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Vacation with Boys: What I (re-)learned . . . again

Vacation with Boys: What I (re-)learned . . . again

boys vacation
So much for a #boymom to learn while vacationing with boys!

You may have read my post-vacation summary last summer, Vacation with Boys: What I (re-)learned.  Here we are again, after another family vacation . . . where I re-learned again things that I should have known to expect as a M.O.B. (Mother of Boys).    For Part 4 of 4 in my Disney Family Vacation series, I’ve captured the learnings for you.  Can you relate?

  • Time spent waiting in line is perfect for hitting siblings and for climbing on the dividers keeping the line organized.
boys climg
Vacation with Boys: Climbing
  • At least once, you will be certain you are the loudest people at the hotel. You likely ARE the loudest people at the hotel.
  • Somebody’s swimsuit will fall down, and someone’s little bare tushy will make other guests laugh.
  • You will learn to appreciate the 2’x2’ square space between the toilet, the bathroom door and the shower as your serenity space.  Your M.O.B. spa.  Your only sanctuary away from the chaos just a door away.
  • You are the only female in a hotel room full of males. You cannot possibly change clothes (or tampons, for that matter) fast enough to not be caught.
  • Sand will be thrown (even if you’re not at the beach).
  • Farts.  They’re still funny.
  • Noses will be picked.
pick nose
Noses will be picked
  • Hammocks are for swinging wildly.
  • Again, you will be the only one who seems to care about wearing a shirt.
  • Walking to a restaurant can be a full contact sport.
  • Wrestling.  Then more wrestling.  Enough said.
boys wrestle
Wrestling. Then more wrestling.
  • But at the end of a busy and fun day, laden with tantrums and yelling and laughter and rides and family time and fights, boys still like to snuggle their mommies.

I hope you’ve laughed and learned with my 4-part Disney Family Vacation Series!  Family vacations are fun . . . and funny.

#mobtruths #boymom #parenting #familyvacation

Disney Vacation: The really real (really)

Disney Vacation: The really real (really)

The end of a Disney Vacation
Disney Vacation: the end

For part 3 in my Disney Family Vacation series, I’m going to tell it like it is.  Don’t get me wrong – everything I said in the first two posts (“Disney Vacation:  My top tips for your Disney Family Vacation” and “Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed – 10 things that surprised me”) is true.  But taking my family of five on a Disney Family Vacation isn’t picture perfect.  Assuming all families have a little imperfection, here’s the really real (really!) of our experience.  I hope it forewarns you so you’re prepared for your own trip, and, of course, I hope it also makes you smile.  Comment if you can relate (to reaffirm my sanity and let me know I’m not alone!).

  • Flex-time. Just like when that wise friend warned me not to get my heart set on an epidural because it might not happen, you need to be prepared to have your Disney Family Vacation stray from your perfect plans.  Rides can break down – even during your precious FastPass reservation time slot.  It happened to us on Tower of Terror!  Our car stopped right before it entered the drop chamber, and we sat there for a good 5 minutes waiting, hearts pounding in anticipation of the drop.  The great news is that Disney apologized for the wait by handing us each a FastPass ticket when we got off the ride. The not-so-great news is that this was followed by my eldest child having a full-on argument with me about how annoyed he was we had to wait for Daddy and the other boys coming from across the park, and how mean I was to not let him have ice cream at 9:02am.  Deep breath.  Flex. Find something new to do.
  • Forgiving the Ungrateful: I never thought it would happen, but I was that mom loudly and firmly declaring to her children, “We are NEVER coming to Disney again.” I didn’t mean it.  You won’t either.  But you’ll say it.  It’s hard not to, when you’ve spent a lot of money on the trip, a lot of time planning, and when you expect a purely magical time.  So when your kids start saying they just want to swim, or that the line for the ride is stupid and annoying, or they throw a tantrum because you won’t let them buy ice cream at 9:02am, you may find yourself uttering words you never thought you’d say.  But you don’t mean them.  Forgive your kids for their temporary ungratefulness.  Maybe someday your kids will forgive the ice cream shop owner for not even being open at 9:02am.
  • It’s OK to be a softy: It’s hard (or, for me, virtually impossible) to say no to soft serve ice cream.  At any hour.  I admit to giving in to many ice cream stops to tame or avoid my kids’ tantrums, or to sugar-up the kids to help them power through the next hour, or to let myself indulge for having been brave and trying scary rides with my kids.  (yes, I’m a ride wuss).  Go ahead and give in every now and then.   You only live once, and it’s vacation, after all.  If a little ice cream can go a long way toward a happy vacation, go for it.
  • You will, at least once, be those people:  We were those people more than once.  Being those people can be achieved through yelling at your kids too loudly, then embarrassingly having your husband tell you you’re being too loud, by having a child actually lie down on the pavement to resist doing whatever you’re asking him to do, by bumping into people in the park because you’re too busy looking down at the My Disney Experience app on your phone, or even by taking too long on a moving conveyor belt walkway that leads up to a ride because you have multiple kids in tow.  Tolerate these people.  Because at one point on your vacation, you will be those people.  Guaranteed.
  • Beware the auto-flush toilets: They’re loud.  The toilets in the park generally have auto-flush, and they are LOUD.  I tell you this only because, on each of the two Disney Family Vacation trips my family has gone on, I’ve had at least one child covering his ears and crying in the public bathrooms because of it.  You’ve been warned.
  • Let’s pretend:  Even your youngest children may think it’s strange that the characters they meet in the parks don’t talk, or that they’re physically larger than life.  Pre-think an answer as to why.  Or pretend you don’t know.
  • Recovery room:  You will be exhausted.  I feel like I’m still recovering from all the planning, packing, flexing, frolicking, loving, enjoying, riding, re-planning, picture-taking fun.  This vacation tired me out.  I think this picture does a perfect job showcasing how it feels to leave Disney:  You’re deflated, because you really want to stay a bit longer, and you’re shriveled up from exhaustion.  But it’s sooo worth it.
the end of a Disney Vacation
How it feels to leave Disney

Stay tuned for the 4th and final entry in my  Disney Vacation Series:  Vacation with Boys: What I (re)-learned . . . again.

#mobtruths #boymom #familyvacation #parenting

 

Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed: 10 things that surprised me

Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed: 10 things that surprised me

Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed:  10 things that surprised me

Disney Vacation
Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed: 10 things that surprised me and can help make your vacation more magical

As you know from my prior post, “Disney Family Vacation:  My top tips for your Disney Family Vacation,” we just returned from our first Disney Vacation as a family of five.  Even with all my list-making and pre-planning, there were some “secrets” I learned while at Disney that were helpful to know.  I hope you find these helpful in making your Disney Vacation magical as well.

  1. Pack snacks. For some reason, I assumed you could not bring food or drink into the Disney parks, because they’d want you to buy them there.  Wrong!  You can, indeed, bring snacks into the parks, and drinks, too.  So if you have a child who will only eat Cheddar Goldfish or a specific kind of graham cracker or they reach meltdown mode, go ahead and tuck the critical snacks in your backpack (which, rest assured, will be looked through at the park entrance for security).
  2. Some in-park snacks are refillable! If you’re buying something at a snack kiosk in the park, check all options available.  Some may be refillable, so you get more bang for your buck.  For example, I bought an ordinary bag of popcorn, and learned afterwards that I could have purchased a souvenir plastic bucket of popcorn and refilled it later in the day.  As the mother of three hungry, growing boys, that would have been a smart move!
  3. There’s an app for that:  Use and love the free “My Disney Experience” app. It is a world of helpful information at your fingertips, giving you the ability to check on your plans for the day (did you reserve FastPass, for example), to modify FastPass reservations, show park maps . . . and, what I found most valuable was its accurate report on wait times for the attractions throughout the park.

    Disney Vacation
    The “My Disney Experience” app showing wait time
  4. The devil is in the details:  Disney Dining Plan: If you’re on one, be sure you know its details.  I learned late in the game, thanks to one waitress telling me, that if we were too full for dessert, she could swap in a take-home drink like a bottle of water instead (perfect for bringing to the park the next day, since you’re allowed to!).  I also learned that a quick service meal is the equivalent of 3 snacks.  So, if you miss out on a meal, simply stock up on snacks instead!  (Be sure to check the details of your plan to make sure that’s true for yours.)  Our resort was full of a great variety of options, from hummus with pretzels to fresh fruit to trail mix to cookies.
  5. The early bird . . .gets on the rides first:  If you’re staying at a Disney resort, check for Extra Magic Hours. The parks open early on certain days for people staying at a Disney property.  Getting in early can help get you on a popular ride early, or to check other attractions off your list before the park gets too busy.
  6. Roll with it:  Bring a stroller! (even if your kid is slightly too old for one).  You can rent a stroller at Disney – I think starting at $15/day depending on the type of stroller – but we decided to buy an inexpensive umbrella stroller (like this) before our trip and count it as one of our checked bags on our flight.  It was so helpful to have for our 3yo, but also for an occasional seat for the 6yo or even the 8yo (yes, his lanky legs looked funny in it, but who cares!), and was a great tool to help carry souvenir bags or our backpack.  The little umbrella stroller also supported D’s daily “progressive nap,” as I now call it. It begins with a head nod, then a slight lean, then progressively folds him over.
    Disney Vacation
    Everyone seems to have a stroller – this lot was full!

    Disney Vacation
    The progressive stroller nap . . . in the folded over stage
  7. The classics are classic, so don’t miss them!  Today’s less popular rides are gems from the past that still delight. It’s Disney, after all. They do it right.  Classics like Small World have some high tech upgrades without having lost the magic you remember from your own childhood.  And since rides like this are less popular and less glitzy than they used to be, wait times are minimal!  Great for filling some time and triggering some nostalgia for you.

    Disney Vacation
    Enjoying the magic of It’s a Small World
  8. Take turns:  As if I haven’t said enough about FastPass yet, here’s one more tidbit. Rider Switch (aka Child Swap).  Imagine if you’re at the park with your significant other and your two kids, one of whom is too short to go on a certain ride.  Have your significant other use FastPass with the child who can go on the ride, and have him ask for Rider Switch as he is getting on.  The ride operator will give you a printed ticket for Rider Switch, allowing you to then go on the ride with that same child through the FastPass line while your sig other watches the other child.    A nice surprise to me, which we used in every park.
  9. Meeting characters: There seemed to be more character meeting spots and shorter lines at Hollywood studios.  15 minutes to meet Goofy, 20 for Donald Duck when we were there.
  10. Eat up:  Last, but possibly most important, navigating Disney with nut allergies is EASY! When booking your trip, let the hotel and any pre-booked restaurants know o food allergy in your party.  For our pre-booked meals, the wait-staff proactively asked, “Who has the nut allergy?” and then proceeded to tell us what we needed to know – info like “There are no nuts on premises, but if cross-contamination is an issue, please be aware the rolls and the desserts come from a bakery where they also process nuts.”  They provided us allergy-friendly menus, just in case we were still worried about what was on the main menu, and in many cases, the chef himself came to our table to ensure he understood the allergy situation and to answer any questions for us.  Often, our meals also came out with a special toothpick marked “allergy,” to signal to us that this had been prepared separately.  So helpful!  So reassuring!  Even better than that – we found the same wealth of knowledge throughout the Disney parks – at a popcorn stand, at an ice cream shop – essentially everywhere!  Every time I asked about ingredients, they whipped out a big binder and flipped straight to the page with the food I was asking about so I could read the ingredient labels.  It took the stress out of something I thought would be quite stressful!  I imagine navigating other food allergies is similarly easy, as I hear a chef offering one mom non-dairy milk alternatives due to an allergy in her family.

    Disney vacation
    Steak marked that it had been prepared with care due to food allergy

OK, so maybe these “secrets” don’t reveal how Disney puts the magic in all they do, but these sure were helpful, interesting and reassuring to me on my trip.  I hope you find them helpful, too!

Stay tuned for Parts 3 and 4 in my Disney Vacation series:  Part 3: Disney Vacation: The really, really real (really) and Part 4: Vacation with Boys, what I (re-) learned . . . again.

#mobtruths #familyvacation

Disney Vacation: My top tips for your Disney Family Vacation

Disney Vacation: My top tips for your Disney Family Vacation

Disney Vacation:  My top tips for your Disney Family Vacation

(Part 1 of a 4-part Disney Vacation series!)

Disney Family Vacation

Mid-April 2017.  Perfect time for a Disney Vacation, right?  We thought so.  But so did millions of other people.  (OK, maybe not millions, but you get my point.)  The good news is that we survived, and despite some frustration and tantrums along the way, we had a great vacation.

Are you planning a Disney Vacation?  Here are my top tips for making it (mostly happily) through your Disney Vacation.  It is, after all, the happiest place on Earth, right?

Plan Ahead:

I’m generally a planner, thriving on making lists of things that need to get done, and joyously crossing them off as I achieve each one.  I’m all for choosing a vacation destination and having a general idea of what I’ll want to do on the trip, but vacation, to me, should be a bit more lax, go-with-the-flow.  But our Disney Vacation trips don’t work like that.  This vacation took a lot of planning.  Maybe some people just show up at Disney World without having planned much, but I think they probably miss out on the best use of FastPass, meeting characters, and seeing certain parades, among other things.  Still, all this planning ahead was kind of hard to wrap my head around – especially the FastPass stuff.  How was I supposed to know months in advance which rides we’d want to go on, when, and how to divide up the family so the various age kids each would be happy?  But now, having just gotten home from a 5-day Disney vacation, I am glad we were able to skip the lines on some of the most popular rides.

We’ll talk more about FastPass in a minute, but long before the FastPass planning, there are other elements of your Disney Vacation I recommend thinking through:

  • Long before your trip date, plan out which parks you want to see, and on which days. This will help you decide whether to get a park-hopper pass or a specific park pass for each day.
  • Also think about your family’s mojo: are you early risers who plan to be at the park when it opens each day, or are you planning to have a relaxing morning at your hotel and then rolling into the park after lunch time?  (This will make a difference in how you plan your day, and in how you schedule FastPass).
  • How late will you stay? Will you be at the park until it closes, no matter what, especially considering what you paid for admission?  Will you have dinner at the parks and stay late for fireworks, or are you willing to head back to the hotel pool in the late afternoon if the kids are wiped out at the park?
  • Look at a park map, and determine your list of must-see and must-do activities.  Prioritize them so you won’t feel bad if there are some you end up missing.

Divide & Conquer:

Are you traveling with more than one child?  Do they have different interests and/or are they different ages?  If yes, it will be helpful to think ahead on how you’re going to divide and conquer so each child is maximizing his Disney time with relevant/appropriate activities.  It’s also super-helpful for people like me, who are scared of roller coasters, to always offer to be the one taking my 3yo on the kiddie rides while my husband goes with R and E on the bigger, more extreme rides.  Knowing how you plan to divide and conquer will help if you’re booking FastPass in advance.  Look at a park map and select a ride for one FastPass, and book one for the remaining part of your group at something nearby.  That way, when you’re each done with your rides, you can get back together and won’t be on opposite sides of the park.  I had a hard time conceptualizing this while we were planning – as a busy working mom of three boys, I value all the family time I can get.  So, it’s logical that I would want a family vacation to include the whole family, right?  Yes, but sometimes a little separation is required to keep everyone happy.  It was great that 3yo D could casually wander through the Swiss Family Robinson tree house three times in a row, while R and E had a Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad adventure that D couldn’t have gone on.

FastPass:

Ok, I’ve mentioned it a lot so far but haven’t gone into much detail of the good, the bad and the ugly of it.  I have a love/hate relationship with FastPass.  Let’s start with some facts:

  • FastPass is free with every park admission. It allows you to book reservations for rides up to 30 days in advance, or 60 days prior to check-in at a Disney resort.
  • The free “My Disney Experience” app allows you to book and change reservations right from your smartphone, giving you great flexibility throughout your day. (This app also updates real-time to show you wait times for the various rides throughout the park, helping to plan out your next move).
  • After you use your three FastPass reservations in any day, you can start to book additional reservations.
  • Unless a zillion other people are jumping into the FastPass entrance to a ride at the same time as you, the system does work well to get you to your fun faster.
Fast Pass
Fast Pass and Stand-by Entrances will display wait times
wait times
My Disney Experience app displays wait times and helps you plan your next move

Free, flexible, and fun?  That’s the good.  What’s not to love?  In my opinion, just the following:

  • It can be stressful to have to choose rides far in advance (we did it probably about 45 days in advance of our trip).
  • If you’re at the park during a particularly busy time (e.g. Magic Kingdom the Saturday of spring break/Easter week), you may have limited flexibility. There were times we wanted to change our FastPass reservations for our next park the next day, but because it was such a crowded week, time slots were quite limited, and we were unable to find slots that worked for us.
  • We didn’t end up using all of our FastPass reservations. In reality, this is ok, because we had a perfectly fun time at the park and then went to the hotel pool when the kids were wiped out.  But knowing that we had “wasted” a FastPass ate away at me a little.  Remember, I like to make lists and check things off.  Leaving some FastPass reservations unused meant I couldn’t cross them off.  It’s just a Type-A thing.  Nothing to fault Disney for!

So, that’s the “bad” of FastPass, if there really is any.  And now for the “ugly.”  FastPass is best used if there is a strategy behind it, and some families may not want to deal with that.  For example, if you know you are going to get to Hollywood Studios for park opening, and you know Tower of Terror is a very popular ride, don’t book a morning FastPass for it. Instead, plan to tackle the most popular rides first thing in the morning – before lines get long – and reserve your FastPass for midday when the park is even more crowded and lines are often longer.  That’s how we managed it, anyway.  Sometimes, we’d go on the most popular rides first thing in the morning and then get to enjoy them again later in the day with FastPass.  Other times, we left the park mid-afternoon with exhausted, pool-hungry children, and wasted the FastPass reservations we had so carefully planned over a month before.

Have a plan for meals (whether it’s a “meal plan” or not):

This one is a little easier.  Quite simply, think ahead about whether you just want to buy food and snacks a la carte whenever and wherever you feel like it, or whether you want to sign up for a Disney Dining Plan of some sort.  Look on their websites or work with a travel agent to understand the options, and make sure you use all your Dining Plan credits if you do sign up for a plan – it’s use it or lose it.

Whether you do a dining plan or not, one thing to definitely consider is booking “character meals.”  When I was a kid, it was somewhat easy to wander through a Disney park and happen upon Mickey Mouse or Chip and Dale who would willingly pose for a picture with you.  It’s much more organized now, with lines to wait in for an autograph and a photo opp.  If you don’t want to spend time in lines to meet characters in the parks, book a character meal – breakfast, lunch, or dinner options are available – where you’re guaranteed to have certain characters come by your table to sign autographs, interact with your family, and pose for photos.  These meals can be a bit pricey, but they’re worth it if you and your family still see the magic in meeting these characters.

Disney Vacation
Meeting Minnie at the Chef Mickey restaurant

 Last but not least, bring your parental A-game for passing the time:

Even with FastPass, or meal plans, or just good planning, there will be times when you simply need to have patience and wait.  This can be hard if your kids are anything like mine.  I found myself pulling out some tried and true go-to time-passers to try to ease the angst of waiting in line for rides, for the shuttle on the way back to the hotel, waiting for food to arrive after ordering it, etc.  Here are some that worked for me, and I’d love to hear which ones you’d add!

  • I spy
  • Simon Says
  • Snacks (bring lots of them!)
  • What do you think . . . ? (this is a fun way to get kids to make predictions about things they’ll see during the day. For example, What do you think Pluto will do when he meets us at lunch?  How big do you think Spaceship Earth is?  How many people will we see today wearing Mickey Mouse ears?
  • What was your favorite . . .? (I’m known in my family – since I was a kid, that is – for summing up any event such as a movie or a fair or a museum visit or a vacation with the simple question on the way home:  What was your favorite part?  It gets a laugh usually, since I’ve been asking it since the mid-eighties and am still asking it today.  It’s a fun one.  Especially if you can get your kids to explain their rationale).

One thing is certain with a Disney Vacation – there is magic to be found there if you’re willing to find it, and if you have the stamina.  It’s a vacation full of fun, but it’s exhausting, from the pre-planning to the waiting to the doing to the writing about it afterwards.  So with that, I’m wiped out.  I hope you’ve found this helpful, and I can’t wait to hear about your trip!  Be sure to check back for parts 2-4 in my Disney Vacation series at www.mobtruths.com (2. Secrets Revealed: 10 Things that Surprised Me on My Disney Vacation, 3. My Disney Vacation: The Really, Really Real (Really!), and 4. Vacation with Boys: What I (Re-) Learned . . . Again.

#mobtruths #boymom #disneytravel #disneyvacations #familyvacation

Disney Vacation
Disney Vacation Family Selfie