The Week Before Disney

In the final days leading up to a Walt Disney World vacation, families have a lot on their minds - and their checklists!  Below is a list of everything that I do the week before our family vacation to get us ready to make some magical memories.

Packing - This is the the most obvious one. When packing for your vacation, there are so many things to remember.  From clothes to magic bands to diapers to food for picky toddler eaters (yes, I pack an entire suitcase of food. . .), it's easy to forget something along the way. I recommend making a list before you start with whatever the unique needs of your family might be for their trip. One new packing tip I've tried for this trip and have loved so far is packing the kids clothes in gallon sized baggies labeled with the day of the week they are going to wear them.  Each baggie contains the outfit, socks, and underwear so in the morning it's easy to grab what they need for the day without digging through an entire hotel room of clothes.  Don't forget to pack those mouse ears!!

Buying Gift Cards at Target - I made my run to Target and picked up the amount of gift cards I thought I would need for my trip.  Why do this?  You can buy your gift cards for 5% off when you use your Red Card.  Pretty sweet deal, right?!?  And if you're more organized than I am and can take care of this step a few weeks ahead of time, you can even order the gift cards online with your Red Card to save 5% and use Ebates to also get 2% cash back.  Just as a quick example, on $1000 gift card purchase, you only pay $950 and get $20 back in cash - a savings of $70!! Don't have Ebates yet?  Check out this link to learn more about ways you can earn cash back on a lot of your online shopping.

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

Continue to Check FastPass+ and Dining Reservations - Don't forget that people are changing their plans constantly as their trip approaches.  I've been able to grab last minute reservations for hard to get restaurants like dinner at Be Our Guest or a pre-park opening breakfast at The Crystal Palace, just by being persistent.  And with the My Disney Experience app, it's easy to check dining and FastPass+ reservations anywhere.

Gather essential travel documents - Even though we live in a digital society where I have electronic copies of all of our confirmations and travel information, it still makes me feel better to print out a copy of everything and keep with me - just in case.  Don't forget if you're flying to Walt Disney World and have a lap baby, you will most likely need to present the child's birth certificate to get their Boarding Verification Document at the airport.  I also include packing my Magic Bands in this category too.  Make sure they are in your carry on and ready to use when you arrive!

With all of the excitement and energy in the house, be sure to get some rest as well!  All of the magic of your vacation awaits in just a few days - enjoy!

New Moana Clips and Free Printables

The anticipation around Walt Disney's Animation Studios newest film, Moana, continues to build.  Today, I'm excited to share with you not one, but two new clips as well as some free printable activities for your family.  And If you love the great music that adds to the magic of a Disney movie, you can look forward to the release of Moana's original motion picture soundtrack on November 18.  Enjoy and get ready to say "aloha" to Moana when she and Maui sail into theaters on November 23!!

Free Printable - Moana Maze
Free Printable - Moana Memory Game
Free Printable - Moana Coloring Page #1
Free Printable - Moana Coloring Page #2
Free Printable - Moana Coloring Page #3

I'm a Baltimoron!

Under Armour Race Premiums - Yes, please!
Everyone knows runners can be a little crazy.  And those of you who know me, probably know that I love my race bling.  So when the time came to sign up for my 2016 racing schedule, I decided to go all out.  Those of you who have been following my blog, have seen race recaps from the first two legs of the King Crab Challenge.  In May, I completed the Nut Job Challenge at the Frederick Running Festival which included a 5K on Saturday night and a half-marathon on Sunday morning.  Just 3 weeks later, I ran the hot, hilly, and humid Baltimore 10 miler.  The final part of the King Crab Challenge came with completing the Baltimore half-marathon last weekend.  I decided to take the Baltimore Running Festival one step further and signed up for the Baltimoronathon - a 5K and a half-marathon with start times just two hours apart.

The hubs and I sporting our 5K medals
I was excited to have my husband join me for this race weekend.  We decided to get a hotel room in the city the night before so that we wouldn't have to get too early of a start on Saturday morning.  Our hotel, the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor, happened to be just a few steps from the start line for the 5K - perfect!  Just a few days before the race, I convinced my husband to sign up for the 5K as well.  After a light breakfast of oatmeal and a banana, we headed down to the start line for a 7:30AM start.  Since I knew I was tackling two races in the same day, I decided to take it easy on the 5K and walked most of it with my husband.  The 5K course is almost entirely uphill the first half and then turns around to go downhill the second half.  We added some jogging in to the second half of the race, which helped to loosen me up for the half.  We finished the 5K in about 47 minutes, collected our bling, and headed back to the Hilton lobby to meet up with my friends who were going to be running the half.

So much bling!
The half was slated to start at 9:45AM, so we started heading down to Inner Harbor for the start around 9:15.  The Baltimore Running Festival also features a marathon that day.  Along the way to the start, we were able to cheer for the marathon runners passing by and were keeping a look out for a friend who was completing the full.  The start of the half is right next to the Inner Harbor and features self-seeded waves.  My speedier friends headed off in Wave 2 and I lingered back to the end of Wave 3 of 5.  I don't know why, especially after the Baltimore 10 miler, but I was surprised how hilly the course was - particularly the opening miles.  Despite the hills, I felt really good the 5-6 miles.  It typically takes me a few miles to hit my groove on a long run, but I think the 5K earlier took care of that for me.  Around mile 7 the course flattened out and circled Lake Montebello where a DJ kept runners dancing and smiling as they entered and left the lake.  The Lake Montebello portion and 33rd Street, mirrored a few miles of the Baltimore 10 miler.  However, while that race ended with a large uphill portion back into Druid Hill Park, the Baltimore Half Marathon finished with a downhill run to finish through Eutaw Street and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  I'm really glad the race finished downhill, because by about mile 11, I was dragging and needed all the help I could get.  I finished the race with a smile and collected my bling!  That day, I earned my 5K, half-marathon, and Baltimoronathon medals.  I also was able to collect my Maryland Double medal for finishing the Frederick and Baltimore Half Marathons.  And the King Crab Challenge award this year was a fleece blanket.  My training had been a little lax for this half, so my goal was to finish in under 3 hours, and I clocked in at 2:57.  

The spoils from my 2016 race season!
So for those of you thinking about the Baltimore Running Festival - I would definitely recommend it!  The race is well supported - both officially by Corrigan and unofficially by the people of Baltimore.  The residents and spectators who come out to cheer runners along the course offered high fives, music, costumes and some pretty funny signs.  The Baltimoronathon was certainly an added unique challenge.  Now it's on to the next race - runDisney's Wine and Dine 10K on November 5th!

Happy Running, Friends!

My Top 5 Must-Do Rides in Walt Disney World

As we continue to count down the days to our next Walt Disney World trip, I'm busy finalizing FastPass+ reservations for our favorite rides and attractions using the My Disney Experience website and app.  I don't know about you and your family, but we have some favorite rides that are "can't miss" experiences for us on each of our family vacations.  Here are my top 5 must-do rides in Walt Disney World.

5. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - Magic Kingdom - One of the newer rides in Walt Disney World, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train boasts mild thrills while also showcasing some amazing creativity.  The dwarfs inside the mine take you right back to the famous scenes from the movie.  This is probably the most popular ride in Magic Kingdom these days and FastPass+ reservations go quickly.  Without a FastPass+ time, you can expect to spend well over an hour in line for your turn.

4. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - Hollywood Studios - I have a closet obsession with The Twilight Zone.  Each year, when the Sci-Fi Channel runs marathons of the show on fourth of July and New Year's Eve, I find myself drawn into the show.  This ride puts you right in the middle of your own Twilight Zone story as you go plummeting down an elevator shaft in The Hollywood Hotel.  This is a definite FastPass+ reservation for us.  At Disney's Hollywood Studios, this is a tier 2 FastPass+ selection which makes it a no-brainer for us!

3. Toy Story Mania! - Hollywood Studios - This is Brody's favorite ride in all of Walt Disney World!  Here you enter the world of Andy's toys while playing a carnival-style selection of computer games.  The ride is interactive, fast-paced, and entertaining.  This is another ride where wait times can easily top an hour, so a FastPass+ reservation is highly recommended.  As a tier 1 attraction, you'll have to make some tough choices in Disney's Hollywood Studios, but for our family there is no question on securing a FastPass+ for this favorite attraction.

2. Soarin' - Epcot - We have yet to experience the new video in Epcot's Soarin', but if it's even half as good as the previous version of the ride (and I've heard it's even better), we're going to be thrilled with the experience.  This has always been one of my husband's favorite rides in Walt Disney World and I'm excited that my oldest son will get to enjoy it for the first time on our upcoming visit!  We always like to hit this early in the day while also checking out other fun features in the Land Pavilion before heading over to Epcot's World Showcase.

1. Dumbo the Flying Elephant - Magic Kingdom - This ride is a Walt Disney World classic and holds a special place in my heart.  One of my favorite Disney memories is from my very first trip.  I was just 5 years old and my grandmother and I rode Dumbo together.  It's still one of my favorite pictures from Magic Kingdom!  Now I get to make memories with my own children nearly 30 years later.  That's the magic of Walt Disney World - family memories to enjoy year after year!

Managing Tantrums on Your Disney Vacation

Tantrums can quickly turn Disney smiles
upside down.
The dreaded temper tantrum.  If you have young children, you are all too familiar with these regular occurrences.  Like preparing for the heat during a summer Walt Disney World Resort vacation, you probably aren't going to be able to avoid the dreaded temper tantrum - they will happen. . .probably multiple times. . .each day.  The best thing you can do is to try to anticipate when they will happen and have a plan to deal with them when they do.  Here is my "expert" take on what causes tantrums and how to navigate through them. 

Tantrum Trigger - "I'm hungry."
This would seem like an easy tantrum to deal with.  You're in a theme park with endless food options - and therein lies the problem.  Finding an agreeable food option for the entire family or towing the line that Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bars (no matter how tasty) do not constitute lunch, food can become a battle.  The other time food becomes an issue is when you're 20 minutes into a 45 minute ride line and this gem of a tantrum begins.  Advice - Carry small, healthy snacks in your bag.  Whether it's fruit, crackers, pretzels, or something similar, kids will be satisfied (for the moment) with something in their tummies that you know they like to hold them over until your dining reservation that is an hour away or while you finish waiting to ride Splash Mountain.  I pack an entire extra suitcase of food and/or order groceries online for delivery to our hotel so that I have a wide variety of snacks to offer to kids throughout the day.

Tantrum Trigger - "I'm hot."
Well kid, you're in Florida - get used to it.  Wouldn't it be nice if that answer works?  But alas, kids are not always rational creatures and when they're hot, they'll make you miserable complaining about it.  If you're traveling to Walt Disney World Resort in the summer months (or even late Spring and early Fall), this is likely to be a concern for your kids.  Advice - Take cool off breaks.  The good news is that you don't have to go back to your room in the middle of the day to do this - although you certainly could if you wanted.  Inside the parks, guests can take advantage of the Baby Care Centers as a quick place to take small kids inside the cool off.  We also bought a small stroller fan for less than $15 on Amazon prior to our trip to keep kids cool.  Keep them hydrated during the day and spend some time in indoor attractions.  There are even some fun splash areas inside the parks - just remember a change of clothes in case your kid gets soaked.    

Tantrum Trigger - "I want a toy."
Ever notice that just about every Walt Disney World attraction ends in a gift shop?  Well played, Disney.  Well played.  Guess what, my kids notice this too and are always looking for "something" to buy.  Advice - Have a plan and communicate it ahead of time.  There are several plans that can work in this situation.  The first is to give kids a Disney allowance.  Whether you use Disney Gift Cards, Disney Dollars, or cold hard cash, your child will have a finite amount of money to spend.  Another choice, not allow your kids to buy anything in the parks.  Instead, surprise them in the room with little Disney gifts that you've picked up on sale at home.  They still feel like they're getting something, and you save some money.  Lastly, you could explain limits to your child.  Maybe they get one or two toys on the whole trip to pick.  Whatever method you choose, I've always found it best to talk about it with my kids ahead of time so they know exactly what to expect.

Tantrum Trigger - "I'm bored."
Who knew the most magical place on Earth could be boring?  Toddlers and preschoolers - that's who. Granted, they have lots of fun when they are engaged in activities, but there is also a lot of "waiting" time.  The bus rides, dinners out, lines for rides or character meets, etc. can all be agonizing for children.  Advice - Carry small items to keep them entertained.  This can be games or shows downloaded on your phone, snacks, or those little play packs that have books, stickers, and crayons.  The good news with this tantrum is that fun is just around the riverbend, which usually helps them wait it out.

Tantrum Trigger - The complete meltdown.
This is when your little prince or princess completely loses their mind, with or without reason, in the middle of the park and resembles something akin to Stitch (You're badness level is unusually high for someone your size).  Instantly, you feel like the worst parent in the entire park and like all parents are staring at you and secretly judging you.  Since during this tantrum, most kids have lost the ability to rationally think or speak and can't communicate what is going on, it's exceptionally hard to solve.  The best advice I have - remove, redirect, and wait it out.  We were once in Epcot when a horrible summer storm blew in out of nowhere.  We ducked into a restaurant, grabbed a snack, and waited for it to pass.  Then went on to have a good rest of the day.  This is kind of what you need to do in this case.  Find a quiet(er) spot in the park to move to - off to a bench, behind a ride, wherever - to gain a bit of privacy for your little one.  Know that trying to talk to them probably isn't going to be very effective at first and yelling at them is just going to escalate the situation.  Once they start to settle themselves, redirect their attention back to next thing - a snack, a favorite ride, etc. Is this bribery?  Maybe.  Does it work?  Sometimes.  

One of the biggest things to remember when you have a tantruming child is that you're in Walt Disney World - everyone with a small child is going through the exact same thing.  So while you may feel stressed and terrible in the moment, be assured you are not alone.  Remember that you won't be able to avoid all of the tantrums, but you can be prepared when they occur.  This post pairs well with an older one that I wrote if you're looking for more lessons I've learned while traveling with my little ones - Things that May Terrify Your Kids in Walt Disney World. What are your favorite tips for traveling with little ones to minimize tantrums?

Plans On-the-Go with the My Disney Experience App

We are less than 30 days out from our next Walt Disney World Resort vacation and it's a busy time in our household making final preparations.  Advanced dining reservations have been in the works since the 180 day mark, but since we are staying off-property on this trip, I have just been able to start booking our FastPass+ reservations.  While I've used the My Disney Experience app before, I have fallen in love all over again during the past few days.

The My Disney Experience app links with your Disney account online to give you multiple ways to access your plans and make adjustments as needed.  With recent updates to the app, it's now even easier to make changes while you're away from your computer.  It was great to be standing in line at Panera Bread for breakfast and making my FastPass+ reservations for Epcot.

In the app, you select your friends and family and then the date and park that you are planning to visit.  The next screen then lets you see FastPass+ availability by time of day and hour-by-hour to get the most specific information you need.  From here, you can just select the time you want and confirm on the next screen.  Voila!  You're done!

Dining reservations work very similarly.  Even though I made initial reservations over 5 months ago, I frequently check back to try and grab coveted reservations like dinner at Be Our Guest Restaurant.  You may also need to adjust dining times as you're making FastPass+ selections.  Once again, the app makes all of this easy to do.  You can select the party size, the date, and the time you want to see what is available.  The only thing missing from this app in my opinion, is a way to easily filter reservations by park or resort.

The home screen on the app gives you a summary of all of your FastPass+ and dining reservations.  I also really like the "add note" feature on the website where I type up a brief overview of the day.  Those notes appear on the home screen of the app too so all of my vacation plans are just a click away.  This is not only convenient in the weeks leading up to your vacation, but also allows you to easily see all of your reservations when in the park.  I know I planned many Walt Disney World Resort vacations prior to the My Disney Experience app, but now that I've been using it for a few trips, I can't imagine vacation planning without it!

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