Friday, May 31, 2013

Flying Alone with a Toddler and a Preschooler....Again

In January my girls and I flew to Walt Disney World to meet my best friend for a girls' vacation.  In May we repeated the journey, this time to visit with Granny and Granddaddy at their second home.  With a little planning and a little luck, flying went well.  May was Tink's fourth flight to WDW and Minnie's second (sixth and fourth trips, respectively.)  My husband couldn't join us on either holiday but is a good sport to go to work while we play.  He thinks we should travel while we can before the girls are tied down to school.  But I digress....(and aren't I lucky?!?)

Growing Up Disney: 10 Tips for Flying Alone with Small Children.  I'll have to remember these!

Here are my top ten tips on flying with small children.

1. Think Outside of the Box
We live in Eastern North Carolina and there are a few small regional airports available to us.  However, I book us on flights with Southwest out of Raleigh/Durham.  For one, their prices tend to be a little lower and the lack of bag fees helps since we are absolutely checking luggage.  Secondly, from this larger airport, we can get a direct flight from RDU to MCO.  Yes, we have more travel time on the road but driving in the van is much easier than flying in terms of the girls.  We leave nice and early and with any luck, at least one of them will nap on the way over.  My husband and I used this trick before kids as well.  We lived in Tulsa but drove to Kansas City for a direct and less expensive flight.

2. Stick to the Schedule
If you have multiple flight times available, I find that working around mealtimes and naptimes is helpful.  For older kids, killing some time on the flight with lunch might be good, but I'd avoid it with the little set if you can, too messy. We get to the airport in time to have a meal right before we leave so we don't board with empty tummies or low blood sugar.  And I've been fortunate that Minnie napped on both return flights so those were easy after take-off.

{I started this article prior to our trip in May.  That journey that makes me giggle a bit at my previous advice.  It's good advice but there weren't as many flight times this go-round so we ended up with a 10:30 am departure, landing just after noon in Orlando.  That doesn't sound so bad but we all were up earlier than usual and it just didn't work for meal or nap times. We were all in meltdown by the time we boarded Magical Express.  They behaved well on the flight but it fell apart later and honestly it was as much me as them.  Thankfully, Minnie finally got a nap and I let Tink play with some electronic device while I enjoyed the relative quiet. Given the options, we did the best we could but I shouldn't have planned a dinner for that evening.  I'll chalk that up to being overly excited and optimistic.  May just proved that a good flight time can really help.}

3. Cheat
Yes, I know children aren't supposed to have much "screen time" but if you have any electronic device, load that bad boy up with kiddo stuff.  Thanks to getting direct flights our time in the air is pretty short and I see no harm in watching a movie or playing a game or two.  I look for new games and shows prior to our trip.  The girls each have a set of headphones and I bought a splitter so they could both listen to the same show.  We should practice with the headphones at home more before the trip.  Neither of my girls has been all that interested in headphones as a toddler but Tink did well with hers.  We are an iFamily and I traveled with an iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch as well as Tink's LeapPad loaded up with a new TinkerBell book she had not seen previously.  And just to cover my bases, I pack an external battery in my carry-on.

I also carry candy.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  Ha ha.  Kidding.  My stash of Smarties and some small clearance priced Easter packs of jelly beans saved the day on several occasions.

And lest you think I just fill my kids with sugar and give them electronics, we do carry healthier snacks (natural applesauce and raisins), paper, pens, stickers, and a new trick in the old diaper bag...pipe cleaners.

4. Use All Available Resources
My preschooler is quite easy on an airplane but the toddler is a bit more of a challenge.  It's a strange environment and she doesn't want to follow the "get on the plane and sit down" rule.  When we managed to score a free seat for my lap child, that little extra bit of space was really nice.  While the rest of the plane was finding seats, Minnie was rearranging the magazines from one seat back pocket to another and getting out some last minute wiggles.  In May we had full flights both directions so we had tighter quarters.  I tried my best to keep her occupied before takeoff with a faceless air-sickness bag puppet (note to self: have a pen ready next time) and looking for puppies and kittens in the SkyMall catalog.  And that box of jellybeans may have come out...

5. Cups and Snacks
I carry a sippy cup on the plane for each girl that is about half filled with water, after security, of course. They can drink from them during takeoff to relieve ear pressure and when the apple juice comes around later, I have lidded cups ready to go. And it goes without saying but pack plenty of snacks.  Goldfish, raisins, cheese sticks, applesauce pouches, Mickey fruit snacks and peanut butter cups (jif to go, not reese's) have all worked well for us.  Be sure to carry something for yourself too.  That tiny pack of pretzels won't improve anyone's mood.

6. Stroller
My husband thinks I should check our stroller with the luggage.  Granted I don't particularly need it in Raleigh since so far they have been kind enough to let him have a pass to help us to the gate.  But I know the baggage crew is working fast and furious and I prefer not to have my stroller among the items they are throwing about so I gate check our strollers.  Plus, it's REALLY nice to have the ability to corral one or both of the kids.  My sanity is worth lugging carrying the stroller with me.  The line for security in Orlando can be a half hour and having the toddler safely in her stroller is a big help.  I would be a wreck if I had to fight to keep both girls in line for that long plus deal with our luggage, paperwork, etc.  My strollers fold easily and go through the x-ray machine without issue.

In January, we had a City Mini Double from Simple Stroller Rental waiting at Old Key West for us so I took my smallest stroller, a Maclaren Volo.  Minnie had a place to sit in the airport and it turned out to be a great back-up to the full-sized double.  Last fall, I broke down and bought ANOTHER stroller.  It's a Joovy Caboose Ultralight and was a steal at  This is a fantastic Disney stroller for my girls and worked great in the airport.  For the trip home, I made the stroller smaller by putting the canopy and snack tray in my checked suitcases.  Tink didn't need to ride after we arrived at RDU which allowed the stroller to also be a handy luggage cart.

7. Go for the Burn
We all know keeping kids cooped up for too long is a recipe for disaster so I try to let them burn off a little energy when they can.  Going for a walk in our terminal and finding an unused gate for some playtime have worked for us.  Also, don't forget that most, if not all, of the WDW resorts have places for kids to color and/or watch movies.  My kids enjoy coloring at Community Hall or watching old cartoons in Papa's Den at Old Key West while waiting for Magical Express.

8. Ask for Help
I don't know what the rules are on this but so far Southwest Airlines has allowed my husband to go to the gate with us on the three times I have flown alone with one or both girls.  I'm fairly sure we have reached the limit since Minnie will soon be two, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

This was just offered to me, but Southwest also allowed me to skip the main line at ticketing in Orlando since all I needed was a boarding pass for Minnie.  Our luggage had been checked at Old Key West.  I was sent to the upgraded area and only waited a minute or so for the next employee to be available.  If someone is working at the beginning of the queue, ask very nicely and see what happens.

9. Deputize Your Older Children
Tink has recently turned four and wants to do things for herself and be a helper.  I told her that I was going to need her to be a good listener and help me at the airport.  She carried her preschool backpack with a few toys for herself and little sister.  Tink held Minnie's hands while I was putting the stroller on the security conveyor belt.  I really appreciated my little assistant.

10. Take a Deep Breath
Even if the kids are going nuts and you can't wait to get to your destination, know that in the grand scheme of things, this is likely a very small portion of your trip.

That's my list.  What did I miss that works for you?  Please share so we can all learn from one another. Thanks! ~Amy

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Photo Flashback!!! -- Rex!

Who doesn't love our old friend and former Star Tours pilot, Rex. No one gets lost like he does. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Five Photos: US FLAGS in Honor of Memorial Day

In Memory and Gratitude to those who have sacrificed so we may have the Freedom we enjoy. 
A few of the American Flags I have photographed at Walt Disney World.

American Flags may be found all over Walt Disney World but especially on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom.
Magic Kingdom Train Station
Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom
Liberty Bell in Liberty Square
 Ok.  The Liberty Bell is not on Main Street USA.  
I think it fits well in this Five Photo on Memorial Day.
Magic Kingdom Town Square
Flag Retreat at Town Square in the Magic Kingdom
If you have never seen the Flag Retreat Ceremony in Town Square in the Magic Kingdom, it is worth taking the 15 minutes it takes to watch.  It has varied over the years from the times I have watched.  They have had dove release as part of they ceremony, the Dapper Dans have sung, and the Main Street Philharmonic has played.   I have seen active duty military visiting the park take part in the ceremony as in this photo from October 2008.  I have also seen retired military take part in the ceremony.

To all who have served, Thank you, for your service to our country.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Minnie Moms: What Does a Typical WDW Day Look Like for Your Family?

I just returned from a Walt Disney World vacation with my parents and my two daughters, ages 4 and almost 2.  This was the 4th trip within the last year but every time we go we seem to have a different group of adults and of course, the girls are changing quickly at these young ages.  As I was thinking through how to structure our days, I asked the Minnie Moms for tips on how they do things.  Thanks to the ladies for sharing their ideas!  I'll share what did and did not work for us soon.  ~Amy

Natalie:  Typical Vacation Days with the Henley Family

Touring with the Henley Family is really not for the faint of heart.  We head to the parks and attach the attractions, taking in as much as we possibly can in the time allotted.  We walk fast, moving from one thing to the other.  Here are the details for the travels with my huband, my son (age 7) and myself:

·         Before we leave for vacation, I have found which theme park we will tour each day.  This may be driven by dining reservations or by events my family hopes to attend on a particular day.
·         We wake at some point and head to the theme parks.  We are armed with everything we will need in order to make it though the entire day.  If we believe it will rain that day, we carry all gear to prepare for that.  If we are heading to an event (such as the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party), we take our costumes with us as well. 
·         Breakfast is typically had in the room or as we make our way to the theme parks.  As you may know, I wrote the book Strategies for Paying for Disney where I detail a variety of ways to save money so you can afford Disney at all or more often.  I found in past vacations that eating breakfast in the quick service restaurants was often so crowded, expensive and time consuming that my family decided that the actually preferred eating in the room instead.
·         Lunch is often times purchased from the quick service restaurants.  Some days, if traveling just my son and I, I also pack my lunch and bring it in the parks.  My son and I love having a picnic in the parks and again, it is really a great time and money saver!
·         By dinner time, my family wants to sit down and have a hearty meal at a table service restaurant.  We love the time sitting and cooling off out of the hustle and bustle of the day.
·         My family (when not traveling with my husband) typically sees the parade and/or fireworks show.  If traveling with my husband, we forgo the shows and see more attractions during this time.
·         My family does NOT spend much down time at the parks.  We are going from one attraction to the next.  We typically stay at one theme park per day but sometimes hit up more than one.  One of our favorite tricks is to hit up EPCOT for the full day, leaving right after Illuminations.  Next, we head over to the Magic Kingdom quickly to see the presentation of Wishes.  You have to be quick or you will miss the beginning of Wishes. 
·         The family nearly always stays at any park that is open until around midnight.   Sometime after midnight, my family becomes pretty tired and ready to head back to the room.  We find that the hours after the fireworks are the very best for seeing attractions.  The parks are typically the most empty and are not hot!  Great for touring!

My entire family loves this way of touring.  Even my son loves to stay late and sleep in the next day.  Just discussing the fun makes me want to pack and head south now!

Danielle:  Hi Amy, how great that you've been able to visit the World so often this year!! 

My children are also currently 4 and 2,  so I can tell you what has worked best for us.

We are a rope drop family. We like to try and stick to the kids' regular routine as much as possible on vacation so the kids are usually up early. We order groceries for breakfasts and snacks from Garden Grocer ahead of time, and so we eat breakfast in our DVC villa.

Being there for rope drop allows us to get through most of the rides we are interested in by noon. At that point, we either choose to eat a quick-service meal at the Park or return back to the resort to eat there. After lunch, we may head for some swimming at the resort's pool, and then nap time is a must for my 2 year old, but the 4 year old often falls asleep during her "quiet time" as well.

The kids are usually up by around 5pm, and then we usually head back into a Park for a table - service dinner. Don't get me wrong, sometimes we prefer just to eat at the quick-service location at the resort for a more relaxed evening. On those evenings, we'll partake in the resort's activities, such as a movie under the stars. If we're in a Park for the evening, though, we usually head back to the resort before any fireworks or parades start. We've seen them so many times that it's just not worth the wait for transportation at Park closing once everyone leaves the park at the same time. We'll usually do one evening parade or fireworks show per trip.

We don't head into the Parks every day, either. For about half the week, we have "pool days" where we simply enjoy the resort's amenities and head into the Parks at dinner time.

Because we visit the World so often, we seldom have "busy" trips anymore. We enjoy picking and choosing our favourite rides and restaurants and allowing ample time to enjoy the resort.

Have fun! 

Janine: We have a very simple way of dealing with a 3 year old - we follow her schedule.  We eat when she wants, we rest when she wants and she goes to bed at her usual time.  I know a lot of people wouldn't think that was much of a holiday but it worked for us.  The few times we tried to take her out to a table service place and a) we had to wait for food and b) it was later than she normally eats, we had such a meltdown that we ended up leaving and taking the food to-go back to the hotel.  

I would also advocate if your child is up early anyway, make the most of it!  Since Tink is an early riser and doesn't care for much for breakfast, it worked out for us to have some cereal in the room and then to the parks for rope drop.

As for staying late for fireworks, she was fast asleep by 7pm in her bed in the hotel, every night.  We are however hoping that there will be a slightly earlier showing of Wishes this year.  Last November there were a few at 8pm, I'm hopeful she will be old enough this year (3 instead of 2) to make it til then.
It can be difficult travelling with others with your children.  We are in the same situation in November, my in-laws will not want to eat at 430pm and be in bed at 7!!! But this is our entire reasoning for staying on-site this year, I can take Tink back to Port Orleans Riverside and feel perfectly safe in my room when my husband and the in-laws go out in the evening.  Everybody is happy then!!!

Many thanks to JanineNatalie, and Danielle for sharing their touring tips this month!   Please check out our Minnie Moms page for past articles and more information about this terrific team. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Photo Flashback! A Father/Daughter Shot 34 Years in the Remaking

My first trip to Walt Disney World was in May 1979.  I was three years old.  One of the pictures DisneyDad has been able to find from that visit was this gem of the two of us with a rather quiet fellow. 
DisneyDad and Amy on Main Street USA in May 1979

We couldn't pass up the chance to recreate this photo with my mini-me, Tink, who has just celebrated her 4th birthday and 6th Walt Disney World vacation.
DisneyDad and Tink on Main Street USA in May 2013

Not as cute as we once were, but a photo I'll cherish just the same.  A PhotoPass photographer took this with my camera and really seemed to enjoy being a part of this special photo.  If nothing else, it was a break from his normal routine.
DisneyDad and Amy on Main Street USA in May 2013

Thank you, Dad, for a lifetime of fun memories!  I look forward to many more!! ~Amy

Focused on the Magic

Monday, May 20, 2013

Five Photos: SIGNS!

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?
"Signs" -- Five Man Electrical Band - 1970

Growing Up Disney Five Photos

Signs are everywhere at Walt Disney World.  We read them.  They are informative.  They tell us where we are, what the attraction is and where we can eat.  But how much attention do we actually pay to the details, the "architheming", that goes along with them?  Disney makes sure each sign fits the theme of the attraction or the area of the parks.  Below are some pictures I took recently of signs.

growing up disney world columbia harbor house
 Signs show you where to eat.

growing up disney world Norway ride
 Signs tell you about attractions.

growing up disney world new fantasy land
 One of the new area of New Fantasyland.

growing up disney world mad tea party ride
 Signs show you rides.

growing up disney world magic kingdom
Speedway in Tomorrowland

growing up disney world Alice in Wonderland
 I like the Cat in this one.

growing up disney world taco salad
Signs follow the theme of the area.  
I don't think you find too much "Grog" here 
but the Taco Salads are good!

growing up disney world magic kingdom Dolewhip

And lastly, here is one of my Favorite signs....
Dole Whip is HERE!!!
(this is the photo I have as the desktop background on my PC)

Ok.  there are a "few" more than FIVE photo's in this "Five Photo" post.  Disney World works hard to theme each sign just right.  Take time to enjoy them the next time you walk past a sign.  They are not there just to "block out the scenery".


Oh!  And one more sign.....

growing up disney world magic kingdom service animals

Friday, May 17, 2013

Good Bye Disney World

Today is breakfast at Olivia's at Old Key West and we leave Walt Disney World to return home.   It's been great fun with the girls.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

We are on our way!

The girls and I are on our plane about to head to Orlando.

Mickey, see you real soon!!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Trip Planning with My Disney Experience - Part 2

My experience with My Disney Experience.

I work in IT so I do a lot of work on computers (I basically live on one at work), so it is natural to go on line and work with managing my account on the DVC Members web site, and now with my reservation integration with My Disney Experience.   I have felt right "at home" using the site.

Disney has allowed making reservations on line for years.  You can go on line and book your room, tickets, and purchase Disney Dining Plan.  It has only been fairly recently that Disney Vacation Club members could do the same thing by booking with their Vacation Points.  My Disney Experience has put all the capability of managing your resort reservations together with your dining reservations and integrated it with a iPhone app.  You can invite others to use My Disney Experience to "plan" along with you.

Amy and I have used our shared My Disney Experience to make dining reservations for our trip.  We have put events and activities on our shared calenders and added notes.  So far everything has worked well as we have planned our trip while we are over 600 miles apart.

The integration between the web version and the iPhone app have proved to be pretty seamless.  There are differences in how they work and display data but both do pretty much the same thing.  Dining reservation made on one, show immediately on the other.  So as we have been doing our planning everything shows on My Disney Experience.

With our trip approaching it is time to do Online Check-In.  It is now available 60 days out from the start of your reservation.  This past week I did my check-in.  My Disney Experience handles this too.  Online Check-in allows you to go ahead and handle everything you would do at the Front Desk ahead of time.  Resort check-in becomes a quick process (once you stand in line to get to the desk).  I did my check-in on my pc.  I don't know if you can do the same thing on an iPhone.

Amy decided to cancel one of the character breakfasts she had booked.  When she canceled it, it was removed from My Disney Experience.

My Disney Experience has been a nice tool to work with Amy on planning our trip next week.  

Have you done any of your trip planning on MDE?  If so let us know what you think about it.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Photo Flashback! Carousel Fun

We are leaving for another Walt Disney World adventure in a few short days. Last May, Tink and Minnie had a blast on their first carousel ride. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Trip Prep: One Week Out

We are down to one week before our next Walt Disney World vacation.  We have been busy this week getting ready for this trip, having the kitchen painted, and enjoying a visit from my husband's parents.  Here's what I accomplished toward our trip during this past week.
  • Bought clothes for me
  • Made list of items to go in park bag(s)
  • Used diaper/camera bag to test it out and condense as much as possible
  • Worked on park schedule a bit, deciding to cancel breakfast ADR at Hollywood and Vine
  • Started packing the girls' clothes
  • Started watching weather forecasts 
  • Looked for more disposable bibs and decided against them. Don't think Minnie will leave them on. Will carry my JJ Cole snap bib. 
Minnie sporting our favorite bib