Tips for an awesome Vacation at Walt Disney World!

So we just went on holiday – to DISNEY WORLD, FLORIDA! My mind = blown. It was awesome!! So, I figured I’d compile a list of some things we found handy & some other things you simply MUST DO when you’re there! (Nb. Some of these apply to folks who have young children (because I have young children!) Some are just child-free, friendly advice!)

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1: Don’t have any pre-conceived ideas.

Let’s just get this out of the way now; young children? Disney World? It will be harder than you think. How hard do you think it will be?

Ha!

Triple it.

Now I’m not saying it won’t be the best holiday of your whole entire lives, that it won’t surpass all your expectations & be absolutely magical – because IT WILL. But I’m just saying; prepare yourselves.

You know how cranky your child gets when they’re overtired at home?? OK, well add to that the heat. And the fact that they’ve been walking for hours. And probably queuing for rides. And are confused by the time difference. And don’t understand how, when it rains, it RAINS.

Like I said – triple it.

2. Nap time.

Seriously. Those kids are going to NEED naps. Even if they haven’t napped in 2 years, they’re going to want to nap on holiday. And you’re going to want them to. Everyone will want them to. And it will be so worth it. Break up your day – spend the morning in Animal Kingdom, go MAKE them have an afternoon nap, go back out to Magic Kingdom in the evening & watch the Fireworks – believe me, it will make for a much more enjoyable & fulfilling holiday for all involved.

2. Meet Mickey Mouse

I’m talking about a specific Mickey here.

Yes, they’re all great – heck, they’re a life-sized Mickey Mouse!

But the one I’m talking about is at Magic Kingdom doing Meet & Greets in the Main Street Theatre.

Do it; just do it!

It will surpass all of your expectations when you see your little ones faces light up in sheer joy & adoration as their childhood ‘idol’ starts talking & interacting with them. Because he can TALK! His mouth moves & he blinks & everything!

It. Is. Awesome.

HE HAS AN ANIMATRONIC HEAD!

*cough* Sorry, what I mean to say (as my husband was told by a lovely Disney Worker when he enquired about whether there was a talking Minnie) is that “Mickey is the only one who has learned to talk”.

It is truly fantastic.

One of, if not THE, absolute highlight of our trip. Magical.

Look at Babu’s face =’) ❤

mickey

3. Follow your parental instincts.

Some of the rides your child is tall enough to go on, you will NOT want them to go on. You know your child best. Noah, for instance, has night terrors, is scared of the dark, monsters, ghosts & anything remotely creepy – but he is tall enough to go on the Hollywood Tower of Terror in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Uh huh. No way. How easy do you think it would be to get him on a ride after that? The word TERROR is in the TITLE! Now, that’s not to say you can’t go on. Have at it. Child swap (we’ll cover this later.) But think carefully about what your child can cope with – you know them best. My parents went on & witnessed an awful experience where a little girl cried in fear for the entire ride. Awful.

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4. Take advantage of the child swap system.

This is brilliant!

If you have children too small to go on a ride but you yourself want to go on it, tell the ride worker that you wish to do a “child swap” & they will give a ticket to the person (or people) waiting with the children which they can then use when you exit the ride. Though be warned, you will have to entertain them while you wait……….

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The ticket is valid for a few extra days too, so you don’t have to use it there & then, & it is normally valid for up to 3 people. It also enables the child waitees to go through the Fast Pass queue instead of the standard line. This brings me on to the Fast Pass+ system.

5. Fast Pass+

60 days before your trip begins, you can go on line at https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/my-disney-experience/fastpass-plus/ and start booking your Fast Passes. Each person is entitled to 3. (Once you are there and have used your 3, you can then head on over to a kiosk situated in all the Disney Parks & book a fourth (for that day) & so on.) What we did (sneaky sneaky) is get a “Child Swap” Pass for the children-waiting folks hanging with the baby, head on through the Fast Pass queue with our Fast Passes & the kiddos big enough to go on, & then when we emerged the waitees would use there Fast Passes & the “Child Swap” pass to go back on, taking the children on with them again. Hey presto! The boys got to ride twice! Genius!

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6. Prepare for rain.

Since visiting Florida I have discovered something – English rain is not real rain. Real rain is Florida rain. It will appear out of nowhere, drench you in seconds, & then clear up faster than you can blink (or hang around for a while – weather can be unpredictable like that.) Rain Macs/Ponchos are a must (though beware, those things can RIP!), as are umbrellas (though don’t put them up when it’s thunder & lightening – yikes!) & pushchair (stroller) rain covers. We were caught out a few times. The pushchair was caught out once. It wasn’t pretty.

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7. Meet characters.

This relates back to Mickey, but really, take time to meet the characters.Yes, queuing is boring. Yes, it’s solely for your children. But believe me, out of everything, they remember those character meets the best of all. Get them an autograph book & have Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Jake, Sophia – all of them – have them sign them! They’ll treasure them forever; & you’ll treasure the memories. Seriously, these meets were the things I enjoyed the most. The boys loved them & so did I; beautiful.

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jake

goofy

minnie

8. Take in your own water.

I can’t really elaborate more on this except to say, tap water in Florida is…well…gross. It’s never properly cold & (I think) has a weird taste and/or smell. You need to head to the supermarket (Walmart, Publix), buy a case of lots of individual bottles of water & stick them in your fridge. Then on the morning you’re due to head off, pack them into a little backpack & off you go! I’d probably suggest two bottles each (you’ll drink some things in the parks anyway & you don’t want to be lugging too much about! But, there was one day where we were so hot & desperate for a drink having devoured our bottled water that we had to use some water fountains. YACK! Don’t get caught out!)

9. Budget your spending money by day.

This is probably a given, but it will really help you out (especially if you’re vacationing on a budget!) We even gave the boys an allowance each morning before we headed out! It’ll save time, arguments & take any monetary pressure away from your trip! We’d also budget any food money for each day (whether we were eating out or eating in the Villa.) e.g. $20 adult spending, $10 child spending, $100 food for the family. Anything not spent on one day, would carry over to the next. Easy squeezy!

10. Stay close to the parks.

We didn’t do this. I mean, we weren’t far out but the advertised “15 minute drive” from the Villa every day ended up being over 40 minutes due to traffic problems etc. (I’ve never seen so many accidents!) So, stay close. International Drive has some great places & my parents have stayed there before, as well as my sister, & they loved it. If you can afford it, actually stay ON one of the parks! That’s one of our (very very far into the future) future dreams =D Don’t get me wrong, the Villa had its upsides – it had its own pool, it was quiet & relaxing, we had Wifi, & Cable, a fridge/freezer (American sized – yeah baby!), a dishwasher, a washer, a dryer, a Games room, individual bedrooms – it was truly lovely! & it might be just the thing for your family!  But the time we would have saved had we stayed closer doesn’t bare thinking about…

holiday-budget

11. Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure & Seaworld

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If you can, just go. I guarantee it’s worth it! Especially if you love Harry Potter like some people I know…

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Pooily (Yes, I’m treating that as a real word) the newer section in Universal wasn’t open when we went, but it will be for you *scowls* We at least got to see a few sneaky glimpses…

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the dragon

 

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So close, yet so far… anyway, *cough* May be getting slightly off track here…

There’s so much I can say about Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure that it would take a whole new Blog Post to cover it, from Curious George Town,

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to Springfield,

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to the new Transformers 3D ride,

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to Seuss Landing (my boys came away OBSESSED with Dr Seuss).

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It really is just awesome – all of it! I particularly recommend the children’s sections – I didn’t even Mention Fievel’s Playland where everything is oversized to make you feel like a mouse! It is all wonderful! (Incidentally, bare in mind that their Child swap system is better than Disney’s (you can take the children through to the ride with you & there’s a “Child Swap Room”)..but their Fast Pass system is not. Really)

SeaWorld is fun – the kids section is great! And Manta is awesome (if slightly terrifying for folks afraid of heights…)

(I’m not going to get into a whole animal cruelty/abuse debate as that isn’t what this Blog Post is about, however I will say that it is clear in relation to the Killer Whales that things need to change.)

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I definitely recommend The Clyde & Seamore Show – both day & night – (HILARIOUS), The Dolphin “Blue Horizons” Show, sitting at the front right (or left) of the “A’lure, Call of the Ocean” Show (you’ll thank me later), viewing the Beluga Whales & feeding the dolphins! Hint – in the shows featuring animals, you might not want to sit at the front…when it says “Splash Zone” it means “SOAK ZONE!” We super enjoyed it – especially at night!

Which reminds me – as great as the parks are throughout the day, at night that is when they look truly MAGICAL – believe me – there’s just something different about them – the entire feel & atmosphere – I just loved them all at night!

I think I enjoyed Universal/Islands of Adventure a bit more than I did Disney (don’t tell the kids that…) with Harry Potter being the pinnacle for me (obviously!) but it is all fantastic!  Babu in particular is still Disney World obsessed with Magic Kingdom being the highlight – Mickey Mouse, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the section dedicated to Beauty & the Beast, Cinderella’s Castle (which he’s still convinced Mickey lives in), Goofy’s Barnstormer, Dumbo, Peter Pan’s Flight, the shows, Tomorrowland, the Journey of the Little Mermaid &, of course, the characters!

There’s still so much I haven’t mentioned but my main piece of advice I have saved until last & it is this;

12. Enjoy it!

Truly. There are so many things to see & do that you can feel rushed & hustled & bustled by the crowds & meeting your Fast Pass Plus deadlines, but really, the only thing to do is to have a good time! Don’t complain about the queues, don’t hurry by to the next place you need to be without looking around you – imagine what you could miss! – don’t get stressed out by the kids whining – just think where you are! Just imagine the hundred – thousands – of people dying to be in your shoes! & you’re there! Love every second! Take the time to take photos – & lots of them! Cherish the memories you’re making!

Have FUN!

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Embracing Our Inner Geek – Our Warner Bros. Experience

I was first introduced to the Harry Potter series through a lot of my high school friends – the majority of them actually.

I wish I could say I was one of the first to recognise its awesomeness – that I read it before all of those around me – that I introduced them to it, and could take credit, but alas, no. At that age I thought it was way cooler to feign disinterest in something that was popular, because then I wouldn’t be like everybody else – I’d be mysterious and above it all and so much better than those other ‘losers’ reading it, wasting their time.

How wrong I was.

The fifth book came out – The Order of the Phoenix – which a friend of mine was reading at the time. They kept going on and on about how great it was – it was driving me round the twist.

I finally cracked. I relented and borrowed it from the school library.

I knew nothing about the books. I didn’t know the story, I didn’t know the characters – I hadn’t watched the movies.

And then I started reading it. (Beware folks, it’s about to become seriously Harry Potter loved up right now.)

I was totally lost in a world I didn’t understand, but in which I was totally immersed. And that was just it for me. I fell in love with it. The emotion, the story, the characters. I cried when Sirius Black died; I didn’t know who Sirius Black was.

It was enchanting.

It was EMBARRESSING.

I’m one of those saddo’s that cried when she saw a new trailer for a film. I was in Ghana teaching when the sixth book came out and I nearly went insane with the not knowing; not being able to read it. When I’d finished reading the Hallows book I felt a deep sadness. When the last film ended I didn’t want to leave the cinema.

That’s right folks – THAT sad. Not in an ‘Oh that puppy’s only got three legs’ kind of way, but in a ‘that girls drawn a scar on her child’s head and named him Harry – what a psycho’ kind of way.

Note: I’ve never actually done that.

My grandma used to say (constantly) “It’s for boys!” I’d say “Huh?” And she’d say, “It’s about a boy – it’s for boys!” (As though that made all the sense in the world.) I tried explaining that there were girls in it too – that one of the main characters was a girl called Hermione. That didn’t change her opinion.

I almost admired her unswerving stubborness. Almost. But it battled with my stubbornness (something I clearly got from her) and the more she challenged me on it, the more determined I’d become. It became almost my mission in life to get her to watch ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ and say she liked it. I’d ask her if she wanted  to watch a film; she’d be expecting ‘Sense and Sensibility’, I’d stick in Harry Potter. She’d get past the first scene and grumble “It’s for boys,” and turn her attention to something else, like a cig. And so back to Jane Austen (which I also, incidentally, love.)

When Ash and I got engaged, he hadn’t seen the films nor read the books. His disinterest was akin to what I used to feel. But when you marry someone, you have to adapt yourself to them, compromise, love each other ‘in sickness and in health.’ Well, this is my sickness (to quote Monica from ‘Friends’.) And the funny thing is, it’s now his too.

I love that; that we’ve become more like each other in our passions. Our love of ‘Friends‘ is legend amongst our own friends. The amount of quotes we come out with on a daily basis is (sometimes) shocking. Ash didn’t watch ‘Friends‘ before we were together either. I like to think I’ve been a positive influence on his life. =D

A few weekends ago, we dropped the kids at my parents, and set off on our first child-free weekend in two and a half years. We plugged the iPhone in, cranked up the volume and listened to (almost) three straight hours of Stephen Fry’s voice, taking us through ‘The Goblet of Fire’.

And guess where our first child-free weekend in two and a half years was spent??

Leavesdon Studios. AKA, Warner Bro’s Studios. AKA, HARRY POTTER LAND!

Excitement doesn’t even begin to cover what I was feeling. We arrived and the hotel was amazing (if melt-your-face hot) and just what we needed for a relaxing weekend away.

We spent a chilled-out day on the Saturday, the indoor swimming pool a haven as no one else used it, egging ourselves up for our 4pm slot at the Studios. Pub landlords and waitresses we met in the early afternoon at lunch time all told us how amazing it was and that we were in for a treat. Driving there (just 5mins away from where we were staying) we got our first glimpse of the sign. I admit I squealed a little bit.

Ticket checked, we parked the car and walked, giggling like little children, to the doors.

The entrance is encased in pictures of the characters from the film. They are huge. They look amazing. There are various props from the film scattered about on plinths, hanging from the ceiling. The gift shop tempted us with it’s delectable Honeydukes merchandise winking at us from the display windows, but we held off until we finished. (See, I have some control?)

Waiting in line with our Digital Guides, we didn’t really know what to expect. What if it’s rubbish? What if it’s not worth the money? What if they miss out the things we want to see the most??

I won’t tell you how you enter the Tour as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t been/doesn’t know, but it truly is magical (see what I did there?)

From the great hall,

to the Horcruxes,

to Dumbedore’s office,

to the first snitch Harry caught,

to Number 4 Privet Drive,

to the animatronics,

EVERYTHING is exceptional. The detail, the craftsmanship. Nothing is left out, nothing is forgotten.

Was is worth the money? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes. Did I see everything I wanted to see? Yes. Was it rubbish? NO!

They say when you walk in that it should take approximately 3hours to see everything.

The record for someone being in there is 11hours. We were in there 6 and a half … We would have been longer, only it was closing. We were in there so long that we had to get new Digital Guides as ours batteries had died. The woman we asked for new packs from asked, astonished, “You know we close in an hour don’t you?” “Yes,” we answered, happily. “You know there’s a LOT more to see don’t you.” “Erm … no.”

CRAP! It was then a race against time to see everything. My iPhone battery was at 22% and we still had around half of the stuff to see! An avid picture taker I almost had a heart attack!

Thankfully, somehow, with just 1% battery life remaining, we made it out to the gift shop. We did it. We just wish we’d gone for an earlier time slot now. So we could’ve beaten that record. I should probably say that the finale of the tour is INCREDIBLE! We literally gasped, expecting to enter the gift shop then and there, but no. Something magical (did it again, eh?) was waiting. I would tell you what, but the shock for us was the best part!

There’s just something about Harry Potter.

I don’t know what it is. The triumph of good over evil, perhaps? The relationships; the wholly rounded characters; the offering of escapism to another world; the connection it brings between adults and children; the Britishness of it? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because we grew up with it?

I’ve read a lot of books. I read around 3, sometimes 4, a week. I’ve read Twilight and The Hunger Games. I’ve read the Fallen books by Lauren Kate. And I think they’re great. I was as excited as anyone when The Hunger Games came out, and the film was released. It’s brilliant. I can’t wait for Breaking Dawn Part 2 to be released. But for me, and I think a lot of people out there, nothing comes close to touching the Potter series. And I’m not so sure anything will again.

So, I’d like to honour and thank my grandma, whose hatred of all things Harry Potter caused my love for it to Flourish (and Blotts) and grow. I owe you one gran.

Also, my friend who introduced me to it, my husband with whom my passion is equally yoked, and J.K. Rowling, without whom I think my fictional life would be significantly more boring.

Anyone considering going to the Studio Tour – it’s highly recommended. Just take a few cameras, charge them fully, and get an early slot if you’re anything like us and want to see EVERYTHING!

I can’t wait to be able to read the books to the boys – how exciting!!

The Geminio Curse

I just made the most remarkable discovery.

Now, I don’t know if it’s some Harry Potter Geminio curse thing, or like Jesus and the whole loaves and fishes deal, but my children – get this – can multiply things. And by things, I mean toys.

It is amazing. We have a three-tier set of drawers in our living room that houses all the odd bits and bobs the boys have; small creature-like toys, bugs (which creep me out – Noah hides them in places and when I find them I squeal which he seems to find amusing), mazes, rattles, blocks, towers, cars, trains, teethers, even a guitar – you name it, they’re in there.

I can get them all to fit in perfectly. (It’s sort of a weird thing of mine, that if you do it, you’re doing it wrong. I won’t tell you of course, but 9 times out of 10, once you’ve tidied it (when you’ve left) I’ll reorganise it.)

I love tidying them. It’s like a strange OCD thing I’ve got going on. I line all the blocks up, laying them down carefully in neat little rows. I make sure the cars, trains, buses (any form of vehicular toy, really) are parallel to each other, even if one is on top of the other.

They all have their designated spots too. Top is; animals, characters, building materials, i.e. blocks. The middle is miscellaneous stuff (AKA that guitar I mentioned earlier) and the bottom houses all the vehicles.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this?

Well, this evening, after the boys went to bed, I did my ritual tidying up of downstairs, putting all their toys away, food stuffs, sweeping, when I realised – I can only just shut the drawers. They are literally packed as tight as can be, like a suitcase on your return trip from your holidays. I do it the same every time, which means there can be only one explanation – they’re multiplying. We’re being taken over with toys. I don’t understand how this has happened. Babu recently moved into share Noah’s room, yet the room he’s just vacated is already packed with toys.

What I want to know is, can we harness this power for other means? Petrol, for instance. Chocolatey treats. Clothing. Money. Or what about bigger? Cars. Houses. Children. Wait, scratch that last one.

In every nook and cranny of my living room, you will find a toy. The outhouse, garden shed and Wendy house are all full. Their bedroom is full. I found some in our room. They’re even taking over the study.

All I can think is, beware kitchen. They’re coming for you next.