After Disney: Thoughts on What I’m Glad I Did (And What I Wish I Had Done!)

Well friends, we are back from our very first family vacation to Disney World, and I wanted to write a follow up post to share with you some things I learned on this trip. Some of them are big and some of them are small but I hope all of them will help you as you prepare for your family trip to the most magical place on earth!

disney world vacation advice

Let’s start with the BIG lessons I learned on our trip.

1. Once again, having a Disney travel rep is worth its weight in gold! Working with a Disney travel rep is actually FREE (no, seriously!) and the value just can’t be underestimated, friends. I texted and emailed my rep, Leanne, several times during our trip, and she was 100% on the ball and quick to respond to me and help with any issues that came up during the trip (such as realizing we were going to be late for a lunch reservation). I just can’t emphasize enough that you are doing yourself a HUGE favor by working with a Disney travel rep. You can read more about the process and who we worked with on an earlier post I wrote about getting ready for a Disney World vacation.

2. FastPass Strategy. We really messed up our FastPasses, and if we had gone at a busier time of the year, it would have been a disaster. Fortunately, we went during a low crowd time, so it wasn’t a big deal. Here’s the mistake we made: we thought that once you use the first of your 3 pre-booked Fastpasses, you could go ahead and sign up for another one. WRONG! You have to use all 3 of your pre-scheduled fastpasses before you can get a fourth one. Tim scheduled our fastpasses throughout the day and well into the evening, so there was really no way for us to take advantage of a fourth or fifth fastpass. A better strategy would have been, for example, to pre-book an 11 am, 12pm, and 1pm fast pass so that we could be eligible for any remaining fastpasses later in the afternoon and potentially see/do more. Again, it all worked out ok for us, but if it had been more crowded, our mistake would have meant lots more waiting in line.

disney world tea cups

3. The Quick Service Dining Plan: Meh. We also took advantage of a free dining offer promotion that Disney was offering, so in that sense, I totally don’t regret having the quick service dining plan because for us, it was free! But let me tell you, if I had paid for it, I would have been disappointed, and there are two main reasons why. First, it is WAY too much food. Quick service meals come with an entree, a beverage and a dessert. The portions are overly generous, typically, so it’s more than one person can eat. If you bought dining plans for everyone you will be wasting a lot of food, and that also means wasting a lot of money.

The second reason I wasn’t overly impressed with the dining plan is because I actually thought the kid meal options were quite limited. Most establishments offer the same 3 options for kids, and when you have a picky eater like I do, that means that she is eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at every single meal. She was totally bored with that by the second day and I ended up packing extra food for her, even though she had dining credits. When you have a child with you, you are required to use the children’s dining plan for them. Otherwise, I would have gotten her something else for the sake of variety.

Ok, so now let’s dig into the minutiae a bit, and talk about things to pack.

What I’m Glad I Brought

There are two things that I’m really glad I brought that might not necessarily be on your packing list. The first is one of those over-the-door shoe organizers. I read this on someone else’s blog and at first didn’t think I would bring ours, but then I had a change of heart, and I’m so glad I did. We used this in our hotel room simply to hold all sorts of toiletries and accessories. It kept our bathroom counters from getting junked up, and since it had clear plastic holders, it made finding things we needed quick and easy. We didn’t hang up many of our clothes, so we just kept it on the coat rack. I will be using this trick the next time my family stays in a hotel for more than a night!

The second thing I’m really glad I brought was a linen freshener. You might think of it as Febreeze, though I use a different brand. Even though it wasn’t too hot while we were there, you still might find that at the end of the day you smell less-than-spectacular…especially your shoes, which will be doing some seriously hard work every single day for you.

What I Wish I Had Brought

We stayed in a family suite for most of the trip (switching to traditional rooms for the last third of it, simply due to booking issues). In a family suite you are actually provided with plates, cups, bowls, forks and knives. For some bizarre reason, you are NOT provided with spoons. I brought one of those plastic cutlery sets that has everything in it, but if I had to do it again, I’d just buy one with spooons, as we ran out of spoons rather quickly. When eating breakfast in your room, as we were doing, not having spoons kind of stinks. Alternatively, we also would have been ok if we had just brought some dish soap and a sponge.

I also wish I had brought extra zip-loc bags. It would have made dividing snacks for the park days easier to do. Just wasn’t something I thought of beforehand!

I would also bring at least one plastic bag for wet clothes that you might accrue toward the end of your trip, such as if you decide to swim in the hotel pool the night before you leave.

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On a related note, I think it is a good idea to bring a change of pants, if nothing else, for your younger kids when going to the parks. Both of our girls at various points got dirty (spilled milk) clothes at the parks and we didn’t have new pants for them. Darah actually had on a new dress at one point, and we realized after we got to the park that the straps were too low. We had to buy her a new ($30) t-shirt on the spot. This could have been avoided if we had brought a change of clothes with us.

Notes about Hotel Location

art of animation ariel

When staying on property, you might want to do your best to see if you can stay in a room that is reasonably close to your hotel’s food court (side note: we LOVED Art of Animation, and we thought their food court had some of the best food we had during our entire stay). You may find, as we did, that your room is quite a hike from the food court. This won’t seem like a big deal at all until you start touring the parks, and then you will be reluctant to walk any more than is absolutely necessary, I promise! Furthermore, at least for our hotel, the food court is also really close to where you wait for the bus to go to the parks, which is yet another reason to stay as close to it as possible.

disney property bus ride

You might also want to note the distance from your hotel of choice to the parks. Disney World property is HUGE; just because you are staying on property doesn’t mean you are actually close to one of the parks. We were reasonably close to Hollywood Studios, but we were a solid 25 minute bus ride from Magic Kingdom. While using the bus system was totally easy, we really discovered that being able to go back to the hotel room and nap AND being able to actually do all the things you really want to do in each park are, in fact, mutually exclusive. I don’t regret staying on property, but I did realize during our stay that you still aren’t so close to your hotel that you can see everything and take a sizeable break. You will still have to choose one or the other, because there’s just too much to see, even on a low crowd day.

The Number One Thing I Would Change If I Could Do it Over

art of animation swimming pool

My family stayed on property for 6 nights, and we spend 5 days in the parks. If I had to do it all over again, I would actually stay 1 more day, and I’d spend that day just relaxing at the hotel. Disney resorts are marvels in and of themselves, and most kids really love to get to watch cartoons on the television, swim in pools, and just run around having fun and playing games (such things are offered throughout the day at the hotels). We were so burnt out by our 5th and final day at the parks, which is the day we did Epcot, that we sort of hobbled along in that park and did about half of the stuff we likely would have done had we been energized. I think it was a mistake not to take a break in the middle of our park days to just chill out and enjoy our hotel. It would have been worth the extra time and money to get a little bit of rest and relaxation on the trip. While our Disney vacation was absolutely jam packed with magic and fun, it was VERY short of relaxation. An extra day just for that purpose would have been wise.

If you have ever vacationed at Walt Disney World, did you have any lessons you learned (big or small) that you’d like to share with others? I’d certainly love to hear your thoughts, and I’m sure others would, too! Or if you are planning a trip and have questions for those of us who have already gone, please add them to the comments section so others can chime in!

Checking Out Peekapak Craft and Story Subscription Service

Affiliate link may be included. All thoughts and opinions are my own, as always. 

My little ones both seem to have a growing interest in crafts and other such artistic projects. I have mixed feelings about this, as my heart swells with pride, while my self-esteem also shudders in horror, on account of the fact that all things arts and crafts are challenging for yours truly. The craft gene totally skipped me, friends. I once drew something as a young teenager that someone else asked if my 3-year-old sister had drawn. Their question was totally serious, and also totally fair.

Ok, so since I break out into hives at the thought of spending time in Michael’s, I absolutely love craft subscription boxes, because they bring the supplies and the detailed instructions to me so that I can’t possibly mess up.

Of course I can still mess up! Don’t be fooled! But they do make it quite a bit more difficult for me to make major errors, and that’s a good thing!

Peekapak

Our latest box came to us courtesy of Peekapak. Inside every month’s Peekapak you’ll find a storybook and crafts that relate to that story. We were sent a special Peekapak that goes along with the new movie, The Hero of Color City.

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I was concerned that we would be confused about the contents since we haven’t seen the movie, but the book that came with the kit laid out the story so that everyone understood what we were doing with the crafts. I think that relating the crafts back to a story is a unique element that I haven’t seen in any other craft subscription service.

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The activity the kids wanted to do involved creating the color river and the lighthouse that were both featured in the story. The concept was simple: we covered a board with a sheet of aluminum foil (all included in the kit) and then used the crayons they provided to make gorgeous swirls of color on the river.

Such a great idea in theory! In practice, it looked like this:

peekapak 3 I actually had to ditch the crayons that were provided and use our own crayons just to get this much color on the foil. I have to say, I thought it was a huge miss to have a craft box all about crayons and then to send really poor quality crayons in the kit. Talk about a missed opportunity!

Now as for this particular craft, it may be the case that I should have used the other side of the foil. I’m honestly not sure, but the directions didn’t specify one way or the other. In any case, our vibrant color river looked sort of sad, but the girls didn’t seem too fazed by it, and pressed on.

peekapak 4 The next step was to color the windows for the light house. They took some creative license with their color choice, as well as with the light placement, which is totally fine. They both really liked the flameless candle that came in the set to make the top of the lighthouse. But I think the idea here was to create something that might inspire imaginative play after the creating process was over. As soon as the girls finished the lighthouse, they promptly left the table. So I’m sorry to say that it didn’t hold their interest after they were done creating.

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Was I wowed by Peekapak after just one box? Not really. But would I try it again? I honestly would, and that’s largely because I like the combination of story time and craft time. It gives some context to the projects, and I think there’s a lot of potential there, though based on my experience with the crafts, definitely some kinks left to work out.

If you like the idea behind Peekapak, too, you might want to give it a try for a month. Use coupon code SPECIAL10 at checkout and you’ll get $10 0ff your first box. I think the discount definitely makes it worth the risk, friends. Pricing varies for each Peekapak depending on how many you pay for up front, but if you just go for one, they are $19.50 and that includes your shipping.

 

 

 

A Simple Way to Show Gratitude to an Awesome Neighbor: Writing a Letter

This post brought to you by The Fred Rogers Company and The Motherhood. All thoughts and opinions are my own, as always. 

Are you lucky enough to have a wonderful neighbor? Sometimes I feel like we won the good neighbor jackpot. Our neighbors own the plot of land right next to our house, which they turned into a community garden for our entire neighborhood to enjoy. They very easily could have sold it, no doubt for a nice profit, and had a home or even condos put on the property. But they valued the green space, and they wanted people in our community to be able to grow gardens, so they created 10 raised-bed plots that community members can take possession of for the year for a very nominal fee.

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I personally love being able to look out my window and see neighbors working the soil, or even just hanging out together on the stretch of land for a play date or a picnic. My kids also get plenty of use out of the area and love to run around and explore. Since there are 10 garden beds, there’s pretty much always something new and exciting to discover!

Our neighbors also own a building next to this plot of land, and they have a home in the upstairs part of the building. The downstairs has been turned into a nonprofit that serves as a creative outlet and income opportunity for individuals on the margins of society. Art is created and sold at this location, and true community is formed. You can feel the love just by walking through the doors. The same site hosts a church group on Friday evenings that draws in a lot of individuals and families in our community. Our neighbors simply give the space to the church every Friday afternoon. That’s yet another example of their generosity

One final example of how wonderfully generous our neighbors are happened just a few months ago, when our new lawnmower was stolen out of our locked shed. Our neighbor, who this year started using a lawn service for the community garden space, simply offered his old lawn mower to us free of charge. He really helped us when we were in a bind and while we weren’t surprised by his generous gift (on account of all the other ways above that he is so giving), we were still overwhelmed by it. I look forward to being able to pay his kindness forward down the road, perhaps to a neighbor I may discover in some sort of need.

bemyneighbor 1

I’ve decided to send my neighbors a letter this year, in addition to the standard holiday greeting card. A letter is such a rare and special thing to receive these days, and I really want them to feel special and to know that my gratitude for their generosity, and for the great example they serve as to others, is from the heart. While it will take me longer than sending an email, I think it will be time very well spent. Good neighbors deserve our thanks, and I’m happy to spend a bit of time today sending a little gratitude into the world!

Share Your Story

Remember the start of every Mister Rogers episode? It began with Fred asking us, the viewers, to be his neighbors. Now I’m asking you to do the same! Today we are celebrating the launch of an amazing online destination that celebrates neighborliness all across the country, WontYouBeMyNeighbor.org. If you have a great story about the joy of having a good neighbor, or even about being a good neighbor, yourself, hop on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and share your story along with the hashtag #BeMyNeighbor. You will shortly find your tale on the Be My Neighbor website for others to read and enjoy!

Twitter Party!

Today (11/19) at 2pm ET I hope you will join me on Twitter for a #BeMyNeighbor Twitter party! We will be celebrating the launch of the Be My Neighbor website, sharing inspiring stories about what makes a great neighbor and giving away 5 great Mister Rogers and Daniel Tiger prize packs! Each prize pack includes a Mister Rogers quote book & t-shirt and a Daniel Tiger mini plush, book & DVD. Prizes are limited to U.S. participants only. Follow the #BeMyNeighbor hashtag to track the conversation. You can see the details and RSVP here: http://vite.io/themotherhood. See you there!

 

Breakfast with Santa (Right Here in Chattanooga!)

Local friends, I wanted to bring your attention to a very special event happening next Saturday morning, November 29th, from 9-11 am at The Chattanoogan Hotel.

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Santa Claus is coming to town and he wants to meet your little ones for a special Breakfast with Santa! The event will begin at 9 am and will include an assortment of freshly baked pastries, muffins, scones, french toast, hash brown casserole, and my personal favorite, applewood smoked bacon. Yum! Tickets are $21.95 for adults and $10.95 for children between the ages of 6 and 12. All children under age 6 are free (and both of my girls are under 6, so this is a smokin’ hot deal for an incredible breakfast and time with Santa!).

Santa Claus Sitting With a Young Girl by a Christmas Tree

In addition to having amazing food, there will be carolers performing holiday tunes, and several fun activities for the kids (making reindeer food, decorating gingerbread men, writing letters to Santa and making Christmas ornaments). There will even be an opportunity to take a photo with Santa! It is going to be a fun-filled event, for sure!

Also worth noting: Santa will be making regular appearances at the Sunday brunch offered weekly at The Chattanoogan throughout the month of December, so if you miss this event, you’ll have some more chances to see the man in red!

If you aren’t local to the Chattanooga area, I want to encourage you to see if anything similar is being offered in your area. The time that our children believe in ALL the magic of Christmas is brief, and I think events like this help make that time all the more special!

Stride Rite HUGE Sale Spoiler Alert!

I’ve got the inside scoop from Stride Rite on some upcoming sales they are having. Get your calendars out so that you can mark the dates, friends, because these deals are AMAZING!!!!

1. From 11/21-11/26 (or while supplies last, so best to shop on 11/21) the Beckett Boot and the Arabella Boot will both be on sale for $19.99 (regularly $45).

The Arabella comes in 3 color options and has a warm fuzzy lining.

arabella

 

The Beckett looks like it is ready for some serious play time outside!

beckett

2. November 27-28 (Thanksgiving and Black Friday) the entire store will be 40% off, and if you shop through your mobile device or tablet, shipping is FREE (exclusions on the sale include Frozen, Ugg Australia,  The North Face, Merrill, Kamik, Crocs and Bogs).

3. November 29-30 (Black Friday weekend) the entire store will be 25% off with free shipping (with the same exclusions as noted above).

4. December 1 (Cyber Monday) there will be a flash sale, with prices starting at $14.99 with free shipping!

Awesome App Alert

In addition to these amazing deals that Stride Rite will be having, they have also just launched one heck of an awesome app that is the first of its kind. By using the app, called RiteFit, along with an iPad, you can get an accurate measurement of your child’s feet! When I recently went into the Stride Rite store and had my girls’ feet measured, I learned that I didn’t have their correct shoe sizes in mind. This app is great for those of us who would prefer to shop online. With little growing feet, though, you need to stay on top of their sizes, because they change quickly! This way you can get an accurate measurement without having to go to the store. Pretty awesome! Also? Totally free!