Saturday, March 31, 2012

Disney World Theme Park Tips

I decided to include some tips about the individual parks.  I always plan the day and my "strategy" for tackling each park.  It takes a bit of time to figure out what you would like to do, and how you would like to do it, but for me I don't mind.  It helps me make the most out of the time I have there.  Here are a few tips that are good for all the parks at Disney.

  1. Allow 30-45 minutes to travel to the park, and enter the park no matter where you stay.  Especially if you are there for the park opening.  It is very busy, buses are crowded, and the turnstiles become clogged.  It is best to err on the side of caution and be a little early.  Trust me, the opening show is a lot of fun.
  2. Disney checks all bags before entering parks!  To expedite the process, take as few bags as possible and make sure they are open before you get to the security guard.  You can send the rest of your group through the "No bag entrance" while one goes through the check point.  It really is every bag: camera bag, purse, backpack, grocery sack, diaper bag, etc.  They will check it!  Luckily, it doesn't take too long to check.  They are pretty quick and friendly about the whole thing.  
  3. Don't let wait times discourage you!  Sometimes I have entered an attraction with a 30 or 45 minute wait time, and did not wait that long.  They do time checks every so often, so it may not be accurate.  However, you could wait the full time posted.  
  4. If you have small children, use rider swap if the older kids or adults would like to ride an attraction.  There are cast members waiting at the entrance to the rides that will hand you a rider swap ticket.  It allows 3 people to enter the fastpass line after the one member of your party has waited in line.  That way, the entire party can ride without having to wait twice in a 30 minute line.
  5. Fastpass!  These are essential in avoiding long lines at popular attractions.  You may only have one fastpass at a time per ticket so you have to plan accordingly, and each person who wants to ride must have a fastpass.  My husband and I found a way to shorten the waits even more by combining fastpass and rider swap.  We wanted to ride Splash Mountain, and he also wanted to ride Space Mountain.  I grabbed a fastpass with my ticket, and he used his for a fastpass at Space Mountain.  At Splash Mountain we asked for a rider swap since our daughter is not tall enough.  That way one could use the fastpass, and the other used the rider swap to shorten the wait.  Normally, the first person has to wait in the stand by line with a rider swap.  Then he was able to head to Space Mountain and use his fastpass there to ride.  If I had chosen to ride Space Mountain we could have done the same with the rider swap.  Information about fastpass

Magic Kingdom
The Magic Kingdom is my favorite park to start my vacation.  It is what people picture when they hear Disney World.  It is not just for kids!  It has many things for kids and adults.  I do recommend taking a bit of extra time to get to MK if you are driving there.  When driving, you don't actually park at the MK.  You park at a place called the Ticket and Transportation Center.  You will have to ride the monorail or the ferry to the park entrance.  Both can have long lines first thing in the morning.  If you are using Disney buses, they will take you straight to the MK entrance.  The Shades of Green bus also takes you to the Ticket and Transportation Center.  
Next, Magic Hours.  I try to take advantage of these as often as I can.  Especially at the Magic Kingdom.  You can get an hour early if you are staying at one of the Disney resorts.  Only certain areas or attractions are open, but it does help to knock a few things out before the park becomes very crowded.  For morning magic hours, Tomorrowland and Fantasyland are open.  Unfortunately, not every attraction in those lands are open.  Usually it is the most popular rides that are open.  It still helps to get a jump start on your day.  There are also evening magic hours which allows the park to stay open up to 3 hours later than normal.  For MK, some attractions in Adventureland and Frontierland are open as well as the most popular attractions in Tomorrowland and Fantasyland.  Here is a link to the attractions open during magic hours:  Magic Hours Attractions.  
You can use parade and show times to try to ride the more popular rides.  The crowds tend to thin out on the attractions.  Also, you don't want to miss the fireworks show at the end of the night.  The best viewing is from Main Street or Frontierland.  I have watched from Fantasyland, and I did not enjoy it.  If you are interested in just seeing the large fireworks, it is a great spot.  Although, you are at the back of the park so then you have to fight your way to the front to get out of the park.
If you have small kids, I find it is best to start at Fantasyland since they can ride everything there.  Definitely try to go on Peter Pan's Flight as soon as possible.  That line is always long by mid morning.  With older kids, or adults, I would hit the mountains first or at least fastpass them right away.  They tend to have long lines.  I try to save the sit down/air conditioned rides for later in the day.  It helps beat the heat and humidity of central Florida.  

Hollywood Studios
Hollywood Studios is a pretty small park, and I don't spend much time there.  I would recommend riding Toy Story Mania as soon as possible or grabbing a fastpass as soon as you can.  It can be a long wait, and fastpasses go quickly.  Rock N Roller Coaster is also very popular.  It can have a long wait time, but again you can fastpass it or ride it as soon as you get there.  Or you can take advantage of the single rider line.  If you don't mind riding with strangers, it will help you get through the line faster.  
Fantasmic! can be found at this park.  It is an awesome show, but you do have to start waiting for it early.  I think I have started waiting an hour to an hour and a half before the start time.  It is worth the wait, but if you do want to see it plan accordingly.  Lines don't tend to be terrible at this park since they have a lot of shows.  I would say Tower of Terror is another that can have a long line.  The shows are pretty fun to catch.  My car loving husband really enjoys the stunt show.  

Animal Kingdom
This is a huge park!  You can spend all day there.  They do close earlier than others since they have to move animals off the land.  If you can, ride Kilimanjaro Safari first thing.  The animals are usually more active since it isn't as hot.  Expedition Everest is a great ride, but is one with a wait.  They do have fastpass service, and single rider line.  That does help shorten your wait.  They have a few shows, the Lion King and Finding Nemo, that are fun and very impressive.  Kids will love them!  They do have an area called Dino Land that is centered around the smaller children.  There is a playground that allows children get rid of energy.  My daughter had a blast.  She and I played while my husband rode Expedition Everest.  It was win-win!  This park is more than just a zoo.  However it is huge so I would decide the day before what your must do's are.

Epcot is divided into two areas: Future World and World Showcase.  Future World is where you will find the large thrill rides, and World Showcase is where you will find the pavilions for the different countries.  
Future World-This is home to the famous Mission Space, Test Track, and Soarin'.  Test Track and Soarin' typically have long lines.  Test Track does have a single rider line.  (Mission Space may have one as well.  I can't remember right now.)  Spaceship Earth, The Seas with Nemo and Friends, and Ellen's Energy Adventure are pretty short lines.  Innoventions is a great place to let your kids out of the stroller and run inside an air conditioned building.  Also, the Seas is a great place to let them stretch their legs (and inside!)  Another fun air conditioned activity is the character spot.  You can meet Mickey and his friends all at once without sweating your butt off.  This is fun for kids and adults.  (Yes, I have waited in this line when my husband I went before we had a kid.) 
World Showcase-I love this land.  It is neat to see all the different cultures and try the food.  This also the only place where you can drink in a park.  I have heard about a certain "Drink Around the World" game. You can start in Mexico and drink until Canada.  I have never played it, but I hear it is quite fun.  There are a ton of great restaurants and quick service places here.  It is awesome.  Also, Illuminations takes place at night at World Showcase.  It is a great show, and the best part is you don't have to really stake your spot to see it.  You can usually walk along and watch it.  You won't always have the best view, but you can still see it.

Those are all the tips I have for now.  Of course, this is not a complete list.  I know I didn't touch on everything, but hopefully it gives you a general idea of what goes on at each park.  Again, it all depends on when you go what your wait times will be like.  I hope this helped!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


In the short, almost 22 months, that I have been a parent I realize that at the end of the day I slap myself on the back for surviving another day.  I feel like I won the battle if Hannah goes to bed without much of a fuss.  Lately, I feel like all I do is try to survive each hour with her.  I don't know if it is the onset of the terrible twos or if she wakes up on the ornery side of the bed everyday, but I am struggling.  Discipline is a joke. She just laughs or runs away from me when she misbehaves.  I feel like a broken record.  Now she is starting to bite me.  I am sure some of it is for attention.  Most days it is just she and I, and I only have so many hands.  I still have other duties like cleaning and cooking that take time away from her.  I try to have her help me with some of the chores, but my patience wears thin and I try to get her to do something else.  I know I need more patience, and I am working on it, but it is a slow process.  I feel like a bad mom these days.  I am hoping it is a rough patch, and that by next week she and I will find our groove again.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Classy Lady

In the past few weeks I have been working with Hannah on her manners.  She has thank you down, but still needs a bit of work with please.  She also kind of understands excuse me and when you say it.  However, last night she forgot to say it after she let a loud fart rip in the middle of dinner at a Japanese steakhouse.  I tried to contain my laughter, but let's face it, I have the maturity of a 3 year old when it comes to that stuff.  I busted out laughing while hoping nobody around her was too offended.  Yes yes, my child is the one that likes to burp and fart loudly while in public.  I think she does it on purpose.  She is also obsessed with poop, and likes to talk about it in public restrooms.  I am sure that gives everyone a good laugh.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Disney World Hotel Tips

I finally had a chance to sit down and sort out all the tips and ideas floating through my head about Disney World.  I decided to start with hotel information since that is one of larger expenses on the trip.  Disney World has 3 categories of hotels (value, moderate, and deluxe) on their property, a campground, and then the military hotel.  There is also the option of staying off property.  I have never stayed at the deluxe level (or the deluxe villas) so I can't give my opinion on those.  I would love to stay at the Polynesian one day, but right now it is not  in the budget.

All Disney resorts offer Disney transportation to and from the airport and around the parks, extra magic hours, pools, and free parking at the hotel and the parks.  Let's get started!

Value Resorts
The value resorts are the no frills hotels.  The rooms are on the smaller side.  I have stayed in them with a friend and it was plenty of room.  I also stayed in one with the husband and kid.  It felt a bit smaller after dragging all the baby stuff with me, but it was still plenty of room.  A family of four would be comfortable in these rooms.  One of the value resorts also has family suites which can sleep 6.  The new Art of Animation that is opening this summer will also have family suites.  The rooms do not include a microwave or refrigerator.  It is also a single sink vanity.  Like with all Disney resorts, you have access to Disney transportation, which from these hotels are the buses.  They will take you to all the parks, water parks, and Downtown Disney.  There are quick service food courts in the resorts which offer a variety of food options.  The resorts do have fun themes that are reflected in the decor and pools.  However, the pools are very basic (no slides), but there are splash parks for little ones.  Right now military can get a 30% discount on all value resort rooms.  Florida residents can also receive a discount.  You also have access to the Extra Magic Hours that either allow you to enter the designated park an hour early, or stay later in the evening.  You can check the calendar on their website to see which parks have magic hours on which days when planning.  I have stayed at the All Star Movie and Pop Century resorts.  I thought they were great.

          Pros: inexpensive, transportation, many pools, food courts, free parking
          Cons: on the smaller side, no microwave or refrigerator, no balcony

Moderate Resorts
The moderate resorts are the mid level resorts in Disney's repertoire.  They are larger than the value resorts, and are also themed.  I have stayed in these with just my husband and there was plenty of room.  I have also stayed in a room with 4 adults, a one year old, and an eight month old (don't tell Disney!)  In this instance it was crowded, and I would not do it again.  In all fairness, the rooms aren't designed for that many adults.  If you had two adults and two or three young kids, the room would be just fine.  The room does come with a refrigerator which is very nice to have.  It is also a double sink vanity.  There are pools and splash parks as well.  The pools have slides for these resorts plus a hot tub.  Also with the moderate resorts, you have quick service food courts as well as table service restaurants.  As with all Disney resorts, you have access to Disney transportation to and from the airport, and around the parks, and Extra Magic Hours.  Right now there is a 35% military discount for these resorts.  Florida residents can also receive a discount.  I have stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort and Coronado Springs.  I loved both of them.  The campground and the cabins at Fort Wilderness are considered moderate resorts.  I have some pictures of the pool, but no good ones of the rooms.

          Pros: larger rooms, pools with slides, refrigerator in room, food courts and restaurants, free parking
          Cons: no microwave, no balcony

The splash pool for toddlers at Caribbean Beach
Pool at Caribbean Beach

Shades of Green
Shades of Green is open to current, retired, and veteran military as well as their family.  DOD civilian is also eligible to stay here.  Shades of Green is probably comparable to a moderate level resort.  The rooms are large (I would say they are larger than the moderate rooms), and can sleep up to 6.  They also include a refrigerator, and a double sink vanity.  Although when I stayed there was a microwave in the room.  It is not listed as an amenity, but I guess some rooms could have them. You either get a balcony or a patio with every room.  That is a bonus.  The room rates are based on rank so they aren't always the cheapest option.  When my husband was an E-5, the rate was competitive.  As an O-1, the value resorts are cheaper.  You still have access to the Extra Magic Hours.  However, Disney's transportation doesn't go to the hotel. You use their transportation to and from the parks.  They don't run as often as Disney's so sometimes it is not as convenient.  You now have to pay to park at the hotel, and if you drive to the parks instead of using their transportation, you will have to pay to park at the parks.  They do have a few basic pools, and a hot tub.  There is also an exchange to pick up necessities.  They do not have a food court, but they do have a few restaurants and a cafe with breakfast and lunch on the go which is located right by the bus stop.  I have stayed here a few times, at this point I prefer the other resorts over Shades of Green.  However, it is still a great hotel option.

          Pros: large rooms with balconies, refrigerator, possibly a microwave, pools and hot tub,
          Cons: pay for parking at hotel and parks, transportation is slower, not as many food options

Off Property
There are a ton of off property options around Disney World.  Some are great and some are sketchy.  The Celebration area right outside the property is a pretty nice area.  I have only stayed off property once and it was 8 years ago.  Off property gives you a bit more flexibility in price and amenities.  I found the benefit of off property was finding one with a continental breakfast which helps with food costs.  The con is you have to pay to park if you choose to drive yourself.  Although many hotels offer shuttles to Disney World.

          Pros: can find cheaper rates, more flexibility with amenities, free breakfast, shuttles to Disney World
          Cons: pay to park if you choose to drive your own car, no Extra Magic Hours

Deluxe Resort
I have never stayed in one, but I can tell you what I know.  They are nice, and they are pricey.  Some are located on the monorail which makes getting to Epcot and Magic Kingdom a piece of cake.  They have everything that other resorts do, but on a grander scale. The military discount at this level is 40%.  There is also a Florida resident discount.

          Pros: large rooms, many amenities, some located on monorail, balconies, refrigerators, microwaves        on request, transportation, pools with slides, food courts and restaurants, Extra Magic Hours
          Cons: the only one I can think of is the price

Those are some of your options for lodging for your Disney vacation.  It all depends on what you are looking for in your vacation.  I personally love staying at the Disney resorts and being immersed in all things Disney.  From some resorts, you can even see firework shows.  If you need some non Disney time, Shades of Green or off property are probably your better choice.  If you like being surrounded, then a Disney resort is probably what you would like.  Also remember, it depends on the time of year.  September to early December are pretty slow (minus Thanksgiving), January, then April (except Easter) to late May/early June are pretty slow as well so the prices aren't as bad as summer or holidays.  The hotels at Disney offer more than what I have mentioned.  Some are at a price while some are free.

I hope that helps some of you who are thinking of visiting Disney World.  Stay tuned for more tips in the coming week!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dining Out

On Saturday, I attend my first Dining Out with my husband.  It was mandatory so he had to go.  I decided to go with him since we hardly get to go out without Hannah.  It was $40 a person so I was hoping it would be good.  It was interesting.  I understand the Navy is very in to all their traditions, but at one point I just wanted everybody to shut up so I could eat.  We usually eat dinner around 5:30 or 6.  I think we were finally served dinner around 8, and it was cold.  It was prime rib served cold.  I inhaled it, but it was not the best.  The servers had the food out and ready to serve except people kept making other people go to the stupid grog, and so it was another 5-10 minutes before the food reached the tables.  It was such a tease!  I could see it, but I couldn't have it.  I am terrible at making small talk so I wasn't much company for the others at the table.  Actually I made a fool out of myself because I started crying.  I sent a text to the woman watching Hannah that it was going to be later than I thought since they were running behind.  She replied saying it was okay, and that Hannah was asleep in her daughter's room so it was like a slumber party for them.  For some reason it made me cry.  I can't explain why, but it did.  I am pretty sure the others at the table thought I was crazy.  We did sit with a guy who is a member of the French air force who is here for flight training.  It was interesting to see what he thought of all this.  He looked bored most of the time.  All in all, it was pretty much what I expected.  Lots of drinking (cash bar), all the branches making fun of each other, and instructors going wild.  I guess that is what happens when you put a bunch of pilots together in one room.  I know for next time, look for a dress sooner than the week of the event so I can have it tailored, eat before I go or plan on stopping at Taco Bell after, and drink heavily (which I didn't do).

My dress is from Goodwill.  Score!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Travel tips

My cousin pinned a website on Pinterest the other day about how to save money at Disneyland.  Now, I have only been to Disney World, but I know most work at both parks.  I read it and noted she had some good tips, and I had a few that I shared with my cousin.  I decided I would like to share my tips so I may do a weekly thing where I list a few hints and suggestions I have found that worked for me.  I have been quite a few times and in different scenarios: with a friend, with young, school age children, on a honeymoon, and with an infant.  Hopefully we will go again before we leave Florida so I can add "with a toddler" to that list.  Even if nobody reads them, at least I will have them written down for myself as a reference for the future.  I always thought it would be fun to start a travel tip website, but I think I will use my blog instead.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Do stay at home moms get a vacation day?

I am so envious of my husband this weekend.  He is being paid to fly to Key West for the weekend while I stay here and hold down the fort.  He was telling me his plan for tomorrow is to sleep in and maybe watch a few movies.  I would love to have an entire bed to myself for the night, and not have to wake up a few times a night to tend to Hannah or the dogs.  Just one glorious night of complete freedom from all my responsibilities.  Doesn't that sound great?  I don't know if it makes me a bad mom (and wife) for wanting a night away, but I don't care.  I feel like it would be a good way to recharge my batteries (and maybe read through my stack of magazines.)  Oh well, a girl can dream...

Monday, March 5, 2012

One Year

March 5th, 2011, was my first day as a stay at home mom.  The husband was about to leave for OCS, and so we decided it would be easier for me to quit my job and stay home instead of finding day care for 3 months.  I would have to say this has been the hardest job I have ever had.  Dealing with a toddler has taught me to dig deep to find patience I wasn't sure existed.  There are days I want to scream and go running from the house.  Luckily, the good days outweigh the bad.  I am trying to become more creative with our days.  I think we both get pretty bored.  I still struggle with that part of staying home.  Some days I have no clue how to fill the hours, and that is when we end up butting head.  She may drive me crazy, but I am so glad I have this last year with her to watch her grow. I didn't realize how much I missed when I was at work all day.  Besides I can't stay mad at this face for too long.

She really needs a haircut!