adventures in the next few months!
So for now I'll keep it short and sweet. More to follow. I promise.