DISNEY!!

This was our third trip to Disney World with all three kids. We have been with grandparents and by ourselves and this time another family came with us. Here’s the first trip and the second trip. We have also been to Disneyland with just the girls and we took Claire to WDW when she was 18 months old. We like Disney.

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Ages of the Children

The kids were 7, 4.5, and almost 3.

The 7 year old was a DREAM. She was able to walk everywhere. It was still magical and delightful and she was tall enough to ride everything. 7 is a FANTASTIC age for Disney. The 4 year old still needed a stroller but she was quite impressed with all of it. The almost 3 year old was very Almost Three, so you get what you get with that age.

I have also taken 18 month old Claire on a trip with just us, and Preston visited when he was 6 months old, and Charlotte once went to Disneyland when she was four months old. Disney is great for ANY age. Don’t be scared to take a baby to Disney, even with older kids along.

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Timeline

These are the key dates. Do not let these dates scare you. I have booked a trip to Disney with three days notice and eight months notice and I have had fun each and every time. If you are really running your A-game though, these are the milestones to mark on your calendar.

11 months

The DVC calendar opens up and you can begin booking rooms.

If you want an in-demand property or room size, and you have the luxury of booking this early, go ahead and make your inquiry with David’s a few days BEFORE the 11 month mark so that the David’s people can begin searching for available points and book you a room the moment one shows up as available and they have a member willing to sell to you. (More on this whole process below.)

I booked at 8 months out and I got a 1-bedroom with no problem. David’s has a long list of what avails you can expect 11 months to 1 month out.

180 days

Dining opens up and you can book meals. If you really want to eat someplace then wake up early and be online and have all your tabs open for the moment the system turns over (I think it was at 5 am but Google will help you out here.). Make sure you have your credit card loaded into your account so you don’t waste time tapping it in. Book the most in-demand meals first and work down your list.

60 days

FastPass+

The hardest to get right now are the Anna/Elsa meet and 7 Dwarfs Mine Train. I was able to get the Mine Train but not the Anna/Elsa and I tried to secure that one THE MOMENT the system opened up, so it really is totally impossible to get. I did get a Mine Train pass (that ride is a total snooze, if you can’t get a pass for it I will go ahead and say it’s no big loss).

Garden Grocer

If you order 60 days out you get 10% off your order. I didn’t know that and I booked two weeks out. Oops.

Stroller Rental

You don’t get any discounts that I’m aware of, but stroller models do eventually become unavailable, so if you have Special Feelings about what kind you want to rent, just book it early and get it done.

30 days

Magical Express

David’s says they need 30 days to get your Magical Express booked, because the member has to add it to the reservation, but I spaced out and forgot to ask until 28 days and they got it done. But send your flight information as soon as you have it. If you aren’t staying at a DVC room then I think you can get Magical Express added as close as a few days before you depart, but I’d just get it done early.

6 Days

Finalize your Magic Band color choice by this day or you’ll get stuck with boring gray.

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February

Disney has raised ticket prices the past two Februarys so maybe buy your tickets in January if your planning horizon includes a February. You can use your lower-priced ticket after a price increase is implemented, so buying before that might save you some dollars. It’s not very predictable though (they raised annual pass prices last October with no warning) so this tip is only MAYBE useful. Something to be aware of though!

Accommodations: Renting DVC Points

Instead of booking direct with Disney or a travel agent (we have done both with good outcomes) we rented DVC (Disney Vacation Club, their version of a time share) points from David’s Vacation Club. I very much recommend this route if your group needs:

  • Separate sleeping spaces/bigger room
  • A kitchen
  • To stay AT Disney
  • To get more value for your money without chasing sales

(Jump ahead to the bolded caps for the TL/DR on pricing.)

When we booked (March 2015) a one bedroom DVC suite with a full kitchen and washer/dryer was LESS than a standard resort room with a queen bed and a set of twin bunk beds.

For example purposes a 1 bedroom villa (which is what we stayed in) at Wilderness for Sunday-Friday in March is going for $4,856. (Are you dead? Don’t die on me. We didn’t pay that and you won’t either.)

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The same room/dates with rented points is $2,590. (Prices in this chart are for a Studio/1 Bedroom/2 Bedroom.)

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And if you wanted to book a regular hotel room at Wilderness Lodge for the same dates? $3,623.

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So. Let’s recap.

  • One bedroom Suite via DVC points: $2,590
  • Two Bedroom Suite via DVC points: $3,360
  • Regular Hotel Room: $3,623
  • One Bedroom Suite via Disney: $4,856

TL/DR: IT IS CHEAPER TO GET A BIG SUITE WITH RENTED POINTS THAN A REGULAR HOTEL ROOM WITH REGULAR CASH. BY MORE THAN ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS. It is even cheaper to get a TWO BEDROOM SUITE than a regular room. The math here is bananas.

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David’s Vacation Club / dvcrequest.com

The David’s website is very good with FAQ and explaining how it works so I won’t get into that, but it is a much cheaper way to get a bigger room on property. It is still expensive, but it was great to have the big space and kitchen.

The booking process was a little lengthy and there is some email back and forth (it is not a one-click purchase experience), but I emailed the David’s people a lot with random questions and they ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS responded within a few minutes and were so helpful and kind. I read every single bit of fine print on the website and in my contract with the owner of the points and the only way I can tell that you might get screwed is if the owner does not pay their dues (then you “might” be denied check in).

I read a lot of reviews about renting DVC points and I spent a lot of time on the message boards and I never once ran into any stories of this ever happening in real life, so I think it must be incredibly rare if it happens at all. (After all, if someone is going to the trouble to rent their unused points, then they probably want to stay in good standing with DVC in the first place so not paying dues doesn’t make sense.)

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The official unofficial line (that I found) is Disney does not encourage or discourage renting DVC points. It’s allowed, but Disney isn’t helping to facilitate it. The part where we were not breaking any rules or at-risk of being “found out” once we were on vacation was appealing to me.

The other thing about renting DVC points is there are fewer DVC suites in existence than regular hotel rooms and the rooms at the most desired properties go fast. Inventory is very limited. I wanted to book a 2-bedroom but one was not available so I had to settle for a 1-bedroom (which was fine). The David’s site has some good charts on availability and timing.

Really, I loved their whole site and everyone I interacted with and I absolutely totally recommend them.

(Disney has recognized how popular these suites are and they just added a bunch over over-water bungalows to Polynesian and the construction at Wilderness right now is to add a bunch of cabins around the lake.)

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DVC 1 Bedroom Villa at Wilderness Lodge

Okay, now that we have sorted out how to book this place and I see that it’s cheaper, tell me about the room. What am I buying?

One king bed in a separate bedroom, one queen-size pull out sofa bed in a living area, a full kitchen, a stall shower and a big tub with jets, two separate sink areas, a walk-in closet, a small table to eat at and a small two-person breakfast bar. Oh, and a coat closet. It’s 727 square feet. Here’s a detailed list of what should be in each room.

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Room Request

I requested a ground floor room and we got one. (Yes, you can request a certain room! There are lots of pictures of specific rooms and information on how/what to request in this 2012 blog post from Touring Plans.) We were in room 1538, which was close to the exterior door (excellent for easy in/out, no elevator or long hallways to hassle with) and only had a neighbor on one side.

Our friends booked the same room and said ours was actually bigger, so I think it’s a decent room to request. The view was terrible but I have young kids who run away from me so we didn’t spend ANY time sitting outside.

This is what you saw out the sliding glass door of room 1538. Pretty terrible view, but we did not look at it except to take this one picture so it was fine.

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Construction

The hotel was under construction but we didn’t hear ANYTHING and we were not inconvenienced. There will be a LOT of construction at Disney over the next few years but my experience is they do a good job of making it as low impact as possible.

We were bonused a set of construction Chip and Dale trading pins when we got in our room, which was fun. (Yay, free pins to trade!)

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Was it big enough/comfortable enough for all five of you?

The room was spacious. There was more than enough square footage to park the double stroller up front by the door and ignore it. (We had a hard time fitting a stroller in the standard room last time, so this was nice.) Our unit had a new range and a new fridge and they were very clean. The sink smelled kind of weird. The kitchen was fully stocked with (cheap but serviceable) dishes and pans and flatware.

Two bowls from the cabinet were dirty and it was so gross and I hope that is a very rare occurrence and it would usually be the sort of thing I’d call and complain about and try to get something free or comped but I had made several phone calls already for OTHER crap and I was phone called OUT so I let it slide.

There was a walk in closet with a pack and play and a sliding pocket door. (It’s that grayish box in the lower left of the floor plan.) You could absolutely put a baby in here, or even a toddler on a floor bed if you needed more sleeping space separation. There was a high chair in the room.

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We brought an air mattress for Preston to sleep on and it fit just fine in the bedroom with space to spare. (They will officially not bring a rollaway bed to these rooms but if you ask at check-in perhaps that Disney Magic will allow you to get one) (What is UP with all these DVC rules that make things less nice? These DVC owners are paying BIG BUCKS and they seem to get FEWER amenities.)

(This is the air mattress we have and Twitter told me to buy it and we have been using it all year and it’s GREAT to travel with, I love it so much. Here is a picture of Preston sleeping on it.)

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Sooooo, did you like it? It sounds like you maybe DIDN’T?

Okay, so I did like it. I did! The best thing about this place was how it wasn’t a regular hotel room and there was SPACE. We were there for almost a week and SPACE was nice. But I must say out loud there was not anything spectacular about this room.

It was not luxurious in any way. The linens on the bed were not great. There is a top sheet and a thinnish blanket and it’s not a lot of covers. I would have liked a duvet or an extra blanket.

The girls complained a few times that they got cold at night (same bedding situation on the fold out bed), but I didn’t want to make the AC warmer because it got humid when I did that. The pillows kind of sucked. The bathroom felt a little dated.

The bath products were the standard Disney kind (meh). It was nice to have the space and the square footage and some doors in between sleeping humans, but the room wasn’t overly nice, if that makes sense? Everything felt like it would be easy to wipe down and clean in a not-glamorous way.

As Chris told me, “It just was. Nothing very notable on the good OR bad side. It was just a room.”

Here’s a picture where you can kind of see the kitchen in the mirror. I didn’t take many photos of the room for some reason.

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It is important to note I felt this way about the other rooms I’ve stayed in at Wilderness Lodge and other Disney properties. They are very functional but this is no Four Seasons or even a low-level Marriott. Luxury and comfort are not emphasized here and I’m not sure they are at any Disney hotel. I would book this room type again, but it’s not super fancy or anything.

There were definitely some DVC oddities

At one point the clothesline (in the shower) sort of fell off the wall and a bunch of rusty bits of metal fell into the shower. I called to see about getting it fixed and it took an entire 24 hours for it to be fixed and the rust bits were still in the shower when they finished. So. That wasn’t very magical.

Then we got this letter one morning.

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They wanted THE WHOLE DAY to replace the washer/dryer unit and I was like UM NO THAT WILL NOT WORK FOR US AS WE ARE CURRENTLY ON VACATION IN THIS ROOM. They rescheduled it. But still, another phone call, another thing to deal with. Meh.

Here we are headed to the pool with stacked washer/dryer units being delivered in the hallway. CHARMING.

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The Towel Situation

And then there was The Towel Situation. There were four bath towels in the room and I called for more (because at a minimum we needed five, for the five humans we had in the room and also I am the kind of person who uses a lot of towels). I was super surprised to hear that more towels COST EXTRA MONEY. (WHAT?) ($6 per full set of towels but she had to look it up, so I think it maybe depends on what kind of plan the member you rented the points from is on.)

That was really irritating. These are supposed to be PREMIUM accommodations (they sure have a premium price) and TOWELS are the most basic amenity at ANY hotel. Even skimpy B&Bs I’ve stayed at have always had LOTS of towels available. You can ask for towels alllll day long at Holiday Inn. And Disney is…charging for extra towels? And also?  ALSO? There’s no housekeeping service in the DVC Villas until Day 4. (And they don’t even call it housekeeping, they call it Trash and Towel Service and that’s all they do, they do not change the sheets even.)

So…I hope nobody barfs on the sheets (which actually happened on THE FIRST NIGHT the last time we were at Disney) because nobody is coming to change those sheets (AT ALL, even on Day 4) (and also there aren’t any EXTRA sheets in the room in case you need to change them yourself) AND you have to keep track of your towel for FOUR DAYS and guys I DON’T EVEN USE A BATH TOWEL FOR FOUR DAYS IN A ROW AT MY OWN HOUSE.

And then (then!) there was the part where you go wash your hands in the lobby bathroom and there’s a GIANT BASKET of washcloths just for drying hands, and the pool is overflowing with STACKS of white towels and you can use as many as you’d like to dry off. The whole thing was SO ANNOYING and I guess LINEN CONSERVATION is the price you pay save $1,000 on the room rate.

The Trash Situation

You have to take out your own trash (to a place down the hall) if you aren’t willing to wait until Day 4. With one kid still in diapers we did this every day and it just wasn’t very…vacation-y. They also give you a small office-sized trash can even though there is a full kitchen so where exactly am I supposed to put this pizza box? Meh.

Pool

Right now there is one pool at Wilderness that is closed (construction) but that’s okay because the GOOD pool with a slide is open.

They have also renovated the baby pool and made it a mini water park and it was great! It’s also fenced, so there’s no danger of a small child running away from the water park area to the big pool. Everyone is nicely contained. It is small, but I see that as a good thing. You can’t see the whole thing from your chair (there are blind spots), but if you position one adult on each side you are pretty covered and you can sit the whole time instead of doing that awful hover-supervise. (This is where bringing extra grown-ups is very handy.)

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The water is heated and we were happily swimming the second week of December. Here’s the slide in the big pool.

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Pool Bar

They have cocktails but the only snacks are chips. I wish they had more snacks or wait staff circulating. Claire loves chips so she had zero problems with the pool bar menu.

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I don’t really remember what was in this drink but it was cold and delicious and I had two of them.

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Dining Plan

We had a free* dining plan in 2013 and we really hated it. It was hard to understand, it felt like a huge hassle, and we still had to pay for tips and alcohol (which aren’t included). On this trip a dining plan would have cost about $850 (with tips and booze on top of that).

I looked at the menu for every restaurant we were going to visit, added up what I figured we would order, and it was reallllly close to what the dining plan was going to cost, so we didn’t get it because it appeared to be a huge hassle to maaaaybe save $50.

I have looked over our invoice and we spent about $800 on food and booze and tips, total.

I’m certain we did better skipping the dining plan, because on that we would have had to ADD gratuity at every table service meal. We got to eat exactly what we wanted and we didn’t have to think about whether it was a good way to “spend” a credit and nobody had to “pay” for a coke (included) when they also wanted a glass of wine (not included). Also, Preston at age 2 didn’t qualify for a dining plan so we would have had to pay out of pocket for him ANYWAY. I’m pleased.

We ate dinner in our room one night (frozen pizza and a bag of salad) and we ate breakfast in the room every day. And we didn’t do this on purpose, but we usually saved our afternoon snacking for when we got back to the room. (Hummus and chips, french onion dip, cookies, etc).

*My favorite Disney website maintains that the dining plan is almost never a good choice, even when you get it “free” because of course nothing is really free, most especially at Disney. When they do Free Dining promotions what they also do is take away room discounts, so you’re “paying” for it in the form of a not-discounted room when usually you CAN get a discount. Here’s a screen grab of the best part; click to embiggen or use the link above and scroll down.

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Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

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I loved this two years ago and I love it still. (If you are unfamiliar with this hard ticket event, start here.) The crowds are LOW once the regular guests clear out (like, a walk-up to every attraction in the park), it’s cool in the dark, the Christmas parade is incredible, there are free cookies and cocoa.

We figure if we go back again at Christmas we won’t even buy park admission for Very Merry nights and we’ll use those days to swim or do character meals at other resorts and then get to Magic Kingdom at 4p for a fun night. (The party officially starts at 7, but your Very Merry ticket will get you into Magic Kingdom as early as 4p.)

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Hitting a park for the day and then trying to do a Very Merry that same night was a leeeeetle too much for us and we will keep the day more simple next time. But the Christmas parade is amazing and the snow on Main Street is magical and the part where there’s NO WAIT FOR ANY RIDES is worth the price. Very much super a lot recommend.

Dining

Akershus

I forgot how absolutely giant the children’s pizzas are here and I ordered THREE of them and ONE would have been fine. Since we skipped the dining plan, this makes a difference! Ask your server about portion sizes for kids, I found it really varied and since we have three kids it can add up fast.

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I like Akershus just fine but it’s pretty expensive. You are paying to meet princesses here and they deliver five or six of them.

Play and Dine at Hollywood and Vine

This is not my favorite place and I almost didn’t book it again but I randomly got a great seating time so I went with it. My kids are aging out of Disney Jr so the appeal is less than it used to be.

California Grill

I booked this reservation first and at some Disney restaurants you get seated based on when you made the reservation. I’m not sure if that’s what happened, but we had a really spectacular table. We had some sushi and I was hoping the kids would snack and have dessert and then we could watch the fireworks from the 23rd floor dining room.

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Sadly, it was not meant to be. The kids were just too tired and we left at 940p. Our server said we could come back and watch the fireworks any other night with our receipt. Here is how Charlotte and Preston felt about leaving California Grill.

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Here is how Claire and I felt about riding the monorail back to Magic Kingdom from the Contemporary. It was fine in the end; we got to see fireworks at the boat launch and we at least know that California Grill is super awesome and we’d like to go back.

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Be Our Guest

This was so HYPED UP and I thought the food was good but the place is just ABSOLUTELY ENORMOUS and that kills a lot of the charm for me. The food was very good though.

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Biergarten

I really love this place and my kids like to dance to the music. We’ve been on every trip.

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Special Drinks

You should buy your children the special drinks. Don’t even tell them they’re getting the special drinks, just order them. They come in fun cups and most of the time they have glowing stuff attached to them or in them. They cost about $6 and this is another reason you want to skip the dining plan, you’d just have to pay extra for these ANYWAY since they aren’t included.

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You can take all that glowy stuff home and recreate magic later. I think these are some of the cheapest, most bang for your buck souvenirs at the whole park. We use these cups daily back home. At some places they also sell Mickey shaped straws for something like 89 cents.

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Fireworks Viewing Locations

We watched fireworks at MK from four locations this trip, totally by accident.

Tomorrowland Speedway

There are a lot of trees over here but you can see the fireworks. I would not PLAN to be here for them, but you can see them. It was pretty cloudy this night so I’m glad we didn’t bother trying to see them up front by the castle because they weren’t super visible anyway.

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Big Thunder Mountain

Ahhhh, this was SO COOL! There’s a bridge by Splash Mountain and on the bridge and just beyond it offer wonderful views of the fireworks. They felt SO CLOSE from there and the perimeter fireworks were AMAZING from this location. Highly recommend. I kind of like it better than in front by the castle. The music is piped in here (as it is all over the park) and it’s great.

Wishes Fireworks Dessert Party

Oh good gravy this was SO EXPENSIVE. It used to be cheaper but then they added a tablecloth and a battery powered lantern and DOUBLED THE PRICE. You’re very obviously paying for the location and at the old price I could sort of justify it but this is absolutely not worth it.

Here, look at these twee desserts that cost $50 per adult and $30 per child that you have to get from a buffet and stand in line for. (I KNOW.)

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This is a place where you are obviously only paying for the secured location to view fireworks, but guys? I don’t put THAT much premium on fireworks in my life. I wish we had not done this. Yes, Tinkerbell flies directly overhead, and yes you get a place to sit, but uhhhhh NOPE, not worth it.

For this much money they should be bringing plates of dessert to my table and filling my cup for me, not serving it buffet style. And even then it would still be too expensive.

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After the party we were directed to exit the park using the Main Street Bypass, which is the first time I’ve been on that and it was a nice and easy way to exit a crowded park after fireworks. So maybe look for it to be open (I don’t think they open it every night) if you find yourself pressed by crowds and you happen to be on the Tomorrowland side of the park. They do a good job of directing you that way if it’s open so maybe you won’t even have a choice.

Resort Boat Launch outside Magic Kingdom

A perfectly fine view. The monorail obstructs some but you can still see them and the music is out here too.

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Transportation

It’s terrible. It’s unpredictable and it takes forever and it’s a major problem with the whole experience. The bus and the boat are constantly making other stops and detours but you never KNOW until you’re already ON it. If they would just be more transparent about “this bus stops at X and X resort” then you might be able to decide if you really want to take that bus or maybe you want to wait for another one or perhaps you want to take the boat. It would be even better if they would publish this all online and in their app.

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The boards at the bus stop at Wilderness always said the next bus was 10 minutes away even as a bus pulled up right then. There is A LOT of improvement to be had here.

At the end of our trip we were so frustrated by this we were trying to figure out how to fix/avoid it on our next trip (rent a car? stay some place different?) and we still don’t have an answer.

Doctor

We traveled with some friends and their daughter was running a high fever one morning. They called the front desk about 9am and were told that a doctor would be by between 10 and 11. She is a concierge doctor who works for Disney and she gave their daughter a thorough examination, found an ear infection, mixed up the antibiotics in the room, and gave them the paperwork they’d need to file with their insurance once they got home. They had to pay about $100, but it’ll be reimbursed less their co-pay. They said she was quick, polite, and it was easy.

So, now you know what happens if someone gets sick at Disney World.

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Kingdom Strollers

Great service. Can’t say I liked it better than taking my own stroller, because I did have some problems and I had to make phone calls and…annoying.

I rented a double BOB because I sold mine and I knew I’d need a double stroller for the week.

You rent it online and they deliver it to your resort and you pick out up at bell services. Our first stroller was awful and old and had tires that were under inflated and it made the whole thing really tough to push.

Here’s a picture of it. You can tell that it’s super sun faded.

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I called and they had a new stroller delivered the next morning that looked brand new. Then the new stroller broke at the end of the week (we still can’t figure out how) and it was still functional but it was definitely broken, and when I emailed them to say, “Hey, just so you know, it’s broken,” they didn’t try and charge me for it or want me to explain what happened, they just said, “Can you still use the stroller or should we bring another?”

So, yes and no on the renting of a stroller. There are tons of stroller rental companies and this one was just fine, I guess. I wish we’d been given a top notch stroller to start with and I wish the replacement hadn’t broken, but…whatever. It was nice to not deal with it at the airport and I didn’t own a double anyway.

They will also bring a case of bottled water for a reasonable amount of money with the stroller if you ask. Bottled water was $2.75 in the park so….you should get this.

Garden Grocer

We had a great experience with them. Highly recommend.  I got a text when my groceries were delivered and then a follow up phone call. Bell services kept my cold items in the fridge and my frozen items in the freezer and then delivered it all to the room upon check-in. Super easy order process, and they did exactly what they said they would. The pricing is more expensive than my local Walmart, but I expected that.

They will deliver wine and beer! If you can order 60 days early the 10% discount is nice.

Meeting up with Jen

Yes, recommend. She gave my kids Capri Suns and she brought bottled water for us and she showed us the cleanest and emptiest bathrooms at Epcot. (They’re by Figment.) And she’s super fun and her kids are cute.

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Photopass

It is wildly overpriced. ($169 if you buy 30 days in advance, $200 if you don’t.) (They have since reduced it to $149.) (Still no.)

Unless you have the patience/desire to stand in line for tons of character meets or for pictures at all the cool places it’s going to feel hard to get your money out of this.

Disney photogs will happily take pics with your phone or camera. There are no weird feelings about not using The Disney Camera and there are no commissions or daily quotas or anything you are denying the photographer by asking to take a photo with your device. Got that? ZERO guilty feelings asking them to use your device.

Good things

The part where the pictures showed up in the app right away was cool and it was nice not to fumble with my phone to unlock it and hand it over while wrangling children.

If you use the Disney photographer sometimes you get fun pictures like this where they put in characters and tell you to do funny things. This is fun and I totally put it on Instagram that day but I’m not framing it and putting it on my wall, so $170 feels like wayyyy too much for this kind of novelty.

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The other thing you can do with Photopass is save pictures that are taken of you on attractions, like this one from Space Mountain. Kind of neat but not worth $150.

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Bad things

It’s expensive.

The one time I had pictures taken of all of us in front of a Christmas tree the photographer’s flash was weird and it lit the kids but not the adults, so the idea that the photographer will take a BETTER picture with their camera isn’t quite right either.

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We shared the Photopass with a friend but we figured out really fast that if we weren’t physically together for my Magic Band to be scanned when a photo was taken of her family, she couldn’t “save” any of the pics a photog took. We figured out that if she got a PhotoPass CARD she could scan the card and then I could input the card info to MY account and get all the pictures that way, but it was a long way around the problem. (And even now the pictures are in MY account and she can’t see them unless I download them all and send her each of them.)

What would I do next time?

I will probably just ask the Disney photographers to use my phone. The advantage (quick pics in the app/pics taken with Not Your Phone) just isn’t worth such a high price, especially considering that if they take pictures with your phone then the pictures are ALREADY IN YOUR PHONE which is half of the “magic” they are selling here.

I feel like this is a $50 product. If they lowered the price by A LOT I might consider it.

Parade Viewing Location

Parade viewing was tough this trip. We saw the Christmas parade twice and it was very crowded twice. We were never able to see the afternoon parade, which was a bummer, but that’s how our days went.

This is where I like to watch the parade. Riiiiight where the pencil lead is. Stand there.

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Where it turns down Main Street you can stand IN THE STREET. It is usually taped off with white tape to show how far forward you can stand and there is usually a cast member hanging around that spot. Most people will gang up on the sidewalks, but you can stand in the street and feel smug. Oh look! I took a picture! That’s our double stroller set up right inside the tape line.

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The parade comes straight at you and turns in a really wide spot. You get a great view and then you can turn around and go back in the park without fighting Main Street crowds.

Also, buy a bubble gun so the kids and entertain themselves before the parade starts because you will absolutely be doing some waiting. (People are reserving spots HOURS in advance and it’s just crazy.) Claire asked the cart lady for extra bubbles at one point and she refilled it for her, which was so nice.

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Pin Trading

My girls are ages 4 and 7 and they were TOTALLY INTO pin trading. We bought lanyards and pins when we got there and they traded all day every day with cast members and kids and other random adults and it was fun.

I like stuff like this where they can push their social skills and talk to people they don’t know and ask questions and say thank you and make independent decisions (should I trade this giant awesome pin for a tiny plain one?). Learning the art of Trading Up took Claire a few days but she did love it.

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Next trip I’d buy any lanyard and then a bag of pins off eBay. Since they all get traded anyway it doesn’t matter if they’re “good” to start. These are also items that are not useful AT ALL once you get home so…the cheaper the better.

Crowd Level

It was more crowded than I like. My favorite Disney site recently had to adjust their algorithm for predicting crowds because their estimates for October 2015 were so off. Turns out the park is experiencing a double digit YOY increase in visitors, which is great for them and bad for everyone who wants to visit the parks.

I planned out our days based on the crowd calendar. We tried to visit the lowest crowd park on any given day and we planned our meals and Fast Passes around that. It was more crowded than expected when we were there but by visiting the lowest predicted park we did just fine. Even if the estimate was off, we were still at the least crowded park.

Here are the actuals from our trip.

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Face Painting

I am generally not a fan of face paint but Charlotte wanted it so badly and she never wants anything so we did it and then Claire wanted some too and this is the danger of having more than one child that nobody bothers to tell you about: MULTIPLE FACEPAINTING EXPENSES.

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To be fair it was very good face paint and there was glitter. Which is what I expect from Disney.

Packables from home

Glow necklaces and bracelets. Vapur bottles proved to be very useful for filling up at water fountains. Tide pods for the laundry. Envirosax for storing things in the stroller so when you have to fold it up for the bus/take it our for bag check it’s quick and easy to scoop up that one collapsible bag. Shampoo, because Disney shampoo is terrible. Maybe a Wick Habit 4oz candle for the smelly sink and sweaty kids.

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Star Wars

We visited a week before the movie came out and we saw SO MUCH Star Wars stuff for sale and I only saw ONE ITEM with Rey on it and I took this picture because it was rumored that she was the MAIN CHARACTER and I had been thinking all week how strange it was that there was BB-8 all over the place but NO REY.

She is not even doing anything badass in this image. Dear Disney and your licensees: You can do better.

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Lost items

My hat and Charlotte’s pink Minnie ears, which was really sad because she wore them every single day.

Advice I have given before that I still stand by (Posts One and Two)

Buying balloons on the first day and then giving them away on the last day since you can’t take them on the plane.

Amazon Prime-ing some Illy Cappuccino in a Cans to yourself because Disney coffee is terrible and the lines at the in-park Starbucks are RIDICULOUS and in the morning I just need CAFFEINE IN MY BLOOD NOW NOW NOW I don’t want to wait in line for it or leave my room.

The Touring Plans app is hugely wonderful and I can’t imagine visiting without it.

When are we going back?

Probably 2018 or 2019, once all of the new attractions are in place.

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2015: In Review

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Most questions come from Linda Sharps (@sundry) but I have changed a few over the years.

***

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?

All of my children were enrolled in regularly scheduled elementary school/preschool, which gave me 12 wonderful hours a week ALL ALONE for the first time ever. I bought a patio table with a big umbrella. I enrolled a child in dance class. I put just a splash of milk in my coffee now instead of a heavy (very heavy) pour.

I bought a pair of those booties everyone is talking about. I tried (and LOVED) dry shampoo. I bought my last pacifier (for one of my children). I put up TWO Christmas trees in my house. I bought a foam mattress. (Recommend.) I did a Barre3 workout.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

For 2015 I wanted to organize the digital photos (NEWP, didn’t even start on that one).

Next year I want to…organize the digital photos. I’d also like to repaint the inside of the house, and when I say that what I really mean is I’d like to hire someone else do it. Claire was 18 months old when we moved in and we’ve added two kids and seen a lot of toddler wall drawings and rolling toys hitting walls, so a fresh coat is in order.

I’d like to have an awesome summer. I want everyone to swim independently, I want to take the road trips to the National Parks, I want to camp at our family farm in the middle of Nowhere, Texas and be scared of javelinas and rattlesnakes, I want to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July (will even ONE of them be able to stay awake long enough this summer??), I want to go on a family bike ride where EVERYONE IS ON THEIR OWN DANG BICYCLE (training wheels allowed). I want my own bicycle, dangit! I’ve had a string of high maintenance summers. I AM OWED A GOOD ONE.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Lots of friends had babies (one friend even had triplets!) but I didn’t visit any brand new babies in the hospital this year because of distance. So, yes/no.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No. I did not attend any funerals.

5. What countries did you visit?

For the fourth year in a row the answer is NONE COUNTRIES. We went to Disney World earlier this month and skiing in Park City last spring. Chris wishes we traveled more but the honest truth for me is that traveling is a huge giant pain and it’s crazy expensive with five of us and there are always tantrums and the waiting and lines (of any sort) are hard on kids and…it’s not the kind of thing I feel like I’m missing out on.

You take your kids to Madagascar and I’ll heart those pictures all day long on Instagram, but I’m perfectly happy at home here in Texas and our adjacent state with loose liquor laws (Louisiana).

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you didn’t have in 2015?

Here’s last year’s request:

In 2015 I would like to get this house organized top to bottom and clean out some closets I really haven’t looked in much since we moved here four years ago. I would like a mild summer. I would like more matching children’s socks than not matching ones. I would like no ear infections for Preston.

Oh! I did a great job on this one! I Konmari’d the house pretty good (about 90% done, I’d say and the improvement in my life is REMARKABLE, I highly recommend discarding things that no longer bring you joy). It WAS a mild summer! And I threw away all of the children’s socks and I bought three dozen white socks and it is so much better now. Preston had some ear infections. Can’t win ’em all.

For 2016 I’d like all of my kids to be confident swimmers so I can be less helicoptery at the pool. I’d like to buy my last box of diapers in 2016. I would like to get through that last 10% of the house. I want to eat more cheeseburgers.

7. What dates from 2015 will be etched upon your memory, and why?

The day Brian Williams left NBC News. BRIAN WAS MY GUY.

The Pluto pictures were pretty cool.

Obergefell v. Hodges

Princess Charlotte’s birth day was very fun.

8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?

Organizing this house was a big huge giant deal but I DID IT. I went through almost everything (except the office and garage) and I discarded PILES of stuff. I made $1,500 selling stuff on my local FB page! We just had so much stuff we didn’t need anymore as the kids have grown up and there was also a lot that was stashed away “to deal with later when there’s more time.” Well, later finally arrived and that stuff is GONE.

I am much, much, MUCH better at asking for help when I need it. This used to be hard because I have always been an “It’s easier to do it myself/If I want it done right” person, but my standards have relaxed a great deal in my mid-thirties. Done is better than perfect.

I killed at laundry this year. I have figured out how to keep it all running in a harmonious current of soapy life so that we all have clean clothes and there are no piles of clean or dirty laundry on bed or tables or in corners and it’s all in the right basket at the right time, and I think I only let something sit in the washing machine for a week once or twice, which is VERY VERY GOOD FOR ME.

9. What was your biggest failure?

This question has been blank for weeks while I’ve been writing this, so I’m calling it: No big failures this year. It was a pretty good year for me.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I sprained my ankle in February, just a week before we went on a ski trip. I slipped on some ice in the driveway. It was terrible and I spent the whole trip limping and fretting about getting hurt even more and I had a terrible time.

Last summer I had one of those terrible barf viruses that makes you want to lay very still in the dark for two days.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

New curtains for my kitchen and living room. A new mattress. A trip to Disney World. A weekend at Lost Pines. Extra laundry baskets. Babysitters. Shopkins. Nintendo Wii (for Mario Karting). More frequent pizza nights. My vintage turquoise telephone. Two $20 Rainbow Snakes.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

I thought about buying a jumpsuit and then I realized no, no, nope I am not a jumpsuit person. GOOD JOB, SELF. NICE SAVE!

Chris went to go see Star Wars “for work” at 830 in the morning the day it came out and I spent my day getting my eyes checked and I only made like, five sarcastic comments about it, which I think is very good.

We don’t have a housekeeper any more for boring reasons and I thought it would be BAD but it’s been okay! So, again, ME! I’m doing a great job!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

The way my mail carrier keeps folding and stuffing packages and envelopes in the mailbox when they CLEARLY would be better served by being dropped off at the door really ticks me off.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Erin Condren planner stickers from the Libbie and Co shop on Etsy. (Ha ha no just kidding, most of it went to the federal government.) I also spent a stunning amount on candles from Wick Habit. (WORTH IT.)

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The first day of school. Our Disney trip. Our trip to Lost Pines. Every new episode of Game of Thrones

16. What song will always remind you of 2014?

TEAM UMIZOOMI, READY FOR ACTION!

17. Compared to this time last year: a) better hair or worse hair? b) more organized or less organized? (This question used to be happy/sad, thin/fat, rich/poor, and I think those are boring so I changed it this year.)

a) My hair is really thin, so it’s worse. I don’t know if I have a vitamin deficiency or if I’m just getting old or if my hair never really came back after having three babies but…yeah. My hair is way worse than it was even three months ago.

b) I’m way more organized, but this is very deliberate. I KM’d the house and I have been very consciously trying to make our lives full of less STUFF because STUFF takes so much time to manage. I also gave up on electronic calendaring after trying at least ten apps over several years and I bought an Erin Condren planner (and gobs of fun stickers, because having fun is allowed) and that planner has me more organized than I’ve been in a long time. I am straight up LOVING that thing.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Painted my nails more often. I have at at-home gel setup and I love it but I don’t get to use it that much.

Made waffles.

Gone for a walk.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Laundry. Grocery shopping. Giving Preston antibiotics. Throwing out bananas that the children SAID they would eat, so I bought them, and then they refused to eat them. Wondering why Texas A&M Football insists on being a dumpster fire every year.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Everyone is coming to my house, which is awesome.

21. What was your favorite TV program?

Walking Dead. Last Man on Earth. Game of Thrones. Entourage.  Halt and Catch Fire. Team Umizoomi (No, not really, but I logged A LOT OF HOURS with this one.)

21a. (New question!) Tell us about your favorite podcasts.

I spent a lot of time this spring listening to Game of Thrones post-show podcasts. Game of Owns, A Cast of Kings, and A Storm of Spoilers (that one was my favorite). I kept up with This American Life and Planet Money but that’s about it. I spent most of my listening time on audio books this year.

22. What was the best thing you learned?

If I run the Roomba EVERY SINGLE DAY the house is much cleaner and happier. Isn’t that weird? If I tell the house to clean itself IT FEELS CLEAN. So crazy.

23. What was the best book you read?

I don’t read any more. I listen to books on Audible while I do dishes and fold laundry. (Hiiiighly recommend the Audible membership, by the way. I have been very pleased. They let you return any book you don’t like, at any time with zero hassle and they often have $5 sales on older titles.)

I really enjoyed Holly Madison’s memoir about living in the Playboy Mansion. 11/22/63 by Stephen King was DELIGHTFUL and is not about JFK, it’s about time travel and it’s GREAT. It will be an 8-episode mini series on Hulu in February with James Franco and I’m super excited about that.

Dead Wake was exxxxxcellent. At the end of the year I got into The Plantagenets and War of the Roses (which Game of Thrones is loosely based on). If you like English royalty and history and backstabbing? OH YES these are so good.

25. What was your greatest food discovery?

Marianne’s bolognese sauce. Why it took me so long try it, I DO NOT KNOW, but now I make a batch every month and freeze it. Serve it with a huge pile of freshly shaved parm. You will not be sorry.

26. What did you want and get?

A landline. A dog. (AN AWESOME DOG!) A girl’s trip to NYC.

27. What did you want and not get?

Tickets for Hamilton. Chip and Joanna Gaines to decorate my house. Giant piles of money. You know, the usual.

28. What was your favorite film of 2015?

Netflix Favorites

Chef (not about what you think it’s about, completely delightful), Particle Fever (science-y!), Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (what an incredible life he’s had!), Iris (she’s so awesome!), The Wrecking Crew (another great story about cool people), Antarctica: A Year on Ice (dude, that job is NOT for me).

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 36. I think I had a cake but I don’t remember. Look, my birthday is in January and by the time this thing comes around it is a long-ago memory.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Grocery Delivery at a not-exorbitant price. I live in a DFW suburb WHY CAN’T THIS HAPPEN?

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of 2015?

Can I wear my fancy new necklace with this outfit? Okay, I’ll buy it.

32. What kept you sane?

Bourbon Biscotti cocktails. (Bourbon, amaretto, orange bitters.)

33. What political issue stirred you the most?

I am so alienated I don’t even know where to start.

34. Who did you miss?

I feel like I got to see everyone this year. As my kids get older and require less around-the-clock care, there’s more time for visiting and correspondence and FaceTime and texting and sending funny postcards. #itgetsbetter

35. Who was the best new person you met?

I loved meeting my summer babysitter.

36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

You can’t talk normal to crazy.

37. Show us one of your favorite photos from the year. 

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Twitter Hosts Thanksgiving

I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year for the first time ever, and while I am no stranger to hosting large gatherings with lots of food and bev, hosting The Big Food Holiday For The First Time seems a little more BIGTIME than my usual gathering.

I asked Twitter to help me out with favorite recipes. Because Twitter (well, my corner of Twitter anyway) is the best. Perhaps you need inspiration or help hosting Thanksgiving too? Here are all their ideas. I tried to link back correctly and include every suggestion and provide good links to recipes, but I’m watching a movie while I write this so YMMV. Use your Google ninja skills if my links fail you.

***

Many people suggested/insisted on making Pioneer Woman’s Mashed Potatoes. MANY. Several people said to make them in the crock pot to save on oven space.

Alton Brown’s turkey got high marks, as did this one from Martha (“It really is perfect,” says Lisa.) Spatchcocking your turkey (but ask the butcher to do it since it’s a pain) also got lots of mentions as an easier/quicker way to get a great bird with crispy skin that cooks faster.

Nobody mentioned frying a turkey (also doubles as entertainment), but I feel I should mention it because FRYING A TURKEY IS KIND OF COOL TO SEE. My friend Jill once told me the best turkey she ever had was one she put in an oven bag with a bottle of champagne and a stick of butter. I dunno, SOUNDS PRETTY GREAT TO ME.

Gosh, wouldn’t it be fun to have a giant turkey taste test? Make like SIX turkeys and try all the methods? Who has six ovens or a combination of ovens and smokers that can host this for us? Anyone?

Here’s a page with all of Alton Brown’s Thanksgiving recipes. And here’s a page for Cook’s Illustrated Thanksgiving recipes.

Beth makes an apple pie and freezes the whole thing, and then bakes from frozen. (GENIUS)

Blair says “Sally’s Baking Addiction blog had an apple cider sangria that I’m adding to this year’s menu.” (HI HELLO YES THIS LOOKS AMAZING.)

Maureen says to Google Real Simple honeyed carrots and oranges. (See how I did that legwork for you? You’re welcome.) (Recipe looks AMAZING, btw.)

She also says that Cook’s Illustrated garlic mashed potatoes are worth the fussiness, but don’t scale up well. You are thusly warned. (All the CI link have a paywall, use your Google skills to find one without if you don’t want to sign up.)

Pioneer Woman green bean casserole got high marks from many. MANY. It was by far the most mentioned recipe.

Make ahead gravy and make ahead mashed potatoes from Cook’s Illustrated were mentioned.

Blaire also makes a “cranberry apple chutney every year that is AMAZING and makes your house smell like the holidays.” James McNair’s Cranberry Apple Chutney. Recipe is about halfway down the page.

Emiliy makes this butternut squash and chickpea salad every year. She says, “Can easily make ahead and reheat in microwave. It’s great for vegetarians as a main dish, but light enough for a side.”

Dawn makes these rolls.

This is Ginger’s favorite dish. (It’s STUFFING. WITH CHILES.)

Kathleen does Mexican food and margaritas, “because those are our favorite foods.” Perhaps we should all strive for an invite to Kathleen’s Thanksgiving in future years.

Carla makes Epicurious Pecan Pumpkin Pie. She also says that “Joy of Cooking stuffing can be mixed up the night before (except a beaten egg you add just before cooking) & my fam INHALES IT.” (There are a lot of JoC stuffing recipes and I’m not sure which one?)

Carissa says, “We always have cream cheese corn as a side which is crazy easy. One block of cream cheese melted into four cans of corn.” (MMMMM CORN.)

Fran always has the best hostessing ideas. First we have this totally awesome veggie tray. Also, THOSE NAPKINS, I DIE.

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Then Fran suggested Chiffonade of Brussels Sprouts which sounds SO FANCY but looks SO EASY. (Spoiler: There’s bacon.) Then Cranberry Sauce (with cinnamon and oranges!). Here’s the gravy she makes ahead using turkey drums.

I did get one lone vote for Cook’s Illustrated Green Bean Casserole. Do people really LIKE green bean casserole? Genuinely? Chris does, but I think it’s SO GROSS. Nope.

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