Planning the Funnest Summer Ever: Phase 1–Get the Goods!

(Pre)school is out and a wonderful, blank, three months stretch before us. Now, we could take it easy, play on our jungle gym, go for walks in the neighborhood, and work in the garden. Or, we could plan the Funnest Summer Ever!!! (yes I am tossing grammar to the wind).

FSE3I loaded the boys up in the double stroller and we set off for the 1.5 mile walk downtown to the Staunton Visitors Center (have I mentioned how much I love living in town). After all, if we are going to plan the Funnest Summer Ever!!! we need maps, brochures, guides, etc.

We arrived and were greeted by Gloria.  She was warm and welcoming and super helpful.  She gave us all the swag we needed to plan.  I have to say, if I was a tourist, Gloria would be the perfect person to assist in enhancing a stay in the Shenandoah Valley.

FSE2Now comes the fun part; pouring over the maps and brochures and planning out our Totally Awesome Tuesdays and Field Trip Fridays.  I have a feeling we will be purchasing our National Parks Annual Pass shortly.

FSE1

Stay tuned–I will be sharing as our plans unfold.

The advantage of pre-park opening dining reservations

Have you ever wondered how that family on the internet has such gorgeous, almost crowd free, photos in front of Cinderella Castle?  And there they are again, with the Tree of Life towering above, not a single person cluttering their shot in the background.  What is their secret?  It’s the pre-park opening dining reservation.

I love dining at Walt Disney World Resort.  With more than 300 restaurants, ranging from counter service to five-diamond dining, there is something to please even the pickiest palate.  While I like our trips to be organic and flexible, there is one must-do for our family each trip–a pre-park opening, character dining reservation.

But, that means I have to wake my family up super early, get the munchkins dressed and arrive at the parks early!  Yes, yes you do.  But trust me, it is worth it!

We like to schedule our reservations for an 8:15-8:20 arrival window.  This allows us about 20 minutes to take in the beauty and details of the park, take fabulous photos and arrive ready for yummy food.  Some folks opt for the earliest arrival window, so that they are positioned to be in the parks at opening, to ride the more popular rides; this a great strategy during the busy months.  But, I would advise not rushing through the meal; the food is too good!

How do you schedule pre-park opening reservations? The dining reservation window opens up 180 days prior to arrival.  If you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, you can make reservations at the 180 day mark, plus 10 additional days.  You can call (407) 939-5277 or book online through your My Disney Experience account.

Which restaurants host these early morning dining options? As of this writing, the following are available:

Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
Tusker House Restaurant

Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
Hollywood and Vine

Epcot:
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Magic Kingdom Park:
Cinderella’s Royal Table
The Crystal Palace

Free Mickey Mail

Everyone loves to get mail from Mickey.  There is nothing like seeing that pixie dusted envelope in the mailbox.  And let’s face it, we all need a fix of the Mickey in between our visits to the Most Magical Place on Earth.

There are three ways that you can get a dose of the magic–for FREE.

1) Write to your favorite character.
 We did this during our #DisneySide at Home Celebration earlier this year.  We had all the kids pick a character to send a letter to.  Moms and dads helped the little ones write letters and the bigger kids wrote their own.  Then we mailed them to:

ATTN: Character Name (Mickey, Cinderella)
Walt Disney World Communications
PO Box 10040
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040

It took a few weeks (6-8) for the postcards to come in the mail.  While we wrote to Jake and Goofy, both postcards were from the gang of 5.  Others received the princess postcard. I mention this so that you can caution your little one from having their heart set on hearing from Nemo.  Regardless, my kids were over the moon to hear from their favorite friends.

2) Order customizable parks maps.
Every 6 months, you can order free customized  maps of the Disney Parks.  This is something that we love to do as a family, as we are planning our Walt Disney World vacation.  We go through each of the 4 parks and pick out the rides and restaurants and attractions that we’d like to try out.  We select these on our customizable maps and then place our order.  It takes about 2-4 weeks for them to print and send.

Once the maps arrive, we use them to build excitement for our upcoming trip. The idea is for the maps to be well worn by the time we arrive.

3) Order a #DisneySide decal.
Do you like to show off your #DisneySide?  Here is a great way to do so.

Visit the Build Your Disney Side website and pick out your stick family.  Dress them up and accessorize them with your park favorites.  You can then use the image for social media AND order the decal to be sent to your house…for FREE.

Have fun spreading the pixie dust!

A Pirate’s Life for Me

Ahoy Mateys.  Welcome aboard the Sea Gypsy IV.  If ye be lookin’ for treasure ye ‘ave come to the right spot.  We be scourin’ the sea and searchin’ for that X.  But keep yer eyes peeled; there may be a message in a bottle and even a scurvy scoundrel.

It was a glorious day at sea with the Pirate Adventures in Manteo, NC.  We booked an adventure for 11am, and the cost was $12 (0-2) and $23 (3 and up).  Located at the Magnolia Marketplace, at the end of town, the location was perfect for getting little pirates ready for a day at sea. We arrived early and the kids were tattooed and given the appropriate swashbuckling’ garb (note, eyepatches and swords sold separately).

The children were gathered together and taught a few important pirate words. Afterwards it was time to sneak through town onto the boat. The children had to show their muscles in order to board.

Then the children were gathered on deck and their excitement was built, while the parents were given important safety instructions from Captain Chum.  Once we were up to speed on life jackets and boat safety,  it was time to set sail.  There was so much going on!  First the kids had to find and read a treasure map.

Then, they found a message in a bottle.  After is was almost opened on my little guy’s head, they read the message and were off to fight Pirate Pete.

It took four separate attempts with the water cannons before that scoundrel was defeated.

Then they had to find the treasure in the water. X Marks the spot.

I can not say enough about this trip!  It was wonderful.  They kids had an absolute blast.  If you are going to splurge on anything during your Outer Banks vacation, let this be the one.

Tips:
1) Bring water.
2) Bring a sword, eye patch and bandana, unless you don’t mind spending another $1-$10 dollars.
3) Call ahead of time…they book up quick!!!!!
4) Have cash for a tip.
5) Put on sunscreen for the kiddos…they are on a boat for an hour and a half.
6) Arrive early, like they request, so your kids can get into character.
7) Make sure your camera is charged up and there is plenty of room on your disk.

Sesame Place: Tips for Newbies

Sunny days, keeping the, clouds away.  On my way to where the air is clear…can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Place?

On a HOT summer day (95 degrees to be exact) we decided to visit Sesame Place.  Located in Bucks County, PA, Sesame Place is an amusement park designed for children.  A combination of water park and fun rides, along with character meet and greets and shows, there is plenty to keep the kiddos busy.

We purchased our tickets online for a special discounted rate.  We pulled in, opted for the mid-range parking level, and loaded the boys into the stroller.  We had not visited before, so we did not  have a “strategy”.

The original plan was to ride the dry rides, have lunch, then change into swimsuits for the water rides.  However, upon arrival we decided to have lunch with Elmo and friends, and because we booked onsite (instead of in advanced) the only available time was 1:30. Once the temps hit 90 degrees by 11am, we quickly caved and headed to the water rides.

We spent about 6 hours in the park.  We did not make it to any of the shows, but our little guy has very little tolerance for those.  Based on our visit, here are some tips for other first time visitors.

Tips: 

  •  I did not see the need to spend the extra money ($15 or $30 per person) to jump the lines.  The longest we waited was 20 minutes. 
  • The $20 preferred parking was just around the corner from the gate.  I would avoid paying $30 to be just a few steps closer.
  • If you can swing it, book one of the character dining experiences, in advanced, for the 12:00 meal.  We opted for Lunch with Elmo and Friends.  It was $25 per adult, $15 per child.  However, given that one box of juice was $2.19, for the chance to meet characters and sit in air conditioning for an hour, it was worth it.  We figured we’d pay at least $15 per person for counter service food.
  • Dress in comfy clothes and wear either water shoes or water proof shoes.  Bring a bag with a change of clothes.  Make sure your kids have water shoes; the pavement gets HOT.
  • Save money by packing a cooler for lunch or snacks and head out to one of the picnic tables to eat.
  • When you enter the park, head straight to the back and to the right for dry rides.  Head to the back and to the left for changing rooms and/or wet rides.
  • Stay hydrated!  
  • There is a second entrance to the lazy river.  Head on back, past the island cabanas, for a much shorter wait. 
  • Make sure you take advantage of the Sesame Street “set” to take fun pictures.  


Pros:

  •  Lines are relatively short.  This could be because we went during a weekday.  It could also be because the rides are super short.  
  • There are plenty of restrooms located throughout park.
  • It is a small park, therefore it doesn’t take much time to work your way through.
  • Lots and lots of rides for the little ones.  
  • Spray stations to cool off.
  • Lots of character meet and greets.
  • Great photo ops.  I love how they set up a streets cape for Sesame Street.
Cons:
  • There was a lot of debris floating in the water. 
  • Lots of shouting.  Maybe it’s a Northern thing?  But people would not walk to one another to have a conversation. It got loud when several people where shouting back and forth to their parties.
  • Not enough changing areas given that it is mostly a water park.  The one changing area was in the back.  And, the men and women’s stations were in separate buildings.  

Overall, I would recommend a visit.  Most children grow up loving Sesame Street, so it is a special place for them to see.

Cheers Restaurant, Belize

It’s a popular destination for folks traveling throughout Belize.  Cheers Restaurant, located on the Western Highway, is great little place to eat after a long day of traveling.
The seating is outdoors, under a covered pavilion of sorts.  Due to it’s size it can accommodate the large tour groups that come in from the cruise ships for their land excursions. There are hundreds of t-shirts hanging from the ceiling that have been signed by tourists.
We’ve been twice and we find that it is a nice, relaxing (but hey we’re in Belize so it’s ALL relaxing) place to stop and catch our breath after a long flight in from the states. Here you can spot humming birds, lizards, and a few ponies in the pasture.  There is also a playground for little ones.  The washrooms are nice and clean.
Located about 40 minutes West of Belize City, the menu has a wide variety, from the Belizean favorite of chicken, beans, and rice to hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches for the less adventurous eaters. The prices are okay, a little high, but the food hits the spot for weary travelers.  

If you are traveling down the Western Highway and looking for a place with good food and a nice atmosphere, check out Cheers.

Packing Carry On Only…Challenge Accepted

We will begin our Belizean adventure soon.  Moms, you know what this means…it’s time to think about packing.  Now I am the type that has lists.  Lots of lists.  I have lists for my lists. This works pretty well when we are traveling by car.  I have an SUV that I can fill to the max, along with a luggage container to ride on top.

Not so this trip.  We are flying.  In an airplane out of Dulles.  With one connecting flight in Charlotte. And the kicker…it all has to be carry on.

Yikes!  All of it!

Double Stroller, booster seat, 3 carry on bags and 3 personal item bags. I have images, no nightmares, of how this will transpire as we are carting all of this, and 2 tots, through the airport.  The panic attacks at the thought of all of this, with the kids, through security is a very real thing.

But this is the way it will be be.  SO….

Challenge accepted.

I have left my husband on his own, he can manage.  That leaves me with the 2 boys, myself, their swim gear, entertainment for the plane, snacks, sunscreen, bug repellant.  Oh wait, this post isn’t my list.

Here are my my top tips for smooth packing:

  1. I have found the TSA website to be a great resource.  It lists the regs on liquids (3.4 oz in a 1 quart zip top bag), along with what can and can’t be brought on board. For instance, I can bring a bottle of milk for the little guy (they just test it to make sure it’s legit).  I can bring snacks.  I can bring water bottles.  
  2. The big box store with a bullseye has a fantastic section to buy travel size supplies including bug spray and sunscreen.    
  3. The trick of rolling cloths really works!  I found that by rolling the kids shirts and shorts and putting them in gallon bags and squeezing out all of the air, I can fit a lot of cloths in a really small space.  So small in fact that I could include their life jackets, swim goggles and water shoes all in one bag (yes, I’m good).
  4. Luggage: 2 suitcases and 1 duffle bag.  It is a lot easier to sling the duffle bag over a shoulder and rolling 2 suitcases, than pulling 3 suitcases through an airport. An aside: the little guy is still under 2 so we can only have luggage for 3.
  5. Personal item bags…I use a backpack instead of a diaper bag.  One that includes lots of pockets for odor blocking diaper bags, crayons, toy cars and my cell phone. The other bag is a small, Monsters U suitcase that my son can roll throughout the airport and put through the bag screening.  It is very important to him that he is a big boy and is doing what we are.  In his bag I have packed the iPads, headphones (super hero of course), books, snacks, cars, magnetic drawing board, and other assorted toys,

I am not a fan of flying…it’s a control issue.  But I have to say, caring for 2 kids on a plane is a good distraction.

Now, if only I could get them to nap the entire flight ;-).