Five Ways Traveling Helps Connect My Family #TravelforReal #FamilyForward

I love to travel.

Over the couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to visit several different destinations …but the best experiences I’ve had by far have been the adventures I’ve taken with my family.

It’s funny because I’ve noticed recently that the further we get from home, the closer my family tends to get.

At home we all stay so busy and so focused with whatever is consuming us at the moment….school, work, scouts, soccer, running events, musical performances, housework. While we make it a point to  sit down together for dinner as frequently as possible and spend time as a family together on the weekends…it’s hard to coordinate schedules as the kids get older.

When we travel – it’s like we’re all in on the same page. We get closer on vacation by:

1. Navigating different roads – Whether we’re taking a full-on, Griswold family road trip across several states in the mini-van or we’re just trying to get our rental car from the airport to the hotel….finding our way together has a way of bringing us closer. Sometimes we give each other a hard time, but there’s a sense of adventure even in getting to your destination.

5 ways traveling helps connect

 

2. Experiencing something new  – Whether it’s paddle boarding or visiting the world’s largest ball of string …when we all try or see something that is new to all of us for the first time – we bond. I especially love it when do something different spur of the moment and all end up loving the experience….thrilled with conquering something new….together.

3. Trying different food – I don’t know what it is, but my kids will try new food/dishes when on a vacation that they’d never try at home. And I love to eat out…no dishes, no grocery shopping! When we are by the ocean, I crave seafood. When in New Orleans, I had to have a beignet from Cafe Du Monde…Paris – macarons! One of the things I always do before I leave on a trip is to ask friends and family where there favorite restaurant is.

4. Meeting new people  – It’s always fun to meet people while traveling. Some of the coolest conversations I’ve had have been with locals in a non-touristy spot. But we also love to talk to people who, like us, are vacationing. When in Destin, we bonded with some SUP enthusiasts when we rented paddle boards and ventured far from the shore. Others doing the same thing would give us tips on paddle boarding or a good spot to dive for sand dollars. There’s something about being on a similar adventure that brings you closer to those you’ve never met!

5. Staying at a nice hotel – Call us crazy – but we love staying in a nice hotel room all together. At home, we scatter after dinner for homework, chores and practice. Even when we sit down to watch a movie together – I get up frequently to put in a load of laundry, answer the phone or do something else “I just remembered I didn’t do but really need to”. When we are in a hotel room – there aren’t any distractions. I have no desire to clean. When we watch a movie – I pay attention. We even like to bring cards or small games to play before going to sleep.

loews royal pacific

We are so excited about our next adventure! In less than two weeks, we’ll be joining families from across the country as part of the #FamilyForward Universal Orlando Adventure hosted by Mom It Forward along with Universal Orlando Resort, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, DohVinci, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Loews Royal Pacific Resort.

This trip is unique because in addition to going to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, watching the Blue Man Group, visiting Universal’s Wet n Wild Waterpark and staying at the beautiful Loews Royal Pacific Resort,  Mom It Forward has organized other activities and projects that are designed to bring families closer together. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for us!

We’ve been counting down the days and have loved getting a first-hand look about what it will be like to stay at Loews by seeing photos other families who are staying there are posting on Instagram on the #TravelforReal hashtag. We are so thankful they are doing this because it allows us to get a REAL look at what it’s like to stay and play there from the perspective of families like us. From what we’ve seen, we are in for a real treat! From the hotel room, to the pools and restaurants – the hotel looks amazing and we are so excited to get there.

We can’t wait to share our experience with you – so be sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter .

 

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Inspiration Where You Least Expect It

Tonight my nine-year-old daughter told me to get on my running shoes and come outside with her. I begged her to go upstairs and play. I didn’t want to go outside. It’s like Mars in Houston right now and I’ve been feeling bad about myself for skipping work-outs. I have had a hard time keeping up with my running group….a bad start to a new running season. So I thought I should watch Big Bang Theory re-runs and eat chocolate instead.

The truth is I’ve felt bad about myself about a lot of things lately. I had an incredible experience at an oil and gas company leading a group of extraordinary people over the last year. I was in awe of their talent each day and I think I made a difference, too.

But I didn’t see my kids. I was missing school functions and even when I was home. I wasn’t home. Things slipped through the cracks. My health wasn’t good. And other things at home weren’t good either.

So I took a leap of faith and accepted a contract position which allows me to work from home and will give me more time to be with my family. To take care of myself.

To blog!

So there’s a learning curve and I’ve fallen a couple times over the past couple of weeks. But I’m getting my sea legs…figuring out my cadence….finding my new normal.

Still – I didn’t want to run tonight. But Annie told me to run with her. So I put one foot in front of the other and before we knew it – we ran 2 miles together.

Here’s the thing – the inspiration I didn’t realize I had has been sitting on her canopy bed down the hall reading Judy Moody chapter books to her stuffed animals and turning cartwheels where ever she can find six inches of clear space.

Annie.

She talked to me the entire two miles. Telling me that I was awesome. And that she admired me because I keep running even when it hurts. Even when I’m tired. Even when I feel I can’t. That I take the longer route because while it’s harder, it’s worth it.

She told me that running is like having a lemon aid stand to earn money to buy a camera (hint, hint – she wants a camera!) You can’t just have one lemon aid stand and expect to earn all you need for the camera you want. You have to have a lot of lemon aid stands….and you know – it just kinda all adds up.

What?!

When did my daughter get all smart and insightful.

And damn. When did she become a good runner?!

So maybe I’m not in the best shape after our little run tonight – but I’m better.

And also…I’m back.

 

 

 

 

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Massage Envy Spa (Giveaway for 1-hour massage in Cypress, Texas!)

Did you happen to see my Sprint Tri recap post last year? I talked about how a massage helped me prepare for the race. I’ve competed in several triathlons since then, and massages are such a huge benefit to help me prepare and recover from these athletic events.

But I’m learning that massages are really a good thing for me to experience on a more consistent basis. I was reminded recently why I love Massage Envy and how I need to sign up as a member so I can take advantage of the therapeutic benefits (relieve stress, relax muscles and improve range of motion) at a cost so much more wallet-friendly then other spas.

massage envy

The Massage Envy Cypress location off of 290 invited me to see their newly renovated space and treated me to a fabulous hour-long massage. It was incredible. They recently moved a stone’s throw from their previous location into a much bigger facility; a 15-room, 4200-square-foot spa which includes four upgraded spa rooms, two couples’ rooms and a large tranquility room.

When I arrived, I filled out paperwork so my therapist, Jessica, could understand exactly what I needed and wanted to get out of the session. My wellness coordinator, Kathy, asked further questions to be sure I knew all my options. I wanted a deep tissue massage with some stretching. Kathy suggested the Deep Muscle Therapy, warming and cooling thermal products to provide deep muscle pain relief from injuries and chronic conditions or limited mobility due to athletic training, to enhance my experience. 

I was relaxed the minute I walked in, so I didn’t take many photos – but I did get a couple of the tranquility room. Look at that beautiful stone wall.

massage envy

Jessica brought me back almost immediately and the session was amazing. The Deep Muscle Therapy was wonderful and so worth the extra $12.00. She made sure the pressure was comfortable and immediately found the spots on my neck that needed to be worked out and helped stretch my legs and arms. I felt like a million bucks when I was finished and I can’t wait to go back to see Jessica again. I felt like she really cared about my health and both Kathy and Jessica were so helpful and caring…it was like I had my own wellness team!

Massage Envy offers members a great rate of just $59.99 for a monthly massage and additional massages during the month are only $39.99. They also offer Murad Healthy Skin Facials, which I would love to get sometime soon!

Do you leave in the Houston/Cypress area? Want to win a free one-hour massage at Massage Envy to try it out for yourself? Be sure to enter the giveaway! For more information about Massage Envy in Houston, check them out on Facebook!

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I was given a complimentary massage in order to write a review. No other compensation was received and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Anne Geddes 2015 Calendar – Under The Sea

In just two days, I’ll be attending Blogger Bash in NYC to learn about the latest and greatest products and initiatives from hundreds of companies. It is going to be a great experience and Tanya Avery and I will be sharing with you what we learn along the way!

I’m SO excited that photographer Anne Geddes will there to unveil her latest project – Under The Sea: a 2015 calendar featuring images of babies as characters in their own underwater pantomime.

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Seriously…how cute is this little mermaid?

The 12 images in the calendar end with December’s grand finale The Great Barrier Reef – a tribute to Anne’s home country, Australia. I can’t wait to see it!

Anne Geddes, a world renowned photographer, has been capturing unique and beautiful images of children for years. I enjoyed her work before I became a mother. Now, with two children of my own, I respect and enjoy her talents even more.

It is a goal of mine to become a better photographer…to capture the feeling behind a subject, to bring out the beauty in what already exists  – to make people smile. Anne Geddes does this in such a beautiful way. She is truly Living Her Dream, pursuing her passion that started with a small studio in a garage behind her garden and has grown to include a body of work that is loved and enjoyed by millions of people.

What an inspiration.

You can learn more about her new calendar, Under the Sea, here.

I look forward to bringing you news from Blogger Bash soon!

 

 

 

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Salata – The Next Generation Salad Bar (Giveaway)

Salata logo

By now you probably can guess that I love to go out to eat, but finding healthy food options (especially  for a quick bite) can sometimes be challenging.

One of my favorite places? Salata.

So when Salata, The Next Generation Salad Bar, recently sent me a gift card to have lunch on them and gave me another one to give away to a, lucky Still Living The Dream reader, I was beyond thrilled. They have a lot of exciting things going on including summer promotions, new locations and new menu items.

I love that Salata doesn’t charge by the weight. You just go down the line and tell them to add whatever you want… they offer unlimited toppings at one set price of $8. But it’s the type of toppings they offer that keep me coming back.

With nearly 50 ingredient options, there is something for everyone.

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Here’s how I built my salad yesterday:

  1. grapes
  2. strawberries
  3. carrots
  4. black beans
  5. cilantro
  6. cucumbers

For just a small amount more ($2 for chicken and $3 for seafood) you can add protein. I added crab meat and topped my salad with fat-free mango dressing (YUM!) and baked pita chips.

Nutrition info (Weight Watchers Points Plus):

Salata’s 10 dressings, all made in-house, are gluten-free. While they are all delicious – they range in calories/fat content. The best options if you are watching your intake? Fat-free Mango and Fat-free Sun-Dried Tomato. Both are delicious but you’ve got to try the fat-free mango…my absolute favorite which is (wait for it) 0 WW points plus! (based on a 1 ounce serving which is 1 ladle at the restaurant) it gives your salad a light but flavorful punch.

Worth the splurge – Chipotle Ranch…not too bad for 3 PP. Delicious but higher in calories/fat – Balsamic Vinaigrette (4 PP) and Lemon Vinaigrette (4 PP).

For the adventurous types, Salata will mix dressings. Fun combos include Ginger-lime and Chipotle Ranch and Mango and Chipotle Ranch.

Salata also offers broccoli, tomato basil and tortilla soups and tortilla wraps and has great homemade tea and lemon-aid flavors.

salata teas

Summer Tea Promotion:

Speaking of tea and lemon-aid, from now until July 31, guests who purchase a half-gallon tea or lemonade variety will receive one free, reusable Salata tumbler – limit one tumbler per purchase per visit while supplies last!

The house-made teas and lemonades are available in premium flavors like peach lemonade and green tea lemonade, or plum cinnamon tea and the portable jugs are available for $8.00 at any Salata location that serves its signature teas and lemonades. To find the Salata nearest you, visit www.salata.com.

Houston-area Peeps: A New Salata Restaurant Location!

Salata, a Houston-based salad-bar restaurant, has more than 30 corporate-owned and franchise locations in Texas and Southern California and has signed agreements to open 40 more by 2016. They are opening their 34th restaurant (19th in Houston) tomorrow, Thursday, June 19th in River Oaks (1440 W. Grey St.). Doors open at 11:00 a.m. and the first 34 guests to dine will receive a free salad or salad wrap and signature drink of their choice!

A Giveaway!

Can’t make it to the Houston River Oaks restaurant for the grand opening and still want  to try Salata for free? One lucky Still Living The Dream reader will get a $15.00 gift card to check-out Salata’s greatness first-hand. Just leave a comment below telling me what ingredients you love in a salad. Easy-peasy! I’ll select a winner at random on Monday, June 23, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. CST.

I was given a gift card to enjoy lunch at Salata. No other compensation was received and all thoughts and opinions are my own!

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New Grilled Chicken at Chick-fil-A #GrilledLove (Giveaway)

Chick-fil-A is at it again.

Last year I posted nutritional information and a review of Chick-fil-A’s newest salads and wrap which continue to be extremely popular with their customers. I love the healthier menu options which make it easy to eat well while on the go.

Recently they made a big change to their grilled menu.

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Have you heard about this latest news? Maybe not, because they played it all calm and low key and just kind of snuck these in on their menu without doing a lot of promotion. In fact, even though David and his team invited me and my friends to preview the new items for free at the restaurant in our area in Houston on April 7th, they had actually already been serving the items to their customers for several weeks.

Even though they didn’t make a lot of hooplah, make no mistake…this change is HUGE.

Chick-fil-A has introduced a new lineup of grilled chicken entrees that will give the chain one of the most nutritious and expansive grilled menus across the quick-service industry.

On April 14, the Atlanta-based restaurant chain officially rolled-out three new entrees:

  1. Chick-fil-A® Grilled Chicken Sandwich
  2. Chick-fil-A® Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich
  3. Chick-fil-A® Grilled Nuggets

So you’re probably thinking, what? They already have a grilled chicken sandwich and grilled nuggets – what’s the big deal?

Actually, the items they have been serving on their menu for years have been CHAR-GRILLED, not grilled. Chick-fil-A invested seven years of testing and more than $50 million to reinvent its grilled chicken recipe including the creation of a proprietary grill. This grill sears chicken perfectly on cast-iron grates like it was cooked on a backyard grill, only faster.

What does that mean for you and me?

Chick-fil-A’s new chicken filet is 1 1/2 ounces larger than the fried filet. The grilled recipe is moister, juicier and more flavorful than the char-grilled version offered before. Each grilled chicken breast is marinated with a blend of sea salt, lemon, garlic and savory herbs, and cooked on their newly developed proprietary grill.

My friends (girl scout brownie troop moms) and I were all, “that sounds good – but we’ll be the judge of that!” So we all ordered items from the grilled menu and chowed down, Texas style.

Our verdict? Delicious! Every grilled menu item was so tasty and moist…you can actually see sear marks on the chicken. Did you know that some restaurants have a grill mark press they use to simulate sear marks?! Chick-fil-A’s are for real!

chickfila chicken

Check out the details including nutritional facts on the grilled chicken items:

  • Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich: The Grilled Chicken Sandwich is a boneless, 100 percent pure breast meat chicken, marinated with a special blend of seasonings, served on a new toasted, multigrain bun (not wheat) with green leaf lettuce and tomato and with a side of Honey Roasted BBQ Sauce. Pickles no longer come on the sandwich to reduce the sodium level. It is priced starting at $4.29 with just 320 calories and 5 grams of fat, making it one of the most nutritious grilled entrees in the quick- service industry.
  • Take it up a notch with the Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich with Colby-Jack Cheese and Applewood smoked bacon for $5.49 with 440 calories and 14 grams of fat.
  • Chick-fil-A Grilled Nuggets: Chick-fil-A Grilled Nuggets are pure boneless breast of chicken that come in the four and six-count kid’s meals are also available in eight-count (140 calories, 3 fat grams for $3.79) or 12-count (200 calories, 4.5 fat grams for $5.59) packs. Grilled Nuggets are made without gluten-containing ingredients and are free of trans fats.

I love to get grilled nuggets with honey mustard dipping sauce (one of the better choices at 45 calories a serving) with a side of fruit and a diet lemon aid!

Chick-fil-A’s new grilled chicken recipe is also in the Chick-fil-A Grilled Market Salad, Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap and Chick-fil-A Chicken Salad Sandwich.

As someone who tries to make healthy food choices wherever I go, I appreciate that Chick-fil-A makes their nutritional information easily accessible on their menu boards. You can also go online to find a meal calculator.

kids with cones

What’s on the horizon for Chick-fil-A:

1. On Feb. 11, Chick-fil-A announced that it will serve chicken raised without antibiotics in all its restaurants nationwide within five years. The move marked the first time a quick service restaurant has committed to a 100 percent “raised without antibiotics” standard for poultry.

2. Iced and hot coffee will be introduced in August 2014. Farmer-direct medium-roast coffee was developed especially for Chick-fil-A by experts at THRIVE Farmers. Both will be available in original and vanilla in 16- and 20-oz. serving sizes.

3. Frappes will be coming late 2014 to early 2015! Sustainably sourced by THRIVE Farmers, they will offer Triple Chocolate and Salted Caramel flavors.

4. Smoothies. Word on the street is Chick-fil-A will come out with pineapple mango, strawberry orange and berry acai smoothies made with real fruit and low-fat yogurt sometime in 2015. All smoothies will be 300 calories or less.

Want to be the judge the new grilled items yourself? How about….A Giveaway!

 

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 group with chikfila cow

My friends and I were treated to dinner at Chick-Fil-A in order to review the new grilled items. No compensation was received and, as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Getting Ready for Disney Social Media Moms with Magic At Play Clothing from Kohl’s (Giveaway!)

DisneySMMoms2014

I’m so excited to be attending the Disney Social Media Moms Conference again this year! It’s an unbelievable opportunity to learn from industry experts while having fun at the happiest place on earth! This year the conference is at Disneyland and there have been hints that some of the speakers will include Maxine Clark; Build A Bear, Doug Bowman; Twitter and Donald Driver; Super Bowl Champion. An awesome speaker line-up, the opportunity to network with incredibly talented bloggers and social media experts AND the chance to play at the park with my family? Dream. Come. True.

Needless to say, my family and I can’t wait to go next week…but we need to start packing. Preparing for a family vacation to Disney combined with a conference can be tricky. We don’t want to forget any park essentials (water bottles, back pack, sunscreen) along with conference must-haves (laptop, camera, mobile chargers). Check out some preparation and packing tips I posted about our Disney World trip last year.

And then there’s the most important part…what to wear!

We like to show our #DisneySide at home with Disney-themed clothes featuring Princesses, our favorite movie characters and (of course) classic Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Wearing Disney-inspired clothes at Disneyland is a must, so we were thrilled to learn about Magic at Play, a clothing collaboration between Disney and Kohl’s that came out April 3, 2014. I was given a gift card to Kohl’s so I could check out the apparel line by Jumping Beans for infants, toddlers, boys sizes 4-7 and girls sizes 4-6x and share what I thought with you.

kohls disney clothes

Annie had so much fun, but admittedly had a hard time deciding which pieces to choose from because there were so many options available at Kohl’s in stores and online. In the end she selected three tops, a pair of shorts, leggings and a dress. We loved the blinged out Mickey shirt and the subtle hints of Minnie on the sundress. A major plus….many of the pieces go together, giving you more outfit options. Also, Kohl’s often offers many sales and coupons so you can maximize your dollars. When we went, the entire Magic at Play Jumping Beans clothing line was 30 percent off. We also had an addition 20 percent off coupon AND a $10.00 off coupon that you can use if you spend $30 in apparel for children. Saving money on cute clothes makes me so happy.

kohls annie

What do you think…pretty cool, right? Want to make your dollar stretch even further so you can get more from the collection? How about a giveaway for a $50.00 Kohl’s giftcard?!

A GIVEAWAY!

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Thank you Kohl’s for giving us a gift card to purchase Disney Jumping Bean apparel in order to review. No other compensation was received and as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Daddy’s Girl

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They can take any name that I’ve made for myself

They can take any pride I’ve got as well

There are some things that I can’t afford to lose

I could be nobody as long as I’m someone to you – Andy Gullahorn

Last weekend Ed and Annie attended a daddy-daughter dance. Annie picked out a fancy dress in her closet to wear and started counting down the hours until it was time to leave, the moment she woke up Saturday morning.

I rushed around all day running errands which included a stop at Target to get some tights for her to wear with her dress. I stopped by the jewelry department (because, jewelry!) and saw some earrings that I knew she would love.

When I got home, I gave Ed the box.

“Those are cute, but why don’t you just give them to her,” he said.

“No – these need to come from you,” I told him.

Later…after Ed gave them to her and I helped her put them on; she ran to the bathroom to see how they looked. I saw her smiling in the mirror as she pulled her hair to the side to get a better look. I could tell she felt pretty, but I knew it was more than that.

She felt loved.

I live vicariously through the relationship my daughter and husband have together. While my mom was awesome at taking care of three girls by herself, I missed moments like these growing up without a father. I’m so grateful that Annie has a dad that loves her with all his heart.

He is there for the daily stuff…getting ready for school, homework, cheer practice. He wipes her tears when she gets hurt and captures proud moments on film…first steps, learning to ride a bike, singing in a school play.

Annie and I are very close, but I know that the bond between a daddy and his daughter is special.

When it was time to go, they walked hand-in-hand out the door. I followed them out front and watched Ed take her to the passenger side of the truck and open the door for her. She looked back at me and grinned from ear-to-ear, she couldn’t believe the royal treatment!

And I saw it in her eyes as they drove away. Our old Toyota pick-up truck was her carriage; the driver…her prince. And my heart broke in a million pieces, in the best possible way.

I stood in the drive-way long after they were out of sight. These moments in life…they take our breath away.

daddy daughter dance branded.jpg

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How To Prepare For A Magical Disney World Adventure

StillLivingTheDream MickeyMouse

I recently visited Disney World with my two kids and husband. As a Disney Social Media Moms Conference attendee, I was invited to some special event experiences during the official event but we extended our stay so we could experience Disney together as a family afterwards as well. Because I hadn’t been to Disney in 20 years and my 7 year-old daughter and 11 year-old son had never been, we had a lot of questions when packing for our trip. We wanted to get the most out of every magical second at the parks! I think we did a pretty good job but like any vacation…we learned a couple things along the way as well.

I plan to cover a lot of what I learned including some behind the scenes fun and giveaways in upcoming posts but I just received the following note from Still Living The Dream reader, Jennifer Evans. Jennifer saw my first follow-up post about my trip to Disney and since she is planning a trip with her husband, Mark, and 10-year-old son, Cole, soon (see their cute photo below), she had some questions. I thought it would be fun to answer them here so anyone else planning a trip and wondering about the same things could hear how I responded.

 StillLivingTheDream Evans family

Dear Still Living the Dream,

I’m headed to Disneyworld with my husband and our fearless, active 10 year old son. I haven’t been to Disney in 20 years, and our son has never been. So, consider us rookies. We’re staying in a condo 3 minutes away (so off site), and we’ve purchased Magic your Way Park Hopper + Water Park combo passes for 5 days. I’ve been reading the Unofficial Guide and taken notes from friends, checked out the Disney site for traffic info to try and select the best days for the various parks. I think we’re fairly prepared for that. But, I have some questions for you:

Question: What do you carry with you? I like to travel light. Do I bring a small wristlet? A backpack? Do we put everything in a locker every day and just cram wallet necessities in pockets? What about your phones?

Answer: I am the same way! I didn’t want to be slowed down with a lot of “stuff” while walking around in the parks BUT I also wanted to save money on things like bottled water. Since we don’t have stroller age children whatever we wanted to bring with us we needed to carry ourselves….all day. We ended up bringing a backpack which my husband usually carried and I had a small, cross-body purse. I just had my cell phone, lip gloss, cash/credit cards, park tickets and fast passes…very light. Ed carried our camera, water bottles, snacks, etc. We never got a locker. The park is very backpack friendly. I can’t think of a ride where we couldn’t bring it on with us. Some people like to put their cell phone in a plastic ziplock in case the bag gets wet like on Splash Mountain, but we didn’t and we were fine.

Question: Did you find it was helpful or annoying to bring your own snacks and waters with you? I’m a bit of a princess, so I don’t want to gauge myself on prices but I also don’t want me or my husband to feel like a packhorse. 

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Answer: The first thing you need to know is that EVERYONE is a princess at Disney World so get ready to be treated like one while you are there! Disney allows you to bring in water/food just know that whatever you bring, you have to keep up with. I have to admit, I was envious of some of the folks with strollers because they could cart around a little more. We packed pretty light, but since we didn’t want to pay for  bottled water (which left us more money to spend on Dole Whip and Mickey ice cream bars), we brought one or two water bottles with us and filled them up all day long for free! Many of the kiosk or quick dining restaurants were kind enough to fill them up for us but we also used drinking fountains as well. We also brought along snacks like goldfish, pretzels, granola bars, trail mix, fruit snacks, etc. We’d munch on those throughout the day in addition to getting a couple park snacks and/or meals from kiosks. (Hint: you have to try the fish and chips at the UK at Epcot!)

Question: We have our 3 credit card like passes – Do we get lanyards for them when we arrive? Should I buy some now?

Answer: I saw many people with lanyards and it’s not a bad idea; however, we kept our park passes in my small cross-body sling purse. If you think you might be into pin trading (and it’s SO fun you need to read about pin trading from my Disney Cruise post) then you can get an attachment for the bottom to hold your cards. I was just afraid of carrying them around and maybe losing them because once you are in the park, you don’t really need them again.

Question: We arrive in the middle of the day on day #1, so our plan is to head over to a park for the afternoon and evening. Do we just show up at the gate, or is there something I should do ahead of time?

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Answer: We arrived in the middle of the day, too and headed straight over to Epcot after checking into the hotel. We had 7-day park hopper tickets and we just went straight to the gate. If there’s any problem at any park entrance (Jackson had a problem with getting in one day – the ticket scanner wasn’t reading it right) then there’s a ton of people that will help you right then and there. Hint: Be ready to go through bag check prior to the ticket gate at each park. It goes by pretty quickly, but it’s an additional stop for those carrying in any kind of bag.

Question: Our daily plan based on our family’s style is to get there early and plow through until early afternoon, go home & chill, then hit another park that aft/eve. Does this sound good to you?

Answer: That is EXACTLY what we did. Here’s the beauty of park hopper tickets and why I highly recommend them. You can get up and go to one park in the morning (perhaps one that is open earlier or that has something you want to do in the AM like a breakfast character dining experience) then take a break around 1 or 2 ish (we’d go back to the hotel and rest and/or take a dip in the pool) and go to another park in the evening ( to see the fireworks, an evening show or to a park that has a later closing time). One day we actually did THREE parks in one day (because we are crazy like that).

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One of the best days was when we decided to go to Magic Kingdom in the evening. We were staying at the Contemporary during that part of our trip which is right by Magic Kingdom (we stayed at the Pop Century during the second half of our vacation). We decided spur of the moment because we weren’t tired to go to Magic Kingdom at 9:00 p.m. We hadn’t yet been to that park and we walked in right as the fireworks started. Standing on Main Street with the stores all lit up and the fireworks above the castle  – it was UNBELIEVABLE. We all just held hands and smiled and just took it all in. After that a lot of people, especially those with small children, were leaving the park….so we went to ride Space Mountain. No lines! We rode several other rides in Tomorrowland, all very quickly because the park had thinned out. At 10:00 we went back to Main Street in time to see the Electric Parade, then we hit a store or two and left. It was such an incredible couple of hours…we experienced so much in such a short period of time at Magic Kingdom at night and could not have done it if we didn’t have park hopper tickets.

Question: What is 1 useful thing you learned that you don’t find in the books?

Answer: How about three?!

1. If you are on a budget, one good idea is to buy Disney gift cards. They are accepted everywhere at Disney and we used ours like it was a debit card. We kept track of what was left on each and knew that when it was gone, it was gone! It helped us keep souvenir and snack purchases to a minimum.

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2. If you think you want to pin trade (and you have time before your trip) go to ebay to buy some trader pins in bulk. You can get them for about $1.00 or less a pin (they cost about $4.00-$5.00 each when bought at the park in sets and from $9.95 on up for single pins!) Bulk lots are random, you can’t choose what you get…but because you are trading them, it doesn’t matter if your 10-year old son starts off with a bunch of Princess pins! Just be sure to research the seller to make sure he/she has good feedback and is selling authentic pins.

3. I’m going to do a whole post on this but you have to try Dole Whip while you are there. If you are a beer drinker – try the grapefruit beer at Epcot. And the orange bird from when we were little? He’s back! You can score a Citrus Swirl (frozen orange juice and vanilla ice cream) treat and even buy an orange bird souvenir sipper cup to take back home. (We bought three!)

Question: Which Disney app do you like best?

Answer: We used the My Disney Experience App, a great way to Explore Walt Disney World Resort on an interactive, GPS-enabled map. Through this app you can:

  1. View FASTPASS return times for the park you’re in.
  2. Get wait times for attractions and showtimes for fireworks and parades.
  3. Know what’s close or starting soon with Here & Now.
  4. Find Character greeting locations and times.
  5. Add activities to your Wish List.
  6. Browse restaurant menus and make dining reservations.
  7. Share plans with others through Family & Friends.
  8. Keep reservations and activities organized in My Plans

But Disney JUST released their newest (and super cool) app called Story. We literally found out about it while at the conference. This free app isn’t about navigating the parks, it’s for anyone/anywhere. It allows you to pull images from your iPhone’s photo gallery and edit them within an album that you can make into a story with captions and different themes…one of which is Disney so you can totally share photos of your family at the park with friends back home on facebook or through email. I’m going to explain the app in full detail in a future post but you can read more about it and download the Story app here.

Question: Are there affordable taxis at the entrances, in case we don’t want to wait for our shuttle?

Answer: That is one thing I don’t know about because we stayed on Disney property. There are many benefits to staying at a Disney resort and the biggest one is transportation. We had so many options depending on where we were going. We loved the monorail when we stayed at the Contemporary Resort but found the buses to Pop Century and to other parks where so efficient. We never waited in line very long….it made getting around so easy.

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One last bit of advice:

Have fun and enjoy the time with your family…avoid trying to do and see everything! Have a plan but don’t be afraid to deviate from it when you are having fun and in the moment.  Some of the best moments were those we spent “off our itinerary”….watching the sunset on the lake at Epcot, running into Belle and having a quick impromptu visit, sharing a box of fish and chips at the UK sitting on the curb and people watching….

I’ll never forget my trip to Disney. I hope yours is just as magical!

Readers: Are you going to Disney this summer? What questions do you have? Have you been already? What is your biggest piece of advice for those who have never been?

I was invited to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Conference. I paid a fee to attend which included the opportunity to participate in conference activities, stay at a hotel and experience Disney World. I was not asked nor expected to write a post about my experiences. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Tears of Joy at Walt Disney World

family in front of castle

For the last week my family and I have been in Florida. I was invited to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Conference and then we extended our stay after the conference so we could play at all the Disney parks.

I have a lot to share with you including news about fun things on the horizon from Disney, tips for bloggers and social media professionals, advice about how to make the most of a fabulous Disney family vacation, restaurant and resort reviews and much more.

We got back last night…so bittersweet. There’s no place like home but the magic of Disney is so incredible you just don’t want it all to end.

But we are back to reality today and I have thousands of pictures to sort through and so many notes to organize from our trip plus work to catch up on while I was away. The kids went back to school this morning and there will be missed school work to catch up with for them as well, swim practice to attend and a meet tomorrow morning plus many other end of year activities and events.

Life is going to get crazy busy.

But before I dive in head first…I want to share this with you. The biggest take-away from our trip.

Tears of joy.

Admittedly, I’m an emotional gal. I laugh and cry openly as I experience emotions and events that touch me in my life. I laughed a lot on our trip to Disney. As a family, we shared so many special moments of pure silliness and abandoned the illusion of “cool” (matching family t-shirts rock!) and just soaked in the moments of joy and happiness as they came. Truly living life in the moment is really living the dream and it doesn’t happen a lot for me.

And I cried.

chris and ali

First during the conference when I heard Chris Powell, trainer and transformation specialist on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, speak about making the choice to make your health a priority. He is helping transform so many people’s lives and is so inspirational.

Then I cried again when I met Ali Vincent, winner of the show The Biggest Loser whose mantra “Believe it. Be it.” helped her lose 112 pounds and she is now inspiring people all over the world that they can achieve their weight loss goals as well on the Live Well Network.

To attend the conference at this time of my life when health has become a focus for me and then to have Disney focus so much of the conference on good health was incredibly special and very emotional. My life has changed drastically since last July. Losing almost 60 pounds and making exercise a daily habit has allowed me to change my perspective and live my life in such a different, more positive way.

Much more about these two incredible people and my experiences with RunDisney later. I promise.

But first….

When the conference ended and my family played at Magic Kingdom, I cried again. Twice.

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The first time was when we experienced Enchanted Tales of Belle, the attraction at the new Fantasyland. During this experience kids are selected from the group to act out certain parts of the story with Belle herself. Annie was Maurice and she shivered with “cold” while holding on to a prop that looked like she was in the Beast’s dungeon. Jackson was the Beast himself. With a red cape he growled (a bit reluctantly) at different parts of the show and then at the end he danced with Belle.

Jackson is 11 and while he enjoyed it he is also at that age when he is starting to get self-conscience and a bit shy. But watching my little boy dance with Belle brought back memories of when he was a toddler and would dance around the room with me while we watched Sleeping Beauty. He was my prince then and he is today. I’m so proud of the young man he growing up to be. I cried with happiness at the memory but also the knowledge that I am so blessed to be his mom. I love this boy with all my heart and soul.

And Annie.

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My 7-year-old daughter who loves Cinderella more than anything in the world. When we met Cindy at the Magic Kingdom and got her autograph it was so magical.

step sisters

Then she met the evil step-sisters and step-mom as well – which was SO fun (Disney characters REALLY get into character at the parks…they do it so well!) But the Celebrate A Dream Come True parade at 3:00 p.m. when all the characters, dancers and floats go down Main Street was incredible.

Maybe it was because it was the last day of our trip and we left the park right after the parade, but I was overcome with emotion. Annie and Jackson sat on the curb, ice cream from their Mickey bars dribbling down their chins…laughing and joking around while waiting for the parade to start. All the characters were fun to see; Stitch, Mary Poppins, Ariel – we love them all.

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But half-way through I saw Annie starting to waving wildly as Cinderella’s float came in to view. The evil step-sisters and mom danced around…interacting with the crowd and then the fairy godmother, perched at the top of the float looked right at Annie and blew her a kiss. Annie “caught” it and sent it right back and then she gasped as Cindy and her Prince floated by. Annie looked up with wide eyes and smiled and then looked back at me. For just a moment, we didn’t say a word among the thousands of other park visitors screaming and jumping and waving. But a conversation was taking place in the silence between us. I could literally hear her thoughts – that she was in total disbelief at all that was taking place…and then she hugged me.

Tears are running down my face right now as I write this….as much as they were when it all happened.

It is the magic of Disney that just cannot be duplicated and really can’t be explained. But I’m so thankful that I have this feeling in my heart I know I will never forget.

walking away

My kids asked me if I was ok as we left the park hand-in-hand after the parade ended for the last time (tears were still streaming down my face and I’m not a pretty crier!) I told them I was more than ok. I was happier than I could imagine or remember being in a long time.

Thank you Belle for dancing with my son.

Thank you Cinderella, Fairy Godmother, Lady Tremaine, Drizella and Anastasia; for making us believe we stepped right into your story.

And Thank you Walt Disney, for having a dream and sharing your world with us.

I was invited to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Conference. I paid a fee to attend which included the opportunity to participate in conference activities, stay at a hotel and experience Disney World; however, my family and I stayed later at our own expense. I was not asked nor expected to write a post about  my experiences. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

 

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