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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Disney magic : pros and cons of staying OFF property

With our trip to Disney World this year we stayed off property and LOVED every second of it. It worked perfectly for us! We had originally wanted to stay on property, as it's all we'd heard people do there. We booked our trip too last minute though and could not find anything reasonable on property, so decided to find a condo off property. We were about 5-10 minutes from Disney World parks with our off property condo. It was super easy to get tp the parks. I hope this post helps you in figuring out what is best for you.

I send a note to you now letting you know that we have not ever stayed on property, I only have this off property experience to share. I've done a lot of research and talked to people though about their on property experience, so I have a little info to compare. Hope this helps.


Our kids each had a room, but they decided to share one together. The decorations just made things more fun.



We loved being able to have our own space, not have to be quiet like in a hotel room. Our kids are up early so it was nice not having to shush them all morning before others may wake up. We loved having the ability to shop for groceries (we went once to Wal-Mart the first day, it's 2 minutes from the condo) and pack lunches and eat breakfast at home. We saved SO much food money that way and ate healthier.



This was the largest pool at the property, a 5 minute walk or 1 minute drive to the pool house. There is a water slide, lots of shade and sunny areas. It was perfect for our pool days.


Below is the pool that is directly attached to our condo! THIS was the #1 thing we looooooved about staying off property. Every night after the sweaty exhausting days at the parks, we'd put the kids to bed and head out for a dip in the pool or hot tub. It was a daily date night for us! We never would have been able to do this if we'd been on property, as you share a pool with others and can't leave your kids behind in the hotel room of course. This was such a perk for us. We had our kids swimming in the mornings, at night before bed, etc. It was awesome.


We didn't mind renting a car. Yes, it was money, but it's affordable and allowed us the opportunity to go to other locations that we were planning anyway, like visiting my uncle at his place in Lakeland and like heading over to Disney Springs. It also meant we were NEVER waiting for a bus or other transportation to take us back home. We simply got in the car.

Yes, we paid money for parking daily, that's an expense. To us, with a stroller, it was worth it. If we didn't have a baby and stroller, I'd say the tram parking and taking a bus is fine. But for us with a stroller, cooler, baby stuff etc it was just fine having a car to pack and unpack each day.








We had a big huge deck area to eat outside, an indoor kitchen area and bar stool counter top where we did breakfast most days. Also a dining room table that we didn't even use. The condo was immaculate, the cleanest I'd ever seen. They provided towels, blankets and sheets, toilet paper and dish soap to start, dishwasher, laundry machine etc. This was awesome with kids. We did all of our laundry before we left for home so that when we got home we didn't have to do anything!



This condo had four bedrooms, plenty of space.



We loved staying here!


The pros and cons of staying OFF Disney property:

PROS

  1. Private pool- We loved this for evenings to spend time solo and relax without a zillion people around. 
  2. Meals- We could make dinners a few nights, lunches daily for the parks with our cooler we packed, and breakfasts at home are WAY cheaper than going anywhere else. Because we made our meals, we ate a lot healthier than if we'd eaten out every meal for every vacation day. 
  3. Less crowded- When you are on property you are always in lines, in crowds, with others. There is enough of a large crowd when visiting the parks, we DO NOT want to be in a line or crowd when eating three meals a day, using restrooms, getting in the pool etc. For us, this worked better for more privacy and a quieter, less busy experience. 
  4. Car- We like having our own transportation to get to different restaurants, a store, and to visit my uncle in another town. We liked at the end of a tiring park day we did not have to wait for a bus. One night, we waited for a bus from Epcot to Port Orleans for dinner at a resort... it took an hour from the moment we got in line for the bus, waiting for bus, riding bus, off bus and in line to get food at Port Orleans... it was such a long time with tired kids. 
  5. Space- We are not the family that could pile up in a hotel room and call it good. Our kids need space to fall asleep, otherwise they're up for hours talking if in the same room. We have a baby and then big kids, going to bed at different times. We want time to talk to each other after our kids are in bed. For us, a hotel room would not allow us these opportunities, so being off property where everyone can have space from one another is helpful. 
  6. Cheaper- It's a cheaper nightly rate to stay off property. Yes, we added some more to our bill with a car and parking at the parks, but it's still cheaper overall. 
  7. Easy to have guests- It's easier to invite guests to visit us and spend time in our pool when off property vs on property where they need bands etc. 
  8. Laundry- We essentially could bring less luggage with us next time we go to an off property condo because we could do laundry there. If we stayed in a hotel, everything would need to be reused and have enough outfits for each day, so it's nice knowing being off property with laundry machines we could cut in half what we packed. 

CONS

  1. Can't FastPass until 30 days out- If you stay on property you can get FP options for park rides 60 days out, so you can get more rides you want. However, I'll say that even doing this 30 days out, we were only unable to get ONE ride we wanted- 7 Dwarves Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. I got EVERY other ride we wanted- Pandora, Frozen Ever After, etc. 
  2. Packing food nightly- It took us 15-30 minutes every night to pack our cooler and lunches for the next day. It was not a huge thing, but was one more thing to deal with. To us, it was worth the money we saved, knowing we did not have to wait in food lines at the parks- which took people between 10-40 minutes from what we saw, no thanks! It was worth it also because we ate a lot healthier. We also could give our kids snacks throughout our day wherever we were, instead of having to find another food location and stop to eat. 
  3. Security line- People who stay on property tell us about how nice it is to go through a smaller and quicker security line at their hotel before heading to the parks. This saves time when they arrive at the park. For us, the security lines took us 5-10 minutes max staying off property, so the same amount of time people spent staying at hotels. We found this to be totally a nonissue. I put it in the con section to be fair to those who think it's a perk on property. 
  4. Rental Car- Of course paying money for this and parking and gas. We used a half a tank of gas the entire trip, including driving to see my uncle an hour away. This was not a huge issue. It is more money though to rent a car than take free busses from the property, however you pay a lot more nightly rate to stay on property than off so to us it's a wash. 
  5. No activities- On property there are all kinds of activities for kids like face painting, crafts, games, movies etc. We don't get that off property. However, you are welcome to visit any resort you want so can participate in some of those anyway. For us, the parks were enough. We did not need more activities. We needed rest!
  6. Expensive character meals- If staying off property you cannot get the Disney dining plan. This means you pay out of pocket for character meals. They are EXPENSIVE! This was one thing I want to consider again if we go, perhaps staying on property for a couple of days to get the dining plan for those character meals, wondering the savings there. 
  7. Wal-Mart trip- We had to spend 1.5 hours shopping at Wal-Mart the day we arrived to get our food for the week. This was tiring and not something you prefer to do on vacation, but it was not a huge thing. We got two carts, split up the list and went separate ways to gather everything we needed. 
  8. Disney planner- IF you stay on property you can access a Disney planner who knows everything and can help plan your entire stay. This is a HUGE perk of course, especially for a first trip if you don't know much about where you are going. We did not get this and had to do lots of research. I can see how this would be helpful to have.

Overall, for us we preferred being off property. It worked great for us. We loved where we stayed, having our own private pool and mostly escaping the LARGE crowds on property and everywhere associated with Disney. It was nice being separated from that and having our own privacy. We definitely intend to stay off property again in the future. I have said though I'd like to stay on property for two nights to just see what it's like, the experience and how different it is. Animal Kingdom Lodge is definitely on my list- what a cool place.

Wherever you stay, it's going to be fun and awesome. It all depends on your family and what works for you for whether on or off property will be helpful to you.



Dear 6 year old Addisyn

Dear 6 year old Addisyn,
Happy birthday sweet girl! We can't believe you're swiftly moving past the big FIVE already, into SIX world! It's awesome and crazy. I looked at all of your baby pictures the other day and thought, HOW, WHEN did we get here so fast?! You are our middle princess of the family and so it seems things to faster with you there. We just adore everything about you and appreciate the beauty you bring to our family.


You love to snuggle- your parents, your siblings, a blankie and all the stuffies you can find. You have about 10 stuffed animals or babies sleeping with you every day in your bed. You take something or someone with you every time we leave the house. Every time, a baby or stuffie is with you.

You lost your first teeth this year, a few months before your birthday, what an accomplishment! You played basketball for the first time and loved it. Heading to Kindergarten has been no big thing for you. You were tired the first month, slightly cranky, but overall LOVED every second the rest of the year. It's been your favorite thing being in Mrs. Abbott's class. You are a lover of learning. You read daily to your babies in the morning when you wake up. We swear you'll be a teacher or librarian someday with all you teach your dolls. It's so sweet.



You are feisty and strong, brave and determined. You don't give up. You work hard and pick yourself up with a little help and keep going. You think you are a real superhero girl and wonder woman, and we agree. You won the literacy contest for your writing piece about being a superhero and how girls can do anything boys can do. We are SO proud of you!


You even get sassy with us somedays, stomping your feet on the stairs, saying "uh yeah" in this sarcastic teenage voice that scares us for what the future brings. You get tired easily and whine when it's hot. But overall you are the kindest and sweetest, and we can't believe our ears when you listen the first time we ask you to do something. It's amazing.



You are a good friend, but sometimes bossy to peers. You like to do your thing and don't care if others don't want to join in, Miss Independent for sure. We love this! You loooove dancing and singing, nonstop princess attire around here. You love getting dirty too and playing outside. Collecting rocks is your favorite thing in the whole world. We find them in your backpack, jacket pockets and pretty much everywhere.

I love that you find beauty in everything you see. You make something little become something big. You make it all magical just because you believe that it is. I've never met anyone like you, my dear, and I love that.




Stay brave. Stay kind to others. Ask more people to be your friend. Keep smiling and keep asking a thousand questions. I hope you always love learning how you love it right now in Kindergarten- reading up a storm, we are so proud.



Know you are always loved, little one. We hope you and Owen get to be better friends and that you find more patience for him and that he plays with you more. We hope that you always are the best big sis to Quinn and that you help him along the way.

We can't wait to see all that you do in this next year - learning to run and jump, joining Girl Scouts with me (I'm so excited!), artwork etc. We love your paintings and drawings of smiley faces and rainbows that we find every single day in your bag.

Keep growing, my love. Don't forget to reach out for a hug every day. We count on you for that.
Love,
Mama





Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Disney magic : it's not ALL magic and that's OK

So here's the thing about Disney World (DW), it's not all magic, Tinkerbell glitter, and mouse ears that fit snugly. When you bring kids in tow anywhere, mess up routines, travel, stay in unfamiliar territory, and eat different foods PLUS add to that super hot and sweaty bodies and weather, and crowds like you've never seen before... well, let's just say things won't be picture perfect.

My friend warned me before going on our first trip as a family. She said it wasn't the Disney we knew as kids. I wasn't naive. I was not in la la land dream world imagining every moment to be blissful. I am a realist when it comes to raising kids. I get that it's hard, I talk about it being hard on this blog, I don't pretend all is perfect with parenting. And yet still, I was surprised and taken aback at how not so perfect Disney was on our first park day.


THIS (above) is what traveling with kids looks like, for real.
And then equally as often, this (below) is what traveling to a fancy new place with kids looks like, too... 


I share this with you today a little bit hesitantly. I don't want to burst your magic wand bubble of how amazing your first DW trip is going to be. It's going to be AMAZING. It IS going to be the best trip ever. You're going to laugh and tear up and have fun and do all those twirling moves that you see on Disney videos. You WILL get awesome pics of your kids smiling in matching Mickey outfits. 

It'll be awesome. BUT it won't be perfect... and the sooner you accept that fate the better your trip is going to be. 

Being perfectly honest: some moments sucked. Some moments I closed my eyes and wished I was back home. Some moments I questioned why the hell we'd spent so much money on this trip when our kids were clearly not grateful. Some moments I snapped at my husband and he was frustrated with me. Many moments the five of us were NOT on the same page about where to go or what to do or how to deal.

Our first day at Magic Kingdom (MK) was our worst day of our entire trip. I think because we were new at everything, we didn't know everything - despite all the research I'd done ahead of the trip. It's one of those things you just cannot explain or learn before it happens to you. I liken it to pregnancy or having a newborn. You can read and see and watch others do it all you want, but until you go through it you can't fathom how it'll be. That's Disney.

Our first park day was too rushed. We felt pressure to get it all in, see everything, go everywhere, get on all the rides. Even though we had planned a second day at MK, we still felt this pressure. I yelled, my husband sighed, the kids cried, there were melt downs. It was frustrating. We all were taking it all in differently so it was hard to make a next step that worked for all five of us. We were new at it, it was overwhelming.

The crowds were like nothing I'd ever seen before. It was like being in a mall on Christmas Eve times 1000. I'd never felt it before, it was too much!


We quickly regrouped that night, talked it out in the pool after dinner and while the kids were sleeping, and had a different game plan going into our second day at a Disney park. We got a good night's sleep, and purposely went a bit slower the next day.

All I'd wanted at MK was to walk Main Street and check out all the scenes, find the Mickey ears, take pictures in front of the Walt Disney statue. My only thing I wanted the entire time at the parks was to get to the Main Street MK bakery to get a cinnamon bun. Literally I could care less about souvenirs and t-shirts or any other food, that's all I wanted and we didn't do it... and that's all my fault, nobody else's, because I was trying to make sure the family had a good time and we got to everything.

It was all just too much. I felt smothered by my own plans for this trip. Eek. And I didn't go overboard, I wasn't obsessed with planning, honestly, it just felt like pressure when we got there. It was the heat, crowds, moving stroller out of people's ways, juggling naps and eye meds for the conjunctivitis we learned the baby had like five minutes before our trip, and diaper changes and snacks and FastPass times, app checking= too much. It was overwhelming. I don't go grocery shopping with my kids ... so of course going to a park with so much to consider is going to be hard. This is not like a regular park, you don't just show up and enjoy the rides. You have to plan and get FP etc. You're also spending a billion times more money on this trip than you would say going to a theme park or zoo back home.

It's like a wedding... of course you look back at your wedding day and think oh how wonderful, that was awesome, amazing right? But the planning and chaos of people with wedding stuff is difficult. That's the same as Disney. And it's OK to say so.


So here's the thing I reminded myself of after that first tough day at MK. Here's what I held onto the rest of our trip so it made things much more enjoyable for all- and we DID have that awesome trip! I hope these tips help you as much as they helped me get through the rest of our trip smiling and staying slightly sane.

Tips to enjoy your IMPERFECT trip to Disney:

  1. You're at Disney. That's enough. The colors, flowers, atmosphere, weather, etc. is enough to make kids smile. Stop pushing yourself to get on all the rides. 
  2. You CAN'T do it all. It's impossible so stop trying. This is a MUST to remember. Definitely plan two days for Magic Kingdom, but otherwise realize you cannot do everything. We got park hopper and did not use it once with our younger age kids. It's OK! We picked and chose rides that we could do anywhere- like the carousel or the second Buzz ride, we had to skip some things so chose a few things that we were OK missing.
  3. You will go back. You imagine this is the only time you are going to Disney, understandably since it probably took you years to get there this time. But you WILL go back... it's OK if you don't do it all today. My co-worker told me this and she was SO right, you feel like this is it, this is the one chance you get to do everything. Well, it's not. Most people go back, so tell yourself if you don't do it this trip it's all right and you'll do it next time.
  4. I don't think this is the most magical place on Earth, sorry. It's just not. It's stressful and tiring and overwhelming... Even if it IS the most fun place on Earth, I'll give you that, it IS super fun. And of course there's an element of magic in there, TONS of magic.... but when you say it's the most magical place on Earth I feel that pressure to make it perfect.... and Disney is NOT perfect. It cannot be perfect with young children in tow who are tired and impatient. Our kids were extremely well behaved on this trip, and it was still super hard. I think it's OK to just tell yourself this is a trip, an awesome magical expensive one, but it's just a trip. It's OK if not every single second is full of smiles and magic.
  5. Nothing in this parenting journey is perfect. Why do we set ourselves up to think Disney will be? Yes, it'll be great. Yes, you'll make the kids happy. Yes, it's worth going and making memories. BUT it's NOT going to be perfect and it doesn't have to be. It's like having a newborn.... most incredible experience, life changing, bliss.... yet you'd love more sleep, and can't stand the sound of screeching baby during diaper changes and sucks to be puked on. 
  6. Plan and prep ahead. Do all you can ahead of time to make this a smooth trip. We packed snacks and lunches to avoid waiting in more lines. We did FastPasses for as many rides as possible to get more in and avoid lines. We took breaks on the sidelines for ice cream daily so we could cool off and rest a bit. We got good night's sleep going to bed early the night before our trips. Do what you can.

IT'S OK to express that it's not all perfect at Disney. It's OK to say you hated waiting in line with a toddler who hit your face or screeched "mine" for your water bottle. It's OK to say you got a headache and sunburn when you forgot to take care of you after changing another poop diaper on the ground because the line for the bathroom was going to be about 15 minutes and you had a FP to get to. It's OK to feel angry, impatient, frustrated, annoyed, sad even at times on this trip. I hope those things don't happen to you... but it's normal if they do. And you need to know that.


 We were soooo tired in this picture above... parenting in Florida is exhausting!

It's hard to accept that we don't make something perfect for our kids, right? You build it up so much in your mind, you plan this trip for months, stress over and figure out every single detail, but remind yourself: they are still KIDS. They are kids who are now on the most expensive vacation ever, but still KIDS.

Kids complain about walking because they have short legs.
Kids hate heat because they are too young to know how to deal with it or to recognize it'll pass.
Kids are impatient, they don't have long attention spans and don't realize that it'll be worth it in the end if they wait for 185 minutes for a single 2 minute ride.
Kids don't understand the concept of time, so when you say "it's only a 40 minute wait" they think WTF in their kid ways.
I'm so sorry to report to you, but kids are selfish. They don't express gratitude as well as older people or like you deserve for shelling out so much money. They have no concept of how hard you worked, how many years it took pinching and saving money to get to this trip. They don't get it, so you preaching to them in the gift shop won't really help.
Kids think of themselves- that's NORMAL. They don't think of what ride you want to go on. They don't care that you haven't eaten, they just want their own ice cream, NOW.

Remind yourself you are there for the kids. It's hard to accept at points on this trip... but it's what you're there for. And whatever happens, it's going to be great. It's going to be fun and messy, just like parenting is. It's going to be rewarding but chaotic and totally overwhelming- just like having kids is every other day. So don't set yourself up for perfection or overload. Set yourself up for the reality of going to an incredible and magical place with your busy impatient kids. Breathe. Remind yourself it's ALL OK.

I swear we loooooved our trip.... but the honest mama in me needs to share with you the reality that it's not supposed to be perfect. Hugs to you, those embracing this trip. May it be filled with a realistic dose of magic and lots of icy cold treats to help you get through the hot or crazy moments.

:)


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Disney magic : character meal - Garden Grove

We stumbled upon Garden Grove for a dinner one night when we had a bunch of family gathering together and needed a space big enough at last minute. My sister is so savvy when it comes to Disney, she scored us a reservation for like 15 people very last minute at Swan and Dolphin hotel at the Garden Grove restaurant. The restaurant is in the Swan section of the hotel, this massive place. It was really beautiful inside, with a large tree in the middle of the restaurant. It was basically empty the whole time we were there, and the food was excellent. We were all very pleasantly surprised.

This is not a Disney property so they do not accept the dining plan. Because of that, many families aren't going there, and it's actually an amazing place.

We didn't even know there were characters at this meal, so that was even more fun! Because it's a smaller restaurant and it wasn't packed, the characters spent a lot of time with us, hugging, playing on the floor, taking pictures, etc. It was amazing! The food was cheaper than other restaurants also.


We met Goofy and Pluto at this restaurant. They spent so much time with our kids, which was super fun. I don't have a ton of pictures of the character greetings, as they were with our cousins and I don't want to post other kids on the blog... but it was SO fun to see these characters up close and personal without having to rush.

There is a buffet salad, soup and bread bar that you start with, including a station where the employee can chop your salad with a mixed dressing. This was delicious! They don't have a lot of on the menu, but the prime rib was fantastic- all of our adults ordered this for the most part. They had some fish and chicken items as well, and a kids menu.

We all got dessert items, various cookies and puddings, cakes, etc. from the buffet.

It was overall a great experience! I definitely recommend this restaurant if you have a bigger family you'd like to go out to eat with.



Disney magic : character meal - Akershus

Akershus is another fun character meal that is in Epcot, right outside the Frozen Ever After ride in Norway. This is a really fun character meal to meet some princesses. The princesses are different I've heard each time you go, but some standard ones.


When we visited we met Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, Belle and Sleeping Beauty. We ended up going to this meal the last day we visited a park, at Epcot, and we'd already met all the princesses before besides Snow White... and about a half hour after eating at this restaurant we saw Snow White meeting children with only about four kids in line just up the road from this restaurant... so essentially we could have seen all the princesses free instead of paying a lot (this was our most expensive character meal).

I recommend you visiting this restaurant if you're going to Epcot first before other parks like Magic Kingdom (MK). I also recommend you going here if you don't plan to wait in any lines at all to see some princesses. We were fine with waiting the 20 minutes to see Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty in MK because you got to see them IN the castle, which was pretty special, more interesting than seeing at Akershus.

To me, going to Akershus depends on what you're looking for. It was fabulous food, delicious! It was a great atmosphere, very Norway region. The staff were awesome, the kids got to do a princess walk through the restaurant which our daughter loved. But it was pretty expensive for us to see princesses we'd already seen. The princesses only stay with you less than a minute, too.

 

You do get to take pictures with Belle at the start of the day, which is super fun.  You can also see Belle in MK at her Enchanted Tales with Belle, which is more fun since you get to dance with her and spend time with her.


The food was delicious for the kids- they loved the mac and cheese- delicious, we would have eaten it ourselves, and pizza. There is a buffet salad bar with cheese, meats, fish, crackers, etc. that you start out with, then your meal is served to you.



The menu is Norwegian so some of the items were interesting and new to us, but we loved this ravioli with balsamic drizzle and some chicken. It was delicious. The difficult thing about this though was one major reason to go to Epcot is to try all the various country foods there, things you can't find elsewhere, and after having lunch at Akershus we just were not hungry enough to want to try other items... so I think for us we'd skip this meal again in the future.





Tip: We brought a Halloween costume princess dress and wrapped it up in our backpack, had her wearing her shorts and tank top underneath. She was so excited to be able to do that! Most kids did have princess gowns on, so that was cute to see.




The dessert was family style, where they served us a variety of things to try together. Delicious!


Dairy free sherbet was my son's favorite thing the entire trip!


Overall, this was a great restaurant, good food, fun to see princesses. We just would not go back because it did not match what we want. We'd like to go to Epcot to eat at various country food stops instead of fill up at this expensive restaurant. We don't mind seeing the princesses at MK earlier in the week also, so that works better for us. I am glad we took our daughter, she enjoyed it immensely, but we felt she could enjoy something similar in another setting to meet the needs of our entire family.