Monday, February 24, 2014

Catch Me at KMB!!

Sorry to leave y'all hanging after our Disney recap.

Poor S had bronchitis and F & C had ear infections.  And none of us got much rest--so I chose sleep over blogging.

I'll try to have a Menu Monday post up later today, but now you can head over to Knoxville Mom's Blog to read more from me.  I'm talking The Humbled Mom--you know, when your daughter tells you you are a better snuggler that dad because your tummy is softer.  Yeah, that.

Be sure to leave a comment on that post too.  I'd love to hear your humbling stories.

Happy Manic Monday!!!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Disney World Tips

I'm going to start off by saying I am no Disney expert.  Far from it.  We didn't do a lot of research in to going-other than picking a date and choosing rides for our FP+.  So, while these are my opinions, I suggest you do some additional research on what might be right for you.

When to go
Since S isn't in school yet, we were able to take advantage of going during an off season.  Late January/early February and September (after Labor Day) seem to be the best times to go to avoid the crowds. There are probably other times, but I have been during each of these times and it has been nice.

Staying on or off Disney property
We prefer to stay on Disney in a value resort.  Read about Pop Century here. We flew and took the Magical Express from the airport to the hotel.  They delivered our luggage and we didn't even lift a finger.  Now, if you are flying in late afternoon, I suggest you not use the luggage service--or pack your pjs in your carry on.  Bedtime was later than we wanted the first night because we were waiting on luggage, but hey, it's vacation.  And since we were with a younger child, we were needing an earlier bedtime than usual.
Also, staying on Disney gives you the opportunity to use their transportation to the parks (or not).  Depending on your hotel, you could use the bus, boat, or monorail.  I've seen comments about the bus being too crowded, etc.  It wasn't a problem for us, and yes, we stood on a few rides.

Dining plan
Our Quick Service plan was included in the package we purchased through Disney World.  Was it worth it? To us, yes.  We liked having everything paid for upfront.  But, portions are huge.  We had some leftover meals that we used to purchase snacks and cookies bring home.  If you get the table service plan, your Character Meals are included in that.  The difference between Quick Service and Table--basically if you have someone bring you food, then you are Table Service.  Quick Service is kinda like fast-food.  We had 2 meals & 1 snack/day per person.  We packed breakfast bars and since we had free drinks at the resort (in the refillable mugs), we just ate in the room most every morning.  And you aren't limited to follow the meal parameters.  You basically get a lump sum and can use them however you want (all in one day, ok!).

Magic Bands
If you are staying at a Disney resort, you will have a Magic Band.  These bands are your lifeline.  You use them to open your room, gain admission to the park (plus scan your finger), use of the Fast Pass+, and pay for food (plus PIN code).  We also attached our credit card to The Professor's band so that he could make purchases in park (Minnie ears, etc) without having to carry a credit card or cash.  If you are purchasing food or other items, there is a PIN code required--so that way if someone else has your band, they can't make purchases with it unless they know the code.  We would let S swipe her band, and then we would type in the code.  She felt big--like she was paying for our food.
We customized our bands ahead of time and were able to pick colors.  If you decided not to do this, they are a generic grey.  However, the Disney gift shops sell things to spruce up your bands, if you decide to do that.

Fast Pass +
If you've been to Disney, you may be familiar with the Fast Pass system.  You would scan your admission ticket and then get a paper admission to a ride for a later time.  That way you wouldn't have to stand in line.  Well, the paper machines are gone.  Now there is FP+!  You are limited to 3 FP+ per park per day.  If you are a Disney guest, you can reserve your FP+ times 60 days in advance of your arrival.  These are loaded onto your Magic Bands and you are able to make changes as much as you like.  If you are not staying at Disney, from what I understand, you will need to go to the FP+ kiosks with your admission ticket and choose rides on-site.  Be warned--there are lines to the FP+ kiosks.  We downloaded the free My Disney Experience app and was able to make our FP+ changes with that and didn't have to stand in line at the kiosk.  I recommend you do that--it was such a time saver!!!

Character Autographs
Disney sells autograph books that you can buy there (park, hotel, Downtown Disney) or you can even make your own.  We didn't do an autograph book.  We had the characters we met sign a picture mat.  I'm going to let S pick her favorite picture and then frame it with this mat and hang it in her room.  And I have to thank Pinterest for this idea--totally wan't mine.  I kept it between cardboard so it didn't bend and then that inside a plastic bag so it wouldn't get wet if we were in the rain.  The Professor carried it in his backpack.

I searched quite a bit online for the best time to go (value/low crowds) and what attractions needed a FP+ reservation.  Here are a list of the websites and FREE apps that I used.

1. Morgan Crutchfield was such a big help.  I met her through a friend on FB & Twitter and she answered so many questions for me.  She has a website DVC Central, a FB page here, and you are welcome to tweet her here.  Seriously--she knows EVERYTHING!!!!

2. Easy WDW--this website is where I found the crowd calendar that we used.  Also lots of useful information.

3. WDW Prep School--this had lots of information, touring guides, etc.  A great resource.

4. My Disney Experience--I also downloaded this as an app.  It had all of our trip information on it, where I managed our FP+ reservations, ride wait times, character times, park maps, photos--everything we needed before, during, and after Disney.  We also ordered personalized park maps from this site too.

5. SeeYaReelSoon--Joe and Ashley, I don't even have words.  I love them so much.  After we booked tickets, I wanted to show S what Disney was all about, so I YouTubed it.  After scanning through what seemed like a million videos, I found these two.  And y'all, we were hooked on them.  They release a new video every Wednesday night--sometimes they are just at their house answering questions, but a lot of times they are vlogging in the park from a recent trip!!  We get to go on rides with them, visit characters with them, and eat with them.  S calls them the funny people at Disney because they are so cute and make us laugh.  And they have a website with a Dining Calculator and other tips.

6. DIS discussion board--I also downloaded this as an app on my phone.  I never joined or left a message, but it was fun to look at and see what people were talking about.

There are quite a few things I didn't touch on.  We didn't purchase the Memory Maker photo package--we just took our own pictures or asked a Cast Member to use our camera.  The pictures the photographers took of us are able to be purchased, if we choose.  We also didn't use a stroller.  S walked the entire time we were there.  I'm very surprised because Disney is ALOT of walking--especially for an almost 5 year old.

Also, Disney World is expensive--even if you go off season and stay at the value resorts.  We had saved money to go, but for our next trip, I am going to pay a little at a time.  Our local Kroger sells Disney gift cards that can be used toward your stay.  And certain times of the year, I get 4x fuel points for gift card purchases.  Ch-ching!! Paying for Disney and getting a gas discount.  Woo Hoo!!

I hope you enjoyed our journey to Disney World!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pop Century

We stayed at the Pop Century resort.  It is part of Disney and offers lots of amenities we were looking for.

As part of the Disney group of resorts, these were some of our amenities
*ride the FREE Magical Express from the airport to the hotel (and back to the airport)
*free drink refills in our souviner mugs (at the resort only)
*opportunity to use Disney transportation from hotel to park/Downtown Disney
*Exra-Magic hours (hours the parks are open only for Disney resort guests)
*free Wi-Fi
*and many others

Pop Century is one of the value resorts at Disney and that was a big appeal to us.  We knew we wouldn't be in the resort a lot, basically we just needed a place to sleep.

The rooms at Pop Century are small-at least ours was. But for 2 adults and a small child, we were fine.  We would have been fine with two small children (two double beds).  If we had taken the twins, it would have been difficult to find a place for a couple of pack & plays, or really even one, unless you wanted to close off the bathroom.

Pop Century resort also offered a large food court area that was considered Quick Service and part of our dining plan.  We ate there more than I thought we would, and they had a nice variety that suited all of us.
Enjoying Mickey Mouse waffles al fresco on our last day there.

Pop Century had a theme of the 50s-90s and was decorated with some of the biggest trends of each of those decades. We stayed in the 70s which was very close to the Classic Hall.  The Classic Hall is where the front desk, food court, gift shop, and arcade are located.

Lady and the Tramp

Play-doh and Mowgli & Baloo

Mickey Mouse phone and Big Wheel

Roger Rabbit and a Walkman


Pop Century has 3 swimming pools spread out throughout the resort.  We were closest to the Hippy Dippy Pool in the 60s area (steps from the Classic Hall).  The pool was at most almost 5 ft deep.  And there was a kiddie pool area that was much like a big saucer in the ground.  No climbing in or out.

Hippy Dippy Pool

Tomorrow I'll be sharing tips, explaining Magic Bands, and trying to help you understand Fast Pass +.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

EPCOT Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of our day at EPCOT.  You can read about the first part of our day here.

After an afternoon of swimming at the hotel pool, we got back on the bus for an evening at EPCOT.  We thought that this part of EPCOT really would be more about the adults on the trip.  We were going to explore the World Showcase area and there aren't really many rides in that part.

We started out seeing Duffy the Disney Bear.  We didn't do a meet since we had a mission to see Snow White and S didn't really know who he was until our first night at the hotel.  While we were waiting on our luggage, we saw a little show about Duffy on tv.

Our objective was to see Snow White.  The My Disney App said she would be there until 6 and at 5:55 we were stuck at China due to the drawbridge. But, we got to see the Chinese acrobats (not sure their real name) and that was pretty cool.  I re-looked at the up-dated app at 6, and saw that Snow White had another meet & greet at 6:20.  Yay!!!

Chinese acrobats

Snow White in Germany

After visiting with Snow, we decided to grab dinner.  S had a hot dog from Germany and I went in search of something else.  Our goal was to eat at a few different countries.   After passing on China, I ran down to Norway.  I didn't have a goal of eating there, but wanted to catch a glimpse of Anna and Elsa from "Frozen."  The line to meet them was 2 hours, so I didn't even tell S.  They are inside, but I noticed when you finish the meet & greet you are deposited into a gift shop.  So, I went into the gift shop and was able to grab a quick pic of them through the curtains.

Anna, mystery girl, and Elsa

I made my way back to The Professor and S and we went on to Japan.  While at the Katsura Grill, we shared the chicken cutlet curry and a slice of green tea cheesecake.  One of the Cast Members also gave S this origami swan.

origami swan

We passed through Morocco (and stopped for a potty break) before heading to France.  There we sampled a chocolate crepe.  We went inside one of the stores and S colored a Perry the Platypus coloring page while I looked around.  Princess Aurora was there doing a meet & greet, but we had seen her at the Magic Kingdom the day before.


Marie merchandise in France

We walked through the United Kingdom and then into Canada.  When we were in Canada we stopped to get a cronut (a croissant/donut hybrid).  S and I liked it, but The Professor didn't.  Oh well, more for us.

not my picture (source)

That completed our World Showcase, but since we had been in a hurry to see Snow White, we passed Mexico.  We headed back that way to ride The Grand Fiesta Tour starring The Three Caballeros.  It was a cute ride that S really enjoyed.

After leaving World Showcase, we stopped at Club Cool to sample some Coke products from other countries.  S doesn't normally drink sodas, but we let her sample.  There is one there from Italy that is very bitter (Beverly).  We steered her away from that one.

Next to Club Cool is the EPCOT Character Spot.  There was a 5 minute wait to see Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy!!  Perfect timing.




We didn't stay to watch the fireworks, but we saw a few while on the bus headed back to the hotel.

Spaceship Earth at night

Join me next time as I talk about our hotel-Pop Century.

Friday, February 14, 2014

EPCOT Part 1

Spaceship Earth

On our last full day at Disney World, we went to EPCOT.  I wasn't sure how S would like this, but she really did.

That morning we got up early again and since we had enough breakfast credits, we skipped our in room breakfast bar and actually ate at the hotel.  S loved the Mickey waffles.

After EPCOT opened, we headed straight for Soarin'. It was a 5m wait.  The line cut off right before us, so we basically just had to wait for that ride to finish before we could get on.  The people behind us had been at EPCOT the night before and waited 1.5 hours to ride during the fireworks!  We had a FP+, but didn't use it.  I switched it to Test Track.


Since we were already in the Land Pavillion, we rode Living with the Land after Soarin'.  This was a nice little boat ride (no wait) that talked about farming and using the land.  Then we rode through some a greenhouse were they were experimenting with growing food in different ways.  As I child, I remember going and learning about hydroponics.  I checked the line for Soarin' before we left--by then it was already up to an hour.

Living with the Land

brussels sprouts


Next we rode the Journey Into Imagination with Figment.  I really miss the old Figment ride, but S thought it was fun.  She also got a Figment to bring home with her.  Really I wanted it, but The Professor said only one--and she won out.  Outside the Figment ride there are some jumping fountains--water that jumps from one area to another.  S loved trying to catch it.

Journey Into Imagination


jumping water

We headed next to ride The Seas with Nemo & Friends.  Again, we had a FP+ that we didn't need to use.  This was a really fun ride.  S couldn't remember if she had seen Nemo or not, so I'm guessing not.  After the ride was over, we saw Turtle Talk with Crush and viewed the aquarium.  Our timing was just right because everything was wet outside and we missed the shower.

The Seas with Nemo & Friends

Everyone was getting hungry and we had time before our Spaceship Earth FP+ reservation, so we ate at the Electric Umbrella.  It was nice to sit down and eat.  I just shared some of The Professor's pizza.  Portions at Disney are BIG!!!

We did use our FP+ at Spaceship Earth-not because we needed to, but we just wanted to.  I think the line was 20m (and it probably wasn't).  S really enjoyed this ride--mainly because they use a picture of you in the video and the ride is just cool.

underneath Spaceship Earth


On our way to ride more rides, we ran into the JAMMitors.  They were so good.

jamming away

I had fond memories of riding a non-scary dinosaur ride at Ellen's Energy Adventure.  Non-scary is right.  The Cast Member announced the ride was 37 minutes long.  Maybe about 10 of that was riding, the rest was watching videos.  S was not amused.  And I realized that I had remembered wrong.  This would be a good ride in the summer if you wanted to cool off and rest for a bit.

Ellen's Energy Adventure was in this building

Our last ride of the morning was Test Track.  It had been re-vamped since we were there last & now you get to design your own car.  This was what our virtual car looked like.  S designed it.

bad boys, bad boys

After Test Track, we left the park for an afternoon of swimming at the hotel.  

Join me tomorrow for Part 2 of our day at EPCOT!

Also, here are links to my other posts detailing our days at Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom (part 1), and Magic Kingdom (part 2).

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Magic Kingdom Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of our day at the Magic Kingdom.  You can read about the first part of our day here.

After lunch and a nap at the hotel, we hopped back on the bus for the Magic Kingdom.  MK was open until 10 that night and Disney resort guests had extra magic hours until midnight.  But no way were we planning on being up that late.

We had time until our Cinderella FP+ time, so we decided to walk through Tomorrowland.  We decided to ride the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover first.  While older kids might find this ride boring, S liked it.  I'm pretty sure she liked everything that moved.

S and The Professor on the PeopleMover

While we were on the PeopleMover, S saw the Tomorrowland Speedway.  She had been wanting to ride this, so we got in line for it next.  The wait wasn't bad and The Professor and S grabbed an ice cream cone while I stayed in line.

Tomorrowland Speedway

Next up was our time to head back to Fantasyland to meet Cinderella and her guest princess.  The guest princess was Princess Aurora--and the princesses on S's dress were...Cinderella, Belle, and Aurora!!!  And we saw all three!!!  And in case you were wondering, Cinderella is left handed--just like S.


Princess Aurora

As we were walking to the princess meet, we saw the Mad Tea Party (teacups).  S asked if we could ride them next.  Of course!!


Next on our list was Dumbo.  Dumbo has changed quite a bit since I was there last.  There are now two Dumbo rides to make it faster AND the waiting area was a play area--think Chick-fil-A playground, but much larger.  S loved it and playing kept her mind off the wait.  We were given a pager & it lit up when it was our time to ride.  AWESOME!!

entrance to Dumbo

our pager

a fun way to wait on a ride

After we stopped by Gaston's Tavern so I could get a Le Fou's Brew.  This is a drink that is frozen apple juice with a hint of toasted marshmallow, topped with a passion fruit-mango foam.  S and I liked it, but The Professor gave it a thumbs down.

Le Fou's Brew

It was getting near dinner time, so we ate at the Pinocchio Village Haus.  One wall is glass that overlooks the loading area of It's a Small World, so it was fun watching the boats and waving at the riders.  S made sure I waved to everyone.  haha

Prince Charming's Carousel with Cinderella's Castle in the background

By the time we finished, it was dark and we headed into the Liberty Square area and then Frontierland to ride Big Thunder Mountain.  As we left Fantasyland, we were able to see Rapunzel's tower all lit up.

Rapunzel's tower

I had FP+ for Big Thunder Mountain, but it was for later and I couldn't change for an earlier time.  So we decided to do the standby line.  Again lines were not long and we were on in 20-25m (at most).  I had never ridded BTM at night, so that was fun.  And again, S just loved the roller coaster.

As we were leaving BTM and walking further into Frontierland, we were stopped by the Main Street Electrical Parade.  We had planned to see it at 9pm, so that was a nice treat.  After the parade we took a ride on the Jungle Cruise.  No waits at all on this ride.  S was a little scared that the animals were real (although she was fine at AK the day before), but we kept telling her they weren't.

Our next stop was The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.  It's a ride similar to Dumbo, but you ride magic carpets instead of elephants.  While we were on this ride, we saw a lot of the Wishes fireworks.  It was really a great viewing area.  After the Magic Carpets I wanted to try the infamous Dole Whip that I had heard so much about.  I had the Dole Whip float which is a cup of pineapple juice with the special pineapple soft serve.  It was good, but next time, I'll stick with just the soft serve.

I didn't have my camera, so I'm using a picture from here.

While I was getting my Dole Whip on, The Professor and S went through the Swiss Family Treehouse.  And she wanted to make sure I didn't miss it, so we went again!

Our plan was to hit up a store on Main Street USA before heading out, but we passed Tinkerbell and the line was not long at all, but it was late and after a couple minutes, S was done waiting.  Sorry, Tink.  On our way to Main Street USA, we stopped and saw the Celebrate the Magic projection show that was on Cinderella's Castle.  Oh my goodness!!! That may have been the best thing ever.  And, Cinderella's castle became Elsa's ice castle as she sang Let It Go.  Perfect!!!

Cinderella's Castle becoming Elsa's ice castle

On Main Street USA we bought S some Minnie Mouse ears.  The wait was long to check out, so S and I stepped out and guess what--the 9pm Main Street Electrical Parade was just starting (and blocking our path).  So we saw the parade twice.  And as we were headed to our bus, we saw the Electrical Water Pageant.

Captain Hook and Peter Pan were on this ship.  Smee's right behind them.

It was close to 10:30 by the time we were ready for bed, but we had a great day.

Goodnight, Magic Kingdom

Join me again as we go to EPCOT!