Friday, May 29, 2015

Walt Disney World: Epcot

Happy Friday! It's been raining so much here, and the temps aren't creeping up past 70, but at least it's the weekend! I promised more Disney posts, so today I'm going to recap our time at Epcot. It gets a post of its own because it was our favorite and we went there three different times in 4 days!  If you missed my entry post on our recent trip to Disney World, you can read that here.

I wanted to start with Epcot because it was actually our favorite park. We went there three different times over the course of 4 days. Not only did we like the rides, but the park is clean, the crowds were light, the food is better than anywhere else in any of the parks. The Flower and Garden Festival was going on at the time, which meant there were character topiaries everywhere and beautiful landscape throughout. We also LOVED the fireworks and laser light show and everything at Epcot seemed gender neutral, which is a bonus when you have one of each!  I thought I would be the only one to appreciate all of this, but it turns out we all did. 

We spent Day 1 at Epcot, and it started our whole trip out on the right foot. Test Track happened to be our kids favorite ride at Epcot, as well as over all of the parks. We rode it three times. Kate just giggled the whole time, it was awesome. Here they are designing their own cars…

We were tipped off by a friend to go to Turtle Talk with Crush, and we are so glad we did. It was funny and charming and perfect for all ages. The audience, adults included, were laughing and Drew got chosen to ask Crush a question. Definitely a must see!

Ride Recap:
Spaceship Earth: This is a simple, easy ride for all ages. We liked it, but once was enough.

Test Track: LOVED! Modern and fun, new, fast. Used a Fast Pass. I would recommend single rider for this if your kids are old enough. You have to be at least 7 years old.

The Seas with Nemo & Friends: This is a very easy, slow moving ride. Probably would skip if we went again.

Turtle Talk with Crush: Loved this. Good for all ages. Funny and sweet.

Soarin': We all enjoyed this ride. None of us loved it so much to do it twice, but definitely good to do once. Used a Fast Pass.

Living with the Land: We all enjoyed this ride. It's an easy, slow moving boat ride and very educational. Drew especially liked this one.

Captain EO: Not working any day we were there.

Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros: This ride is found tucked back in in Mexico. We didn't know about until an employee told us about it. Easy going, good for all ages.

Mission Space: This is one ride broken up into an easier and a harder ride. It was highly suggested to us that we do  the easier route and glad we did. Kids loved this. Fun and interactive. With small kids, I would recommend the easier side. Used a Fast Pass.

Flower and Garden Festival:
This year, the festival ran from March 4-May 17th. The grounds were so, so pretty, I just loved it!

World Showcase:
We all enjoyed this part of Epcot, and we were happy our kids were old enough to appreciate this part of it. Like I said before, we came here three times!

We played the bongos and had margaritas in Mexico…

We at dinner in Morocco…

We sampled Frushi in Japan…

We had delicious grapefruit beers and brats in Germany. We also had lunch reservations at the Biergarten Restaurant on the first day.

We met Mulan in China…

And lastly, we did stay for the fireworks and laser light show one night. It was wonderful. And as a bonus, it starts at 9pm, an hour earlier than the Magic Kingdom fireworks. I would definitely recommend staying one night at Epcot to see this!

Above all, this is the kind of "Magic" that happens at Disney! Spontaneous joy, love, and gratefulness for having such a wonderful family experience!

Next up will be Magic Kingdom!! Sorry for the photo overload, but I hope some of this information helps some of you with your planning! xoxo

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Summer Fun Chalk Wall 2015

Our kids got out of school last week, so we are officially on summer break! I am really looking forward to the kids being home, being lazy, trying new things, and traveling a bit. We created our summer fun list last week to kickstart the official beginnings of summer. I love this chalkboard wall for so many reasons, and though some say chalkboards are "out", they will always be "in" at our house!

This is the third year I've been doing this list, and same as usual, this is a blueprint for what we want to try to do. We certainly don't get to everything, and that's okay. The list gets tweaked every year as the kids are getting older and some things we like to repeat and others we don't. My kids love this list, and hold me to it! They are loving the addition of the "daily" list, although swimming is a bit of a stretch…

Kate and I have already crossed off strawberry picking from the list. We picked about 4 lbs. on a day when we pretty much had the patch to ourselves. We eat off of them for a bit, and then I cut and freeze them to throw in smoothies or yogurt parfaits. Such a fun outing!

Sunshine is most definitely our favorite accessory!!

Click here to view our summer fun chalk wall lists from 2013 & 2014.

Click here to view this DIY chalkboard project & how I clean my chalkboard wall.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Weekend Wrap Up + Last Day of School

I hope you all had a wonderful long weekend! We had a fantastic weekend despite some rain and chillier temps. The sun finally decided to show up yesterday, and we hit up the pool. What a mood changer when the sun comes out! We weren't very productive this weekend (we mostly played) but those are the best kind. Laundry is piled up and the house is a mess, but our tabletop was looking festive!

On Sunday night, our neighbors hosted a Low Country Boil. This is such a fun theme for a party, and we all had a lovely time. All of the food gets dumped onto a table and you pretty much just eat with your hands…so yummy!

We also had a little impromptu brunch and bowling at Pinstripes on Sunday morning with some good friends. Pinstripes puts on quite a brunch, and the kids are finally old enough to bowl without help!

I also tackled mulching all of our beds this weekend. I actually enjoy doing it. I know, I'm nuts! I love getting my hands dirty and making something look pretty. I'm a little late to the game this year, but so happy to have it done. More to come on this landscaping this week!

Today also marks the beginning of summer break for the kiddos. They got out at the end of the last week, so they are all mine until August 12th! I'm super excited to have the home full time. I love being lazy, making memories, not having to worry about specific bedtimes, and all around just being together. These kids are at such a fun age, I know it's going to be a great summer for all of us.

Kate is done with kinder and will move to full-day first grade next year. Crazy that my house will be empty next year! Boy, is she ever ready for first grade, but mom's not so sure. Can't every grade be half day?!?!

And Drew will be moving to second grade in the fall and will turn eight in August. He keeps getting taller and taller and more mature looking by the day! Stop it! His classmates chose him for the leadership award in his class…very fitting… #proudmom

I'll be back tomorrow with our 2015 summer bucket list! We are off to the library…no rest for the weary at this house! :)

I would love for you to follow along!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

WDW: Thoughts & Logistics From First-Timers

We had the most amazing time on our recent family vacation! It was everything you hope vacation to be, and then some. If you follow me on  Instagram, you saw all my posts and our smiling faces! I was a bit skeptical going in, not really seeing what all the Disney hype was about. I must admit, we absolutely had the most magical time. We saw and did everything we wanted to, we were carefree, Steve didn't do an ounce of work, we worked together to plan our days, our kids bonded, we bonded, we wish we could go back and relive all seven of those glorious days! Family vacations are expensive and time consuming to plan, but oh my gosh, are they worth it.

I have decided to recap our Disney/beach trip in segments. There is too much to say and too many pictures for one post. We are first-timers, at least with taking our own kids, and I promised several people that I would share my thoughts on all things Disney when we returned. I also wanted to give a HUGE shout out to Steve. He was seriously our pack mule, navigator, driver, fish/shell finder, day planner, and all around cruise director. He kept things lighthearted and fun, as he is a big kid himself. Our main goal was to be organized, but not on a super schedule. We wanted to just have fun and take in all the moments, and did we ever!

So…here goes!

This was our first time going to Disney with our kids, in our adult lives. Steve and I have both been to WDW at different times in our lives, but this was our first time planning it on our own and traveling with our family. We are NOT Disney experts, far from it. These are my thoughts about the experiences we had as first timers. So many people have so many opinions about Disney. I just simply want to share about our experience and how things went for us!!! We had intentions of going into this as if we might not go back. I know some people go every year, and some who will just go once or twice. We will probably go back at some point, but for now, these memories will suffice! I highly suggest asking questions and finding good Disney websites to help you along the way! If you have any questions, please email me or leave a comment. I would love to chat!

We decided that our kids were getting to the right age to tackle WDW. We started talking about it, did a little research about time of year, and booked our plane tickets. We decided to go in early May and booked our plane tickets in January. We used frequent flyer miles and traveled from Kansas City > Dallas > Orlando both ways. We decided early on that we would go to WDW for 4 days, and rent a car and drive to the beach for a few days. Total trip time would be 7 days.

We did all purchasing and planning on our own. We asked lots of questions to those who had been there before, did some online research, and just went for it. After plane and hotel were booked, we purchased 4-day park hopper passes. I would highly recommend paying a little more for the park hopper. This means that you can go to any of the four parks at any part of any day you have your tickets. We definitely used this feature. We went to at least two parks every day, and one day we even hit 3 parks! Disney makes it very easy for you to link up hotel, transportation from airport, ordering Magic Bands, booking fast passes, making reservations, etc. There is an app you can download that has everything in one place for you.

Telling Our Kids: 
We decided to do a scavenger hunt at home to tell our kids about the trip. When we were 100 days out, we hid clues throughout the house and ultimately they found a photo of the Magic Kingdom at the end. They squealed and hugged and jumped up and down. We made the decision to tell them ahead of time so they could be in on the planning. We also believe that the anticipation of something is just as exciting as the actual event, so we wanted to give them that. We had a countdown on the fridge, and honestly, 100 days absolutely flew by. When the Magic Bands arrived, we new we were close and the kids were beyond excited. It was so fun to watch them anticipate this trip and I'm so glad it met their expectations!

Where We Stayed:
We talked about staying offsite and using hotel reward points, but ultimately decided to stay on Disney Property and booked those rooms in March. There are a few perks with staying on Disney property and we are happy we made this decision. We were able to get a "spring special" so we upgraded to the "Princess Room" at Port Orleans Riverside Resort. This is a "moderate" resort, but we heard great things and it came highly recommend. This is a large resort with beautiful grounds, horse drawn carriage rides, bike rentals, a ferry to Downtown Disney, bus transportation to all parks, a large dining hall, two kid friendly pools, nightly movies on the lawn. We were very happy staying there. Our room was small, and a bit dated, but we slept great (exhaustion!) and we barely spent any time in the room. The princess room had some special touches and we were on the first floor in a great location on the property. No complaints!

What We Ate:
We opted to NOT get a dining plan. We heard mixed reviews on this, and ultimately decided we could probably eat cheaper on our own. We had heard that a lot of the food goes uneaten that you have already paid for in the meal plan. We also heard that the food just wasn't that great, so we didn't want to be stuck with that.

Breakfast: One day we ate at Port Orleans Riverside Food Court. Overall, the hot food is not very good. Kids couldn't finish their Mickey waffles. I had a ham/cheese croissant that wasn't too bad, but it's not ideal eating. We went to Port Orleans French Quarter (just a short walk down the river) one morning to eat beignets, and those were very, very good. We ate at a Starbucks inside Hollywood Studios one day, which was a wonderful surprise and treat for us. Our first day at Magic Kingdom we ate breakfast at Be Our Guest. We made reservations for this ahead of time. It was pretty good, but obviously a bit pricey for breakfast. No characters are present at this breakfast, but the castle is fun to see and you get into the park early with this reservation.

Lunch: The only lunch reservation we made ahead of time was at Biergarten Restaurant in Epcot. This was a buffet style lunch with live entertainment. We all enjoyed the experience. We sampled different beers and had some delicious desserts. You must try the Grapefruit German Bier when you go to Epcot! The other days we found snacks at the park (popcorn, ice cream), or ate our own snacks. We ate pizza one day for lunch at Hollywood Studios.

Dinner: We at at Epcot for dinner twice. We ate in Morocco, Steve ate a brat in Germany, the kids ate fruit sushi in Japan. This is your best bet for good food and desserts! It was fun to walk through the countries and sample different things. We ordered pizza one night at the resort, and we also ate at Downtown Disney one night.

Time of Year: 
In doing research on best time of year to visit Disney that also worked with our schedule, we landed on early May. We figured post-spring break and before school let out would be a lighter time. We also thought the weather would be hot, but not terrible, and even if it rained, it would at least still be warm and bearable. You must also look to see if there are any special events happening during the time of your travels. The weekend following our visit was Star Wars Weekend, which draws lots of crowds. Maybe our week was lighter because people were waiting to come for that?

For us, in this year, I would say we got incredibly lucky. Believe it or not, we were in Florida for 7 days and did not see one drop of rain. Not one. I know that is pretty unheard of, so we are counting our blessings. All ponchos have been returned! :) It averaged in the low 80's during the day and even got a little chilly in the evenings. There was only one time waiting for a bus that we really felt hot because you are in and out of rides/buildings/restaurants so often. We also talked to several employees and other Disney regulars who said we came at an ideal down time, and the crowds were very manageable. Let's be honest, it's Disney, so there is no shortage of people, but I do think we got very lucky with lighter crowds. All in all, I would HIGHLY suggest this time of year for both weather and light crowds.

It was also the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot, so for this plant lover, I was in heaven!

Missing School:
Because we chose to go on vacation at a time that wasn't during "vacation" time from school, our kids missed at total of 6 days of school. I know this isn't for some, but we felt it was okay taking into account their ages and academic levels. We also feel that travel in general is so important and is education in it's own way. Here's Drew doing math homework on our way home!

Ages of Kids: 
Ah, the magic question…what is the best age to take your kids to Disney? This is the number one question I have been asked since returning. Our kids are, to be exact, 7 3/4 and 6 1/2. I think this is right around the sweet spot in age, at the minimum. Again, we have never taken any other age child so we can't compare, but I am happy that we didn't spend the money to take them at a younger age. We are lucky because our kids are only 15 months apart, so accommodating different age spans wasn't a problem for us. I was shocked at how many people had infants and small toddlers and the sheer number of strollers we saw was unbelievable! We wanted to go at a time when our kids were old enough to have memories, old enough to be self sufficient without a stroller, able to "hang" when it came to late nights and miles and miles of walking, and were tall enough to get on every ride. After being at Disney and experiencing all the rides and everything together, I appreciated this more than I thought I would. I was happy to not have to wait outside with one child, while the other one went on something. We were able to go on everything together, which made for a very collective and shared experience, and definitely some family bonding!

Our kids blew us out of the water with how well they did. We probably walked an average of 8 miles per day for 4 straight days. We had early mornings and late nights and they did it all without complaining and were ready to tackle each day. I will say that not having a stroller to deal with was a huge thing. We were able to get to so much more and visit several parks (yes several) each day because we only had to worry about the 4 of us on foot and one backpack. Also, our kids are pretty independent and we make them just do things, so they knew the expectations going in…we're the mean parents!! Ha!

What We Packed: 
Going at a time when we knew it was going to be nice, we packed all summer clothes and one light jacket per person, which we did use both on the plane and on the first night we were there as the temps were in the 60's. We all wore shorts/t-shirts/tank tops to the parks. Steve and I actually wore work out clothes all four days and that worked out well. We all wore comfortable tennis shoes every single day. I was amazed at the number of flip flops and other shoes people were wearing…we would have been dying without tennis shoes! Disney is pretty easy to pack for because it's all about comfort and not looking cute! Obvious things, like sunglasses and sunscreen, were worn daily too. I also packed goggles for swimming at the resort and the beach and we used these every single day.

In all, for seven days at Disney and the beach, we checked one large suitcase, and carried on two smaller bags and a backpack. Honestly, I overpacked. I wasn't sure if it would rain, or if we would want to change during the day, etc. We changed into "nighttime" outfits only one day out of the four at Disney. Otherwise, we never went back to the hotel and just stayed in the same clothes.

The Backpack: 
I did a little research on what to pack in our backpack, the one thing we would have every day at the parks. Every night I would pack up the backpack for the following day. It worked out well, and you can take your backpack on all rides. Here is what we brought and used...

Ponchos: We brought 8 total, packed 4 each day in the backpack, but never used any of them.
Snacks: It was highly recommended that we bring snacks from home and I am SO HAPPY we did! We packed these in our checked bag and transferred them each night to our backpack for the following day.
Portable Battery Charger: We charged and used this every single day. I took all photos from my iPhone and used the My Disney Experience App consistently at the parks, so you will burn through your battery. Disney has free wi-fi at all the parks and at the resorts which is SOOOOOO nice!
Kleenex: Yes, Dollar Tree sells 3 small Kleenex packs for, you got it, $1!
Hand Sanitizer: Yes.
Sunscreen: Yes.
Water bottle: We brought a reusable Camelbak water bottle that fit in the backpack. We filled this every morning and throughout the day.
Spray bottle: I picked up a small spray bottle at Dollar Tree and the kids enjoyed using this to mist themselves throughout the day. We weren't dying of heat, but they thought it was fun.
Glow Sticks: I bought a few packs of glow necklaces and bracelets at Dollar Tree and we used all of them. This was a fun treat for the kids for the night parade and fireworks.
Plastic Baggie: In case it rained or we went on a water ride, I brought a baggie to store our phones.
Flip Flops: We planned one day to do water rides and packed flip flops in the bag. We did put our flip flops on for the Rapids ride at A.K., but we barely got wet. Several people were soaked, and I had heard that wet tennis shoes all day were not good. It made the bag a little heavier that day, but not bad.
Sunglasses: Yes.

Night 1:
We left Kansas City early on Tuesday morning. The plane ride is half the fun for these two!

We landed in Orlando around 3pm. We found our ground transportation to our resort and quickly got checked in to our room. We decided to take the ferry to Downtown Disney and walk around and have dinner. We shopped, ate, danced, and stuffed our faces with gigantic ice cream treats! Off to a good start for sure! Oh, and did I mention there is a Lego store at DD?

We finished off our first night with a night swim. I remember having night swims on vacation with my sister and dad, so this just makes me happy…

I hope your eyes haven't glazed over yet! Lots of info! In future posts, I will be back to size up each park and share what we thought about the rides and what our favorites were. You might be surprised to hear which park was our favorite!

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