Thursday, February 15, 2024

He knows me, mommy! I'm special!

I’ve got to share this with you while it’s fresh in my mind.

I've had a feeling a moment like this was on it’s way for a couple of weeks now.Well after the sun has gone down,
Carter is snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug in his bed after we’ve read a book & prayed,
it’s time for the song portion of our bedtime routine.

Tonight he picked the song I’ve sung to him since before he could speak.
It’s a Veggie Tales song from a personalized CD;
Carter” is inserted into the lyrics of each song & at various times the singing veges talk to “Carter”, encouraging him to sing along. Great gift from my aunt for his 1st Christmas.

A rather big deal for a little one.
The first time he realized that Junior, the singing asparagus said “Carterwas quite a long time ago & the novelty has certainly worn off by now.

There I was kneeling in the dark room, Carter lying still & nearly totally covered by his blankets in the bed beside me. I sang...
I thank God for this day, for the time to play outside, for the birds in the trees/for this special lullaby.... Carter’s grateful heart is a happy heart I’m glad for what I have/that’s an easy way to start for the love that God shares as He listens to my prayers...”

That’s when he shot up!
Looked me straight in the eye & exclaimed HE KNOWS ME!”

Stunned a bit.
But quickly composed, I lovingly answered, “Yes pal, He knows you”
Carter: “I’m special! He knows me! Why, mommy?

Now, I’m fully aware of this pivotal parenting moment.
Trying so hard to keep my cool. With his undivided attention, I said,
Carter, because He made you in my belly, buddy. He loves you more than even mommy and daddy do. He has big plans for you.

I shared a couple more promises from God for him because people, he was staring right into my eyes & soaking my words up like a sponge.
Then, he interrupted, “I’m special, mommy!”
(Oh God, thank you for letting me be the parent at the side of his bed tonight!)
Carter: “Mommy, Junior knows my name! Not every kid gets to know Junior. When I was in your belly he knew my name.

Me: “What did you say, pal?
Carter: “Junior knows me, mommy. I’m special.”

Me: “Carter, I was talking about Jesus. Jesus loves you. Jesus made you in my belly. Jesus knows your name.
Carter: “Jesus? Oh.”

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

How can it be?

If you’re a real-life friend of mine, you know that 14 days ago, my brothers and I found my dad, who’d been convinced he could sleep off his sickness the night before, was no longer alive. Since that horrific moment, what feels like 10 foot waves crash over me; waves of despair, disbelief, and unanswered questions. I steady myself a bit with comforting truth and joyous memories before another wave crushes me. Such is grief, I suppose. I’m new here.

While I’m waking up haunted by my wonderings of his last hours, one thing, I know for sure: he left this world and woke up to heaven. I knew it the moment I leaned, aghast, over his body in the funeral home. He wasn’t there. It was his body, yes, but he was absent from his body. 
Oh God! It stings even to write those words now.
Standing there, someone asked me if he was in heaven. 
Yes. Unequivocally, yes.
Because I believe what the Bible says is true, this I have as an anchor in a treacherous storm.

The temptation to believe he earned God’s favor through his devotion and godly living did not beset my dad. He trusted in God’s grace as a free gift, unearned.
“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
He famously claimed that God knew his heart. He relied on the work of Christ’s shed blood on the cross to make his heart pure before God.
“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” (Romans 3:22)
When we emptied his apartment, we found one of many notebooks, where, for as long as I can remember, he copied the Psalms and the words of Jesus in the gospels. He identified most with David, a man after God’s own heart, simultaneously plagued by oppression and guilt. We searched page-by-page of dad’s Bible, where he’d marked the tortured cries out to God for rescue & strength, and proclamations of God as his hope, his salvation.

We are familiar with his habit to come to church, hit up the altar, and leave (early!).
And because it was his only hope, he came “boldly to the throne of grace, that {he’d} obtain mercy, and find grace to help {him} in {his} time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16)

Throughout the Bible, it is their faith that saves the people Jesus encounters. In the final moments before His death on the cross, Jesus spoke to two criminals hanging on crosses beside Him. One challenged Him to prove he was the Messiah. He’d only believe if Jesus proved it to him, by enhancing his life, saving him from certain death.
The other criminal believed Jesus was as He proclaimed, his hope for eternity in heaven.
And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
 “If you openly declare that Jesus is the Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Does this free gift of grace serve as an excuse to reject godly living?
Paul writes: “By shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.” Roman 3:31 (MSG)

Before Jesus was crucified he told his disciples, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” (John 14:15)

We obey Jesus because we love him. We love him because He first loved us.

In Luke 15, Jesus uses a story of two sons to illustrate such undeserved grace. Perhaps, like my dad, you identify with the prodigal son, who was met with extraordinary compassion when he returned to his father after sinning against him. Maybe you identify with the other son, who resented such grace, because of his life-long devotion to his father. Jesus includes both in the story for a purpose. Whether it’s shame (how could he accept me?) or pride (I don’t need his grace), it threatens to keep us from the Father, in heaven.

I’m so grateful to know that my dad was convinced of his need for a Savior and believed Jesus to be that Savior.
While it doesn't change that I miss him so terribly it staggers me unexpectedly. When I can hardly settle on not seeing his grin or hearing his voice again, this assurance steadies my heart from spiraling. It provides comfort when I am desperately wishing I could have said good-bye. It gives me hope. Perhaps it will do so for you too.

Jesus said, before He went to heaven:
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home…And you know the way to where I am going…
(John 14:1 & 4)
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Monday, June 29, 2015

On courage and compassion

Hey friend,
Let's talk. If you're like me, you love Jesus and believe His word, and have decided to follow His word because you love Him. While I've refrained from writing them out in full, I've noted many scriptural references for you to do your own digging, which of course, I suggest.

We stretch our arms wide, sing out loud in the safety of our cathedrals, declaring "He makes us brave!", "calls us out upon the water" and we welcome Him to "lead us where our trust is without borders".
This is it!
This is what we've been waiting for!
The willing among us, will summon our Divine courage to "Be alert. Be firm in the Christian faith. Be courageous and strong. Do everything with love". (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

Let's talk about the after-after we've stood firmly and spoken the Truth with boldness & grace. 
After we've taken our opportunity to present a case, based on our beliefs. (Col. 4:5&6)
After the choice is made against our better judgement.
After the verdict rules against what we hold sacred.
Let's talk about how to proceed when we're left to continue living-raising our families, conducting business, living in peace with our neighbors, respecting those in authority over us.

As I searched the scriptures for guidance on living in a world, increasingly divergent from His principles, I found a recurring theme: Love! Love! Love!
Here are 5 things in particular I believe are worth noting.
1. Jesus is concerned that His followers love each other.
"Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples". John 13:35

Struggle to align yourself with Christian counterparts, because of their conduct? I get it. Perhaps, go to them with your concerns, but don't get trapped in judgement. Instead for the sake of living in peace & unity, forgive and make allowances for each other's faults. (Eph 4:2)
What's so radical about loving those that sit in your living room, with a warm mug of coffee, conversation dripping with agreement with everything you say and do? (Luke 6:32 & 33)
Concentrate on aligning yourself with Christ. Align yourself with the Bible. Resist the temptation to tear other believers down or attack their methods. It's simply wasted energy and tarnishes the image of Christ, as represented in His church.

2. Jesus is concerned that His followers show love toward their enemies-people against them. 
"“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you...Do good to them...Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked". (Luke 6:35 NLT)
Vehemently opposing the choices of a person doesn't require you to turn your back on them.

3. Jesus warns against judging, instead be compassionate.
"You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back to you". (Luke 6:36-37 NLT)

And if you find yourself particularly tempted toward pride, Paul reminds us our right-standing is not of ourselves, so we can't boast!
"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it." (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT)

4. Jesus cares how we make our case for the Truth.
Our answers should be well-informed, wise, prepared. Which is opposite of an emotionally-charged, off-the-cuff defense. Belligerence is not the tone a Christ-follower should use

Be prepared to give answers with respect & gentleness. (1 Peter 3: 15& 16)
Conduct yourself with wisdom & let your speech be graceful. (Col 4:5-6)

Don't be misled. All this gentleness & love talk doesn't constitute weakness & wavering. The scriptures read: "be firm!" "be strong!" "be brave!" suggesting the contrary. I'm a first-born, Italian girl from NY so you can pretty much bet I have strong opinions, that I embrace passionately. 

5. Jesus predicts rejection
Will some be offended? Yes. 
Will some hate you? Yes. (John 15:18 & 19)
This is a call for the brave! It takes courage to stand for Truth when it is not tolerant or popular.
The fruits of the spirit: love, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control should govern our behavior as we navigate uncomfortable situations.

Jesus is the originator of freedom of choice. As Creator, He gave humans free will. He's not afraid of it. It doesn't put a crimp in His plan. His plan is to demonstrate radical love that will draw men to choose Him.
Don't waste your time convincing someone to adopt your Christian morals before they are convinced to love Jesus. 
It is because we love Him, we obey him. The message of the Gospel is foolishness to those who are not believers.
Morality alone is not the concern of a Christian.

Peter wraps it up nicely, I'd say:
"Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor." 
1 Peter 2: 17

So I guess, we can start there, huh?! What are your thoughts?
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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

See ya Real Soon! Disney World Reveal Ideas

How are you going to tell your kids you're going to Disney World?
Whether it's a once-in-a-lifetime trip or you've visited before, something this special deserves a ceremonious unveiling and can help build anticipation.

Let me take this moment to share a few links to the entire Disney World Planning Series:
Disney World Planning Guide (Choosing a time, resort, etc.)
Disney World Tips & Tricks for Making the Most of the Magic (10 Best Tips, incl. Fastpass+ info.)
Disney Dining Tips (Dining Plan, ADR Recommendations) 
Disney with a Baby/Toddler (including packing list)
Packing for Disney (including ways to save $ & time)
Disney World Touring Guide (which parks when, how many days)
Magic Kingdom Touring Guide (1 day & 2 day plans)
Port Orleans Riverside Review (Room for 5)

Now, here's 2 of my favorite way to reveal:
The iconic "WE'RE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD" Day-Of surprise.
We surprised our kids on the morning we left & it was quite memorable.
This method obviously requires major restraint & effort. We had to get to the mailbox before they did when Magic Bands & Magical Express packages arrived and often conceal mailings with wording that would have revealed the secret. We also had to pack the entire family & stow the evidence completely in secret.
Here's how we revealed the surprise:
We went about the morning routine: dressed for school, packing lunches, and eating breakfast. I had packed three shoe boxes (1 for each kid) with Disney paraphernalia as clues: glow sticks, sunglasses, water bottle, Disney trinkets, Disney apparel, placing the most obvious: the autograph book (purchased at Disney Store) & trading pins (purchased on prior trips & from Amazon) on the bottom. On the top of each box I pasted a word & together it spelled out: We're Going To. 
While they were sitting at the island for breakfast, my husband casually asked them what they wanted to do today. School, was the natural reaction, because they suspected nothing. "But if you could choose, what would you do today?" Funny enough my son whispered, "Go to Disney World" into his youngest sister's ear to get her to say it out loud. And we told them we have an idea & gave them each a box.
Dancing & jumping for joy erupted! I'd even had a Disney station playing on Pandora through the whole thing, (that was pretty typical for us) and turned it up for celebrating the surprise! We showed them the Magic Bands, in an official box (which were still in the testing phase at this point) and they further added to the excitement.

One word of caution for a day-of surprise, depending on the age of your child, you may not want to pull a bait & switch-i.e.: say, "We're going to grandmas house" & then instead pull up at the airport & surprise them with Disney. Children have been known to cry over the overwhelming change.

A Countdown Chain
As much as I enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime type thrill of surprising them on the morning we were leaving, I missed the build up of anticipation we've shared prior to other trips. I enjoy pouring over details with them, getting books from the library, and watching You Tube videos of attractions.
We made a countdown chain that sat with a plush Sorcerer Mickey & a box of Magic Bands to reveal another trip. Clues led them to a room that had this all set up. It was a thrill! 
The countdown chain (an idea I found on Pinterest, but unsure of original designer) was super easy to make. I free-handed Mickey ears on black construction paper & folded them to make the Mickey link, and pasted white circles (made with a hole punch) on the red link to represent his pants.
On the inside of each link I wrote a detail about our trip to reveal little by little each day & build anticipation.
I have to say, this is the most enjoyable reveal for me. I felt my little kids (under 5) were overwhelmed by the "day of" reveal. Decide how long of a countdown is appropriate for your kids', depending on their ages. Three weeks is plenty long enough for us; 21 links in our chain looks like a lifetime to 5 year-old!
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Friday, August 15, 2014

My life got flipped, turned upside down

Rap it with me:
"Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped turned upside down
And I'd like to take a minute just sit right there
I'll tell you how I became the..

wife of a Medical School student!

Yep. We jumped off a cliff! My husband quit a solid job in the name of scratching the proverbial itch that hasn't gone away in over 10 years. (God, I dread how American & spoiled that phrase sounds.) Instead of going to MD school in 2002, when he was accepted, he pursued a career as a professor, and earned his PhD. Last year, he was accepted into the MD school here in NY! After pouring over spreadsheets and compound interest calculations, playing Devil's advocate, seeking wise counsel, buying in to The Meaning of Marriage, we decided to take the jump.
I wasn't going to say anything here on the blog. My lips have been sealed on this very personal & weighty process in real life as well, only sharing with a handful of supportive friends/family, for whom I'm grateful. The thing is, I think I'm going to need to blog about the long, challenging road ahead. Writing is cathartic for me. Miracles have happened to get us to this point and I'm certain they'll continue, and I want a record. I'm choosing to publish over paper journal because I found so little positive chatter online from other MD school wives and I'm hoping to provide it in the most honest way.

One week down & here are 10 things I've learned:
1. Moms of MD students can be insufferable in their pride. The pursed lips, the tone of voice, the cardigan uniform-if it's any indication of the wives I will encounter, Lawd help me!
2.  With 3 kids and a mortgage, and my SAHM-status, my husband is quite the unconventional student. At the white coat ceremony last week, he was mistaken a few times for faculty (which is tricky, because technically he is faculty, but in the PT Dept., and only until next month).
>Side note: This brings me to the most common question: "Isn't he already a Dr.?" Well, yes, he has a PhD. He is now earning an MD.
He has to earn the MD just as any other student, regardless of his experience teaching similar course content.
3. Female MD students make me nervous. They're obviously tenacious and a tad too pretty for my preference.
4. If loving what he's doing was the goal, we've reached it already. He is practically giddy.
5. I'm going to need to get a life. Something I'm giddy over. And housekeeping ain't it. 
6. Since we're certainly staying here for 4 years, I'll need to get some local girlfriends. Like yesterday.
7. Spinning classes are a savior! Between the break from my children and the endorphins, it's golden hour.
8. I'm back to drinking coffee after a long break from the habit. I typically only drink 1/2 a mug and soy creamer is a must, but I need the comfort of the cup to ease my jitters.
9. My husband has been preoccupied since classes began Monday morning. Will this be the new normal for the next 8 years?
10. Pretending that nothing has changed, for the sake of keeping the kids from unnecessary anxiety or the sake of convincing myself we'll be alright isn't the healthiest approach. There's a balance to be discovered and it will be worth finding.
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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Col 3:12 | Chalkboard Art

I created this chalkboard art to hang in my laundry room because months ago, in the thick of "it"-you know "it" the tough, testing times of life-I felt that God pointed me toward this verse in Colossians 3:12
"Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience."
It gets harder:
"Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive any one who offends you."

Ahhhh!!! So, hard. The last thing you want to do when you've been offended and mistreated is to make allowances for the other's faults. They're wrong! Faults are wrong. Being offended is offensive! Aren't I justified to be angry, and to point out such wrongs for them to address. Make allowances? And forgive? What?! How!?
I knew God put it in my heart. I knew He wanted me to make it my habit. I knew He would help me, since these virtues are not in me naturally.

First, I started out in the small, but still tough, instances around our house, making allowances for annoying things that make me feel taken for granted (hello! can nobody else put back what they get out?) Before long, my new convictions were tested in bigger, more painful circumstances.

Amazed by how God helped me to clothe myself in such virtues, I was certain my heavenly Father had put this in my heart. In a podcast on Christian's Happiness, Tim Keller talked about terrible things happening to Christians and God using such suffering to make us more like Him. The truth fell on me like rain: through my suffering, He was patiently, grinding me (because "molding" sounds pretty & the process is so ugly) into His image. 

This week greeted me with a mess of a situation. My heart is breaking, my resolve to follow God's mandate to respond in humility and grace has been tested.
With a lump in my throat, I cried out to God with, "it's not making a bit of a difference! I'm doing this, as you say, and it's not changing them a bit. It's not changing any of these situations."
And a still, small voice spoke to my heart:
"It's not meant to change them. It's meant to change you.
It's not meant to alter the situation. It's meant to alter your reaction."

And therein lies some harsh truth about following God's Word: we do it because He commanded it, because we love Him. We don't obey because it will pay in the end, & not because we can take pride in having such virtues, but simply, because He asked it of us. (Again, made clear to me through a Tim Keller podcast, A Promise of Hope

God, make my virtues true, with motivations to honor You, become like You and not for my gain or pride. Help me. In the thick of it. I need You. Amen.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Port Orleans Riverside Review | Disney World room for 5

I've got a Walt Disney World resort recommendation for you. The Port Orleans Riverside may be our new favorite! (Let's face it, there are so many to fall in love with, but this is a gem). It's a Moderate resort, which means it has sit-down dining & a waterslide/hot tub, that the Values do not, but dining isn't as special, & it's a notch down in amenities compared to the Deluxe resorts.
If you're looking to accommodate a party of 5, this resort offers queen beds (not all Moderates do) & a murphy bed. It doesn't pop up on the official Disney list of resorts for 5 or more, likely because one of you has to be small enough for a murphy bed (love-seat size).
Port Orleans Riverside was perfect for our family. It's a sprawling resort, but you can certainly request a room in a building closer to the main drag and there are bus depots scattered for convenience getting out in the World.
Separated into 2 sections: Magnolia Bend & Alligator Bayou, each with an entirely different motif taken from Louisiana. The Magnolia Bend is just lovely, with rooms situated in plantation homes and white-columned archways over pools, offering Royal Rooms for the princess lover. 
We'd have chosen that side, but we needed use of the murphy beds only available in the Alligator Bayou to accommodate our party of 5. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it over in this section, being that I'm not particularly the Bayou-type. It's lush green pathways were a welcome retreat from the hustle of the parks.

The pools wowed us! The waterslide, the hot tub, the wading pool for little ones at Old Man Island was hard to leave. A playground, with nightly campfires for roasting s'mores is near this pool. Movies under the stars are shown on a big screen here too.
We scored major "fun parents" points when we jumped into the pool, just outside of our room, in the dark-way past bedtime. With smaller quiet pools to choose from and hammocks tucked away throughout the resort, you could certainly choose PO Riverside for an adult trip to WDW.
Horse-drawn carriages add such charm! Complimentary boat transport is available between this and the sister resort, PO French Quarter (where you are welcome to enjoy all amenities), and Downtown Disney. Grabbing beignets for breakfast at French Quarter, or a night out at Downtown Disney is easy from the Riverside.
A few notes on dining at Port Orleans:  
Create-your-own pasta (& create-your-own salad) were our favorite Quick Service options. Choose a protein, pasta, sauce, and other add-ins from a list and they cook it in front of you! We loved the shrimp, pesto, mushroom & broccoli combination. The portion is large enough to share between 2 adults or we shared 1 between our 3 kids (ages 3 to 8).
Lunch & Dinner QS meals come with a dessert & a N/A drink, & we often used the dessert & drink (various bottled choices) for "breakfast in the room" items that we stored in our fridge. (Photos & another review here)
Snack credit choices:
Hot fudge sundaes were a hit! Crumb cake was yummy, (basic cookies, brownies & cupcakes are here too.)
3 beignets at PO French Quarter, sister resort within walking distance, also accessible by boat.
Yeehaa  Bob is a fan favorite entertainer here at River Roost lounge, though we never had time to see him. Boatwrights Dining Hall gets buzz as being an overlooked spot for Table Service among the resorts, also didn't have time to dine here.

nighttime photos:, all others: Pin It

Friday, July 18, 2014

Magic Kingdom touring plan | 1 & 2 day Itinerary | Magic Kingdom Dining

Let's talk about Magic Kingdom! From the moment you step onto Main Street, you're transported to well, a magical kingdom. It's everything you're imagining when you set your sights on a Disney vacation. There's always something new, yet what enchanted you the last time you visited is as wonderful as you remember it.
This is the most overwhelming park to create a plan for touring. I'm happy to share what works wonderfully for us. 

Below, you'll find recommended touring plans for both 1 and 2 days in Magic Kingdom (MK). We devote 2 full days to MK, which allows us to take most of it in at a moderate pace. I prefer to begin and end our trip with MK.   
2 days, with the itinerary below, allows us to fit in everything on our wishlist including thrill rides, under 10-type rides, parades, night time shows, etc. You could certainly spend 1 day & hit many attractions if you eliminate: experiences geared for younger or older than your group, same goes for certain character meetings.

Key planning points: 
  • Fastpass+ allows us to enjoy popular attractions without waiting. (What is Fastpass+? Click here). Rider Switch Pass allows 2 adults a turn to ride height-restrictive rides without waiting twice, if your party includes someone that doesn't meet the requirements (toddler/baby) and it works along with Fastpass+. Your kids may ride twice without waiting for the 2nd ride. (More on Rider Switch Pass here
  • Arrive early to maximize the time before the crowds arrive on at least one of the days. Guests are allowed entry to Main Street an hour prior to official opening. The former Rope Drop & Welcome show has been replaced with "Let the Magic Begin" show in front of the castle. All guests may shop on Main Street. Disney Resort Guests, when Morning Extra Magic Hours are in effect (varies daily) are allowed to attractions earlier than other guests-cast members are at entrances to different lands with scanners to verify resort guests.
  • Use early hours to hit: 1. Fantasyland (1st stop: Mine Train or Peter Pan's Flight) or 2. the mountains (Space, Big Thunder Mt. Railroad, Splash Mt.)
  • We use Character Dining for meeting characters, so you won't find much of that built into our plans. 
  • The Festival of Fantasy parade is spectacular enough that we make time for it each day. We also set aside 45min-1 hour prior to the parade/show to secure a good spot-taking turns using restrooms or grabbing snacks during this time.
Fantasyland Favorites
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is the newest. Go there 1st, if you wish to ride w/out FP+. Requires 38" & Rider Switch Pass is available, so if your party includes littles, get your pass & ride Pooh or the Carousel while older ones ride the Mine Train, then switch or save it for later that day. 
Enchanted Tales with Belle is an interactive storytelling with Belle, herself. Each participant (they accommodate all willing kids) gets a moment alone (& photo opp) with Belle. The duration is long, so it's not the best option when packing-in attractions during early hours. FP+ is recommended after 10:30.
*All ages: Peter Pan, Little Mermaid Under the Sea, (indoor. a fun trip through each story)
Mickey's Philharmagic: a silly 3D concert. Great when it's raining or hot, typically low waits.
*The Barnstormer (35") (next to Dumbo) is a small roller-coaster younger ones can ride, but surprisingly thrilling for all. Casey's splash pad, with no line is across from this, especially great for younger ones. These 3 are good for a mixed ages group, but could be skipped entirely, if you're interested in packing in more thrilling rides.  
Especially appealing to under 10: 
Dumbo has a fun playground indoors that can be played on whether you are riding or not.
Pooh (indoor. trip through Pooh's imagination. the line may be more fun than the ride) & Carousel
It's a Small World (a classic. a boat ride featuring the children of the world. a nice rest.)
Tea Cups (classic)
Haunted Mansion (frightening & silly at the same time, parents of younger kids, beware). It is close to It's A Small World, just beyond Rapunzel's village (restrooms) so it can be planned along with Fantasyland attractions.

Frontierland Favorites:
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (40")
Splash Mountain (40") A covered playground near the exit for little ones
Meet Woody & Jessie near exit.

Adventureland Favorites:
Pirates of the Caribbean. Creepy-ish boat ride that inspired the movie. Fun souvenir shop.
Tinkerbell meeting & another fairy (we met a spunky, Vidia)

Tomorrowland Favorites:
Buzzlightyear Space Ranger Spin: all ages, interactive shooting game to defeat Zurg
Monster's Inc Laugh Floor: indoor, interactive comedy show. great escape from rain or heat. Typically lower waits
Space Mountain: not a favorite, but a classic.
Tomorrowland Speedway: exciting for younger ones to drive!

The new Festival of Fantasy parade is spectacular!
Happily Ever After is a brand new nighttime show at the castle combining projection and fireworks

Festival of Fantasy Parade
Recommended 2-day tour of Magic Kingdom:
(Scroll down for a 1 day plan)
Day 1: Magic Kingdom
{eat breakfast in room/en route}
Bus from WDW resort by 1hr 15min before park opening. (bus from Moderate & Value Resorts. Deluxe resorts on the Monorail require less time). Offsite guests, adjust & plan driving/parking accordingly.
Guests are allowed into the park an hour before opening to roam Main Street, get in line outside of the land you are headed into first. On EMH (Extra Magic Hours) mornings, all park guests are allowed in early but only WDW resort guests are allowed into the lands beyond Main Street.
There is a show in front of the castle at official park opening time.
Park Opening: Head directly to Fantasyland.
Depending on how much you want to fit in before the masses begin arriving at 10am, stop for a photo in front of the castle & maybe Starbucks on Main St.
Choose 5-7 rides in Fantasyland to ride. 
Hit Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 1st, Winnie the Pooh, Ariel (Under the Sea)

Barnstormer (35"),  Dumbo
Tea Cups & Carousel
Meet Rapunzel at Fairytale Hall (She's not at the Character Meals) 
Meet Ariel (wearing her fin) in her Grotto
(Mickey's Philharmagic, It's A Small World, and Enchanted Tales with Belle are longer in duration so not the best use of time)

QS Lunch: Be Our Guest (Beast's castle) when it opens (10:30-11am). Advanced reservations HIGHLY recommended.

12:00-1:00: FastPass+ Enchanted Tales with Belle (next to Be Our Guest) an interactive storytelling with Belle. A personal favorite; I've teared up each time my son was chosen to dance with her.
1:00-2:00: FastPass+ Peter Pan's Flight. A fantasy ride that appeals to all ages.

2pm: Get a good spot for Festival of Fantasy Parade. Send at least a couple people from your party to secure a spot. Check with cast members to be sure you're in a spot that won't get blocked off.
3pm: Festival of Fantasy Parade

Grab a snack during the parade or when it's over if you want to hold off on dinner.
4pm: FP+ one of the Mountains or the Mine Train for after the parade
Longer, indoor attractions at this time of day are always a nice retreat from the sun (Mickey's Philharmagic, It's A Small World, Haunted Mansion). 

Dinner (recommendations below)

Certain attractions have extra nighttime appeal: Haunted Mansion, a stroll through Rapunzel's village (restrooms) when the lanterns are lit are nice options, Dumbo gives a nice view of the castle all lit up. 

If you are finished in Fantasyland, & feeling ambitious, try getting Bonus Fastpass+ (or short standby waits) for rides in Tomorrowland like, Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, Monster's Inc Laugh floor, or Indy Speedway.

IF you'll be viewing Once Upon a Time (castle projection show) or the fireworks, the best spot is central Main St. between the end of the shops (Casey's & Plaza Ice Cream Parlour) and the Partners statue. There's a tad bit of an incline in the street so you can see well. The 2nd showing (if scheduled) is less crowded & so are the lines for transportation afterward.

Day 2: Magic Kingdom
Revise this itinerary based on Day 1-add repeats, remove attractions you've done.

Arrive: depends on how much you want to fit in before the crowds without FP+
Jungle Cruise
Pirates of the Caribbean

11am Fastpass+ Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
12pm Fastpass + Splash Mountain

1-2pm: Lunch: Pecos Bill or Turkey Legs (cart) Frontierland

2pm: Get a spot for the parade, if you want to watch again
3pm: Festival of Fantasy Parade
IF NOT PARADE again, you may want to choose Fastpass+ directly after lunch or Meet a character that you won't be meeting at Character Dining while crowds are busy at the parade.

4pm Fastpass+ Space Mountain (44")
Check standby lines or retrieve Bonus Fastpass+ for:
Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin
Monster's Inc Laugh Floor
Tomorrowland Speedway (32")

If you skipped the Festival of Fantasy Parade today, you may be up for the dancing with The Incredibles in Tomorrowland  or you may want to catch Move It Shake it on Main Street in front of the castle and dance with characters. 

7ish: Dinner
Try for Bonus Fastpass+ or buy souvenirs
Check out the brand-new Happily Ever After nighttime show at the castle combining projection on the castle and fireworks. 
If you stay until the park closes, consider waiting until 30 minutes after the park closes for the very special Kiss Goodnight on the castle. You'll be glad you did. You'll feel like you're not supposed to be there, but it's allowed. You'll feel like an insider. You'll cry because you don't want to go home tomorrow!

If you only have 1 day for Magic Kingdom:
Arrive 30 min before park opening. You'll be allowed onto Main Street to shop, get coffee at Main Street Bakery (Starbucks), take photos. Attraction lines will begin building as they let patrons in the park, so you may want to head to the most popular attraction immediately. Disney Resort Guests will be allowed onto attractions earlier than park opening when Extra Magic Hours are in effect (varies daily). 
Head straight to Fantasyland  ride as much as you can before 10:30am. (We fit in 5-7 rides when it opens at 9am because there's no wait)
Hit Seven Dwarfs Mine Train &/or Peter Pan's Flight 1st.

Note: Enchanted Tales with Belle, Mickey's Philharmagic, It's a Small World, & Haunted Mansion (Liberty Square) take more time than the others, so I don't suggest trying to fit them in unless you have extra time before lunch.

QS Lunch: Be Our Guest (Beast's castle) Make Advanced Dining Reservations OR arrive close to when it opens (10:30-11am)

12pm: FastPass+ for Peter Pan's Flight or Enchanted Tales with Belle after lunch 
(No Beast or Belle? Finish Fantasyland by 11am. Ride Haunted Mansion & head to Frontierland for lunch at Pecos Bill. 
Reserve FP+ for Splash & Big Thunder Mountains. FP+ Space Mt.)
3pm: The Festival of Fantasy parade is spectacular. Get there 45min-1hr prior for the best spot. Skip entirely if you'd rather hit more attractions, as standby lines are shorter when crowds are at parades.
Head to Frontierland through Liberty Square:
4: FP+ Splash Mt.
5: FP+ Big Thunder Mt. Railroad
Hit Pirates of the Caribbean (Adventureland) on the way to Tomorrowland 
Try getting a Bonus Fastpass+ for Jungle Cruise (Adventureland), Space Mt, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, Monster's Laugh Floor, or the Speedway all in Tomorrowland.  
Try to stay for the brand new Happily Ever After castle show combining fireworks and castle projection. 
Magic Kingdom Dining
If your heart is set on eating dinner in the castle Cinderella's Royal Table or Beast's castle (Be Our Guest), you'll want to set your alarm for 6am EST on the 180th day before your arrival to try scoring an ADR (Advanced Dining Reservation) online (or 7am EST for phone reservations). If you're staying at WDW Resorts, you can book dining for your entire trip beginning 180 days prior to the 1st day of your trip. If you're using the Dining Plan, Cinderella's Royal Table requires 2 TS credits.

We eat in room/en route. I bring Larabars & Kids' Cliff bars, tortillas & Justin's PB pouches, bananas, & fruit pouches from home. 
Starbucks is on Main Street, we take the time to grab something there. A Venti drink requires 1 Snack Credit on the Dining Plan.
Gaston's Tavern (Fantasyland): cinnamon rolls (1 Snack credit)
Crystal Palace (Pooh & Friends character meal): if you want a buffet breakfast.
Lunch pick: Be Our Guest (Beast's castle) Fantasyland
At lunch, the food is tasty & requires 1 QS credit. (My kids get Croque Monsieur, sauce on the side & the Pork is another favorite. Tuna Nicoise is my go-to lunch here. The "Grey Stuff" cupcake is a "delicious" dessert option.

Quick Service:
Pecos Bill (Adventureland) is usually where we land because we enjoy the Mexican-American menu w/ample toppings bar-including Guacamole!  Turkey Legs are available in a cart in Frontierland.
Try Columbia Harbour House (Liberty Square) for seafood
Hit Casey's on Main Street for hot dogs 

Table Service:
Cinderella's Royal Table (in the castle) Quickly "sells-out", reserve in advance. Meet the princesses and enjoy the ambiance.
Crystal Palace: if you have a Pooh & friends fan among you, this is a decent buffet meal.
Liberty Tavern: early American food (Turkey, Mashed potatoes, etc.) served family-style in a Colonial environment.

*Note: MK is an easy (air conditioned) monorail ride from delicious meals at Deluxe resorts such as Grand Floridian, Contemporary,  Polynesian (my favorite). You could certainly choose to take a break from the park and eat at one of them.

Sundaes at Plaza Ice Cream Parlour (Main Street) & Sleepy Hollow Refreshments (views of the castle at entrance to Liberty Square) for "homemade" cookie sundaes & stuffed waffles & ice cream treats.
Dole Whip or Dole Whip Float at Aloha Isle (Adventureland
LaFou's brew or a Cinnamon roll at Gaston's Tavern (Fantasyland)
Mickey-shaped Ice Cream Bars (where else?!)


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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Disney World touring guide | Disney World Itinerary

So you're going to Disney World! You've chosen a date, a resort, now where to start? (If you still need help with dates & resorts, click over to this post.)
If you're anywhere near 180 days before arrival, you'll want to secure Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR) for Table Service restaurants. If Be Our Guest (the Beast's castle), Cinderella's Royal Table (eating inside the castle, 2TS Dining Credits) or Chef Mickey's, (where you can meet the Fab 5) is on your wishlist, you'll want to book those immediately at 180 days-same goes for O'Hana (cult-favorite Brazillian steakhouse type dining), Hoop-de-doo Musical Review also fills up quickly. Akershus dining at Epcot where you can meet many princesses in a Norwegian castle and happens to be adjacent to the new Frozen Ever After ride, and only requires 1 TS Dining credit so it's gained popularity-we prefer breakfast. You may choose to secure dining before drafting your itinerary, especially if you're closer than 180 days prior to your arrival. (For more on Dining plan & recommendations, read this Disney Dining post.)

How many park days should I buy?
First, you are not required to officially designate which park you'll spend your days in when you buy your Magic Your Way package. You'll only determine which parks you'll visit for your own planning purposes-Fastpass+, dining reservations, etc.
Review the parks & determine what in each park appeals to your party. Without little ones, park-hopping is a nice option, especially if the main attraction to you is thrill-rides.

With the typical 7 days/6 nights, and 4 theme parks to explore, a 4 day park pass with 1 day off mid-week and each travel day for resort pool time or strolling Disney Springs works. A day off mid-week to recover from the over-stimulation of the parks at the resort pool is recommended if younger children are in your group.
Magic Kingdom is very large & jam-packed with attractions, we often give it 2 days & skip another park.
Fastpass+ makes it possible to arrive later & still experience popular attractions, that otherwise would require hours waiting in line or early arrival to acquire a Fastpass. (Know about Fastpass+, if you know nothing else. More info. here.)

Which parks, which days?
1. Consult the online crowd calendars that break down by park or check for special events at parks that affect crowds. Apart from special events, Extra Magic Hours (EMH) draws large crowds to a park as they are promoted as a perk of being an resort guest.
EMH aren't necessary for us (regular park hours are early enough to take advantage of early hours without masses & parks stay open late enough for us.) It's more valuable to us to choose the park that has had EMH the day prior because typically that park is less crowded the day after EMH.

2. Use your time wisely. 
Get there at park opening & get on rides without waiting. 
Don't waste time in stand-by lines by securing a Fastpass+ for high-voulme attractions. {more on FastPass+ here}. Don't waste time in line to meet characters that you can meet while you eat. Character dining is included in Dining Plan and most require 1 TS credit. The food is varied, & the characters come to your table in an orderly fashion for autographs & hugs. (More on dining & recommendations here.)
Sample Itinerary (including Dining credit recommendations)

Here's what works for us to visit all 4 parks, giving Magic Kingdom 2 days. The resort pool is a big draw for us and the time off has helped to ward off whining and exhaustion from the vigor & stimulation of parks days.
Bump up the typical 7d/6n to 9d/8n (Magic Kingdom in 2 days, 1 day each for the other 3, plus 2 days off between.)
Buy a 5 day pass. (they often run a free day promotion with purchase of 4 day pass)
*This is a rough outline for the trip, I'll post individual park plans in separate posts. 
Day 1: Travel Day. Aim to arrive before noon.
We take Magical Express from the airport to our resort (FREE transport for all WDW resort guests). Magical Express gets your bags from the plane & delivers them to your room FREE of charge. We pack swim suits in our carry-on and wear pool-appropriate footwear on the airplane, which allows us to go straight to the pool after checking in.
Besides swimming and exploring the resort, we book an experience-type dinner reservation at a WDW resort (no park ticket required). O'hana, at the Polynesian is tasty and filling and the service is family-friendly. Meet Mickey & his friends by booking dinner at Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary Resort. Have a laugh & fill up on comfort foods at Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Ft. Wilderness. There's something for everyone at Disney Springs, Raglan Road won us over with their Irish pub entertainment and the food was good too.

Day 2: Magic Kingdom. (Complete Magic Kingdom Touring Plan-1 & 2 day click here)
Arrive 30min prior to opening. Stay late for fireworks.
Day devoted to Fantasyland & Festival of Fantasy Parade.
Breakfast in room/en route (typically meal bar or fruit brought from home)
QS Lunch in the Beast's castle *reserved in advance
QS Dinner: Pecos Bill (Mexican-American food w/ample toppings bar), Turkey legs (cart) in Frontierland. Cosmic Rays (American) in Tomorrowland (near Fantasyland). Columbia Harbour House (seafood)
Snack: Cookie sundaes & strawberry shortcake, other ice cream sundaes at Plaza Ice Cream Parlour or Storybook Treats. Dole Whip at Aloha Isle (Adventureland). Cinnamon Roll at Gaston's Tavern (can serve as breakfast). Main St. Confectionery.
Can't miss in Fantasyland: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan's Flight, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Philharmagic, Goofy's Barnstormer, Dumbo. Festival of Fantasy Parade

Day 3: Animal Kingdom.
TS Breakfast or Lunch: Character Dining at Tusker House: Mickey, Goofy, Donald & Daisy.
QS Dinner Flame Tree BBQ
OR late (after park close) TS dinner at Boma in Animal Kingdom Lodge (quick bus ride from the park, depending on where you're staying, likely 2-step transportation back to resort or taxi/Uber service).
Can't miss attractions: Kilimanjaro Safari rides. Festival of the Lion King & Finding Nemo shows. Expedition Everest.

Day 4: Day off
No wake-up call, Resort pool, Disney Springs (DS),  Resort/DS dining.
QS Lunch. TS Dinner. 
Disney Springs is a great fit for a non-park day. Delicious dining options and shopping. Wolfgang Puck Express, no reservation req. is our family favorite for it's tasty, fresh food. Raglan Road Irish pub w/pub stage music & dancing show and T-Rex over-the-top immersion into the prehistoric era are also family favorites.
Resort QS dining notes: 1 Large Pizza requires 2 QS at resort. If your resort offers create-your-own pasta or c-y-o salad, it's large enough to share. We have combined salad/pizza or pasta/salad to feed our family of 5. Snack credits can be used for sides (fries, yogurt, etc.). On Dining plan, QS Lunch & QS Dinner include dessert (which can be fruit, yogurt saved for breakfast another day) & drink. Deluxe resorts offer some of the best dessert/snack options at WDW.

Day 5: Hollywood Studios.
TS Breakfast or Lunch: Character Dining at Hollywood & Vine (Sofia 1st, Doc McStuffins, Jake & Handy Manny).
QS dinner: Turkey legs option.
Snack: "Homemade" cookie sundaes at Scoops. Cupcakes at Starring Rolls
Can't miss attractions: Toy Story Mania, Tower of Terror, Star Tours, Indiana Jones stunt show

Day 6: Epcot.
TS Breakfast Character Dining at Akershus Storybook Princess Dining (Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) (breakfast food is eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes. people complain the food isn't great later in the day).
TS Dinner. Somewhere in the World Showcase. Via Napoli (pizzeria) is delicious. We like the live music at Biergarten in Germany.
Consider an 8pm reservation at a place with views of Illuminations. Eat inside a pyramid in Mexico, Fish & chips in England, or hibachi-style at Teppan Edo (Japan). Le Cellier serves the tastiest steak, though requires 2 TS credits (which isn't a prudent way to use them b/c it doesn't cost twice as much as 1 TS)
Snack: The World Showcase: Napolean cake in France, School Bread in Norway, Gelato in Italy, cupcakes throughout, and Dole Whip near Canada.
Can't miss attractions: Soarin', Test Track, Turtle Talk with Crush, & new Arendelle boat ride & meeting the Frozen princesses.

Day 7: Day off-no wake-up call, Resort pool, Disney Springs (DS), try Resort/DS dining
(QS Lunch. TS Dinner)

Day 8: Magic Kingdom. (QS Lunch & QS Dinner)
Arrive at opening if you don't have Fastpass+ for high priority attractions left on your list.
Otherwise, sleep in (a bit) if you need & book Fastpass+ beginning at 11am.
Adventureland (Pirates of the Caribbean)
Frontierland (Big Thunder Mt & Splash Mt).
Tomorrowland (Space Mt., Buzz Lightyear)
Wishes night-time spectacular
Stay for the "Kiss Goodnight" on the castle. Let the crowds rush toward transit, stick around Main St. until after the park closes. It's a special moment that happens about 30 minutes after closing. 

Day 9: See ya real soon! (Use remaining QS/TS/Snack)
Pack bags for Magical Express and check-in for return flight at resort. Get last-minute souvenirs (Disney Springs has the largest Disney store & requires no admission), use up remaining snack credits at Goofy's Candy Company (DS) (besides candy, they have the tastiest cookies, candy coated apples, rice crispy treats, fudge, etc.) Or simply enjoy the pool at your resort. Magical Express will typically pick up 3 hours prior to departure.

More Disney World Tips & Tricks:

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Frozen Party | Olaf Party | #DisneySide home celebration

We certainly showed our Disney Side this weekend, throwing a party with a Frozen theme, featuring the more boyish side with Olaf, Sven, and Kristoff in honor of the birthday boy.
As I mentioned earlier, I was selected to host a #DisneySide home celebration, and received luggage and Mickey & friends party supplies-which we plan to use for another party, because we couldn't resist a Frozen party.
First, we set the tone with this ticket invitation: 
No decorations outside necessary; the morning of the party, our place had the eternal Winter look down perfectly.

Here's a look at some of the decorations:
Silver & white balloons were strung on white ribbon and hung from ceiling above Olaf. While snowflakes dangled from the chandelier.

Reindeer food (Chex & Cheerios cereal, peanuts, pretzels, & M&Ms covered in white chocolate) berry-blue flavored water, white cheddar popcorn & Olaf noses were perfect for munching.

We kept the house full of 8 year olds occupied with a few snowman activities: 
Do you wanna build a snowman? 
I made individual kits ahead: Marshmallows: 3 regular & 2 mini. Toothpicks: 2, 1 cut in half, and 1/2 toothpick pushed into the center of an orange Mike-n-Ike for the nose. 
We used black gel tubes to add buttons & faces. The snowman treats were gobbled up immediately after assembled! No toothpicks eaten, phew.
Next up: Teams were formed, 1 snowman selected in each group. Groups were set equidistant from a central location and given 2 rolls of toilet paper, a hat & scarf. 
The object: Wrap your snowman, topped with hat & scarf & get your snowman to the central base without "melting" (toilet paper falling off). Winner had the least melting (and got to eat the piece of cake with Olaf's face on it-most coveted piece.)

We did a little ice magic too using this tutorial.

The birthday boy is quite creative himself, and was in charge of the cake & favor. He chose an edible image for the cake and it was a HUGE hit-there were a few broken hearts over getting a piece with a face.

We love this clever idea & printable to use as a favor. He chose fire balls & rock candy to represent "The HOT & the COLD".  I won't soon forget picking through the bulk bin for the icy blue colored rock candy, both Carter & I giggling. 
He's a great kid. Tucking him in after the party, he said it was the best day of his life. He melts me. As Olaf says, "Some people are worth melting for."

Source List: 
Olaf balloon: Amazon
Olaf/Sven/Kristoff invite: Etsy
Olaf (favor) printable: My Sister's Suitcase
Olaf table cards: Etsy
Plaid runner & sparkly mesh: Hobby Lobby
Turquoise wood-grained runner: JCPenney Martha Celebrations wrapping paper
Brown rope & jewel snowflakes: JCPenney 
Branches: Hobby Lobby
Flavored Water: Aldi
Galvanized milk jug: WalMart
Party plates, cups, napkins: WalMart
White & Silver balloons: Walmart
Cake: Tops Markets
Reindeer Food recipe: Alton Brown
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