Tinker Bell’s Butterfly Garden at Epcot

What a wonderful way to celebrate all things Tinker Bell.  As we made our way out of the park to catch the airplane home, my mom and I noticed Tinker Bell’s Butterfly Garden.  I am so glad that we decided to stop while we were guests of Disney at the Traveling Mom retreat.  The fairy houses, butterflies and more were just wonderful.  My daughter would have adored this spot in Epcot.  It was the perfect taste of spring after spending a winter knee deep in snow and brown plants.

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Disney World without Kids

When one thinks of Disney World, they don’t always think of a place to visit without the kids.  I did exactly that recently on a sponsored Traveling Mom retreat and I had a blast.  My mom drove down to see me and we wandered the parks doing whatever we wanted.  Disney World with kids is lots of fun, but I present to you some reasons why should think about hitting Disney World without them (shhh…don’t tell the kids!).

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Eat whatever you want and you don’t have to share.  Want a dole whip or an ice cream cone?  Go right ahead and eat the Mickey Mouse ice cream.  Nobody is going to want yours and you don’t have to share.

Ride what you want and skip the lines of the rides you want to skip.  Sure, Winnie the Pooh is a fun ride and I love watching my daughter’s eyes light up as we hop in the honey pot.  To be honest, I am glad my mom was okay with skipping the 75 minute line.

Getting ready to ride Peter Pan, our favorite ride!

Getting ready to ride Peter Pan, our favorite ride!

Leave the parks when you want to.  When you are only paying for one ticket, it is easy to justify a shorter day at the parks.  My mom and I left before the fireworks show one night and headed to Downtown Disney to watch a movie we both wanted to see but didn’t have anyone to see it with back home.

Carry your purse or don’t even carry a bag at all.  The whole time my mom and I were walking around Disney World, we both felt like we were forgetting something.  We only had our small purses with our cameras and wallets.  We didn’t have water bottles, snacks, Camelbaks that needed refilling, toys to entertain during lines, and souvenirs bought at every gift shop.

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See that bed? I don’t have to share!

Go to bed early.  Or go to bed very late.  When at Disney World with my family, I always feel like we have to get our money’s worth.  We plan to get there when the parks open and we shut them down.  If we leave before the parks close or get there a few hours after they open, I always feel like we missed out.  On the flip side of that, when my kids are tired and ready to go home we might not be.

I can take all the pictures I want because I am not carrying all that stuff.

What is your favorite part about going to Disney World without the kids?

*Some of my expenses were sponsored my Traveling Mom, Disney or Chevrolet during this retreat.  As always, opinions are all mine.

 

7 Things to Buy BEFORE You Get to Disney World

Disney World can be an expensive vacation. Because we live in Florida, we are lucky enough to be able to take advantage of the Florida resident discounts offered throughout the year. We are also able to make the trip in a long weekend without having to take 7-10 vacation days to make our trip worth the money spent. Before you make the trip to Disney World, buy these few things to save some money. Sure, Disney World has stores everywhere and you can certainly purchase them there, but you will be glad that you saved money on these items by purchasing them before your trip.

Ponchos – Go to your local dollar store and purchase a stack full of ponchos. They are packaged perfectly for travel and cost one dollar. You will be glad you have them because it always rains at Disney World.

Souvenirs – You may be wondering why you would buy your souvenirs before your trip! Head to any store that carries Disney items and pick up a few ahead of time. You will find many of the same items at the theme parks and at a much higher price. The Orlando Targets and Walmarts also have large displays of Disney merchandise. We go shopping ahead of time and surprise the kids with little souvenirs throughout the trip. If they find something in the parks that they just absolutely have to have, we discuss it then. My kids know that this is the case and the begging every time we come out of a ride and get dropped into a gift shop does not bring out the “I want this now’s,” thankfully.

Sunscreen – I forgot my sunscreen and bought a bottle of spray sunscreen for $12.99 at the hotel. Enough said.

Batteries – If your camera takes batteries, be sure to pack extra. They will cost you more just as the sunscreen does.

Spray Bottles or Fans – These are sold all over the theme parks. You can find them sitting in ice filled coolers. Florida is hot. And humid. Buy your kids a spray bottle or fan for just a few bucks before you go.

Snacks and Drinks – This is one of our biggest money savers when we head to Disney World. You can bring in a soft-sided cooler full of drinks, snacks and even lunch. Purchase them ahead of timeand bring them to the park. Freeze water bottles and use them as ice packs. When the bottles defrost, drink them.

What do you bring with you on your Disney World trip?

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Justifying the Cost of a Disney Cruise

Anyone who has ever planned a Disney trip knows that it can quickly become a very expensive affair. I have written about some ways to save money on a trip to Disneyworld, but is it even possible to save money on a Disney cruise? Since I write so much about budget travel with your family, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about how and if I could justify a Disney cruise for my family.

This Disney cruise was not my first cruise. About eleven years ago, my husband and I went on a cruise with another couple. I think we paid all of $200 per person for four nights to the Bahamas in December. It was very low budget and we suffered because of it. The ship was small, it was crowded and there wasn’t much to do unless you were interested in gambling, dancing, drinking and eating. The one thing that I can say is that the food was wonderful.

After taking my first Disney cruise, I can whole heartedly say that it was a wonderful experience and, if you are a Disney fan, well worth the money. Disney just knows how to do entertainment. Even if you aren’t a big theme park fan, it is not hard to see that Disney knows how to entertain in movies, parks, books, music, and more. The Disney cruises are no exception but that doesn’t change the fact that the cruises are expensive.

Comparing Cruise Lines

I ran a search on several different cruise lines. I searched for similar cabins, dates close to each other and made sure that all three ships left from the same port and had similar destinations. My conclusion was that the Disney cruise is, in fact, more expensive than the ones I searched. However, in some instances it was only by a few hundred dollars.

If you have read this site before, it should come as no surprise that this would be the type of trip that we would have to save for. I advocate traveling even if you are on a tight budget. There are ways to plan a trip on a budget and save while you are on your vacation. However, I also believe in saving your pennies for a dream vacation. If your dream vacation is a Disney cruise, then start saving.

Before experiencing a Disney cruise, I would have told you there is no way that we would spend that kind of money when there are plenty of other less expensive cruising options. When I consider the Disney cruise amenities though, I can justify spending the money on it if I were to cruise again.

If you aren’t limited to a certain week of vacation, try looking at several different sailing dates. Prices vary significantly depending on the date that you would like to sail. For example, sailing in July can cost you almost $1800 more than sailing in December.

Saving Money on the Cruise

Soda, coffee, and tea are included in the price of the cruise. This may not be important to you but I would put in an IV of Diet Coke in every morning if I could (though I have managed to cut back to one soda a day recently!). This would save me a significant amount of extra money.

Most entertainment for the kids is included in the cost of the cruise. There are no hidden costs in the Kids Clubs or onboard ship activities.

In addition to the cost of the cruise, you have to consider the cost of port adventures, which can be very pricey. I think there was so much to do onboard that by the time I got to Castaway Cay, all I wanted to do was sit on the beach. If I were traveling with my family, this would help me save money. We could skip the port adventures orsplurge on the ones we really want to do, and do a little exploring on our own and enjoy the beach.

Avoiding the shops on the cruise is easy. They are located in an area that can be avoided if you choose the right elevators. One of my favorite tips for heading to the Disney theme parks is to purchase souvenirs before you leave and bring them with you. You can do the same thing on the ship. Purchase some souvenirs ahead of time and give them to your children throughout the cruise.

See Pitstops with Kids latest post about what’s included (and what you’ll pay extra for) onboard a Disney cruise. Many of the things you pay extra for can be avoided with a little bit of planning and creativity.

Am I Thinking About Taking Another Disney Cruise?

If I go on a cruise with my family, I would definitely spend the money on a Disney cruise. I think that there is something for everyone and it is worth the extra money. My husband is not 100% sold on cruising. To be honest with you, I don’t think I could cruise for more than four or five days and I would want to choose a location that I might not otherwise visit.

How do you feel about cruising? Is it worth the money? Do you prefer to travel overland?

Thank you to Disney and Traveling Mom for providing my cruise accommodations. I paid for travel there and back as well as other expenses. As always, opinions are mine and mine alone.

HTC Rhyme vs. my DSLR

The HTC Rhyme is a compact cell phone that has a fantastic camera on it. This camera is so great that if the company let me keep the phone, I would halt my search for the perfect point and shoot camera. A search which, by the way, has been perplexing me for months. While exploring the Disney Fantasy, I got to review this camera…I mean cell phone.

The camera has a number of settings that help you take beautiful pictures while on vacation or just out and about in your own town. You can adjust the ISO, white balance, resolution, and more. You can auto upload your pictures to Facebook or Flickr.  There are scenes that you can choose from like portrait and landscape. There is an action burst setting that takes five pictures, one right after the other to help you capture those perfect sports pictures. There is an option for close-up and low light. There seems to be an option for just about everything. My favorite setting to try was the panoramic.

You can also choose from several effects that will change the look of your picture such as distortion, grayscale, sepia and more.

The pictures looked pretty great in the phone and it was nice to have a small camera to use when I didn’t want to carry around my DSLR but I wanted to see how the two stacked up against each other.

To do that, I took a number of pictures with both the HTC Rhyme and my DSLR (with a 28-80mm lens) while standing in the same spot. These are all straight out of the camera or phone with the automatic function. There was no post-processing (besides adjusting the image size). Can you tell which picture was taken with the cell phone and which was taken with the camera.

Taken with the HTC Rhyme

Taken with my camera

Taken with the HTC Rhyme

Taken with my camera

Taken with the HTC Rhyme

Taken with my camera

Taken with the HTC Rhyme

Taken with my camera

I should probably disclose that I am already an Android fan and for the past two years my phone has been a Droid. As for the phone features, I didn’t make any phone calls with it but I did set up the WiFi while on the ship. I was able to pull up a search page, check email and send out a tweet on it.

It sounds great doesn’t? The BIG downside?

The phone does not have a slide out keypad, which is something I depend on greatly.

It does however take a pretty decent self-portrait…or at least one that I like enough to share on my site. Don’t I look all relaxed from my working vacation?!

Stop by Delicious Baby to see other Photo Friday submissions!  I am also participating in Friday Daydreaming over at R We There Yet.

*This post is sponsored by HTC. Thank you to HTC and TravelingMom.com for giving me the HTC Rhyme to try. I will be returning the phone to the company next week.  Thank you to Disney and Traveling Mom for providing my cruise accommodations. I paid for travel there and back as well as other expenses. As always, opinions are mine and mine alone.

Staterooms Available on the Disney Fantasy

The Disney Fantasy offers a number of different staterooms to meet the needs of each type of family. When I sailed on the media preview cruise, I was in a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah. The room would sleep three comfortably. It had a queen-size bed and a sleeper sofa. If you are traveling with 4 or 5, there is an upper berth and/or wall pull-down bed depending on the room you choose. The Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with private verandah has sliding doors off of the room.

Approximately nine out of ten staterooms on the Disney Fantasy have a view of the ocean. Some rooms have full verandahs with unobstructed views, some rooms have verandahs that may have obstructed views, and other staterooms have large portholes. The rooms that do not have an ocean view have a Magical Porthole that shows real time views from a camera mounted outside of the ship. Keep an eye on the Magical Porthole because you never know who might swim or fly by.

Except for the Standard Inside Stateroom, each room has a split bathroom. There is a toilet and sink combination in one room and a bath/shower and sink combination in the second room. This would help save a family significant time getting ready in the morning.

Rooms come with plenty of storage space so you can unpack your belongings and still be able to move around the room comfortably. The beds have been raised a bit so your luggage can be place under the bed and out of the way. The desk area has storage space as well as the ottoman.

Disney has put extra thought into making families comfortable. The flat-screen TV is on a swivel arm so that parents or children can watch TV without disturbing the other. There are nightlights that can be turned on to help your children adjust to the new space. The privacy curtain can be pulled so that children can sleep and not be disturbed by the TV.

Having a verandah was nice but after touring the other staterooms, I can confidently say that I would be perfectly happy with an inside stateroom. To be honest with you, I would probably prefer an inside stateroom because of both safety and budget reasons. I wouldn’t have to worry about my children out on the balcony (though the Disney Fantasy has a safety lock at the top of the sliding glass door). The stateroom would mostly be a landing zone at the end of a long day. We wouldn’t spend much time in the room because we would be so busy exploring the ship. For this reason, I would rather book an inside stateroom and have the extra money to spend on port adventures and more. If my children were at the tween/teen stage, I would be willing to splurge for the Deluxe Inside Stateroom so that we could take advantage of the split bathroom.

I think that my children would much prefer watching Peter Pan fly across the Magical Porthole than sit on the balcony anyway, don’t you?

Do you spend the extra money on a room with a view or do you book an inside stateroom when you cruise?

See more information about the Disney Fantasy: Panoramic photos from the trip; Seven Mistakes Made by a First Time Cruiser; and Security in Disney’s Fantasy Kids Clubs.

Thank you to Disney and Traveling Mom for providing my cruise accommodations. I paid for travel there and back as well as other expenses. As always, opinions are mine alone.

Seven Mistakes Made by a First Time Disney Cruiser

Disney just recently launched the Disney Fantasy and I had the opportunity to sail on one of the media preview cruises. I learned so much about the Disney cruise line and have so much to share with you over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, now that I am home I have come up with a dozen things that I wish I had done or seen while on the ship. Don’t make the same mistakes that I did.

1. Leaving your reusable water bottle in the stateroom or not bringing/buying one.  Soda and water are included in your price of the cruise but the beverage stations are located on the 11th deck. You won’t always find yourself on the 11th deck or next to an open restaurant when you are thirsty so bring a water bottle that you can carry around. Also, the cups are small and don’t hold very much.

2. Not Trying the Spa Day Pass. The Senses Spa and Salon offers a pass that gives you access to saunas, aromatic showers, steam rooms, and more. There are two price choices depending on what you want access to: $16 and $27. I was so busy with tours that I didn’t take the time to try the spa day pass. It is priced reasonably and is a great way to get a little pampering in even if the spa treatments are booked up or out of your budget.

3. Leaving the camera in the room. After touring the ship the first day, I left my camera in my room when I was running to the 11th deck (see tip #1). I ran smack dab into Snow White and was so disappointed that I didn’t have my camera. As my bloggy pal, Steve from More Kids Than Suitcases, points out, these events happen often (Click that link to see his review on the characters about the ship…be sure to click the rest of his Disney cruise reviews.  I wish I had found his posts before the trip rather than after while I was in the airport!). If you have a large DSLR camera, you might want to bring a camera that fits in your pocket for moments when you want to leave the big camera in the stateroom.

4. Skipping the shows. I went to all three show offerings and I am so glad that I did. The shows are brilliant and as I sat in the theater watching the special effects it was hard to remember that I was still on a ship. I spoke to some people who had skipped all but the last show and were disappointed they missed the first few. Be sure to at least watch one show.

5. Going back to my room immediately after the Pirates in the Caribbean party. Once the party and the fireworks show were both over, we practically ran to the elevators to beat the crowd. We were in the back of the show and didn’t see too much so we thought that it was over. By the time I got to my room, I could hear the horns playing famous Disney songs. I was able to hear it from my verandah but I am sad that I wasn’t on the top deck for it.

6. Eating like a bird at dinner. The gourmet meals served at dinner were delicious. They are portioned well and I didn’t feel like I was overeating (except for maybe when I ordered double desserts each night!). If you want to try something, don’t be shy. It is included in your cruise. That being said, if you are watching your weight, it is easy to stick to small portions if you eat at the sit down dinners.

7. Doing too much in one day. I was on the Disney Fantasy as part of a Traveling Mom working retreat. I was in workshops, panel discussions, and interviews. In between all of that, I was trying to squeeze in as much as possible. By the time, I got off of the ship, I was exhausted. Choose the activities that you most want to do and don’t miss them. Watch the Personal Navigator over the next few days to see if an activity you missed is on the schedule later in the week.

 Thank you to Disney and Traveling Mom for providing my cruise accommodations. I paid for travel there and back as well as other expenses. As always, opinions are mine alone.

Disconnecting While Traveling without the Family

When given the opportunity to attend a retreat with Traveling Mom aboard the Disney Fantasy for an inaugural cruise, I jumped at the chance.  I booked a plane ticket to Orlando and gave myself an extra day to enjoy some time before boarding.    The timing couldn’t be more perfect as my kids are on spring break so we set up a visit to the grandparents.  Both the grandparents and kids are thrilled.  My husband is looking forward to having some time to do the things that he wants to do without having to worry about what we are doing.  I know that safety is important to Disney and I know that I will be safe and have fun on the ship.  I wasn’t worried about anything.

Until I visited my cell phone provider this week.

After waiting way too many minutes to speak with someone, I was informed that I could in fact have cell phone service on the boat but it would cost approximately the equivalent of a semester at college.  We decided not to enable the service and will just pay the extra fees if I have to make an emergency call.

I know that Internet service is available on the ship, but I have been told that it is also pricey and spotty.  I will be interested to see how it is for myself.

Luckily, my family can still get in touch with me if they need to.  My Disney cruise documents came with three little cards to give to loved ones.  Each card has the contact information should there be an emergency.  This has given me a little bit of peace of mind while I am completely disconnected from my family.

Have you ever been completely disconnected (or for the most part) from your family?  What did you do to make sure that they could get ahold of you in case of an emergency?  Were there any issues?

 

50’s Prime Time Cafe – Disney World’s Hollywood Studios

The 50’s Prime Time Cafe is set up like mom’s kitchen…complete with curtains on the windows, black and white televisions, and tasty dishes just like mom would make.  You will find pot roast, meatloaf, fried chicken, chicken noodle soup and tuna casserole on the menu!

The waiters and waitresses are absolutely hilarious.  They make sure you know that your elbows do not belong on the table.  Be careful because if you are caught with your elbows on the table more than once you will be punished!  My husband had to stand up with his nose in a corner!  It is all in good fun and we all had a laugh at my husband’s expense.  When your plate is clean, you get a Clean Plate Club sticker!

Our kids thought the best part of the meal was when it was time to pick our dessert.  This is the dessert menu:

We were able to recharge with food, cool off in the air conditioning and as soon as we were done with dessert we were ready to stand in line for another ride!

Wander on by Wanderfood Wednesday to see sweet and savory dishes around the world!

Orlando Family Vacation on raveable

Do you wait in line to meet and greet characters at theme parks?

We don’t wait in line to meet the characters while we are at Disney World.  Call me a bad mom but I just can’t stand waiting in line to snap a picture and get an autograph while we are missing rides and shows.  I don’t think my kids are really all that interested either.  If they are desperate to meet characters, I would rather set up a character dining experience.  That being said, while we were at Disney at the beginning of the month, we met two different characters.  We were walking by this friend just as he arrived so there was no line.  The boy cousins thought the meeting was hilarious!

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