Disneyland for Our Daughter’s 13th Birthday

Having a Blast on California Adventure's Tower of Terror

Having a Blast on California Adventure’s Tower of Terror

Going to Disneyland for our Daughter’s 13th birthday was a great idea!  We had a blast!

We stayed at the Grand Californian which was quite expensive, but we were able to get into California Adventure at 7:00 am with hardly any other people, and we were able to ride 15 rides before 11:00!

Because our family likes Disney for the rides, we find it worth the extra money of staying at the Grand Californian for the perks: 2 days “Extra Magic Hours” even with only 1 night booked, IN California Adventure & Downtown Disney, you can see the Disneyland Entrance from the hotel.  If you don’s use the perks, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Splash MountainBesides being an incredible 5 star hotel with very comfortable beds, soft sheets, many pillows, great service,  fun pools, good restaurants, etc, we like how close it is to California Adventure and Disneyland and the “Extra Magic Hours” the most.  This is worth the $450 per night price tag for our family. If you can’t get to the early hour…don’t stay here.

There are other hotels close by, like our other favorite, Park Vue Inn, which is right across the street, about a 5 minute walk.  This hotel usually runs $190 per night, includes a light breakfast, and if you buy a 3 day Disneyland pass, you can go into the park for 1-2 mornings on the “Extra Magic Hour”.  The difference in these “Extra Magic Hours” is that the entire crowd of all the other hotels goes into either Disneyland or California Adventure and ONLY the Grand Californian guests go into the OTHER.  It changes daily.

For example:  Sunday, Monday, Wednesday & Friday are California Adventure, and the other days are Disneyland early entry for Grand Californian guests.  These days change randomly, so make sure to check when you are booking to see which park is on

We LOVE California Screamin' in Disney's California Adventure! Our Favorite ALL TIME ride!

We LOVE California Screamin’ in Disney’s California Adventure! Our Favorite ALL TIME ride!

which day.  All the “neighbor” hotels get in only 2-3 days per week early, and the number of people with this option from the “neighbor” hotels is many compared with the handful of Grand Californian guests going in the OTHER park on the same day.

So, for us, by lunchtime, we have finished one park.  We eat lunch at the Big Thunder Mountain Ranch BBQ, take a nap at our AWESOME hotel, and then we are back at it until Midnight.  If you EVER have Disney questions, PLEASE email me!  I would love to give you any tips I can!

Happy Birthday our gorgeous, brilliant, courageous, funny, obnoxious, playful, happy, kind, daughter!  We love you!  I’m so thankful that you are in our lives.  You rock.

Love, Mom & Dad

 

3 Days in Boston with Family

DSC_5797Boston is loaded with family friendly activities, and these sites were helpful in choosing what to see:

TripAdvisor’s 3 days on Boston most helpful, with pics and ratings

Independent Traveler’s 3 Days in Boston My favorite itinerary

Suggested 3 Day Boston Itineraries interesting, with several ideas

Pictures of what to try in Boston I liked these pics and reviews

The best advice I can give for an outsider coming to visit Boston:  hire a guide!  Per hour. Several days in a row.  $65/hr. Next time I will plan a 6 hour tour with a guide.

It’s worth it.  I’m not kidding, nor am I loaded with extra cash.

There’s oodles of history in Boston.  Oodles.  A plethora.  Books and books worth.

In 4 days, we missed some of the most important sites on our “Must See” list.  If we had hired a guide, we would have seen everything, we would have known at what we were looking and why AND had extra time to eat more cannolli in North End at Mike’s Pastry.

Mike's Pastry, North End, Boston There is usually a line out the door, but it moves fast

Mike’s Pastry, North End, Boston

The North End was our favorite, besides Cape Cod, but that’s not really Boston. North End includes a section of the Freedom Trail, including Paul Revere’s house, several churches, and many many plaques with historic info.  But, what is most fun about North End is all the  great food.

 

We really enjoyed:

  • North End
  • The Museum of Science x 2
  • The Blue Man Group!
  • The Freedom Trail
  • Harvard Square
  • Walking around

What we didn’t quite dig… see this other post How NOT to Visit Boston with Family.

 

How NOT to Visit Boston with Family

Boston rocks.  There is so much to see and do, it should be fun & exciting…if you have planned your visit.

I have to chalk this trip up to “How NOT to visit BOSTON”.  A wonderful opportunity to experience lack of planning in action.  A solid list of Don’t’s.  The CARDINAL SINS OF TRAVELING…all in ONE trip!

DON’T:

  • Pack for the entire family the night before without checking the weather  (this paved the way for the other disasters)
  • Check to see if lodging is comfortable (and quiet…but HOW do you check that??)
  • Have a lodging back up plan in place
  • Study the subway lines to know where to go
  • Make a list of the “Don’t Miss These” places, and make them a priority
  • Have sanity, confidence, & rational thinking

This trip was a great example of how lack of planning can create “I wish we were home” type statements…which for me is like a traveling death sentence.

Why was this trip was not our favorite?  Partly because of the cold April weather and mostly because this was the least prepared I have ever been for travel in my life.

I was off my game.

It may have been because of last year’s bombing at the Boston Marathon, or maybe the unexpected cold weather in Spring…I’m not sure, but I was in SLOW MOTION!    It was weird.

First of all, I rolled the dice to save money with lodging, using Airbnb.com for the first time, and choosing a small condo outside of Boston Proper, in Jamaica Plain. I booked months ahead of time.   The condo was charming and a great choice to save money by taking the “T” (subway) into town instead of dealing with pricey parking and LOTS of traffic.  All that was true and money saving.

But…it was loud for our family.  It was ON a main street with traffic noise 24/7,  we didn’t sleep much.  By the 2nd day (out of 8 nights), it was like pulling teeth just to get out of bed…much less go walking for 15+ miles each day in the freezing cold to see Boston.  At 2 AM I was surfing the net to find a different place to stay…but everything was $500+ per night because of the Boston Marathon.  Lesson Learned.

Add 35-45 degree weather with freezing winds…and our family dressed for 65 degree weather (MY FAULT-I KNOOWW) then looking for/at those brass signs “of historical importance” becomes not so important.

Hot chocolate, warm feet and pasta become important.

DSCN1107So, we got to see many Italian restaurants in North End, which we could find, instead of the site of the Boston Tea Party or the Tour of Fenway Park.  We DID get to Fenway park, where we bought $35/each hats because of freezing weather for which we were under-dressed, (And a whopping $150 off budget with one purchase). But, we didn’t get to go on the tour because it was sold out.  This describes our typical luck of this trip:

  • Get up tired from nooo sleep, dreaming of getting hit by the numerous busses that pass by each hour
  • Dress the kids with pants on pants, shirts on shirts, while they grumble, tired & hungry
  • Eat out because our “budget condo” has a vegetarian kitchen…
  • Walk to the “T”, trying to find Fenway Park
  • Get lost.  Ask for directions, get lost. Walk all the way around Fenway Park to find the “tour gate”, which, btw, was RIGHT next to the “T” doors.
  • Miss our chance to go on the Fenway Park tour because of for said “Walk AROUND the OUTSIDE of Fenway Park”
  • Take the wrong “T” train, get lost, ask for directions, realize the directions are wrong
  • Have Pasta, Thank Goodness we could find THAT!
  • Get home, exhausted, to another night of no sleep.  “Yay.” whispers my daughter…

    Boston Subway... Jake dropped his new hat... it was gone in a flash. :(

    Boston Subway… Jake dropped his new hat… it was gone in a flash. 😦

For the Fenway Park Tours, fyi, noon is a popular time, so try for 11 or 1:00.  They leave on the hour, so plan for that.

Just to keep the positive of Boston positive, I separated what worked during our trip to a different post in this post 3 Days in Boston with Family.

If you have any questions about this trip, let me know.  🙂

Disneyland or Walt Disney World?

Mickey MouseI’m a Disney lover and am always happy to find so many Disney lovers all over the world!  I used to keep my “Disney talk” to my family only, but I have realized how many families love Disney as much or more than we do!  Now, we have Disney parents who compare Disney plans & past experiences.  I love that!! It’s the best way to learn.

When starting the planning process, the question is:  Disneyland or Walt Disney World??

First, it depends on where you live and your budget.  The closer option is easier on the family travel exhaustion and family budget.  If you live on the East Coast or West Coast, your option is clear. If you have a choice, here are some things to think about:

  1. Disneyland is typically cheaper and easier to see in a shorter amount of time
  2. Disneyland is 300 acres while Disney World is 30,000 acres! (47 square miles!)
  3. Disney World is good “All-inclusive” where Disneyland is not
  4. Disneyland is boxed in, so some outside hotels are closer to the entrance than Disney World hotels

Pros for Walt Disney World:

  • It’s huge…also a con
  • all inclusive: if you don’t want to leave “campus” you don’t need to.  Everything you need is right there.  This also saves on a rental car.  This also makes it easier to focus on Disney instead of other options
  • More to see:  Disney World is much bigger than Disneyland and you could take days to enjoy all it has to offer
  • Many options to stay:  the “on property” hotels & places to stay in Disney World make much more sense than the “off-property” hotels, unlike Disneyland, where the hotels by the main-gate are closer than The Disneyland Hotel to the Main Gate.  Fort Wilderness Cabins, for example, in Walt Disney World give a great “suite” type cabin with a full kitchen and 2 sleeping areas while being very close to Magic Kingdom. (our favorite!) see Tips to Planning a Trip to Walt DisneyWorld
  • There are more specials for Disney World for longer stays, but Disneyland is catching up

Pros for Disneyland:

  • It’s small…also a con
  • You can get the entire 2 parks covered in 2-4 days
  • They offer a VIP tour that really rocks 714-300-7710 (Disney World is too big for this same tour)
  • There are many hotels RIGHT there….our favorite is Park Vue Inn which is closer to the main gate than the Disneyland Hotel (btw)
  • You are not too far from the beach…we always include a few beach days during our stay
  • It’s the original and there are some historic coolness you can find

We tend to choose Disneyland over Walt Disney World because of how close it is to us and our familiarity with Disneyland and the area around it.  We know exactly where to go…

Which would you choose?

Alaskan Whale Watching

DSC_0947 DSC_0950 Bubble Netting…from far awayWe took a shore excursion in Juneau after docking with our Holland America cruise line.  There were many Whale Watching excursions to choose from.

I turned to TripAdvisor.com to help me research the reviews other people had left for various options of shore excursions for each port of call.

About 2 months ahead, I booked with “Harv & Marv’s Outback Alaska” .  Book early.

There are 2 camps: Pro or Anti “Cruise Ship Shore Excursions”, or the excursions that are offered through the same company you are cruising with.

There is a large consensus that “Cruise Ship Shore Excursions” were NOT to be done.  Why?

  • Too many people
  • Too expensive
  • Not as “intuitive” because it’s not a “Local” company
  • There are less options on time, where to go, when to come back

There were also some good reasons IN FAVOR of “Cruise Ship Shore Excursions”:

  • If the boat is late, you don’t loose your money
  • If for any other reason that the excursion doesn’t happen, you are also protected and don’t loose your money
  • You can make your plans all in one place, all at one time
  • It’s simple to check on your excursion as you are arriving…because the leaders are on the ship and know what the plans or changes in plans are. (keep in mind that  there is no cell phone or internet access…so you have to go “Old School”, trusting that your excursion people are waiting for you if you pay a local company)

I decided to go with a local company because I wanted a smaller boat that would help my husband want to come:  less people, less boat motion, more freedom of where to go, and less restriction on what time to leave and/or come back.

Harv & Marv’s had great reviews and they answered my questions quickly.  Making a reservation was easy, and I decided to go for it.  I chartered a boat that could carry 12 people, but we only had 8 go with us. The price was still comparable to the Cruise Ship options. They met us at the port and our round trip van ride included some sight seeing and a stop at Mendenhall Glacier, which is a great perk.

Here is my review of Harv & Marv’s from TripAdvisor:

“Worth Extra to Have Private Tour!”
5 of 5 starsReviewed June 30, 2013

Captain Sean took us out on the Alaskan, with hydraulic seats & big windows. Great ride! FYI, even though it was a heatwave of 78 degrees on land, we needed jackets to stay warm on the water. We were thankful that we brought them along.
Snacks & water/soda is provided if you are interested, but most of our time was spent watching the Humpback Whales bubble net feed over and over.
Thanks, Sean & Jaqulin for making it possible to witness up close such a wondrous show of these graceful animals. You are truly lucky to see this over and over.
As we watched in peace from our boat, asking questions of Captain Sean & learning oodles, the packed cruise boat next to us was tipping from side to side as groups of people rushed to one side of the boat for a glimpse of the whales. Lines of people were jumping up and down in the back, trying their best to see something. Then, they would rush to the next sighting, rocking the boat again. This is exactly why we were happy to be on our own boat.
Video taping will get more out of your time than still pictures, in my opinion. I took 2000 pictures, yet the video taken by my 8 year old caught the moments better than the still pics.

Visited June 2013

Family Trip Planning For Christmas

We are brainstorming about where, which days & what to do for our Christmas Vacation.

Disneyland Christmas

Disneyland Christmas

As the kids get older, we can’t take them out of school as easily as when they were younger.  So, as many other families have to do…we go during Christmas Break.  We could stay home and really relax from all the after school run-around.  But, I like to get out of town because when I stay home, I continue to massage, move around the house,  and cleaning, organizing, etc.  It’s never really “relaxing” for me.  That’s more for the summer vacation: PJ’s for weeks at a time!!

What is our budget? Do we want to stay home for the Christmas Day or leave the day after?

Where should we go? There are so many great options:

  • To see family?
  • To relax and sleep for days?
  • A warm beach?
  • A White Christmas?
  • Golf?
  • History?
  • Disney?
  • Music?

The way I see it, there are only so many vacation opportunities before the kids are on their own.  Out of the 2 vacations per year, I only have 12 left with my daughter (or so).  There are the big places to see: New York City, Boston, Alaska, Washington D.C., Yosemite, The Redwoods, etc, etc.

I could name at least 50 places.  So, how do we choose 12?  DSC_0386

Any ideas out there?

Is there a bucket list for Family Vacations?

American History is fun to see in places like Pennsylvania, Boston & Virginia.  But so would the National Forests, or the great rivers, the Great Lakes, etc, etc.

As a kid, we only traveled to where our extended family lived.  We had the opportunity to see things IN BETWEEN us and family while driving.  And the driving was awful.  Remember the no-air conditioning, no radio signal, no car-seats type travel with a gas station every now and then?

Now there are so many fancy travel helpers like DVDs, iPods, travel games, stores every 30 miles or less, etc.  It’s much easier to go places in a car.  Many hotels have a pool.  Even small pools make it great for the kids to unwind and burn off some energy.  Then we go to the room and order a movie in the room!! So easy!

This year, we are going for a “dual-purpose vacation” involving family, Disneyland, ocean & history!

We will drive to save money, but that takes 2 days out of our vacation, which sometimes is worth the price of the plane tickets.

Instead, we added 2 days to our time, which was a huge relief.  That is one of the advantages of owning our own businesses: we can leave when we want.  In the massage business, the days we miss just means less income for those days.

I usually make an excel spreadsheet of dates, hotel info, prices, activity & prices.

Here’s our Itinerary:

Dec 26   Leave early, drive to Palm Springs, see family

  • Dec 27   Del Mar Beach Motel 2 nights

    Dec 28   Day at the Beach, Drive to Anaheim, check in to Park Vue Inn

    Dec 29   Disneyland

    Dec 30   Disneyland

    Dec 31   Disneyland

    Jan 1      Hollywood

    Jan 2      Hollywood

    Jan 3      Drive Home

Is the Suite Worth It On a Cruise to Alaska?

DSC_0004It’s roughly $2000 extra for a suite… added to the regular price of the 7 day cruise. This was on Holland America, but I think roughly the same amount would apply on most cruise ships for 7 days.

What does that include? Obviously more space, but is the extra space worth it?

Here was my thinking:

This is a “once-in-a-lifetime” type of trip.  I’m going ALL IN!

My husband does not enjoy traveling as much as the kids & I do, and this upgrade was mainly for him to feel more comfortable.  He is claustrophobic, needs alone time & quiet time, and he doesn’t like crowds.  Sometimes he doesn’t even like people.

The suite turned out to be the perfect amount of room for him to feel relaxed and comfy.  Not only was the room spacey enough to sit & read or lay down, but also the private verandah was large and lovely.  He spent hours and hours on the verandah, staring at the beautiful sites.  Just for this reason, the suite was worth the extra massage hours I put in to pay for it. To watch him leaning on the verandah rail, calm, relaxed and happy was great and a small price to pay for him to enjoy the time.

For us it was worth it for several other surprising reasons:  The daily laundry service! OMG, I’ll take it! Pick up, wash, dry, fold & deliver?? Are you kidding? Awesome!

The breakfast delivered in bed…yes please!  We really enjoyed this feature and took our food out on the verandah to have breakfast with the ocean.  So lovely to drink tea out there!

The concierge!  She helped us with dinner reservations, any questions we had about the trip, our room, etc.  She checked on our shore excursions even when they weren’t booked through the ship!  And she was in the Neptune Lounge which had snacks, drinks, movies, computer access, magazines, etc, right across the hall from our room.

The daily High Tea delivered to our room!  Yummy!  Can you say “weight gain”? I felt like we never stopped eating!  But the food was delicious.

Is the suite worth it for you?  It really depends on:

  • How much time you want to spend in your room…some people are only in their rooms to sleep
  • How comfortable you are in public spaces…because there are some LOVELY public places all over the ship, so staying in your room is not really needed.
  • Is a verandah important to you?  Again, there are many places to sit and watch the views/water NOT in your room.
  • If the verandah is important to you, do you need a big one?  Because you could get the smaller verandah for much less.

 

Cons:

  • The price

Pros:

  • More space
  • Large verandah
  • Extras that come with the suite: laundry service, food delivery, concierge, luggage delivered first in/out, and list of more.

Alaskan Cruise was Exceptional

Our 7-day cruise to Alaska on Holland America was fabulous.  The ship, Ms. Volendam started in Vancouver; ports of call were Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay & Ketchikan.  We paid extra for a suite which had a nice verandah on which we spent much of our time.  I will blog about the pros/cons of the suite and paying more for that option and family packing in separate blogs… As far as our vacation, here are my opinions in these areas:

  • Motion sickness
  • The boat
  • Room size
  • Kid’s activities
  • The food
  • Shore excursions
  • Cherish your time on board

Motion Sickness…or lack of Motion Sickness!

This was our first cruise and since my husband tends to get motion sickness, we weren’t sure what to expect:  would this be fun & relaxing trip or stressful & agony.  He was a trooper to even try, and I’m so happy he did. It turned out to be fun & relaxing. Phew!

As we went through security to get onto the dock, several other passengers of other ships were wearing the small “patch” behind their ear for motion sickness.  My hubby put his on just as we boarded, and it was like a miracle!  Even through the more movement of the week he was fine.  Thank goodness for this patch!

The first & last nights of this particular cruise have the most motion as it’s on more open ocean between Vancouver and the inner passage into Alaska. This was also fine for him. The boat vibrates a bit, which you get used to. The first night around midnight, my daughter shot up in bed asking firmly that her brother STOP shaking her!! It was cute.

On the last night, we could barley tell nor care that it was vibrating again.

As far as the Whale Watching boat and motion sickness, he was fine.  It was a smaller boat and there was choppy waters with lots of jumping up and down with the waves and he was fine.

The Boat

When you first get on, its fun to look around and get acclimated with all the different areas.  Plus, your bags aren’t in the room to unpack yet, and there are many people in the lunch areas, so this is a good time to discover all the cubbies and areas offered.

For the Ms. Volendam, there is a nice walking track with wooden floors on the third deck which was 1 mile per 3 laps.  No running is allowed as the corners are a bit sharp and a runner could possibly harm those walking.  There is a kids area called “Club HAL” which seemed fun but small, a nice theater, 2 small pools, several restaurants, a shopping area and small casino, lounge areas with different styles of music, a library, a cafe and the decks.

Though there is so much to offer with many planned activities, like Dancing with the Stars, nightly movies in the theater, and shows, we ended up spending most of our time on the pool deck playing ping-pong or in our room on the verandah.  Either way, it’s hard to get bored.

Room Size

We paid extra for a suite with a king size & a queen size bed.  This room had a large verandah, with 2 lounge chairs and a “kitchen table” with 4 chairs where we could sit and watch the incredible views and wildlife.  All the verandahs have glass as the wall to the ocean, so you can sit and still see outside.  There is a large bathroom with a jet tub adjoined to a dressing room with a second sink & vanity.  The sitting table was large enough to hold our Room Service Breakfasts in the morning and High Tea in the afternoon.  With the upgrade price, laundry service was included, which was awesome.  We had our laundry done every day. 🙂 We also had a concierge who made appointments and reservations for us, and checked on all of our shore excursions even though they were not with Holland America. We had quicker luggage service (a vey nice feature), plus the use of the Neptune Lounge, right across from our room, with nice snacks, cakes, drinks, tea, candy & sandwiches! That was very helpful…to making this a “weight gain cruise”.

My cousin’s rooms, which were smaller would have been too tight of a squeeze for a family of 4.  There is enough room to sleep, shower & relax without moving around too much, and there is so much going on the boat, that many people don’t spend much time in their rooms anyway.  I could be in one of the smaller rooms with just my hubby, if there was a verandah.  With kids, though, it would be a tight squeeze for us.

Kid’s Activities

I was concerned that there would not be enough for the kids to do, since this is not a “kid’s boat” like a Disney Cruise.  Holland America is geared for older couples, and we were younger than most of the people there.

But, we were happily surprised by the kid’s area, Club HAL.  It was run by a guy who really loves kids and was very playful with them.  The planned activities were something the kids really looked forward to.  They would watch the time to get to Club HAL right when it opened.

On the rest of the boat, for the kids and adults there is ping-pong, large chess, basketball, tennis & movies available.  There is also a library with board games, and plenty of places to sit quietly or with a group.  Plus, there are plenty of places to sit inside and watch the gorgeous landscapes outside.

My daughter and I took a cooking class together which was spectacular.  She really enjoyed it and the food was fabulous.  There were no other kids, but it was ok, and the Chef was great with her.  That was our favorite part of the cruise.

The Food

Breakfast in the “cafeteria” Lido was ok.  We ended up not eating in there very often, instead we had our food delivered for breakfast.  For lunches, we had been snacking most of the day, so we  didn’t have sit down lunches very often.  The sandwich making area is great.

Instead, there were also High Teas!  Wonderful!  We also had some of these delivered to our room.  These were so fun and delicious.

Dinner is very good.  It’s the only time our little group of family was able to meet altogether.  Plus, the boat takes Dinner very seriously.  They are proud of what they serve and how they serve.  I really enjoyed the dinner’s each night.  The menu is different each night and very yummy.  My kids & I tried all types of different appetizers, soups, entrées & desserts each night.  Chef Alberto would walk around and check on everyone, and we really appreciated his attention.

All in all, we loved the food!

Shore Excursions

I researched shore excursions on TripAdvisor.com to use the local tours instead of the boat tours.   Visit my blogs on “Whale Watching in Juneau”, “Private Tour in Skagway” and “Sea Kayaking in Ketchikan” in these separate blogs.

We were happy that we chose private tours instead of the larger boat offered excursions.  I was limited by my husbands motion sickness & he also didn’t want to fly in a helicopter or float plane.  Also, my son was too light to try any zip-lining. Be sure to check on the ages and what is expected of each participant when you are researching.

Cherish Your Time Onboard

The time goes by very quickly, and I wish I had sat on the verandah just a bit more.  My suggestion is to cherish your time onboard and come back to the boat early and leave late.

Getting to Vancouver: Planes, Trains & Automobiles…& Cruises

Our cruise is set, paid for, and waiting for us.  Now we just need to get to Vancouver.  It’s funny because I almost forgot to make that happen, as if just finishing all the cruise arrangements magically finished everything else.  Though the cruise line will make all the travel arrangements, I decided to finish the rest myself.  Now, after some of the hiccups I ran into, I can see why people have the cruise line make all the travel arrangements.  For me, I can usually find what I need quickly so it makes sense for us to do it ourselves.

We usually use Southwest Airlines to fly to the places we like to visit…but this wasn’t an option since Southwest doesn’t fly to Vancouver. This was the first hiccup, but alas, there are other airlines…aren’t there?

The next option was American Airlines and other airlines similar like Delta, Alaska Air, Canada Air, which all had very high prices that took the round trip fare close to $2800.00.  I started looking for plan B.

There was a special on Southwest to fly to Seattle for $100 per person & then an Amtrak train ride from Seattle to Vancouver for less than $250 round-trip for our entire family!  Phew!  Even with the added overnight needed to make the plane arrival and train departure work out was much less than the flights to Vancouver.

Now, we get to cross “train ride” off our bucket list AND see Seattle as well!

From one of my clients recommendations to stay downtown, I started looking for a hotel near The Pike Place Fish Market”.  She also recommended a Treehouse Motel, but my husband wasn’t game for that adventure.

Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, WA

Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, WA

There seems to be much to see from these downtown hotels without renting a car.  My daughter is extra excited because she gets to see the Chihuly blown glass art exhibit in Seattle.  She just finished studying Chihuly in her art class and seeing his art this soon after this class is perfect timing.

This is a great adventure and I’m glad Seattle was added to our summer!  If you have any suggestions for our short stay on the way to Vancouver & the way back, we have a total of 48 hours in Seattle.

And thank you to Amtrak for saving us $1500!!

Tips for Planning a Family Trip to Walt Disney World

Disney World is so fun.  A must for families.  The planning can be overwhelming. Here are some tips we found helpful:

First, sign up for TouringPlans.com.  It’s less than $10 for the year, and it will give you a good idea of the crowd level in the parks on ANY given day!! Incredible.  This can help you plan the “When”.  Plus, once you are in the parks, TouringPlans has an App for your phone that will give you wait times for all the rides.

Next, browse the Disney Parks Mom’s Panel which has a wealth of info from other parents asking questions. You can find questions from parents with the same ages of kids you may have.  We found many of our questions answered with this Disney feature.

Download a map of Walt Disney World and/or request the planning DVD & brochure.  The map will help you “Where” to stay. We stayed at The Fort Wilderness Cabins and loved it. I added my TripAdvisor review at the bottom of this blog.

Some other tips:

  • Go on the off-season:  you can save loads of money, and the crowds are MUCH less.  For us, with kids under 8, it was worth it for us to take a few days off of school in order to have less crowds.  It worked! We hardly waited for anything.  We’d do it this way again.
  • Stay on-campus:  which is our preference.  You won’t need a car and the perks of the extra “magic hours” make a big difference.  We were able to ride 6 rides in one hour in Magic Kingdom!  Remember, Walt Disney World is 47 Square miles! It takes 30 minutes to drive from one end to another.  Plan to have a rental car for only 1-2 days if you are going to visit other places like Universal Studios, etc.
  • Take daily breaks: this really works!  Instead of “packing” in each day, take a 2-4 hour break right after lunch, take a nap, swim, use all your particular activities your hotel has to offer, then go back rested for a late night. This worked like a charm!
  • Use the Dinning Plan: money saving & convenient. We found this easy to use & because we shared most every meal, we were able to split treats or meals so we ate more often.  Eating often was helpful for my kids, 6 & 8, to keep them going…and the parents. We used every meal, and were able to find a gift for our last treat.
  • Do Bibbidi Bobbidy Boutique for the little girls: at least once!  It’s expensive, but for a priceless experience, when our little girls feels like a real princess, having breakfast or lunch/dinner with Cinderella right after is amazing.  Book early!
  • Do the Pirates League for the boys: at the same time as the BBB, if you have 2 parents and can split up.  Our son loved it and looked like a beaten up, one-eyed pirate for days, even after swimming! AMAZING make-up artists!
  • Splurge for the “Mickey Mouse Visit to your Room!”at least once in your life! This was amazing for our kids to have Mickey come visit our hotel room while we were away and he left us some goodies and 2 blankets with kids names on them & 2 Mickey & Minnie plushies.  This was PRICELESS!! This is WHY i massage…to have extra fun like this! The photo album was not our favorite, but the blankets are used daily at home now..I added those when the final arrangements were made.
  • Wear layers & bring a backpack: it gets cold, and bring some water. We found it helpful to have hats for the walking and some extra clothes for the evening times.
  • Take advantage of your resort area & the other resort areas: we loved the pools, Loved the golf cart at Fort Wilderness, & loved the Chip n Dale Sing Along in Fort Wilderness
  • Have fun!!

TripAdvisor Review about the Disney’s Fort Wilderness Cabins:

“Our family stayed here in February and loved it. We have a 9 yr daughter, 6 yr old son, with my husband, myself and my Mom.

We had plenty of room and privacy. It’s not fancy. It’s clean and simple, with your very own parking spot. The full kitchen really came in handy for snacks, breakfast and late night meals. Our favorite snack was a baked potato-which we were able to buy all ingredients for in the local store, and steaks on the grill for dinner. Followed by roasted marshmallows. The grill is cleaned for you each day. We only had time for grilling one night out of eight because there is so much to do and see.

Bring your own s’mores ingredients to the Chip ‘n’ Dale “Sing-a-long”, but that activity is a MUST with kids. It’s very interactive and great fun.

We rented the golf cart for the week, which was expensive, but we would do it again! The golf cart was one of our favorite parts of our trip. Plus, it makes it so much easier to get from your cabin to the various transportation areas to each park.

There are several stores on the property too, which would really be hard to get to without the cart.

We liked the pool, the tennis courts and the lake. There is so much to do on the property that next time we will plan a full day just to rest and have fun around our cabin.”