Disney Park Tips From A Tween

For many years BabyGirl had a blog. While she still loves to write, it’s not her primary space so I’ve decided to share some of her posts. This is one she wrote awhile back, from the perspective of a pre-teen about spending time at a Disney park. I think she hits the highlights.

Disney Tips from a Tween

Here are a few things you SHOULD NOT do while at Disney:

Lunch:

Don’t go to eat lunch when everyone else is.  Not only will the restaurants be crowded, but you’ll be missing the opportunity to go on that attraction you wanted!  This can apply for basically all the parks, as long as the attractions normally have longer wait times.

Shoes:

Don’t wear any shoes you deem even slightly uncomfortable.  A lot of the time, I have seen people wearing uncomfortable-looking shoes, and they often complain and don’t have very much fun while they are at the parks.  Sneakers (tennis shoes, whatever you call them) are your best friend.  If you want to be a little more fashionable, you can go for sandals.  However, these sandals must be made for walking.  Any sandals won’t do, as some sandals aren’t made for long-term use.

Packing:

Don’t bring a huge bag with you in the park.  Only bring the necessities.  A phone, maybe an extra charger, a change of clothes (but really only if you go on a wet ride), ponchos, and a water bottle – it should be refillable, but if not that’s okay.  Not only will you have less weight on your back, you won’t annoy other guests by constantly banging into them!

Pictures:

Don’t take too many pictures.  A few pictures are okay; to capture the memories of going to Disney.  But if you are taking your phone out every five seconds to snap a photo of something, you need to stop.  Capture the important moments.  Don’t waste your memory on minuscule things that you won’t even care about in the long run.  And yes, I know that sounds harsh, but it’s easier on you if you don’t constantly feel pressured to take a picture of something.

Kids:

Don’t let your kids run wild and if you’re a kid reading this, listen to your parents.  Sure, this is Disney, so if they’re old enough to get food at a restaurant buffet, they can, but make sure you’re watching them.  I’ve heard a lot of website authors complaining about how parents at Disney let their kids run everywhere, and frankly, it’s annoying.  Don’t restrain them too much – let them have a chance to ‘capture all the Disney magic’, but you can’t let them just run around at risk of getting lost.

So, I hope these tips help you prepare for your trip to a Disney park. If you’re heading to Disney, take a moment to see one of the crazy things my family does when we go.

This article is a repost from BabyGirl’s no longer active blog.

Sara

Turning a Dream Vacation to Israel into Reality

Bat Mitzvah Israel

I like to think I live “in the city”, but the reality is that I live in the ‘burbs. How do I know this? Easy, I drive everywhere. There’s no walking to the market, which I call a store because it’s not quaint and stocked with food fresh from the farm this morning. There’s no bumping in to friends while on a stroll. I don’t stroll. If I’m out walking, I’ve got my headphone in and am exercising, not strolling. And there surely isn’t casually grabbing a coffee since there’d be a weeks’ worth of texts just to plan a 20-minute coffee.

Paris Flower Shop

 

Jerusalem Shuk

 

Israel Juice Stand

But I wish I lived in the city. Spending time in Tel Aviv, where people were meeting for coffee all hours of the day and night, or in Paris where it seems that 20-steps from your quaint city-center flat is a flower stand filled with fragrant and beautiful buds, or even in Jerusalem where the market was bustling and filled with fresh goodness row after row, has me longing for that vibe. And while a grand summer vacation is fabulous, the reality is that summer is usually one big staycation. And I’m using staycation very loosely.

As I was missing the seemingly ease of the city-dwellers life, I shared that I wish I had the ability to just walk past a flower stand and within minutes carry out a beautifully wrapped bouquet. Stopping at the grocery store and browsing the industrial flowers just doesn’t have that same feeling. The PR team at ProFlowers noticed my public lament and offered to help me recreate that feeling with one of their beautiful tropical floral arrangements. Within days the flower shop came to me in the form of a large box dropped off by UPS. Inside was a little slice of Tel Aviv, Paris, Jerusalem, and Dublin.

Jerusalem - Hawkins Trip 2015

Instantly my house was filled with the scent that made me think of the flower shop on Rue Cler in Paris. The bouquet added just the pop of color to remind me of the little vases on the tables in the cafés along Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. One bouquet had all of us talking about our trip, thinking about the local resorts and their huge arrangements in the entry, and feeling like “the rest of summer” was, at least for a short time, a little staycation at home.

As we traveled around Israel this summer, we hear a lot of people refer to our trip as “a dream vacation” and “once in a lifetime”. I sure hope not! While it did take a lot of planning and saving, I definitely want to do it again. And again. And again. I hope. To lots of different places. Once I knew we were having a girl, I knew about 12 years later we’d be having a Bat Mitzvah. These don’t sneak up on parents. I had a plan A and a plan B for BabyGirl’s Bat Mitzvah, because my grandma would be 93 and I’m not naive to what that could mean. When my grandmother passed away at the end of 2013, the plan B Bat Mitzvah planning was kicked into high gear. As far as Bat Mitzvah’s go, having one is Israel isn’t all that much of a stretch. While not uncommon, though, it’s not all that common either. But I was going to do it.

Jerusalem Family Vacation

 

Haifa Vacation

I know people who will take a cheap flight to Paris for the weekend. Or go to Iceland for a few days to catch the Northern Lights. Few people, though, ever say, “hey, let’s go to Israel next week”. And while it’s an absolutely gorgeous place, the reality is many people are scared off by the news stories. For me it wasn’t a hindrance. I’d spent weeks in a bomb shelter when I was in Israel back in the mid-80s. I knew the situation of the 2014 summer wouldn’t last long. And if it did, well, that’s what travel insurance is form.

This idea of a “dream vacation” escapes me because my grandparents traveled extensively, so I knew that the world was out there waiting for me. I feel that it’s my job to give that same sense of wonder to BabyGirl. CycleGuy didn’t grow up with his family spending a month in China, weeks in Greece, or making several trips to Israel and Egypt. And while it didn’t take much convincing, there was still some apprehension. Israel does not have the same draw, or at least  it did not before our trip, as Paris or London or Dublin.

Planning a trip of this magnitude isn’t easy. If it were “just a trip” I may have felt like there was more room for chance. Ask any parent planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and you’ll understand the need for orchestration. However, big dreams don’t become reality without a little bit of extra work. All that work was worth it! Now, to dream more big vacation dreams. And you? Get to dreaming and doing too!

What’s your dream vacation? How are you going to make it a reality?

 

Sara

What To Do If You Only Have One Day In Dublin

Visit Dublin

On the way back from Israel, in an effort to ease the transition back home, we stopped in Dublin. Neither CycleGuy nor I had ever been to Dublin, except for the several hours we spent in the airport on the way out to Israel. In planning the trip, I didn’t want to bypass the opportunity to visit Ireland even if it meant we’d only be there for a day.

I researched the city and discovered that is it very walkable and it’s home to a number of sites that would be interesting for kids and adults. There would be something for all of us and with summer temperatures in the 70s it would be perfect weather for us after the warmth of Israel.

While we arrived late and left early, spending two nights at the Doubletree on Burlington Road, we really only had one day to explore. What we quickly discovered, and heard time and again from our taxi drivers, was that we’d need to plan a return trip to explore Dublin a little more and get beyond the city to enjoy more of Ireland. Dublin offers everything you’d expect in a major modern European city, but, time and again I heard that the “real” Ireland could only be experienced by visiting the countryside and smaller cities and villages around the country.

The hotel I chose was more of a default because I used hotel points and the location I really wanted was booked. While not as convenient, the Doubletree on Burlington Road is an “American-style” business hotel and offers amenities you’d expect while traveling in the US. If you’re looking for something more of an “Irish experience” this is not the hotel for you. For us, though, it was acceptable. One major downside (and evidently common in many of Dublin’s hotels) is the lack of air conditioning in all the rooms. While you shouldn’t normally need a/c, when it’s unseasonably warm and humid and you’re not used to sleeping with the room temperature near 80°F having central air is important.

With a late arrival, our only desire was to find a place where CycleGuy could get a pint of Guinness. I don’t drink beer, and for the most part neither does CycleGuy. But Guinness is his beer of choice, and as I’ve been reminded many times Guinness is not beer. Thanks to Yelp I found that there was a well-rated, yet historic, eatery within about a 10-minute walk. Situated on Upper Baggot Street, Searsons has been in business since 1845. In Dublin, especially, you won’t last long if you’re not a place where locals dine. The historic building has been renovated and reflects a modern Irish charm with a pub-style front and a family friendly open-kitchen dining area in the back.

First order of business was to get CycleGuy his birthday Guinness. Just a few days earlier he spent his birthday partly in Jerusalem and partly in Paris. But this pint was what he was really looking forward to as his birthday gift to himself. Searsons did not disappoint. Great service, delicious food, and a relaxing atmosphere that was the perfect welcome to our short stay in Ireland.

Bright and early on our only full day in Dublin, we headed out of the hotel toward St. Stephen’s Green. About a 15 minute walk from the hotel, our cab driver from the airport told us that it’s an easy walk and given all the one-way streets probably just as quick to walk as it would be to drive. Being that the Doubletree is not in a heavy tourist area, it was a lovely walk in a more residential part of Dublin with plenty of  “Good Morning!” greetings from the locals.

St Stephens green

St. Stephen’s Green is the city center park in the heart of Dublin. Dating back to the mid 1600s, the park was originally the grounds of a church. Thanks to the generosity of Sir Arthur Guinness, in the late 1800s the park was deeded to the city for all to enjoy. The 22-acre park is home to beautiful gardens, parks, and memorial sculptures.  As we walked through there were people hurriedly walking to work, kids laughing at the playground, landscapers tending to the gardens, and the sounds of the city beyond the walls softened by all the trees. While we didn’t spend much time in the park, it’s definitely a place to visit while you’re in Dublin. It’s the largest of the many city-owned parks. And while some may argue whether it’s the nicest in town, it certainly is the place where the idea of public green space in Dublin originated.

From St. Stephen’s Green, we walked down Grafton Street, Ireland’s world-famous shopping area. Historic buildings line what is now a pedestrian area, but instead of old businesses or government offices you’re in the heart of the shopping district. With iconic Irish businesses tucked in between the newest and most popular international shops, Grafton Street could easily be in any major city around the world. We didn’t spend much time here since we only had one full day. However, we did stop in to the family run R & C McCormack jewelry shop to buy Aunt Zoni a souvenir.

Grafton Street

Our first destination was Trinity College, which is near the other end of Grafton Street. The historic college was top of our list because BabyGirl loves visiting libraries and I had read that Trinity College boasts one of the Top 10 libraries in the world. There’s not a lot to see at Trinity College, but it’s a destination for many who visit Dublin because it houses the famous Book of Kells. An active university, Trinity College, is like a page from Harry Potter with its historic buildings, lush green spaces, and beautiful Old Library. While the Book of Kells is the main reason visitors are at the College, for us it was the grandeur of the Old Library. For 26€ we signed up for the student-led guided tour, which includes admission to the Book of Kells at the end. The tour lasts about 40 minutes and is quite informative not just about the history but also about the student’s perspective on the current experiences.  Many people were bypassing the tour and heading straight to the Book of Kells. While the Book of Kells was interesting, for most kids it’s just an old book under glass in a darkened room. For us, our destination was the Long Room in the Old Library. Dating back to the early 1700s and lined with magnificent sculptures of the world’s most famous writers and philosophers, for our book-loving BabyGirl this 200,000 volume working library was heaven. While she enjoyed the Book of Kells exhibit and seeing the Book of Kells itself, the look on her face and sparkles in her eyes she had standing in the Long Room is what vacation memories are made of.

Dublin Trinity College Long Room

Dublin Trinity College Long Room Hawkins

Dublin Trinity College Hawkins

Trinity College

Next stop on our “Dublin in a Day” was lunch at The Pieman Cafe in the trendy Temple Bar section of the city. The brightly-colored storefront welcomes you to a small shop serving homemade savory pies. If you’re not into meat pies, they also have traditional Bangers and Mash (and from what the gal said they also do a vegetarian pie). For about €8, cash only, you can enjoy a traditional lunch with your choice of pie, a side, gravy, and a cold drink. It’s a hotspot for locals, who easily recognize the few tourists who stop in.

Once rested and nourished, it was off to CycleGuy’s choice of Dublin historical sites, the Guinness Storehouse. Said to be Dublin’s top tourist attraction, it was on our list because CycleGuy is a Guinness guy and loves history and this combines the two. The tour is self-guided and does not include any part of the working brewery. Children are welcome, and if you go up to the Gravity Bar there are soft drinks available. The tour was interesting and filled with history of the city, brewing, and the Guinness family. You can spend as much or as little time as you wish along the several floors of displays, but leave plenty of time to enjoy the Gravity Bar at the top. Besides having a much-needed cold drink, the view is extraordinary.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Cathedral

While quit a distance from the Temple Bar area, we chose to walk the nearly 2km to the Guinness Storehouse. Along the way, we stopped at the Dublin Castle, passed several wonderful public art sculptures, grabbed a pastry at a local shop, saw the oldest building in Dublin – Christ Church Cathedral, and enjoyed a sunny (and unusually warm to the locals) day in Dublin. It’s a very walkable city, so if the weather is nice enough put on your comfy shoes and walk along the picturesque streets of Dublin.

Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Gravity Bar

We grabbed a cab back to the hotel to relax a bit before dinner. We decided to stay nearby the hotel and find another place where the locals eat. Canal Bank Café was highly recommended by a number of locals we asked, and lucky for us it was just a few minutes walk from the hotel. With a focus on fresh ingredient, Canal Bank Café was a delicious end to what had already been a perfect day in Dublin. The wait staff was friendly and attentive, the seating cozy but not uncomfortably close, and the menu inviting and mouth-watering. I had a salad that was being featured and it was filled with fresh, local ingredients and tasted like it was just picked and made moments before being served. The restaurant is known for it’s Buffalo Chicken Wings, which may seem a bit odd for a local Dublin joint. We ordered some because it was something that reminded us of home and after three weeks of travel we were missing home. Let’s just say that if you stop in to Canal Bank Café make sure you get an order of the wings.

As we headed back to the hotel, we talked about wanting to come back and see more of Ireland. The people are warm and friendly, there’s an Irish pride that is shared freely, and so much history and beauty to explore. Stopping in Dublin was definitely a great way to end our trip, even if it was a short visit.

The next day CycleGuy headed to the airport for an early flight. Although it was colder and rainy, much more typical weather I was told, BabyGirl and I ventured out to the Natural History Museum. Free to the public, it was a fun way to spend our morning instead of being holed up in the hotel.  There were several floors filled with animals of Ireland, as well as many from nearby countries. It was quite fascinating to see animals that we’re not used to seeing.

Our flight home on Aer Lingus allowed us to enjoy a little more of the Irish hospitality. Can’t say enough good things about the flight attendants in Business Class. And what’s extra cool is that in Dublin, US Customs has a Preclearance program so you go through customs in Dublin and when you land in the US it’s just like any other domestic flight so you’re on your way quickly.

Dublin US Customs Preclearance

So, if you’re heading to Dublin I hope this gives you an idea of a few things you can do while you’re there. If you have the opportunity to do a one-day stopover, say “yes” and enjoy some of the highlights the city has to offer. Dublin is welcoming, friendly, offers wonderful historic sites and modern spaces, and a dining scene to enjoy.

Sara

Take Sound On The Go With Ultimate Ears Boom Speaker

Ultimate Ears Speakers

FTC Disclosure

I grew up in the era of the boom box. If you don’t know what that is, it’s that giant portable stereo John Cusack held up in the movie Say Anything. If you’ve never seen Say Anything, you really should. Not just for the boom box scene, but it’s a really great movie.

Anyway, teens and young adults in the 80s rarely went anywhere without their boom box. Then the Sony Walkman came along and made listening to your own music portable. I still have two Sony Walkman players. I don’t use them, but they are filled with so many memories.

Today, with smartphones it’s easy to carry our music with us.  The problem with that has been the lack of shareability. Sure you can crank up the volume and put your phone in an empty bowl to act as an amplifier, but who carries a bowl around with them? And while it works to some degree, the lame factor is quite high. And if you’re a parent of a tween who wants to be cool with her friends, a phone in a bowl is not going to do it.

As a Verizon Insider, I was sent the new Ultimate Ears Boom 360º Sound portable wireless speaker to take for a techdrive. Perfect timing for many reasons. Out of the box, the speaker was ready to go in under 5-minutes. I like to work in quiet, but CycleGuy always has something on in his office so we set it up there and he was listening to podcasts and music in no time. As he was heading out of town, he tossed the speaker in his bag because he hates the quiet of hotel rooms, and it’s also a speakerphone so he can use it for phone calls using the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or his Kyocera Brigadier.

Ultimate Ears Boom 360

With Spring in bloom, we’re spending more time outside. In the past we’ve relied on the house speakers, but then we’re kind of stuck having to be near where they’re mounted. Problem is I rearranged our outdoor seating and the sound doesn’t reach the new area very well. The Ultimate Ears Boom speaker was exactly what I needed. It’s designed for any lifestyle, which makes it great for me and my family.

UE Boom Speaker

One of the coolest features, though, is the Alarm. It’s a newer feature that was an update to the app and I’m pretty sure I’m never getting the speaker back from CycleGuy. With all the traveling he does, this new Alarm feature may be his new favorite reason for taking the speaker with him. I know that it’s coming with us to Israel this summer!

So whether it’s for the office, out by the pool, at the beach, or pretty much anywhere you want great sound, the Ultimate Ears Boom is a must-have accessory. I have the Blue Steel color, but it comes in nearly 20 different colors and patterns. Priced at $199 and available from Verizon Wireless or from the Ultimate Ears website it’s a good value for the versatility it brings. These would make a great gift for someone heading off to college or even a recent college grad. Great for work AND play!

Sara

Ignore Those Who Say Differently And Take Your Kids On Vacation

Family Travel

At the end of January I saw an article on Facebook about travel destinations you shouldn’t take kids. I didn’t think much of it because I agree that there are just some places you shouldn’t travel with kids. I would never think of taking my daughter to a popular spring break destination during spring break. Not because I’m opposed to spring breakers, but because it won’t be fun for her. Or us. And that charming B&B? Not for kids. Not because they’re hooligans or wild beasts, but because there likely isn’t anything there for them and their boredom is not good for them, their parents, the other guests, or the B&B staff.

Evidently, though, the article garnered a great deal of feedback. Many of the comments seemed to miss the point. Or so I thought. I didn’t see the article as telling me I should never vacation with a child. And even if it did, I would greatly disagree. See, BabyGirl has been traveling with us since she was a baby. What I never did, though, was assume that travel with her would be just like it had been when I was single or married without children. That’s the key. Kids change everything, we’ve heard it before. And, for the most part that change is pretty awesome.

However, when you travel with your kids (or in my case, just one child) you have to think very differently. You can’t expect to smoothly push a stroller around ancient cities with cobblestone streets, narrow passageways, and pre-historic sights. I wasn’t a stroller user, but when we travelled while BabyGirl was still in a car seat we have a car seat/stroller combo. It wasn’t always easy or convenient. But I knew this going in and I didn’t expect others to accommodate me when this was not their choice. Parents with kids, even tiny babies, know that there is a level of unpredictability that ranges from ‘I can handle that!’ to ‘Mary Poppins would quit on the spot’. If you expect to find world-class medical care within a mile of your second-world accommodations you’re delusional.

Travel with kids, like pretty much anything with kids, requires thoughtful consideration. Whether it’s a staycation or a trip across the globe, kids should be able to go and everyone still have a great time. It’s wrong to think parents of small kids should only have the option of not traveling or leaving their kids with someone else. Parents know their kids best. And while I do question the parenting choices of people who are pushing a stroller with a sleeping kid, or better yet a screaming kid, at 1am down the Las Vegas strip or from attraction to attraction at Disney, I wouldn’t say they shouldn’t vacation with their child. Make different choices, yes. Hunker down until their child is “old enough”?  No.

Every family is different, and I think if you’re able to navigate the complexities of traveling with a child you should. What I don’t agree with when it comes to vacationing with children is that my vacation should suffer because of another family’s choice not to manage their children or expectations. Parents can’t take your new double-wide stroller on vacation during peak time and expect for others to be patient while they figure out how to get the over-size contraption onto a bus without taking out the kids because “they’re tired”. Parent’s can’t travel to a foreign country and expect to find their child’s favorite food and when they can’t expect others in the restaurant to be understanding of their screaming child.

Vacations should be fun for everyone. The people who work at our destinations should want to help us create a great experience. Others who meet up and interact with us shouldn’t feel like we’re ruining their vacation. Yes, things happen and plans go awry. Luggage isn’t delivered, hotel descriptions are not accurate, travel guides aren’t forthcoming. But things go wrong all time. I’ve changed hotels with my daughter because the walls were paper-thin and just because babies get hungry and cry and I have to be up at 2am to feed her doesn’t mean everyone else in the hotel does too. For me, waking up several times at night to feed an infant is normal. My normal, though, may not be your normal.

Now that BabyGirl is almost a teen (my how time flies!), there seems to be a consensus that there are no limits to traveling with her. That’s not the case either. There are plenty of places I don’t think are appropriate for her to visit. Traveling with kids provide them with wonderful and amazing opportunities. But, becoming a parent is not a prison sentence requiring to stay within the confines of your home until your kids are “old enough”.

What are your thoughts on traveling with kids?

Sara

Must Have Tech For 2015

Must Have Tech Gadgets

VZW Disclosure

As 2014 comes to an end and the gift giving events make way for talk about the big game or getting fit for summer, there’s still gift cards to spend and deals to be made. Regardless of whether you unwrapped one or a pile, chance are you may not have received some things you really wanted. Or maybe you got gift cards because you’re “hard to buy for” or “it’s easier to send you money”. So now you’re faced with how to spend that loot and what better way than to make sure you have the must have tech gear to make the most of your smartphone or tablet. You may have some ideas of what you want but I thought I’d share a few of my favorite tech gadgets to jump start 2015.

bluetooth headphones1. A good pair of headphones. Whether you like the over-ear, in-ear, or on-ear models, there are so many options. Quality headphones are a must these days, but which one you choose will depend a lot on your lifestyle and how you use them. For active lifestyles you might like the Plantronics Backbeat Fit bluetooth in-ear headphones. The Jawbone ERA is a great low-profile bluetooth headset, especially if you want something a little more discreet and professional-looking. The ERA is the one CycleGuy uses mostly for business. For gaming or watching movies, there are great options from Beats by Dre and Sol Republic. I have different headphones for different uses, so it’s not uncommon to have several pairs of headphones.

portable mini speaker2. A wireless portable speaker. As a child of the 80s, portable speakers have been a very important part of my life. Now, though, they’re not the size of a small TV. Gone are the “boombox” days of lugging around 20-pound stereo systems. We’ve got an entire music library in our purse or pocket. The problem is that sometimes you want to share it and your only options are putting your device in a bowl and cranking up the volume with the hopes it will broadcast. With tiny portable speakers that easily fit in a purse, backpack, carry-on luggage, or in the glove box of a car the mobile DJ in you can come out wherever you are. The Mini Jambox from Jawbone (I really do love their products!) comes in a variety of fun colors and can be used in both casual and professional settings. I’ve heard of them being used at business events and parties when people need big sound in a compact space.

3. Apps to improve your productivity. And by productivity I don’t mean just business-type stuff. With apps to help stimulate your brain and wellness apps, or even must-have apps that aren’t on every “top apps” list you have the ability to customize each device so that you’re getting the most out of it when you’re on it. Sometimes the best productivity app is Spotify or Pandora because you just need some good music to help you get motivated. Other times, maybe you need a great list app or top news and media apps. There are tens of thousands of apps out there in iOS, Android, and Windows that you’re likely to find just the right apps to help you get more out of your smartphone or tablet so you can be more productive.

4. A fitness tracker. I was able to check out the Microsoft Band the day it came out and it was quite impressive with its many features that integrated into smartphones. CycleGuy has the JawboneUP 24 and likes how it integrates with his cycling and food-tracking apps. I have a JawboneUP and even though it’s very basic it gives me a lot of helpful information. Even though it would be cool to have one of the high-end models, there are quality fitness trackers for every budget.

Mophie portable charger5. A portable charger. This should probably be #1 on the list of must have tech gear. I carry the Mophie Powerstation with me. It’s compact and lightweight so it doesn’t add bulk to my purse. And since I have both iOS and Android devices I usually keep cables for several different devices in the car so if I’m out and a friend is running low on power I can lend them my charger. When my daughter went on an out-of-town school field trip, I sent my New Trent Power Pack and iSound Power Max so the chaperones would have power on the 10+ hour drive should there be an emergency. We’re on our phones so much, especially on long trips where you don’t always have access to a plug, that draining our devices is not just a possibility. We’ve all be out and had our phone die with no real options to power it up. Now, you carry the power with you! And for under $100 it’s a great way to be prepared when the power goes out.

If you have these, then you’re good to go! If you have friend or family that don’t have these, then consider them as gifts because they’d probably be happy to get these. I know that many of the apps are free, but consider buying the paid version of an app you love and if you need to give someone a gift they’d probably love the “pro” version too.

What are your “go to” or “must have” tech items that you can’t live without?

Disclosure: I am a member of the Verizon Lifestyle Influencer team and share information about technology. This post was not required or edited by a third-party. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sara

Seven Not So Scary Reasons to Celebrate Halloween at Disney

Disney Halloween

I’m not a Halloween person. I’ve mentioned that before and it’s something many of my friends learn very early on in our friendship. But when Halloween is packaged with Mickey Mouse, roller coasters, a parade, and family memories, that I can do!

On our second trip to Disney World we were there during Mickey’s No So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP). BabyGirl was about 6 and she was very well aware of my non-love of Halloween. As a way to appease her and hope that she’d totally fall in love with Mickey’s version of trick or treating, and never want to go trick or treating at home, we bought tickets.

As a separate ticketed event, the Halloween party is not included in general park admission. So we plunked down our greenbacks, obtained our special wrist bands and made our way around Magic Kingdom for a few hours with what seemed like just a few hundred people in the park. I’m sure there were several thousand, but with no wait on any ride, lots of room to roam, candy stations that would fill your bags with hands full of candy, and character meet and greet lines merely a few people deep the Mickey’s No So Scary Halloween Party was a big hit.

We’ve now been to MNSSHP five times and each year it’s just as fun as the one before. So I thought I’d share with you …

Seven Not So Scary Reasons to Celebrate Halloween at Disney

1. Costumes – The general policy at Disney Parks is that costumes may not be worn by adults unless there is a special event permitting guests of all ages to wear them. And by adult, Disney means guest age 10 and over. For me, this isn’t really a big deal. BabyGirl likes to dress up for the Halloween party but I go as far as getting fun Halloween matching shirts for CycleGuy and me. This year BabyGirl dressed as Hermione from Harry Potter and she was a bit hesitant because it wasn’t owned by Disney. But she was happily greeted by Cast Members and guests alike. Minnie also noticed her during the parade and gestured to her that she liked the costume. A magical moment!

MNSSHP Alice In Wonderland

MNSSHP Hawkins Family

2. Short or Non-Existent Lines – Well, for the most part you will be able to get right on your favorite rides. The only exception we as was the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train which had a 25-minute wait. For most, that’s a short wait. But for MNSSHP veterans it brings out a bit of grumbling for having to wait. With the introduction of the Fastpass+ system, many are not able to secure a Fastpass for their favorite rides and wait times in excess of 45 minutes are often agreed to reluctantly. At the party, though, there are no Fastpasses so you can get on any rides or attractions that are open (which is pretty much all but a hand full). For us, the biggest coup was getting in to see Anna and Elsa without much of a wait. The outside placard showed 30 minutes. We debated whether or not we should just suck it up and wait, and decided that 30 minutes was worth it since we could have a snack and stand in the air conditioning. In under ten minutes we were whisked back to meet Anna and Elsa! That’s right, under 10 minutes to meet the two most sought after characters at Disney!

3. Character Meet and Greet – This is a huge draw for many people, especially since there are quite a few characters that only come for the party. I love this part of the event, but BabyGirl would rather spend her time on rides. I chalk that up to being a tween since in years’ past she’s loved having the opportunity to have these special photo-ops. Another cool thing is that there are usually Photopass photographers on hand. One of my favorite stops is at Haunted Mansion for the hitchhikng ghosts. Who doesn’t look in the mirror at the of the ride and wish they could take a photo of the hitchhiking ghosts? Now you can! Keep in mind that some of the lines do get very long. The Seven Dwarfs, Jack Sparrow, and Jack Skellington and Sally are all very popular and may have waits in excess of an hour since the characters don’t stay out for long periods of time.

MNSSHP Prince Charming

4. Boo To You Parade – Since the retirement of the Main Street Electrical Parade and Spectromagic, I’ve been a parade-hater. I admit it! But I just loved those parades and the newer ones have never really done anything for me. That was until we sat down to watch the Boo To You parade. The music becomes an earworm, but you’re rewarded by seeing characters in Halloween costumes, the Haunted Mansion caretaker, Cadaver Dans, and, of course, the Disney villains. There are two parades and many people will take time to see both of them since there isn’t the mad rush to try to get on rides when crowds are watching the parade. It’s a great way to enjoy those exclusive treats I mention next.

Boo To You Parade 2014

5. Specialty Foods – It’s not a trip to a Disney Park unless you get your favorite snack. But leave it to Disney to add a special something for your taste buds when you go to the MNSSHP. The line at Sleepy Hallow was pretty long for the spiced pumpkin waffle sundae, although we went for the funnel cakes. There are candy corn ice cream cones and cupcakes. Neither of which are as gross as they sound. Mummy and ghost-themed cupcakes can be found as well. And let’s not forget the season-inspired beverages of Pumpkin Spice Bubble Tea and the Wormy Apple Slush. (FYI: Most of these will be snack credits if you use the dining plan.)

Disney Pumpkin Waffle
Image Credit: Disney

6. Limited Edition Merchandise – Of course you knew there would be merchandise, right? While I didn’t see my go-to, picture frames, there were a lot of cute things. With MagicBands being the new E-ticket, a limited edition Halloween Magic Band was released just for the party. It’s only available in the park, though. Since they didn’t have my picture frames, I went for pins. I got a Special Edition pin for the party, one of the mystery pin boxes, as well as my Limited Edition Passholder Pin. While most of these aren’t collectible, they’re a fun way to remember having gone to the party.

7. Haunted Mansion – this kind of goes without saying, but there’s so much more than just “Haunted Mansion at Halloween”. Madame Carlotta and Madame Raina sit on the law and chat with guests. It’s cool and creepy! Cast Members are kind of in a state of euphoria and excitement at all the haunting. And, of course there are the pictures with the hitchhiking ghosts!

So there you have it, seven not so scary reasons to head to Disney to celebrate Halloween! It hasn’t turned me into a Halloween lover, but it’s given me reasons to enjoy celebrating my love of Disney.

Have you ever been to a Disney Halloween party? If not, do you think you’ll go now?

Sara

6 Reasons To Choose Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort for Your Disney World Vacation

Sheraton Vistana Villas

For our annual summer pilgrimage to Central Florida one of the toughest questions is whether or not to stay on-site at Disney World. There are many options for both, but there are pros and cons that need to be weighed in determining if you stay on-property or off-site when you visit Disney World. Things like getting a rental car, paying for parking, and the logistics of getting around. And, while some people would never stay off-site and others would never stay on-property it’s a decision I go through every year.

We’ve stayed on-property many times and know which options work best for us if we do. Our favorite place to stay is the Grand Floridian. We’ve stayed there a few times and it’s always worked out well for us. But this time we’d be splitting our visit between Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando. This was our first visit to Universal Studios and while we knew we would be staying on-property because we were attending the Family Forward retreat at the Loews Portofino Resort our time at Disney was much more leisurely.

Having been to Disney World many times, the introduction of the new Fastpass+ system, BabyGirl being older and having a more active role in our planning, and the need for space, this year we chose to stay off-site at the Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort. Since off-site resorts can be a bit of a hit or miss proposition I researched every review site before making the decision. And we were definitely not disappointed.

Sheraton has a number of resorts in the area, but this one worked best for us based on price, location, and amenities. The big winner was being able to get to 2-bedroom villa that was in our budget and within our “no more than 10-minutes away” criteria. No, 3 people don’t really need a 2-bedroom villa. Especially when I’ve read about 5 people staying in some of the smallest rooms at the value resorts. But, vacations are highly personal and what works for my family may not be what works for others. For us, though, having a big place – it was 1,100 square feet – gave us all the space we wanted.

So why would we need 1,100 sq. ft. for a vacation? It definitely wasn’t a matter of need, more like want. And here’s my 6 reason we chose Sheraton Vistana Villages Resorts.

Sheraton Vistana Review

1. 2-Bedroom Villas – It’s OK to stay in a standard hotel room for a few nights. But for 10 nights? After awhile we all want out own space. Also, when BabyGirl goes to bed, CycleGuy and I are able to stay up late and work without bothering her. It’s also easier to get ready when you have two bathrooms!

2. Convenient Location – We were within our “less than 10-minutes” area, meaning we could get to any Disney Park, Downtown Disney, and the Disney Water Parks easily. The resort is also within a few minutes drive of grocery store, drug stores, shopping (hello Outlets!), and restaurants. It’s also convenient if you’re splitting your visit to other attractions in Central Florida.

3. Free WiFi – Connectivity is now a must rather than a “nice to have”. From BabyGirl wanting to stream movies, to CycleGuy and I still needing to do work, having complementary WiFi is just one less thing to worry about. And, unlike some resorts that say they have “free wifi” but charge a daily resort fee (that is not optional!), Sheraton Vistana Villages has no resort fee or other hidden fees.

4. Full Kitchen – This is a biggie for us. We’re breakfast people. Not going out for breakfast, but making breakfast kind of people. We don’t do this as a cost saver, rather it’s more of a convenience. When we hit the parks we don’t want to spend an hour of time grabbing breakfast. We’re fueled up and ready to keep up with crazy coaster tween the moment we arrive! Sheraton has everything you really need in a kitchen. It’s not fully stocked like home, but for a home-away-from-home for a week or two it’s pretty darn good.

5. In-Villa Laundry – OK, this may not be a big seller but I hate taking a ton of clothes when I travel. With many airlines limiting bags (we fly Southwest so it’s not really an issue – love you SWA!) so you may have to consider doing laundry. I’ve never been a fan of laundry mats but I’ll do ’em if I have to. Having a washer and dryer in the villa is so convenient. I was able to wash clothes without worrying that someone will steal my things or having to camp out in an icky laundry room for a few hours.

6. Housekeeping Optional – this may not be a big deal for most, but for us it was good to have the option. If daily housekeeping (they’ll still give  you towels if you need them) isn’t your thing there is a discount provided. Some people don’t like other people coming in to their hotel, even if it’s to clean up. And for most of us, we don’t change out our linens daily and don’t need it done when we travel. Yes, I love being taken care of when I travel. And I’m not about to take a bunch of extra time to play housekeeper. But if you’re doing to decline daily housekeeping why not get some benefit. Right?

Sheraton Vistana Villas Review

There are plenty of other reasons, like the multiple pools, fitness center, free parking, market, restaurants, and on-site spa. I liked having the gated entry. It was nice to “come home” at night and be welcomed back. Few places off-site are going to compare to the Grand Floridian, and I hear that a few times from BabyGirl. But she liked having her own room and it feeling more like home. We get up early to hit the parks so having a place to relax and get a good night sleep is important.

Next time you’re starting to plan for your trip to Disney World, Universal Orlando, Sea World, or any other destination in Central Florida, check availability at the Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort. We’re pretty picky and if both CycleGuy and BabyGirl say they’d stay again, then it’s a winner!

Image Credit: Starwood Hotels & Resorts (because I was lame and didn’t take any decent photos!)
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. And even though there is no requirement I tell you this, I just want to make it clear.

Sara

Create The WOW – Parenting On A New Level

Create the WOW

As summer was coming to a close for most, my family and I headed out to Florida for our pilgrimage to theme park central. As someone who has strong memories from childhood, it’s important for me to help create opportunities for BabyGirl to make her own memories.  As an only child, BabyGirl is often required to be more grown up. It’s one of the reasons why theme parks are a “got to” vacation spot for us – because it’s a place where everyone gets to be a kid!

Part of our trip this year included the Family Forward retreat because I thought it would be great to learn how to better communicate as a family. At the kick-off, Jyl Johnson Pattee, founder of the Family Forward retreats, mentioned a phrase that really stuck with me throughout the entire weekend – Create the Wow! When I heard it I wondered who has time to “create the wow” except on special occasion or when you really want to make an impression. But soon I realized there was more to it.

Making Barilla Pasta Salad Family ForwardFirst, “create the wow” means different things to each of us. Just ask your kids! Sitting at lunch, which was sponsored by Barilla, it was fun to hear what kids from various families though could be done to make meals at home more special. I think most parents were surprised that it didn’t involve fancy food, elaborate meals, or over-the-top desserts. I heard things like have a picnic in front of the TV, use a table cloth, have a taco bar, and eat dessert first. Really? These are so easy! We can all easily “create the wow” at mealtime at least once a week!

Second, “create the wow” can easily become a family mantra or way of doing things. Kids need to be involved in creating the family dynamic and, unfortunately, they’re often left out. I know for me it’s easier to do things myself or make plans while BabyGirl is at school or one of her classes. Plus, I like doing “surprise” things for her. But at the retreat I realized that while my surprises are fun they may not be her idea of fun.

Give Kids the WorldThird, sometimes “wow” moments come from doing things for other people. As part of the retreat we were given the privilege of learning first hand about Give Kids the World, a family oriented village with a single goal – to give kids with life-threatening illness an opportunity to be a “normal” kid. Even if it was just for one week. The vision of one man, Give Kids the World gave me, CycleGuy, and BabyGirl the opportunity to see that doing for others – even in a small way – gives you a sense of “wow” and appreciation for what you have. It brings perspective that can get overlooked.

Adopt A Pilot SWAFinally, while not the motto of Southwest Airlines, a sponsor of the retreat, it was clear from the presentation by the two pilots in their Adopt a Pilot program that it’s part of why the program exists. Reaching out to the local community is important to many companies. But with Southwest it’s not just a company philosophy backed by money. It’s backed by employees who take their time to go to schools to get kids excited about science and math, staying in school, and studying. Yes, it’s fun and the kids love learning how airplanes work and what it’s like to be a pilot. But it’s a “wow” moment for many of the kids. And for the pilots too. Learning new things is a great way to bring WOW into your life!

I imagined I’d learn a lot and have fun at the Family Forward retreat. I didn’t realize it would have such an impact on my parenting. Being a mom to an only child has its own challenges. One of my biggest challenges is to make sure BabyGirl gets to be a kid and not a mini-adult. So this idea of “create the wow” really works to get me thinking about making sure she still gets to be a kid.

Have you ever thought about this concept of “create the wow”? How would you “create the wow” in your family?

Adopt A Pilot image courtesy of Southwest Airlines

Sara

5 Vacation Memory Lessons From A Tween Traveler

Vacation Memory Lessons

I remember one vacation from my childhood, a trip to California with my grandparents. That family vacation was everything to me, not just when I was 7, but for many years to come. Even today it takes me back to 1977. vacation memories

So when I became a mom I wanted BabyGirl to have more than just one vacation to shape her childhood memories. About a year ago, as I talked to her about memories from our recent vacations I learned a big lesson. My desire to make memories for her, no matter how big or amazing or magical or fantastical were just that. My vacation memories. She needed to make her own vacation memories and instead of trying so hard I needed to let go.

5 vacation memory lessons from a tween

  • Kids will remember things differently than parents but it’s supposed to be that way.
  • A child’s idea of fun may not be the same as mom and dad.
  • Memories are personal and can come from experiences both big and small.
  • Parents’ joy and excitement, as well as my other emotions and feelings, shape the memories others make.
  • Kids aren’t thinking about making memories, they’re just trying to have fun in that moment.

Tween Vacation Collage

Out of the mouth of babes, yes? These kids are so much smarter than we give them credit. Shared experiences can turn in to memories. But as a parent my job is to provide opportunities to create memories, not to force my ideas of what should become her lifelong childhood memory.

Tween Statue of Liberty Selfie

Here’s to superhero families and childhood memories to last a lifetime!

Sara