Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Post Disney report- a year late!

I started this after we got home last year and life got in the way. I am going to try to get back to blogging, especially with all the changes coming in our life over the next couple years! So, where we left off last year...

Or how we went completely overboard and spent way more than we budgeted for! So, the trip as a whole was amazing. We had a great time with the family, especially the boys with their bigger cousins! Our group totaled out at 15 people and included the double stroller and 2 powered wheelchairs. It was pretty funny seeing us go through the parks! Really I could spend hours talking about the trip but I promise I'm trying to keep it to highlights! 

Ok, so we went overboard in the souvenir department, specifically in trading pins. Goodness they are expensive. No we don't trade them, we collect them for the memory of each trip. Each of the kids has their own lanyard and they get a new pin for each trip and the new things they do. Example: Keirnan's first roller coaster- space mountain pin to remember it! At least this is a cost that will go down as the boys get older and run out of firsts!!! Lol This trip we also had a bonus souvenir in Owen's first haircut at the Main Street Barber Shop at the Magic Kingdom! For $18 he got his haircut, a certificate, a little moments lock of his hair, and a pair of Mickey Ears hat are embroidered with "My first haircut!" Best souvenir ever!

I am a dining plan lover and this trip did not fail to meet our culinary expectations. We always get the dining plan for a few reasons. The first is the price is great for what you get. The second, is we do character meals for most of our sit down meals. This saves a lot of time in not having to wait in Charater greeting lines! They come right to our table while we enjoy our food!!

This was Owen's first Disney trip and I was worried how he would do with all his food allergies. (Egg, soy, banana, garlic, and peanuts) let me tell you, I can't say enough good things about the chefs at every Disney restaurant we ate at that week! Every single meal the chef came out to discuss the menu with me. If it was a buffet, like Chef Mickey and the Disney Jr Character Breakfast at Hollywood Studios, they walked the entire thing with me telling me the ingredients of each item. My baby was clearer that week than he has ever been! And not once did anyone make me feel bad for making them do extra work. He had so many special dishes made just for him, I can't remember them all. Basically, I really am in love with the restaurants at Disney and how easy they made it for us! 

This trip my mother-in-law bought our group the Memory Maker pass. I am now a convert. Before, I'd always discounted it as frivolous spending because I have my own camera and the photographers are always happy to snap a pic with your camera/ phone. But it was the best thing to have! We spent a good amount of time together, but there were some parts of each day that we broke into groups or the older kids went off on their own. Memory Maker made sure we got all the pictures in one place. Since we were the for Star Wars Weekend, there were a lot of extra photo spots around Hollywood Studios that the kids loved stopping at. We ended up with over 200 photos and I didn't have to fret over losing my camera while on a ride and was in the pictures, enjoying the experiences too! (Like this photo, which is very rare I'm told! Multiple cast members told me these two bounty hunters, while out in the same spot together, rarely do photos together. They came on over without prompting for this shot! And their camera guys went nuts!) 

I did find a new and in my opinion great tip- renting a stroller! Since we drove to FL and were only going to need the big stroller in the parks, we rented. It was $100 to rent a baby jogger double city mini. This stroller was my dream stroller but we decided it wasn't worth the expense on our last child. It was fun to use one for a week though! And the bonus was all that extra space not wasted in the van and we got a deposit back, meaning it was actually cheaper to rent that for the week than it would have been to get one of the plastic park strollers! Did I mention they delivered and picked it up at our hotel front desk? Fab! 

Keirnan got to ride his first roller coaster at the Magic Kingdom- Space Mountain! It was my first coaster as a child too, so I loved that! And he rode it a couple times! James got his first coaster too- we got there a week after The Seven Dwarf's Mine Train opened and we managed to get on it twice! We all enjoyed it, though it is definitely kid friendly! 

We spent only a day at Universal and Islands of Adventure. Due to crowds and rain the only Harry Potter ride we did was the Flight of the Hippogriff. It's a small kids coaster that James and I enjoyed through the rain. We also went in to get everyone wands (and I got a house scarf!) and had some Butterbeer. It was yum!

After Orlando we spent a day visiting with Will's Nanny and family before spending some time with my family in Clearwater. We got in some mini golf before getting rained off the beach. (Boo) But we did get some good pool time at my Aunt and Uncle's house! 

Our next stop was Panama City with the other part of Will's family. It was nice enough while there to enjoy a fabulous beach day! The boys had a blast playing in the water and sand, and we got some mandatory mini golf at Coconut Creek in too!

Then it was time to head toward home, with a stop in Huntsville, AL at the Space and Rocket Center. Oh, my space crazy boys loved it! They all managed to come home with a ton of souvenirs and some great memories of their family. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Keirnan's 5th Birthday Questions

I found this 20 questions to ask my kids at their birthday each year survey through Pinterest a couple years ago right after Keirnan's birthday. I kind of forgot about it after doing it once. Well, here we are a few days after his birthday, so while I'm thinking about it. Let's knock this out!

Keirnan: 5 years, May 10, 2014

1. What is your favorite color? Pink and black
2. What is your favorite toy? Halo
3. What is your favorite fruit? Peach
4. What is your favorite tv show? Paw Patrol
5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? Spaghetti-O's
6. What is your favorite outfit? Batman shirt with grey camo pants
7. What is your favorite game? Halo
8. What is your favorite snack? Pop tarts
9. What is your favorite animal? Dinosaur
10. What is your favorite song? Jingle Bells
11. What is your favorite book? Space
12. Who is your best friend? Aiden Hutchins
13. What is your favorite cereal? Colors (Fruit Loops)
14. What is your favorite thing to do outside? Play Halo
15. What is your favorite drink? Strawberry milk
16. What is your favorite holiday? Christmas
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? Blankey
18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Graham crackers
19. What do you want for dinner on your birthday?  Spaghetti
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? Soldier

I loved seeing the difference between these answers two years ago and today. Keirnan still loves all things military, space, and dinosaurs. He is in love with the Halo PS3 game and Legos. While he fights horribly with James, he is usually very good with Owen and other children. He is an orange belt with a black stripe in ATA and will be starting Kindergarten in the Fall. Such a wonderful little man I have!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Disney World- Military style

I grew up going to Walt Disney World. Some of my best memories are the yearly trips my mom and I would take while Daddy was on business trips to Orlando for a long weekend. We'd stay at a Disney hotel and hit the parks from opening until we were too pooped to carry on- usually just after the fireworks! I still remember my first time on Space Mountain at 3 years old and finding someone with Tylenol after I hit my head because I didn't stay seated at the end of the ride. I remember the fun of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the disappointment when they closed it, the endless rides spinning ourselves as fast as we could on the Teacups, and watching as they built both Big Thunder Railroad and Splash Mountain. We stayed at various different hotels- the Polynesian, Port Orleans before there was a Riverside addition, and many times at the All Star Resorts after they were opened.

I never understood at the time the costs that went into all these memories, but I know now that it was there. And, despite costs, I want these same memories for my boys. So, every couple years we save and do what we can to get to Disney World. (Though, our last trip we headed out to Disneyland in California instead!) This is made much easier as they have great discounts for military. We aren't just a couple hours drive away, and we have three kids, so the travel is much more costly. So, when we decide its time to visit Disney, we do so in the cheapest way possible. Since we have family in Florida, and usually go down for Christmas every few years anyway, we usually time our trips to Disney around the holidays. This year, we are going down in June- the 'busy' season. And we'll be doing Disney, Universal, and Sea World for under $5,000, including gas and hotels during the 3 day each way drive. So, here is our breakdown staying in a Disney Moderate Resort:

Port Orleans French quarter + dining 7 days (2adults/2kids):                                        $2141
-          $306 PER DAY. Hotel, 4 snacks, 4 quick service meals, 4 sit down meals per day.
Disney Tickets: $169 each adult/ children >2. 4-day park hopper.                               $676
Sea World Tickets: Free military.                                                                                         $0
Universal Tickets: Will free, Adult 1-day $96, Child 3-6 $90.                                         $264
Space & Rocket Center: Will free, Adult $20, Child <5 Free                                           $20
Gas (Mapquest estimate):                                                                                                    $500
Hotels ($100/night, 2 nights each way):                                                                            $400
Total:                                                                                                                                        $4,001

·        Does not include food while travelling, in Clearwater, or Panama City.
·        Does not include dog boarding. (2 chocolate labs)
You will see recommendations for and against staying on Disney property and for and against the dining plans. For us, with small children, the resorts make life easier as we can hop the bus to and from the hotel and parks, as often as needed. Also, the monorail is free, and makes a lovely, air conditioned afternoon nap spot for little boys who are too excited in the parks to settle down for a nap in their stroller! (The older boys love riding it and can sit for an hour if we let them. We use it to get the little ones (s) to sleep and then get back off and go back into the park.)

The Dining plan is a must for us since at 5, 3, and 1 years old, our boys are not interested in standing in hour long lines to meet the characters. Instead we use our sit-down meals for character meals. We do Chef Mickey to meet the classic characters, the Disney Jr breakfast at Hollywood Studios to meet their favorite TV characters (this changes now and then to update to the most popular charaters), and this year because we'll have extra days where we won't be at Disney parks, we are using two days of sit-down meals to do the Luau at the Polynesian! Thankfully, we don't have little girls as Cinderella's Table, which I'm told is amazing, is 2 sit-down meals as well as the cookout show at the Wilderness Lodge! Why is this worth spending the extra money? Because our hotel, tickets, and dining plan equal out to $402 a day. Just the total for us all to do the Luau will cost around that if we had to pay for it separately! The character meals will add up to around $100 each without the dining plan. Are you seeing why its worth it!?!

Now for the breakdown without the military discounts. These are all taken off the parks website.
Disney, hotel, tickets, and dining online before taxes: $4212
Sea world tickets: $318 (2 adults, 2 kids, 1 under 3 free)
Universal:$ 372 (2 adults, 2 kids, 1 under 3 free) 1 day, 1 park
Space & Rocket Center: $40
Gas: $500
Hotels: $400
$5842  Non-military price  
That's a difference of $1841!!
Now, I tried to match it as close as possible to what we'll be getting. I was able to adjust the Disney side to perfectly match what we are getting. For Universal, we will only be doing one day at Islands of Adventure, even though Will will be getting Universal's Military ticket, which is, I think, a park hopper or 2-day, but as we'll only be going to the one park for one day, I chose that option for the general price. (So, its the price of what we'll be doing.)
Also, you'll notice mention of Clearwater and Panama City. We have family in those two cities, so we'll be spending a couple nights with family in both places as we make our way home. We'll also be stopping in Huntsville, AL to spend a couple hours at the Space & Rocket Center as my boys are space crazy.
Our drive to and from Florida will be about 3 days each way. We drive about 8 hours a day so we are able to stop for an hour at lunch and let the boys run around, and then are done each night at dinner time, allowing for more run around or pool time after eating. To minimize hotel cost, we usually stay at Best Westerns or Holiday Inn Expresses as they both offer military rates and have free continental breakfasts and internet! I average around $100 per night for hotels as it does change based on the location, but we've yet to spend more than $120 after taxes for a night at either chain.
If you are looking for more money saving tips for a trip to Disney, I highly suggest checking out Couponing to Disney. Not only does she have tons of great money saving tips for going to Orlando and California, but she has lots of good ideas and deals to help you save money everyday! And Behind the Mouse just recently put up a post full of free things to do while at Disney World. And did you know Disney World has two mini golf courses!? These are another fun and cheap way to spend some time outside the actual parks!
Other options to look into for the Orlando area is to stay at Shades of Green, which is a military resort on Disney property. The room rates are based on rank, and the rooms look to be well sized. They are not a Disney resort and therefore, you cannot get the Disney Dining Plan through them (which was our deal breaker). If you are looking at not doing the dining plan, this is definitely an option to look into. There is a way to save even more by getting a vacation rental through Armed Forces Vacation Club, which allows you to rent a suite at local resorts for a week for only a couple hundred dollars total. These often come with a kitchen, which allows you to cook your meals. As our kids get older, this is an option we'll be exploring more I think! I have not used them, but have a close friend who had an amazing experience through them. (also note, AFVC has rentals throughout the world- check them out for any vacation!!)
Maybe next month, as we get closer to vacation, I'll share my packing list, and some basic survival tips to get through a long car ride and Disney with little kiddos. Here's a preview- stroller etiquette is important! We take a double jogger with us that we have fondly named "The Cadillac." We take it on buses, on the monorail, and around the parks without any issues. Be respectful of others, you can run them over easier than you think! For buses, have the kids out and get that sucker folded while waiting in line, and don't let go of it while on the bus, it can and will fall over and hurt people while the buses are moving. And the double joggers go nicely onto the monorail to get those kiddos to sleep, just make sure you're getting into an empty, or almost empty space.