Sunday, January 29, 2017

Best Tips for a Successful Walt Disney World Vacation

So you're going to Disney....it's overwhelming right?  I've been there over 40 times throughout my life, from my parents taking me as a kid every year to me taking my kids every year.  Disney is expensive, exhausting and confusing.  There are different ticket options, dining options, dining plan options, Fast Passes to set up and hotels to consider.

We didn't even talk about transportation or the Magical Express.  

Overwhelming indeed.

I wrote a book about all the personal data I've collected while traveling to Disney with kids. While much of my advice will always be relevant (as long as kids need naps, snacks, routines and sunscreen we're good), Disney is always changing.

Always.

In no particular order, here are my best tips for a successful vacation. These will never expire no matter how many times Disney updates its tickets, systems or parks.


1.  Go during the off season.

This can be tricky if your kids are in school.  We pulled our kids out of school until work was tough enough to make the crowds and extra expense of going over a break worth it.  Every year we cleared the trip as an educational absence, which is completely true.  A Disney vacation can teach you much about money, budgeting, patience and time management.  

There are countries to tour in Epcot and the Hall of Presidents in the Magic Kingdom.  Educational experiences are all over at the Walt Disney World resort.  I promise.

I found the best months to travel to Disney (I'm considering weather here) are September, October, November (before Thanksgiving) early December, February and May. 

Crowds are lighter, the sun is still shining and you won't be battling for a seat on the bus as you ride to the parks.

2.  Stay inside the parks.  

Yes, this is expensive.  But Disney has definitely made vacations more affordable with the sales, packages and deals throughout the year.  They also have pretty reasonable resorts such as Art of Animation and Pop Century.  The Disney service is still there, you can get to and from the parks easily and there are usually plenty of little kids at these resorts.

As long as you don't mind cafeteria style food and corny decor you'll save a bundle using a value resort.  

Staying inside the parks makes Disney feel more like a vacation.  You don't have to battle with driving or parking, they send packages back to your room from the parks and you can utilize Magic Hours if you choose.

3.  Use Magic Hours, or COMPLETELY avoid them.

There are two ways to go about Magic Hours (the days parks open early or stay open late for resort guests).  Either you use them to your advantage or you stay away.

We use them.  If a park opens at 7am, we are there at 6:50.  We usually ride at least 5 rides in the first hour and we hardly wait at all.  We are back at our resort by noon swimming and enjoying the pool.  If you go to a park that has Magic Hours and you don't arrive early, you're looking at bigger crowds.  People very often pick the park that will stay open late or they get started early and stay all day.  

We don't, but many people do.

Crowds are typically more manageable extremely early in the day or at the park without Magic Hours.

If you're crazy enough to get up and get to a park by 7am, do it.  You'll get more done and you can grab an afternoon siesta by the pool or in your room.

If you have an infant or toddler YOU SHOULD BE GOING BACK TO YOUR ROOM FOR A NAP ANYWAY.  This is a tip in my book, and you best live by it or battle tantrums.

4.  Use your Fast Passes wisely.

When you book your Fast Passes, book them for around 10am at the earliest.  If you go to a park when it opens (see #3) you will ride several rides without a wait.  A FastPass at 9am is a waste.  Plan your Fast Passes for those times of the day the lines will get long.  

5.  Bring your own snacks.

Even if you opt for a meal plan (they are costly but worth it if you don't bring any of your own food) you will still need snacks.  A hot pretzel is about $6 in Disney.  If you're a family of four, and you need a snack, every stop will cost $25 without even getting a drink.  Do yourself a favor and pack granola bars, dry cereal and other grab and go snacks in your luggage.  Bring a small backpack to the park with your extra drinks and snacks.  If you have a stroller this extra bag is no problem.

You'll thank me. We have never entered a Disney Park without a bag full of drinks, snacks and sunscreen in all of our forty plus trips.

Wishing everyone a wonderful trip - and peace of mind while planning!  For more in-depth practical and easy to follow planning tips grab my book on Amazon.  It's a well spent 99 cents!

Happy Trails!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Small Changes Add Up to Big Things

Welcome 2017.  My goodness 2016 went fast.

This year, as with all other years, I'm light on the resolutions.  I've just found they don't work well for me.  I can't handle the pressure.  I'd rather focus on bettering myself in itty bitty ways.

Drink more water.
Eat a little less sugar.
Be patient (as much as possible)

I like to keep it general so as not to overwhelm myself.

In keeping with my "small changes" theme I'd like to share a few that really add up.  There is no need to overwhelm ourselves and set ourselves up for failure.  Let's keep it real.  Keep it small.  Keep it kind and achievable.  Which, in turn, can add up to big things.



1.  Try something new every week.

Just one thing.  It can be a food, a movie, a book, a class an exercise or anything else that you don't normally do.  We get into ruts.  It's hard to live to your fullest potential when you're in a rut.  Experience something new every week, no matter how small.

You may find something you like, you never know.

2. Use a small plate.

Do you ever notice how you fill what you have?  If I have a bowl, I fill it with ice cream.  No matter what size it is, I scoop that ice cream to the rim.  If you use a small bowl, you won't eat as much because it's easier to resist a second helping than it is to resist ice cream you already scooped.

The same goes for a dinner plate. Your eyes love the look of a full plate, and you won't be eating as much.  I promise.

3.  Make a list.

When you write something down, you are MUCH more likely to remember it.  Make a list.  Cross off what you get done.  This also gives me the feeling of accomplishment, which is a great feeling when days start to run together and life gets busy.

Every night I make a list of what needs done the next day.  It works wonders for me.

Make a list for the store, and you won't forget the milk.  Even better, clip some coupons for what is on your list for the store and keep it in the same place (like an envelope).

Now you remember everything and save money.

Just don't forget the envelope when you leave for the store.

4.  Drink an extra cup of water.

Just add a cup before a meal.  You'll probably eat less.  You may even realize you were just thirsty and not eat at all. I've realized when I add a cup, I usually start to crave more over time.  And before I know it, I'm drinking water all morning and cutting back on soda and coffee.

5.  Leave the kitchen. Literally.

When I was a teenager I read an article that said if you're hungry, wait fifteen minutes.  Walk out of the kitchen or away from the food and snacks and do something for just fifteen minutes.  Chances are, you'll get caught up in something else and more than fifteen minutes will go by.

I do laundry, turn on a show, grab the vacuum or call a friend.  More often than not I was just bored, not hungry.

6.  Order one less meal, coffee, snack, etc a week.

ONE LESS.  That's it.  A week.  I love Starbucks, but it's costly.  I spend a whopping $30/week on coffees.  Yikes.

I decided this year I was ordering three less a week.  I'm not giving it up, I'm not walking away completely.  I'm ordering less.  Even if it was one less a week, I'd still save $20/month.

Aim for one less meal out.  One less sandwich ordered.  One less coffee.  Even if it's $5, that's $20/month.  Which translates to $240/year.

Small changes will add up to big changes.  $5 turns into $240 over time.  That's proof enough for me.

Happy 2017 everyone.  Life is what you make it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas Bingo

A wonderful, worthwhile re-post. Enjoy!

A few weeks ago, I went to Basketball Bingo. It was a fundraiser for the high school basketball team, and the prizes were giftcards to local stores and restaurants. I didn't win anything, but it reminded me how much everyone loves a good game of chance.

Recently my younger son brought to my attention that he didn't feel like it was "Christmas." He misses my older daughter being excited with him to find Stanley (our elf) and he feels like everything is rushed. Now that his sister is in Junior High, she's gone for school before he even wakes up.  

And let's just say he doesn't have the same bond with his younger sister. Finding Stanley with her would involve much bickering and maybe even some tears.

I can tell he misses his older siblings being home and being as excited about Santa as they used to be. There is a difference in Christmas when there are less "believers" in the house.  We still rejoice over the true meaning of Christmas, and we still bake cookies and decorate the house. We've watched a few family movies, and we've donated gifts to needy families. 

There just isn't that chitter chatter about Santa's workshop and the reindeer.  It's different for sure. And while I explained to my son that Christmas is in your heart, and you have to work to keep that magic alive, I understand where he's coming from.

To get some excitement back into the house, I decided to set up Christmas BINGO tonight. I printed cards (you can find them free at Crazy Little Projects) and I bought some small and simple prizes.  I set out candy bars, Christmas socks, dollar bills, small toys and $1 scratchies. Christmas music was on, and the kids happily gathered around the table to play.

There was a catch as well.  After your first win, if you won again you had to gift the prize to another player. After all players had a prize, you could choose your own again unless you had two wins in a row.  A consecutive win meant gifting your next prize.

Tis the season of giving.

Tonight, it was all about Christmas Bingo. It was time we slowed down and had fun together, and tonight we did both.  There was no television or video games; after dinner we cleaned up and set up BINGO. The kids laughed and cracked jokes,and they knew for certain wins they had to gift their prizes.

And there were no complaints. They even were happy to let their sibling come up and pick their own prize. I felt the night was exactly what we needed.

Wishing everyone a wonderful week of family time and memory making!