We’re back from Orlando and still smiling from the sunny weather, family fun, and new adventures. There’s a TON to tell – but let me start with some Walt Disney World logistics.
Photo by Brian Kendig at en.wikipedia
1) Walt Disney World is huge; enormous; monstrous; acres of magical sprawl. Twice the size of Manhattan, it really is its own kingdom. We stayed at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and loved the convenience of being so close to the Disney Ticket and Transportation Center and the Magical Kingdom. The free monorail actually went right through the middle of the hotel. Also at this hotel – a white sand beach, a great pool with water slide, and views of the nightly fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant. On-site family games and activities are held almost every afternoon and evening. Our experience was excellent. We highly recommend the Contemporary but encourage you to look for a deal - a good deal. The full rate prices are staggering.
2) Disney wants your trip to be hassle free and service begins as soon as you arrive at the Orlando airport. Families staying at any of the resorts can sign-up for the Disney Magical Express which picks you up at the airport AND retrieves your luggage from baggage claim and delivers it to your hotel room for no extra charge.
3) Walt Disney World has 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 2 sports parks, 5 golf courses, 1 shopping & entertainment district and 24 hotels. Also available is boat rental, bike rental, parasailing and fishing excursions. WARNING: The entire place is designed so that you’ll never want to leave. Before you go, be sure to log on to the Walt Disney World website and order your free park maps. My sons and I previewed the attractions of the Magic Kingdom and identified our can’t-miss list. Just two weeks later we received (via snail mail) a personalized map that highlighted our top picks. This was great at the park as just a quick glance at our map and we could see the rides that fit our ages and interests.
4) Guide books had warned me that lines for WDW rides can be incredibly lengthy. One book said to plan for at least an hour for the big attractions. Ek!! However - lucky us - we found the week before Thanksgiving to perfect WDW timing. Throughout the day, our average wait in line was five minutes. If lines were longer, we used the Fast Pass system. The Fast Pass system is FREE. Just insert your original ticket card at the nearest kiosk. You’ll receive a ticket for later entry that lets you jump to the very front of the line.
5) Now as the Momma and primary photographer in this family, I can tell you we rarely capture a nice family photo while on vacation. Instead, we record bazillion pics of my husband with the kids or the occasional family photo snapped by a kind stranger that sadly wandered too near us. Disney has solved this problem with their park Photo Pass. Just smile for one of the many professional photographers in the park and then let them scan your free Photo Pass. All pics are deposited in an online account that you access later. The price for ordering photos is not cheap, but between an online-coupon and our first-ever-family-vacation-photo-that-did-not-make-me-groan I’m not complaining.
6) When you visit the Magic Kingdom, I highly recommend that you plan to attend all the shows and parades on the schedule. This is Disney Entertainment – they do the theatrical/musical production well. It’s their thing. Choosing a mid-day parade seat in the shade – worth the effort! Hearing Minnie serenade Mickey – fun! Watching Tinker Bell fly over us in the night sky – awesome!
7) Lastly – it wouldn’t be a trip to Disney World without a personal handshake from Mickey Mouse. Be sure to wander back to Toontown and find the red and white tent behind Mickey’s house. You’ll enter the tent to find a lovely, dark, air-conditioned waiting area that shows classic Mickey cartoons. Once at the front of the line, you’ll be ushered into a side room where you’ll have a private meeting with the Big Cheese and his girlfriend too. Mickey gave my oldest son his autograph and my youngest son a huge hug. Minnie planted a big kiss on my husband’s blushing cheek. I captured some magical, memorable moments on film.
Imagine two young boys who have just endured an 8.5 hour flight from Europe.
Imagine one mommy who has to survive a three hour layover in a dirty airport and is determined to keep her little darlings happy and awake. (They can sleep on the next 5 hour flight to the west coast - no use wasting slumber during the layover.)
Now imagine a family of four being incredibly too loud as they play airport balloon volleyball. Wait….. no need to imagine: that's my family.
On our trip earlier this summer, I tucked a few of those handy-dandy party balloons in my carry-on and pulled them out just in time to save us from the 'I'm bored travel blues.'
Choosing an empty gate, we used a row of chairs in the waiting area as our net - picked teams and went to work. It was hilarious! The boys were engaged, active (just tiring them out a bit more for that nap during the final flight), and happy. Oh, so happy! The giggles were too much. Twice we had a time-out so our youngest could catch his breath. We spiked; we blocked; we high-fived and occasionally had help from a passerby when the balloon wandered out of bounds.
Good, clean, airport fun: that's hard to come by, but (oh so sweet and) simple with a 99 cent pack of balloons.
Now that the days are a little longer and a little sunnier: I have a great outdoor activity for all the family to share.
First started in England, this international game of 'hide and seek' spans the globe with over 5,000 boxes in the U.S alone. There are over a hundred letterboxes hidden in our local area.
So… lace up your shoes and get ready to go!
Here’s how it works:
1) Someone hides a box and then posts clues or directions to
the box on the internet.
2) Those who want to seek can read the clues and set out to
find the hidden box. While on this expedition you’ll need
a stamp, inked stamp-pad, a pen or pencil, and a simple
3) Once you find the treasure – stamp the book that was
enclosed in the letterbox to show you’ve found it. Then
stamp your own book with the stamp hidden in the
letterbox. Lastly, place everything discretely back in its
hiding place for the next adventurer.
The great thing about this outing is that it works for both the youngest and oldest member of the family. My son loved to help us figure out the clues when he was as young as three and older kids can carve their own stamps and hide their own boxes.
Here are clues to a local Salem box to start you off. Good Luck!
To the tune of “I’ve been working on the railroad.”
“We’ve been visiting the train station,
in our hometown.
We’ve been visiting the train station,
the box is NOT on the ground.
Go and find the newspapers,
sold there just outside.
Reach on under the ‘Statesman’
and there our box you’ll find!”
Earlier this year I had a chance to travel to the city of Brotherly Love: Philadelphia. My kiddos weren’t with me, but I couldn’t help but keep an eye out for places they would enjoy.
Here’s just a few of my ‘must see’ picks for families:
1)Independence Visitor Center
This is a great place to start and pick up maps, flyers, and an up-to-date- events calendar. Don’t’ feel the need to pay big-bucks for professional tours (or even a car-rental) as the on-duty Park Rangers can give you directions to lots of interesting sites within walking distance and can tell you about the many FREE events available. Also, pick up your Independence Hall tickets here!
2) The Liberty Bell
Just across the street from the visitors center the building that houses welcomes visitors FREE of charge. No tickets or scheduled visit is required, but do expect a short line for security before seeing this iconic symbol of freedom.
3) Independence Hall
Although admission is free, I recommend reserving tickets for the Independence Hall tour several days in advance so as to choose the time you prefer. There is a $1.50 per ticket fee, but tours are popular and you don’t want to miss this opportunity. Arrive at least 15 minutes early to allow for security. The tour guides are animated and knowledgeable and make the time spent truly enjoyable.
4) The Betsy Ross House
Just off the beaten path, you’ll find this home turned museum. For just two additional dollars you can enjoy the audio tour – which I highly recommend. An actress playing Betsy can be found on the main floor. Be sure to stop and chat/ask questions. The historical information is great and ‘Betsy’ never breaks character. She and I shared a long talk about the trials of motherhood (she the mother of seven girls -me with my two boys). It’s my favorite memory of my trip.
5) City Hall
This beautiful building is just magnificent at night. It’s as if Batman will fly in at any moment to declare Gotham City safe for all!
6) The Subway
No trip to a big city is complete without a ride on public transportation. Feeling brave? Try it at rush hour! For young and old, it’s just plain good fun at $1.50 a head.
7) The Reading Terminal
This is my new, all time favorite place to people watch. It’s the farmer’s market/food court/gift shop to top all. Come hungry, expect a crowd, and try not to stare. I loved every minute of it!
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