Monday, December 30

Homeschooling 101: Character Training

Here's video #2!!! :) I hope all of you have a very blessed and safe new year!

Wednesday, December 18

Homeschooling 101: getting started with your preschooler

It's here... the homeschooling video series I've been promising you guys I would start has broke ground... AND I finally figured out how to upload a video to Blogger! :0)  I apologize for my terrible video skills! I promise that my next one won't make you quite so motion sick!!

Note: This video was made primarily for my local friends here in the great state of Texas, who wish to learn more about homeschooling. If you live elsewhere, please research your state laws regarding home education before starting with your child. Best of luck!

Thursday, December 5

Where Mickey Mouse Lives

I admit it. That is what I told Benjamin each time we pointed to Florida during our geography lessons. We counted down the days to this trip for so long... it's hard to believe it's really over! It had been 10 years since my family's last Disney vacation, so please excuse how fanatical we have been about posting oodles of pics on FB (if that's where you clicked from.) If not, then this is all new to you! So enjoy!! 

I will not attempt to re-invent the wheel by giving you tips for planning a Disney trip. There are like, hundreds of sites & blogs out there devoted to just that. Here are my favs:

I used THIS idea for packing and I heart it!

Our Disney Vacation

Day 1: We drove.
Day 2: We drove some more.

Stopping off at the Florida state welcome center

I do not want to drive to Florida again. BUT, I did prepare dozens of busy bags to keep the kids busy (snacks included.) Click here for some ideas on those. They were a life saver. Here are some masks they made on the way:

Day 3: We went shopping at Downtown Disney 

(at my FAVORITE toy store ever Once Upon a Toy then we ate at the T-Rex restaurant which the kids really loved. The food was a little mediocre, but the atmosphere was incredible. (It's owned by the Landry's group like Rainforest Cafe so you can use your select club card here if you are member!) Definitely get their signature brownie dessert if you go- it's enormous, feeding atleast 5 people, and it has a (dry ice) "volcano" in the middle!

Day 4: Magic Kingdom

This day was a little crowded for me. We are spoiled to off-season, low crowds and although I researched before-hand and planned carefully to go to each park on the least crowded days of the week, this day was the worst. But, Magic Kingdom is the most visited park in the world, and it's not that big... so it's one of those things you may have to make the best of. Use a touring plan (from and the fast pass system and you'll get more done!!!

Addy meeting the princesses was definitely the most magical moment of the trip. Her eyes lit up- it was so precious. Even Ben seemed a little star struck!

About to go into Mickey Philharmagic

Day 5: Epcot

Epcot has always been my favorite park. I'm not going to say that's changed... but well, it was certainly different with 3 little ones in tow. We still thoroughly enjoyed it... but the sauntering through all the foreign shops... sitting in France for an hour enjoying pastries and just exploring all the nooks and crannies of the world showcase- that didn't happen for me this time. While I refuse to EVER skip this park... I will warn (as others have) that there is precious little for small kids to do in this park. That said, Benjamin loves the boat ride in Mexico and the new Seas with Nemo and Friends is totally cute. We did our favorites over and over. 

Me and Nick in France                                    Gabe in Mexico

I want to add that while all DisneyWorld fireworks are better than anything you'll see anywhere else (in my opinion)... Epcot's Illuminations fireworks show is NOT TO BE MISSED! It's the best, and not just a fireworks show, so make sure you have a great view of the entire lake as you watch. France and Italy are my favorite spots to be.

Day 6: Hollywood Studios

This used to be called MGM... not sure if I can still call it that- I'm a little confused. Well, DW people know this is the coasters park. LOVE all the shows (don't miss Indiana Jones) and Tower of Terror & Rockin' Roller Coaster are always winners with us. They have cute sequin mouse ears for sale here that are hard to find anywhere else- just in case you wanted to know that. :)

Gabe with a green "army man" in front of Toy Story Midway Mania

We had lunch at Prime Time Cafe (which I highly recommend.) It's a mom & pop diner where the waiters act like you're their long lost relatives. I remember the first time I ate here as a kid they actually had me believing them. (Probably because my own parents were going along with it- cuz they're nuts like that :)

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: If you want to eat at any of these restaurants I'm mentioning or any other popular spots- you MUST book reservations WAY in advance or you absolutely will not get in. You can do it up to 180 days in advance... I know that sounds way too early, but trust me, it's not!)

Day 7: Richard Petty Driving Experience

We bought my dad the ride-along package for his birthday and Nick bought one as well. They had a lot of fun going 145mph... but said they wanna drive next time. :)
note: this has to be booked in advance and books up pretty early so don't just show up expecting to get in :)

After the RPDE we went back to Epcot.

Day 8: Animal Kingdom

I just love this park! The new Everest ride was incredible! And (as I wrote on FB) after going on Kilimanjaro Safari, your local zoo is gonna seem pretty lame to you for awhile. :)

This trip was the first time we did any character meals and we are HOOKED! They are SOOO worth the money if you have kids. Don't wait in lines to get pics with characters- just book a few of these meals and knock out 2 things at once. We had lunch at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom and the african inspired buffet was fantastic! 

BTW- Here is a website with lots of 
Disney restaurant recipes that I happened across.


Tricertop Spin

Playing at the "Boneyard"

Day 9: Magic Kingdom (again)

We had a breakfast reservation for Crystal Palace which means we got to enter the park before it opened- SO COOL! I highly recommend CP. The food was delish (if you go don't miss the breakfast lasagna) and the kids really loved the Winnie the Pooh characters. Get a reservation as early as possible, that way when you're finished eating you can head over to a fantasy land with NO LINES!!! :D

Waiting to be seated at CP

My kids love this crazy creature

Walking up to the Beast's castle in the new Fantasyland
Above:  The ballroom at "Be Our Guest" restaurant in the castle.    Right: A cupcake topped with the famous "grey stuff" (it WAS delicious! ;)

We knew we would need 2 full days in this park to get everything done with toddlers- and we were right. This day was spent on the other side of the park which we didn't even get to on day 1, and then we re-rode a couple of favorites and took time to watch the parade (which we also missed on day 1.)

This was the first official day of Christmas at Walt Disney World and the very first castle lighting of the season!!! Sooo pretty!

Drinking hot chocolate and watching the castle lighting show with all the great grandparents. Doesn't get much better than this ;)

Day 10: We slept in.

Well, a little. Then we met our friend Tammy at Downtown Disney at our most favorite sandwich place in ENTIRE WORLD:
(drum roll please)


We looooooove this place and wish SO much there was one close to us.

After shopping around a bit more and eating a gi-normous sundae from the Ghiradelli Soda Fountain, we made our way to Disney's Fort Wilderness camp ground where we had dinner reservations for the Hoop-Dee-Doo show. The food was good, the show was good, and it was an all around knee-slappin' good time. The only disappointment was the fact that a (supposedly southern) BBQ place didn't have sweet tea (which by this point in our trip Nick and I were sorely missing.)

I was forced brought back stage to be apart of the last act. Here are the humiliating photos to prove it:

They told me I was a can-can dancer and said to start dancing... between the heavy costume and me not really recalling what a can-can dancer does... it was not a stellar performance. But, I had my (enormous) family in the audience cheering me on the entire time so I survived. :0)


Day 11: Cruise Time!!

We used up all our groceries the day before at our condos, so we all met at a local breakfast buffet before driving a little over an hour to Port Canaveral.

Here we are about to board our 4 day cruise:

Our first night we ate at Animator's Palate which is just about the coolest restaurant I've ever been too. There are giant screens surrounding the room that make you feel like you're in a big fish tank. Throughout your meal the characters from Finding Nemo come around to entertain you- the most notably being Crush who is able to actually interact with you. He had a conversation with me and the kiddos (the waiters very wisely made sure the kids at each table had the best views of the screens.) I sat there all night trying to figure out how they were able to pick up the voices of people they were talking to in the middle of the room. Courtney and I kept searching for hidden microphones in the table setting. :)

Each night we had the early dinner seating, then our show in the main theater. This night was a magic show (not a Disney production) so we decided to skip it since we were SO exhausted. 

Day 12: Day at Sea

I knew at this point in my vacation I would be needing a fresh pedicure so I treated myself to one on board. I don't think I'll do it again unless I'm desperate. Although the polish was chip proof for the beach, it was not the best pedicure I've had, and I paid about 3 times as much as on land. Plus (as with all cruise spas) they were trying to sell me a line of products during the entire appointment. That does not make for a relaxing experience for me personally.

The rest of our day was spent at the pools, kids clubs and just enjoying all the ship had to offer. We even caught a movie after lunch at the first run theater on board (which is of course FREE!!)

We ate at the Enchanted Garden restaurant this night which is a garden that beautifully transforms from day into night as you are eating your meal.

Day 13: Nassau, Bahamas

We didn't have any plans- which turned out very nicely! We shopped at the straw market briefly, then went on a short horse and carriage ride around the town. Our guide was a local who made his living off of tourist carriage rides with his horse "Nat King Cole". He provided us with lots of interesting facts about the Bahamas as he drove. 

Here's what I learned: 
-They became independent in 1973
-It is the law there that children be taught Christianity in schools 
-Baptist is the most popular denomination
-Hand guns are illegal
-There is currently a very high crime rate in Nassau
-They have socialized health care (which our driver seemed quite proud of)
-The unemployment rate is 44%

Hmmm... sometime I wonder how it is that people don't connect the dots...
But we had a wonderful time in the few short hours we spent there. After getting back on the (half empty) ship, we ate lunch at Cabanas & took advantage of the much less crowded pool deck. I think this is the day we rode the AquaDuck... (water coaster at sea :)

That night was "Pirates IN the Caribbean Night" which means almost everyone is dressed up like pirates, the dinner menu is pirate themed and at the end of the night there is a pirate stage show on the pool deck which ends with fireworks. Lots of fun! (On pirate night you have dinner again wherever you did the night before.)

Day 14: Castaway Cay

This is Disney's own private island. We were scheduled to do the Parsailing, but due to high winds many of the excursions had to be canceled. I was a little disappointed, but we ended up snorkeling which was a first for me and really fun. That Disney-attention-to-detail even showed up under the water. When you snorkel at CC, you'll find lots of "hidden treasure" on the ocean floor like canons, statues of Mickey and Minnie and even a sunken "pirate ship". :)

Even the cleaning people at Disney are incredible ;)

This night was our formal night on the ship and we were (very fittingly) scheduled to eat at Royal Palace. Cinderella and other princess details are in every nook and cranny of this restaurant down the carriage shaped bread bowls and the glass slipper lined chandeliers. The waiters are dressed as footmen from a couple centuries ago and it is all very romantic. (While you rotate restaurants, your waiter is the same every night on a Disney cruise. I love this, because they know your drink preferences, seating preferences, food allergies, and what your kids are going to want for dessert... Our waiter, Putra, treated our kids like royalty- putting their ketchup in the shape of Mickey EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, doing magic tricks for them while the adults finished their meal, and even wiping their mouths when it was needed. He was amazing!)

Day 15: Debarkation

We had to be at breakfast at 6:45am so we could debark by 8. After such a long trip we really were ready to start our *long* journey home. But, it was, of course, still sad. :(

2 days of driving and you have a grand total of: 17 days
Yes, that is correct. I haven't been on a trip that long since I was a teenager. It felt great to be home and I learned a lot of lessons for future vacations. I will not be traveling with 3 kids for 17 days again. It was overwhelming for them and it was overwhelming for me. 

But, all in all, we had a blast!

I like to collect Christmas ornaments when we travel. Here are the ones I came home with from our trip:


 What I love about 
Disney cruise line vs. Carnival:

- Obviously, the theming. Every little detail is incredible from the artwork in the halls that came to life every few minutes to the mickey shaped mirrors in every bathroom.

- The shows. They were top-notch and I expected nothing less from Disney. But I think I actually enjoyed them even more than the ones we saw in the parks which is saying alot.

-Fireworks at sea. (Disney is the only cruise line who does them.)

- Characters are EVERYWHERE. So many opportunities for pictures!

- I felt the ship was cleaner, but then, Disney is really known for that and that's one reason I love them so much. :)

- Castaway Cay, Disney's private island. The food is free & it's nice being on a Caribbean island where there's no pushy tour guides or drug traffiking to worry about. :) 
No, seriously.

-Getting on and off the ship seemed a lot smoother and took less time. They just had a better way of managing the lines and large crowds- perhaps because they already have so much experience with that!

What was not better:

-The food. It pains me to say it, but Carnival has Disney beat in the area of food. Not beat by much... but Carnival left me more satisfied each night at dinner. 

Well my vacation post has *finally* come to an end.
If you are planning a Disney trip and have any questions for me, I'd be happy to help!!! :D