Showing posts with label preschooler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label preschooler. Show all posts

Port Discovery Children's Museum At Home Activities


Regular readers will know that my family and I have been longtime fans of Port Discovery Children's Museum in Baltimore.  With everything being shut down and families at home trying to make their own fun, I was delighted to see that Port Discovery was posting fun and educational activities for young kids.  And the best part?  Usually the amazingness that is Port Discovery is something only my Mid-Atlantic readers get to experience, but these resources and activities can bring the learning and fun to all of you, regardless of where you live!

Want to check out fun to be found at Port Discovery? Check out some of the newest attractions!


Below is a list of the themes for the next several weeks.  If you want to receive more details about specific activities, sign up for their e-newsletter and give them a follow on Facebook!

  • Week of April 19 - Poetry
  • Week of April 26 - Theater
  • Week of May 3 - Health & Wellness
  • Week of May 10 - Early Education
  • Week of May 17 - STEM
  • Week of May 24 - Health & Wellness
  • Week of May 31 - Theater
They are also sharing activities and projects you can do with your children on their website and I have a few printables they shared with me that you can download here!

Did you know we had a birthday party at Port Discovery a few years ago?  Find out more about the party here!


I can't wait for things to get back to normal and have my kids playing again soon at Port Discovery Children's Museum!  You'll find activities for your little ones to enjoy all year long and special seasonal programs too.  But for now, enjoy these at-home resources and have fun learning with your little ones during this unprecedented time.  



Family Guide to Sesame Street Land at SeaWorld Orlando

Bert and Ernie
SeaWorld Orlando has been a popular family destination in Central Florida for many years now, but the recent addition of Sesame Street Land gives young families even more to love.  This new land opened in Summer 2019 and adds so much fun for little ones when visiting SeaWorld.  Before our visit, I had a lot of questions and I want to share answers to some of those questions that may be on your mind too as you plan your visit!

What is in Sesame Street Land?


A lot!! In this relatively small corner of the park, you'll find 6 rides - all perfectly sized for pint sized visitors, a playground area, a splash pad, shopping, interactive displays, food trucks, character greetings, and a parade.  See. . .it's a lot!  At the time of our visit, my boys were 4 and 7 which was perfect for visiting.  Throughout most of the rest of SeaWorld, my youngest was too little for almost all of the rides, but here he could do everything.  His favorite was the Cookie Drop.  My oldest is still a little shy when it comes to roller coasters, but the Grover themed roller coaster here had him all smiles - he rode it 3 times in a row!  The interactive displays are all very well done too.  You can actually walk along Sesame Street ringing doorbells, knocking on Oscar's trashcan, racing bicycles, and building monsters.

Free in DC - Family Fun That Won't Cost You a Penny

Our family is on year two of what I hope will be a new tradition - the Christmas break staycation.  We are blessed to live in the Mid-Atlantic where there is a large number of destinations for families to enjoy.  So rather than spending a small fortune to fly somewhere and travel during the school break we have in December, our family has opted to keep it local but get away from it all and become tourists in our backyard.  Last year we spent one night in a hotel in Baltimore and took the boys on a tour of WBAL television station and then visited the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center in the Inner Harbor.  This year, we headed to our big city neighbor just to the south - Washington D.C.  It's the first time our boys visited the nation's capital and we spent three nights thanks to the Hilton points we have acquired downtown at the Embassy Suites.

My goal was to put together a three day itinerary of things to do in D.C. that required no admission charge.  That's right. . .zero, zip, zilch! If you have never traveled to D.C. before, you may be surprised to find that there is SOOOOO much to do for free that you can easily fill several days.  We had so much more that we could have done, but here's a quick summary of what we accomplished!  Keep in mind that my boys are 4 and 7 so that played into what we did and how much time we spent in each location.

U.S. Government Buildings


We began our trip with taking a peek into several locations that would show our kids where the work of our national government takes place.  Tours of the U.S. Capitol, White House, Supreme Court, and Library of Congress are all available free of charge.  The White House is the most coveted tour and does require reservations through your Congressman so you will need to plan several weeks ahead and may need some flexibility on your day and time.  You can also reserve a U.S. Capitol tour through your Congressman (which we did), but we learned this wasn't really necessary as they have an amazing number of tours offered each day which you can secure a ticket for simply by walking into the U.S. Capitol Visitor's Center.  The tour does not take you to see the inside of the Senate and the House so if you want to see that you need to request gallery passes from your Congressman in addition to reserving a tour.  As far as the Supreme Court and Library of Congress, there are free self-guided tours throughout the day and also free guided tours at select times.  You are unable to reserve these ahead of time, but might be able to luck into one when you stop by.  We simply walked around the stunning Library of Congress building without a formal tour, but at the Supreme Court we did join a lecture inside the courtroom so we could see where the Court does their work.  Be sure to visit the children's area of the Library of Congress.  There are several activities just for kids as well as some quiet, cozy reading spaces and, of course, lots of books to snuggle up and share with your little ones.

Know Before You Go - Security at the U.S. Capitol is VERY tight.  No food or liquids (even bottles of water).  I always pack snacks and bottled water when going out for the day. . .and then promptly had to throw them away at our first stop.  Hoping to save you from the same mistake!

The National Mall


Lining the National Mall, you will find a host of Smithsonian Museums perfect for family visitors.  Lines can be long to go through security and enter so pack your patience for these free attractions.  One of my favorite museums, and the one we happened to visit on this particular trip, is the Air and Space Museum.  Take an in depth look at NASA, space, flight, and exploration in this hands on museum.  You can see some amazing things here - including having the ability to touch a legitimate moon rock and see the spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong when he walked on the moon.  There is so much for kids to see, do, and touch here including an entire kids play area where they learn the physics of flight and becoming a flight director in Houston during a mission to outer space.  If you're looking to upgrade your experience, there are several add-ons that come with a price tag including IMAX movies and audio tours.  Air and Space is not the only Smithsonian Museum available - there is really something for everyone ranging from art to Native American History to Natural History and everything in between.

As you work your way down the National Mall from the U.S. Capitol and past the Smithsonian Museums, you find the other great free attractions along the National Mall - a series of national monuments.  While there is nothing to really "do" at these, they are truly breathtaking to see in person.  Even my little guys LOVED spending hours walking D.C. and looking around at them.  Three not to miss (actually they're really hard to miss anyway. . .) are the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial.  The size, scale, and grandeur of these will captivate your children.  While there are many other memorials of great importance along the way, for example the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, it's a bit harder for little kids to understand what they are looking at and the significance of that conflict.

Know Before You Go - D.C. is a very walkable city, but it's much bigger than you may realize if you plan on walking EVERYWHERE with your kids.  We decided to Uber from our hotel to our starting point in the morning, then walked away from museums to memorials throughout the day as we leisurely made our way back to our hotel.

The National Zoo


Another Smithsonian "museum" featured on the outskirts of D.C. is the National Zoo.  If you're staying downtown, you will definitely need to Uber or take the Metro up to the zoo as it's quite a walk from other D.C. area attractions - but well worth it!  Like everything else in the article, this zoo if FREE.  Lions, tigers, and panda bears - oh my!  The zoo is good sized and easily takes 2-3 hours to visit but can take much longer if you have animal lovers or want to extend your stay.  There are many great presentations by animal experts throughout the day that are worthwhile to check out.  Probably one of the highlights of your zoo visit will be seeing the Giant Pandas.  You can also find specific feeding times so you can be sure to see them up close in the Panda House.  My personal favorite though are the gorillas!

Don't forget to check out any special events that you might be able to catch while visiting.  We were there over the holiday break which meant that Zoolights was going on in the evenings.  This is again FREE - where else can you catch a day at the zoo and a holiday light exhibit without paying admission?

Know Before You Go - The zoo is surprisingly hilly!  Be prepared and consider bringing a stroller for older toddlers and preschoolers who may not typically need one anymore.  We were sure glad to have ours!

Has your family visited DC?  What have been the best finds for kids that you've seen along the way?

Yippee TV - Streaming You Can Trust for Kids

If your kids are anything like mine, they love independence on their tablets - feeling like big kids even though they're several years away from their tween and teen years.  And if you're a parent like me, you feel stressed sometimes finding content you can trust for your kids to enjoy while giving them a taste of that independence.  Yippee may be the answer that everyone in your family has been looking for! As they say in their mission statement, Yippee strives "to build character in kids by transforming them with world class media that is safe, values based, and FUN."

As a partner with Yippee, my family and I received a free trial of this service to share our experiences with you!

We have only been checking out content for a little over a week now and it's been perfect for my 4 and 7 year old boys.  Yippee provides content that is both fun and builds a character foundation for the little ones.  Currently, you'll find familiar favorites like Veggie Tales (45 episodes!) and original content like The Yippee Show where hosts Cameron and Noel compete in challenges - just like what kids love to see on YouTube.  It feels good as a parent to know they are getting quality content that is safe and promotes our values while also seeing them enjoy what they are exploring.

I'm excited to see what lies ahead for this service too as they have plans to unveil even more original content in the near future and will become the only place to find exclusive new Veggie Tales episodes beginning in February 2020.  With so many options out there for families to choose from, it's easy to get overwhelmed.  If you're looking for values-based family-friendly content for the littlest members of your family, look no further than Yippee!

Interested in learning more?  Find Yippee online:

Website - www.yippee.tv
Facebook - www.facebook.com/yippeetv
Instagram - www.instagram.com/yippeetv

Want to Explore Yippee Yourself?


I'm excited to have partnered with Yippee to offer my readers the chance to win a prize pack from Yippee including 3 FREE months of streaming!  So how do you enter?  It's easy and can all be done from the comfort of Facebook!  Head to Running on Pixie Dust on Facebook and do the following:
  • Like this post on Facebook - Get one entry!
  • Comment on the post - Get one entry!
  • Tag your friends - Get one entry PER TAG!
  • Are you following me on Facebook? - That gets you one extra entry!
  • Share this post on Facebook - Get another bonus entry!


Each household is only eligible to win Yippee Prize Pack via blog reviews and giveaways. Only one entrant per mailing address per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you will not be eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.  Entry period will open at noon EST on Monday, 12/30 close Friday, 1/3 at noon EST and the winner will be notified by Facebook!

Easy peasy!  I can't wait to share my excitement about this service with the winner and hope all of you - winner or not - give Yippee a try with your kids!  

My Kid Threw Up on a Walt Disney World Bus

So, this one time, in Disney World, my kid threw up on the bus to Hollywood Studios. (You're supposed to see Alyson Hannigan there. . .did you??)


via GIPHY

Yeah, you read that right.  Here's a little context.  My first child (actually, my only at the time of this incident) was just 17 months old and wrapping up a whirlwind 10 day vacation where we sailed for a week on the Disney Fantasy and then spent three days in Walt Disney World.  It was supposed to be a magical time, and, for the most part, was that ideal first visit.  But on the last night of the trip, my son was particularly fussy overnight.  I thought the July heat and long vacation may have just been getting to him and knew we were heading home the next day so he'd be getting back to his normal routine in no time.  The next morning, we left our room at the Contemporary Resort and had breakfast inside the hotel at Chef Mickey's.  I expected this to be an incredible time for my little guy, but he seemed disconnected and refused to eat almost anything.  C'est la vie, right?  Well, we had a few hours to go explore Disney's Hollywood Studios before heading to the airport.  We took advantage of Disney's Airline Check-In service and sent our bags over to MCO from the hotel leaving just our carry on at the hotel and heading to the park with our stroller and diaper bag.  I had my son on my lap on the bus to the park, and about halfway through the journey, he began vomitting. Let me tell you - this is not a fun experience.

He's covered. I'm covered. My diaper bag is covered.  It smells.  Everyone is watching.

My husband is in the seat across the aisle and staring in a paralyzed horror.  After what seems like an eternity, but was probably more like 15 seconds, he sprang into action and alerted the bus driver who handled the whole experience like the calmest person on the planet.  Does this happen often on Disney transportation?  I don't know, but he certainly wasn't fazed. We cleaned up what we could with paper towels as the bus continued towards it's destination.

When we arrived at Hollywood Studios, we quickly exited and took the clothes off of my son and threw them in the nearest trashcan.  Fortunately, the diaper bag was zipped during this ordeal so the spare change of clothes I had in the bag were safe and I was able to throw him in a onesie.  What I didn't pack was extra socks and shoes - and those items were clearly destroyed.  You want to know how much a pair of baby socks costs inside a Disney park?  Well, I can't remember exactly but it was a lot more than at Wal-Mart.  And we just decided to bypass shoes the rest of the day. . .I mean he's only 1 1/2 right? Fortunately, he didn't get sick any more that day, but he did scream like a madman during the plane right on our descent into Baltimore.  What caused all of this?  Well, we found out the next day when we went to the doctor that he had a pretty bad double ear infection.

Why am I sharing this with you?


So you can learn like I did from my travel experiences.  As a relatively new mom on our first major vacation with a little one, I had some important takeaway moments from this that changed how I traveled with kids in the future.  First things first, always have a change of clothes with you.  I don't care if they are 5 months old or 6 years old - accidents happen and a spare change of clothes can go a long way in a crisis situation while also saving you money on buying expensive items in a theme park.  Next thing was always traveling with a few key medicines for the kids - Advil, Tylenol, and Benadryl - as well as a thermometer and band-aids. In this case, I could tell my son wasn't feeling well, but didn't have anything readily available to help him out.  Maybe a dose of Advil would have helped the fever he had (which I didn't really realize he had until much later) and made him more comfortable during the flight home.  Kids medicine isn't as readily available as it may seem too sometimes when you're on vacation so this can be really helpful!  Looking for help with a little one in the park?  Check out my Guide to Baby Care Centers located inside each Walt Disney World theme park where you can find medicine, quiet respite, changing areas, feeding areas, and much more!

The final reason I'm sharing this with you is so that you know you're not alone.  As parents, we can easily become overwhelmed and stressed and feel very alone when things go wrong - especially in public places.  So next time your child gets sick on a theme park bus, or screams on an airplane ride, or throws a tantrum in the grocery store - know that you are not alone.  We've been there too.  It's not always easy, but this journey of parenthood is the best adventure out there!

Know Before You Go: Camp Ocean on Carnival Cruise Line

The cruise industry has adapted and continues to make changes to meet the needs of families as more adults are choosing cruise vacations that include little ones.  Let's face it - a cruise is a great family vacation.  There is so much to do on the ship, lots of food, and incredible ports of call.  Cruising is even more family friendly thanks to the kids clubs that most cruise lines offer now.  Our two most recent cruises have been on Carnival Cruise Line - the Carnival Paradise out of Tampa and the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore.  On each of these trips we had kids under 6 and I'm here to answer some questions you may have about Camp Ocean on Carnival!

What ages are able to go to Camp Ocean?

Camp Ocean is open to young cruisers from 2 through 11.  This is great news for parents!  Most cruise lines don't accept children until age 3 in kids clubs and several require that children are potty trained.  The fact that Carnival accepts 2 year olds and there was no potty training requirement was a big part of our decision to sail with Carnival in 2017.  Camp Ocean is divided into different age groups to make sure that activities are age appropriate and little ones don't have to worry about being with 11 year olds all day long.

Is there a cost for Camp Ocean?

Camp Ocean is included with your cruise fare so no extra fees.  Well, maybe a few for some extra activities if you choose.  Camp Ocean closes in the evening at 10PM, but if mom and dad want to stay out and party later, you can enroll your child in Night Owls for a small fee and they will keep care of them until 1AM.  The counselors have a variety of activities and also offer quiet space for kids who are ready to sleep.

Sample Schedule from Carnival Paradise - 2017
Speaking of hours, what hours is Camp Ocean open for use?

This will definitely vary day-by-day.  During embarkation, Camp Ocean is open for an "open house." You can't drop kids off during this time, but it's a great opportunity to see the space with your children and meet the camp staff.  They are super friendly and can answer any specific questions you have.  On at-sea days, the camp is typically open in the AM for some time, closes mid-day and then re-opens in the evening.  Throughout the mid-day, there tends to be some family-friendly entertainment planned on ship including the Seuss At Sea activities, Build-A-Bear, and much more!  The kids staff tends to lead these events for younger cruisers so it makes sense why they are close during this time.  For more information on kid-friendly activities on board a Carnival Cruise, check out my older post about Seuss At Sea.  During port days, you can usually find Camp Carnival open the duration of the time in port.

Wait. . .I can leave my kids in Camp Ocean while off the ship?  Is that a good idea?

Yes, you can check your kids into camp then disembark and enjoy some more grown-up excursions.  Some excursions do have age requirements so if you are traveling with toddlers and preschoolers, this may be an option for you.  As far as if it's a good idea, that's up to you.  Personally, I have never opted to do this and don't see myself doing so in the future.  There's so much to consider here in my opinion that the risk (while admittedly slight) of something going wrong far outweighs the benefits.  I would be a nervous wreck that something terrible would happen and I wouldn't make it back to ship - then my kids are on board and I'm not.  I also really believe in family travel.  While we love Camp Ocean and enjoy using it for mom and dad to take a nap on the Serenity Deck or grab an upscale dinner one night, I don't want to have my kids spend our entire vacation away from us.  We have never had a problem finding excursions that our whole family will enjoy!

You mentioned dinner.  Will Camp Ocean feed my kids?

Yes and no.  You cannot send food with your kid into camp.  On at-sea days, camp will always be closed for lunch so you'll be feeding your own children.  If your child is in camp on a port day, lunch will be provided.  A great option offered nightly though, especially for parents looking to enjoy some of the more upscale dining options on board, is a Kids Only Dinner.  You can drop your child off at the Lido Deck buffet with camp staff and they will feed them dinner before taking them up to camp for the evening.  The only downside to the meal is that it is pre-selected and can't be changed for picky eaters.  We took advantage of this on two nights and it worked well.  One of the nights was a chance for us to do the Chef's Table which was incredible!
Inside Camp Ocean on Carnival Pride 2018

What about safety?  How do I know others won't have access to my kids?

Great minds think alike as this is always one of the top priorities I look at when talking childcare anywhere for my kids!  And you can rest assured that we felt Carnival took great care of keeping our kids safe.  When you register your child for Camp Ocean, you designate who can check your child or children in and out.  These authorized adults must present sail and sign cards which will be scanned and reviewed at check-in and check-out.  You can even give adults permission to access your children who are in other staterooms which is perfect if you're traveling with extended family or friends.  If you kids fall in the 9-11 age group, you can choose whether or not to give them the ability to check themselves in and out of camp.  I'm still a few years away from that decision yet, but I find myself leaning towards keeping control of their time in camp.

Last, but not least - will my kids have fun??

While I certainly can't guarantee this for every child, I will say that my boys have LOVED their time in Camp Ocean.  Both of them were a little nervous the first time at drop off, but after that couldn't wait to return each day for some play time with their new Camp Ocean friends.  They even enjoyed seeing their friends throughout the ship when they weren't in camp and playing in the pool together.  The activities are well organized and they bring home lots of goodies - crafts, prizes, etc.  The staff has always been amazing and we felt our boys were well cared for.

As with any program that is offered across a large company, there will be variations from ship-to-ship.  You can always find out more information at www.carnival.com and look for specific details about your ship.  If you have questions that relate to the Carnival Paradise or Carnival Pride, feel free to drop them in the comments below and I'll do my best to give you my experiences! Happy sailing!

Royally Excited about Dutch Wonderland!

I'm excited to share with you that I've been selected as a Royal Ambassador for Dutch Wonderland this summer!  What does that mean? Well, Dutch Wonderland will be hosting my family for a day of fun and entertainment so I can share all the excitement with you!  I also get to pass on extra savings to my readers and followers so that you too can enjoy all that Dutch Wonderland has to offer this summer.  Dutch Wonderland opens for weekends starting April 27th and will open 7 days a week starting Memorial Day.  Before the summer season kicks into full swing, let's take a quick look at the basics about this "Kingdom for Kids!"

Dutch Wonderland is located in Lancaster, PA - just about 90 minutes from our house in Maryland.  Generations of families have now been enjoying the rides and entertainment at this family amusement park since 1963. In fact, I remember visiting as a kid and now love that I'm getting to create new memories with my own children.  Like many other amusement parks these days, Dutch Wonderland has expanded beyond just rides and shows to bring guests a water play area - Duke's Lagoon which opened in 2003 and has continued to grow over the years.  This continued expansion without losing sight of the core of being a "A Kingdom for Kids" is part of the reason Dutch Wonderland has been voted "One of the Top Five Best Kids' Parks in the World" by Amusement Today in 2008 and 2009.

Caleb and I visited Dutch Wonderland as guests of the park in October for a day of Happy Hauntings and you can relive our experience here!  We loved the fact that all of the rides were perfectly sized for him to enjoy and the entertainment was fun throughout the park. With 35 rides on 43 acres, I'm sure the whole family will enjoy our time there this summer!

If you are planning to visit Dutch Wonderland, check out a great deal for my readers and followers by visiting http://www.dutchwonderland.com/blogreader and use code "summerblog19" for exclusive savings. I can't wait to share my experience at Dutch Wonderland with you and follow your adventures as well! In the meantime, enjoy this look at our Happy Hauntings video from our October visit to give you a taste of the fun that awaits this summer!



As a Royal Ambassador, my family and I will receive complimentary admission to Dutch Wonderland for a day during the 2019 Summer Season in exchange for my reviews and posts. Reviews and posts are always honest and my own!

Hersheypark with Kids - Make the Most of Your Day

Imagine a world where rides, characters, and everyone's favorite - chocolate! - come together in an amazing park. Lucky for us, this gem is just up the road in Hershey, PA.  Hersheypark is home to a wide array of rides for both kids and adults to enjoy as well as restaurants, Zoo America, Chocolate World, and much, much more.  With so much to see and do, you want to have a game plan that's just right for your family.  We all know that traveling with young kids can sometimes be challenging, but here are all the tips you need to make the most of your day at Hersheypark!

One of the things to keep in mind when preparing for your day at Hersheypark is the presence of The Boardwalk area.  Hersheypark is home to an amazing water area featuring kiddie pools, wave pools, a lazy river, water slides, and even a water roller coaster.  I recommend heading up in the morning wearing your bathing suits underneath of shorts and a t-shirt and packing a dry clothes gallon-sized baggie for each family member.  When you are done in the water area, you can put the shorts and shirts back on and your dry undergarments from the baggie then use the baggie to place your wet bathing suits in so the rest of you contents don't get soaked.  You'll want to be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen to in order to reapply throughout the day - there's not much shade around the park.

We are lucky enough to head up to Hershey several times throughout the year, but if you are only in town for the day, you'll want to plan accordingly to see as much as possible.  I recommend starting at The Boardwalk.  While the family is heading that way and getting situated, this park opening time is a great opportunity for a grown-up or two to catch a roller coaster before the lines get long.  The Boardwalk becomes incredibly popular in the heat of the afternoon and can boast long lines for the slides so hitting it earlier in the day, may be your best bet.  Grab a locker by Tidal Force - a water ride just outside of The Boardwalk.  You can drop off your dry clothes there and walk around in your bathing suit as you enter the water area.  Afterwards, there are locker rooms out by those lockers that are often less crowded than the ones inside of the The Boardwalk area.

Once you are in your dry clothes, head to the back of the park and check out Midway America.  Family friendly attractions here include a number of kiddie rides as well as a large Ferris Wheel that give awesome views of the park.  You can also find several coasters for adults to enjoy including, my favorite wooden coaster Lightning Racer.  From here, head back to Pioneer Frontier where there is another group of kiddie rides and you won't want to miss the Dry Gulch Railroad as a fun trip around the park the whole family will certainly enjoy.  Continue further towards the back of the park and grab lunch at The Overlook where you can pick from a variety of food choices all under one roof before heading up for a ride on the Kissing Tower and taking a spin around the Twin Turnpike.

Now is a great time to take a break from the park and visit ZooAmerica - free with your ticket to Hersheypark! This can be done in as little as 45 minutes or take as long as you want to see all types of animals.  There are some indoor buildings here and the zoo offers a little more shade than the park for the mid-afternoon heat of summer.  When you re-enter the park, head down to the Hollow where two kid-friendly rollercoasters can be found - The Comet and SooperDooperLooper.  Fun fact - SooperDooperLooper was the first roller coaster I ever went upside down on when I was a kid!  Don't let the name scare you - it's really only one loop and is a perfect starter coaster!  Lastly, you'll want to head to Founder's Way where kiddie rides abound!  This is a great place to end your day with so many rides for kids to choose from.  And since most people stop here on the way into the park, lines are often shorter in the evening.



We always like to end our day by having dinner and dessert at Chocolate World.  Chocolate World is free for anyone to visit and features a food court with actual meals as well as chocolate decadence that will make your dreams come true!  There is also a free ride that shows how Hershey's chocolate is made.  If you have some extra time, there are additional experiences at Chocolate Word that carry an extra fee - make your own chocolate bar, a 4D movie, and a chocolate tasting experience.  What a sweet end to the day!

Hershey, PA is home to so much family fun that you can easily spend several days enjoying all there is to offer - and we haven't even talked about Hershey Gardens, The Hershey Story Museum, and the downtown area.  What's your favorite way to spend a day in Hershey?

To Infinity, Beyond, and Toy Story Land!

Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort has been a magical addition to this fabulous park! Ever since Andy welcomed us into his home and shared his favorite toys with us back in the 90s, Toy Story has been a fan favorite.  We've watched Andy grow from a little boy to a college freshman and his toys have grown up along the way too learning the true meaning of friendship.  And with Buzz, Woody, and the gang making a return to the big screen in June 2019, a whole new generation of Toy Story fans are ready to join the adventures.  The timing was perfect to unveil this land and I'm excited to share with you an overview of everything you need to know about visiting Toy Story Land with your family on your next Disney vacation!

Which characters can you expect to meet in Toy Story Land? How do I think the rides compare to others across the Walt Disney World Resort?  And of course, what is there to eat?  Check it out and let me know what you love most about Toy Story Land!


Collecting Character Autographs in Walt Disney World

Meeting characters is a highlight of any Walt Disney World vacation - for both the young and the young at heart!  Photos are a great way to capture those memories and many people enjoy collecting autographs from their favorite characters to also bring home a piece of the magic.  Below are a few different options for recording those signatures.

Disney Autograph Books - On site and online, Disney sells autograph books for visitors to use.  The books range from a simple book of blank pages for characters to sign to larger books that hold pictures from your trip alongside the autographs you collect.  On a plus side, these books are readily available and easy to carry being small on size.  Brody keeps his old autograph books in his closet and occasionally will go back to look at them.  Books start at just $7.95 so if you are in a pinch in the parks, it's not an overly expensive option.

Disney Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters (or another character book) - This is my new favorite option!  We bought this book from Amazon for less than $10 prior to our trip.  It's a nice hardcover book that features some of Disney's most beloved animated characters.  Each page has a picture and a brief description of each character.  The idea is that when you meet each one, they sign their page.  This is a nice book to keep on a shelf and revisit time and time again when you return from your trip.  I also enjoy that we can bring it back on each vacation and try to collect more and more signatures.  On the downside, it is larger than the Disney Autograph books in the parks and not every character is in the book.  We were easily able though to work around both of these minor concerns.  With our little ones, we still carry a backpack in the park so carrying the book wasn't a problem and we just had characters without a page sign on the front or back cover.

Wall Displays / Pillowcases / Etc. - I have seen people post about bringing various household items for characters to sign too.  While I have never done this personally, it may be something that we do in the future.  One example may be a photo mat that would hold one of your family photos from the parks or maybe a wooden letter.  I've also seen people hand characters pillowcases or t-shirts to sign too.  Perhaps the most creative I've found were the people who brought a frying pan to have Rapunzel sign!  While these appear to be great, creative ways to display character signatures when you return, I have always worried about carrying some of these items as they can be a bit awkward in the park.

At the end of the day, what you carry in the park is all about what makes you and your family happy! There are so many creative ways to collect character signatures and a quick Pinterest search will show you endless possibilities.  What are some of your favorite ways to gather signatures while on vacation in Walt Disney World?

5 Must-Do Star Wars Experiences at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars fever is raging all across the galaxy these days as people across all generations of enjoyed the power of the Force for decades.  While Disney and Star Wars fans anxiously await the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, which will be coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2019, there is still plenty of ways to interact with the Light and the Dark Side during your Walt Disney World Resort visit.  My young padawans are near obsessed with everything Star Wars so Hollywood Studios is always a Force-filled, full day for us.  Below are my top 5 Star Wars Experiences for your family!

Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple - My oldest has now participated in this incredible experience twice and he can't get enough of it!  Aspiring Jedi between the ages of 4 and 12 sign up early in the day to participate in one of the multiple shows throughout the day.  During the show, they receive training in the ways of the Force and using their lightsabers, all as they prepare to do battle with foes like Darth Vader and Kylo Ren.  For more details on this experience, check out my full blog post on it, here.  The key is getting to sign-ups early, meaning you'll want to rope drop this to get an assigned time for the day and then get excited!

Star Wars Launch Bay - Next to Disney Junior! Live on Stage, you'll find the entrance to Star Wars Launch Bay.  This has something for everyone in the family to enjoy!  Throughout the indoor exhibit, you'll find memorabilia from the movies and lots of cool trivia.  There's even a short film you can view.  But the highlight of Launch Bay are the character meet and greets!  Currently, you can meet Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, and BB-8.  We came to Launch Bay around 10AM and saw relatively no crowds - we visited both Chewbacca and Kylo Ren in under 15 minutes total and then waited about 15 minutes to meet BB-8.  These characters don't sign autographs, but the interaction is memorable!

March of the First Order and Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away - Both of these events you can see throughout the day down Hollywood Boulevard and on center stage.  Captain Phasma leads her troops down Hollywood Boulevard several times each day, followed by a stage show where iconic characters bring to light some of the most loved scenes from Star Wars movies over the years.  We don't typically "plan" to catch one of the shows, but each time we pass by and one is occurring we always stop to watch!

Star Tours - The Adventure Continues - The one ride in Disney's Hollywood Studios that is Stars Wars themed is AWESOME!  During the ride, you enter your space craft and are given your mission. Piloted by C3-PO, your group is strapped into movie theater type seats and then launched into space. The seats and screen move to create the sensation that you are flying, dodging debris, and engaged in battle with the Dark Side.  Each flight also identifies a rebel spy from the participants and my oldest was selected this time - he was so excited to see his face on the big screen!  This is a Tier 2 FastPass+ attraction in Hollywood Studios and is a good choice in my opinion as wait times often exceed 30 minutes.

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular - The perfect way to end your Star Wars filled day at Hollywood Studios is with this nighttime spectacular.  Combining fireworks, lasers, music, and movie images, fans and non-fans of Star Wars alike will be awed by this performance.  We were actually disappointed that we missed it during our most recent trip as it was replaced with Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! during the holiday season.  I think John Williams' score was made for a show like this!

I hear a lot people saying that they plan to skip Hollywood Studios because of the recent closures and current construction, but all of the Star Wars magic coupled with other favorite attractions means that we still dedicate at least one whole day (and sometimes even more!) to this action-packed park!


4 Reasons to Fall in Love with Knoebels Amusement Park

Our family just returned from a weekend visit to Knoebels - our third so far.  My husband grew up visiting the Central PA amusement park, so it's no surprise that he has been excited to make memories there with our kids.  This was our first visit since having both boys and I have to say that it might be one of the best bargains for families with young kids around.

From our house, we can be to Knoebels in about 3 hours which makes it just on the line of being a day trip.  This time, my husband was on his way home from a fishing trip in Canada so I met him in Bloomsburg with the kids and we stayed in a hotel for the weekend.  Our boys are 5 and 2 - perfect for loving the kiddie rides and the family amusement park experience.  This trip really solidified 4 reasons that all young families will fall in love with Knoebels!

The Price - As I said, this might be the best bargain for families with young children around.  Unlike most amusement parks, entry into Knoebels is free - yes, you read that right - FREE!  Try finding that these days!  Entertainment, like musicians and magic shows are all open to the public and included in your free entry.  When it's time to ride the rides, you simply pay as you go for the rides you want.  The kiddie rides are all very reasonable with most ranging in price from $1.00 to $1.50.  You can buy tickets in books of $5.00, $10.00, or $20.00 and can even buy discounted tickets at places like local Weis Markets ahead of your visit.  The paper tickets also never expire so the extra tickets we had from 2 years ago were still able to be used on this visit saving us even more money!  During the week, the park offers a ride all day pass, but on weekends that is not an option.  Now if you have older kids and teenagers that are looking for thrill rides, be warned that the big roller coasters cost $3.00 each per rider which can quickly add up.

The Location - Nestled among the mountains and trees of Elysburg, PA, you don't even realize you're approaching an amusement park as you pull up to Knoebels.  The feel is more of a large carnival than an amusement park with lots of shade, a mix of gravel and paved walkways, and an overall "woodsy" feel.  For those families that enjoy camping (unlike me. . .), there is a campground adjacent to the amusement park which is a popular draw.

The Food - Knoebels is known to have some of the best amusement park food around.  We have never been disappointed in the quality of traditional park fare like pizza, hamburgers, and fries.  They also offer a wide variety of options that are not as traditional in amusement parks including spaghetti dinners, meatloaf dinners complete with potatoes and veggies, and a delicious International Food Court.  The prices are in line with what you would expect at an amusement park - not cheap, but not ridiculous either.

The Rides - The rides are perfect for kids of all ages.  Our 2 year old enjoyed playing on the sliding board and the ball pit the best while our 5 year old ran from ride to ride eager to enjoy everything from cars, boats, trains, and much more.  If you have older thrill seekers, there are several roller coasters including the Phoenix - one of best ranked wooden roller coasters in the country.  The park also features a pool and water play area at a very reasonable price.  So if you are planning to visit in the summertime, be sure to bring your bathing suits in case you want to cool off in the pool during your visit!


Overall, I highly recommend this experience for families - especially those with young kids.  While I still love my visits to (also nearby) Hersheypark, this is a much cheaper alternative that has a very different "old time-y" feel.  It's definitely worth the drive to check out on summer road trips!

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique - Is the Magic Worth the Money?


Special thanks to my friend Jon Hill for the guest post below!  He and his wife have traveled to Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line both by themselves and with their two beautiful children.  His wife, Christine, is traveling with me in just a few weeks for the Princess Half Marathon weekend and their family is planning another magical trip for this coming summer!


From our earliest trips together to Disney nearly 15 years ago, my wife and I always enjoyed stopping to watch the reactions of the young girls undergoing the magical transformations that take place at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (BBB) with the help of Fairy God-Mothers-in-Training. I’m certain that the very first time we witnessed it, we agreed that if we ever had a girl, she would experience this enchanted, fairy-tale makeover. While planning our Disney trip for the summer of 2016, we decided that our daughter Lily, was old enough that she could appreciate and understand the experience. Additionally, on the first night of our trip we were to have dinner with Cinderella and her friends at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian resort. Since we were not going to a park on our first day, we made reservations to go to the BBB at Disney Springs. While searching the web for information and tips on BBB, we were pleasantly surprised to find that they also have Knight makeover offerings for the boys. These are very inexpensive, so we signed our 4 year-old son Luke up for a Knight makeover to match his sister and be properly prepared for the Royal Ball as well.

Upon arrival, we were surprised to find out that the BBB had recently undergone renovation and that it now had its own dedicated building instead of sharing space with the World of Disney. The bluish building, with large windows blends into the surrounding spaces, with the exception of the large BBB sign over the entrance. Once inside, the bright boutique reflects the royal setting of a fairy-tale salon with dark wood paneling and trim and fairy-tale murals all around. Having its own space lends to the experience, removing the noise, bustle, and distraction that the hundreds of shoppers in World of Disney brought. The waiting area was appointed with displays of available Disney princess dresses and accessories and the staff was cheerful and delightful as we have come to expect with the Disney experience. We checked in at the desk and after a brief wait, our children were whisked through the large wooden doors to meet their fairy godmother-in-training. 

Our first stop was in a large, private changing room. In an effort to save money, we bought our own costumes at home before the trip and brought them with us (which Disney graciously allows). While the ones Disney has available at the boutique are very nice, they come with a steep price tag. We scored a Cinderella dress and accessories for our daughter at JC Penny for just over $30. For our son, we had ordered a Prince Charming outfit from Amazon for under $20. These both doubled as Halloween costumes later in the fall. By bringing our own outfits, we were able to opt for the lowest priced “Crown Package” for our daughter ($59.95). The “Castle Package”, which includes a dress, is a paltry $199.95. The “Knight Package” for our son was only $19.95. Once the cast member gave us some brief instructions to the princess-to-be and prince-to-be, she stepped out of the changing room so we could get them changed. In a wisp of magic, the large mirror on the wall came to life with Cinderella’s own animated fairy god mother who interacted with the kids and gave them some additional instructions. As soon as they were changed, we exited the changing room and proceeded into the styling boutique    

The boutique is set up in the round with a several styling stations similar to those found at a typical salon. The large room is beautifully appointed with gold accents, chandeliers, royal draperies, and murals reminiscent of your favorite Disney princess stories. Each of the styling stations is staffed by a fairy god mother-in-training who is responsible for your child’s royal transformation. In the middle of the room is a large, oval, cushioned bench so that parents may sit and watch the enchanted work of the fairy god mothers-in-training.  After a brief introduction, the two fairy god mothers-in-training (Kayla and Mary) assigned to our children went to work.  Both quickly developed a great rapport with the kids and demonstrated a love for their work. But then again, who wouldn’t love to delight children all day long by magically transforming them into royalty? As part of Lily’s package she received hair, makeup, and nail treatments, as well as a sash. She even received a pink BBB nylon bag with extra styling products to take home with her. Lily’s hair (Fairytale Princess Style) was done so well, that we were able to leave it in overnight and it lasted through the whole next day as we enjoyed rides and had fun at the Magic Kingdom. Having it up and off of her neck was also an added advantage as it helped her stay cool in the late June heat.  Luke received a hair treatment and was presented with a mighty sword and shield in a knighting ceremony complete with official certificate. All throughout the makeovers, Disney Photopass photographers assigned to the BBB were snapping a ton of photographs of the kids. These pictures can be purchased after the experience, but if you already have the Memory Maker package, it is awesome. All together we received another 40-50 photos just from this experience alone. As part of the transformation, the children are not permitted to see themselves in the mirror until the makeover is complete. The photographer captured an awesome picture of Lily’s reaction as her chair spun around and she saw herself in the mirror for the first time as a beautiful princess.        

Following some pictures, we bid farewell to our fairy godmothers-in-training and wished them luck in their quests to become full-fledged fairy godmothers. We then were escorted into a room adjacent to the styling boutique for a photo session. This royal-looking room was outfitted with a kid-sized replica of Cinderella’s magic coach. Photographers took several more posed photos of the kids with the coach. Again, having Photopass is a great option if you are considering BBB. We were permitted to take our own photos with our iPhone, but having the Photopass photographers capturing shots with their digital SLRs produced professional photos to preserve the memories. 

We bid adieux to the BBB and its friendly staff, but not before being directed to go to the nearby Disney Photopass Station to view our photos. Once there, we were again surprised to receive yet another photo session with both of the kids with a Photopass Photographer. As I said before, if you are going on a multi-day Disney trip and considering BBB, purchasing the Photopass package ahead of time will pay for itself. We got another 20 posed photos here. We had only been at Disney for 6 hours, hadn’t even gone to a park, and already had about 60 Photopass photos in our gallery.    


After departing Disney Springs we made our way to the Grand Floridian for an early dinner reservation at Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner. We then walked around the resort and took advantage of the Victorian décor and beautiful landscapes to grab some more pictures of the kids. Overall, the BBB was a great experience. The staff was friendly and the individual attention and service the kids received was what we have come to expect from the Disney experience. We did not feel rushed or pushed through the process. As far as the cost, yes it is a little pricey- a hair styling, some makeup, glitter, nail polish, and a sash for $60. But compare that to what you might spend at a local salon for the same treatment, and it doesn’t seem so out of line… And can you really put a price on the moment when your little girl first sees herself as a real Disney princess? Or the moment when she, in her finest, meets a real, live Disney Princess? The “Knight Package” would definitely fall into the bargain category as the hard foam sword and shield alone (which are pretty nice and durable) are around $15 in the World of Disney Store.

Was the magic worth the money? Absolutely! Would we do it again? Probably not. While it was a great experience and, in our minds well worth the money, I think it is something you will do once for your kids and (provided they are old enough) they will remember the experience for a lifetime. There are numerous sites out there with tips and FAQ’s about BBB so I’m not going to list too many, but here are the most important:
1.)   Make reservations early- this is a popular experience, so the earlier the better. The reservation number can be found on the BBB website under “Know Before You Go”
2.)   Consider the weather and you activities for that day- If it is the middle of July/August and the humidity will be 90%+, is your child going to enjoy their visit to one of the parks in a full princess dress, with hair and makeup? If it is the summer, opt for an afternoon appointment so you can relax and enjoy the A/C in the BBB during the heat of the day, and make early dinner reservations for character dining at one of the Disney Dining options where you can meet the Princesses. Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner is at the Grand Floridian, so you don’t even have to go to one of the parks if you have a free day.
3.)   Leave ample time- I would say to budget 3-4 hours for the whole experience door-to-door. From catching the bus or driving to Disney Springs, visiting BBB, getting pictures, and then making your way to a park, a restaurant, or your hotel.
4.)   Save some money- If you want to do the princess dress, bring your own. While the ones offered at BBB are nice, I’m not sure they are worth the extra $140 you will pay.

5.)   Check out the BBB website’s “Know Before You Go” information for additional details and more.