Tuesday, March 31, 2015

5 Steps to an Awesome Disney Vacation (They're Not What You Think!)

By: Melissa

If you have ever seen National Lampoon’s Vacation (or ever taken an actual family vacation), you know that things can go horribly wrong. And even when things don’t go wrong, we can still be disappointed. It makes me really sad when I hear families say they didn’t enjoy their family trips, especially trips to Disney. So, how can we make sure we enjoy our family trips? Here are a few ideas.

1. Manage your expectations. Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” And you know what? He was right. Your trip won’t look like mine. Mine won’t look like yours. And it’s not going to look like someone else’s you saw on Pinterest. And that’s completely ok! In fact, it’s awesome! You’re on vacation!

You can plan your trip to fit your family and your individual needs. You just need to make sure you keep them in mind as you plan, i.e. if your toddler naps every day at home, it might not be a good idea to plan to skip naps every day. Or if you take that calculated risk, be ready for an early evening…or pay the too-tired-toddler consequences. And though we might love to try new things on vacation, if your child only eats brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tarts for breakfast, pack yourself some Pop Tarts (or have them delivered) and skip breakfast reservations. It’s also going to be tough for everyone to sleep together in a hotel room, so be prepared with whatever you need to make it as easy as possible for everyone.

Seriously, I cannot stress this point enough. If you can be realistic about your expectations (especially the expectations you place on your kids), your trip will be much more smooth.

2. Manage your kids’ expectations. Definitely let them in on as much of your planning as you’d like, but don’t promise things you can’t deliver. Prepare them for what they can expect, whether it’s waiting in line for rides, riding in a stroller, or being quiet in the evenings when the baby goes to sleep in the hotel room.

3. Have a good attitude. Don’t get grouchy about lines, the weather, or things you can’t control. Do the best you can to fix the things you can fix, and let the rest go. You’re on vacation, remember? As long as you have a good attitude and a good time, your kids will, too!

4. Know what’s important to you and your family. If your kid doesn’t like princesses, don’t make him or her stand in line to meet them. If you don’t enjoy table service meals and would rather just grab and go, don’t make reservations to eat at table service restaurants. If your kid wants to eat at “that dinosaur place” (as mine has asked to do…again), make special plans to go, even if it means giving up a different themed meal that they wouldn’t enjoy as much. This trip should be about what your family enjoys doing (You’re on vacation!), so know your priorities!

5. Plan and execute. I grew up hearing the saying “Plan your work and work your plan.” The same goes for family vacations. I know it’s a lot of work, but the better you plan, the easier it will be to enjoy yourself once you get there. And plan so you can make things easy on yourself while you’re there – you’re on vacation! Keep in mind that things won’t be perfect – but you can make your trip the best it can be and have an unforgettable vacation! And let’s face it…sometimes our best memories are from times things didn’t go quite perfectly.

The Real Moms are here to help you plan the best trip you can for your family – not recreate our trips or tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. We want to give you suggestions, ideas, and let you know what worked (or didn’t) for us. Information is power. Now, go and plan an awesome trip!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Disney Deals for March 27, 2015

by: Jenna

Hi again! I just posted all about my thoughts on the Disney Dining Plan yesterday, but there are some great deals going on right now my fellow Disney fans might want to know about, so I thought I'd share!

First up, if you've been waiting to print your Disney photo book, now might be the right time! Shutterfly has photo books for up to 50% off and if you spend more than $39, use the code SHIP39 for free shipping! Click here to take advantage of that deal! (PS - If you want to see an example of a photo book, Melissa posted about hers here!).

Next, the Disney Store is having the buy one get one half off sale for select toys right now! There are LOTS of great ones! Click here for that sale! On Saturday, March 28, they're having a special sale for 28% off many items! Go here for that sale!

If you're headed to Disney World, then check out Undercover Tourist right now! They have Disney tickets for up to $39 off! Also, if you're thinking about heading to Disney, check out the Special Offers page right now. They added new deals this morning!

Last but not least, I wanted to mention that Jane has some great deals going on right now. I didn't see any that were Disney themed (but check back every morning!) but they did have some great travel clothing, gifts and other items! Check it out here!

That's all for now! Have fun shopping!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Our First Experience with the Disney Dining Plan...and what it cost!

By: Jenna

I've been dying to blog about the Disney Dining Plan (or DDP) since we got back from our last trip in November!
This was our first experience with the DDP, which consists of the following:
  • 1 quick service meal per day
  • 1 table service meal per day
  • 1 snack per day
  • 1 refillable mug per guest
There is so much to say about just that small portion of this article, but that will have to be another post. For today, I'm solely blogging about the number: what the DDP costs, what we would have spent if we didn't have it, and which is more budget friendly!

The prices for the DDP are not available. It is included as part of the Magic Your Way Package which also has park tickets factored in, but it works out to be less than $60 a day for adults and less than $20 a day for children (via Chip and Co.). So, for our family of four, that works out to about $160 a day and $1120 for our whole trip.

So, was it worth it?

Well, ours was free, so it was definitely worth it! Ha! BUT, had we actually paid for it, would we have saved anything?

The answer is yes...if we had purchased the same amount of food and gone to the same restaurants, which I don't know that we would have done.

I can present a somewhat unbiased opinion, because for our 2013 trip we did not have the DDP. All of our food was out of pocket, and because we planned that trip on short notice, we didn't have a ton of money to spend on expensive meals every day. We still went to several table service restaurants (Coral Reef, O'hana, Chef Mickey, T-Rex and Hollywood & Vine Play & Dine to name a few) but we tried to be conservative with our purchases. We certainly weren't ordering dessert!

So, if you were to eat at quick service restaurants and not order dessert, as well as not buy snacks every day, it probably would be more economical to not buy the dining plan. (Keep in mind that according to Chip and Co., the Quick Service DP costs about $41 a day per adult and $17 a day per child. Click here for Melissa's review!)

On the flip side, if you and your family tend to be big eaters, who like to have dessert with every meal, then you might just find that you are able to save a good amount with the DDP.

In fact, I kept about 90% of the receipts from our trip (I thought I had them all until I pulled them out to type up this post!) and totaled up the cost of ALL of our food and snacks and we would have spent about $1400. I know I'm missing some expensive purchases, so I think it's safe to say we actually would have spent closer to $1550 or $1600. The cost (roughly) for this DDP was $1120, so that means we saved $480.

In the end, you have to decide the following:
  • What types of meals will you be eating (QS or TS or a combo)?
  • Will you be buying snacks at the parks?
  • Are you open to bringing snacks/drinks/food with you into the parks?
  • Can you eat breakfast (and/or any other meal) in your room, and bring the items you need with you or stop at a grocery store?
  • How much of your total budget are you willing to spend on food?
  • Can you plan your trip during the timeframe that free dining is offered?

Of course, my suggestion will always be to go during free dining because it makes this so much easier! That said, if we ever decide to go and can't get free dining, I think we've decided that it's worth it to us. It's so nice going into the trip knowing that our food is paid for and we don't have to analyze every dining purchase! That peace of mind during a hectic trip is worth it for me!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Trip Recap: Hollywood Studios

by: Ashley
I'm recapping our recent trip to Disney World in January 2015! The second day of touring was Hollywood Studios day! We caught the bus bright and early…..

…and waited for the park to open!

We always go straight to Toy Story Mania, even though we have FastPasses for later. We love to ride twice and this ensures that you get to do this without waiting!

We met up with the whole family for lunch at the 50s Prime Time Cafe! Of course the atmosphere at 50s Prime Time is always fun (with servers fussing at you to eat your veggies and telling you to mind your manners!), but with our group it was even funnier.

Our server gave us the challenge of listing 20 Disney animated movies that have one-word titles (it's harder than you'd think!). We all enjoyed brainstorming together, and my brother-in-law and I bonded over our love for an old fashioned Cherry Coke. :) 

We had FastPasses to the new Frozen Sing Along show, but right around that time Lynley fell asleep in her stroller! We usually don't go back to the hotel on Hollywood Studios day, because it's just too far of a trek. So Kurt's mom sat with her in a shady spot while we took the kids to the Frozen show!

We absolutely loved this show! It was perfect for kids but they added in a lot of humor that had the adults laughing a lot!

Pit stop for a snack...

Then it was off to Disney Junior Live on Stage!

We did the Fantasmic Dinner Package, which means you eat at a participating restaurant  (for a fixed price) and then have reserve seating for a Fantasmic show. We thought this was definitely worth it, considering our experience on our last trip (Fantasmic reached capacity RIGHT as we were walking up). We loved knowing that we could relax since we were guaranteed a seat!


My famous Cobb salad! I waited a long time for this!

We geared up with lollipops for Fantasmic and were ready for the show!

Once we got back to the hotel, I snapped this picture of Liam's trundle bed. It has a beautiful scene painted on it with the lyrics to "Stay Awake" from Mary Poppins. Just beautiful and so heartwarming for me! We definitely didn't "stay awake" and headed to bed so we could continue on to Epcot the next day!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend

By: Lindsey

This post is going to be a little different than my normal Disney posts. Bear with me. I promise I have a point.

When Anniston was about two I decided that I needed to do something for me. Before she was born, I played tennis. I wasn’t good at it, but I enjoyed it. But that wasn’t what I wanted to continue to pursue. I tried a few different activities but nothing struck my fancy. That is until I started running, well, jogging; I’m not very fast.

I started off with the Couch to 5K program and signed up for my first 5K. I knew that if I didn’t have a goal to work towards it would be so much easier for me to give up and quit. Running doesn’t come to me naturally. I’m not that athletic. I’m not that competitive. Plus I’m slow. But I wanted to give it a try.

Those first few months were hard. I hated every moment of every run. But then I ran my first race and something happened. I definitely didn’t finish first, but I didn’t finish last either. The running bug bit me. It was something that I could do that I’ve never done before. It would help me physically and, hopefully, mentally.

It’s done of all of the above. Plus more. After that first 5K, I set my sights higher. I continued to do 5Ks but I wanted to do a 10K, I just didn’t know if I could run more than three miles. I started training for it and you know what? I was slow, but I could do it. So then, I took a huge leap of faith in myself. I signed up for a half marathon.

Training for the half was difficult. It was during the winter. It takes a lot of time. But once I ran that first one, I knew I’d never stop. I had so much pride in myself when I crossed that finish line. Not because I got some amazing time but because I stuck with it and I completed a goal. I did something that was just for me.

I’ve since consistently signed up and ran half marathons. I love them. I don’t compete with anyone but myself. I try to beat my times and make myself better. I don’t always improve each race, but I always finish.

So here is where this connects to Disney. I’ve decided to sing up for the Glass Slipper Challenge at the Disney Princes Half Marathon weekend in February 2016. I’m so, so excited to run this race! It’s a 10K on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday. It covers Epcot to Magic Kingdom and back.

People - you get to run past Cinderella’s castle. Is there anything better than that? Plus, people wear princess running costumes. So I get to dress like a princess AND run past the castle. Day. Made.

We've decided to make a vacation out of it. I’m out of my element here. I’ve never been around a large Disney event weekend. Do we go the week before the race, run the race, and then head home? Or do we arrive the Friday before the race and stay the week after?

I need your help. If you've ran in any Disney race, I need tips. If you've stayed for vacation, I need tips on when to go, best way to get to the race, best on property resorts to stay at during a run weekend, and tips to on recovery while at Disney. Where do you buy your princess running outfits? And how do you decided on a princess? I have so many ideas! Basically, I need your advice.

I’m so, so excited to take part in this! I can’t wait to begin planning!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 Disney Planning Calendar {Free Printable}

By: Melissa

We're planning a family Disney trip for the fall, so it's time to get serious about making plans. Part of my planning process is to make a calendar just for our Disney trip. For my non-Disney life, I use an electronic calendar, but I also use an old fashioned analog calendar, aka paper and pen. Something about actually writing things down is not only therapeutic for me, but I seem to remember things better. So when it's time to plan for Disney, I want a paper calendar.

Another reason I like a paper calendar for Disney planning is so I can add as much or as little "real life" to it as I want. I can keep my planning calendar free of other distractions (real life can be distracting, you know), and it helps me focus when I sit down to plan.

What will I add to my planning calendar? I'll start with the basics:
  • Our trip dates - departure, park days, and return
  • ADR date (The first day I can make ADRs)
  • FP+ date (The first day I can make FastPass+ selections)
  • Last day to customize our Magic Bands
  • Final day to pay our Disney vacation balance
These are also the Disney planning things that go on my "real life" calendar. After you make reservations, all of the above dates can be found in the welcome packet Disney sends you.

After I get the basics on my planning calendar, I go back and:
  • Number the weeks backward from our trip, so I know how many weeks we have left to go
  • Add any major "real life" dates I think are important to our planning
  • Begin to add tasks and goals for myself, i.e. the week before our ADR date, I need to finalize our reservation choices
  • As I get closer to the trip, I add more details, and even write task lists at the top of the calendar
The thing I love about having a Disney-dedicated calendar is that I can add as much to it about our trip as I want. Then, when I'm done planning, I close my notebook and set it aside. Disney planning doesn't have to intrude into my regular calendar and task list except for when I want it to. That helps me not go overboard. I also don't have to try to keep everything in my head. Because, let's face it, that would not turn out well.

If you're like me and would like an old fashioned analog calendar to aid in your Disney planning, you're in luck. We just happen to have a free printable 2015 (or what's left of it) Disney planning calendar! Download, enjoy, and let us know how you like to use your planning calendar!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tortuga Tavern: Quick Service review and full menu

By: Jenna

One thing you'll find lots of information on are the table service restaurants at Disney. However, most (if not all!) of us will eat quick service meals from time to time. My family usually does quick service for lunch. Today, I'm sharing one of my favorite (but not my ultimate favorite! That one is coming later!) quick service meals with you.

Tortuga Tavern is located in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom, close to Pirates of the Caribbean.

You can redeem snack credits here as well, though in my opinion, that would be a waste since the snack items, with the exception of the slush, are inexpensive (for Disney). You should check out this post for some other ways to utilize those snack credits.

Back to the food. Their fare is decidedly Mexican, with the burrito and taco salad being best sellers, and for good reason! Look at the size of that burrito!

They also have a toppings bar that you can visit after getting your basic salad or burrito, so that you can add things like sour cream, salsa, cheese, lettuce or pico de gallo to your meal. You also get a dessert and I have to recommend the triple chocolate cake. You can see it hiding behind my burrito in the picture above. It is SO DELICIOUS! I could live on that cake...but I shouldn't. ;-)

And because we like to give you all the deets on the Disney dining, here is the full menu at Tortuga Tavern (picture from November 2014, menus are subject to change).

If you're still unsure about the dining plan, how it works, what it is etc.,  then be sure to take a moment to review these posts. And, as always, let us know in the comments if you have any questions!

How to Use the DDP (Disney Dining Plan)
How the Quick Service Dining Plan Worked for Us
FREE Disney Dining Credit Planner
How to Set Your Disney Budget
FREE Disney Countdown Printable

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Trip Recap: Animal Kingdom

by: Ashley
Since we just returned from a wonderful Disney vacation, I wanted to share our recaps with the Real Moms Disney community! 

For our first official day of touring, we went to Animal Kingdom! Now in the past I have not been the biggest Animal Kingdom fan. I went many years ago when it had recently opened, and it just seemed like a big zoo to me (albeit a really clean, pretty and well-run zoo, I will admit!). Part of our issue in the past was that we just didn't have enough days to justify going to Animal Kingdom. We definitely prioritize the other parks (we always allow 2 1/2 - 3 days to Magic Kingdom alone), and so it just wasn't a huge deal to skip it.

However, on this trip we were going to be there over a holiday weekend (MLK Jr. weekend), and while the crowds were still relatively low (compared to spring/summer/Christmas), we definitely saw a surge over the weekend. I had consulted my crowd calendars (I use the year-at-a-glance found HERE and the monthly detailed calendars found HERE) and knew we had to avoid Magic Kingdom like the plague on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Animal Kingdom was listed at the recommended park, so we went for it, and I'm SO glad we did!!!

Yes, you're looking at an Animal Kingdom convert! :)

I would still skip it if we were short on days (simply because we prioritize other parks), but whenever we're at Disney for enough time, we will absolutely visit. We had such a great time! Important to note: I really think Animal Kingdom is a half-day park. We were easily done by about 1:00. There's no nighttime entertainment, and the park usually closes around 5:00pm. It's the perfect time to visit Downtown Disney, which is exactly what we did! Here are some highlights from the day.

Up and ready to go!

On the bus with Cousin C.J. (this is Kurt's older brother Cory's son)!

We got to Animal Kingdom right around 9:00 or a little after and went straight to the Kilimanjaro Safaris first thing. This is recommended because the waits can get long in the afternoon and the animals are usually out and about in the morning. This was absolutely wonderful! The weather was perfect - around 75 degrees with a nice breeze. I do remember loving this when I visited Animal Kingdom many years ago. The scenery is just gorgeous. The kids loved this, and we saw so many animals!

After the safari, Kurt, his brother and his wife Ashley and Kurt's dad went to ride Expedition Everest with FastPasses. Kurt's mom and I took the kids to Dinoland, U.S.A. We rode the Triceratop Spin, which is just like the Dumbo ride and Magic Carpet ride in Magic Kingdom. They had a blast!

We met back up with the Everest group and went to the Finding Nemo show! This was something that Kurt and I saw when we stopped in Animal Kingdom a couple of years ago, and we had really loved it, so I knew the kids would too! It was so adorable and the music is so cute - I even own the soundtrack!

The bubbles at the end were a big hit!

Okay, I need to go ahead and restrain myself, otherwise this post could become a tribute to the AMAZINGNESS that is the Festival of the Lion King show! For whatever reason we had never seen it and we were BLOWN AWAY. It wasn't anything crazy or off-the-wall; it was just how they combined so many elements to make it a beautiful and entertaining experience. I walked out of there telling Kurt, "That was seriously beautiful." Fun fact: The Lion King is one of my least favorite animated movies, but "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" is one of my very favorite Disney songs. I have no idea why; maybe because I really like Elton John? No idea. But I love it!

We ate lunch at the quick service version of Yak and Yeti (it's called Yak and Yeti Local Foods Cafe), and we found a great table in the outdoor seating area. It was shaded but we were right next to some plants and it was so pretty. After lunch, Kurt's parents took Lynley back to take a nap so Kurt and I could take Evy and Liam to Downtown Disney!

Twelve Days of Christmas store. . .a must-visit for me! It always smells so yummy in there.

Something new since we had been there last was the Downtown Disney Co-Op. It was a building with lots of different little pop-up stores and I just loved it! It was a unique shopping experience. I was thinking about doing a "Disney Haul" post where I share my souvenirs. I didn't take pictures but I bought some of the Beautifully Disney makeup palettes, which are so pretty!

Then I stumbled upon the pop-up store "Centerpiece" and about died. I spotted melamine dinnerware that was a vintage Disney theme! 

I couldn't resist. I got the dinner plates…..

Salad/dessert plates and bowls. The accent plates are each a different "land" - Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland. We've actually used this dinnerware every single day since we've been back! You can find the dinnerware online - scroll down towards the bottom of the page!

Cute little Christmas window displays on the way out!

After shopping, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. This was our one time to wear matching family shirts, and they turned out so cute! I ordered them from this shop, and they featured all of us with our names! 

The whole Lancaster family!

Mia and Randad with their grandkiddos.

We headed to the Contemporary Resort for dinner at Chef Mickey's. It was a wonderful buffet that evening and we met all of the characters!

One of my favorite artists is Mary Blair and this is a mural she helped design (she also did the concept work for the "it's a small world" attraction).

It was a wonderful evening and a great way to spend time together! Next up: Hollywood Studios!
Blogging tips