Sunday, September 20, 2015

10 things we got right about Disneyworld

Before we went to DisneyWorld, I spent lots of time researching what to do and where to go while at Disney.  Some of these tips I learned really made our trip better!  Some tips I didn't follow and I should have- those will be mentioned in another post.  Here are 10 things that I feel really made a positive difference for us:

1) Following Disney Dining (and other fan sites) on Facebook.  This is a fan page that posts different tips and tricks every day.  For the year leading up to our trip it became my morning routine to grab coffee and read the morning article before the kids woke up.  Actually, now I'm not really sure what to do with myself when I wake up.  Maybe plan for the next trip?

2)  Getting up early.  I kept reading the "don't sleep in" advice and cringing.  For us, getting to the park at 8am (morning Magic Hours opening) is the equivalent of hopping on a roller coaster at 5am.  And I wouldn't really consider us morning people.  BUT I have to say that after the first day we were totally sold.  The difference between the park at 9:30 and the park at noon is honestly enough to make the experience.

3)  Pulling the kids out of school to go on the off season.  Look, I get that this can be controversial.  I understand people may think we are irresponsible.  Heck, my family is full of teachers and education has always been a big deal around here.  My kids will have a lot of work to do to catch up, for sure.  But I just can't believe that it wasn't worth it.  They may not have learned math on the trip, but they learned a lot about themselves and we learned a lot about us as a family.  Could we have done it in the summer?  Yes.  But, that would have been really hard on my work schedule.  And the longest wait time we faced was 70 minutes- which had actually been miscalculated.  We stepped on the ride 40 minutes after getting in line.  Most of our wait times were 15-25 minutes.

4)  Staying at a Disney resort.  Granted, we didn't stay at the right resort for us (more on that in another post).  However- even without really liking the resort we stayed at, we got some big advantages out of the deal.  Extra Magic Hours are awesome.  We kept walking on to rides that are super popular.  Magic Bands are really cool.  It really is like wearing a magic bracelet that holds the keys to your happiness.  Disney Transportation was great!  There are some areas I saw for improvement, but ultimately not having to drive and park in an unfamiliar place was fantastic.  Having a park hopper option every day provided us with great freedom.  Since our kids are old enough to kind of "go with the flow", I loved the idea of being able to go wherever we felt like going.  Also, did I mention how valuable the Extra Magic Hours are?

5)  Utilizing Amazon Prime, Disney's willingness to accept packages on guests' behalf and Florida's wonky sales tax laws.  We are simply not meant to be eating junk food on a regular basis, and one of our vacation pitfalls in the past has been not keeping a healthy diet while we travel.  It costs too much, it makes us feel yucky, and it makes us homesick.  So before we arrived at our resort I had some of our go-to snacks and breakfast foods shipped to the resort.  It was much less expensive than buying similar items at Disney and kept us well fueled.  Not having to buy constant snacks for growing boys meant that when we DID eat out, we had more money for the food we really wanted.  Bonus: when Dusty realized that his golf shoes were sitting at home, we ordered some Nike golf shoes for under $60, used Prime to get them before his golf day and simply picked them up from the front desk when they called to notify us that a package had arrived.  Have you seen golf shoe prices in Resort Pro Shops?  Let's just say that would have taken a chunk out of our t-shirt budget!

6)  Making water a priority.  Before we left for the parks I made every member of the family drink a glass of water (I had bought 6 gallons of bottled water and a few lemons when we arrived).  Every day we all had Nalgene bottles filled with lemon water when we left.  I've got to be honest- I couldn't drink the tap water there.  But when we were at sit down restaurants with good filters they were happy to fill our bottles or give us to go cups at the end of the meal.  Between those things and being willing to spend money on bottled water at the parks if we ran out, it kept us feeling happy and healthy while walking an average of 8 miles a day.  The *one* day that my 9 year old didn't bring his water bottle, he almost missed out on the Magic Kingdom the following day due to a headache and generally feeling yucky.  After re-hydrating we realized he was just dried out and we went on to have one of our very best days of the trip.

7)  Making dining reservations ahead of time!  And signing up for Disney Dining Buddy for the reservation we could not get.  Most of our dining reservations were made about 1 1/2 months in advance.  In retrospect, we should have made them 3 months in advance because some of the more popular reservations are SUPER hard to get.  I was very disappointed to miss out on Be Our Guest, so I paid a total of $24 ($8/ea for 3 different slots to watch) to a service that notified me when a reservation came available.  On the Saturday that we were at Disneyworld I got a text that there was an opening at Be Our Guest for lunchtime Monday.  Getting in a restaurant I really wanted to see, when I didn't think it was possible, seriously made my trip more magical.

8)  Staying late a few nights.  Look, we opened the parks every day so by 7pm we were exhausted.  The nights we stayed until close, Dusty and I looked at each other around 8pm and wondered if we should just throw in the towel and get on a bus or boat home.  But then, the fireworks started at 9 and it was obvious that staying was a good choice.  Having older kids it may seem like "eh, they've seen fireworks before"- but no, your local 4th of July show isn't the same.  Disney isn't just in the fireworks business, they are in the magic business.  And it doesn't matter how old you are, they are magic.  Bonus: when you come home on Disney transportation after the fireworks, you ride with a whole bus full of excited and happy kids who are right in the middle of a childhood dream.  It was adorable and inspiring, and in general everyone was in a better mood at 9:45 than they were at 7.

9)  Buying the picture package.  This is the thing I came closest to not doing.  I *almost* made the mistake of not buying the Memory Maker package, but a more experienced friend encouraged me to do so.  I am SO HAPPY with this purchase!  Here it is, September, and I am aching to make Christmas cards because I have some awesome and professional photos.  I didn't have to carry a camera around and the quality is good enough to hang up on the wall.  Plus, I'll be honest that I am terrible at talking to strangers.  I am just not comfortable asking someone I don't know to shoot a candid of my family.  I paid $170 for this, but when you calculate how long we were there it was less than $30/day.  It was also less expensive than a photo package from a local photographer, and I don't think we will need to do that for a couple years now!

10)  Not being TOO frugal.  Sure, there were ways that I wanted to save money.  There were also some ways that I didn't.  In the end I didn't pre-buy t-shirts and light sabers.  I let the boys pay Disney prices and choose the ones they wanted.  We brought snacks into the park but made sure to stop for some of the really good ones I'd read about (the turkey legs are awesome!).  They both got yet another baseball cap, and they probably didn't need them.  But the things we spent money on that we really didn't have to were certainly things that we will remember.  And although I used the word "no" a few times, that wasn't my go-to answer and I'm pretty sure the kids won't remember hearing it much while we were on vacation.  At home I feel like I say "no" all the time.  It was nice to let up a bit at the happiest place on earth!


We are just home from our biggest family vacation ever!  It is currently 6:12 in the morning and I have already had 1 1/2 cups of coffee, played referee to brother wars over ridiculous things and considered doing laundry (I'm still on the fence with that one).  This is for three reasons: 1) we are still on Florida time. 2) We are still on "wake up early because we want to get to the park before everyone else!" time. 3) We all fell asleep around 2pm yesterday and confused our animals by basically sleeping through the night.  Speaking of our animals, Cubby (the cat) doubled in size on our trip.  We all kinda walked in and did a double take!  Georgia briefly wagged her tail to see me and then gave me a look that clearly said "you have some explaining to do", and Max was...Max.  As usual.

For the record, I knew I would hate this ride.  But I did it anyhow because the 9 year old wanted to.  The boys loved it.  I didn't die, so...

Here are 10 of my favorite things from our trip:

-The boys were so busy having fun that they didn't really argue after 9am.  The arguing literally started as we walked through the door at home, though, so don't worry- they were not, in fact, replaced by aliens.

-Both boys dropped the "too cool big kid" thing.  I have to say that both Disneyworld and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter seemed to intentionally reach out to Skyler to help him drop the tween attitude and reluctance to be a kid.  At Animal Kindom we took photos with the characters from Up and Russell grabbed Sky's hand and walked him down the street.  This sent all of us, Sky included, into fits of giggles.  It also led to lots of other guests looking at us and wondering what was going on- which led to more giggles because we had no idea.  At Olivander's Wand Shop Skyler was chosen to be the wizard who was chosen by a wand, complete with books flying off the shelves and magical lighting when the right wand was found.  This is exactly what we were hoping for on this trip and I am so very grateful for the little pause in almost-a-teenager attitude.
Sky's wand is hazel with dragon heartstring in the center.

-Alex grew up.  We don't know how, exactly.  It is one of those childhood things you can't really put a finger on.  I remember it happened with Sky the first year he went to summer camp.  All the sudden you just realize- wow, something changed!  Sometime during the trip, he just shed his "little boy" demeanor.  It is kind of sad, but at the same time it is rewarding to see the person he is growing in to.
We saw the Blue Man Group at Universal Studios.  Alex loved it, and loved the band that played with them- both for their love of music and their shared passion for neon colors.

-Family pictures!  Pictures that may have still been posed, but at least the smiles and excitement were completely genuine.  I can't wait to make Christmas cards this year!
Our family at Epcot.  Sky age 12, Alex age 9.

-The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  I totally geeked out and I am not even a little bit ashamed.  I could have wandered around for a week, just looking at all the small details.

-Be Our Guest restaurant.  Getting to eat lunch in the middle of one of my favorite childhood movies was magical.  The fact that all the males I had with me completely went along with it so that I could feel like a little girl again was even more awesome.  At The Grey Stuff?  Amazing.  They weren't kidding!

-Being the only girl in the group.  One thing I love about being the mom of only boys, now that the boys are too old to go in the women's restroom?  3 minute breaks from parenting every couple hours.  :-)

-Roller Coasters (seriously!).  Everyone who knows me will probably be surprised to read this.  Normally I avoid thrill rides.  But at 9 & 12, I knew going in that I was going to have to do this.  I didn't want to be the parent who didn't participate, so I took some Calm Spirit tea pills and some nausea meds and decided to join in.  Turns out the Tower of Terror was one of my favorite rides, the Dragon Challenges were fun and scary but ultimately fun won out, and I'm glad I rode the Rockin' Roller Coaster...twice.  However, you will never see me step foot on the Rockit Roller Coaster at Universal ever again.  Once was enough, thankyouverymuch.  At least I can say I tried it!

-The safari ride at Animal Kingdom.  Actually, just Animal Kingdom in general.  The whole place was an amazing mix of a really good zoo (and seeing as The Oregon Zoo is my home zoo, my standard is pretty high) and fun amusement park.  Loved it!

-Having fun as a family.  What can beat that?  It was just honestly a really, really fun time.  Even the stuff that wasn't perfect (there are some things I would have done differently after all is said and done) was completely overshadowed by AWESOME.
This was taken on our first day- it was the first ride we did, as soon as Extra Magic Hours began.  It was 8:10 am there.  When we all got queasy we realized we had pretty much just done the Tower of Terror at 5:10am because we hadn't yet adjusted to the time difference.  After the first day, we started mornings with lower-key rides.

I loved Disney.  I thought this would be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but I gotta say...maybe we will have to return.  I hear Harry Potter is coming to California soon, and once that happens I don't know that we would fly across the country, but I don't think we are done with theme parks yet.  

I am so very grateful for this awesome family experience.  And now, back to real life!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

My house is a disaster and I might be losing my mind.

I'm having trouble even looking at my living room.  And the table my family used to eat at every night?  It's buried under mail to be sorted and end-of-the-school-year papers that I haven't looked through.  I feel like my children having clean underwear should earn me a gold medal, and I haven't worn any work clothes that need to be ironed in at least a month.  Why?


Juggling work and family has always been a careful balance, as any working parent knows.  During baseball season- when each kid has 3-5 obligations each week, and never in the same place but always at the same time- the balance...doesn't balance.  Aside from my house taking a hit, my desk at work is piled with papers I really need to get to and I seriously need to start planning my next fundraiser, someday.  My Type A work personality has turned in to a Type ADD personality (in related news, I am seriously thinking of asking my doctor if Sky's ADD comes from me).  I'm a mess.

BUT...look at these faces.  Seriously.  Just look at them.

Sky, waiting to take the field.

Alex, moments after earning the coolest hat ever (the hat that comes with being chosen for the All Star team).

Skyler is taking his meds every day without reminders, not arguing about bedtime and- when school was in session- making sure he got his homework done so coach didn't bench him.  His confidence has increased and his work ethic has become admirable.  Alex is literally standing in the middle of the living room right now, working on his swing.  He never stops playing baseball.  The child talks to his coach in his sleep (seriously).

I have read countless articles bemoaning the over scheduling of children these days and the dangers of hyper-competitive sports at a young age.  Those concerns are on my radar, I promise.  But what I am learning is that some kids thrive on this stuff.  While I remember standing on the ball field wishing this game would get over already as a kid, Alex mopes around the house on "rest days" feeling like this is the most boring day ever.  He can relate anything at all to life at the ball park.  The lens he sees the world through is round and has red stitching through it.

And it isn't just about entertainment.  It's about life lessons.  A week ago, Skyler didn't want to go to practice.  He told me he was burnt out and didn't sign up for such a long season or so many practices.  His allergies were bad and he wanted to stay on the couch.  Though I felt bad for him, I told him it wasn't happening.  He made a commitment to his team, and he'd better get in the car because Coach doesn't like when he is late.  Practice is happening, dude.  Two days ago I watched him stop a runner at 3rd base, when another run could very well have meant the game for us.  On the way home, he felt awesome about his contributions against a really tough opponent.  He knew his teammates depended on him and couldn't wait to continue on in the tournament.  You know, with all the ups and downs Sky has gone through in life, I'd argue with anyone at all over the merits of that catch the other day.  It was totally worth the time, the money and the feeling that life is completely overwhelming right now.  

Today we are off to the District Championship game.  Sky's team plays a tough team for the title, and Alex will spend a few hours on the sidelines playing a mock game with all the younger siblings who want to be just like brother.  We will be super hot and tired of driving 3 hours a day for the 3rd day in a row, and we will probably bemoan the awful feeling we get after eating fast food for dinner.  But seriously?  I just wouldn't have it any other way.