Thursday, December 26, 2013

Grab Anomia

If laughing yourself to tears is your idea of a good time, pick up Anomia {Ah-NO-mee-ah} before your group gathers next. One of those games to begin playing before you get the hang of it and it's simple from there, my 7 y/o was slightly out-paced by the grown ups but the 11 y/o mixed in well.
 
Can I just mention how grateful I felt going to bed last night? How fortunate to watch healthy (& wide- eyed) children meet a room full of presents on a snowy Christmas morning! Sharing food & laughter with family that share our love for Jesus & each other fills my cup. 

I wish you the merriest week! 

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Prepping your Place for Company | 1 Week timeline for hosts

Hosting is my favorite! I love using every dish & spoon & towel & the need for pot after pot of coffee brewing.  I love every seat filled & more being pulled from around the house, mattresses scattered & every blanket needed.
The truth is, I relish the prep as much as the time spent.
One thing I learned years ago from reading Ina Garten's book, if you are relaxed and comfortable, your guests will be too. Make every effort to make your guests feel that you've been to no trouble for them.
If you are anxious & afraid your real life will show through & blow your online persona, your guests will feel guilty & less likely to put their feet up & linger.
Can't relax if everything's not clean & needs aren't met? Prepare.
As a rule, I make EVERY effort not to HAVE to do anything more than the unavoidable on the day of arrival. I clean, wipe, chop, slice, cook, shred, stock everything days before so that I can enjoy our guests.
Here's a bit of a breakdown starting with 1 week before.

10 days to 1 Week before: 
Inventory Day
*As you go through today's task, make a list of all needed items
  
Take stock of house essentials: toilet paper, paper towels, tissue, garbage bags, dish soap, storage wrap/bags
Take stock of toiletries: hand soap, body soap, shampoo, toothpaste, extra (new) toothbrush

Linens:
Allocate & Clean towels for guest bath
Designate & Clean linens,
Allocate pillows & blankets

Prepare Guest Rooms:
Check air mattresses, if necessary.
Check lamp, add nightlight (to room, hallway, or bathroom, as needed-$1 store has these)

Make a meal plan & grocery list. Choose wisely, considering what can be made-ahead.

Day 6:
Cleaning Day
Dust, vacuum, & wipe all surfaces & wash windows & floors
Check lights at night outdoors, add bulbs to shopping list, if needed
pretty products with seasonal smells help!

Day 5: 
Shopping Day
Shop for needed household items.
Grocery shop. 

Day 4: 
Tidy front walkway & stoop
Finish any other cleaning that wasn't done on Day 6
Prepare Guest Room:
Clear space on dresser & night stand
Add hangers to closet & clear space
Make the bed if it is unused-if not, set aside cleaned linens & make day before/of arrival
Day 3: 
Food Prep Day
Chop, slice, cook anything that can be done ahead & store

Day 2: 
Sweep & vacuum again, if needed
Make Beds in guest room
Prep Guest Bath: 
Wipe sink & toilet
Empty all bath trash cans
Set out clean towels & wash cloths
Clear hooks & make space for their bag in a drawer or counter

Day of Arrival: 
RELAX!
Go for a morning jog, get a manicure, take a hot shower & blowout your hair

Make beds, if not already done.

Hours before arrival: 
wipe kitchen counters & sink
straighten a bit. just a bit.  
you live there, they know it. 
repeat after me: a pretentious host isn't a warm host.

Turn on outdoor lights if it's dark (4pm around here),
light a candle (I'm loving this one), smoosh your faces on the windows waiting for their arrival!
You're ready!!
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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

5 Tips for Natural, Glowing Family photos | S.J.Bridgeman Photography

I've got Christmas cards on my brain (have you entered the $50 giveaway?) and family photos are likely to be on yours this time of year. 
Recently, I caught up with Sarah, of sjbridgemanphotography, and today, I'm sharing her secrets to capturing natural expressions and un-posed images of families, that make her a favorite WNY photographer.

1. Getting dressed:
It’s more about what NOT to wear when it comes to getting natural, lifestyle photos. Steer clear of anything you’re unwilling to get dirty or you don’t feel comfortable wearing. I like clients to dress to represent their family-if that means wearing a costume, great!
Don’t be afraid to get dirty and the result will be worth the mess.
If you’re pulling & tugging, it can come through in the photos so be comfortable.
Because I like a more natural look, I love a mix of colors and patterns. Generally, sticking with a tone-cool or warm-is a good idea. Wearing neutrals with a few pops of color works too.

2. Getting natural expressions:
Instead of “smile”, get them talking. I like to ask a few typical questions & throw a goofy question in the mix. For example: What’s your favorite color? Favorite Halloween candy? Do you eat bugs?
Be ready to snap at the end of their answer-on the last word. Snapping their reaction to the question & while they’re thinking of the answer captures great expressions too.

With couples, I will ask the man to whisper something inappropriate in the lady’s ear. I can’t hear what he says, but I’m ready to capture the exchange and her reaction. The same idea would work for kids too: have mom whisper something silly in kids’ ear.
 
3. Getting un-posed positions:
Give them a task to do & shoot.
Tell the kids to run & jump on their dad’s back. Ask a girl to twirl in her dress. Tell them to go pick flowers & give them to their mom.
With a toddler, you can hold out M&Ms and ask them to run toward you to get them. And tickling, there's always tickling at my shoots.

As the photographer: you've got to move! move down to their level, keep up with their movements, move around to get unexpected angles. And don't be afraid to get dirty or get yourself in a precarious position for the shot.

4. What to bring: 
A blanket is all I ever bring to a shoot anymore. We make tents & parachutes, play peek-a-boo, and lay on the blanket. If your kid has a favorite toy that will bring more playfulness to the shoot, bring it along.


*Mom tip: Try keeping the day leading up to photos light & stress-free as can be. Make sure your kids are well-fed beforehand. Resist putting pressure on your kids about the shoot; you’re more likely to get natural, playful kids if they aren’t afraid they won’t meet your expectations. I like to suggest “let’s go play with my friend, Sarah” over “you better smile and behave or else…”

5. Getting the glow:
For outdoor shoots, the best lighting is 1 hour before sunset (2, if it’s cloudy). Too many moms want to schedule around when their children are happiest, but the glow of this “magic hour” reflected on skin tones and the whole scene is worth any extra effort to cheer your child.
If it has to be mid-day, I head right for the shade.

If you have to shoot indoors:
Open all the windows for maximum natural light. Turn off artificial light sources.
Put your subject near a window.
If you want the whole body/group to be well-lit, place them facing straight-on toward the window light and shoot with your back to the light.
To get that “eyes-sparkling, rest of them faded darker” look, place them angled adjacent to the window, looking out and put yourself close to the window, shooting toward them-your back to the light.
I shoot with my camera wide-open (F/1.4-2.0) for portraits. (Keep your hand steady because there’s more risk of out-of-focus photos when your lens is wide-open)

And finally, for Christmas tree photos: shoot in daylight, tree lights on & turn off all other artificial lights (open the windows for the most natural light). Put your subject a couple feet in front of the tree, not right next to it for the best look.

Thank you, Sarah! 
For booking & inquiries visit: sjbridgeman.com
*Sarah is heading to Sierra Leone with the Let them Laugh Out Loud organization whose primary focus is bringing clean water to the people and empowering them through community efforts. You can help send Sarah to Africa by making a tax deductible contribution to her fundraising here.
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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Holiday Card Display

One of my friends is on top of Christmas cards each year. Do you have one of those too?
Anytime after Thanksgiving, her card in my mailbox signifies the start of actually going to my mailbox daily and anticipating which friend's handwriting will be on the envelopes inside. Our chalkboard wall, visible from the front door, at the center of our home is the perfect place to display their smiling faces.
These wires & clips from IKEA are installed, and kids' school work is displayed through the year (seen here). For the Holidays, I wrap them in fresh pine garland (secured with the red twist ties that it came wrapped in) and clip the cards to display. Easy peasy.
To create the chalk art above, I chose a fitting phrase from one of the greatest Christmas tunes and played around until it looked right. Nothing is permanent with chalk, so have fun with it.

In the past, I've used the same IKEA wire, wrapped in garland from Hobby Lobby.
For a nostalgic touch, I framed our family's previous Christmas cards on a brown paper bag background & hung them above the display.
For more details on re-creating this display, click here.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

DIY Shelves for $100 | Dining Room Shelf styling

Open shelves are practical, fun to style, and easy to DIY!
We have one large open wall in our dining room that was crying out for a big statement.
Open shelving was the perfect choice for the space. It cost just $100ish (depending on what you already own), provides ample storage for hardly-used serving platters, and the neutral basics allow me to decorate seasonally.

The shelves are positioned higher on the wall to allow for a buffet below them, with plenty of space to set higher items on top of it. I'm still searching for the right buffet so imagine it under there with me!



You'll need:
Corbels: Home Depot
Pine Boards: cut to at least the depth of corbel (NOT shorter)
*Most Lowes & Home Depot will cut yours for free.
Primer: Kilz, water-based
Paint: Benjamin Moore, White Dove
Sand paper
Stud finder (optional)
Screw driver
Painter's tape (optional)

*Optional Prep step:
I used painter's tape to envision the shelves on the wall. This allowed my me to locate studs & map out my corbels. I used the painters tape to mimic the height of the corbels also & held platters up to the wall to be sure I could style & store what I had in mind. I don't recommend "winging" this project.

1. Sand corbels & pine boards (cut to size)
2. Dust with cheesecloth or other lint-free cloth
3. Prime corbels & pine boards, dry according to can
4. Paint corbels & pine boards
5. Use a stud finder, or just a stud who can find them, and map out placement.
6. Secure the corbels to the studs or with heavy duty anchors like these
7. Place shelves on corbels & style it up!


Sources:
farmhouse table: Ana-white farmhouse table (free plans here), stained Minwax Jacobean, sealed with Minwax Polycrylic
jute rug: RugsUSA.com
Bamboo shade: custom, selectblinds.com
Sheer panels: IKEA
Chandelier: Lowes, discontinued
Owl cookie jar: Home Goods
Turkey platter: Target
EAT: DIY anthro letters, tutorial here
Other dinnerware: assorted Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Macy's
Chairs: craigslist collected, spray-painted Rustoleum Heirloom White (placeholders for slipcovered chairs!) Pin It

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Setting Up House Checklist: Kitchen, Cleaning, Linens

My little brother just bought his first home! And like many in his generation, he's setting up home without a wedding registry. Lucky for his big, opinionated sister there isn't a girl filling the cart with him. After 2 cross-country moves, I am experienced in setting up a house from scratch. And after 10+ years of housekeeping, I have quite a collection of tried & true, everyday basics. I compiled a list of basics for him and included a FREE PRINTABLE CHECKLIST for download (below).

My favorite brands & specific items are pictured but,  I did NOT include specific brands in the download, so you'll want to jot those in the margins, if you want to try my tried & trues. Nicholas, you have to use the brands I use, at least at first.

I worked at Williams-Sonoma, so most of my kitchen basics come from there & I'd buy them all over again (minus the discount..eek!). TJMaxx, Marshalls, Homegoods would be my second choice for finding close replacements at a reasonable price.

Kitchen Starter Kit



clockwise from top left: 
All Clad 8qt Stockpot, All Clad 4qt saucepan Williams-Sonoma *FREE gift with purchase includes another favorite of mine: the Lasagna pan!; Calphalon Unison 12in & 10in pan set: Williams-Sonoma, Everyday large baker: Crate & Barrel, White Traditional Dinnerware: Pottery Barn

Pyrex glass storage w/lids: Target
Wusthof Santoku knife; Spoonula & Spatula, OXO tongs, kitchen shears & paring knife set, half sheet pan, antibacterial cutting board, measuring cups & spoons, kitchen towels: Williams-Sonoma

This is the Cleaning Starter Kit I recommend, pictured are specific brands I prefer.
All items can be found at Target, excluding pop up sponges: Williams-Sonoma or Trader Joes.

Not pictured but necessary: Folex carpet cleaner (Bed, Bath, & Beyond), Lysol wipes, hand soap, a broom & dust pan, garbage bags & cans. I interchange Mrs. Meyers Clean Day with Method cleaners and sometimes fall for Gain detergent. *Bar Keepers Friend: for caked on dish grime, ceramic scratches, shining stainless steel.

Linen Basics
shower curtain & bath mat: West Elm
bath & hand towels: Thomas O'Brien, Target, Bed sheets: Threshold, Target 


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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

10 Garage Sale Tips: Get their cash & clear your treasures. Selling baby clothes and gear


Want to sell your baby & kid clothes & gear in a garage sale?
Here's how I got buyers to pull out their cash & clear out my treasures.
I made $800 and just a couple of afternoons preparing. 

1. SELL IT FOR A BUCK! 
These folks are out at the crack of dawn for a bargain. Give it to them. Get them thinking "I won't get a deal like this elsewhere" and they won't walk through, scan the merchandise, and walk away.

I started out with bins full of excellent used condition (stain-free, showing little to no wear), brand name baby & kid clothing & shoes. I wanted to end up with empty bins. Do you?  

Price that outfit that people pay $15, $30+ for at $1 and it will be scooped up right away. Of course it was worth much more. But now, with no other kids on the way in our family, it's all just folded $1s in bins in storage.
Some folks start out higher priced & slash mid-sale, but the die-hard shoppers are out in the beginning, so make your sale the one they get their cash out for! 

My clothing pricing approach:
All folded items: $1, Hanging Items $2, unless marked. 
Nearly everything was folded & $1.
$2 hanging items:
2pc outfits, nicer sweaters & anything w/tags-on, jeans $2 (all hanging)

Coats & puffy vests (RL, Gymboree, Gap) $4 (hanging)
Shoes $2 (Stride Rite, Sperry, Sketchers, & designer adult shoes too)
(Adult clothing was $2 too, all hanging. People were shocked & handed over their cash!)

*I took photos of this set up the afternoon before the sale & posted them on Craigslist. I had several customers arrive in search of specific things they saw in the photos. Worth the time & effort.

Nearly everything from toys to crystal bowls was $1! And very little was left at the end. 

2. MAKE IT SIMPLE & PRETTY.
I spent my prep time setting it up like a shop with sections. Clothes were organized by size & gender (okay & season too, b/c I enjoy organizing!)

I priced bins & tables rather than items.
Ex: Bins of shoes $2, Toys $1, Purses $5, Books .25 or 5 for $1, DVDs .50

Clothes simply: $1 Folded $2 Hanging, unless marked. I wrote it on an easel that was set up in front of the clothing section & I greeted customers with the line: "Hi! All folded clothes $1, Hanging $2 unless marked."

3. CRAIGSLIST for "BIG TICKET" GEAR ITEMS:
Main gear items were listed individually on Craigslist mid-week before the sale. These items were priced as I'd sell them on Craigslist, rather than the discounted Garage Sale price. ($40 Jumperoo, $30 Baby Bjorn & cover w/box, $15 Bumbo seat, $30 pack & play, $10 pack of Aden & Anais blankets, $10 Bundle Me, etc.)  I didn't accept less on these items. I was counting on making up for the low prices on everything else by selling these items for what they were worth.

I offered to arrange purchase the Friday evening before the sale, if they contacted me (since I'd be out setting up anyway).

4. MAKE THE MOST OF CRAIGSLIST AD:
You are going to list your Sale on Craigslist.
Listing individual items in their corresponding category appeals to your target customer.
Make the most of your effort by including all of your like-kind "bigger ticket" items & your sale info in each individual ad.
Each ad allows 8 photos, so I chose 8 like-kind items & included ALL of those in EACH individual post, along with a concise list & description of the sale.
EX: Jumperoo had it's own post. In it the Jumperoo was described first, with photo uploaded first (1st photo appears in "pic view" on Craigslist).
Cut & paste the list of the other like-kind items, their prices, and a brief ad for the rest of the Garage Sale, including location & time to the end of the ad.
Same approach goes for non-baby/kid items.

5. MORE IS MORE
Neighborhood and multi-family sales are high-traffic attractions. Get in on yours or consider organizing it yourself, asking other families to join on your street or even at your house. You can split a newspaper ad. Our neighborhood had a balloon tied to each participant's mailbox.
In addition to our neighborhood association's plentiful signage, I added a couple pointing toward our house, since our street tucked away and I didn't want folks skipping us in favor of the main streets.

6. GET CHANGE: lots of it. and keep it close, never unattended. I kept mine in a borrowed bank bag that I tucked in the pocket of an apron I wore all day.

7. GET IT OUTSIDE. Set your big, attractive items outside near the end of your driveway to appeal to passersby. If it's good weather, get it all outside. This is what I did. 

8 START EARLY. Be ready for early birds by setting it all up the night before ready to be pulled out of the garage. Set the timer on the coffee pot & wear something to bed that you can wear for the sale. I'm serious, you'll want the extra time to brush your teeth. Crowds form at the crack of dawn.

9. BORROW:  
  • hanging racks (key if you have loads of clothes), tables, etc.
  • display items from your house. Hunt around for shelving, benches, toy storage items you can clear off & pull outside.
  • a cash box or bag (I got mine from the bank when I stopped in for change, had to return it.)
 
10. CLEAN your stuff. Dust it off, give it a once over with a wipe or glass cleaner. Consider the price-tag. Selling it for over $10? Make sure it's clean.




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Friday, May 3, 2013

Disney World Dining Tips & Tricks

*Updated April 2017
Let me start by saying, I am a fan of the Dining Plan. It makes the trip feel all-inclusive, & saved us money since we used our credits to book character dining & other expensive dining options. There is plenty of food, even for those with hearty appetites. If you are NOT staying on-site & therefore, can't buy the Dining Plans, skip down to Character Meals & Recommendations mid-post.

DISNEY WORLD DINING PLAN TIPS
I recommend the Disney Dining Plan. 
1 Quick Service (QS), 1 Table Service (TS), & 1 snack, per person, per night of stay. 1 mug, refillable at the resort. There is PLENTY of food for the day. We pack meal bars & small items we can eat for breakfast on-the-go. (More on what I bring from home below)

BASIC DINING PLAN DETAILS:
Quick Service (QS) you are not served at a table, counter-service
Table Service (TS) you are served at a table. Tip is NOT included in Dining Plan. 
Snack: This varies from a water bottle to a decadent sundae or Starbucks drink and at many resorts, can be used to purchase a side of fries or yogurt. A purple decal is listed on the menu next to items that qualify as a "snack". A QS meal can be converted to 3 snack credits. Generally, if the snack is $5 it is a good value for your credit. 
Each meal includes: an entrée, non-alcoholic drink, (& dessert w/lunch & dinner)
·      Credits are applied to your account, accessible by your Magic Band (or card.) 
·      Use credits HOWever/WHENever you choose from check-in until midnight on the day of checkout. Meaning, if you are staying for 6 nights, you’ll have 6 QS & 6 TS & 6 Snack credits (per person in your room, over age 3) Eat all 6 snacks one day, if you wish, or spread them out;it’s up to you. Cast members are very helpful & knowledgeable regarding the DP.
*Remaining credits will be printed on the bottom of your dining receipts, so you can keep track.  
 YES! You can use TS credits for Character Meals! In fact, you'll get the most value out of it, if you choose them and other more expensive TS options.
A few locations will require 2 dining credits per guest, this is indicated online when you click "dining plans accepted" for more info. 
Items on the Dining Plan are noted with a purple square decal on the menu.
The Dining Plan does not include gratuity or alcohol with the exception of some locations that require 2 TS credits (Cinderella's Royal Table, Hoop de doo Musical Revue, etc.) 

Dining TIPS:
·      Table Service credits are designated as Adult or Child according to your party. Quick Service are not. If your child, (3-9) has a hearty appetite or you wish you have extra to share, consider ordering them an Adult Quick Service meal.
·      Guests under 3 are complimentary when Table Service (TS) dining. The cast members are very gracious regarding them. 
·     Dessert comes with every lunch & dinner. We're often too full for dessert. Dessert choices can be fruit or something easily transported, (possibly even saved for on-the-go breakfasts) so keep that in mind when ordering. Ask for carry-out containers for the irresistible cupcakes & pastries!
·      If you’d like to get your dessert a bit later, ask. The cast members do whatever they are able to satisfy you. We were accommodated on several occasions, especially at the resort.
We often split quick service meals between our family of 5 because of how much food is included. For example: at Wolfgang Puck Express where a pizza is 1 QS credit and we don't need 5 pizzas! 

If you have young kids: 
·      Consider grabbing a banana or an apple from buffet meals to bring out in the park for later.
·       Bring along a couple sandwich-size Ziploc bags to store the barely eaten snacks. These are perfect for waiting in lines or for parades.
·      Ask for to-go beverage from your server 

CHARACTER MEALS:   
(you can use Dining plan credits!) 

Characters come to your table, pose for family photos & sign autograph books in an orderly fashion. Meeting characters while eating is a win! Opens more time in the park for attractions and is a valuable use of dining credits, as they are expensive meals.
Cast members & characters do parades & activities with your kids too. 
They only guarantee certain character appearances. Check the WDW dining page or call 407.WDW.DINE.
*PHOTO TIP: Sit with your back to a window so that your subjects are facing the light when you're taking photos. 
TIMING TIP: Character breakfasts booked first thing in the morning are a great way to get into the park early. Try 8am reservations. There is a special entrance for this purpose when the park isn't open yet. If you cancel within 24 hours or do not show up, you are penalized $10/guest= extra incentive to make it there.

*I don't recommend spending precious early hours on a meal at Magic Kingdom, however. Those early hours are far more valuable spent in the park on rides with no wait.

Book your reservations online or by calling 407.WDW.DINE, like NOW! (Up to 180 days in advance)

 Our TOP picks
Character meals
Cinderella's Royal Table: (Magic Kingdom) Inside the castle. Requires 2 TS dining credits. This experience is fantastic. Meet Cinderella & other princesses. The food, while pretty tasty, was secondary to the ambiance.

Akershus: (Epcot) Storybook Princess breakfast. We met Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, & Sleeping Beauty. Egg, bacon, sausage, potato platter served to your table (all you care to eat) & fruit/pastry buffet. 1 TS dining credit. Fills quickly since Frozen Ever After is next door. 

Chef Mickey's: (Contemporary Resort) strictly for the enthusiastic character meeting of the Fab 5 & not necessarily for the food-which is certainly decent American standard food, but nothing exceptional. 

OHana. (Polynesian Resort) Mickey & friends breakfast (We met Mickey, Pluto, Lilo, & Stitch) You’ll get a Hawaiian lei greeting at check-in!
We adore the family-friendly atmosphere & service at OHana. It’s a quick Monorail ride from Magic Kingdom.

Tusker House breakfast (
Animal Kingdom).  Mickey, Donald, Daisy, Pluto, Goofy in safari gear. American & African fare.

Hollywood & Vine (Hollywood Studios) breakfast. Disney Jr. *Sophia the First and Doc McStuffins are now here with Jake & Handy Manny
We also LOVED the Minnie's Holiday Dine dinner here at Christmas time, meeting Goofy (dressed as Santa!), Mickey, Donald & Daisy.

If you have Pooh fans, try Crystal Palace (MK). Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, Rabbit. We had dinner. Tasty buffet food; nothing special for us but, no big Hundred Acre Woods fans in our party. 

VERY High-risk of sell out at these 3:
1. Be Our Guest. Dinner with the beast in his castle. Book this at 6am EST on the 180th day prior to your trip online or you'll likely be unable to get a reservation. *We eat here for lunch-no Beast but all the ambiance. 
2.    Chef Mickey’s (Contemporary Resort), accessible by monorail from (MK) Fab 5 (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Goofy). American fare. 1 TS credit.
3. Cinderella's Royal Table (MK in the castle!) 2 credits every meal, not an economical way to use dining credits but for the unique experience it was worth it to us. We had delicious food and excellent service.
 
*Character Meals count as Table Service (TS) credits at any time of day, in and out of the parks.

Favorite Quick Service meals
Be Our Guest Restaurant, Magic Kingdom

Be Our Guest: (MK) eat inside the Beast’s castle!
The line gets long quickly for QS, so my best tip is book a LUNCH RESERVATION as soon as you are able (180 days before, if you're staying on property) or arrive immediately at opening (10:30am-11am).
 The French-inspired menu may be more palatable at lunch than dinner, especially for the younger set. In the dark West Wing, it frequently thunders & the enchanted rose dwindles. Outside the ballroom windows, it snows! It’s pure magic in this place.
Wolfgang Puck Express (Disney Springs)
If we had to choose, this is the best food at Disney World. Quality ingredients & absolutely delicious food! The pizza is among the best I've ever eaten in my life. From rotisserie chicken to Cobb salad, you're likely to exclaim, "this is the best meal I've eaten at Disney" Literally everything we've eaten here was delicious. Even the packaged cookies & brownies were yummy. It's worth the trip for any meal, if you prefer to eat tasty, good-quality food. 

Pecos Bill: (MK, Liberty Square)*NEW* Mexican fare. All-you-care-to-eat guacamole, salsas to top your burrito or salad. 

Captain Cooks (Polynesian Resort) My crew gobbled the juicy Angus burgers, & my grilled Chicken sandwich was tasty. An easy monorail ride from MK, if you want a break from the park. 

Pork Shank (an alternative to the turkey leg) Gaston's Tavern
Columbia Harbor House (MK) Lobster roll
Turkey legs. (Frontierland @MK, Epcot, Futureworld-cart& Hollywood Studios) 
Flame Tree BBQ (AK)
Yak & Yeti (AK) does Asian-type QS 
Create-your-own salad or pasta at resort is always a hit for days off at the resort pool & is a large enough portion to share. 

Favorite Table Service Meal: 
OUTSIDE the parks: (no park admission required)
Hoop de Doo Musical Review (Ft. Wilderness Resort) Requires 2 TS Dining credits. It's a rambunctious dinner show with all you can eat comfort foods like BBQ ribs, fried chicken, potatoes and the most delicious strawberry shortcake. 

OHana (Polynesian Resort) Family-style service of tasty foods with polynesian flare-noodles, dumplings, chicken wings and skewers of beef, chicken, and shrimp fresh off the grill. All-you-care-to-eat. Save room for dessert! The servers were enthusiastic and attentive. It is hard to get a reservation here, reserve as near to 180 days as possible!

Raglan Road (Disney Springs) Irish singing & dancing. Irish pub atmosphere. Our kids were invited onstage. The food is tasty too. Relatively easy to score a reservation. We opted to wait for a table closer to the stage, which ended up being just a few minutes but, well worth it.

Beaches and Cream Soda Shop:(Beach Club Resort) American fare, famous for the Kitchen Sink dessert. But the Peanut Butter & the Banana Bread sundaes are among the most delicious desserts we've ever had.

Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge) Go for the exotic flavors of Africa on buffet and the ambiance.

TRex: (Disney Springs) This is a chain restaurant with over-the-top immersion in the Dinosaur experience. It's loud & family friendly. The food is typical chain-restaurant fare. 

Others recommend:
Kona Cafe (Polynesian) arguably the best steak in WDW. Sticky wings appetizer. Tongo Toast at breakfast.

Whispering Canyon Cafe: we didn't love it. People get a kick out of the rude-on-purpose customer service & bottomless milkshakes to wash down loads of American BBQ-type foods. It wasn't bad, but not a favorite.

Cape May Cafe: seafood buffet. If eating-your-weight in crab legs, breaking for shrimp is your idea of a yummy meal, book this dinner at The Beach Club resort.

IN THE PARKS:
Epcot: 

Via Napoli: (Italy) Outstanding pizza. Quite possibly the best I've ever eaten. Save room for pistachio gelato or tiramisu.  The service varies, ours was friendly. 
Biergarten: (Germany) it doesn't look like much from the entrance, but inside you'll be entertained with music & dancing while you eat from the buffet. Sausages, potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and salads, etc. 
Teppan Edo: (Japan) Hibachi style. Very minimal/sleek atmosphere-quite a departure from overly-thematic Disney.  
Rose & Crown Pub: (England) fish & chips, English fare. Outdoor viewing of Illuminations. 

Something more formal & less kid-friendly. Requires 2 Dining Credits per person.
  • Le Cellier(Epcot) What a steak! The pina colada was yummy too. Reserve dinner in enough time to make it out for the Illumination show, viewable from just outside the restaurant. Our date-night choice
  • California Grill (Contemporary resort) With a panoramic view of MK, as well as an observation deck, if you time this right, you can watch the Wishes fireworks here-they even pipe in the music! Can't imagine a more romantic dining option.
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht Club Resort) Steak!
  • Narcooses (Grand Floridian) views of Magic Kingdom fireworks 

Snack Credits: (Identified by a purple square decal on the menu) 
If it's $5, it's a valuable use of the snack credit. 
In Parks: 
Starbucks drinks
Scoops. (HS) Homemade chocolate cookies & vanilla ice cream. Hot fudge sundaes.
Dole Whip. My favorite. MK (Adventureland) by Magic Carpet ride. Also at a walk-up window at the Polynesian
Main St. Ice Cream Parlour, Storybook Treats, & Sleepy Hollow (MK) "homemade" chocolate chip cookie & ice cream sundaes, floats (they had a Nutella & fruit topped waffle that looked decadent. Not on the snack plan.)
Las Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie (Epcot, France) SO many decadent baked goods! 
Vivoli il Gelato (Italy, Epcot)
Lotus Blossom Cafe (China, Epcot) Egg rolls
Writer's Stop (Hollywood Studios)
Peanut butter cookies & Large Mickey Mouse-shaped chocolate chip cookies
Gaston's Tavern (MK) cinnamon rolls
Out of parks:
Goofy's Candy Company Disney Springs Marketplace. the BEST place to use snack credits. Besides candy, you'll find a variety of candied apples, the best peanut butter cookies, fun shaped & decadently topped rice crispy treats, pecan/chocolate, fudge, the list goes on & on. When you have snack credits to use up, make time for a stop here instead of using them up at the resort.  
Beignets (New Orleans French Quarter Resort) 3 for 1 Snack credit. They make them to order & they're devourable. 
Resort QS spots: gelato, smoothies, scones & other baked goods, dirt & worms cups for the kids.
Cupcakes! Almost too cute to eat! Resort QS restaurants, bakeries in parks.
Epcot World Showcase features delicious varieties of each countries' specialty treats:
Napolean Cake (Epcot, France) Boulangerie Patisserie Les Halles
Schoolbread (Epcot, Norway)

And there's always Mickey ice cream bars & sandwiches 

Let's talk about a few other dining-related things.
1. Water is FREE in every park. Sometimes they'll only give you ice, you fill it with water. You could use the cup or bring your own bottle.Orlando water has a reputation for being yucky. You may want to bring a flavored pouch or drops. I hit up Starbucks locations in the parks for (free) filtered water.
Disney Resorts provide a FREE mug, refillable at resort only-(soda, coffee, hot chocolate). Resort mugs are not spill-proof enough to bring into the parks with you. 

2. Should I bring snacks from home?
I recommend bringing a few snacks from home, especially if you have kids. (For a complete packing, including what to buy beforehand guide read this post.)
LaraBars or Kind bars (any meal replacement bar) work well.
If you have young kids, Goldfish or other crackers, fruit squeezable pouches, and lollipops work well while waiting in line or for a show to begin.
Pack them in your bag on park days.
If you'd rather not bother, be sure to grab a banana or apple from the buffet meals to have with you.
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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Disney World with a Baby or Toddler tips & tricks

UPDATED 2017
Wanna have a magical time at Disney World with baby in tow?  
This is a guide to make meeting their needs convenient and your time magical!

Like many families, we have children that are “old enough” by conventional standards and others who are not. Do we wait?

For us, the deciding factor was the Rider (baby) Switch Pass! Wait 'til you hear about this! (*Still in effect with new FastPass+ system
The Rider Switch pass (pictured above, left) allows each parent to ride with tall-enough siblings WITHOUT waiting in line twice.
It's FREE. It works with the FastPass and without. It is available on rides with height restrictions. The cast members are happy to hand it to you. Simply approach with your entire party in tow & ask for the pass.

Many Baby/Toddler positives:
1. They’re FREE! Kids under 2 can fly FREE. Kids under 3 get FREE admission into the parks. 1 & under do not add to your party size for room reservations. It’s not like they aren’t getting your money’s worth!
2. On the Dining Plan, kids under 3 are FREE to eat at table service meals (incl. character meals) The cast members are great about it; no sneaking from your plate necessary!
3. No car seat needed if you stay at a WDW resort, with FREE transport to/from airport on Magical Express & within the WDW.
4. Early park arrival is among the most widely-advised MUST DOs. Babies often wake early anyway, so you’re used to starting your day at dawn!
5. Baby Care Centers (BCC) are in every park. A/C rooms with private areas, changing tables, sink/heating elements for food, and supplies for sale. They’re marked on park maps. Perfect place to nurse/feed your baby and meet their diapering needs.
6. Baby's 1st haircut: The Harmony Barbershop (Magic Kingdom) makes this occasion special as only Disney can, with My 1st haircut mouse ears, bubbles, & pixie dust. ($18)

    6 Tips for conveniently & efficiently meeting baby's needs:
    1. Backpack & Cross body bag  
    When you park your stroller (which is often) you want everything valuable in a bag you can easily bring with you to attractions. 
    Bring a unisex backpack & a small cross-body bag & nix the diaper bag.
    Backpack holds your camera, along with diapers/wipes, change of clothes, snacks, water bottles, etc.
    Small cross-body bag (with zipper close for extra protection) holds your phone & small essentials. 
    This Camelback backpack (hydration pack removed) worked perfectly & has ventilation along your back, along with water bottle pockets on the sides.
    2. Shipping.
    Use Prime Now to have items sent directly to bell services at your WDW resort. There is no fee for these packages delivered to bell services.
    WDW resorts will accept packages on your behalf. *They now charge $5 per package when shipped. Ship your baby’s needs: diapers, formula, shelf-safe Organic milk, fruit pouches, etc. to your resort ahead of time.  Just add your name & reservation # & date of arrival to the shipping address for the resort. Call your resort to confirm address & details. There are also local delivery services for groceries like Garden Grocer. 

    3. Stroller. (& infant carrier)
    If you plan to rent from Disney, it is only available for your use INSIDE the park. You must return your stroller before you leave the park, leaving you without a stroller getting to/from/around the resort. 
    Several outside rental companies are available, with reasonable prices and will deliver to your resort (ex: Kingdom Strollers) some also do grocery delivery.
    We (are SO glad we) brought a BOB double stroller. My 4 & 7 year old often needed a ride  (getting places quickly in crowds, all 3 asleep after nighttime shows, etc.). We checked it at the gate in the airport, using bungee cords to secure it.
    A Baby Bjorn or other infant carrier for carrying an infant around the park is very useful.

    4. FastPasses are the key to getting the most magic into your day (complete info on FastPass+ here). FastPasses become more valuable when you have a baby in tow. Rides that don’t have a height requirement, don’t generally give rider switch passes (Toy Story Mania (HS), Peter Pan’s Flight, Little Mermaid Ride, Dumbo, It’s a Small World (MK) for example) so you can bring them along with you; with a FastPass you can skip the line.
    You'll be pleased to find play areas & entertainment while waiting for many popular rides.
    FastPass+ has expanded to include character meetings & parades.
    *More on Character meetings and also Character meals here)

    5. Feeding 
    See Baby Care Centers above.
    Ship shelf-safe organic milk or formula using Prime Now which delivers to bell services at your resort or use local delivery services like Garden Grocer. Most WDW rooms have mini-fridges and if not in room, microwaves are in the food courts of your resort. Consider single-serve powder &/or pre-mixed formula. ½ Gal milk is available for purchase at resorts. There are grocery delivery services in the area, if you need enough to justify the fee. *Get a refill before leaving TS meals to fill an insulated sippy cup to-go. We grabbed a banana or apple from breakfast buffets for snacking in the park.

    6. Sleeping
    Pack-n-play or cribs are likely available in your WDW resort room upon request. Check w/your resort as to which is available.
    Does your baby sleep well in a stroller or in an infant carrier? Or will you need to leave the park for naps in the room? Do you need a suite? Art of Animation is a resort comprised mostly of family suites. The 5 of us share one standard room and in our experience, everyone is exhausted so sleep is a non-issue.

    What to pack:


    1. Sun protectioncooling matextra sunshademisting spray fansunscreen, sun hat
    2. Snacks. You'll have plenty to share with your little one if you buy the dining plan for yourself. But, be prepared with a stash. We like goldfish crackers, cereal bars, applesauce (fruit) crushers, etc. *Consider shipping these & other dietary needs (see #2 Shipping above)
    3. Bottle brush & travel size dish soap (also useful for Resort Refillable Mugs)
    4. Noisemaker for sleeping. We like this App also (just be sure to plug in your phone during use).
    5.Muslin blankets. Lightweight, easily packable in a backpack for sun protection & added warmth in a cool weather.
    6. Stroller rain cover. *A shower curtain liner & clips ($1 store) works. *I thought this advice a bit much, but during a downpour, it was a day-saver! "How smart!"came from every direction as we passed by guests huddled, stuck in one place while we headed to attractions with no wait!
    7. Insulated sippy cup. Bottle/baby food insulator. bottles & utensils
    8. Stroller and/or infant carrier
    9. Milk, formula, baby food & utensils
    10. Swim diapers, along with diapers & wipes
    11. Entertainment: bubbles, lolipops, glow sticks (check $1 bins at Target & $1 store) Cast members give stickers freely. 

    Enjoy the simple moments!
    baby enamored with big sister's autograph book
    Strip the baby down to a swim diaper & let her splash over at Casey's by The Barnstormer while the big kids ride. Watch his fascination with the mist in the Coke cool spot by Test Track.
    Sitting with my little one on a bench with bubbles and playing on one of the shaded playgrounds (Splash Mountain has a nice one) was part of the experience.
    We do not regret bringing our 1 year old and were pleasantly surprised by how much she took in as opposed to just being along for the ride. She marveled at attractions & buried herself in characters’ arms.
    Our older kids getting to go at their current ages was worth any extra hassle of having baby in tow.

    2 Reasons NOT to bring your infant/toddler:
    1. The sun. Those little bodies work hard to regulate temperatures. Ask your pediatrician if it's safe.
    2. You'll resent being isolated from the group meeting baby's needs. 


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