Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Walt Disney World: Tips for First Time Visitors

So you're thinking of a trip to Walt Disney World. 
Right?
Because if not, I'm sort of wondering why you're reading this.

I was completely overwhelmed with all of the information out there when we first began our research about a trip to Walt Disney World. And that's the reason for this blog post. To do my best to help others who are embarking on the craziness.

So. Let's start with something important, shall we?
*Walt Disney World is in Florida
*Disneyland is in California
We've never been to Disneyland, however, some of the tips I'll share should be helpful regardless of the resort you plan to visit. If they aren't, then you can comment and let me know how unhelpful I am but only if you compliment me 5 times before doing so. I don't handle criticism very well.
If there are certain items that you are particularly interested in learning about more than others, you can find some of those written in blue font if you scroll down. 

DISNEY RESORTS

When we started planning our trip to Disney World, the first decision we needed to make was whether or not we would stay on site at a resort. I had been saving up for a year for something totally unrelated to a Disney vacation. But my other plan fell through and therefore, we decided to put that money toward Disney. As a result, we decided to look into the resort package options. (Initially, we did a ton of research on our own, and then my husband remembered that his cousin is a Disney vacation planner, so we finalized all of our plans through her).

**If you decide that staying at a resort is not the direction you'd like to go and you'd rather stay at a VRBO and jog (you know, save on gas) to the theme parks, you can skip this section and scroll down to the next portion that interests you.
There are several tiers on the resort plan option. You pay for what you choose (obviously) but what I mean by that is that if you choose the cheapest resort option, your stay will be comparable to a stay in a regular hotel room, only with a nicer pool. The main perk being that you will still have the nice benefit of transportation to all of the parks included. 
Resorts do not include park entry.  You either pay for those separately, or add them to your package. 
In the end, this is the package we chose:

  • Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort (1 tier up from the value resort).
  • 3-Day Park ticket, w/admission to 1 park per day. (More on this in a bit)
  •  Disney Quick Service Dining Plan (More on this in a bit)
We chose the Caribbean Beach Resort because it was supposed to be a step up from the value resorts (like Disney's All-Star resorts), however, the room accommodations and and the resort grounds were very simple. Also, during our stay I saw 2 snakes. I hate snakes. I blame Mickey Mouse because blaming Trump is so over used right now. 
Our room was small and the buildings needed a fresh coat of paint, but the pool is where we spent most of our time when we were there so the I did an entire blog post about our stay at this resort so if you're interested in more information and pictures of the rooms and the grounds you can find it here along with more info in this post I did here.

DISNEY PARK TICKETS

Disney World has 4 theme parks and 2 water parks. 
You can: 
1.  Buy tickets to get into every park
2. Buy the tickets for only the parks you plan to go to
3. Buy a park hopper ticket: to exit a park and go to another park in the same day.
I'll tell you what we did.
We had 5 days to work with so we purchased a 3-Day Ticket with Admission to 1 Park Per Day. 
That being said, after much deliberation about which parks our family would like best (my family consists of me, my hubby and our 2 kids ages 11 and 6) our vacation looked like this:
  • Monday: Magic Kingdom (blog post here if interested in reading more about it)
  • Tuesday: Relax day. (no theme park) Spent at resort & Disney Springs shopping area 
  • Wednesday: Hollywood Studios (blog post here)
  • Thursday: Epcot (blog post here)
  • Friday: Resort and check-out.

I'm glad we had the relax day between the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. If you choose to start your vacation with the Magic Kingdom, I highly recommend the relax day afterward because it was the largest park that offered the most for us to do, which ended in a very tiring day. Another tip about Magic Kingdom. If you make it a point to arrive before the park opens up for rides, there is a special introduction event at Cinderella's castle that you don't want to miss.

We arrived early at all of the parks and we were glad we did, because the parks packed out with people by mid-morning, which caused all manner of claustrophobic reactions from my husband. I've heard several people say that getting to the park early was not a valid option for their family because they can't get their butts out of bed. I'm not saying that's wrong. Just dumb. (kidding). Since we got to the parks earlier, we actually had a chance to ride about 3 rides by ourselves at Magic Kingdom. We were almost first in line for Starbucks at Hollywood Studios and we didn't bother getting to Epcot super early because by that time, we needed a vacation from the vacation, you know what I'm saying?

We purchased our tickets through our travel planner with our package. If you are purchasing tickets through a store (or other venue) please scroll down to that section.

Our ticket wasn't an actual physical card/ticket to get into the park, it was a MagicBand.
What the heck is a magic band?
Aha! That's the same question I had! Is it like a band that does magic? Will it make me disappear? Will it make me skinny? (another form of the same question).
No. Uh-Uh.Nope.
I thought I'd google the question to that way you could have Disney's answer and then I'll give you my paraphrase which is way better. Disney will even probably be all like "oh man, we should totally ditch our old pathetic definition and use hers which is way better". Because Disney World reads my blog.
Q.   What is a MagicBand?
A.    Tap into the magic with your MagicBand on your wrist. This colorful wristband is actually an all-in-one device that effortlessly connects you to all the vacation choices you made with My Disney Experience.Your MagicBand enables you to travel lighter throughout your vacation. Use it to enter the parks, unlock your Disney Resort hotel room and buy food and merchandise. Plus, your MagicBand gives you FastPass+ access to all the experiences you’ve selected online, so you can simply concentrate on enjoying the fun with the people you care about.MagicBands add a touch of magic to your vacation by unlocking special surprises, personalized just for you, throughout the Walt Disney World Resort. Once you’ve linked your MagicBand, you don’t need to do anything different. Your MagicBand and My Disney Experience profile will do the rest, creating unexpected Disney moments–just like magic. And, each of these magical moments will be transformed into a one-of-a-kind digital keepsake by Disney PhotoPass Service. All you have to do is go to your PhotoPass account to see all the memories we’ve captured and created for you.
My definition of a Magic Band: It's the band you wear to get into your resort room, the parks, and to buy stuff. Here we are wearing our bands. Also. My hair is glowing on the left hand side.
The gray strip on the side of the band can be removed in order to make the band smaller (especially useful if you have children). This extension cannot be added back onto the band. I have a small wrist and removed the gray extension and then I pouted about it the entire trip because I really liked how the gray accented the pink before I removed it. This is also why my socks are lined up by color in my sock drawer.


So you bought your Disney Park ticket from a guy on the subway. Why did you do that? I'm just curious.
Before we decided on the resort option, we discussed the idea of staying with some friends in Orlando and purchasing park tickets through a separate venue such as Costco or the military (through family). If you go that route, I'm afraid I won't be much help, because I'm not sure how you get your magic band. Just go ask that guy on the subway. I'll be he has one you can buy. I did wonder about this question so I googled it. See:
From what I read, if you buy your ticket through a store or other venue, you can just use that card to get you into the park. MagicBands are beneficial for convenience and can be purchased in the shops at Disney. Tip: Your MagicBand can be used any time up until the battery runs out. Note: you won't be able to use a ticket/card for a FastPass or PhotoPass, because that option is only available with a MagicBand.
What the heck is a FastPass?
Aha! I wondered that exact same thing!
It's a reservation you make to get on a ride in order to avoid the long line. Seriously Disney, you should hire me for all of your paraphrase needs. Basically, after you have purchased your theme park ticket, you have the opportunity to go online and reserve a time slot for when you plan to ride a certain ride. That reservation is then linked to your MagicBand and when you arrive at the park and that time rolls around, you can just get in the royalty FastPass line which is much shorter and faster than the pathetic people non-FastPass line, hold your MagicBand up to the scanner and continue to the ride.
Tip: we learned that you get 3 of these reservations. Once those 3 reservations are used up, you will continue to get to add another reservation (one reservation at a time) for the rest of your day. So, it's best to make your first 3 reservations as early in the day as possible, so that you can continue using them through the rest of the day. We really wanted to use our FastPass on the Mine Ride at Magic Kingdom, and we didn't realize how this process worked, so we made a reservation for 8:00 pm because that was the only time left that day to use it. We should have used our reservation for a different time earlier in the day and then tried the ride later, so that way we could keep getting more FastPasses the reset of the day.
What the heck is PhotoPass?
There are spots set up all over the theme parks where Disney staff are stationed, ready to take your picture. If you go to these stations, they will take your picture and then you can have them scan your MagicBand to link the picture to your PhotoPass. PhotoPass is the site online (in your My Disney Experience account which has to be created through Disney's website)  where you will go enter your specific ID and view your pictures with the ability to purchase them. If you purchase a MemoryMaker package (see next question) all pictures that you have taken at Disney will be on the PhotoPass
What the heck is MemoryMaker?
This is a package you can buy through Disney. You pay one flat rate for all pictures and all the pictures you have taken at Disney are included. This means you don't have to pay for pictures individually after sorting through all of them on PhotoPass. I believe the videos that are taken on certain rides such as Tower of Tower are included as well.

DISNEY FOOD

I'll admit that one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Disney is because I like food. What I didn't expect was being unimpressed with some of the food choices that I saw people had raved about in reviews. Yes. I actually read reviews about Disney food. I even printed out a list of food options available at the parks and highlighted the choices I was really intent on trying. There are whole blogs devoted to food at Disney so I'd say my behavior should only be considered as mild zealousness.
If you don't plan to purchase a Disney food plan, you should know that the food there is super very stinkin expensive. I guess that's the reason they offer the food plan. So that you don't pay attention to how expensive the snacks are. I think I was charged $5 for glancing at the glass case that held the key to the glass case that held the chocolate dipped cookie shaped like mickey ears. I will say this, if you purchase a food plan, you do get a lot of food. That being said, we chose the Quick Service Dining Plan 
What the heck is Quick Service Dining?
Would you believe that I wondered the same thing?
This plan allots each guest in your party 2 quick service meals and one snack credit per day. I had lots of questions about this, so here are my tips. We were there for 5 days and therefore we each had 10 meal credits and 10 snack credits. But the way Disney calculates is that we had 40 total credits to use any way we wished during our stay. We could have run out of them before we were done if we chose to use them all on day 1. Also, we found out that meal credit could be substituted for 3 snacks.
Quick service just means that you can go to any food location that doesn't require a reservation to get a meal. The same locations that provide meals will also almost always have snack options available.
A few tips about the food.
I didn't like the rice krispy treat mickey ears dipped in chocolate. GASP.  I know, right?
 
The marshmallow and chocolate they used both had a "not your name brand" taste in my opinion. 
I was also disappointed with the mickey shaped pretzel and the cheese sauce it came with. GUTTURAL GROWL. I know, right?
The pretzel was very dense and dry (I guess I was expecting an amazing, buttery, salty Auntie Anne's pretzel experience) and the cheese was like cheez whiz that had been drained of life. Just my opinion. The caramel corn was great. There's your redeeming quality. All the food options we had were very good, which included tacos, burgers and french fries. Tip: my 5 year old is the pickiest eater in the entire northern hemisphere of our city. Possibly our state. He would have been content having snacked his way through the parks, but we would get him a meal, give him the fries and share the rest of the meal between us.
The other dining option is the Standard Dining option. Disney’s Standard Dining Plan comes with one table service, one quick service and 2 snacks per person per night.  The table service meals are reserved ahead of time,  and once you arrive, your party is seated at a table and you have a server serving you.  Those meals come with your choice of meal, drink and dessert.  The table service meals also include the character meals, family style meals, buffets, etc… Since we chose the other dining option, I don't know whole lot about this plan. 

I feel like I'm leaving something out. But I really want to finish this so that I can go binge watch a show on Netflix.

MISCELLANEOUS TIPS


  • I recommend bringing a stroller for any child age 5 and younger. Disney has strollers that you can rent, but I believe they are on a first come first served basis.
  • Most of the food stations will give you free water/ice water upon request
  • At Hollywood Studios it was recommended that we skip the Star Wars exhibition at the end and go to the Fantasma show instead. I wish we hadn't. Mainly because my boys and I really like Star Wars I was a bit cold because the show is in the evening and then I got sprayed with water which made it worse. I could nearly shed a tear.
  • Be Our Guest (Beast's castle) in Fantasy Land in Magic Kingdom is actually a quick service location that takes reservations. We waited too long on the reservation for this so we didn't get a reservation and I wish we had.
  • If you are really intent on seeing any of the characters, you'll need to go in buildings, and you will see more with reservations if you do a table service plan.
  • If you stay at resort, you get a free refillable mug that can be used for soft drinks anywhere at the resort. This mug can't be used at the theme parks. 
  • When we were at Magic Kingdom, we got very hot and tired and annoyed. So we wondered if we could leave, go to our resort and swi  and then be allowed back into Magic Kingdom later. The answer is yes, we could have. But we were too lazy at that point to walk all the way out to catch the bus. So we just stayed. Oh the irony.
  • Buy an inexpensive plastic poncho at the dollar store and pack it. There's always a chance for rain and the ponchos at the parks are expensive.
  • Resorts do not have continental breakfasts. (Apparently, a Club Level room does).
Okay. I have just used every Disney brain cell at my disposal to write this post. But if you have any questions, chances are I've wondered the same thing and I might have an answer for you, so please leave your question in the comments below and I'll answer you! 
Because I'm nice like that.
Ciao

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas With The Last Jedi

I bought Star Wars Lego Advent calendars for the boys for Christmas this year. Mostly because we were too poor when I was growing up to have one and I had to go outside and choose a small pebble from our rock yard. Then each day I'd move it to a little pocket that corresponded to the correct number in a calendar made out of red and green paper napkins that my mom had made. 
I totally just made that up. We never had an advent calendar.
Anyway, the boys got these advent calendars this year.
Behind the door each day is a small Lego Star Wars build.
This really got me thinking about the great idea behind advent calendars due to the calming effect they have on impatient waiting for Christmas Day people like me. So I've suggested to Jason that next year he should have a life-sized advent calendar for me to do.
Every day would provide something extremely exciting such a 20x30 framed family portrait on day 1 and an InstaPot on day 15 ultimately culminating in the gift behind door number 24 which would be a car. If a car was asking a bit much and needed to be reserved for Christmas day however, I'd settle for a new wardrobe to be behind that door.
I also introduced Buddy the elf this year. The laziest elf this side of the Mississip. On his first visit he hung from a branch on the Christmas tree. He was too tired to crawl in a jar and seal himself up with a "help" sign.
For one of his final acts of mischief, he managed to TP, the living room
and then hide behind the couch with the evidence.
 Only Evan didn't understand what "TP"ing was so he was convinced that Buddy decorated our living room to get it ready for Christmas. So when Jason finally tore it all down so that we could move about freely in there, Evan burst into tears and accused him of terrorism.

The boys grew increasingly restless as they were home all day considering school was out for Christmas break. We went and stood in line to see The Last Jedi on Friday. Yeah. There was no line.
Spoiler Alert: I'm the last Jedi.
Actually, on account of how I'm a boy mom, I feel that I'm qualified to add my very insightful opinions of these movies. I liked this one. However, I was doing a search about the movie after we watched it to make sure I understood what was happening in parts of it (because I'm very thorough) and there were a ton of articles about Kylo Ren being shirtless in one scene. I'd just like to say to all the swooning girls out there that if he's anything in real life like he is as Kylo Ren, his wife should be very afraid. If they get in any sort of marital scuffle, he could totally just haul off and cut her in half with a light saber. Point Being: girls, don't marry a buff conflicted man. Marry a kind skinny punk.

My last "be a fun awesome mom" attempt was a few days ago when I had the boys make and decorate sugar cookies with me.
Turns out their favorite part is licking the utensils.
Although Dawson went a little overboard.
 It wasn't long before I discovered that these sugar cookies weren't the doughy kind that could be cut into shapes with cookie cutters. The dough was basically pure butter and sugar and stuck to everything. So we had to dig our fingers into the lump and form a sticky ball.
I even tried rolling the dough out. This caused my rolling pin to shout obscenities and I had to baptize it. 
The cookies tasted okay when they were baked so I made buttercream frosting and let the boys add the food coloring which was a stupid thing to do because staining and all that. 
If you'll look at the cookie on the top of the pile closest to Dawson, you'll see that the bottom of the cookie sheet transferred to the cookie because we stacked the cookie sheet on top of the other to create space to cook on the stove where they were cooling. Jason said that if we eat the cookie anyway we'll survive though we might mutate so I left it on the plate.

 Sorriest bunch of cookies ever. But I'm mom of the year. So. it all balances out.
Jason came down with a bad cold so some of the plans we had made were cancelled, like going to the electric safari at the zoo. He did manage to drag himself into the Jeep and take us to look at Christmas lights which ended up being one house that we go to every year that has lights synced to music. Evan was in a bad mood so I told him he could take pictures of it on my phone:
 This led us right up to Saturday the 23rd, when we had Christmas with Jason's family.
We didn't get together until 1:00 in the afternoon. 
When there's so much waiting, sometimes you have to pass the time with trivial activities.
 Stockings are always first. Is there anyone on this earth who gets the stuff from their stockings last? I need to know.
Grandma had all the kids sit down and roll a dice to see who got to have their stocking first. An ingenious idea I might add.
 The boys got Star Wars ornaments.
 
 JOV (everyone agrees that my stocking looks like it says JOV, yes?) got her stocking and the photo bomber made me laugh out loud.
 I also managed to snag one of my nieces Christmas gifts and tried it on. I'd make an excellent panda surrogate.
2 smiling boys rounded out the day.
 Grandma got Evan this toilet game that squirts water from the toilet just like the one we have at home.
And Aunt Nessa got Evan this Playdough Millenium Falcon that daddy took over.
Preparations for next Christmas are now underway.

Monday, December 25, 2017

I ♥ Christmas

There's a slight chance that Christmas has the same effect on me as that of a 5 year old. Only I'm able to calm myself down enough in order to cook a meal and I don't know any 5 year olds that can do that. So. Clearly I'm a descendant of Buddy the Elf.
Last night for the first time in several years we skipped the Christmas Eve evening service at church and stayed home. 
Mistake.
The boys were so bored by the time 6 pm rolled around that we were all bickering about which Christmas movie to watch next. 
I told the boys that they could open their traditional Christmas Eve gift of pajamas and movie at 5:30 since that's when it gets dark here and we made until 5:15 when I called it good because I couldn't tolerate their hyperactivity any longer.
The Muppet Christmas movie that Dawson is holding is stupid and now I have to find a suitable replacement. Jason made it very clear that he wants to own the Christmas Classics (Like the old school version of the creepy felt looking rudolph slow motion movies). I'm hoping that Walmart has them on sale tomorrow so that I can get in a huge long line and waste my day away trying to buy it.
Of course in my haste to get the boys sitting still in front of a tv, I completely forgot to take a picture of them in their new pajamas so I forced them to take a picture in them in front of the tree this morning before opening presents.
We actually managed to wake up early enough to get all of the presents under the tree before the boys woke up.
 Dawson woke up before Evan and begged to wake up Evan on a consistent basis until I ran and hid in our basement closet when he wasn't looking so he couldn't ask anymore.
He finally woke up and I forced the yearly Christmas day on the stairs picture upon them.
 Then I talked them into standing in front of the tree for the pajamas picture.
They got to open their stocking first, because that's how it's done.
They each got a Star Wars Ornament and couple of other things that I would have showed you but I didn't get a picture because Christmas at our house is chaotic. I did get a video though but it won't load for some reason. So I'll allow you the privilege of imagining them opening their gifts in their stockings. 
Wasn't that fun?
I was trying to remember if I've every wrapped their stocking gifts before. I don't know why I did this year. I guess I was overcome with Christmas cheer and crap.
This year was the year of Lego for Dawson. He asked for Lego gift cards on repeat. So he got a ton of Lego gift cards. I asked him if we could turn them in for cash so that I could get this plaid poncho from Nordstrom that I've been wanting.
The number one item on Evan's Christmas list this year was this giant remote control crane that he saw in some spoiled kids' YouTube video.
Dawson of course begged for a Lego haul so that he could continue to enchant his YouTube following with new videos.
Jason put the crane together for Evan so that Evan could use the grappler attachment to clean up the Christmas after math.
Of course the giant crane was only a fraction of the price of that over priced Lego set so Evan's big gift was a new tablet.
I've been telling him his old tablet was lost for approximately 3 weeks now.
Speaking of Evan, I found these super cute $5 plush Star Wars dolls (are they dolls? What do you call them?!) at Kohl's this year and I bought some for Evan. Then I wondered if there were any more for sale that I was missing so I looked them up on Ebay. I bough the only 4 that there were available. Turns out I can steal them out of Evan's bed while he's sleeping and sell them on Ebay for double the money!
Jason bought me coffee mugs this year. And if you'll look to the bottom left corner of the picture you can also see my new "OMG It's Santa" t-shirt.
Dawson made us Christmas tree ornaments out of Legos.
Finally it was time to bribe the boys to do our annual Christmas pictures:
 Surprisingly, bribing doesn't always work that well for Evan and we have to threaten all manner of nuclear even occurrences to get him to cooperate with us.
 This one might be my fave:
 Of course I opened my big mouth and vocalized my approval of that picture and got this:
 "Are we done yet"????
 I felt it was time for some Christmas Joy.
 Bribery works with Jason.
 Tomorrow's blog post will contain all the events leading up to Christmas Day.
MERRY CHRISTMAS 
MY FRIENDS!