Legoland Review

Castle in Legoland HotelRecently, we went on vacation to Florida, and for the first time in years, did not go to Disney World. But, we couldn’t just skip parks all together, so we decided to try Legoland.

Legoland is certainly a better park to go to than Dollywood. On a scale of one to ten, where Disney World is a 10, I’d say Dollywood is a 3 and Legoland a solid 6.

Legoland is ideal for kids ages 4-8 years old. So if you are like many people with multiple kids, you may have one or two kids it’s great for, and then another kid who is bored.

The Boy driving a firetruck on a track for 3 to 4 year olds onlyIt does have good things for that age group. They even have some rides that only kids ages 3 to 4 can ride while older kids have to go someplace else. I liked this because it meant no older kids ruining things for my kid.
Other parents didn’t like it because it meant mom and dad having to split kids up into two lines at two different areas. Kudos to the employees who insisted on brothers and sisters splitting up too, even in the face of a couple of rude families who had obviously read the signs but felt they didn’t apply to them (or apparently the rules for kids to not climb on the rails, or not cutting in line). For those of us with one child, it was an advantage not having ill-behaved 7-year-olds running over my child in a car while he tried to steer.

The Boy riding as a Knight on a Lego horseYou can certainly tell that Legoland used to be a local amusement park. Just as you can still see the bones of Silver Dollar City in Dollywood, you can still see a lot of Cypress Gardens in Legoland. Some of the rides have obviously just been face-lifted to have Lego themes. Some newer rides, like in the World of Chima area, are much better made. But the employees are obviously proud of the history of the park and it made it feel more interesting.

We weren’t able to get to the water park section and I’ve heard that is a great area to visit. We’ll probably do that next time. Since we got to ride the water ride in World of Chima over and over (there were times where the employees just asked if we wanted to stay on) we ended up soaking wet as it was.

We liked Legoland.

We liked that we were able to find discounts on annual passes. We got The Boy the Awesome Pass and Mike and I got the special they ran on Cinco De Mayo of buy-one-Awesomer Pass and get-one free. That saved us $150.

The shopping, which seems to be a great deal of the park, doesn’t have anything that you can’t find online or a big Lego store. We did buy some Lego sets since the Awesomer Pass did get us a discount. One of the nice employees did spend quite a bit of time for me feeling all the minifig packs until she found me a Buzz Lightyear, Captain Hook and Peter Pan. So that’s something you don’t get in most Lego stores.

That brings me to the employees. They were not on par with Disney cast members, but they were running a pretty close second. Everyone was helpful. Everyone had a pretty good attitude. The young employees at the World of Chima water ride were the best. Taunting the riders to try to soak them with water from the guns as they pulled up from the ride. Laughing if they accidentally got hit as riders started the water guns up as they were leaving.

Legoland is not Disney. Where Disney would cover up the mechanics of how things work, Legoland was missing many of those touches. In the Miniland area, all the little tracks that boats, cars, etc. ran on were not covered up. Water in the Miniland area was stale looking. Miniature buildings looked like they needed a good scrubbing. It was neat to look at, but a little disappointing too knowing they could have taken that small extra step to make things, well, more magical. It was really these small touches that made it not feel on par with Disney. That being said, The Boy loved pushing the buttons in this area to get cars to move, pirate boats to squirt us with water, and smoke to come out of Star Wars fire-fights.

The family and the knight in the Legoland hotelThe Legoland hotel was a well themed hotel. We didn’t stay overnight, but we spent a few hours there letting The Boy play in the Lego pit, at the castle, and then had lunch in the bar area. We met the Knight; they also had a court jester to play Lego with the kids. The lunch we had there was pretty good, much better value and quality than the food we had in the park. I don’t think I’d stay at that hotel since the rooms were $300+/night. But it was nice to see and I’d definitely leave the park to eat in the bar area of the hotel. They even have non-alcoholic fancy drinks you can buy for your kids.

Legoland may not have all the magic of Disney, but, it also was a LOT cheaper than going to three days at Disney would have been. I think if we’d not been able to get a buy-one, get-one on our passes, I’d have been a bit disappointed. But we spent in total $270 on passes for three people for tickets we can use for a year. We get food discounts, we get free parking, we get discounts on merchandise. That’s not bad at all. As a comparison, a 3-day ticket for two adults and one child to Disney World is $852 and parking at Disney would be extra unless staying on property. Disney tickets get cheaper/per day the longer you go, but a Disney vacation is still a lot more than going to Legoland.

But, something to remember:  Disney World is the destination for your vacation. Legoland is the fun place you go to while you’re on vacation. I think we’ll be going back.

A Quick Review of Deadpool

Deadpool

Deadpool is not one of the characters I’d want to read about in Comic books. But for Valentine’s Day, Mike and I went to see it. Yes, we are so romantic.

Here are my VERY quick thoughts on the movie.

Surprisingly Awesome. I can’t believe that I really liked this movie. This was the perfect role for Ryan Reynolds and I think everyone making this movie realized that.

Definitely NOT a Kids movie. You would have to be insane to bring a child – and by that, I mean anyone under the age of 18 to this movie. This was an adult movie. Do not bring a child to this movie. Do not let your young teen go to this movie. I am seriously surprised this movie did not get an NC-17 rating. Don’t bring a kid to this movie! Too much torture, violence and sex for young eyes. Not to mention, kids won’t get the 80s and 90s pop culture jokes.

That being said, when The Boy is old enough, Mike has said he’d enjoy watching it with him. But again, not until he’s 18 and with the understanding he’d have to explain the jokes.

So weird seeing Morena Baccarin like this. Granted, she’s technically playing a sex worker just like she did in Firefly, but Inara was nothing like this. She does tough very well and I would like to see how they grow her character in the sequel.

Humor. Any movie that does not one but TWO Sinéad O’Connor jokes that are not mean-spirited and has so many jokes referencing 80s and 90s pop is just a winner in my book. I loved the humor in this. It’s what made the film for me.

Worth full-price and a re-see on matinee.

The Santa Problem

Even before we had a child, Mike and I talked about how to handle The Santa Problem. Mike will tell you he was (and still is) traumatized by discovering his parents had flat out lied to him for YEARS about this. My family came at Santa more from the idea of whoever gave out the presents on Christmas morning was Santa and it was fun to pretend he existed. We always joked that it was Mrs. Claus who filled our stockings since it was our mom who did the work.

We decided when The Boy came along to go at Santa more from the perspective my family had. We didn’t want him to be That Kid who ruined it for everyone else, but we also didn’t want to take part in a lie that society seems to think is perfectly acceptable to do right at the age where we’re teaching kids that lying is wrong.

But here’s where the problem comes. The Boy talks to his friends at pre-school. These kids are indoctrinated by desperate parents who have told them to behave or they’ll end up on Santa’s Naughty List. (And believe me, there have been times I’ve wished to be able to use that.) But now, the kids have a go-to threat with each other. You make me angry; I’ll tell you you’re on The List.

We have been very careful to tell The Boy that we like to pretend about Santa; that it’s a fun thing to do. We’re not quite sure if he believes or not. He’ll make comments about pretending there’s a Santa or noticing that the Zoo Santa we saw this year was the same Santa as last year. But then, he’ll make comments about how all his presents come from Santa. We both shot that one down fairly quickly since we want him to understand that those come from family who need to be thanked when they give him a gift.

I’ve told him how much we liked pretending that my mom was Mrs. Claus and how I’m looking forward to being Mrs. Claus to fill his stocking. I’ve told him about the man, St. Nicholas and how that name eventually turned into Santa Claus. We’ll see how he does as he gets older. I don’t remember ever being surprised about Santa as a child. I’m hoping we’ll be able to walk the fine line between fun and truth a few more yzoosanta2015ears.

In the mean time, we’ll enjoy the fact that The Knoxville Zoo has an awesome program for meeting Santa. It’s a wonderful place to go where one parent can stand in line to meet Santa while the other watches as The Boy plays on the slide in the jungle cave or looks for dinosaur bones in the dig pit. And getting to see animals afterward around the zoo is just one more amazing benefit.

Cooking adventures with The Boy

apronOur son is 3.5 years old. He’s at the age where he wants to learn and do things “all by myself!” but still needs help. There’s one thing I love to have him help with and that’s cooking dinner. I want him to know that boys can cook. I want him to know how to make food for himself and be independent, and I want him to know what it takes to get his food prepared. He’s been helping me a lot lately and I realized something early on that makes me really encourage him to help me cook. He loves to eat the food he’s made himself. He’s willing to try new things. He loves going out with me to the container garden and picking a tomato and then (if it lasts that long and isn’t eaten first) seeing that tomato end up on the table in a dinner he’s helped to make.

One of our favorite things to make together is pancakes. He does everything once and then “lets” me take over. We talk about how much Bisquick mix we need. He gets to stir, pour it out on the pan and flip the pancakes when done. If we’re in the mood, he sprinkles chocolate chips on some of them.  I even let him flip the bacon the first time (before it starts to really sizzle and pop).

Yesterday, he got his first “burn.” We’d been talking about not touching hot pans. I’d just turned the pan on and it was beginning to warm up. I warned him several times to not touch. But, I also decided to step back a bit and see what he’d do. As I suspected, he reached out and lightly brushed the end of the pan with his finger. He jumped back to show me his “burn” and we dealt with it. The pan was just barely warm and the “burn” was not even a red spot. (By the time we turned around to the sink to run cool water over it and get the medicinal Mama kiss, neither of us could remember which finger was actually “burned.” We finally settled on the right since that had been closest to the pan). I hope it was enough for him to understand not to touch, though. He could tell that the pans continued to heat up. Considering they are talking about the five senses this week in daycare, I’m wondering if he’ll mention this incident for “touch.”

Yes, having my helper makes it harder to get dinner on the table. But it is so much fun. We are learning about hand-washing before food prep and washing after touching raw meat and eggs. We’re learning what food looks like cooked and un-cooked. He’s learning that there are ways to measure things and how to be careful so we don’t make too big of a mess – though some mess is required and the cooks definitely get to sample the chocolate chips. But he’s also learning that he’s part of the family and has responsibilities to help. All this and the memories are priceless.

Sexism and Disney

Truly, this is not just about Disney. But this post is related to the Sexism and Marvel post from a few weeks back and since most of the toys The Boy has are Disney related, they are going to get picked on here. This could really be a rant on most toy companies and attitudes in general towards what should be boy and girl toys.

The Boy absolutely loves the following three movie franchises in this order: Toy Story, Cars, Planes. These are Pixar/Disney films but it is Disney that handles the merchandising. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised when we looked for the 20″ Toy Story dolls for him that we were able to find a Jessie doll. At least those were something we could find. Maybe because both boys and girls are allowed to love those movies. But let’s look at Cars and Planes.

When The Boy let us know he wanted the characters from Cars (he is unaware Cars 2 exists except as a short-story that I edit as a read to him) we started looking for them – they made great potty training rewards and Christmas was coming up. It took awhile, but eventually, we found all of the Radiator Springs members. This was an old movie. We expected it would be difficult to find the cars. It was not impossible. Though, the only set we could find Miss Sally in was with her having dinner with Lightning.

But when it comes to the Planes movies, we noticed something odd. We could not find any of the female characters easily. These are PLANES, they are not gendered in real life. But it was very difficult to find Dottie. It was nearly impossible to find Lil’ Dipper – we finally had to settle for a larger, expensive version of her from the Disney store rather than finding the smaller version (like the other characters have) available at other stores. Pinecone (one of the Smoke Jumpers) is easier to find – but I think that might be because unless you pay close attention to the one line she has in the movie, you might not realize she’s female. But Dynamite? The leader of the Smoke Jumpers? The obviously strong female character? Impossible to find in any store. Oh yes, she’s available if you want to pay an arm and a leg from a collector on Amazon, but she is NEVER hanging on the shelf at Walmart or Target, or Kroger, or Toys R Us, or any of the other stores we diligently check to try to find female Planes and Cars characters.

I was even willing to buy the $100 set (later reduced and then discontinued) from the Disney Store that included all the characters in Planes Fire and Rescue in an attempt to get Dynamite. But, since many of the toys sold by the Disney Store are terrible quality, we had to return it after I dropped one of the cars on our rug while carrying it to the Christmas tree and it broke.

Note to Disney: I love most of  your merchandise. I love the quality of the t-shirts, kitchen items, beach towels, etc. But your toys are often pieces of junk. It’s depressing thinking I can find a better made toy at Walmart than I can at the Disney Store.

 

I was very glad I’d over-bought for his Christmas since this happened on Christmas Eve and we decided to not give him that set.

Not being able to find female characters in “boy” toys is common to all toy manufacturers, but it is really obvious in Disney and Marvel toys. Years ago, you could buy adorable prince outfits at the Disney Store that were similar to the princess costumes you see today. What do you see at the stores now? The Avengers. Hot, bulky costumes that a boy would never be able to wear to Disney World and would get uncomfortable wearing for the length of time it takes to Trick or Treat. If they have one of the other male characters, like Jake from The Neverland Pirates, the quality of the costume is so bad that it makes a not-very-creative mom like me decide to learn to sew it myself. (That Jake vest I made out of felt is still in use two years later and one of his favorite dress-up items. Thanks for the pattern!)

What about at the actual parks? There are plenty of dress up opportunities for girls. They can go to Bibbity Bobbity Boutique and get multiple versions of being a princess. Boys can choose a knight – that only includes the sword and not the outfit. At the Pirates League, boys can be a pirate (that usually includes scary face make-up) while girls can choose pirate princess or mermaid look. Why are girls always required to be a beautiful princess and boys are always required to be a protector with a weapon or a villain with a weapon? Yes, I know, boys can make swords and guns out of sticks. One of The Boy’s and my favorite games is to fight dragons in our front yard with special sticks we’ve collected. But boys and girls want to be able to do other things too.

This indoctrination happens young. We brought The Boy to the local Disney outlet a few weeks ago. He was picking up one of those cheap fans they have near the checkout counter. It had Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf, but was obviously geared more towards a feminine aesthetic. A little girl of about 5 years old explained to me that he shouldn’t play with that since it was a girl toy. She then picked up an Iron Man fan and said he could play with that one. How sad. There were other toys at the store that were so frustrating. Boys had bowling ball sets that were Mickey Mouse and blue. Girls could have the garden set that was Minnie Mouse and pink. What if a girl wants to bowl or a boy wants to garden? I think Disney actually does make opposite sex versions of these – but they are hard to find. This store certainly had none. Why not make them neutral?

Are we so afraid that by letting a boy play with a doll or letting a girl pretend she’s a firefighter that we are going to cause society to crumble? Sadly, many people in charge of toy companies either believe this or believe society feels this way to such an extent that they have to constantly categorize everything as feminine or masculine. Even things that shouldn’t be. I think things are changing. Slowly, but it’s beginning. Many parents are tired of the stereotypes.

I think our toy companies need to realize this. Wouldn’t it cost less to make gender neutral toys in some cases than specific boy and girl versions? Why alienate half your population who might buy a toy by making them feel like they shouldn’t get it for their child? Why are superhero toys or cars and planes considered to be boy only toys? Why is it such a terrible thing to think that a boy might want to play with a female car or superhero <or gasp!-> plant a garden or cook? Or a girl might enjoy race cars or want to pretend she’s a superhero, or play sports? The sexism goes both ways.

 

Stop offering only toys that have weapons to boys. Stop telling boys they can’t have feelings or take care of children. Stop suggesting that girls need to be either sexy or maternal but can’t be a hero and that they must ALWAYS be beautiful and smile. Just Stop It.

Keeping kids safe at Disney

walkingMK

Keeping your kids safe is one of those things you have to think about, but don’t want to when going to Disney. It’s the Happiest Place on Earth, after all. But it is extremely crowded and easy to get separated from your child. Depending on the age of your child, there are several things you can try to keep the kids safe. For older kids, who are going to be allowed to go off on their own for a bit, sometimes just giving them a cell phone, a place and time to meet up, and then a particular spot to go to in case of emergency is all you need. For younger kids, who might not be able to communicate everything they need to, you’ll want to take other measures.

Identification

How do you identify a child who is too young or too upset to tell a CM what your name and phone number is? What you should NOT do is write on the child with a Sharpie or other permanent marker. These are not designed to be used on skin. They contain chemicals that can cause problems.

If you would like a tattoo or something on your child you don’t need to worry about going away any time soon, check out www.safetytat.com. They have a great reputation for creating long-lasting and safe security tattoos for children.

If you’re looking for something that is less expensive, or something that won’t be on the child’s skin, you can go with an ID bracelet, necklace, or tag. You can buy ID bracelets and necklaces online, or you can make your own tags very easily. That’s what we did. Check out any local store that has one of the dog tag vending machines where you can enter your name/address on a dog tag. They have lots of different styles. We picked out a Mike Wazowski eyeball for The Boy’s tag. You can see it attached to the loop on the back of his left shoe in the picture above. We put both our cell phone numbers and our names. Then, I just attached that tag to The Boy’s shoe. We didn’t have to worry about him removing a bracelet or necklace and it was in an easy to spot place. Note: CMs will not search a child’s clothing for their names to be written inside the shirt. IDs for kids need to be in a spot that is easily seen.

Tip: buy one tag for each pair of shoes so you don’t have to swap them back and forth in the morning when your toddler decides at the last minute he wants to wear a different pair.

The Leash/Tether Question

So many people think that parents who use kid tethers are just doing it so they can let their child run around like a maniac. Yes. There are some lazy horrible parents out there. But the majority of parents who use tethers are doing it to keep better track of their kids. Some of us have runners. Some of us are paranoid about being separated from our child in a large crowd. Most kid leash/tethers are only a couple feet long. As you can see from the picture above, we used the tether as a safety net. I still held The Boy’s hand as we were walking, the tether was there just in case he wriggled free and tried to run off through a crowd.

The nice thing about the tether was that if we were in a fairly calm spot and The Boy was tired of me holding his hand, I could let him stand next to me and know he wouldn’t be able to suddenly dart away. It gave both of us a break from sweaty hands and gave him the chance to get a some blood flowing back into his arm. We didn’t do it often, but it was an option that if I didn’t have the tether, I would not have tried at all.

There are different styles you can use. The most popular seems to be the stuffed animal backpack where the parent holds onto the tail. I’d originally bought one of these for The Boy to use and then realized before the trip that was a bad idea. Instead, I bought a Baby Buddy Toddler Tether (cost about $5.60).

Why not go with the stuffed animal backpack?

  1. The backpacks make the child feel like they’re carrying a thick blanket. They are HOT. Too hot for Disney in any month other than dead of winter.
  2. You can’t easily transfer the child to and from the stroller with one of these on. You would have to remove it every time.
  3. Being bulky, it might not be a good idea to keep these on the child during some rides.

With the wrist tether, we could leave it on while hopping in and out of the stroller. If he was going to be in the stroller a while, we could easily slip it off after he was settled and slip it on again later. The backpack takes a bit of time to slide over shoulders and clip around the chest.

Drilling Information

Our son was only 2.5 years old when we went. But we were sure to drill the following information into him, just by repeating it over the course of weeks and asking him to repeat it back.

  • His name, First and Last.
  • Our names, First and Last.

We also made sure to introduce him to a CM as the very first thing we did on entering Magic Kingdom. We showed him that they could be in different outfits. We explained that the CMs were like his teachers at daycare and could help him if he needed them. The CMs were great. They are used to being introduced to children and will be sure to tell the child to always look for someone who has that style name tag above their heart. We made sure to introduce him to a CM who was dressed in the facilities uniform as well as a general CM. That way, he would be familiar with the outfits they wore as well. In a stressful emergency situation, I’m not sure how a 2.5 year old would handle this. But it would be helpful for an older child. And, at least with us introducing him to the CMs, he would be more willing to stay with them as someone who could take care of him than a general stranger.

Dressing alike

I do consider dressing alike to be a way to help keep your kids safe. Not only does it make for coordinated pictures, but it is a quick easy way for people to identify your child as yours. The very first night we got to Orlando, we had planned to have dinner at Ragland Road in Downtown Disney with my sister and her husband, who are locals. Unfortunately, between them getting off work late and all the construction at Downtown Disney, we ended up having to wait for them to arrive a fairly long time.  The Boy was getting pretty antsy. His toddler attention span rapidly degenerated and since we had figured we’d only be going to the restaurant and nothing else, I had left his stroller and tether in the car. At one point, he made a break for it through the large crowd outside the restaurant. Luckily, we were both in matching shirts and within seconds of him running off, a lovely mother up ahead grabbed him and immediately identified me as his mom, commenting on how she saw me with the matching shirt.  It made reuniting with him much faster.

Just keep in mind, it is possible to go overboard with safety plans and concerns at Disney, but taking a few precautions can also help settle some of our worries.

 

Strollers at Disney: Keeping safe and setting apart

resting feet

Once you’ve decided to bring a stroller to Disney, the next three things you’ll think about are:

  1. How am I going to keep someone from stealing it?
  2. What if I lose it?
  3. Even if I know where it’s parked, how am I going to find this generic stroller in a sea of other strollers?

Theft and Disney World

Everyone wants to believe that theft never takes place in the Happiest Place On Earth. Unfortunately, it does. When thinking of ways to keep your stroller safe, you have to find your personal balance between ease of use and security measures.

Some people go the route of buying a stroller lock. I actually did purchase one of these for our trip and decided not to use it.

Why?

Time and effort. I didn’t want to have to deal with threading it through the wheels while leaving it able to roll. Note: you must leave the stroller so that CMs (Disney employee Cast Members) are able to move it as needed. That means, making sure they can at least lift it up and roll it using some of the wheels.

Instead, I opted for the two-pronged approach:

  • Leave nothing in the stroller I cared about
  • Make the stroller look different from other strollers so it cuts down on the “I thought this was my stroller” argument.

We did leave items in the stroller. But they were things like The Boy’s swim suit, diapers, wipes, thermos bottles of water, snacks and frozen bottles of water. The diapers and wipes were in plastic grocery bags and the snacks and frozen water bottles were in a close-to-worn-out insulated lunch sack that had The Boy’s picture from daycare (one of those free gifts they give you to make sure you buy a package from picture day – it worked). I purposefully put these items in cheap bags because that also cuts down on the theft factor. Many people will think nothing of leaving a nice diaper bag in the stroller. Don’t do this!

For the second point, making the stroller look different not only cuts down on someone taking it thinking it was theirs, it also makes it easier for you to find later.

How to not lose your stroller

Many people will have that sinking feeling that their stroller has been stolen only to find that a CM has moved it – or that they forgot where they parked it. Here are some tips for keeping up with your stroller.

Park in a real stroller approved area. If it gets crowded, CMs are required to move strollers so that people can walk. If you put your stroller in a stroller approved area, chances of it being moved more than a few feet are slim.

Park your stroller as tightly in with other strollers as you can. Those people who try to park their strollers crooked and leave lots of room between their strollers and other strollers quickly discover that CMs will shove strollers in like sardines when it’s busy. If you park your stroller tightly to start off, CMs are less likely to shove it into a spot that physics would argue it really couldn’t fit in.

Park your stroller in a large, centrally located spot and LEAVE IT THERE. The people I saw who kept wondering where their stroller was were the people who would retrieve their stroller and move it after every ride. Find a large stroller parking area and leave your stroller there while you visit different areas of the Land. When you’re done in Tomorrowland, grab the stroller and take it with you to Fantasyland. Don’t try to move your stroller to be in front of every ride you’re doing. You’ll forget where you put it, not to mention waste a lot of time.

Setting your stroller apart

There are a ton of helpful tips out there for how to set your stroller apart. Here are some of them and my thoughts.

Ribbon

This is by far the most popular and one of the things I chose. You can pick any kind of ribbon you want. I will suggest staying away from the Minnie polka dot pattern. That was a popular one. For us, I chose green and brown ribbons, tied on the side and hanging down slightly in the back. I didn’t wrap the entire handle because I wanted a good grip on the stroller. They were fairly understated so didn’t pop out at first, but no one else picked that. I saw lots of reds, pinks, and princess ribbons. So in contrast, non-Disney colors seemed to stand out against that bright background.

Ribbons are easy and cheap to tie or wrap around the handle of your stroller. They also don’t have to be removed when you fold it up for carrying. Highly recommend.

Balloon

Many people will purchase a balloon to tie to the handle. I did not want to do this. They are expensive, they’re not allowed in Animal Kingdom and it’s a common way to set your stroller apart. Meaning – it doesn’t. Plus, they can pop and are pretty expensive.

Pinwheel

This is an alternate to the balloon idea. I brought a pinwheel with but decided not to use it. I realized I’d have to remove it when folding the stroller. I did though, buy it from Walmart for about $1 so it’s a lot less expensive option than the balloon and would be allowed in Animal Kingdom. If you’re looking for something that will make your stroller really stand out from afar that doesn’t cost a fortune or take up a ton of space, this might be an option to think about.

Nameplates

Check out all the online templates for creating your own Disney themed nameplate. These are great since it shows your name on your stroller. Usually it’s set up with a cute Disney background with “The Smith Family.”  But it’s an easy way to set it aside. I do suggest laminating this and making sure it’s either in an easy to see pocket or securely strapped and taped to the stroller. Taping another one to the bottom of the stroller in an out of sight spot might also be a good idea in case you’re worried about theft.

Glow sticks and glow necklaces

glow wand

This was something we did when we were at the park for MNSSHP (Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party). I bought several glow necklaces from a dollar store and wrapped them around the handle of the stroller at the beginning of the evening. This made it amazingly easy to find in the dark. Highly recommend this if you’re going to be there at night. As a side note, I also bought glow wands and sticks at the dollar store and gave these to The Boy that evening instead of buying them. He was just as happy with the dollar store ones as with the expensive Disney ones. I noticed other families doing the same thing.

Other decorations and final advice

Some folks go all out. They’ll hang stuffed animals, streamers, you name it. Ribbons and nameplates worked great for us because I didn’t have to worry about them as we were trying to fold the stroller. They were not expensive items hanging off the stroller to tempt a thief. I suggest finding your balance between setting your stroller apart and making it difficult to fold up and travel with.

Now that your stroller is fairly safe, in my next post, I’ll talk about how to not lose your kid at Disney.

Should I bring a stroller to Disney World?

stroller

This is one of the big questions people ask all the time.  Should I bring a stroller to Disney World? Once they begin to think of that, other questions pop up. Should I bring a stroller with me or rent one? If I bring one, what kind should I bring?

Before you can decide, you have to ask yourself a few practical questions.

Does my child need a stroller?

This is not just an age issue. Older special needs children who are capable of walking may still need a stroller at Disney. Younger non-special needs kids may as well. A cousin of ours with a pre-teen special needs child recently took him on a Make-A-Wish trip. Though they didn’t use the stroller much, it was handy for having a spot for him to get out of the crowds as well as a place to carry all the supplies they needed. In addition, kids who have sensory issues often benefit from strollers.

Reasons to bring a stroller:

  • Child is not used to walking 8+ miles in a day. (it is not uncommon to walk 18K+ steps in a day at Disney. That is 8.5 miles)
  • Child has sensory issues – do they get uncomfortable with loud noises, flashing lights, or crowds? Maybe they need a safe spot to decompress.
  • Child is not used to being in the hot sun all day (who is really?)
  • Child still naps (this is part of the “to leave the park for nap time  or stay” debate)
  • Family has a ton of stuff and doesn’t want to put it in a locker.
  • Parents don’t want to end up having to carry the child all day (even baby wearers often resort to a stroller)
  • Having a covered spot for the child to sit while eating at quick service
  • Protection in case of rain

Reasons to not bring a stroller:

  • Those things are heavy and pain in the necks on the buses and trams.
  • Worry over loss or theft.
  • Worry that the kid won’t use it.

There are several solutions if you decide you want to have a stroller with you at the parks: 1. Bring your own, 2. Rent one from the park, 3. Rent one from a stroller rental agency.

Since 1. and 3. have similar pros and cons once you get to the park, I will just say this about rental agencies. Do your research. There are several reputable places and you can easily find reviews on them from the Disboards.com.

Should I rent a stroller from the park?

Pros Cons
  • Don’t have to take a stroller on Disney Transportation
  • They are uncomfortable
  • If you want to ride the train, you can leave your stroller and get another from elsewhere
  • They are difficult to push compared to a normal stroller
  • Can make the decision to have a stroller at the last minute
  • Easy to mix up your stroller with someone else’s

What kind of stroller should I bring?

Or, better known as…the umbrella stroller vs. the full-size stroller debate.

For me, the only benefit of the small umbrella style strollers are how light they are to carry on the buses. They are still pains to squeeze in the seats, but they certainly are smaller than a full-size stroller. That being said, they are terribly uncomfortable for the child for any length of time and they can’t carry squat. So let’s say you decided to bring a nicer stroller with you.

This is what we brought, a City Mini GT. Why did I want that stroller?

resting feet

Top 10 benefits of having a full-size stroller:

  1. Giving your little one a chance to rest their feet and stretch out:
    Check out how The Boy is enjoying his bare feet as Mike pushes him in the stroller. That is relaxation you can’t get without a full-size stroller. The full-size stroller has enough room for a little one to really relax while you’re rambling your way across a park or standing in an interminably long line. They can wiggle around and truly take a rest with some toys or just watching the sights in a way that a child crammed into an umbrella stroller just can’t.
  2. Nap time:
    Many of the nicer strollers can lay down nearly flat. It made staying in the parks for nap time a breeze. We just let our son fall asleep and then we could push him around or park ourselves in a shady spot and relax. It saved tons of time with trying to fight crowds and transportation. It also gave me a chance to shop with him in the a/c and not have to constantly watch to make sure little hands had not grabbed something breakable off a shelf.
  3. In case of rain:
    You can (and SHOULD) buy a rain cover designed for the model stroller you have that zips or Velcros onto it.  I’ve seen people suggest using table cloths to cover strollers. I’ve seen people think they can get away with using the child’s rain poncho. These don’t work when the wind is blowing. It was amazing how many people we saw have their stuff ruined because they had a disposable table cloth draped over their stroller only to have a gust of wind blow it up and soak them and everything inside the stroller with rain. You can see in the above picture, we have our rain cover rolled up and Velcro’d out of the way. When it rained, we zipped that rain cover down on top of him. The canopy came down and gave him a nice window view of everything around him and he (and our stuff) stayed dry. When it was raining, he much preferred being in the stroller to being stuck in his hot poncho.
  4. Storage:
    Though not a giant place to store things, the bottom of a full-size stroller can take a lot of stuff compared to the small amount you could hang off the back of an umbrella stroller. We could store diapers, clothes, bottled water, snacks, extra shoes, and other items we didn’t want to bother carrying around with us. It was very handy and it all stayed dry thanks to our rain cover.
  5. Guaranteed comfy spot for him to sit:
    It is not always easy to find places to sit at Disney World. There were many times where we found small benches where only one or two could squeeze on, or metal chairs/benches at an outdoor quick service restaurant that just would not have been comfortable for The Boy to sit on. Having his stroller came in handy here.
  6.  Handy spot to change a diaper – in the Baby Care Center or Bathrooms:
    Please note: 
    you should NOT change a child’s clothes or diaper outside of a Baby Care Center or a bathroom. That being said, when there is only one place to change a child in the bathroom and it’s already occupied, being able to pull up to a corner of the bathroom, lower the stroller into a reclined position and change your child from there is really handy. Especially if you’re concerned about how clean that public changing area is.
  7. A place to eat and drink while on the move:
    Notice that first picture at the top of the page. The Boy has his water bottle (on a nice Velcro strap) and he can drink any time he gets thirsty. That was great. Whenever he got thirsty and whenever we reminded him, he would be able to get a nice drink even while we were busy walking. When I thought he was getting peckish, I could pull out one of his snacks and he could lay them out on the tray to eat while we were walking around. You can’t do that with an umbrella stroller.
  8. Adjustable handle bar:
    I’m a fairly tall woman. Most of the umbrella strollers I’ve tried make me feel like I’m hunching over to push them. Now, imagine how the typical man must feel trying to push an umbrella stroller. Having an adjustable handle that lets you steer one-handed is a blessing.
  9. Canopy for sun:
    stroller4
    We live in Tennessee. We are used to heat, but Florida sun is a whole ‘nother ball game. No amount of sunscreen can completely protect a baby’s skin from that blazing sun. Those puny umbrella strollers can not give a truly nice shady spot when the sun is beating down on the child. Notice the fan I have attached to The Boy’s stroller.  That is no wimpy stroller fan. That is an O2 Cool 5″ battery operated clip fan. That thing takes four D-cell batteries and blows strong enough wind that it will whip your hair behind you. It was WONDERFUL. And, the batteries lasted me through a Tennessee summer AND that Disney trip before giving out. I was impressed. But it weighed a lot, so you need a heftier stroller to be able to use it.
  10. Canopy for peace:
    Disney World is crowded. Even if your child is not normally sensitive to light or sound, the shear amount of input can be overwhelming at times for little ones. Having some place where they can be protected a bit from all the lights and sounds helps settle them down a bit.

There were other benefits to having the stroller, but I think you get the idea. For us, at that age (2.5 years old) it was the right decision. When we go back, it will depend on how old he is as to whether we bring a stroller. Mike felt like having to carry it was a BIG pain in the neck on buses, but the benefits after we got to the park outweighed the difficulty on the trams. I think if we were to go back next year (as I would love to for his 4th/1st birthday – he’s a Leap Year baby) we’d probably bring the stroller again since he’ll more than likely still be napping. But once he’s a bit bigger, I think strollers at Disney will be in the past for us. Why? They really are pains in the neck on the transportation and pre-kid, we always made sure to only carry what we could fit in our oh-so-fashionable fanny packs.

In my next post, I’ll address how to keep your stroller safe and make it easier to find amongst that sea of identical strollers. Stay tuned.

Tips & Tricks for a Successful Disney Vacation with or without kids – Part 3 – packing list

The Packing List Post

For Part 1

For Part 2

This is the final part of the Tips and Tricks posts, though I have ideas for other posts along the way. This post is my packing list. There are some extremely detailed packing lists out there that include everything but the kitchen sink, but this is a paired down list for what you can fit in a small car. Speaking of small cars, this was what we drove down and we fit everything listed here plus a bit I’m sure I forgot:

2006-kia-spectra5

That’s a Kia Spectra 5 hatchback that held stuff for two adults and a kid (including stroller) and was driven from Tennessee to Florida. We were a bit tight.

crammedcar1

Surprisingly though, the adults had plenty of space and The Boy had quite a bit of leg room where you can’t see it.

So? What did we bring?

My Packing List:
Important Stuff to not forget:

  • Tickets for parks
  • Memory Maker card
  • Tickets for MNSSHP
  • Paper version of our general itinerary. (I’ll talk about this in a future post)

Technology:

  • iPads for Mom and Boy
  • chargers
  • iPhones
  • Dad’s MacBook and charger
  • connector for iPad to TV
  • Camera (we ended up not needing this and only used our cell phones and the Memory Maker)

Bed and Night time stuff:
We like sleeping with our own pillows and I’m fairly allergic to dust so I have bad reactions when I have to sleep on some hotel pillows exclusively.

  • 3 Pillows (1 for each adult and 1 for The Boy)
  • 1 Blue Blankie (The Boy cannot sleep without his favorite blankie)
  • Favorite stuffed animals (Meercat, Mickey)
  • Nighttime books (we always read before bed, so I brought a good assortment of The Boy’s favorite books)

Bathroom/Medical Items:

  • Prescription medications, Epi pen, etc.
  • 1 bottle of Sunscreen per person (even if you’re going in winter, wear sunscreen)
  • Frogg Toggs (tip, you can cut a large one into smaller pieces)
  • Ibuprofen/Tylenol for adults and kids
  • Benadryl for adults and kids
  • Heartburn medication
  • Deodorant
  • Shave gel/ disposable razors
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrushes
  • Combs/brushes
  • Makeup
  • Hair rubberbands
  • Shampoo (if you don’t want to use the hotel’s)
  • Soap (if you don’t want to use the hotel’s)
  • Small packets of tissues
  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Swim diapers

Food/Kitchen Items:

  • Paper towels
  • Small bottle of dishwashing soap
  • Ziptop bags – go for the good kind with the actual zipper
  • Thermos bottles for drinks
  • Small snack packs like: raisins, cookies, peanut butter crackers
  • Bottled water
  • Juice boxes
  • Bottles of soda
  • Small insulated lunch size bag to hold water/snacks

Clothing

  • Laundry soap packets
  • 4 shirts per adults
  •  6 shirts per kid
  • 4 shorts per adult
  • 6 shorts per kid
  • 1 pair long pants per kid
  • 3 PJs per kid
  • 2 PJs per adult
  • 1 pair sunglasses per adults
  • 2 pair sunglasses per kid
  • 4 pair socks per adult
  • 6 pair socks per kid
  • 6 pair underwear per adult
  • 4 bras
  • 2 pair tennis shoes per adult
  • 1 pair water safe shoes per adult (husband did not use his)
  • 1 pair tennis shoes for kid (Tip: if getting a dog tag ID for shoes, make one for each pair of shoes taken)
  • 1 pair water-safe shoes for kid
  • 1 swim suit per adult
  • 2 swim suits per kid
  • Costumes for MNSSHP (Dad: Woody, Mom: Jessie, Son: Buzz Lightyear)

Kid Stuff for the Car Trip:
Put this in a small, easy open and easy to get to bag for car trip. Bring new items out when unhappiness ensues.

  • Buzz Lightyear mini-magna doodle
  • 3 New small “Matchbox” size cars and planes (we brought Avalanche and Dusty from Planes 2 movie)
  • 3 Dinosaurs ($1 -$3 each depending on size)
  • $1 Cars Lightning McQueen coloring book
  • A few crayons (tried to find triangle shaped ones and couldn’t)
  • Puffy/fuzzy stickers – these were the biggest hit after the Planes stuff.
  • Some of his favorite Cars: Mater/McQueen/Sally
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • iPad (with kid friendly movies, games, etc.)

Stuff for the Parks
Here are some items I packed for taking to the Parks. Notice I’m including a couple things from the list above since we used some of them both in parks and out.

  • Stroller
  • Stroller rain cover
  • Glow sticks from dollar store
  • Glow wands/swords from dollar store
  •  Insulated Bag with 2 frozen and 2 cold bottles of water
  •  Thermos bottle of water per person
  • Frogg Toggs
  • Kids swim suit
  • Change of clothes for kids
  • A couple of snack boxes
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Tissues
  • Wipes
  • 4 Diapers
  • 2 Swim diapers
  • Rain ponchos (Many debate bringing with or buying at the parks. We bought at the parks and then re-used those for the trip.)

These are the main items we packed, I’m sure I forgot some. But at least it will give you an idea of what you need and don’t need when going to Disney.

Easy Toy Story Little Green Alien Cupcakes

alien1

I admit it. I look at Pinterest and feel like I should be able to throw together this awesomely amazing birthday party for The Boy in my spare time. Then, I remember I work and don’t have spare time. I do try to do something cute for his birthdays though. We don’t go all out. We only have family over to celebrate. He’ll have a big party with friends in a few years, but right now, we are keeping it small.

And it all starts with Halloween.

Tip: Think about Halloween

Coordinate decorations between holidays to save time and money.

Wait – you say. Why are we mixing Halloween and birthdays? Here’s why. Our church does a Trunk or Treat every year where you decorate your car for the kids to come along and get candy. What I did this past year was use the decorations that I planned on using for The Boy’s birthday in February for the Trunk or Treat car in October. Meaning, I got to re-use this stuff and I only had to make one trip to the party store. Score! How does this work with a toddler’s attention span? By using the same decorations and allowing him to continue playing with them in between Halloween and his birthday, we’ve been lucky enough that he continued to like the idea of having his birthday be the same thing he was for Halloween.  We didn’t do this the first two years and it might not be possible this next year, but it’s something to consider if you have an obsessed kid.

This past year, we also had our first trip to Walt Disney World with The Boy planned. We knew we’d be there during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, so we decided to coordinate Toy Story inspired costumes for the Party, the Trunk or Treat at church, and his birthday. Getting to use some of this stuff three times made my frugal self happy and it made decorating and planning a LOT easier.

Now for the Cupcakes

This is not so much a recipe as an assembly guide. I don’t have time to bake things from scratch. If you’re honest, you probably don’t either.

Tip: Invest in two cupcake pans

Why? They’re cheap and that means you can fit the entire batch of batter in two pans and not have to bake for twice as long.

What you need:

  • 1 box cake mix (plus all the ingredients to mix it up)
  • 2 cans of butter cream frosting
  • 1 tube neon green gel coloring dye
  • green gummies
  • black jelly beans
  • 1 package candy eyes (make sure the package contains at least 72 eyes)
  • green toothpicks

Preparing the cupcakes

  • Bake the cupcakes.

Tip: Measure

24 cupcakes takes just slightly under a 1/4 cup batter each for a typical boxed cake.

  • Refrigerate or freeze the cupcakes while you mix the frosting to make them easier to frost.
  • In a mixer, mix the green dye with your butter cream frosting until you get the color desired. This took about 1/2 tube of the neon green gel for two cans of frosting.
  • Frost the cupcakes.
  • Cut the green gummies into triangular pieces. My gummies were Easter gummies, so they were not very easy to make triangles. I eventually was able to make rectangles and then cut those for the triangle.
  • Cut the black jelly beans into quarters to get as close to a “smile” as possible.

alien2

  • Put a bit of gummy on top of the green toothpick. Bonus: this helps keep the top of your container from getting frosting on it.

Presentation

I bought one of those Toy Story cup cake stands, but I think these would have been just as cute lined up in rows. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with how sturdy this stand was for being only a few dollars. I think it might be worth it, though, to invest in a real cupcake stand for the future.

alien3

Now that your army is complete, you can take over the world.