Disney on Ice at the Pensacola Bay Center

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win 4 tickets to tonight’s performance of Disney on Ice at the Pensacola Bay Center.  I was at a fundraiser for the LEAP Trail (which is a really neat thing for our city.  You can check out the details here and our very own Jennifer Harrison is a member of Pensacola LEAP 2013!) and had the winning bid on a great package that included the tickets.  My daughter’s 3rd birthday was yesterday and to say that she loves all the Disney Princesses would be the understatement of the year.  So, I figured what the heck?  LEAP Trail is a great thing to give money to and my baby girl would have a ball!

 

I have to say that I was seriously impressed with the show.  Having really young kids, this was my first time and this type of show that is clearly geared toward the younger set.  I expected something much more cheesy and frankly, with a lot less talent.  I was wrong!  This is a wonderful production with seriously talented ice skaters, beautiful sets and costumes, and great production value.  There are 3 performances left and I highly recommend it, if you have young kids who are big fans of Disney.  Tickets range from $17-$52 and all the info is here.  I think we were in the $30 seats and they were just fine.  Honestly, for this type of show, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

 

They open things with a cute “cast warm-up” that encourages the audience to get up and move around and it’s led by The Incredibles.   It was fun and very cute, although we opted to stay seated since we both had kids in our laps.  Next comes Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy, who tell you that this night is about looking for “Treasures” that are the Disney characters.   First we have a big, fun number with the entire cast of “Alice in Wonderland”.   The dancing cards that are hearts one side and clubs on the other are really cool.  And the Queen of Hearts is sufficiently mean.  But, Alice keeps her head and all is well.   The first act ends with a second full cast number that is almost the whole story of Peter Pan.  Captain Hook and Mr Smee are actually really cute bad guys.  The Lost Boys are adorable, Wendy and her brothers and great but Peter Pan steals this number.  He’s an excellent skater and after an epic battle between the pirates and lost boys, he saves the day, but not without the help of a flying (and skating) Tinkerbell.  My kids LOVED this part.  Also, Captain hook gets eaten by the biggest crocodile puppet in history!  Hooray!

Intermission is quick and Act II is all about the Disney Princesses!  (which is good because Samantha kept asking me, “Mama, when are the princesses coming?”)  But before we get our princess fix, we are treated to a visually stunning number from The Lion King.   From the opening with a beautiful set piece depicting “Pride Rock” and Rafiki to the gorgeously skated ending with Simba and Nala to “Can you Feel the Love Tonight”, this was probably my favorite large cast number.  I thought the neatest part was the way they portrayed the stampede in the canyon that results in the death of Mufasa.  It was so cool and incredibly inventive.  I am always so impressed with stuff like that.  It reminded me of the amazing way Animal Kingdom does the “Finding Nemo” show with puppets.  Way cool.

 

Finally, it is Princess Time!  Mickey and the gang re-appear to tell us that coming up the first feature film that Walt Disney produced and out come 7 cute little guys to give us a quick version of Snow White.  The manage to touch on the whole story in about 8 minutes.  Snow White is another very talented skater and her part with her Prince is very pretty.   The big Act II number is from Aladdin and it’s great!   The Genie is fun, Aladdin rides in on an elephant and the Magic Carpet flies!  Aladdin, just like most of the other leads, is immensely talented.  He does a spin at the end that made my kids squeal and clap.   A  great number.  After that, we were treated to Ariel and Sebastian and some under-the-sea creatures that were fun.  Then a very cute and really beautiful skate with Rapunzel and Flynn.  (she’s my favorite Princess and “I See the Light” is so pretty!)  They even had the floating lanterns.  I loved this one.  Then Tiana and Naveen did a bit to “Dig a Little Deeper” that was upbeat and again, very fun.  (I need better adjectives besides ‘cute’ and ‘fun’…but you get the picture.)  Finally, we see Mickey and company again and then the pinnacle for all the little girls in the house….every Disney princess and her prince!!  I can’t for the life of me remember what they skated to, but it was big and flashy and gave ample time for everyone to skate all over the ice.    Let me put it this way…my daughter pointed to all her favorites that were not featured several times over.   “Mama!  Belle!  Cinderella!  Sleeping Beauty! Mulan!”   She was thrilled.   I should mention that my 4 year old son had a ball, too.  And even my husband was impressed.

 

 

A few things to know before you go-

  • Parking at the Bay Center is FREE, but the front fills up fast.  So, if you don’t want to walk up the giant ramp, I’d get there at least 30 minutes early.
  • The Bay Center is so proud of their snacks.  We tell the kids they can pick one thing to share and a drink to share as well.  (after the circus last year) This time it was popcorn.  I think the cotton candy (with the Mickey ears, that frankly I could do without) was $15.  Wha?  Anyway, I make sure the kids eat a decent dinner and stick some goldfish in my purse.
  • Holy Over-Priced Souvenirs, Batman!  My daughter, God bless her, is not one to ask for anything, anywhere. She didn’t even notice the scads of Princess-y, sparkly crap that was $20 and up.  ( I love her slightly more for this particular trait.)   My son whined about getting a sword all night and in fact, we are going to Wal-Mart in the morning to purchase a reasonably priced plastic one.  You’ve been warned.
  • If you have a little girl, by all means let her dress up.  Sam wore her tiara with a sundress, because she doesn’t have a Disney princess costume just yet, but we saw so many girls dressed up.  Very cute.

The shows tomorrow are at 2:00 and 6:00 and then again at 2:00 on Sunday.  Tickets are available here.  Let us know if you go and what you and your kids thought about it.  We always love to hear from our readers.   xoxo Jules

If You’re Going to Disney….Tricks to Know Before You Go!

Getting to meet Belle!

Today was a great day!  Even though we had picked the dates for our trip to Disney a few weeks ago, AND found a steal of a deal on a 2 bedroom condo at the luxurious Wyndham Bonnet Creek, (gasp! an off property hotel!  I know, I know…we may live to regret it) Today was the day that I dusted off last year’s free Disney planning DVD, ordered our new free planning DVD and dove headfirst into the Nirvana (for moi) that is the planning of our “Second Annual Smith Family Disney Vacation”!  (do you hear the angels sing?)   As I was checking the crowd calculator on www.touringplans.com and researching eateries on my new favorite planning site, www.wdwprepschool.com I thought, “what better time than now to finally put together my top 10 tips and tricks list?” (and I actually have 11!  It’s like This is Spinal Tap!)

So, here we are.  Me with my notepad in hand….scribbled notes from the last few months, ready to impart to you what really worked for us last year and we will absolutely be doing again.  (maybe next time I’ll write about the things that we will NEVER do again?)  I digress!   And keep in mind these are the things that we loved and worked for our quirky family of 5  (aka “the circus”).

11.  Order the FREE Disney Planning DVD!  I mentioned this earlier.  It’s so much fun to start watching this with your kids!  In addition to providing a lot of really great information, it lets the whole family see each park, all the best rides, restaurants and hotels.  When we busted it out today, the Littles were jumping and squealing at everything they recognized from last year.  Lots of fun.  You can order yours HERE.

10.  Get familiar with the rides and height requirements.  Once you watch the planning DVD a zillion times, you may have a good idea of what your kids will want to ride.  One of the wonderful things about Disney is the large # of rides/attractions that are for the whole family and have no height requirement.    However, there are enough that do, that you should know which ones they are and if your kid(s) are tall enough.  There’s nothing like having your little one get up to the ride they’ve been dreaming of riding only to discover they are too small (cue sad trombone…and screaming child).

9. Do the Character Meets! (and don’t forget the autograph books!)  This was probably the highlight of the trip for both of the Littles.  Don’t get me wrong, they loved the rides and parades and shows, but they talked the most afterwards about everyone they met.   We saved a bit of money by picking up some themed small notebooks from Walmart as opposed to the “official Disney autograph books” that cost 3x as much.  Another helpful tip is to pick up a few of the larger sharpie type markers.  They are much easier for the costumed characters to hold and sign.   You can check the daily park info to see who will be where and when.  I think the longest we waited in line was maybe 20 minutes.  Oh, and it’s free.

8. Get to the parks for “Rope Drop”!  This tip comes with a disclaimer, if I am to be truthful.  I could never get my sweet, precious family up and out the door in time to do this.  Not one single morning.  We never made it onto Toy Story at Hollywood Studios, thanks to my little lazies!  ( I’m not mad, dear.)  But, I know in my heart it is a great tip (especially if you are going when it’s crowded!).  By making it to the park before it actually opens and being there when they “drop the rope”, you can often ride several of the most popular rides as well as grab Fast Passes for later.  (I’ll talk about Fast Passes in a bit.)  Some of the parks do a big fancy ceremony for opening also, which can be fun for the kids.  And mark my words, we will make at least ONE “rope drop” next trip.

7. Take a mid-day break.  This is especially important if you have kids that still nap, or a husband who thinks the word vacation is synonymous with “nap.”  If you make it early for “rope drop” AND the park is open late, this is great because everyone is refreshed and ready to tackle the second half of the day.   My teenager likes to go to the pool.  We also use it as an opportunity to eat lunch at the hotel.  If you are staying on property, you have the perk of the Disney Magical Express, which is the bus system that runs between all the parks, hotels and Downtown Disney.  If you bring your own stroller and you want to try the mid-day breaks, that will take you to # 6….

6. Drive your own car.   While the Disney buses are lovely, it can sometimes take over an hour or even TWO to get from place to place, especially when the park closes and there’s a mass exodus from the parks.  Oh, the lines!  They are no bueno.  I think we used the buses a few times, specifically when Daddy and I went back to Magic Kingdom for a late night and we’d been drinking (No drinking and driving here, thanks).  Also, with our double stroller, it was much easier to try and get it onto the trams than into a packed bus.  And it’s difficult to make the mid day breaks really work, when 2 hours of your 3 hour break is travel time.   We are going to have to pay for parking next trip, but I still think I’d do it most times.

5. Use the “child swap” option!  This is a beautiful thing if you a) want to ride something that both your kids are to small to ride or b) one of your kiddos is too short for any ride with a height minimum.  Basically, you stand in line for the ride the first time, while the other parent stays with the non-riding kiddos.  Then the parents “swap” the kids and the other parent gets a Fast Pass to go through the line themselves.  One cool thing to note is that if you have one child that IS tall enough to ride, the Cast Members will actually let them ride twice.  Much fun for the taller kid, probably more painful for shorty.

4.  Fast Pass!!!  This is probably the greatest thing Disney does for their guests and it’s worth mentioning that the other major park complex in town actually charges for themAt Disney, the Fast Pass is free.   What it does is give you a 2 hour window to come back and ride.  There are only so many to hand out per 2 hour block.  If you use any sort of touring plan, (and I know that you will!) then it will tell you which rides have the most coveted Fast Passes.  For example, at Hollywood Studios, Toy Story Mania’s Fast Passes can be gone sometimes before 10am.  (This is why we never rode it.  We missed the FPs and I refuse to wait in line for 120 minutes for anything!)  So find out what these rides are at each park and when you get there at rope drop, have one person in your group take everyone’s tickets and go grab the FPs for later.   Keep in mind that you can only have one FP per 2 hour window.  But, if you plan you day correctly, you should be able to use them wisely.  This one strategy alone can save you hours of wait time in line.

3. Snacks/Meals  Now, this is something we have only tried one way.  We didn’t qualify for the Dining Plan last year and won’t this coming trip either.  For more information on the Disney Dining Plan, click HERE.  That said, we are a family of five, want to save some money, but we still want to experience some of the wonderful dining options that are available throughout Disney.  (side note….we always go during Food&Wine Festival.  Mama loves good food.  And wine.  We can’t forget the wine.)  So here are my tips for eating well and saving $$.  Plan to eat breakfast and one other meal in your room.  We always get a room with at least a kitchenette.  This next trip we will have a full kitchen, which opens up a host of options.  But let’s say you just have a fridge and microwave.  We arrive with a wide array of breakfast stuff…cereal, milk, bagels, fruit, donuts etc.  Then we hit up the local Publix for sandwich stuff and snacks.  We will either eat lunch in the room during our break, or maybe order pizza for dinner if we are splitting our days between parks and lunching in the park.  So we do one meal per day “out” (and we treat the kids to one character meal per trip.  It’s expensive, but totally worth it!).  One thing I love about Disney is that you can totally bring in a small cooler with your own snacks and drinks.  Heck, you can even pack your lunch if you want, but we let our one meal out per day be our treat.   One mistake I made last year was picking where to eat without really looking at where we would be in the park at mealtime.  This can cause a lot of wasted time.  It wasn’t tragic, but it did leave us with an hour to kill and nothing that fit one night before Fantasmic.  Anyway, we pack a small black backpack every morning with some key munchies for everyone.  We were never hungry or needing to spend lots of money on snacks!  If you grab a snack every time someone is hungry, you can spend a fortune!  Also, and I love this one….you can get a cup of ice water from anywhere in the parks that sells fountain sodas for FREE.  (and the water’s not half bad)  Last year we packed little crystal light packets to flavor the water.  If that’s not your thing, you can throw some bottled water in your cooler.   If you really want to plan your budget at each restaurant, visit www.allears.net where they have complete menus from EVERY place to eat on Disney property!  (I could spend hours on there.  Yes, I’m a little bit crazy.)  Follow these tips and you can eat well and not break the bank.

Shelby and I on Space Mountain.

2. Pre-purchase Photopass or Photopass+!  This one thing saved us hundreds of dollars! When you get to any Disney park, you will see that there are lovely folks wanting to take your picture.  They are EVERYWHERE!  Every cool “photo spot”.  Every character meet.  And if you want to buy even one of the shots they take, it will set you back about $15.95+tax.  Then there are the ride photos that are automatically taken on some of the bigger rides.  Those babies are $ as well.  If you sign-up for Photopass, you are basically pre-paying for a CD of every pic that you have taken of you and your fam.  If you love the ride pics, then you want Photopass+.  We got lucky and caught a sale and managed to get Photopass+ for $150+tax. (it’s usually $170)  By the time we got home and I downloaded all our pics, we had 120 pictures.  That’s almost $2000 in pics! Not to mention the super cool editing feature that you can use.  Heck, we even made our Christmas card last year!!  Now, would we have  paid for that many shots?  No way.  Some of them were not that cute.  BUT….we managed to capture so many awesome moments of our trip for a fraction of the cost!   And the ride photos were priceless.  I just read that they have added a new “ride only” option, too.  For all the info click HERE.

And finally my #1 tip for going to Disney…..

1. Hit up your local Dollar Tree!!  You can seriously save so much money by pre-purchasing just a few items at the ole Dollar Tree.  Here’s a list of the booty that I picked up last year.  First of all Dollar Tree has a ton of Disney stuff….I loaded up a duffel bag with goodies to hand out to the kids every day and we got away with only buying souvenirs 2 days out of the 8.  Seriously.  They have crayons, spinning tops, paddle balls, coloring books, kaleidoscopes, magic towels, figurines and on and on.  (NOTE>>>this stops working once your kids are old enough to know it’s mostly crap.)  We also grabbed some snacks, waters, pump hand soaps, a pop up laundry hamper, an over the door shoe caddy, (great for toiletries) band-aids, super absorbent towels (to mop up rain), ponchos and my #1 find….GLOW STICKS!  They sell those things at all the nighttime parades for about $10!  Pre-purchase them and stick them in your backpack.  It’s a beautiful thing.  (side note….dollar store glow sticks are probably old.  So buy them right before your trip, or you might find that they don’t glow.  Not that it happened to me….I’m just speculating.)

Okay, so there you have it.  The Smith family’s best tips for your first or next trip to Disney.  Feel free to add your own tips in the comments, or ask a question.  My hope is to share my experiences and maybe make your trip a bit more magical.  Love and Pixie Dust!  J

How I became a running Mom. (and you can, too!)

That’s me on the right, before the start of the race.

I think I’m a pretty typical American Mom.  I’ve always struggled a little bit with my weight…usually carrying anywhere from 10-20 extra lbs on my 5’7″ busty frame.  I was lucky that during both my pregnancies, I worked grueling hours as a retail manager and even though I overindulged, I didn’t gain crazy weight with the babies.  But I held onto 5 lbs with each one and by the time we relocated to Florida in the summer of 2011, I was a good 20 lbs overweight.  Turning 40 and having 2 toddlers, I really wanted to lose that pesky extra weight and be a hot mama.  I was walking with a girlfriend several times a week.  I was doing Turbo Fire.  I was actually losing weight.  Hooray!

And then it happened.  Around here we call it “Baby-gate 2011”.   What would become my darling husband’s greatest (and worst) “I told you so” moment.  You see, he had been telling me for years NOT to cross the baby gate while I was holding our babies.  Time and again, I would assure him that I could always get my legs up and over the gate with no problem.  After all, I’d been doing since our oldest toddler was a baby….almost 3 years…and I was certain I had it down.  What I didn’t account for was my super cute-but-will-slide-off-your-foot flip-flops.  Yup.  That’s right.  Ms. smarty pants, “I will never fall over this baby gate” was done in by her sassy little shoes.  Just as I was about to clear the gate with my back foot, it slid down my foot, caught the gate and all I could do was hold on to Samantha and protect her and fall.  Hard. On the tile floor.  On my right knee.  OUCH. (I’m happy to report that she was unharmed.)

So, that was it.  The end of all of my workouts,  all my walking, all of my calorie burning.  O-V-E-R.  Now, I often tell people that at that moment in time, I totally could have decided to cut back on calories, eat less cheese, drink less wine.  But come on!!  Who are we kidding here?  So, as I recovered from my injury and waited until my knee stopped absolutely killing me, I discovered an extra 25 lbs.  (I should also mention that at the time of the fall, my hubby’s brand new job’s health insurance had not kicked in yet.  I could have gone to the ER and racked up a huge bill we couldn’t pay, but I think myself a tough broad, so I just sucked it up.)   It was almost 10 months before I felt like I could start walking again to actually burn calories.  And by that time, I now had 50 lbs to lose.  Gulp.

One of my favorite things about moving here are all of the wonderful friends we have made in such a short time.   It is truly remarkable and makes us love it here so much more.  In particular, I am a part of several groups of women who get together regularly and some of these gals have become my BFFs.   Last year in May, I was having drinks with some of them and someone mentioned run/walking in the Pensacola 1/2 marathon and asked if any of us wanted to join her.  Most everyone laughed and answered with a hearty, “hell, no!”  I stopped for a second and actually considered it.  I had almost started running in earnest back in 2006, but it didn’t last.  But, I remembered that I liked it.

Anyway, there I was, weighing my heaviest and wanting to do something that would help with that and that I’d really be able to get into.  Plus I do love a challenge!!   I did some research and discovered a few things.  First, in order to begin a 1/2 marathon training program, you have to be able to run 3 miles comfortably.  I also discovered Jeff Galloway and his run/walk/run method.  If you aren’t familiar with him, I highly recommend his training program.  It rocks.  I had several friends that sang the praises of the “Couch to 5K” app.  I also found out that pretty much anyone can get moving!!  So, armed with all of this knowledge, I determined that I’d have to complete the C25K first and then start working on the “Galloway” method.  Then I headed to Pensacola’s premier local running store, Running Wild.  They were so helpful and encouraging!  I got the right shoes and gear that I needed to begin training properly.  This didn’t leave a lot of  time to prep for the Pensacola 1/2.  But we had just bought our Disney season passes, my Dad lives in Orlando and I’d heard that if you were going to run anywhere, then you definitely should runDisney.  So, I went to the site, saw that the next 1/2 marathon was in January of 2013. Let me tell you, running at Disney is not cheap.  And neither were my shoes or the gear you need to train.  It was a big investment and I think that made it a better commitment for me.  I decided I was going to do it and I signed up, paid the money that was it.  I was on my way.

That was back in June of 2012.  I’d love to tell you that I barreled through the C25K and started the 1/2 training right away.  But, again, who are we kidding?  I have a teenager, 2 toddlers, a husband and a home based business.  Life doesn’t always make it easy for you to make changes.  I think I re-started that dang C25K program about 5 times!  I remember in the beginning, that first 60 seconds of running was almost impossible.  My first 10 minutes run almost killed me.  But then I realized I needed to find my pace, (read-slow down!) and the more I kept at it, the easier it got.  And then it got FUN.  Now, it doesn’t hurt that we live in a place where it can be downright gorgeous weather to run in.  Not to mention the scenery.  I was able to pick up the Galloway training about mid-way through and was on track to do my first 1/2 marathon following his run/walk method with a 5/1 ratio.  (run 5 min/walk 1 min.)  Then I got sick. Then Christmas happened.  And New Year’s.  And before I knew it, I had 2 weeks to get my butt in gear, because Disney’s Marathon Weekend was happening, whether I was ready or not.  So I trained for the next 2 weeks and sure enough, I managed to finish my first 1/2 marathon with less trauma than I’d anticipated.  It. Was. Awesome.  One of my friends who lives in Orlando agreed to do the thing with me and we finished in 3:38.  Not a great time by any standards.  But we finished.  There were some unexpected snags.  I learned some key things not to do.  (I’ll save that for another blog!)  And man, did my everything hurt when we were done.  But the pride that I felt was immeasurable.  Not to mention how proud my husband and kids were.  And my friends.  A great feeling to say the least.  I was officially bitten.

So, here we are.  I’ve been at this crazy running stuff for almost 6 months.  I’ve lost 12 lbs and am about to do the Double Bridge Run on Saturday.   When I’m running I feel strong.  I feel powerful.  I can listen to my music and feel like I’m in my own personal music video.  I love that I am setting a better example for my kids and teaching them about being active.

I never, ever thought I’d say “I’m a runner.”  But I am.  And it rocks.  I encourage you to lace up your shoes and give it a try.  I’m still almost 40 lbs overweight.  And my knee still bugs me sometimes.  And in the beginning I couldn’t run 2 minutes.  But, Saturday I’m going to attempt 9.3 miles.  So, if I can be a “running Mom”, you can too!

I invite you to come out this Saturday to Pensacola’s Double Bridge Run and cheer everyone on.  Say hello if you see me!  (I’ll be the middle aged lady in the tiara.)  See what it’s all about.  Introduce your kids to that environment. The finish line is at the Portofino Boardwalk, so the setting is beautiful and family friendly.  And maybe next year, we can run it together.

 

So you are planning a trip to “The World”

Planning our very first Disney vacation with our kids was almost as much fun for me as taking the actual trip.  I do love to plan. Just ask anyone who knows me well.  My friends used to call me “cruise director Julie.”  🙂  And planning is key when you want to tackled the Mouse House with wee ones in tow.   I started researching everything about 6 months prior to our trip and I learned several key things.  First, there is a wealth of information available all over the net.  Seriously.  It will make your head feel like it’s going to explode.  Second, only about 1/3 of what you plan will actually come to fruition.  In this first blog I will give you my top 10 resources on the internet for planning. (there are a zillion out there.  These are just the ones I found.)   Also, I’m not being compensated in any way by any of these vendors or sites.   They are just the ones that I think work the best.

 

10. Mouse Made Simple – This is one of many “authorized” Disney Travel Planners.  Their services are totally FREE and if you’d like to leave most of the planning to someone else, then this site is for you.  There are many out there like this, but make sure you are dealing with an “authorized” site or you may be in for headaches down the road.   This one has been around for 10 years and is very reputable.  Again, these types of sites are great if you want to let someone else do the planning.

9. The Ultimate Disney World Savings Guide by Beth Haworth   We didn’t end of buying this b/c I learned about it towards the end of my planning.  But I am seriously thinking of getting it in the coming weeks to help us plan for our next big trip in November.  It has some great reviews and feedback and is featured on my #8 website by a couple who used it and had great success.  It’s $29.95, which isn’t too bad and it comes with a satisfaction guarantee that offers a full refund.  It’s also an e-book, so as soon as the payment is complete, you can download it right away.

8. Our Cheap Disney Vacation–  This is a great site if you are on a budget, (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) and she offers some great tips for saving money on food and lodging.  I just signed up for MyPoints to try and earn gift cards for meals.  I researched MyPoints pretty well and it is legit and a neat way to earn freebies, especially if you shop online.  (but you can earn points even if you don’t shop)  This website is also where I learned about….

7. Tour Guide Mike–  Because I learned about this site very close to our departure, I didn’t look into it until we returned.  In the meantime, a good friend of mine from HS used him to plan a big family trip to Disney AT CHRISTMAS.  (Wild horses could not drag me to Disney during Christmas OR the dead of summer.)  But she LOVED him and swears that they only stood in line for 15 minutes at the most.  To give you an idea of how crowded it is during Christmas, they CLOSE the parks because they are at capacity. That’s crowded.  (shudder)  The gal with my #8 pick also raves about using him and how little they waited in line for all the rides.   I highly recommend some kind of plan…but depending on the age of your kiddos, you will need to be a bit more flexible if they are little.  More on that later.

6. The “DIS” boards– This is the largest online community of folks who love Disney.  It’s a menagerie of message boards, resources and discussion groups on everything from taking toddlers to Disney to what your favorite thrill ride is.  If it takes place in or around anything Disney, you can probably find it on here.   I gathered a lot of great information from this site by searching for what I wanted and finding a thread.  I didn’t really post much…they are a pretty tight knit group and are known for taking their Disney VERY seriously.  🙂  One of the coolest things I found on there is my #5 pick…

5. A facebook group- I can’t post a link to this page, b/c the one I belong to is private, but I found it by searching the disboards and finding a group of folks that were all headed to Disney in November of last year.  Before we had to move out trip back due to my part in the P’cola Opera Chorus, we were going in October and I had found a fb group for that month as well.   Just type in the month and year and “meet up” and you should be able to find a thread.  Then you can ask if they have a fb page and tell them you’d like to be added.  It’s a fun way to meet folks and exchange ideas and tips, as well as forge some great friendships.   You can meet in person if you like, but if that isn’t your thing, then it’s no big deal.  It’s still a great community and I learned a lot from other’s personal experiences.

4. Disney’s own website– You will need this site for basic info like park hours, EMH (extra magic hours) showtimes and ride info.  I also used it to purchase our FL resident season passes and to make our ADRs. (Advance Dining Reservations)  **sidebar-  Disney is a plethora of acronyms!  It took me a while to figure them out and disboards even has a chart to decipher them.  It’s pretty funny. (and long!) end sidebar**  The best thing I discovered on this website was one of my favorite tools as a Mom and it gets my #3 spot.

3. The Disney World Moms Panel –  This is one of the best things that Disney has put together for us Moms (and Dads) that have questions specifically about taking our kids to Disney.  It is “manned” (or “mommed”, I should say) by very experienced, friendly and fabulous Moms just like us, who will answer just about any question regarding Disney and kids.  I actually submitted 3 different questions during my planning process and got an answer within the day.  They do tell you that an answer is not guaranteed, based on the question, I suppose.  You can search for just about anything and get multiple threads that match your query.  Love. This. Site.

2.  All Ears–  It’s a toss up between this site and my #1 pick, b/c I used them both so much!  I love allears.net b/c it has so many “team members” that go out and get the info and bring it back to readers in an easy to follow format with TONS of insight.  Since we were going during Food&Wine Fest @ Epcot and it was my first time, I had a ton of questions and loved reading all of the blogs about that year’s Fest.  I also used the heck out of their extensive menu lists complete with prices!  We were on a specific budget and it was so cool to be able to look at each eatery, check the menu and see what we would order and how much it would cost.  I was even able to figure the tips and taxes and we came in almost exactly at our food budget for eating out.  They also offer deatiled reviews and info about all of the Disney resorts, which helps a lot when trying to pick a property that will work for your family and your budget.  They also offer an outstanding “planning your trip” section that I’d have used more if I hadn’t already subscribed to….

1. Touring Plans–  I loved this site and IMHO, it should be your first stop before you plan anything else.  Touring plans can help you decide WHEN you are going. This is the #1, all important first step!  Their crowd calendar is awesome and has been right on everytime we have visited.  (we have been back for several short trips since our BIG trip last Nov)  It costs $11.95 for a one year subscription.  You can get a discount for purchasing 2 or 3 years.  We did just the one year to see if we liked it.  It’s in my top spot b/c I used it the most, but I would recommend any of the planning sites I’ve mentioned.  The most important part is the crowd calculator and that part is free for the next 30 days. Beyond that you must be a subscriber.   It tells you which parks are the best parks (least crowded) and which are the parks to avoid, using a # system of 1-10.  (10 is maxed out crowds)  I used this to plan our whole trip and it was the one thing we stuck to and it worked.  The “touring plans” are part of the subscription and I must say it is pretty neat.  (I also really love and use the line app.  It gives you real time waits for everything in all the parks.)  You pick the park and your group type…ie. family with older kids, little kids, no kids, etc.  And it will spit out a plan that ensure the least wait times for each ride and the best use of your time at each park.  Cool, no?  Then you can edit it to include breaks, meals and even leaving the parks mid-day for naps.  (which I highly recommend if you have toddlers.  And Dads.  My husband loved nap time.)

Listen, I slaved over our touring plans…plotting out each meal and ride and in what order.  I am fairly certain my touring plans were works of art!!!  But here’s what I discovered….when your kids are 14, 3 and 2,  would you like to know what the best “touring plan” is?  Let them lead the way!!!  I quickly learned that while having a “plan” helped us in some ways, we really were best served by letting the kids decide what we did next.  Since we went during a time of year when it was not very crowded, we still never waited long.   Because, when your little ones see the live show with all the Disney Princesses going on in front of Cinderella’s castle while you are on your way to get a Fast Pass for Splash Mountain so you can beat the line, do you know what you do?  You stop.  And watch the show.  And get teary eyed watching all 3 of your kids get wide eyed with amazement at their favorite Disney characters singing and dancing just for them.  🙂  Up next time….my top 10 tips and tricks that worked for us.  Here’s to “Magical Planning!”