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Once Again, We’re Counting Down to Disney

It’s been awhile since I’ve put up a new post.  I’ve had plenty of things I’ve wanted to share, but little time to sit down and type up a post, along with pictures.  I promise to do better.  With the summer coming to an end soon, it should be easier to find some time to get this blog rolling again.  

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Once again, my daughter is counting down to our trip to Disney World.  I was able to get her to hold out a little longer this year before putting up our chart, but eventually I had to give in and let the countdown begin.  We are currently under 90 days till our trip (80 to be exact), and I am in full on planning mode.  I am trying to prepare a loose itinerary, plan out what rides I want to try to get fastpass+ for, make any changes to our Advanced Dining Reservations, and make any arrangements that have yet to be made.  Sometimes it feels like a daunting task.  But other times…it just fuels the excitement.

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I’ve been going to Disney World for as long as I can remember.  I have wonderful memories of going there as a kid with my family.  Now as a parent, I am thoroughly enjoying passing down my love for Disney World to my daughter.  (I was even able to get my husband to appreciate Disney World when we went last year.)  I loved seeing her eyes light up when she saw her favorite characters in person, and when she got to go on the various rides for the first time.  The memories are priceless.

Over the course of the next few months, I will be doing multiple Disney themed posts.  If you are not a Disney fan, please bear with me.  If you are a Disney fan, please feel free to post comments sharing your own Disney experiences, memories, and tips.  Remember, everything I post here are just my opinions, or from research I’ve done online, through books, and from my own personal experiences.  I do not claim to be an expert.  I am just another Disney fan that enjoys sharing my love for Disney with others. Come along on this magical journey with me.

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* Note: If you are interested in how I made the Disney Countdown Chart, please see my previous post from July 2013.

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Princess Jasmine Cake

Kayla with her Jasmine cake.

Kayla with her Jasmine cake.

My daughter’s favorite Disney princess is Jasmine. She absolutely adores Jasmine, and she thinks Jasmine is the prettiest princess. Kayla has seen all of the princess movies now and read various books, and Jasmine remains her favorite. Since we’ll be celebrating Kayla’s 3rd birthday at Disney World, I inquired about Jasmine cakes. Apparently, Princess Jasmine cakes are not one of their standard cakes. Not even at Cinderella’s Royal Table where they make various princess cakes.

Instead of trying to convince a pastry chef at Disney World to make a special cake for my daughter, that would probably cost a small fortune, I decided to make my own mini Princess Jasmine cake. At first, I had grand ideas of how I would decorate it. In the end, it was a simply decorated cake because I was short on time and my daughter was getting restless waiting for me to get done in the kitchen.

Kayla helped me make the batter for the chocolate cake and bake it in the oven, but then I sent her out of the kitchen once the cake had cooled. I quickly decorated the cake using one of her Jasmine figurines, buttercream frosting that I tinted sky blue, and blue edible sparkles/glitter.

Examining the batter as we were making it.

Examining the batter as we were making it.

Tasting the batter.

Tasting the batter.

Poking the batter in the mold pan.

Poking the batter in the mold pan.

We slightly overfilled them, but Kayla was helping me pour.  They still came out fine.

We slightly overfilled them, but Kayla was helping me pour. They still came out fine.

Kayla helping me bake.

Kayla helping me bake.

Kayla staring me down.

Kayla staring me down.

The back of the cake as I was putting on the frosting.

The back of the cake as I was putting on the frosting.

Starting to ice the cake with the sky blue frosting.

Starting to ice the cake with the sky blue frosting.

When I showed the finished cake to Kayla, she was surprised and happy. She thought it was pretty, even without all the details I didn’t get to do. All she cared about was that it was her favorite princess, and that the cake sparkled. Kayla had fun licking the sparkles off the cake. She couldn’t wait to tell grandma that mommy made her a Jasmine cake (for her birthday…a month early). She spent a few days looking at it and eating it slowly. She wanted to show her friends her special cake. I was happy that she was happy. That’s really all that mattered to me.

Princess Jasmine Cake

Princess Jasmine Cake

Finished cake.  Not as detailed as I was planning, but still came out cute.

Finished cake. Not as detailed as I was planning, but still came out cute.

Kayla seeing her cake for the first time.

Kayla seeing her cake for the first time.

In awe of her cake.

In awe of her cake.

Cheesy smile.

Cheesy smile.

Tasting the blue frosting with blue sparkles.  She loved it.

Tasting the blue frosting with blue sparkles. She loved it.

My pretty girl and her Jasmine cake.

My pretty girl and her Jasmine cake.

Slowly eating her cake and trying to get Jasmine out.

Slowly eating her cake and trying to get Jasmine out.

Trying to get her Jasmine figurine out of the cake.

Trying to get her Jasmine figurine out of the cake.

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An Invitation for MyMagic+ Testing and the arrival of our MagicBands

Envelope containing our invitation for MyMagic+ Testing.

Envelope containing our invitation for MyMagic+ Testing.

On Thursday, October 10th, we finally reached our 30 day mark until our trip to Disney World. Kayla (my daughter) and I were already excited to finally reach this milestone. As soon as Kayla woke up in the morning, she jumped out of bed and wanted to update her Countdown to Disney chart. Today was a big day.

Me, Kayla, and her favorite monkey with the Countdown to Disney Chart.

Me, Kayla, and her favorite monkey with the Countdown to Disney Chart.

Me and Kayla with our chart.

Me and Kayla with our chart.

Kayla with her countdown chart.

Kayla with her countdown chart.

We updated the chart, we took a few pictures at her request, and I told her that our MagicBands should be getting shipped soon. She was so excited that she couldn’t stop smiling. Then to make the day even better, we received a letter from the mouse himself. Yes, we officially got invited to participate in the MyMagic+ testing. Kayla was thrilled to receive an invitation from Mickey Mouse. She made me read the entire invitation to her, and explain what it meant.

The Front of our invitation.

The Front of our invitation.

The back of our invitation.

The back of our invitation.

As if receiving the invitation wasn’t exciting enough, the next morning when we woke up, the UPS guy delivered us a package. Kayla was squealing with excitement when grandma announced that the package was from Disney. Kayla couldn’t believe that Mickey Mouse sent us a package. We immediately opened it, and it was our MagicBands. All three of them were customized exactly as we wanted them. My band is blue, Kayla’s is pink, and my husband’s is red. Our names are also printed on the inside of the bands.

Kayla waiting for grandma to come into the kitchen so she could open the box.

Kayla waiting for grandma to come into the kitchen so she could open the box.

Looking at the box.

Looking at the box.

Deep in thought.

Deep in thought.

MagicBands

MagicBands

The packaging is very nice. Impressive even. Kayla said it was fancy. I thought it was a nice touch that Disney sends them via UPS Next Day Air. This will definitely be comforting to people who are leaving on their vacations a week or two before actually arriving at Disney World. It gives you one less thing to have to worry about when you receive it early. I grew up in a family that used to drive down to Florida every year and spend several days visiting relatives, going sightseeing, and going to other theme parks before going to Disney World. So I think it is thoughtful of Disney to send out the bands early enough that most people would be able to receive them prior to their trip. Some people may argue that it’s a waste of money for them to ship it Next Day Air, but I liked it. Plus, I’m spending enough money on my resort and vacation package that I think this simple perk is the least Disney can do. :)

Kayla looking at our bands.

Kayla looking at our bands.

Grandma asking Kayla what she thinks of the MagicBands.

Grandma asking Kayla what she thinks of the MagicBands.

MagicBands in the box.  This is after I already removed the outer part off of Kayla's band.

MagicBands in the box. This is after I already removed the outer part off of Kayla’s band.

Kayla and I tried on our MagicBands. The band should be able to fit most people. It was easy to remove the outer part of the band to make it small enough for Kayla’s wrist. It fit on my wrist with no problems and was fairly comfortable. If I want a tight fit, I can even remove the outer part of the band and only use the smaller part meant for the kids. (I know, my wrist is small. Don’t judge.) My concern will be whether it makes me break out in a rash since my skin is sensitive to certain things. When we get closer to our trip, I may try wearing my band around the house for a day to see if it gives me any issues. I’d rather know before we go. I made my husband try his band on when he got home, and it fit with plenty of room to spare.

My excited sleepyhead trying on her MagicBand.

My excited sleepyhead trying on her MagicBand.

My MagicBand

My MagicBand

The MagicBands are made of some type of rubbery material, and are pretty flexible. There is a Mickey head on top of the band. On the inside of the band, there is a band number that is unique for each guest. I love the fact that you are able to customize the bands by choosing the color you want, and putting your name on it. It’s nice to be able to personalize it. I think this will help encourage young kids to wear them. Kayla loved seeing her pink MagicBand in the box. She knew right away that was her band.

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My name on the inside of the band.

My name on the inside of the band.

Kayla's name on the inside of her band.

Kayla’s name on the inside of her band.

My daughter is very adamant that we don’t play with our MagicBands. She keeps telling me that they are for Disney World, and we can’t wear them yet. I appreciate how serious she is about it, but she may make it hard for me to wear it for a day to test how it feels and how my skin reacts. I may have to sneak and do this while she is hanging out with daddy in the basement.

After we received the bands, I checked my email and noticed I had an email from Disney. They actually sent an email notifying me that they shipped the MagicBands. The email provided the UPS tracking number for our package. Even though I saw it after the fact, I still appreciated that they did notify me and gave me the tools to track my package, if necessary.

After I already received the bands, I saw that Disney emailed me letting me know the MagicBands had shipped and informing me of the UPS tracking number.

After I already received the bands, I saw that Disney emailed me letting me know the MagicBands had shipped and informing me of the UPS tracking number.

Our Magicbands in the box they arrived in.

Our Magicbands in the box they arrived in.

It’s been an exciting week with lots of anticipation for our upcoming trip. Kayla is even more enthused about the idea of going to Disney World. I can’t wait for our magical adventure to begin.

If anyone else out there has already tested the MagicBands, let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear about your experience. If you’re someone who will be testing them on an upcoming trip, share your thoughts so far. Are you excited about the new technology? Does it intimidate you? Do you have concerns? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions.

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Disney World’s MagicBands and FastPass+ Testing

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As of yesterday (9-25-13), we are 45 days away from our Disney vacation. The resort we will be staying at is part of the testing for Disney’s new MagicBands and FastPass+. I’ve been impatiently waiting for the last month or so to find out if we would be part of the testing when we arrive.

Once it was officially September 25th (sometime after midnight), I decided to log onto My Disney Experience site to see. To my delight, I finally had the options to customize our MagicBands and make FastPass+ selections for our trip. Yay!!! You honestly have no idea how happy I was to see this. I am not one for putting my excitement on display, but I will admit that I was smiling ear to ear and doing a little happy dance.

Kayla updating our countdown to Disney chart.

Kayla updating our countdown to Disney chart.

Kayla is excited that we're getting closer and closer to our vacation.

Kayla is excited that we’re getting closer and closer to our vacation.

The MagicBands and FastPass+ are part of Disney’s new MyMagic+ experience. MyMagic+ is Disney’s way of allowing guests to have more control over their vacation, personalize their experience, and make things more convenient. I was a little worried about these changes when I first started reading about them, but now I’m mostly just excited to see how this all works. So far, I like it.

MyMagic plus has many elements to it, with the first being the My Disney Experience website and mobile app. Once you register on this website, you are able to personalize your entire vacation. You can purchase a Disney vacation package, buy theme park and water park tickets, make dining reservations, set plans for your day to day itinerary for your trip, complete online check-in for your resort, and link reservations/tickets bought from third parties to your homepage. You can make and share plans with family and friends in your travel group. And you can manage your MagicBands and FastPass+ selections. The website and mobile app will be your go-to vacation tools when planning your next trip to Disney World. I’ve been playing around with the website and mobile app for a few months, and I love them. One nice feature of the mobile app is the ability to look up current wait times at each of the parks for rides and other attractions.

FastPass+ is the updated version of the old FastPass system. In the past, you would have to go to the FastPass machines in the theme parks, insert your admission ticket into the machine, and obtain a printed FastPass ticket that would give you a time range for when you could ride with little to no wait. You would come back during your assigned time range and get in a special line that had a much shorter wait than the regular lines. I never particularly liked this system because it required a lot of running around to obtain FastPasses for the most popular rides. There were only a number of rides that even offered FastPasses at each park. Not every ride had this option. If you didn’t obtain FastPasses early in the day, there was also the chance you wouldn’t get one because they would run out.

Old FastPass ticket

Old FastPass ticket

The new FastPass+ has a much more user friendly approach to the same concept. There will be a lot of people out there who don’t like dealing with new technology and planning in advance that will despise this new system. But I am LOVING it. This new system allows you to go online or on the mobile app and schedule your FastPasses BEFORE your trip. So here I am at 45 days until my trip and I am able to schedule all of my FastPasses for each of my days at the different theme parks. Oh, and I can also change the time ranges for the FastPasses if I don’t like the the original time assigned to me and my traveling group. How cool is that? No more running around the parks trying to obtain the FastPasses I want, and hoping to get a good time range. Now I can simply log into the My Disney Experience site, schedule the FastPasses I want, alter the times to fit into our schedule, and not have to worry about it anymore.

When you have access to fastpass+, this is what the initial screen will look like.  It will show if you've already made fastpass+ selections and if you have dining reservations for that day.

When you have access to fastpass+, this is what the initial screen will look like. It will show if you’ve already made fastpass+ selections and if you have dining reservations for that day.

This screen allows you to choose what you want to do next.  You can make fastpass+ selections, change current selections, copy selections to another party member, and cancel all selections.

This screen allows you to choose what you want to do next. You can make fastpass+ selections, change current selections, copy selections to another party member, and cancel all selections.

Here is an example of fastpass+ selections I was playing around with the other night.  I have the option to make changes to all three selections.

Here is an example of fastpass+ selections I was playing around with the other night. I have the option to make changes to all three selections.

If I chose to change the time for Toy Story Mania, it will give me options for what times are available on this date.

If I chose to change the time for Toy Story Mania, it will give me options for what times are available on this date.

This is the itinerary screen.  This is where you can add plans to each day of your vacation.  If you want, you can roughly plan out your entire vacation with the My Disney Experience website.

This is the itinerary screen. This is where you can add plans to each day of your vacation. If you want, you can roughly plan out your entire vacation with the My Disney Experience website.

The way FastPass+ works is definitely different. Big users of the old system may not like the fact that Disney is currently limiting how many FastPasses a guest can get each day. Right now the number is three per day, with some people getting a bonus FastPass for the Magic Kingdom. It doesn’t look like we will be one of the lucky traveling groups getting a bonus FastPass, but I don’t really mind. I hear there are rumors that once FastPass+ is completely up and running (no longer in testing), the number of FastPasses will be determined by whether you are staying at an on-site or off-site resort/hotel, and whether you are at a value, moderate, or deluxe resort on-site. People staying at a Disney deluxe on-site resort may be able to get up to five FastPasses each day. Again, this is just rumors at this point. Who knows what will actually happen once FastPass+ is officially rolled out.

Disney’s MagicBands are the most interesting new development. The MagicBands are rubberized bands that you will wear on your wrists while visiting Disney World. These bands will act as your theme park and water park tickets, your Disney resort room key, and allow you to purchase food and merchandise. You will use the bands to schedule FastPass+ selections at the new FastPass+ machines in the parks, and it will allow you to check-in for your FastPass+ reservations for rides and attractions. In essence, these bands will replace the old “key to the world” cards that guests used to get. It’s my understanding that for people who are against this new technology, you will still have the option to use the old fashion ticket to enter the parks and unlock your resort room, but will not have access to some of the newer features.

New FastPass+ turnstiles at Disney World.

New FastPass+ turnstiles at Disney World.

The MagicBands will also be another way to personalize your Disney experience. People staying at a Disney resort will be able to customize their MagicBand by selecting the color they want and having their name printed on the back. If you customize your MagicBand between 45 and 30 days before your trip, Disney will mail the MagicBands to your home. If you don’t customize them in advance, you will be issued standard gray ones without your name on it when you arrive. When you’re in the parks and you swipe your MagicBand to enter a FastPass+ ride, Disney cast members (employees) will now be able to see your name on a screen and acknowledge you by name. This may seem a little creepy to adults, but will be a cool touch for kids. Imagine how your child’s face will light up when the various people at the Disney theme parks will know their names without asking. Pretty cool to most young kids.

Once you arrive at Disney World, there are accessories that you can purchase to personalize your MagicBand even further. I’m aware of three different kinds of accessories. There are CoverBands, MagicSliders, and MagicBandits. The CoverBands are fabric covers that you can buy to cover up your entire MagicBand. MagicSliders are large square charm pieces that you can slide onto your MagicBand. MagicBandits are small charms that snap into the extra holes on the MagicBands. All three options feature popular Disney characters and designs. I am looking forward to letting my daughter, Kayla, personalize hers once we get there.

MagicBand accessories

MagicBand accessories

The convenience of the new MagicBands is what truly amazes me. I think it’s nice that you will no longer have to worry about fumbling around with a paper ticket or plastic card in order to enter the theme parks, pay for meals, pay for merchandise, and unlock your door at your resort. It’s one less thing to have to worry about. For me, that is exciting since we will be traveling with our daughter who will be turning 3-years-old the day after we return home from our trip. I am all for the added convenience. Whatever makes a trip easier when traveling with children, sounds good to me. Not to mention, my daughter will be thrilled when we receive the MagicBands in the mail. I even customized it in her favorite color, pink.

I am having fun scheduling my FastPass+ selections. I find it is a little hard to decide so far in advance exactly what rides to get FastPasses for, but I like the idea of knowing I have the FastPasses I want and being able to plan my day accordingly. It may take some of the spontaneity out of the trip, but it is an added convenience to me. It probably helps that I am a planner, and I like to have a rough schedule of what we have going on so I can factor in my daughter’s nap time and bedtime, etc. I find myself not even hating making the advanced dining reservations as much as I initially thought I would. It’s a little annoying, but also nice to know that we won’t be limited to only eating at counter service locations because the lines are too long at table service restaurants. That is no fun. The only problem I’ve run into so far is trying to schedule everything around each other…meaning FastPass+ selections, advanced dining reservations, and my daughter’s nap time. Some of the times conflict, so this has been a minor issue while planning, but nothing overly frustrating. All it has really done is make me step back and remember not to over-schedule our days. It is a vacation, so there should be down time here and there to make sure we all get the rest we need.

For all you planners out there, you are going to love the new MyMagic+ experience at Disney World. Just remember, don’t get carried away with planning every second of every day. Disney World has a lot of stuff to do, but it’s important to find time to relax too. Even the princesses and the mouse himself need rest.

P.S. Here is the website for logging onto My Disney Experience. https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/

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My Top 10 reasons for going to Disney World with kids 3 and under

Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom.

Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom.

Since we’ll be going on vacation to Disney World soon, and it happens to be one of my all time favorite vacation destinations, I want to do a series of posts about Disney World.

My daughter, Kayla, will be turning 3-years-old in November. The week before she turns 3, we are taking her to Disney World. This was my decision, and my husband has gone along with it. I don’t think it mattered to him if we went now, or two years from now. He said it was completely up to me when we go since I was going to be the one planning it, I’m the one primarily paying for it with some money I had set aside, and because Disney World means so much to me.

Ever since I made the decision a year ago that I was not going to wait until Kayla was older to go, I’ve been bombarded with questions from family and friends about why I am going when she is so young. Everyone has their own opinions about it. These opinions range from, “you should wait until she’s old enough to remember it,” to “you should go when she’s older so she’s easier to travel with,” to finally “you should go when she’s old enough to understand where you’re going.” The last one is almost laughable to me because Kayla completely understands where we’re going and is super excited. She talks about our trip all the time.

Kayla in front of our countdown to Disney chart.

Kayla in front of our countdown to Disney chart.

I figured I would make a list for everyone to explain my top 10 reasons for going to Disney World with young kids. Maybe this will end up being helpful to those of you out there who are going through the same questioning by your family, friends, and co-workers. And maybe it will help all the negative people out there understand a little better why some of us want to take our young kids to Disney World.

So here we go:

10. If you talk to your youngster about the trip, show them pictures, show them videos, and get them involved, they can completely understand that you are going on vacation to Disney World. My daughter has known for a few months now, and she is totally and completely excited about it. We talk about it every single day. We have a countdown to Disney chart. We watch You Tube videos of the rides and of the parks in general so she knows what to expect. And we read Disney travel books together. She has her on Disney World for Kids travel book that she loves. My husband is blown away by how much Kayla knows about Disney World. She knows way more than him, and he’s 36. Kids can understand a lot more than we give them credit for, so don’t underestimate your child.

Celebrating my 3rd birthday in Florida at my grandparents' house.  This was in 1983.  We always stayed at their house because it was a great way to save money, and we'd get to spend time with my grandparents on our "resting" days.

Celebrating my 3rd birthday in Florida at my grandparents’ house. This was in 1983. We always stayed at their house because it was a great way to save money, and we’d get to spend time with my grandparents on our “resting” days.

9. It can be a wonderful learning experience. Your child can start learning long before you even go on the trip by teaching them about going to the airport, flying on airplanes, staying in a hotel, and the concept of going on vacation. (It helps if you’ve taken a mini trip before where they already have an understanding of vacations and trips.) You can have your child get involved with planning by showing him/her pictures and videos of various things and getting their input on what they like and don’t like. Then once you get to Disney World, there are so many learning opportunities there. Take your child to Animal Kingdom where they will get to see all types of animals, go on a safari ride, and learn about helping animals. Then take them to Epcot where they can go around the World Showcase and taste foods from all around the world. Epcot has some great educational rides, like Universe of Energy where you can learn about the history of energy, how energy is produced, and searching for new energy resources. The best part of the Universe of Energy ride is when you’re seated watching a video, your seat turns into a moving vehicle, and all of a sudden you are on a ride with animated dinosaurs. I remember loving this ride from a very young age. There are several other educational rides at Epcot that are fine for young kids to go on. New experiences are essential to a child’s development. So why not give them some new experiences that the whole family can enjoy?

Epcot

Epcot

8. My parents took me to Disney World for the first time when I was 2-years-old. I was turning 3 that summer while we were on vacation. My family used to go down to Florida twice a year to visit relatives. When I was younger, they would leave me with my grandparents while they took my older sister to the theme parks. I believe they wanted to be able to focus on enjoying all the rides with my sister for another year or two before having to take me along and focus on me.

Despite what most people think, I do have memories from my first trip to Disney World. No, they aren’t completely clear memories, but they are vague memories that I have carried around with me all my life. I can remember the feeling of excitement. I can remember sitting on my grandpa’s shoulders to watch the parade. I remember loving the parade, even though I can’t tell you anything about the parade now. I remember resting in my stroller while people in my family took potty breaks. I remember that my grandpa never went to the bathroom the entire time we were there and my mom kept telling him he was going to have bladder problems. I remember wanting a big pinwheel sucker and my mom saying no. The sucker was so colorful. I remember feeling a sense of awe when I went on rides. I remember that my favorite ride was It’s a Small World, and I loved singing the song. I remember being very tired at the end of the day and my dad carrying me to the tram. I also remember the smells. The smell of sweets and popcorn.

These memories may be vague and I may not remember a lot of details, but they are still memories. These are not memories that came from pictures, or even from family stories. They are things I have asked my mom about over the years and she has confirmed as being real memories from my first trip there. Now that my dad and grandpa are gone, I cherish every memory I have of them, even the vague ones. For the things that I don’t remember about my first trip, I can see in pictures in our family photo albums. I love looking at our old vacation photos. And lets face it, we never know how long any of us has on this planet, so why put off the opportunity for great memories?

My mom, my dad, and me standing on the steps of the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot.

My mom, my dad, and me standing on the steps of the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot.

Me with Tweedledee or Tweedledum.

Me with Tweedledee or Tweedledum.

7. Young kids can eat, stay, and fly for free. If you get the Disney Dining plan with your Disney resort package, you don’t have to pay for kids under 3. They can just eat from a parent’s plate. They don’t even offer the dining plan to kids under 3. You have to pay for the dining plan for kids 3 and older. Even most off-site hotels allow kids to eat for free. Kids also stay for free at hotels/resorts. And If your kid is really young, you may opt not to buy a seat for them on the airplane and just have them ride on your lap. You can always make the choice to pay for a seat for them and bring their car seat for safety reasons, but it’s not required when they are under a certain age. (Beware of bad turbulence.) I believe if they are under 2, they can ride on your lap. These three things alone are huge money savers.

6. Disney World is the perfect place to expand a child’s imagination and offer plenty of stimulating experiences. Having a good imagination is important for kids. It’s good for kids to be able to dream, learn to make wishes, and to gain an appreciation for great storytelling. Disney World has live shows, play areas for kids, splash zones, and kid activities. Do some research. There are a number of things for young kids to do that will help them use their imaginations and be creative.

5. The Magic Kingdom caters to families and young kids. Out of all the rides and attractions in the park, there are only four that my daughter will not be able to go on. There are 30 something rides/attractions at the Magic Kingdom. Not being able to do four things is hardly a reason not to go. Granted, my daughter is tall for her age (38 inches), so the majority of the rides she can’t go on are the roller coasters at the theme parks. Luckily, Disney World isn’t a big thrill ride place, so most of the rides can still be enjoyed by kids who are 3 and under. A good portion of the rides are slow moving rides, which is perfect for young kids.

4. The hotel/resort is as much of an attraction as the theme parks at this age. They enjoy exploring the hotel, playing in the pools, checking out the gift shop, and hanging out in the hotel room. With a young kid, you can easily spend a whole day at your hotel/resort and they’ll still be happy. Older kids usually don’t enjoy “resting” days as much as younger kids.

This is me on one of our "resting" days when I was little.

This is me on one of our “resting” days when I was little.

3. The photo memories you can capture are priceless. Have you seen the beautiful pictures of a baby being held by Mickey Mouse, or a toddler walking up to her favorite Disney character for the first time? What about the pictures of 1, 2, and 3 year old little girls wearing a princess dress and getting their very first hug from a Disney Princess? I’ve also seen some wonderful family photos taken around Disney World. I am hoping to get a nice picture of Kayla, my husband, and myself for our Christmas card this year. Those photos capture moments that your child may not be able to remember, but will be able to look back at later. They are pictures that parents, grandparents, and friends can enjoy. You can show your child the pictures over the years and discuss the trip often to help secure the memories in their mind. The pictures are once in a lifetime photo opportunities that may not be quite the same when your child is older and more aware of what is really going on. Part of the beauty of some of the best Disney pictures I’ve seen is the pure innocence of the children in the pictures.

Me eating my Mickey Mouse ice cream.

Me eating my Mickey Mouse ice cream.

I loved seeing Chip and Dale in person for the first time.

I loved seeing Chip and Dale in person for the first time.

2. When you wait until your kids are older, some of the magic may already be gone. The older your kids get, they start to understand that all the characters are just people dressed up in costumes. They may not be as excited about half the rides there because they may want more advanced rides. They may not even be impressed by fireworks and parades anymore if they’ve seen them at other places, like at home on 4th of July. As much as this Disney Lover hates to admit it, I have known quite a few people over the years who went to Disney World when they were older (or have taken their older kids to Disney World), and they weren’t as impressed. Especially if they are older kids who enjoy going on really fast roller coasters. Kids who have already experienced going on numerous thrill rides tend to be less impressed by Disney’s slow moving dark rides.

I’ve also noticed that boys tend to grow out of Disney World faster than girls if they don’t obtain an appreciation for it when they are younger. When I was little, three of my male friends went on a trip to Disneyland in California. I was so excited for them, and I couldn’t wait to hear about their trip when they got home. To my horror, they came home very disappointed by the whole experience. They thought it was boring, and that the rides were too kiddie. At first, I wanted to believe this dislike was due to the fact they went to Disneyland instead of my beloved Disney World. I was wrong. They didn’t realize before they went that there wouldn’t be lots of roller coasters and thrill rides like at Six Flags theme parks. They didn’t enjoy the traditional Disney rides at all. They had no interest in meeting the characters. They also thought the shows and parades were cheesy. I was horrified. I’ve gone through life telling myself that I have to take my kids to Disney World for the first time while they are still fairly young so they will appreciate the magic.

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Show in front of the Castle.

1. Kids under 3 are free at all four theme parks and the two water parks. Yes, FREE! You can save hundreds of dollars on admission tickets by going to Disney World when they are under 3. Once they turn 3, you have to pay for admission to everything.

Ok, so those are my top 10 reasons for taking kids 3 and under to Disney World. Sure, there are reasons for waiting until they are a little older (4, 5, 6, etc), but I think there are plenty of reasons for families to consider going while they are younger.

Please feel free to share your reasons for taking your young kids to Disney World, or on other vacations. I would love to hear about your experiences with taking your kids for the first time. What was their favorite part? Do they have any memories of it? Do you think it was worth the trip? How did you prepare your kids for their first Disney vacation?

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Summer is coming to an end

It feels like summer just started, and now it’s already coming to an end. The weather is getting cooler (some days), kids are back in school (or homeschool), and the fall decorations and clothing are in the stores. I find myself already looking at my fall recipes and coming up with comforting meals to keep us warm on cool fall evenings.

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Santa's Village 2012 from phone 004

My daughter and I successfully grew two pumpkins this year. We already have one sitting outside on our patio table. We’re putting away some of our summer decor and bringing out the fall stuff. I’ve been looking in Kayla’s closet wondering if she has enough long sleeve shirts and long pants for the fall and winter.

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Summer is my favorite season, so I always feel a little sad when it’s coming to an end. There is something about warm, bright sunny summer days that makes me feel carefree and happy. Maybe it just brings back a lot of awesome memories of summers with my family and friends from when I was little. I used to spend long days outside playing with my friends, and would stay up late watching movies with my family at night. My family used to take summer vacations to Florida to visit relatives, and go to the amusement parks. Of course, my favorite was always going to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. (Even though Busch Gardens in Tampa was always a lot of fun too.) It’s hard not to love a magical little self-contained city like Disney World. It’s a place where fantasies come alive and dreams come true. It’s a wonderful place for kids and families. I will cherish those summer childhood memories for the rest of my life.

Kayla’s summer sessions of gymnastics and dance have ended. We’ve already started our fall session of Mom and Mini gymnastics. Kayla’s summer reading programs have all ended. We’ve officially started our preschool homeschooling for the year by doing workbook pages, playing learning games, working on letters and numbers, and watching learning videos.

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Oh, and our Disney vacation that once seemed so far away is now under 60 days away. Before I know it, we’ll be heading to Florida and Kayla will be experiencing her first plane ride and Disney World vacation. I booked this vacation back in January, so it’s hard to believe it’s getting so close now. Kayla and I made a Disney Countdown Chart (see previous post) in July, when my sister’s family went on vacation, so Kayla could understand how much longer we still had before it was our turn to go on vacation. When we made our chart, we still had 114 days to go. Now we have 48 days left. It’s amazing how fast time goes by. When we get home from our trip, Kayla will be celebrating her 3rd birthday.

Selecting a clothes pin to remove from our countdown chart.

Selecting a clothes pin to remove from our countdown chart.

Kayla showing me the clothes pin she took off our Disney Countdown chart.

Kayla showing me the clothes pin she took off our Disney Countdown chart.

Erasing the old number on our chart so I can write in the new number.

Erasing the old number on our chart so I can write in the new number.

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All the clothes pins we already removed from the chart.  This was at 60 days left.

All the clothes pins we already removed from the chart. This was at 60 days left.

We’ve had a great summer. We’ve gone to the state fair, a county fair, Santa’s Village Azoosment Park, the zoo, and took a trip to Springfield. We also just attended a fall fest, which is always a lot of fun, and took Kayla to see Disney on Ice. Although I’m sad that summer is ending, I am ready to enjoy the wonderful things we have planned for this fall and winter. Only a couple more months, and we’ll be getting ready for Christmas. Summer may be my favorite season, but Christmas-time is my favorite time of the year.

Ride at Santa's Village.

Ride at Santa’s Village.

By the pool at my friend's apartment building in Springfield, IL.

By the pool at my friend’s apartment building in Springfield, IL.

At the Illinois State Fair.

At the Illinois State Fair.

I hope everyone had an awesome summer with their family and friends.

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Countdown to Disney World Chart – A creative visual display

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I think I mentioned awhile ago that we have a vacation planned this year to go to Disney World. We’re taking Kayla there the week before her 3rd birthday.

My plan was to tell my daughter about our trip about 90 days in advance. It wouldn’t be too, too early, but it also would give me some time to explain to her exactly where we’d be going and what to expect. This will be her first time going on a plane, spending more than one night in a hotel, and going to large theme parks. She’s been to carnivals and a small kiddie theme park, but never anything this massive.

My plan didn’t work out. My mom decided to record an episode of Windy City Live (a Chicago-based show) where they went to Disney World. My mom was excited to show it to Kayla to get a reaction. Kayla was literally in awe of what she saw. She had tons of questions about this place called Disney World.

A few weeks after that, my sister and her family left on their vacation to Florida. One of their vacation destinations was Disney World. Kayla was ready to pack her bags and go with them. Not only was her favorite cousin leaving on vacation without her, but they were going to the same place she wants to go. She was devastated. For two weeks, all she talked about was how she missed her cousin, and that he went to see Mickey Mouse. This started her obsession with Disney World. She started asking to see books, to watch videos (on You Tube) of Disney vacations, and even grabbed some brochures while at the Disney Store. She asks me every single day if we’re leaving to go on vacation to Disney World today. Or tomorrow? And I’m not lying when I say that she started wearing her new princess Jasmine costume around our house all day. She even does forward rolls in this costume.

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I tried to show her a calender and explain that we have four more months until it’s our turn to go on vacation to Disney World. The calendar seemed to be too confusing for her. She didn’t like that there were multiple pages to look at that she had to flip up to see the day when we’re leaving. That’s when I decided to look into Disney Countdown calendars. I thought there would be tons of them to buy, but I was having a hard time finding one to buy or print from the internet. I did, however, find a ton of cute ideas on pinterest. This is when I decided to just be creative and make my own.

I looked around the house to see what types of Disney stuff we have laying around, then I decided what I would need to buy. I cut up an old Disney gift bag that Kayla had from one of her birthdays. I used that to create a big board. Kayla and I used her paint to paint clothes pins with the colors of Disney character’s clothing. (The main characters like Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy.) We painted enough clothes pins for each day we still have before we leave on our trip. I then used a 12 x 12 sheet of red scrapbook paper to create a little sign to represent the number of days we have left until our vacation. I used a small piece of a dry erase board to attach to the sign so we’ll be able to change the number of days left on a daily basis. I then let Kayla decorate the sign and overall board with some of her Disney stickers. Now we have a really big board/chart that clearly displays how many days we have left until our vacation begins.

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Kayla was able to be completely involved with making the board, which she is super proud of right now. It will show her the exact number of days we have left on a daily basis, and she will be able to remove one clothes pin each day. The clothes pins will help her visually see for herself that we still have a long time to wait, but she will also be able to see the number of clothes pins go down each day. This will be a great visual learning tool for her, and it will give us an opportunity to work on counting and numbers. I know she will feel better when she sees the number of clothes pins decreasing.

We even made a special clothes pin to represent our last day before we leave. I know she will be super excited when we finally get to that clothes pin.

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I hope this idea inspires some other parents out there to make their own creative countdown charts for upcoming vacations, events, or holidays.

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Countdown to Disney chart with Kayla

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A Summer Full of Reading

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My daughter absolutely loves books. I was one of those pregnant women that not only talked to my baby while she was in the womb, I would occasionally read to her too. From the time she was born, I would read to her at night before bed. Of course when she was a newborn and infant, she would mostly just look at the pictures, try to eat the book, and stare at me while I read. The older she got, the more she started to get excited when I got out a book. From the time she could crawl, she would bring me books. I would be sitting on the couch in the middle of the day and she would crawl over to the coffee table, pull one of her books off the table, and push it back to the couch while crawling. It was pretty funny to watch. The moment she learned to walk, she would bring me book after book to read.

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A few months before her 2nd birthday, I started taking her to storytime at the local libraries. She was in love. She would get so excited when we would walk into the building and she would see all the books. She would listen intently to the librarian read the books during storytime, and she would clap and cheer when the story was over. The librarian seemed to get a kick out of her enthusiasm.

After storytime, they encourage you to stay in the children’s area and let your child explore by playing with the other kids and picking out books. The first few times we attended storytime, I found it interesting to watch Kayla. While the other kids would run to play with puzzles, games, puppets, blocks, etc., Kayla would gather up a few books and sit down to look at them. She’d go into one of the reading cubbies, or climb onto a rocking chair, and she would just sit there and look at books. The other kids would be laughing and playing, while Kayla would be completely caught up in all the books. She would walk around gathering books to look at, and for me to read to her. She quickly caught onto the fact that we could check these books out and take them home with us. Once she figured that out, she would load up the basket on her stroller with books. Eventually, she did notice that there are toys and activities to do in the library as well, and she now plays with the other kids. She usually starts out playing with the other kids, then goes around looking for books to check out. We typically leave with a stack of 8-12 books, all for her.

I am a big reader myself, so I am overjoyed to see Kayla’s love for books. We read books together at least once a day, if not two or three times. On average, we read 10 books a day. And as she gets older, the books are becoming longer and with more words.

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A couple of weeks ago, I took Kayla to our local library. When we were checking out our books, the librarian asked Kayla, “are you going to read all of these books?” Kayla’s response was, “yeah…I love books!” The librarian laughed and asked her, “are you going to sign up for our summer reading program?” Kayla happily responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” The librarian said “great,” and provided me with some information on the program.

It had crossed my mind in the past that I should sign her up for one of the summer reading programs, but I wasn’t sure what was required and how old you have to be to participate. Although I worked at a local library in the children’s section when I was a teenager, I couldn’t remember all the rules and requirements. It was nice to find out that these reading programs through the libraries start from birth. You can have your child participate at any age. And most of the libraries either allow you to set your own reading goals for the summer, or they set a very low goal for young children. They make it very easy for even busy parents to be able to help their children accomplish their goals.

After some thought and research, I ended up deciding to sign Kayla up for several summer reading programs at different libraries. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been to three different libraries on six different days. The more I thought about it, I figured why not sign up for programs at a few libraries and use the books we check out from each library for their particular program. Each library will be hosting their own summer events to get the kids involved at the library, and they are offering different prizes and incentives. The first program we signed up for gave out “Dig into Reading” t-shirts to the first few hundred people. Kayla also got to color a few pictures, put her name on them, and have them hung up in the library. She was so proud. The library staff convinced me to sign up for the adult summer reading program, and I received a convenient re-usable library bag. Sure, I already carry a few re-usable bags in my purse for carrying library books, etc., but it was still nice to get one that has a picture of someone reading a book on the front.

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My husband, who isn’t a reader, has always been surprised by Kayla’s love of books. I think he was downright shocked when I told him the other day about how I asked Kayla where she wanted to go (when we were leaving the house), and her response was, “to the library…to get books and see kids.” He doesn’t really understand it, but he does encourage it.

I personally enjoy our time reading together each day. It is such a great way for Kayla and I to bond on a daily basis. I love to see her eyes light up when we read a book that she likes. There is nothing like having her snuggled next to me in bed (or on the couch) while we read a book that warms the heart, makes us laugh, or starts a conversation. One of my new favorite things is when Kayla wants to “read” to me. She will go page by page telling me a story based on the pictures, or what she remembers from the book. Sometimes, she even has parts of books memorized. It brings a smile to my face every time. She is already showing several signs of being ready to start learning how to read. I can only imagine how her love of books will grow even more when she is able to read to herself. But even then, I will look forward to our daily time spent together reading.

Please, if you are looking for something for your kids to do this summer, consider signing them up for a summer reading program. It’s worth it.

After storytime last fall.

After storytime last fall.

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Healthy Banana Ice Cream that is perfect for little kids

This is super creamy and good.

This is super creamy and good.

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for ways to add a few healthier food items to your child’s daily menu. I love ice cream, but it’s something I shy away from most of the time now because it’s not always the healthiest dessert option. And when I do eat ice cream, I tend to get the ones with half the fat, or I simply opt for sorbet instead. But sometimes…I just have to have a bowl of ice cream to satisfy the craving. Not to mention, I love the pure look of joy on my daughter’s face when she is eating ice cream and saying, “mmm, this is yummy…it tastes goooood.” That cracks me up every time. Especially when she adds her little happy dance. Pure joy.

Okay, so this is going to be the easiest banana ice cream recipe you have ever seen. Seriously, it is so easy my toddler could probably do it. (Well, she does help do half of it.) There is only one ingredient. I’m not kidding. All you need is bananas (and a strong blender).

Banana Ice Cream Recipe

- Frozen bananas

This is as healthy as ice cream can get. There is nothing else added. All you have to do is peel a couple of bananas. But them in a freezer safe container and freeze them for 2-4 hours. Take them out of the freezer and let them sit on the counter for about 5 minutes. I wouldn’t let them sit out for longer than 10 minutes. Put them in your Vitamix (or other high powered) blender on Variable 2 or 3 and blend for 30 seconds to a minute. All you want to do is blend it until it becomes the creamy consistency of ice cream or custard. It will become very creamy. This is a cold, refreshing treat on a warm day. It tastes like you made homemade banana ice cream, but without any added ingredients. This is super healthy, and kids love it.

We could barely stop eating it long enough to take pictures.

We could barely stop eating it long enough to take pictures.

This is really just the base of the recipe. You can add other frozen fruit to the blender to make different types of ice cream. Try frozen strawberries to make a strawberry banana ice cream. My daughter likes when I add peanut butter to it and make a peanut butter banana ice cream. You can also add your favorite toppings. I like mine with dark chocolate syrup. Yum! Of course, adding a special topping may make it a little less healthy, but considering the fat and calories you are saving by not making this with cream, sugar, and eggs…I think you can allow yourself to add something special on top. Maybe some caramel and/or crushed nuts. When you’re making the ice cream, try adding some oreo cookies to the blender for a take on cookies and cream ice cream. There are so many combinations you can use to make this delicious, healthy treat.

With dark chocolate syrup on top.  This was my bowl.

With dark chocolate syrup on top. This was my bowl.

My recommendations are to always use frozen bananas as your base, and if you are adding other fruit you should freeze it first. Other ingredients you may add to the blender don’t need to be frozen, such as oreos and peanut butter. Have fun with this recipe, and let your kids help make this with you. They will love being able to get involved and help make their own ice cream creations. And it’s so good that they won’t miss the “real” thing. Enjoy!

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This is what hands-on learning is all about.

I am a huge advocate of hands-on learning. I think it is important for kids to be able to get out there and actually experience things for themselves. I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for classroom/home learning, but I strongly believe kids learn more by doing.

If you live anywhere near the Chicago-land area and you are teaching your kids about dinosaurs (or they just have a love for dinosaurs), I recommend taking your kids to the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit at Brookfield Zoo. My husband and I took our daughter to the zoo last week, and Kayla loved the dinosaur exhibit. She wanted to be held because she was afraid the dinosaurs would eat her, but it still ranked as one of her favorite attractions. She’s been talking about it non-stop for the past week, and playing with her new (and old) dinosaur toys. Even as an adult, I was impressed by the details on the dinosaurs. This was hands down my favorite part of our visit.

We can all use books, fossils digs, and videos to teach our kids about dinosaurs, but nothing beats taking your child to see detailed replicas. Trust me, it was worth it. Just a simple walk through the exhibit inspired Kayla to ask us questions, and made her want to learn more about dinosaurs. We’ve been to the library twice this week and both times she got books on dinosaurs. She’s only 2 1/2 years old. Imagine if you have older kids with a passion for dinosaurs. They will love it.

By the fountain near the front of the zoo.

By the fountain near the front of the zoo.

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