Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Disney World: Do before you go

Here are several things we did prior to going to Disney that I think really helped us have an affordable and extra fun trip.

Read The Unofficial Guide to Disney World.  You will be overwhelmed and skeptical, but their plan really works and once you understand it, is very flexible.  We were at Disney at one of the busiest weeks of the year.  We saw everything we wanted to see and rode all of our favorite rides at least twice, never waited in line more than 20 minutes and never spent from opening to closing in the park.  I read through the book several months before our trip, then the night before visiting each park I read that park's section and picked our touring plan for the next day.  Most days we chose their "Whole Family" plan for the park we were visiting.  This way we got everything from the Dumbo to Space Mountain on our plan. 

Pay to subscribe to Touring Plans and download the Lines app for your phone.  This gives you the best planning tools for finding discount tickets, figuring out which park to go to which day, pick a touring plan for each day.  The app then allows your touring plan to be at your finger tips with actual wait times for rides without lugging around the book or several sheets of paper.

Buy Disney Trading Pins and Lanyards from ebay.  These pins are $7 or more each in the park.  We bought a lot of 50 pins for $35.  The cast members (staff) at Disney all have pins and you can trade with them or other guests.  My kids loved trading and it was a great activity when waiting in line to get in the park or to ride a ride.  It also made a great souvenir that didn't break the bank.  All four kids started with pins they didn't really like, but all four came home with pins they love.  Ruby collected fairies.  Rehm collected Mickeys and Muppets.  I'm not sure what the other two collected, I think they just enjoyed the trading and didn't really care what they got.  These really cut down on the I wants in the park because every time they traded they felt like they had gotten something and were not feeling deprived. Also buy metal backs for your pins from amazon.  They stay on better than the mickey back they come with. 

Pre-buy the Photo Pass CD.  You can the CD at any time, but if you buy before you go, it only costs $99.  If you buy after you go it costs $149.  As soon as you enter the first park, find a photo pass photographer and get a Photo Pass Card and of course get your picture made.  Every time you get your picture made have them scan your card.  This is a great way to get pictures of your entire party as no one is behind the camera.  We ended up with 130 pictures of our family and another 40 stock photos from Disney that all directly related to our time at Disney.  I have not received the CD yet as I'm still editing the pictures and adding borders and such.  Once I receive the CD I can use the pictures any way I want.  Expect to see some of them on this year's Christmas card and of course on the blog.  This made it easy for me to relax and enjoy our trip instead of constantly feeling like I needed to be taking pictures.  It also allowed me to take the point and shoot camera instead of the dSLR. 

Buy prepackaged snacks.  Disney will let you bring food in the parks.  One backpack was filled with nabs, peanuts, chips, gum, and other easy to grab snacks.  This saved lots of time and money while in the parks and prevented more than one melt down.  We also took a couple of water bottles in with us each day and re-filled them at the water fountains.

Bring a roll or two of quarters and a roll of pennies.  This is another cheap and easy souvenir.  There are pressed penny machines all through out Disney.  We got our favorite characters and favorite rides and one for each of the parks.  Each one costs $0.51.  This is a souvenir that is easy to say "yes" to.  It is also a good time killer to do with the kid that doesn't want to ride the ride the rest of the family is on.  We bought a pressed penny holder at one of the many gift shops to hold all our our pennies.  If you forget change, no problem. There are plenty of change machines and the cast members are happy to give you change in any of the gift shops.  

Shop at Miss Morgan Designs on Etsy and make custom shirts for your family.  This was affordable and fun.

Pack to coordinate.  All four kids had on the exact same shirt every day we were at Disney.  This made it much easier to spot them in the crowd and helped the ride operators know who was in our party. I used shirts we already had from school, VBS, choir musicals, sports teams, etc.  It also made getting dressed each day a breeze.

Make ID cards for the kids with your cell phone number on them.  We attached these to their trading pin lanyards.

Make a first aid kit to keep with you so you don't have to go to the medical station for every blister or skinned knee.

Take a sharpie.  This came in handy to write my phone number on the kids' forearms each day.  That way if something happened I knew the information would literally be at their fingertips.

I'm sure I'll have more to add, but these are the things that come to mind right now.

Disney World: Happy Birthday

All six of us celebrated our birthday at Disney World.  No, none of us have a birthday in November.  At the beginning of the year we sat down with the children and told them we would like to go to Disney World as a family.  We told them that we had two options:  go in two or three years after Michael and I had saved all the funds or go at the end of this year if they were willing to help us save. 

Everyone wanted to go this year.  So, we agreed that none of us would have a birthday party this year and the funds would go to the Disney fund, all money we received for our birthdays and Christmas would go to the Disney fund, and Christmas would be smaller. 

At each child's birthday they received a gift from us, something they really wanted.  They also received a lanyard, ten Disney trading pins, a scrap book and an autograph book - all in preparation for our Disney trip.  Each child still had a family celebration for their birthday where they picked our dining location and I made each a birthday cake.  They were not deprived in any way.  But they did put all cash and checks happily in the Disney fund. 

Our goal with this was to help our kids learn that there are trade offs for things we want and to learn that sometimes delayed gratification is even better than immediate gratification.  We wanted them to be invested in this trip as it was a big time and money commitment.   We wanted them to really want to go.  And want to go bad enough to give something up to make it happen.  I think everyone learned a lot from this experience and I hope we do this again in the future.  Next time I hope to talk them into a cruise...

When we got to Disney one of the first things to go on the grocery list was a Birthday Cake since we were all celebrating. 

Disney World: Getting There

For the week of Thanksgiving the Maniacs traveled to Disney World.  This was the very first visit for all of us.  Yes, Michael and I were deprived as children.

In true maniac fashion, we drove to Disney World.  Read that, we are frugal or cheap.  I'm not sure which sometimes but we decided to drive instead of fly.  Once there it was nice to have our own transportation to the parks and grocery store and such. 
Lake Charles, LA

West of Baton Rouge, probably St. Martin Parish

The trip took two days.  The first day we were in the car 11+ hours.  We made it all the way to Daphne, AL.  We would have made better time but someone forgot to slow down for the bridge over the swamp in St. Martin Parish, LA and got a speeding ticket and thus had to drive much closer to the speed limit the rest of the trip. 

We have gotten car trips down to a science.  I keep a bag of snacks, a gallon of water to refill water bottles and a bag of crafty things to do with in reach.  Between those and the wide array of electronics (DVD player, Nintendo DSs, iTouches, iPods) we seem to have amassed the kids traveled great. 

We only stopped to go to the restroom and to pick up food and then we ate in the car.  While waiting for our food the kids and I did exercises to get our wiggles out.  People looked at us like we were crazy, but we are used to that.  We did stretches and yoga and some running around in various parking lots.   It really did help the kids deal with two days in the car. 

Our first day we had breakfast tacos for breakfast that we made and packed before leaving home, Jason's Deli for lunch and Pizza Hut for dinner.  We find that pizza for dinner is a nice change but still manageable in the car.  I search for a location about 30 minutes away and call and order our pizza.  By the time we get there the pizza is ready and waiting.  So we have a quick potty stop and hop back in the car and enjoy fresh, hot pizza.  Where so many pizza places currently have $10 pizza deals not only is the a nice change it is also a very cheap way to feed a family of six. 

After spending the night in Daphne, we got up bright and early and finished our trip to Orlando.  The second day was uneventful.  I thought it took a long time to get out of Texas, but man, we drove almost eight hours in Florida!  Crazy!  

To break up the monotony of Florida, I bought a pack of bubble gum and proceeded to try to teach the kids how to blow bubbles.  Charlotte and Rehm figured it out, Ruby and Eliza Claire need a bit more practice.

We stayed at the Wyndham at Bonnet Creek.  We were not on Disney Property, but were surrounded on three sides by Disney Property.  It was the perfect place for us.  There are very few choices for affordably staying on property when you have a family of six.  The condo gave us lots of space, a full kitchen, jacuzzi tub, two bathrooms, and plenty of amenities (like we had time to use them given we were at the parks all day, every day).  But the kids liked the playscape, lazy rivers, miniature golf and such that was available.  We won a week at a Wyndham property at a silent auction, but even if we had booked it through Wyndham it would be about the same price as staying at the Fort Wilderness Cabins on property but with 3 times the square footage and twice the number of bathrooms of the cabins. 

View from our patio

Much more to come about our trip as I juggle blogging with getting the pictures downloaded and catching up on laundry and such.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Cooking and Sharing

Ruby wanted to know last night at dinner if I would give her my recipe for 15 bean soup when she was a grown up. I assured her that I would, while chuckling to myself thinking about how incredulous she is going to be when I tell her to just follow the recipe on the back of the bean bag, minus the flavor packet. She is going to be shocked that I don't have my own adapted recipe, since I do for most other things I cook.

She then asked if I would tell her how to fix her dish if she put too much seasoning in it and needed to change it. I again assured her I would.

I'm not sure exactly why I thought this exchange was so cute. I think part of it was because she thinks I'm a good cook. And part was because I know how many times I've called my mom to ask her a cooking question or for a favorite recipe.

Jenn - Posted from my iPhone

My "Duh" Moment of the Day

I'm blaming this on the cold medicine.

This morning I started running errands with a trip to the post office.  I needed to pick up our Disney World tickets that they had tried unbeknownst to us to deliver several days earlier.  I'm glad I tracked the package as the notice on the door apparently disappeared.

I get in the post office and the self service kiosk had a line and the main area of the post office is locked up.  I start looking around thinking they've changed the hours.  Honestly, I must have looked completely crazy to the others there as I am quite dumbfounded by the fact that the counter service wasn't open.  Then I see the sign to ring the bell for package pick up and such.  In my befuddled state I conclude that the Post Office has decided to go self service in an attempt to save money and they now only have someone in the back for the things that you can't do at the kiosk.

I ring the bell.  Nothing happens.  I wait.  I ring it again.  Still nothing happens.  About that time an elderly man and woman enter the post office.  They take one look at the scene and say, "I should have known it was closed.  It's a federal holiday!"  I look up thinking "what holiday?"  And that my friends is when I remember it is Veteran's Day.

This would not be quite so idiotic of me if I had not already this morning, before leaving for the Post Office, changed my profile picture on Facebook to be a picture of my Dad in service and posted a status update about it being Veteran's Day.

I hope you got a good laugh at my stupidity! 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How I Spend My Time

One of my children lost a recorder this week.  Said child has not been able to find it and has supposedly looked everywhere.  I've seen how my children look for things and this child can be especially oblivious, so I have a really hard time believing all possibilities have been explored. 

The child recieved two F's in music for losing said recorder.  One for not having it and one for not being able to take a quiz because of not having the recorder.  If the recorder had been located the child could have taken the quiz the following day.  It was not located.

The child was not overly concerned about finding the recorder because they knew where another one could be purchased.  This is how the conversation went:

Child: I know where to get a new recorder

Me:  Oh, you do?

Child: Yes at Straight Music.

Me:  Do you know how much a new recorder costs?

Child:  Um, I think about $9.

Me:  Great, so you will need to pay me the $9 for the recorder, plus gas money for me to drive to the music store, and you'll need to pay for my time.  Let me see.  Gas is currently $3.15/gallon and it will take me at least gallon to get there and back.  Hmmm.  I don't know what to charge you for my time.  Lets say $10/hour and it will probably take me about 45 minutes.  So that would be $7.50 for my time.  And honestly I should charge you more for my time but I think that is reasonable.

Child:  Why should I pay you for your time?  All you do is sit around anyway...

Me:  Really?  You think so? 

Child:  And you know the recorder wasn't working well anyway.  I think it was broken.

Me:  Is that so?  And who else used the recorder?

Child: Just me.  But it was getting broken. 

Me:  Well that doesn't really change anything.  I told you I would only buy one recorder.  You have now broken and lost that recorder so you will now need to purchase a new one to replace the one I purchased.

Child:  But music is over this week.  I don't need it anymore. 

Me:  No. But I bought a recorder for our family to use.  I trusted you with it.  You lost it.  Now you need to replace it.

Child:  But I don't want to spend $20 on a recorder because then I won't have enough money to buy the 3DS!

Me:  Yeah, that's a bummer isn't it.

I still can't believe I didn't lose it at the "Why should I pay for your time?" point.  Oh my goodness.  It will be a long time before that statement is forgotten. 

Said child has one more day to find the recorder before the new one is purchased.  Not surprisingly, I haven't seen the child looking for it.  I guess that 3DS wasn't so important after all.