This kid…. apparently arms of the chair are for sitting (and sometimes standing).
I’m unabashedly not a crafter. Our craft supplies are limited and unorganized. They are also kept squirreled away in a closet because I live in fear of crayon all over my walls or paint smeared on my furniture — the kind of things that I’m sure would happen if these boys were given unfettered access to art materials.
None the less, I donned my crafty cap yesterday and we make turkey hats. And you know what, it was pretty fun. The boys loved it and my hands didn’t melt off my body in a puddle of elmer’s glue or marker scribble.
Now, I doubt I’ll become a committed crafter from this single experience, but perhaps the blacklist on construction paper and crayola products could be lessened a bit.
We all needed some fresh air this weekend — even though the temperatures were rather unforgiving.
We decided to take the boys on their first nature hike. Stopping first at a bird blind to watch them fly, eat and splash in a little pond. Lucas really liked watching them and learning their names according to the directory on the wall. Ben, on the other hand, really liked trying to crawl through the viewing area directly into the birds’ home.
We marched over bridges and past benches, around ponds and down paths. The boys sported rosy cheeks and cold hands, while we ooohed and aaaahed at the nature around us.
(yes, yes, super late….)
You’d think by this picture that everyone was super interested in pumpkin carving this year. We were only home from Disney for a few hours when we dug into our pumpkin. And by “we,” I clearly mean “me.” Lucas cried after sticking his arm into the pumpkin because it was “yucky.” And Benjamin cried when we wouldn’t let him throw the pumpkin guts all over the floor. Lucky Mommy got to spend an hour carving a giant pumpkin alone after spending a full day traveling. Totally how I pictured it going…
Lucas and I went with great friends last week to the Mermaid and Pirate Ball at our local Aquarium.
I’ve got more tips…. I know, how is that even possible? But I have no time with which to write them! So in the meantime, here are some of our pictures from Disney.
If I haven’t completely lost you thus far, here’s another batch of “going to Disney with toddler” tips! Totally feels like “vacation,” huh? It is… it’s just vacation that you have to spend hours planning, prepping and booking.
Yesterday, I wrote about the prep work that went into the trip, here’s some thoughts on the stuff that happens once you arrive.
This was our third trip using the Disney Dining Plan (DDP). Every trip, I get all excited about the possibility of having an “all inclusive” Disney experience and convince myself that the dining plan is going to make my life easier. Spoiler: it never does, and I hope I remember that with more conviction for our next trip. I think we’d do better sans dining plan.
We usually purchase the “standard” dining plan. It includes a snack, a meal at a counter service restaurant and a meal at a table service restaurant per night of your vacation. You have to be more than three years old to participate in the dining plan (ergo this trip included Lucas and not Ben), and you can’t only order the dining plan for a portion of your party (ergo we couldn’t have it for Tim and I without also paying for Lucas).
Let me talk about each of these meal options individually:
Snacks: These are the most innocuous and vague offerings on the DDP menu. You can redeem your snack credit for a bottle of water (Although if you did, you’d be a dummy. Water is free at all counter service restaurants), or you can redeem your snack credit for a giant ice cream sundae. Basically, anything under $5 (and some things under $6) sold in the parks or resorts (both in stores, snack carts and restaurants) will likely qualify for the snack credit.
We were there for 6 nights and had 18 snack credits to use for our family. If you aren’t staying in a DVC villa and planning to eat breakfast in your room (which we were), snack credits would be ideal for breakfast foods (bagel, muffin, smoothie, etc…). It would help stretch the DDP to cover all three meals each day, and ensure that you aren’t using your snack credits for junk.
But, we were in a villa and didn’t need to use snack credits for bagels. That essentially left us with treat options on which to spend our snack credits – ice cream, slushie drinks, soft pretzels, cookies, etc… All food that I wouldn’t normally be offering to my toddlers because toddler + sugary treat + Disney madness = burned out parents and tantruming toddler.
Here’s my recommendations to circumvent that and still get a good bang for your buck:
- Mickey soft pretzels were a must for our family. Lucas would have gladly eaten one per day — and more or less did since he wasn’t eating much else. They were big enough to share, helped fill up tummies with some degree of staying power and were probably a better choice than their super sugary counterparts.
- Popcorn proved a good choice. It took a long time to finish a container which helped allay the frustration of stroller confinement. Also, lower in sugar and the corresponding sugar fallout.
- Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom both have a few locations were you can get awesome fruit offerings for your snack credit. Specifically, Harambe Village in Animal Kingdom has beautiful looking fresh, prepped fruit; while Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies offers smoothies in the Magic Kingdom.
- Consider using your snack credits for souvenirs. We had 9 snack credits left on our second to last day in the parks. We spent five of them on treats to bring home from places like Main Street Bakery in Magic Kingdom and Karamell-Kuche in Epcot’s World Showcase (Germany). This way, we’ve had small tastes of Disney to share with the boys as they reacclimate to life at home!
Counter Service Meals: Counter service meals can be used at any quick dining restaurant throughout the parks, Downtown Disney and your hotels. Essentially, you order at a counter and (typically) are given your food on a tray to bring to your table. The dining plan gives you a drink, an entree and a dessert per counter service credit. Some tips:
- For the most part, you can’t get creative with substitutions. If you want an appetizer instead of a dessert, most cast members won’t allow it. There is, however, a bit of flexibility. You can swap the sides that come with your entree (for example: french fries) for other choices if they are available on the menu. This was a huge help to us with the kids. I was able to swap Lucas’ sides from things he wouldn’t like (i.e. broccoli, carrots, coleslaw) or things we didn’t really want him having (i.e. french fries) to things that would be welcomed by both boys – typically yogurt or fruit. I also requested that all his “dessert” items at counter service restaurants be fruit. Figuring, he could share a bite or two of whatever Tim and I received as desserts.
- Take advantage of counter service restaurants that don’t require you to balance a meal for four on a small tray. Winding your way from the counter to your table while balancing a tray containing three entrees, three desserts and three drinks is an artform, and one not worth indulging in frequently. Several counter service restaurants deliver the food directly to your table. We experienced this at Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom) and Wolfgang Puck Express (Downtown Disney).
Table Service Meals: Think of these like your traditional restaurant, food is ordered from and delivered by waiters, and tips are required above and beyond what you’ve already paid for the DDP. Tips can be added to your bill and paid for using your Disney Magic Band — essentially adding the cost to your room bill back at the hotel. Here’s a few toddler friendly tips:
- If you have a little one (under age 3) not on the DDP, they will be allowed to eat from your plate at no cost. If you are eating at a buffet, typically character dining experiences, they can have a plate of food at no cost. If you want to order them a meal, it will be added to your bill and need to be paid for separately. We never found a need to order a separate meal for Benjamin as there was more than enough food to share.
- Pick restaurants that are fun for toddlers! Whispering Canyon Cafe (ask for ketchup and you’ll get every bottle in the restaurant) was a fan favorite of our family. Character meals and other themed restaurants (Sci Fi Dine In, 50’s Primetime Cafe) can offer awesome distractions for tired toddlers who need to sit through a sometimes lengthy meal.
- Check the menus ahead of time. Several restaurants pride themselves on serving healthy foods for kids, and the choices were not “Lucas-friendly.” For example, he isn’t a huge fan of “Mickey Meatloaf,” “Tofu meatballs,” or “Seared Mahi Mahi Fingers.” Thankfully, Benjamin isn’t old enough to be picky and he ate Lucas’ meals most days. Lucas, on the other hand, ate the aforementioned giant Mickey pretzel and PBJ that I had preordered via grocery delivery.
- Again, no substitutions allowed — including asking for appetizers to be served in place of your entree. This is where the DDP and I have some falling out. I like to order apps as meals. Not allowed at Disney, even if the appetizer costs less than all entrees on the menu.
- Take your desserts to go! There is just too much dessert (did you ever think I’d say that?) on the DDP. Don’t hesitate to ask for yours to be packed up and bring it back to your room for an evening treat or even to bring home after the trip. We even ordered fruit for dessert one night and ate it for breakfast the following morning!
In general, it’s the lack of flexibility and proliferation of treats that makes me crazy on the DDP. I also don’t like needing to be constantly mindful of how many credits we have left, and where we would be getting the best “bang for our buck” in spending them. We end up using credits on things we wouldn’t have spent money on in the first place, and while it is nice to not have to worry about how much money we are spending, I’m not confident it is the right fit for our family for future trips.
If you are worried about making the dining plan worth it — or checking to see if ordering a la carte would be a better deal for your family, there are online calculators that can help you figure it out. We didn’t play with it too much but I’ve seen this one recommended.
…. phew. Are you tipped out? A few more thoughts yet to come, but that’s all for today. More Disney word spew coming soon.
::: beware: short novel ahead :::
Tim and I have been to Disney several times on our own. We were fans — big fans even — and eager to introduce the kids to the wonderful world of the mouse. I heard all the warnings in planning the trip, “it won’t be the same,” “it’s not going to feel like a vacation,” and many, many “you guys are crazy” comments.
And while there were many times during the trip that I felt a bit crazy, it was still a magical Disney experience, especially for Lucas. At almost 4 years old, the magic is alive. He believed that he was meeting the characters. Heck, even the bus rides were exciting to him at this age. At 15 months, Ben probably would have passed on most of the trip. He did incredibly well on the rides, taking them in with wide eyed wonder, and was a total trooper during our long days and much confinement (stroller and our arms). I do have to wonder what was going through his little brain as we pulled him from his stroller and dove onto rides. I can’t imagine how he processed the strange changes in scenery and experiences!
That being said, I have tips. Lots of them. Many of which I’ll memorialize below so that I can reference what worked (and what didn’t) for future trips (in a few years… when we all recover).
Planning and Scheduling
There is no spontaneity left in a Disney trip — no “let’s just wing it.” Traveling to Disney Parks is all about the planning.
This was our first trip “renting” DVC points instead of staying in a traditional Disney hotel room. I’ll never do Disney without renting again — and would strongly urge anyone traveling with toddlers or children to consider it. Why? We paid approximately the same price for our room as a standard hotel room (in a Moderate/Deluxe Disney hotel) and had a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom and washer/dryer. There was plenty of space for Tim and I to have our own room, Lucas to sleep on the pull out sofa in the living room and Benjamin’s crib fit snugly in one of the bathroom areas. Privacy for all at the price of a room with two double beds and no extras!
If we were to rent again however, I’d do it earlier than we did this time. Renting within six months of your trip date limits your options for where to stay. Our hotel (Saratoga Springs) was lovely and worked out great for us — thanks in big part to lucky room location (close to the pool and bus stop). But, if I could do it again, I’d book the trip 6-7 months out and I’d stay on the monorail line. Other than the convenience and ease that it offers in getting to/from the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, traveling via the monorail has the awesome advantage of wheeling your stroller right on board. No waking up sleeping kids and pulling them out of the stroller only to struggle to keep them and a big stroller safely on board a crowded bus. When it comes to toddler travel, I vote monorail.
Dining reservations can be booked six months in advance — well really six months + 10 days. Take advantage of this. Most reservations require a CC to hold your spot, but can be cancelled within a 24 hour window of your booked dining time. Even if you aren’t booked at your hotel, you can book dining reservations. When it comes to toting toddlers to dining reservations, make it easy for yourself and try and eat where you are already. While park hopping is terrific (especially as adults), running from the Magic Kingdom to Animal Kingdom just to have lunch is a royal PITA with kids. Plan on a solid hour to transfer from your hotel (or park) to your final destination. That’s an hour of frustrating travel time for your kids as they eagerly await rides, treats and characters. Save yourself the hassle (trust me) and eat in the park/hotel that you are already planning to spend time in.
FastPass+ reservations can be booked 60 days out if you are staying in a Disney hotel (30 days out if you are staying offsite). Essentially reservations for your rides – you get to choose three FastPass+ reservations per day, all in one park. I booked all the FastPass’ early in the mornings. Once you’ve used them up, you can reserve additional FastPass spots while you are in the park (one at a time, and only reserved from the kiosks in the parks). Two strategies helped to maximize our use of these magical tickets: 1) Since I booked our FastPass’ first thing in the morning, if we could walk onto a ride or only experience a short wait. We didn’t use them. Instead, I used the MyDisney Experience app to reschedule the FastPass’ for a different ride (same time or later in the day). This helped ensure we basically walked onto all the hot ticket rides without waiting more than fifteen minutes per. 2) After using up our three FastPass’ for the day, we definitely swung by the kiosks to reserve more. The thrill rides or consistently crowded attractions won’t be available, but you can definitely grab reservations for more mid-tier rides. Saving even ten minutes of waiting in line can be invaluable with children.
Pre-Trip Preparations and Packing
We didn’t tell the kids we were going to Disney until two weeks prior to leaving. Regardless, the “are we going now” started right away. To help combat that, build excitement and get them involved in the process, Lucas and I made a paper chain countdown full of Disney stickers. He got to remove one link each night and once he got to the end of the chain, it would be time to go!
Things you may not think to pack, but are worth the room in your suitcase/carry on:
- Lots of Clorox wipes! Disney germs are brutal, pervasive and they start on the airplane. Clorox makes awesome “to go” packs of wipes perfect for attacking the surfaces of the airplane, your hotel room (think door knobs/light switches/remote controls).
- Foaming antibacterial soap fits easily in a plastic baggie and makes handwashing in your hotel room a bit easier for little ones. Lucas has trouble soaping up his hands properly with bar soap and Ben doesn’t stand a chance. This takes up a small portion of your suitcase but can give you big peace of mind that germs will be at bay.
- Glow sticks — available for $1 at Target’s Dollar Spot and comes with 10 glow sticks that can be turned into bracelets or necklaces. These saved us while teetering on the brink of many meltdowns during the evenings, particularly.
- Familiar sippy cups – if you have young toddlers who are used to drinking out of the same kinds of sippy cups, bring them along. The restaurants provide cups of water/milk for them, but they tended to be paper or plastic and were easily crushed by careless toddler hands creating quite a mess at the table and on clothes. You can also fill them with water at the airport water fountains and use them to help offset ear pain at take off.
- Speaking of ear pain, lollipops are great relievers of ear pressure for children old enough to enjoy them. We offered lollipops at take off and they were terrific distractions from the “scariness” of takeoff while ensuring we didn’t have any ear popping crises.
And perhaps even more importantly, not everything needs to be packed or carried onto the plane. Instead of packing everything and lugging it all to Orlando, we ordered grocery delivery straight to our villa. For a nominal delivery fee, we had bottles of water, Uncrustable PBJ sandwiches, cereal, fruit, milk and snacks delivered directly to our room. This eliminated the need for going out to breakfast entirely and saved some of the Disney “go, go, go” hassle. A few tips:
- Order your diapers and wipes to be delivered to your room. This will save tons of room in your suitcase and doesn’t cost you anymore. They can be ordered through grocery delivery (we used Garden Grocer with great luck) or Amazon Prime/Amazon Prime Pantry.
- Order disposable bibs that you can use at meals. This is especially important for younger toddlers who haven’t perfected their eating habits. Benjamin can make quite a mess and I didn’t want to lug a sloppy, mess of a bib around in our backpacks. Instead, we got a box of disposable bibs and were able to leave them at the table after the meals. No muss, no fuss.
- Consider renting a stroller. Two toddlers under the age of four and all the walking at Disney Parks is not a great mix. We have a double stroller at home, but it was too much for Tim to navigate on the plane by himself. Instead, we rented using Kingdom Strollers with great success. They drop the stroller off to the bell desk of your hotel who brings it straight to your room. When you leave, you drop it back at the bell desk and they handle getting it back to the company. The stroller we rented (City Mini GT Deluxe) was amazing. Easy to fold and unfold. Super simple to push. Comfortable for both boys. Excellent sunshade and recline (almost flat, perfect for stroller napping). Only downside (which wouldn’t be any different for any double stroller) is the size and particularly the size while folded up. You have to drag that puppy on and off the bus many times during the week and you will definitely get frustrated. Just remind yourself of how easy it is while in the park and you’ll quickly get over the annoyance!
And, as if that wasn’t enough narration of my various tips and tricks for a successful Disney jaunt with the toddler crowd — more coming tomorrow on the Disney Dining Plan, Memory Maker and making the most of your park time! In reward for bearing with my lengthy Disney details, here’s a sweet picture of Lucas, Benjamin and Pascal (from Tangled!)
I headed to Florida five days before my guys so that I could assist at a major client’s convention. In addition to my giant suitcase full of two weeks worth of clothes, I told Lucas that I could bring along one of his friends (aka toys) to have adventures with Mommy before he came down. He quickly selected “Rubble,” one of his pups,” and I promised to send back pictures of our escapades.
He tried to eat healthy while traveling, did some work and watched fireworks at Epcot.
Although the highlight may have been his “character experiences” – Rubble had the unique opportunity to spend some quality time with the cast of Disney’s Frozen.
And snuggled up with the most magical of characters, Mickey and Minnie.
It’s going to be tough to deliver adventure pictures quite like this in future trips! Lucas seemed tickled with Rubble’s daily onslaught of pictures, and was eager to reunite him with his pup pals at home.