Friday, August 31, 2012

First Haircuts at Harmony Barber Shop

Walt Disney World is full of interesting facts, firsts and trivia.  One of the lesser known tidbits, is that there is a real working barber shop just to the left of the Emporium that does more "First Haircuts" than anywhere else in the world.  Known as the Harmony Barbershop, and decked with a traditional barber pole outside, anyone can have a trim on a walk in basis.  If you just got a pre-trip snip at home, you can go simply to get colored hair gel and glitter if it suits you.  But their speciality is truly the First Haircut, and currently priced at only $18 its one of the better deals at Walt Disney World. 

Our DS #3 then age 2 getting distracted with Mickey stickers. See those baby curls in back?
Depending on the time and season, you may have a short wait, or sometimes even over 30 minutes, but you can always return later in the day.  They have in recent years added the availability of an appointment for first haircuts, and you can call 407-WDW-DINE to make one.  The two occasions that we have visited the Harmony Barber Shop, we have walked-in with little to no wait.

 For first haircuts, they have booster seats to sit the child up nice and high. To keep my son's mind off what was happening, they covered him in those free Mickey stickers you see Cast Members handing out everywhere. He was fascinated, and consequently did just fine with his first haircut experience. While he eyed the hairdresser with a suspicious eye, he did sit still and with no tears allowed her to cut off those sweet baby curls he had in the back.

Because a First Haircut is a special occasion to be remembered, those first curls are carefully kept and wrapped by the cast member in tissue and sealed with a Mickey sticker so you can take a lock with you.  Additionally, you receive a certificate to commemorate the occasion. The best part of the whole deal though, is the included pair of Mickey ears with the embroidered words "first haircut" on the back.  Not only is it a great souvenir, but it makes for fantastic photos for the rest of the day.
He looks a little mistrustful doesn't he?

Tada! Classic Disney moment! I'm pull this one out for the girlfriends....

The baby curls are all gone!

So if you have a little one in your life who has yet to receive their first haircut, try holding out for your next trip to Walt Disney World and make it a truly special "first".  The Cast Members that work there are very good at putting your child at ease, and I'm sure have see probably every different type of reaction a child can have to the situation, so you can feel confident that your child will be in experienced hands. I know we will surely have our new little princess's first trim done on Main Street, when she finally gets some hair....

For a little more information, check out this neat video from the Disney Parks Blog about the Harmony Barber Shop:

Friday, August 3, 2012

Wishes Do Come True...WiFi in Disney Parks!!!!

At long last, after much wishing, something I never actually thought would happen, has! As of this week, Disney has expanded the WiFi it installed at the resorts this past winter to include the Magic Kingdom Park. This is really fantastic news for anyone with a smart phone, and especially those with a WiFi only device such as an iPod touch or iPad.

When at a Disney Resort or in the Magic Kingdom, simply choose the wireless network Disney-Guest and accept the terms and conditions to connect.  Once you have accepted the terms and conditions the first time, it will not continue to prompt you for further connections. This will allow you to access the Internet without using up your precious monthly data plan for your smart phone, causing overage fees. For those with WiFi only devices such as an iPod touch, this will make more apps available for full use while in the Magic Kingdom.  Disney is apparently planning on expanding the WiFi service to all the parks and Downtown Disney over the next few months.

Since we have this great news, I thought I'd give you a little rundown of my favorite apps to use for both planning and enjoying a Disney trip.

1. Walt Disney World Park Hours - Minneware

This is a simple to use app that shows you park hours for all four theme parks and both water parks up to 6 months in advance.  It includes Extra Magic Hours, and major parades and fireworks shows such as Wishes and Fantasmic. I really like this app for planning my vacation and deciding which park we will visit each day.  I base my dining reservations and weekly plan of attack on park hours, extra parties and morning extra magic hours, so having that information quick and easy to get to is important.

2. Disney World Dining - VersaEdge Software

I use this app A LOT. I also have it on my iPad which has an even nicer interface.  It will allow you to see the menu for almost every restaurant at Walt Disney World.  This app was useful before WiFi even on an iPod because you download the menus, you could search for info without needing to connect to the Internet. Now that WiFi is available it is even more helpful with its "near me" feature that will find your in-park location and show you the food venues nearest to you.  I also love the "Food Finder" tool. If little Timmy is just aching for a Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar, the "Food Finder" will tell you where all the ice cream carts are located in the park you are in!  I usually use this app before a trip to plan our dining reservations, and then I use it while in the parks to choose which quick service restaurant we feel like eating at based on the menu.  Once in Epcot, my then 3 year old really wanted PB&J for lunch. Using the app, I was able to find out that Kringle Bakery in Norway had PB&J kids meals, without having to walk to each quick service place until I found it. A big time saver. And we all know, a fed kid is a happy kid.  There is even a place to keep track of your dining reservations within the app.

3. WDW Lines from Touring

I love "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World", and its offspring, When they added their own app, this Disney planning dynasty just got even better.  While the app is free, full use requires a subscription to Touring Plans for $12.  Although the price has increased a bit over the last several years, I truly feel that the cost is worth the information you get, and I do have a subscription. That $12 gets you access to Touring Plans' crowd calender, their actual touring plans, and line wait times while in the parks.  The crowd calender can be used well in advance of your trip to decide the best time to visit the world and the least crowded parks to visit on each day. While I don't follow their advice to the letter, it is a useful planning tool. I fell in love with the Unofficial Guide for their Touring Plans. These plans give you step by step instructions on which attractions to visit in which sequence to minimize your wait times.  They have all types of different plans depending on your travel group: traveling with small children, adults only, happy family, seniors etc...  While at first it may seem a bit crazy to follow a written plan, it is VERY helpful, and it truly does save you a lot of time and headache.  Now you don't all have to crowd around the park map answering the age old question "what do you want to do now?".  You can now use the plans directly off the app when in the parks. Also while in the parks, the "Lines" portion of the app will show you estimated wait times, as well as user inputted times.  For example you and your family are by Splash Mountain, and you are thinking of sending someone to Space Mountain for FastPasses.  You hate to send that person all the way over there just to find out that the FastPasses are gone, or that you have a dining reservation in the middle of the return time.  By using the app, you can usually find out, within reason, of what the approximate FastPass Return time is likely to be, or if the FastPasses are gone before you send your family member across the park.

4. Mouse Memo - C.Y. Borg Neural Net

While not fancy, Mouse Memo is a simple and easy to use app that allows you to keep all of those 14 digit reservation numbers in one location.
There is a place to store Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) times, locations and numbers, as well as any extra entertainment you have reserved, such as boat rental or the like.  There is also a place for your airline reservations, ground transportation (rental car/taxi/Magical Express), and your Disney Resort Hotel accommodations. I just like the ease of having all of my reservation numbers located in the same place, quick and easy.

5.  Southwest Airlines Mobile App

 Okay. You got me, its not a Disney app. That said, this is one app I do use very frequently. In the planning stages I use it to check affordable airfares, and once my flight is purchased I recheck my fare. If the fare for my flight goes down, I can rebook using the app and get a Southwest credit to use for a future flight within the year.  More importantly, I use the app in the parks 24 hours in advance of my return flight in order to secure an early boarding group.  If you have never traveled Southwest, you maybe unaware that there is no assigned seating. You are assigned a boarding group and number, and then you board in that order. Once on board, you choose your seat.  If you are a family of 6, such as we are, getting an early boarding group is essential to being able to sit together and not be separated from your travel party.  If you have a child age 4 or under, you will automatically be allowed to board between groups A and B, but if you have a 5 year old and a 9 year old, and you get boarding group C, you may be separated. I have seen it happen.  Now, you can pay an extra $10 per ticket, and Southwest will have their computer do an automated check-in 24 hours in advance for you, and you will usually get A group.  But for my family, that's $50 going and $50 coming back. I'd rather use the app and do it myself, and spend my money on Dole Whip!

The New Kid on the Block: My Disney Experience

Disney has just released a brand new app called "My Disney Experience" which builds on the "Disney Mobile Magic" app that was previously available.  While first only available to Verizon Wireless customers it was then available to all. My experience with it was limited as its release was after my most recent trip.  My Disney Experience appears to have Park Hours, Times Guide, wait times, maps, and a dining guide. It looks like you can even use it to make dining reservations while in the parks! Hopefully it will be the answer to the all in one Disney vacation app. I will be sure to review it in an upcoming post!

Do you have a favorite app to use for Disney? What do you think of "My Disney Experience"? Post a comment so we can all check it out too!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Back from Neverland

Well, I'm calling it Neverland, but really we have been spending the past several months in BABYLAND! That's right, after much anticipation, the DizKrazKate family now has it's very own Princess.  Since she is the first princess in my husband's family in over 40 years, we are feeling especially blessed and thankful to have her join in our jamboree.  I am currently planning her first trip to Walt Disney World in just about 6 weeks. So my popular posts of "Going to Disney Pregnant Part I and II" will be joined with "Taking a Baby to Disney" when we return. 

Our Little Princess

Also in the works is a post I have been working on all about Disney Vacation Club, how it works, should you purchase and the like.  We have owned DVC since 2009 and we love it!  The post has a lot of information and is getting rather big, so I'll probably release it in parts. If you have ever thought about purchasing a part of the magic, or even just considered renting points to try it out, this post will be for you!

But for some valuable information right now, lets talk about the current Disney promotions, and how you CAN afford a fall trip to Disney!

If you are willing to take your kids out of school this fall, you can get some great deals on a Disney vacation.  For travel to Disney for arrivals August 15th through September 29th, Disney is currently offering a "Room Only Discount".  You can save 15%-20% on values, 20%-25% on moderates, and 20%-30% on deluxe and villa accommodations. Not everything is discounted, and availability is limited, but you can get some very good deals.  Staying at All Star Sports for a week will run you $70/night during the week and $82 on Friday and Saturday.  A total of 7 nights at a Disney Resort for only $578 is about as budget as your going to get at Disney. Adding 6 day base tickets to your room brings your total to $1,645, and adding Disney's Quick Service Dining Plan will bring your total to $2,302.  So for that $2302 price you get 7 nights at Disney with park tickets and food for 2 adults and 2 kids!

Southwest Airlines is also offering some great prices right now, if you are willing to fly on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays you can get some excellent fares.  From Chicago Midway for example, using Southwest's Low Fare Calculator on their website I found fares as low as $81 each way! That gives a family of four round trip airfare from Midway to Orlando International for a grand total of $654!  That is a STEAL in my book!

Add those two deals together and you get a week at Disney for just under $3K. The same week at Caribbean Beach with a 6 day base ticket and Regular Disney Dining Plan will run you $2,993, and after the same airfare your total vacation would be around $3650.  This would include a sit down meal each day of your trip. One thing to consider though under this option is that with the previous deal of Free Dining being offered during this time frame, many of the best table service restaurants such as Chef Mickey's, O'hana, or a princess meal will either be booked, or have very limited availability, so you may be better off skipping the regular Dining Plan and paying cash for your meals, or sticking with the quick service plans.  Remember you can always have groceries delivered to your room and use your mini-fridge to have some meals and snacks at your resort if you are on a budget. If you decide to skip the dining plan and pay for meals a la carte, you can save a tiny bit more by not buying park tickets through Disney and instead purchasing your tickets through UnderCover Tourist.


Currently, Disney is offering their popular Free Disney Dining Plan deal for select dates in October, November and December. For budget travelers, this is one of the best deals around. Now, if you are not on a tight budget, and will be looking to stay at a Deluxe Resort or Disney Vacation Club Villa, the room only discount is usually a better deal, but for those looking to stay at either a value or moderate resort, Free Dining is the way to go! And if you have kids ages 10-17, Free Dining becomes even sweeter.

The current promotion offers free Quick Service Disney Dining Plan (2 quick service and 1 snack per night stay) for those booking a value resort, and free Disney Dining Plan (1 quick service, 1 table service, and 1 snack per night stay) for those staying at a moderate or higher level resort. You must stay a minimum of 3 nights paying rack rate for your room, and buy a minimum of a 2 day park ticket per guest. (no Undercover Tourist savings here)

Free Dining is available for the following check-in dates:
Sept. 30 - Oct. 4, Oct. 19 - Nov. 1, Nov. 9 - 15, Nov. 23 - 29, Dec. 10 - 13
Now you can extend your stay past these dates and continue the promotion, but you MUST check in on a date included in the deal in order to receive the free dining plan.  

If you check-in on Monday October 1st and check out on Tuesday October 9th, you can stay 8 nights at Caribbean Beach with 7 day base tickets and Disney Dining Plan for $2802 in a standard view room!  Airfare for those days on Southwest for 4 round trip tickets is $700 (remember bags fly free on Southwest!).  That means slightly more than a week at Disney with round trip airfare, moderate level resort, character meals, snacks, refillable resort mug and park tickets for a family of 4 for $3,500. Not bad at all.

Why 8 nights you ask? Well, using Southwest's Low Fare Calculator, I could see the best fares for that week were to fly in on Monday and back on Tuesday.  It was actually cheaper to spend an extra day at Disney than to fly back on Monday.  So a little flexibility can save you some serious bucks.

The same deal at at a value resort All Star Music with quick service dining plan (no character meals, just quick service meals) is $2,137. With the same airfare that brings your total to $2,837.Again, AWESOME DEAL!!!

So if you are flexible and can handle doing a mid-week to mid-week vacation, have non-school age kids or are willing to take them out of school, a great Disney Deal can be had. I also saw fantastic airfares out of Chicago and New York the week after Thanksgiving and the first two weeks of December. This is a great time to visit Disney, because the holiday decorations are up and you can even attend Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

DS's 9, 7 and 5 at Kidani Village our Disney Vacation Club "Home" in February 2012
For those of you who have been looking to plan a trip, or waiting for that great deal, I hope this encourages you to plan that magical trip! Feel free to comment below, or even email me directly if you have more questions!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Pregnant and Going to Disney - Part II

To read part I of this blog, click here.

We've just returned from my second trip of this pregnancy and I have lived to tell the tale! We spent 4 nights and 5 days in "The World" and had a magical time. We really didn't have to make too many adjustments due to the pregnancy, and honestly it went even better than I thought it would. I was, by far, not the only pregnant lady at Disney, and we noticed many, many mommies with bellies!

Before Your Trip
Do make sure you have your doctor or midwife's okay to take a vacation during your pregnancy. For most normal, healthy women, it should be perfectly fine, airplane travel included, during the first two trimesters, and early part of the third. If however, you are considered high risk for preterm delivery or dangerous complications, your provider may not like the idea of traveling far from their care. You also don't want to travel too late in your pregnancy when the possibility of delivery is higher. Keep in mind that just because your chart is labeled "high risk" does not mean you cannot travel, it just depends on why, and ultimately you and your provider need to make that decision together. Technically I am considered "high risk" because, ahem..., I'm shall we say a "more experienced" mom. Okay, I'm old, lets just say it, but that was not a reason my midwife felt I needed to forego a vacation.

Make sure that before your vacation, once you have your provider's okay, you bring with you on your trip a current copy of your prenatal records and your medical insurance card. Just in case something happens, your care will be much better (and faster) if the hospital in Florida has your medical records and all your billing information. I hope to give you some good tips to keep you OUT of the hospital, but its good to always have this information with you just in case.

Safe and Smart Travel
If you are driving to the world, be sure to wear your seatbelt at all times. Make sure to wear it low and over your hips, not up over your abdomen. Drink plenty of water along the way. Take frequent stops to get out of the car, use the bathroom, stretch and walk around. While seated you can do some stretching with your feet to encourage return blood flow. Point and flex your toes, and do ankle circles.

If traveling by air, try to book a non-stop flight to minimize travel time. If you are on a long flight, try to get up and walk up and down the cabin a few times to stretch and discourage the possibility of developing blood clots in your legs. If you can score an aisle seat this will make it easier to get up frequently and use the bathroom as well. You can do the same ankle and foot stretches as those traveling by car. It is not uncommon for airplane travel to cause water retention, so note that your legs and ankles may have increased swelling during the flight. Try to put your feet up once you arrive at your destination.

Pack Prepared
Be sure to pack any necessary medications, prescriptions, vitamins, and over the counter medications in your carry on bags. You may want to bring some doctor approved over the counter "just in case" medications as well such as tylenol and tums. Also, remember that you can bring small snacks into the parks, so you may want to bring some healthy snacks to keep your energy up while touring. Some good suggestions would be dried fruit, baked crackers or nuts.

This was also something I mentioned in my first post on traveling while pregnant. Dehydration is a pregnant woman's enemy. It can make you feel awful, cause unnecessary swelling, give you a headache, and even contractions. If you find that you are having swelling, be sure to continue drinking lots of water. Sometimes moms believe if they are swollen, they should drink less, when the opposite is actually true. Try to limit your salty food intake, and keep drinking.

You can bring bottles of water with you into the parks, use a refillable water bottle, purchase bottles of water in the park, or even order FREE glasses of water at counter service locations. If you go to any counter service (AKA quick service) location and ask for a glass of ice water, you can get one free of charge. Yes, it is tap water, but its free, and not much is at DIsney. If you don't like the taste of Orlando tap water, and a lot of peope don't, you can bring those little crystal light/flavored drink packets to add to your water. Avoid caffene as it will only make you more dehydrated. A diet coke, while my beverage of choice, tastes great, it does not actually help you stay hydrated, in fact, it makes you more DEhydrated. As we have a DVC Villa, we had Garden Grocer deliver a case of bottled water to our resort, and so I always brought two bottles of water with me into the parks.

Frequent Bathroom Breaks
If you are doing a good job staying hydrated, you will probably get a world tour of Disney World restrooms. It is also important to empty your bladder frequently, so make the time. You may want to prepare by using the bathroom before getting on any long lines or attractions that may take you away from a bathroom for a while, such as the Liberty Belle Riverboat or American Adventure attraction in Epcot.

Slow Down and Take it Easy
Even if you are an experienced Disney Parks commando like myself, pregnancy is going to require you to slow down a bit. Try to do half days, or take a mid-day break to put your feet up or take a nap. When moving through the parks, you may have to slow your pace a bit. Send someone else to go for fastpasses, while you slowly make your way to another attraction.

Be especially mindful that as your belly is getting bigger, your center of gravity is shifting, making falls more likely. Watch your footing around the pool and unfamiliar bathrooms. Be sure to use handrails and take your time when getting on and off attractions. You may have ridden Peter Pan's Flight 30 times, but getting into that boat is going to be a bit more tricky this time.

Rides and Attractions
I was too big to actually get on a horse, so I just stood by.
As mentioned in my first post on traveling while pregnant, you will need to scale back some of the usual attractions. You should definitely avoid anything with a G-force, such as Everest, or anything with the would "Mountain" in it. Depending on your comfort level, you may want to avoid other attractions as well. I used my rule of thumb which is if there is no reason to not bring on an infant, there was no reason I could not enjoy the ride. That said, I could see that some mommies might be wary about riding attractions such as Malestrom, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Kilamajaro Safari. Talk to your provider before your trip about any concerns, and when in doubt, sit it out.

There are lots of wonderful things you can do while your family rides attractions you cannot. This may be some of the last time you have to wander by yourself for a long time, so enjoy it! While my older two and hubby took several rides on Space Mountain, I took my younger son on the Peoplemover, and Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. The night they all went on, and subsequently got stuck on Splash Mountain, I had a leisurely ride on the Liberty Belle Riverboat around the Rivers of America, and then did some shopping throughout Frontierland and Fantasyland. Don't feel like you need to sit on the bench outside the ride. With the ease of cell phones and texting, make plans to meet up after and enjoy the time to explore Walt Disney World on your own.

Aches and Pains
While some ladies sail through pregnancy feeling great, most of us do suffer from what I like to tell patients is a case of APP, "Aches and Pains of Pregnancy". This can range from aching feet, back, hips, pelvic joint pain, carpel tunnel, headaches, and difficulty sleeping due to waking up in pain.

With your doctor's okay, its generally considered safe to take Tylenol (acetaminophen) during pregnancy for aches and pains, headache and the like. I can tell you from personal experience however, that for moderate hip and pelvic joint pain in pregnancy, it tends to not help too terribly much, but at least its something to try.

Bring several pairs of safe, comfortable shoes. To minimize aching feet, you should bring at least 2 different pairs of comfortable walking shoes. Since you may experience swelling of your feet in Florida, make sure they have a little room to grow. Although I did alternate between 3 different pairs, I did find that my feet hurt more than a normal Disney vacation. You also want to make sure your shoes will offer stability and won't increase the risk of slipping or falling.

If you find you have been having pelvic and hip pain before your trip, you may find that better or worse during. I have found for long shifts at work, that a maternity support belt works wonders. It helps to hold your belly up, and your hip bones in and together. Since I have been wearing mine regularly for work, I brought it with me on vacation. Surprisingly, although I did still have some discomfort, especially after sitting down for a while, I found that overall, all of the exercise actually seemed to help the pain! I think my joints feel better than before the trip, and I'm going to try to make a good effort to walk on the treadmill several times a week to keep it up. Good proof that exercise in pregnancy really can be helpful to aches and pains.

One thing I wish I had thought better about ahead of time, was my bedtime pillow situation. I recommend either bringing along an extra small pillow for a belly wedge, or requesting extra pillows from the front desk of your resort. I unfortunately did not think of this until the kids were in bed and I was laying down to sleep the first night of the trip. At that point I didn't want to go downstairs or call for my pillows and risk waking the kids. Thankfully my loving hubby gave me one of his. At this point I really sleep best with two pillows under my head, and one on each side to support my tummy and back when sleeping. That's a lot of pillows. I ended up not getting any extra from the desk however, because we bought one of the ever popular Pillow Pets, a Simba model, for our youngest. I then took his pillow! I slept so much better that night with my full supply of pillows.

Me and the little guy on the PeopleMover, while the big boys rode Space Mountain.
So, while your friends may think you crazy for venturing to Walt Disney World during your pregnancy, it is entirely possible to have a safe and fun trip if you are willing to plan ahead and make a few modifications. So go ahead and book that trip before baby comes, or don't stress about canceling a pre-scheduled trip when you find out you are expecting. Be safe and have a magical vacation!!!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Making it Through TSA Airport Security With Your Children and Your Sanity!

As I've been packing (okay, trying to  pack) for our Disney mid-winter getaway for the past day or two, I find myself trying to mentally prepare for my least favorite part of any Disney trip.  No, it's not the crowds, the heat, or the price of a Diet Coke, but making my way, with three kids and a hubby through the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at Midway and Orlando International Airports.  I am in no way trying to complain about the job TSA does. I firmly believe that their purpose is an important one, and that the rules and regulations are there to at least try to keep us a little bit safer in a post 9/11 world.  But no matter what, getting the entire family though, and put back together at the other side gives me palpatations.  There are some things you can do however, to make it smoother and a little bit less horrific.

Sign for the Family Friendly Line
 Some larger airports have special lines specifically for families.  If this is available, I recommend it for several reasons, even if you feel the other lines are shorter.  First of all, the TSA workers in the family line are ready for families. They will be more accomodating and helpful when you are there with strollers, car seats, and crying 3 year olds who don't want to go through the checkpoint.  Also, as you are having trouble getting little junior though the checkpoint, another family behind you who is in the same situation is likely to be more patient than a business frequent flyer who wants to know why you didn't get in the family line.

When you first approach security, you will have to present your boarding passes and photo ID to a TSA agent.  Have these items out and ready to hand over.  Children under the age of 18 are not required to show ID.  After the TSA agent has handed these items back to you, step a few feet forward to make room for the family behind you, and safely place your ID's and boarding passes back in your carry on.

Lets talk about shoes.  Thankfully, children under 12 no longer have to remove their shoes through security. I honestly think this was probably one of the most stressfull parts for me.  Getting the shoes off is bad enough, but getting them back on was a nightmare.  But older kids and adults must still remove their shoes.  You may want to consider wearing something that is quick and easy to get off and on.  A pair of slip on clogs will be much easier than lacing up those high fashion gladiator sandles.  The faster your shoes are back on, the faster you will be able to start putting your baggage and kids back together.
Also consider your attire when traveling. You may want to avoid large belt buckles, jewlery, or hair accessories that might trigger the metal detector.

Put your extra stuff in the bins boys!
 When you are still at home packing for your trip, remember the 3-1-1 rule for liquids.  All liquids are limited to 3oz, placed in a 1 quart size clear plastic bag.  Each passenger may have 1 of these quart size bags.  Pack this at the top of your carry on.  When you get to the security checkpoint, take these bags out and place them into one of the grey bins.

 I think its best to carry on as few liquids as you can, so we try to place as much as is practical into our checked bags.  If you will be utilizing Disney's Magical Express service, remember that you may not receive your checked bags for up to 4 hours after you arrive at your resort, so keep that in mind when deciding what to put in your 3-1-1 bag. I usually have one or two 3oz containers of sunscreen in case we either go swimming or to the parks before we get our luggage. I also pack any medications we may need in the 3-1-1 bag in case the airline loses our luggage.  If you or your child has a prescription liquid medication that is larger than the 3oz rule, do not place it in your 3-1-1 bag, but declare it at the checkpoint. This has happened to us when one of our little mouseketeers got an ear infection just prior to a trip.  If you are a super-planner like me who brings children's benadryl and tylenol in case of a vacation disaster, you should know that both of these childrens medications are now available in meltaway tabs.  This solves the liquid problem!

If you are traveling with a small child, you are allowed to bring small but reasonable quantities of formula, breastmilk, baby food and juice through security.  This must be declared to security, and they may require you to open the item for furthur inspection.

Gray TSA Bin
 Once you are close enough to the actual checkpoint, there will be long tables, and gray plastic bins.  Essentially, just plan on putting everything in a plastic bin. Everything.  Lots of bins.  If your child has a personal bag, stuffed animal, jacket etc... it MUST go in a bin through the scanner. 

When you get to the line to go through the scanners, its a good idea to start getting prepared. Get the kids out of the stroller, and fold the stroller. Babies must be removed from car seats and carriers/slings.  The baby will go with you though the metal detector, but yes, even your baby bjorn must go into a gray bin and though the scanner.  Remove your jackets or sweatshirts.  They will ask you to remove even a zip up sweatshirt.  It is much easier to remove it ahead of time rather than once it is your turn though the metal detector.  If you can put them inside another bag, that would be ideal. Remove anything large and metal that may trigger the metal detector, such as keys or change in your pockets, or large metal jewlery. Get out your 3-1-1 bag of liquid items, or any larger liquids you are bringing for the children.  Laptops not in a special "checkpoint friendly" approved case must be removed from your bag. Large electronics like full size DVD players, full size game consoles and the like must also be removed from your bags.  Small electronics like cell phones, iPads, book readers, and handheld game consoles can remain inside your other bags.  It is possible that it may trigger your bag to be searched further, but it is not required to be removed.  The less your carry on is cluttered with things, the easier it is for the scanner to make an assesment of what is in there, and the less likely that you will be subjected to an additional search.

Once all of your items are declared, and loaded up on the belt to go through the scanner, its your turn to proceed through the metal detector.  There will be a TSA agent on the other side of the scanner, and they will let you know when to proceed.  I have noticed that the order which the agent prefers the family to come through varies.  Some agents will call older children through first, so you can stay with the younger child.  Other agents will call you though first, and then each child one at a time.  Babies and small children will obviously be carried through by you.  We always have one of the parents go through as the very last family member, just in case someone needs a little encouragement to walk through the metal detector. 

Once on the other side, it always seems like a big rush to put everything back together. I like to get my shoes on as soon as I can. Then I start putting the kids back together. Get their jackets back on, backpacks back on, stroller open and someone (anyone at that point) into the stroller, so I can find my own belongings.  Put your 3-1-1 bags back into your carryon, gather any loose items you may have removed such as jewlery or electronics, and off you go! WHEW! MADE IT!

You are now in the so called "sterile area" and have officially survived TSA.  It may be a good time to get any additional juice or snacks for your flight.  If you haven't flown in a while, you may want to know that while major legacy airlines still give a comlimentary beverage, most no longer serve that nice little complimentary bag of peanuts or pretzels.  Southwest Airlines is the only carrier we have flown recently that does give out snacks, and I have heard Delta also offers one. Now that you have gotten through security though, anything you purchase in the "sterile area" can be brought on the plane. 

You can now sit back, relax and enjoy your vacation, knowing you have to do it all again in a few days!

Do you have any special tips or tricks for traveling with little ones?  Leave a comment!

For more official information on traveling through TSA you can visit their webpage on traveling with children here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Princess Ella "Everyday Living Life Abudantly"

I'd like to introduce you to Princess Ella, a huge Disney Princess fan who has accomplished a lot in just her few short months here on earth.  She has already been granted a private audience with Mickey and Minnie as well as the Disney Princesses, eaten a Mickey Premium Bar, met Jack Sparrow, been the reason for a "Celebration of Life" party with over 200 guests, had a spa day with mommy, a father-daughter dance with daddy, and played host to an American Girl party in Chicago. She has also had a line of handbags and scarves designed in her honor.  She has so many beautiful dresses, that it is not unusual for Princess Ella to make multiple wardrobe changes in a single afternoon!

Princess Ella has touched the hearts and minds of many not just near her home in Northwest Indiana, but around the globe, as family, friends, friends of friends, and even random people on Facebook from as far away as Europe and Africa pray for her and her family every day.

Just a few days before Christmas, Princess Ella's parents received the news that their beautiful daughter was a victim of a genetic disorder known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA.  Princess Ella inherited the most severe form of this disorder, and her beautiful smile and bright eyes will only be with us for a few more months. While many of us, myself included, have never heard of this disorder, it affects about 1 out of every 6,000 children.  In fact, there is a 1 in 40 chance that you are carrying the gene for this disorder. You can visit Families of SMA for a wonderful resource to learn more about this disorder by going to their website

Seeing the time that they have left with Princess Ella as a gift, her family came home from the hospital not to die, but to LIVE.  In that spirit, they created a "Dream List" and have been crossing things off that list. Things on this list are as simple as going swimming, and as big as riding in a white Cadillac limo.  You can visit Princess Ella's Dream List to see what she has been able to do, and what is still hoped for on her  Facebook page, here.

One of the things on that list included a trip to Walt Disney World with Princess Ella, and another was a "Celebrate Life" party in her honor, that was held this past weekend on January 15th.  At this party I was honored to be able to present a slide show I put together (with a lot of of help from iMovie) to share Princess Ella's special trip with all of her friends.  Please be sure to turn off this page's music by scrolling to the bottom of this page and pausing in the pink music box on the lower left, before viewing Ella's video, since it does have music of its own.

Celebrate Ella

Many people have asked what they can do to help Princess Ella and her family.  First, prayers for Ella's time left with us to be beautiful and full of life are most welcome.  You can also offer up prayers for strength for Princess Ella's family as they go through this experience with her, and maybe even a miracle.  If you'd like to support her family as they experience things on Princess Ella's Dream List, and as they are faced with increasing medical bills, there are a few ways you can help. You can donate to Families of SMA in Ella's name by going to their website.

Sweet Princess Ella in a lovely polka dot number.
Now the dress is transformed! 
There are two, more creative ways you can help Ella's family.  You can buy handbags or scarves! How fun is that?  Visit the page for Ella's Legacy Collection  on DH Dream Designs: The Passionate Fashionista's web page to learn more about how you can get one of these custom handbags, and help Ella at the same time.  One of Princess Ella's mom's dreams on the Dream List, is for Ella to wear a pretty dress every day.  These dresses will then be transformed into sweet handbags you can purchase. You may choose one of the dresses Ella already has, or for a really personal touch, you can purchase a dress of your choosing for Ella, and then have that dress made into your handbag.  You can see the dress Princess Ella is wearing in the above photo, has been transformed into a darling bag, seen on the right hand photo.  I believe the cost of the handbag is $50.

If you're not into handbags, you can still be fashionable and help Princess Ella by purchasing one of two chic scarves from Swirly Sensations.

There are two options. "The Ella" is a floral design and it comes in perfectly princess colors of pink and lavender.

The other option is "The Erica", which comes in Ella's mom's favorite colors red and black, and has a swirled dot pattern.

The scarves will sell for $25 with all of the profits going directly to Princess Ella's family for expenses.

To order a scarf, you may visit Swirly Sensations website on etsy.  

RNawaymama is also promoting these on her blog Tiny Bits of Magic.

One last thing you can do to help if you live locally,  is participate as part of "Team Ella" for the Hearts of Gold Mall Walk to support Memorial's  I think I even heard a rumor that some members of the Notre Dame Football Team will be participating.  You can register as an individual, or be part of "Team Ella".  Individuals who raise $50 or more are eligible for prizes, and all walkers get a chocolate "heart of gold" from The South Bend Chocolate Company.  I regret I won't be able to attend personally, as my family will be visiting Mickey ourselves that weekend.  I do want to encourage people to participate though. It's a great cause, and a fun event to get some exercise despite the cold weather in South Bend.

So, I hope you will join us in "Celebrating Ella" as her party hoped.  Most of all her family wants to encourage everyone to remember to live each day to the fullest, hug your family, and have fun.  Are you "Everyday Living Life Abundantly"?  ELLA

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Disney's #1 Snack, The Famous Dole Whip

Sometime in the late 80's while looking for one of my mother's favorite treats, ice cream, we stumbled upon what we thought was a simple soft serve stand. Oh, how wrong we were. This wasn't a simple soft serve stand, but Aloha Isle, the Disney World home of the world famous Dole Whip.

Dole Whip Hawaii Style

What is a Dole Whip? I think one would have to officially just call it a frozen dessert, as it is creamier than a sorbet or sherbet, and fruitier than an ice cream. Really, its just so good let's say its in a class all its own! (It is in fact, not an ice cream as it is lactose free, so the lactose intolerant in your party can enjoy it as well) While Dole Whips themselves come in a variety of flavors, the Disney version comes only in pineapple. You can enjoy your pineapple Dole Whip all by its delicious self, swirled with vanilla soft serve, or in float form with Dole pineapple juice. Everyone has their favorite. While some just have to have the swirl, I prefer it unadulterated in pure pineapple with the pineapple juice float treatment. It is very light, and refreshing, which makes it seem even better in the Florida heat and humidity.

Sampling a Dole Whip Float at Disneyland

The Dole Whip is available both at Magic Kingdom's Aloha Isle in Adventureland, and at Captain Cook's Snack Company at the Polynesian Resort. It is also available in the Tiki Room area at Disneyland in California. The Disneyland location routinely has a 20 minute or more line. The app "Lines" even has users enter the wait time for their Disneyland Dole Whips, giving it credence as an attraction of its own! At Disneyland however, you can enter the waiting area for the Tiki Room, get your Whip on, and then take it into the Tiki Room to enjoy it in air conditioned comfort. The line in the queue area is just for those getting ready to enter the show, and so the wait can be considerably less than the outside line. Other than those three locations, finding a pineapple Dole Whip in the continental United States is difficult and limited to isolated Mom and Pop ice cream shops. I have heard there is place in Southern California/ Hollywood area that sells them called "House of Dole Whip".

Dole Whip Menu at the Dole Plantation, Oahu

 This past summer my husband and I had our first ever vacation without the kids since our honeymoon, and off we went to Hawaii! Of course, I had to get to the Dole Pineapple Plantation if for no other reason than to visit the home of the Dole Whip. At the plantation, the Dole Whip comes in a wider variety of forms. While you can get a simple Dole Whip in a cup, you can also get a cone, have them add fresh chopped pineapple, a pineapple split, or a float in a souvenir cup that becomes a coin bank. While the coin bank float was very tempting, given that my husband and I would have to consume three of them to bring back one for each kid, I went for the whip in a cup with the fresh pineapple. It was just as good as I was used to, if not a little bit better with the fresh pineapple. (The photo at the top of this post is that delicious Hawaiian version) And what could be fresher than getting the pineapple right from the source!)

If you are long way from your next Disney fix, or just need a little Disney pick me up in the middle of winter, you can attempt to make your own Dole Whip at home if you have an ice cream maker. For the most authentic experience you'll need to "dole out" some cash. You can go to the source for the real Dole Whip at United Enterprises here. That option, though the real thing, is a bit more than most of us probably want to spend for a quick fix. You can also make your own from scratch. There are several recipes online, I have had one that was pretty close. While not an exact replica, it was reminiscent enough to make me enjoy the familiarity. Serve in a fancy martini glass, turn up the heat in the house, and put on a Disney movie and pretend your sweating it out in the Magic Kingdom!

1 quart Dole pineapple juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups heavy whipping cream
3 cups sugar
Extra milk or water to add in order to get desired consistency

Mix the pineapple juice and sugar, until the sugar is dissolved Add the cream and vanilla Pour mixture into ice cream maker. For a thinner consistency add water to the fill line, or for a creamier consistency add milk. Follow the instructions for your ice cream maker.

My oldest, then age 7, at Aloha Isle
During a particular sad event in my life, a dear friend made this recipe for me, because she knew that Disney made me happy, and she knew how much I loved the Dole Whip. It was delicious, and a genuinely kind gesture which I will never forget.

If you've never had a Dole Whip, be sure to add it to your itinerary on your trip. Just over the bridge from Main Street USA into Adventureland, on the right hand side, you will see Aloha Isle. Grab yourself a Whip, and take a seat by Swiss Family Treehouse and watch the people go by. hmm...I think I'm going to go find my Cuisinart ice cream maker and put it in the freezer for a few hours.....maybe a quick trip to the market....