8 Tips for Visiting Magic Kingdom With Little Ones

We recently took our first trip to Magic Kingdom as a family of four. Although we live only about an hour from Disney, we are far from being theme park aficionados. I did a bit of prep work for the big day, but there were still a few things that can only be learned through experience. Here are my 8 tips for making your day at Disney as much fun as possible, especially if you have little ones in tow!

  1. Get there early – Allow more time for parking and entering the park than you think. I would say it took almost an hour from when we parked to when we got into the park.
  2. Do your research – Disney does an awesome job outlining what attractions are suited for little ones. I spent a lot of time on their website looking at the map and figuring out which rides I thought we’d enjoy most. I also found the site Guide2WDW, which gives more detail on what to expect from each ride and advises on how best to use your allotted three Fast Passes.
  3. Come up with a plan – I listed out a rough order of all the attractions we could possibly do as well as dining options, but I knew there would be no way we could get to everything. Just know that you’ll have to be flexible based on the crowds and wait times.
  4. Download the My Disney Experience app – Disney really nailed it with their app. I bet I opened it 20 times throughout the day. One of the most helpful parts was the wait times. You could see how long the lines were to determine whether or not it would be worth riding a ride. The other helpful part was the walking directions. It would even tell you how long it would take to walk to a different area of the park.
  5. Bring healthy snacks and water – Chances are you’re going to be indulging in unhealthy foods while at the park (i.e., Mickey-shaped ice cream and hot dogs!), so to keep things balanced, have some healthy snacks on hand.
  6. Allow more time than you think you’ll need – Getting from point A to point B can take what feels like an eternity with the slow-moving crowds. There’s a good chance you won’t get to do everything that you want because there is just SO MUCH TO DO! Complete your “must do’s” as soon as you arrive in the park.
  7. Get a grip on the stroller situation – You can’t get in any line with your stroller. Therefore you need to park it in the designated stroller parking areas. At one point, we parked ours only to come out of a show to find it was not where we left it. After a short panic, we realized there are employees whose sole role seems to be relocating strollers if they are not in the exact stroller area (we were guilty of putting it near the area, but it was too crowded for us to find an actual stroller parking spot.)
  8. Be patient, show grace – People at Disney are crazy. Everyone is in a hurry to get where they’re going and see it all. I am guilty of being impatient and told Robert he needed to get more aggressive pushing the stroller. It’s hard to show grace when it’s not shown to you, but it’s something we can all work toward!

I know there are lots of you who frequent the parks much more often than I do, so feel free to help me add to my list of tips!

Fall 2016 Bucket List

Fall is my favorite time of year, and October is my favorite month! Not only is it my birth month, but it’s the month of pumpkins, football and cooler weather. It’s finally bearable to be outside in more clothing than a swim suit, and so it’s the perfect time to get out and explore!

Using my summer bucket list as inspiration, I’m going to start to-do lists for each season with the hope of making lots of memories.

Here’s where we’re at with our fall list:

  1. Take a Road Trip – DONE – I blogged about Part 1 of our trip to Savannah and Charlotte, as well as Part 2 to Columbia and Charleston.
  2. Check Out New Tampa Nature Park – TBD – I’m not sure what this park has to offer, but I’d like to check it out since it’s right down the road from us. It looks like there’s a playground and hiking path.
  3. Visit a Pumpkin Patch – PARTLY DONE – We visited the small patch at our church and plan to visit Sweetfields Farms in a couple weeks to get our fill of cute pumpkin pictures of the boys.
  4. Go to Disney – SCHEDULED – This is a doozy! We are going to spend the day at Magic Kingdom in a couple weeks. I have mixed emotions about this. On one hand I’m super excited, but on the other, I’m a little terrified of how the boys will handle such a big, overly stimulating day.
  5. Visit Florida Aquarium – DONE – Last month was “swaptember,” so those with zoo memberships could go to the aquarium or MOSI for free. I’ve been to the aquarium but it was the boys’ first trip. We enjoyed it, although I must admit I’m partial to the zoo. A lot of the aquarium’s exhibits seemed to have extras for older kids, and waiting in line and paying to park makes the trip a little more of a production than I’d like. We’ll check it out again when the little ones are a bit older.
  6. Hike at Hillsborough River State Park – TBD – There’s a fun hike along the Hillsborough River that Robert and I have done a couple times, and I think Luke is at an age where he can handle it and enjoy it.
  7. Visit Weeki Wachee Springs – TBD – Home of the world-famous mermaids, this quaint little park also has animals and a boat ride on the crystal clear Weekie Wachee River.
  8. Visit Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park – TBD – Back in my old stompin’ grounds, Homosassa Springs was a go-to field trip when I was growing up. Hopefully the boys will enjoy the animal encounters.
  9. Go to a Football Game – DONE – We had some adult time and went to a Bucs game with friends and then visited our alma mater with the boys for some tailgating before a Gator game. I can’t wait for the day we can bring the boys into the Swamp for their very first Gator game. I want them to be excited for it, and be able to sit still. Until then, we’ll take them to Gainesville and show them around campus. Being there to be a part of the energy surrounding a game is almost as fun as the game itself!
  10. Decorate Pumpkins – SCHEDULED – We’ll be carving pumpkins with friends this weekend. I have some new ideas for my pumpkins that I want to try out.

Fall is a fun, busy season! What are some things you do with your families this time of year?

Fall 2016 Road Trip Part 2: Columbia & Charleston

After spending time in Savannah and Charlotte, which I blogged about in Part 1, we drove an hour and a half from Charlotte to Columbia, South Carolina. We saw there was an Old Chicago restaurant near our hotel, so we were excited to have dinner there since there used to be one near us when we lived in Brandon and we absolutely LOVED it. We ordered a classic pizza and weren’t disappointed! We had to eat quickly because Eli was fussing, but it was just as good as we remembered!

When we got back to the hotel, we had to improvise with bath time for Eli. He was on an every-other-night bath schedule on our trip and this was bath night. He didn’t seem to mind the tight quarters!

img_9730img_9735Monday Robert worked while Luke, Eli and I went to the Riverbanks Zoo. Thanks to our membership at Lowry Park Zoo, we enjoyed half-price tickets. The zoo was fantastic! A lot of it was recently remodeled, so it felt very fresh. I noticed right away how close you can get to the animals. There’s a large deck area to stand while the giraffes come right up to you. The elephants are almost within arms reach. Plus there are a lot of animal statues, which we had fun taking selfies with. We arrived shortly after it opened at 9, and stayed through lunch, which is a pretty long outing for us.

img_6703img_6707img_6712img_6715img_6737img_6743

From there we drove two hours to Charleston. Robert continued working and would meet us there in the evening. Luke cried for about half the trip because the iPad we had with us did not have mower videos on it, and then he fell asleep five minutes before we arrived to our hotel. I sat in the car for 20 minutes while he slept and then checked into the hotel. I’m sure our crew was quite a sight with me loading up the luggage cart while wearing Eli in his carrier and telling Luke to sit on the cart so he wouldn’t get run over by a car. Then pushing the cart as another adventure, especially navigating it into our room.

img_6757Once Robert arrived we got ready for dinner and ate at a place in downtown Charleston called Fleet Landing. It literally sits over the water. I had shrimp and grits, which were delicious.

img_9743img_6761

From there we walked around the Waterfront Park area and stopped at the pineapple fountain, which turned into quite an adventure. There were a couple kids wading in the water, so Luke followed their lead and hopped right in. We quickly decided we needed to remove his clothing. He wanted to take his diaper off too but we were able to keep that on, fortunately. He was loving it and didn’t want to get out but it was getting dark and I wanted to check out the pier before heading back to the car. Fortunately I had a baby blanket to use as a towel. His shorts were toast – soaking wet, so he sported just his button down shirt and a diaper for the rest of our walk. We walked out to the pier to look for dolphins but didn’t see any. After that we called it a day and headed back to the car. It was a long but really fun day!

img_6765img_6773img_9749img_9750img_9751img_9753img_9756img_9758

Tuesday Robert worked just outside of Charleston and the boys and I went to check out Patriots Point, which is where the USS Yorktown is docked. I saw online that there are lots of old war planes on the ship, so I thought it’d be fun for Luke. It ended up not being as fun as I thought. A lot of the ship was not stroller friendly at all, and Luke really wasn’t interested in the planes. Plus there were tons of mosquitoes! We were all getting bit pretty badly, so we didn’t stay long. While packing up the car about 10 flew in. I was surprised they were as bad up there as they are in Tampa. We swung by a Harris Teeter to pick up lunch and headed back to the hotel.

img_6775img_6777img_6778

After lunch Luke took a 2.5-hour nap! I was astonished! Eli slept for a little bit, woke up and we played, and then he fell back asleep (on me) for nearly two hours. I considered moving him so I could get up, but I realized I didn’t have anything I needed to do, so I just stayed there with him. It was a weird feeling. I always have things to do, but what was I going to do in this hotel room? So I did some instagramming, face booking and reading from my iPhone. It was pretty nice! I reflected on how blessed I feel to be able to do such neat things with my boys, even when our adventures don’t turn out to be as fun as I hoped.

Everyone woke up refreshed in time for Robert to get back and we headed to Shem Creek for dinner. We ate a delicious dinner at Vickery’s, where we could see shrimp boats and miles of marsh land. After dinner we walked out on the boardwalk and caught amazing sunset views, met some people fishing and passed lots of friendly dogs. It was finally feeling a little like Fall with a nice breeze and drier air. Still warm, but a tad crisper than what we are used to.

img_9766img_9771img_9773img_9780img_6792img_6795img_6799img_9793img_6800img_9800img_6803img_9809img_6807img_6813img_6825img_9827img_9829img_6837

We got up Wednesday, had breakfast at the hotel and hit the road. The map told us the drive would take six hours and 40 minutes. We took our time and made it in about eight hours.

All in all, traveling with little ones is no easy feat! There’s a lot of stuff to lug around, lots of transitions and new things to see, do and eat, lots of time in the car. But I’m glad we did it and I’m proud of how well Luke, especially, handled it all. Being a toddler is tough and he took (most) everything in stride. There were tough moments, but looking back, we made some great memories, and I can’t wait to take another adventure with my crew!

img_6841img_6842

Fall 2016 Road Trip Part 1: Savannah & Charlotte

I get the itch to travel a few times a year and I love planning trips and things to do. In fact I have trips planned to places we don’t plan to travel to anytime soon, like the Turks and Caicos and Aruba. Since 2016 is the year of Eli, I knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere exotic or without him, so I started thinking of places we could go with the boys, on a budget. I thought we could plan a road trip around visiting my friend in Charlotte, and then Robert coordinated some meetings with colleagues in the area so that he could work while the boys and I played (which also means hotels, gas and his food could be expensed – woot!).

We left on a Thursday after picking Luke up from preschool and headed to Savannah, a 5-hour drive. I figured since we were driving during nap time that Luke would sleep for a couple hours. I had a tray filled with a coloring book, crayons and stickers, along with the iPad to fill the rest of the time, but of course, Luke didn’t sleep a wink. Eli slept and fussed. We ended up making 3 stops, two of which were emergency pull overs on the side of the road, where we calmed crying babies, stretched our legs and changed diapers. We got to Savannah in time to take a short walk to dinner at Moe’s.

img_6587img_6588img_6591

Once we got back to the hotel we set up Eli’s pack-n-play and Luke’s “special bed” (a blowup mattress with sides) and settled in for the night. No one slept much! Luke tends to wake up in the middle of the night upset when he’s in unfamiliar places, and Eli, the angel baby I always brag about, was up every hour or two, probably because I grabbed him and nursed him at his first wince so he wouldn’t wake up Luke, rather than letting him settle himself back down on his own.

We made it through the night and had breakfast at the hotel. We booked Springhill Suites for the whole trip, which all come with hot, free continental breakfast – an awesome perk! We took a short walk to Telfair Square, one of the many scenic green spaces in Savannah, to drink our coffee and let Luke run around. He surveyed the grounds let us know which bushes needed hedge trimming.

img_6594img_6597img_6600

After spending half an hour or so in the park, we hopped in the car and drove a few miles to Oatland Island Wildlife Center. This had great reviews on Trip Advisor and was only $5 per adult. We were all pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed this little excursion. The park consists of a looped trail where animals are kept throughout. The animals are all native to the area and the park itself is in a natural habitat, so you feel like you’re hiking through the wilderness. Our favorite animal was the cougar, which was so much larger than we expected and was right next to the glass giving us an up-close and personal view. We also watched the wolves for a while as they played with each other, and we stopped by the farm area, which had a goose, turkey, cow and goats. I appreciated how simple this park was. There were no bright signs or flashing lights. It was just a pleasant walk to enjoy nature and see animals that can no longer survive on their own in the wild.

img_6608img_6618img_6629img_6637img_6641img_6650img_6667

After a lunch consisting of snacks I’d packed in the car, we headed to Charlotte, where my college friend Dalissia and her husband Nick live. Again, I thought Luke would definitely sleep in he car since he’d been running around all morning, but once again he was just too full of energy to sleep. He was running on fumes by the time we arrived, but was a trooper while we enjoyed catching up with our friends over tacos.

Saturday we got pedicures (a special treat for me these days!) and watched our Gators fall to Tennessee while barbecuing with some of Nick and Dalissia’s friends. There were five little ones three and under at their house! There were a few battles over toys, and once again, no nap for Luke, but all in all, it was a fun day even though our team lost.

img_6696img_9727

Sunday we had the best donuts I’ve ever had from a place called Duck Donuts. I wish I had taken a picture of them because they were so pretty! The most unique was a maple one with bacon on top. YUM! We played at the park and playground in the morning across the street from Nick and Dalissia’s house. Luke threw the ball to their dog Penny over and over, wearing both of them out. And then Luke finally caved and took a nap! He needed it!

img_6682img_6685img_6692

We said our “goodbyes” late afternoon and headed to our next destination. A big thank you goes to Nick and Dalissia for their wonderful hospitality! We had a great time!

Summer 2016 Bucket List

Although Summer doesn’t technically end until next month, and weather-wise we’re still in the thick of the summer’s heat and humidity, Fall is clearly upon us with school back in session and football back on TV. Therefore I wanted to report on our Summer Bucket List and make sure we haven’t forgotten to do anything.

Here’s our list and the progress we’ve made so far…

  1. Trip to the Beach – CHECK! We had a long weekend in Indian Shores with some friends. Luke wasn’t really feeling the sand on this trip, and we had to go to the ER because Eli was having some breathing issues, but we all made it out healthy and (relatively) happy. It seems like the beach is hit or miss with a toddler. Some days Luke loves it and other days he’s bothered by being wet and sandy.
  2. Water Works Park – CHECK! Water Works Park is a splash pad playground in downtown Tampa along the Riverwalk. I met up with some other moms for a morning playdate here. It’s a really fun spot and one of the only truly enjoyable parks  when it’s 90+ degrees outside. However this park gets PACKED! So arrive early to claim a shady area to post up. Here’s a list of other splash pads in Tampa.
  3. Water balloons – Scheduled for Tomorrow! We bought the Bunch O Balloons after seeing the commercial on TV and are excited to give it a try tomorrow with friends. It basically allows you to easily fill a bunch of balloons at once, so I guess it’s rather self-explanatory! I’ll report back on whether it’s a hit or miss.
  4. Fireworks – CHECK! This Fourth of July Luke and Eli got to see their first fireworks. Eli slept through them and Luke was a bit indifferent. Eventually he got up from the blanket we were sitting on and walked inside. We took that as an indicator that the fireworks were a bit too loud for him (he had let Eli borrow his headphones).
  5. Dinosaur World – Tabled – Dinosaur World is one of the many interesting attractions you’ll see off of I-4 between Tampa and Orlando. After checking out their website, I decided this will be better suited for when the boys are a little older.
  6. Putt-Putt Golf – CHECK! Luke is obsessed with golf so this is always a fun activity for us. The only problem is that there’s not a nice course near us. We ventured over to Clearwater one Saturday to the Congo River Golf course followed by lunch at Newk’s Eatery. It turned out to be a perfect little day trip. The golf course is in great condition and the holes each have a unique feature, whether it’s a cave, waterfall, bridge or boat. We sort of stumbled upon Newk’s and were really pleased with the diverse menu and friendly service. It’s a quick-service restaurant, which as parents know, is the way to go when you have little ones in tow.
  7. Common Ground Park – Tabled – This is a park in Lakeland that was recommended as a fun place to visit, and because it’s so big, it offers plenty of space for kids to run. The premise behind it is that all kids, including those with disabilities, can play together here. I would like to check it out when the weather cools down a little and maybe tie it in with another activity in Lakeland.
  8. Summer Movie – Tabled – Many theaters offer low-priced tickets for kids movies in the summer. This would be a great way to spend a hot or rainy day, but I’m going to hold off another year or two before bringing the boys to the movies.
  9. Ice Cream Sundaes – CHECK! One night after dinner we made a special trip to Publix for ice cream. Although they didn’t end up being very fancy and only consisted of  vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup and maraschino cherries, they hit the spot!
  10. Go on a Boat – Tabled – We haven’t sought out making this happen very hard, and I’m OK if it doesn’t happen this summer. While I love boating, it would be a lot to do it with a toddler and infant, so holding off until next Summer might be best.

We’ve done pretty well with our list and have had a lot of fun this summer exploring our surroundings. I’m excited to continue this tradition and create a Fall bucket list. For now, our outings are pretty simple, and I’m happy with that. However I can’t wait for the day when our list includes tubing down Rainbow River, kayaking down the Weekie Wachee River and camping in the Smoky Mountains. Until then, you can find us enjoying the simple treasures in life. 🙂

Rain, Rain Go Away! 7 Solutions for Staying Sane Inside With A Toddler

We’ve been having a lot of rain lately here in Tampa. And when you’re used to spending your days playing in the yard or swimming in the pool, it can be hard to figure out ways to entertain an energetic toddler indoors! Of course TV is always an option, but since too much screen time is a “no-no,” I try not to let Mickey occupy too much of our days.

Here are some things we’ve done, along with activities in my back pocket to try out for the next boring rainy day.

  1. Walk through a Pet Store – We’ve had fun looking at fish swim around, kittens jumping on each other and dogs playing at an indoor doggie daycare.
  2. Build a Fort – One of my favorite childhood pastimes was building forts. I recently built one with Luke and it was a hit! We used a clothes pin to clip a sheet to a curtain and draped it over a chair and table. He excitedly brought in some of his toys and we enjoyed our snacks in there.
  3. Dine and Play at a Fast Food Restaurant – For lunch or an afternoon treat, head to Chik-fil-A or McDonalds and take advantage of their indoor play areas.
  4. Play at the Mall – Most malls in our area have a play area for little ones to burn some energy while parents take a break from shopping. International Plaza, WestShore Plaza and the Brandon mall all offer indoor options.
  5. Visit a Library or Book Store – Libraries and book stores like Barnes and Noble offer scheduled baby and toddler story times and even activities like yoga. Or you can always head to the library anytime to scope out and get some new reading material.
  6. Go to the Movies – I’m not brave enough to take Luke to the movies yet, but friends of mine have had success with bringing their toddlers to the movies. I think food would be key here. We would need lots of popcorn and candy to keep Luke in his seat.
  7. Bust out the Arts and Crafts – We have a cabinet full of art supplies like markers, crayons, coloring books, finger paint and play dough. Usually Luke ends up throwing the play dough and building a sword by connecting the markers, but at least it keeps him seated and happy for a little while.

As many of you know, I’m new to this stay-at-home mom gig so I’m not used to coming up with unique things to do. Please feel free to leave me a comment with some ideas to add to my list!

5 Board Books Parents Will Enjoy

Reading is a big part of parenting. And little ones like repetition, so finding books that YOU don’t mind reading 50 times a week is a nice perk. We love “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” but there’s something about constantly repeating yourself that can get a little irritating. Here are some I actually enjoy reading over…and over…and over.IMG_5900

  1. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle: This one is fun to read thanks to its colorful illustrations, abundance of animal sounds and rhyming verses. Plus it teaches a great life lesson about helping others, even when they might seem undeserving.
  2. The Belly Button Book by Sandra Boynton: We love ALL of Sandra Boynton’s books. This one is especially silly. I have to admit that the first time I read it, the pre-mom, cynical side of me thought “wow, this is really weird” but my softer, more kid-friendly side gives it a stamp of approval.
  3. The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen: This is another book with fun, detailed illustrations, and a sing-song cadence, making it a really entertaining read. The message behind it is also cute, with all the sea creatures trying to perk up the pout pout fish.
  4. Dr. Seuss’s ABC by Dr. Seuss: Everyone loves a classic Dr. Seuss book. This one is short and sweet, and even though there’s quite a bit of repetition, the silliness of the nonsensical alliteration doesn’t get old. Plus, it’s educational and really drives home the sounds of each letter.
  5. I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak: I love the sweet, simple message conveyed in this book, along with the fact that its character reminds me of my Luke. No matter what the baby is doing, every part about him is loved – a good reminder on those tough days.

What are your must-read board books? I’d like to add some more to my list!