Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Surviving Your First Trip to Walt Disney World Part 1- What to Pack

Note from my youngest daughter. *sniff*

Last July I booked a trip to Walt Disney World for me, my husband and our three daughters. My husband had been once when he was little, but for the rest of us it was our first time not only at Disney, but in Florida. I remember going to the library to check out some books about WDW, and was quickly sent in to a panic with how much information there was about this trip. I started to scour blogs on tips and it started to feel like I was taking my family to another country to live and survive. I started to get a little scared. I eventually shook that off and started a spreadsheet with anything that popped out as a unique tip or what to pack or what to wear or a great snack to try or a great place to eat. People also had awesome strategies of getting around waiting in long lines, great places to rest and the best places to eat. It became quite clear that to have a successful trip to WDW, you needed to plan.
My favorite sites with the best tips were Tipsfromthedisneydiva, the Disboards message boards, allears.net, and disneyfoodblog. Go to each one and bookmark them. They have endless amounts of helpful information, packing checklists and also aid in getting you excited for your trip!

When I received our Magical Express luggage tags in the mail it became REAL.

Even though I loved reading my way through the Disney blogs, It sure would've been nice to have all of these tips one place. ;)

Just so this post doesn't get too scarily long, I am going to start with what to pack and what to wear while you are in Disney & Florida. I am from Iowa and it gets hot here, but Florida has a different kind of heat...it's the kind you can see. Any carefully planned cute wardrobe hits the bricks really quick after an afternoon in the Florida sun. You will end up like Chevy Chase in Vacation when he is wandering around the desert with his t-shirt on his head if you don't dress right.

So here is my checklist, in no particular order, on what to pack & wear in Walt Disney World. :)

1. Tennis Shoes-Let's start off with the MOST IMPORTANT thing that you need to wear: TENNIS SHOES. I know, I know they don't go with all your cute little summer clothes. I KNOW, I KNOW your flip flops are super comfy! You can trust me on this. I am a shoe diva and it's beyond hard for me to wear shoes that don't "match" my outfit. Tennis shoes and short socks with shorts? EEEEEEKK! I would've never wore such a thing in a million years if I wouldn't have read this post from the Disney Diva. After one day you couldn't have paid me to put on those flip flops. The walking and the standing is like nothing you have done before. Your feet will have lightning bolts above them at the end of the day! Also don't forget moisture wicking socks. I found some at Target that had a nice lip on the back that kept the back of your shoe from rubbing and they didn't slide at all.

My girls in their tennies! (& looking cute!)

2. Tank Tops-OK so obviously my children aren't wearing tank tops in the picture below, but this is more of a personal endorsement of a tank top that I found and fell in love with and want to share with you. I generally layered a light "cute" tank top over these GENIUS St. John's Bay tanks I found at JCP for $6 each! I swear I bought one in every color. They are made very well with breathe-able fabric and are very flattering and they kept me nice and cool...if that was at all possible.

Me and our girls in front of the fountain from the movie Splash. I LOVE that movie! Oh yeah and I'm wearing a black tank under my Minnie tank I found at Target.

3. Backpack/fanny pack/string backpack-I read this brilliant post from the Disney Diva about how to pack the perfect backpack. Whatever you prefer to take, you will regret it if you aren't equipped with the items on her list. The items that I utilized the most were the Band-Aid Friction Block Stick, the blister band-aids (thanks to my stepdad who didn't take my advice about bringing tennis shoes and paid dearly!), regular band-aids (I found the CUTEST Mickey Mouse Band-Aids at Wal-Mart), my lanyard and pouch, bottles of water, medicines such as Lactaid, Ibuprofen, migraine medicine, etc.

***Hot Side Topic***

What kind of bag do you bring?? This can be quite the debate. I think it's because it's such a personal choice. Some women are all function, while some want a little fashion in their function. Some women wear an old school fanny pack with no shame, and others will just carry their purse. My choice was this backpack because it was lightweight, small, and came in neon yellow. My mom found this fabulous crossbody purse that worked perfect for her. Make sure it's something you can carry around comfortably and that it's perfect for you. :)

My mom's choice

My choice

4. Flip Flops for the water rides-These fit pretty easily in to your backpack. If you know you will be there all day this is a tip that is a must. It's seriously no fun to walk around with soaking wet shoes. On the other side of that, even your most comfy flip flops will give you blisters walking around in Disney with sweating feet, so make sure you change back to your tennis shoes afterward. Trust us on this one. :)

***Packing Tip***

5. Ziploc Big Bags-I have 3 girls and when you start packing all of those tiny colorful summer clothes, they all start to look the same. What goes to who? Mom where are the shorts that go to this shirt? Are these my socks? I could hear it already. So I came up with a brilliant solution that I believe I will utilize every time I travel with my children in the future. I bought these giant Ziploc bags and rolled up each girls wardrobe for the week inside. So when we got to Disney world, each girl had their own bag. (they even have handles!) They packed right on top of each other in the suitcase perfect. The best part of this plan is that instead of re-packing the clothes in the bag on the way home, I used the bag to put their swimsuits and wet clothes in for the trip home.

Quinn's wardrobe for the week, complete with accessories!

6. Dollar Store Pop-Up Hampers-I bought two of these hampers from the Dollar Tree and left them in the package. They were no bigger than a paper plate space wise. I put one in the kids room and one in ours. (we stayed at a family suite) When the kids would take off their little socks or their dirty clothes after their shower, I had them put them in the hamper. That way we didn't have dirty clothes all mixed in the suitcase and it just kept the room neater.

7. Freebies-If you read my post about how I use my free samples, you should start doing this now. This is actually one of my favorite tips. I had been stockpiling my freebies for this trip for almost a year and had some great ones to take which included deodorant, luxury shampoo & conditioner, face cleanser & moisturizer, body lotion, laundry detergent (they have washers & dryers on property), Shout wipes, Kleenex tissues, Aveda hair gel (for the hubby), shave gel, sunscreen & body wash. One thing that you might not realize is how the Florida humidity will frizz out the straightest of hair (mine). Even though those little Mickey Ear topped bottles of shampoo & conditioner are super cute, they aren't the best for my hair. I had samples of great moisturizing shampoo that helped keep the frizzies at bay. I also need actual face cleanser for my sensitive skin in leau of the "facial" bar they provide for you. These samples all fit in one bag and you don't have the fear of them busting open like you do travelling with bottles of shampoo. Just remember to put a small pair of scissors in the bag...those packages can be a bit stubborn!

Where my freebies go until it's time to travel.

8. Room Spray-I am so glad I packed this! I bought a bottle of Febreze for the bathroom. Our room had a bit of a sour smell to it when we first got in. This spray helped take that smell out. I also used it on the hampers to keep the dirty clothes from smelling up the room.

9. Sunscreen & Solarcaine-I know sunscreen is a given. If you need it, they of course sell it everywhere but at double the cost. Solarcaine was something I picked up as a "just in case" item. I smiled to myself when I saw it on the same double cost shelf with the sunscreen in the parks. Even with applying sunscreen, my shoulders still got red and sore. Solarcaine saved my skin. Not only did it keep my skin more comfortable, but it kept it from peeling and turned in to a nice tan. And who doesn't want a little tan when going to Florida?

10. Small plastic Ziploc bags-Grab a handful you can't imagine how important these little guys are. I had these in my backpack and used them to put my phone in on a water ride. I also used them to package up Disney Dining Plan desserts that weren't ready to be eaten to take back to our hotel room.

11. Personal Misting Fan-They sell these in the parks for $14.95 and they are really large. People buy them like crazy because it's so darn hot! My great gals over at the Disney Diva blog tipped me off on getting your own fan. At first the only ones that I found were too large for my taste. I ended up finding this smaller version at Walmart that had a clip on the end for $4.97. When you are standing in a hot line, or waiting for the bus, you wouldn't believe how much of a difference this little fan makes. It takes the edge off just enough tokeep you from melting. Now, I didn't use the misting feature on this fan but my children did and loved it! To me, this fan is a MUST. I believe these are a seasonal item at WalMart, but they are also available on Amazon.

12. Ponchos-Every single blog will tell you not to forget your ponchos and that is for a reason. You are in Florida and it's more than likely going to rain at least once. They sell ponchos in the park for $8, and they are a bit nicer and have a cute Mickey on the back, but $8?? I have a family of 5 and shelling out $40 on ponchos is not something that would make me very happy. Instead, I bought us each one for our backpacks at the Dollar General for $1.25. And yes, we used them. :)

13. Autograph Books-Now, they sell these in the parks, and maybe you want a really cute one for your child and that is completely fine. I opted to make my own. The kids loved them and they worked perfectly fine. Make sure you also bring a big fat Sharpie because those big Mickey hands have trouble holding little pens and pencils. The characters have cute autographs and they will show up so much nicer if it's easier for them to write.

14. Chafing Gel-If you have any tendency to chafe, make sure you buy some chafing gel. I don't generally chafe but I bought it and used it anyway. I'm not a big fan of suffering from something that could've been prevented.

15. Wrinkle Release Spray-Even with the best folding techniques, sometimes a shirt can get a few lines in it. This works wonders in a pinch!

These tips are optional, but recommended:

Lanyard with pouch-Now I was not keen on wearing one of these at first. But I quickly realized that since your Magic Card holds your tickets/room key/dining plan/how you acquire your fast passes, it was a sense of comfort to have them around my neck for easy fast access. For fast passes, I was the runner. I would take everyone's cards and leave my family somewhere to rest or to ride another ride while I weaved my way through people to get there and back quickly. You need one card per fast pass, but only one card to use dining credits for the whole family.
I got mine on Ebay-I loved this one!

String backpacks for each child-My children are older (14, 12, & 7) so letting them carry their own string backpacks in to the park was wonderful. They carried their autograph books, bottles of water, misting fans, ziplock bags, Itouch's (for picture taking), and their flip flops. It was also great for them to carry their own souvenirs in. Since we didn't have a stroller, this was the option I chose to go with.

I chose this one for one of my daughters who loves Pikachu!

***Extra Side Tip***

When you are planning a trip this expensive, all of these extras can really add up. One solution I had for this was to give some of these fun items for gifts at holiday time. For Christmas, I got each girl a string backpack that fit their personality and a Disney stuffed animal. For Easter I got them a Disney bag (that I used for the Easter basket) to use as their carry-on for the plane. I filled it with plane essentials (Disney coloring books, snacks, Itunes GC's to load up their Itouch's for the trip). Since I booked the trip a year in advance it added to the excitement of our trip while helping me space out the costs of the extras.

At the airport on our way to Disney!

***Extra, Extra Side Tip***

My girls brought their Disney stuffed animals I had bought them for Christmas to Disney. These were from the Disney Store online and were the same ones they sell in the park. There are tons of hot deals around the holidays so this is a great time to get any Disney gear. I got each one for $9.95 with free shipping. When we would return to our room from a day in the park, housekeeping would "take care" of their little friends. It was always a fun surprise!

How we found Dumbo & Cheshire Cat after returning from a day in the park!

Is your head swimming yet? Don't worry it seems like a lot but when you get there you are so grateful to have these items I promise you! Have you been to Disney? What is one of your must haves??

Stay tuned for more about our trip and tips to survive your first trip!

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Menu Plan Monday-Back from Disney!

Sorry for my absence...I was on a family vacation to Disneyworld! I will not only be posting about my trip, but also a sort of "survival guide" for a first timer like I was. This vacation was a once in a lifetime trip for my family, and I took the planning of it extremely seriously. I will share what worked, and what didn't. Look for that in the very near future!

So here I am back from Disney and I'm pretty sure my entire family is having Disney Dining Plan withdrawal. We really loved having too much food all of the time. Hey-we are eaters what can I say.

My theme this week is frugal & fast. Wait, isn't that everyone's theme every week? I guess I'm still a bit worn out and I am in a real get 'er done mode at the moment. Here's how I'm going to get 'er done.

Monday-Baked Cheese Cavatelli & Salad-boy doesn't that sound fancy? It's basically marinara mixed in with whole grain pasta and topped with cheese on top and tossed in the oven for a few.

Tuesday-Remember that healthy Hamburger Helper recipe from Iowa Girl Eats? I'm making it again. The ingredients are so simple and it is beyond delicious. I serve mine with green beans over the top.

Wednesday-Pizza Titanics-my gigantic pizza boats! The kids adore these!

Thursday-Cheese Quesadillas & Salsa-I'll try to sneak some veggies if I can.

Friday-Tombstone Extra Cheese Pizza-Family Fave!

Saturday-Groupon Date Night!

Sunday-Freezer Potluck!

I'm ready to scour Menu Plan Monday at http://www.orgjunkie.com/ for some awesome new recipes to try in the next few weeks. Now that Disney is done I can relax a bit and get back to normal life. Have a wonderfully delicious week!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

DIY Disney Autograph Books

I am taking my little family to Disney world (yay!) so of course I have been researching like CRAZY. There are some Disney addicts/experts that are kind of enough to share their advice from every angle on the net. One of my fave sites is Tips From the Disney Diva. Her advice is very practical and I feel like I owe her a check for the potential money and sanity saved!

Because I want the full Disney experience and I didn't go the take-your-own-food-in-the-park-and-stay-off-site-to-save-money route, I'm looking for other ways to cut down costs. When I saw the suggestion to make your own autograph book I knew I wanted to do it. I figure the kids will HAVE to have autographs but what will they do with them after? Now the Disney Diva's version takes care of that problem by making it an autograph/photo album which is genius. I almost went with that too but instead I decided to do an even thriftier version as I'm really terrible with pictures and I would probably never follow up and put the pictures in the album when we got home. You have to know thyself. :)

So this is the version I came up with. I'm sure it's not as cute as the $25 versions sold in the park, but I can think of better, more utilized things to spend $25 on. So my version came in around $4 per. Not bad for something that will serve it's purpose and possibly end up in a drawer somewhere.

First I started with a pad of blank index cards that I got for $1.25. I bought a pack of stickers (3 sheets) for $1.00, and I bought sheets of Duck Tape for $1.33.

I already owned Sharpies from another project.

The Duck Tape sheets have a nice grid on the back, so I lined it up to know where to cut.

Instead of tracing I just made a little dot.

I zipped through them pretty fast.

Peel them off and stick them on. Thanks to the grid they fit perfect!

Instantly transformed!

Then I decorated. If I had to do it again, I may have used lighter colors of Duck Tape since the Sharpie had trouble showing up. I used the rest of the stickers on the inside of each page throughout the book.

Since they are kind of small and the characters have big slippery hands, I bought this clipboard for $1.00 to attach it to. They do recommend a Sharpie or fat marker so the characters can grip them easier! These will fit perfect in their drawstring backpacks that they will carry through the park.

Maybe not as cute as I would like them to be, but my grand total to $3.91 + tax. :)

Have you ever been to Disney world? Disneyland? Are you addicted? Any advice??