Strawberry Pickin’ Time!

IMG_0022.2015-05-16_221324 This past weekend we decided that we needed to squeeze in Strawberry picking.  The kids love it.  John and I enjoy it.  It reminds me of my childhood.  I had my own special strawberry patch at my Papaw Miller’s house.  I couldn’t wait for the juicy berries to appear.  I share that story every year with Colton and Coop.  Colton reminded me that I have told  him the story a few times.  I just love this age where they know everything and talk back to you.  I digress…

Anyway, we headed out late on Saturday to Schlagel Farm in Waldorf, Maryland.  We heard from other friends that this was a great place to go.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  It was quick and easy drive from DC.  We pulled right up, got our baskets and headed out to the fields.  This year was awesome because Colton and Cooper could help us.  Coop wasn’t quite there last year but was super excited this year.  Beckett even got to hang out in the field.  We were super lucky because we had a cloudy evening and it was perfect for picking berries.

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We always pick a ton of berries so that we and Uncle Matt can make jam.  If you are interested in canning and jam making, check out this link at Pioneer Woman.  It is easy and the kiddos can help.  Lots of mashing and destroying berries.  Boys love it!

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I grew up with woman always canning some fruit or vegetable and I decided I needed to learn how.  We made 10 16 oz jars of jam and had strawberries left over from just one of the white boxes!  So far, I haven’t progressed past fruit but I’ll get there eventually.  For now, Colton enjoys a strawberry jam sandwich at least twice a week for school.  I consider that a win!

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Disney World: We Survived! Tips and Tricks for traveling with lil’ ones!

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I have to tell you, I was a bit worried about this trip.  How would we manage the two boys?  Beckett?  Our big party of 8?  A double stroller?  Snacks?  Rides?  Well, I am here to tell you that it all worked out.  Disney is truly built for families.  I couldn’t have been more pleased with the entire trip.  Was I tired?  Absolutely.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely.

So let me start from the beginning.  John and I decided that we were going to make the trip to Disney over school spring break.  First worry.  The crowds.  Ended up not being an issue.  We missed the two massively crowded weeks of Spring Break.  Thank you, DCPS.  Second, I wanted to stay on Disney property.  I had no real reason for this except I stayed on Disney properties as a kid and loved it.  Maybe I could use the excuse that I wanted to use the monorail and other systems within Disney for travel.  Third, we decided to give my parents the trip to Disney for Christmas.  I really wanted us all together and not in separate rooms.

Wilderness Lodge Villas

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I started researching and decided our best option was a villa on Disney property.  These are actually not easy to reserve since most are Disney Club Vacation properties.  Luckily, we booked the Villas at Wilderness Lodge.  It was a perfect set up.  Two bedroom, two bathroom, kitchen and living room.  One bedroom had a king, the other had two queens plus a pull out in the living room.  room-xc-g01Aunty Court room-xc-g14 room-xc-g09 room-xc-g00decided to join us and she slept on the pull out in the living room.  The rooms even had two large walk in closets.  Yep, we gently and lovingly put Beckett in our closet to sleep!  I couldn’t have been happier with the room.  We had plenty of space to take breaks and hang out which is much needed with 3 kiddos 6 and under.

Wilderness Lodge Restaurants

The restaurants on property are good.  Whispering Canyons is loud and rowdy but perfect if you have kids that want to participate in activities going on during your meal.  Beckett didn’t love it but we made it work.  The 5 star Disney restaurant on property Artist Point was absolutely delicious.  Peaceful.  Quiet.  A nice reprieve from the daily chaos. Some may say the prices are high but it reminded us of restaurant prices in DC.  Roaring Fork near the pool had breakfast, lunch and dinner options.  Once again, it was quick and easy.  No complaints.

Wilderness Lodge Pools

Nice setup but could be a bit larger.  There is one main pool for the main lodging of Wilderness Lodge.  It has a kids slide as well as a kids splash park.  The boys enjoyed it thoroughly.  There is a bar to get drinks and snacks.  Every day, there were activities coordinated around this pool.  Overall, I found this pool exhausting.  I wanted peace after the parks.  We ventured over most of the time to the pool reserved for the Villas.  It was secluded and quiet.  There were kids by this pool as well.  It was just more subdued and more to my liking.  Both pools had lifejackets for the kiddos which was extremely nice!

Grocery Delivery and Stroller Rental

This is one of the best things we did.  Hands down.  We had groceries delivered by Stroller and Groceries.  We ordered ahead of time and when we checked in, they brought our groceries right up to our room.  They have refrigeration units that the bellhops place the groceries in until you are all checked in.  The other online grocery that everyone uses is garden grocer.com.  We really utilized our groceries for breakfasts, some lunches, tons of snacks and for the parks.  We bought water by the case and that was a lifesaver and moneysaver!  It was nice to have it already in the bottom of the stroller ready to go when the boys asked while out and about.

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This stroller was a must for the boys after a long day!

If you are wondering why we went with the first grocery service, the answer is easy.  We rented our stroller through Kingdom Strollers.  We rented a Mini GT Double.  It was heaven sent.  I can’t tell you how much we needed this stroller.  It came with a rain cover and a small cooler.  Both were used and needed.  You also get free grocery delivery with stroller rental.  I had envisioned using the stroller for Beckett and one of the boys as they got tired.  The boys ended up using it the entire time and Beckett was stuck in the umbrella stroller we brought along for the airport transfers.  It worked out perfectly but would have been difficult if not for the high ratio of adults to children in our party.  Thanks grandparents and Aunt Courtney again!

Airport Transfers

Since I mentioned the airport, I will explain how we got to and from the airport.  Since we booked our vacation through Disney, we rode the Magical Express Bus.  All of it is prearranged and once you arrive in Orlando, you jump on a charter bus and are dropped off at your hotel.  It was super easy and we really didn’t ride the bus for that long.  We had two or three stops before we made it to Wilderness Lodge.  On the way home, we checked in at our hotel the night before, dropped our luggage off (didn’t see it again until DC) and jumped on the bus.  It made traveling with kiddos super easy.

Transportation to the Parks from Wilderness Lodge

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Coop and I on the boat to Magic Kingdom.

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This is what the boat ride looked like at the end of the day!

We had boat access across the lagoon to Magic Kingdom and the Contemporary Resort (monorail is located here).  The boys loved it but it was a bit rough with the double stroller.  This is why it was awesome with so many adults in our party.  Some of the boats required you folding the stroller, others didn’t.  Also, the stroller we rented would still fold even with stuff in the bottom basket which was nice.  Pack lightly if possible or take the bus.  We had bus service right outside the Villas to everywhere.

Internet Access

I am only putting this in here because my husband had spotty internet access that we assume was because we were at the end of the building.  I never had any issue on my phone or my kindle.  This is probably a sign he shouldn’t have been doing work on our vacation.

Entering the Parks and Fast Passes

Man, has Disney advanced since I was a kid.  Magic bands are the new gadget to make your trip easier.  You get a band before you leave in the mail for each member of your family.  Everything is loaded on this bracelet.  Room keys, credit cards, reservations etc.  Don’t panic…kids do not get a credit card unless you want them to which would never happen in our household!  It was nice not to have to carry a wallet with you and you could pay for your meals and souvenirs with the Magic band.  Also, the Magic bands hold your Fast Passes.

Set up your Fast Passes ASAP.  Figure out what your family wants to do and plan your fast passes accordingly.  I made some minor mistakes on this by scheduling fast passes in the afternoon.  My kids were wiped by early afternoon.  You change your fast passes but if you try the day of most everything is gone until late at night.  For the first two hours the parks are open, most rides are fine and do not require fast passes.  Some rides quickly build waits:  Toy Story Mania, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Expedition Everest, Rapids, Peter Pan, Meet and Greet Princess especially Frozen (I skipped all princess stuff this trip).  A smart move is to set up fast passes for some of these rides toward lunch time or after and then hit them in the morning so you get two rides in.

Reservations for Restaurants

This is not something to mess around with when booking your trip if your kids eat on a schedule.  Places books fast and we found out with our party of 8, we couldn’t get a reservation from 5-8pm at a great deal of restaurants.  If you want to eat at Be Our Guest, you  have to book 6 months out.  Yep, 6 months out.  It is one of the newest restaurants and every says the food is good.  We didn’t go.  No reservation for dinner and walking in for lunch is hard.  Some of the best restaurants are at Epcot back in World Showcase plus you can walk around with a glass of wine or a beer here.  Make sure to check those out.  If you make reservations and need to cancel, do it a day ahead or you will get charged.  I learned this the hard way.  Lesson learned.

Character Dining

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Bright and early at Chef Mickey’s!

One of the best meals we had was breakfast at Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary.  Food was on a buffet and pretty good.  The best part was all of the old school characters:  Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Daisy.  The boys got pics with everyone while we ate our breakfast.  No lines, no waiting.  Awesome.  It was painless and extremely well organized.  We even got a group pic at the beginning.  I will chat down below about our Character lunch at Hollywood Studios with the crew from Disney Junior.  The food was good, organization lack luster but Coop enjoyed it for his birthday.  On another trip, we had breakfast at the Castle with the princesses.  That was excellent…this trip we had no princess interaction.  Big time saver but we will see what Beckett likes in the future.  Personally, I am pushing for her to attend Jedi Training Academy too.

Traveling with an Infant

ry=400-5This had to be one of the coolest things that has been added at Disney.  Rider Pass gives adults in a party that stay back with a child the opportunity to ride the ride right after the rest of their party.  It worked great.  My mom stayed back with Beckett on a rollercoaster and when we finished, she walked right in the fast pass line with both boys to ride it.  The boys got two rides and everyone participated.  You can only take two people with you on Rider Pass.

Pin Trading

We experienced pin trading with our nephews on our last Disney trip years ago.  The kiddos really enjoyed it especially our oldest.  Everyone in the park, Disney employees are wearing pins and they are happy to trade with you.  We bought our oldest a starter set and as the week wore on, he happily traded everywhere we went.  Of course, his mamaw, papaw and parents bought him some super cool pins he didn’t want to trade that included his favorite Star Wars characters.

Memory Maker

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Yep, we signed up for this and it was a good call.  It’s $169 for pictures but it is any and all pictures you want to get that are taken all over the parks. We are a picture family and I can’t get enough pictures of my motley crew.  The ride shots were hilarious and we even got a few videos on the rides.  You can access pictures taken within an hour and download then or later.

The Parks: Magic Kingdom

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We spent two days here. This is the park that your kiddos will enjoy the most if they are on the younger side.  Magic Kingdom will easily take two days unless you stay from dawn till dusk.  We just couldn’t do that.  Our kiddos couldn’t make it a full day.  We headed back to the pool before dinner and had some down time each day.

There are too many rides at Magic Kingdom.  Depending on your kiddos interests and adventure levels, there is something for everyone.  Here fast passes are key.  As the day goes on, the lines become ridiculous in some places.  My 6 and 4 year olds rode everything.  Not surprising if you know our parenting style or my kiddos.  Check height requirements.  We thought middle minion would make the height requirement for Space Mountain.  Nope…missed it by 1/2 inch.  Major meltdown.  This made us check when we traveled to other parks so we didn’t have the tantrum trouble again.  There really isn’t anything overly scary in Magic Kingdom except maybe Stitch’s show, Space Mountain, and the Haunted Mansion.  Our boys were fine on the last two.  We skipped Stitch.  They loved the Toy Story ride because it is interactive.  We did that one twice.  Thunder Mountain Railroad and Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train ry=400-6ry=400and Splash Mountain are fast pass musts.  We didn’t get to Splash Mountain.  Totally my fault since I messed up our fast passes.  Oh well.  Next time.

The Parks: Animal Kingdom

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These are the animals the boys won at Dino World!

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Check out Colton. He is cowering in terror!

Truth be told, I was dreading this one.  Ended up being pretty fun.  We used our fast passes here for Expedition Everest, Rapids, and Dinosaur.  Warning:  Dinosaur was a bit rough and scary for my kiddos.  This was the scariest ride we went on.  Not to mention it upset my stomach with all the jostling.  The dinosaurs looked real, almost too real.  Expedition Everest has a height requirement that middle kiddo didn’t make.  Wasted fast pass.  Next time.  The Rapids ride was a classic water ride.  You get soaked.  Kids liked it until they got wet.  Not to mention we went to eat lunch in a very air conditioned restaurant and turned into popsicles.  While I’m talking about the restaurant, go to Yak and Yeti.  Best food we had at Disney.  Asian inspired and great adult and kiddo options.  Best ride in Animal Kingdom was the Safari.  The kids loved seeing all the animals up close.  We enjoyed it and they made me take a ton of pics.  Don’t forget to visit the Boneyard playground and the Dino Fair games.  Both were big hits. The boys enjoyed Animal Kingdom immensely.

The Parks:  Hollywood Studios

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We ended up spending two days here.  I will explain this in a bit.  I don’t think that is necessary but our kids actually enjoyed it.  The first day we used our fast passes for Toy Story Mania, the stunt show (waste of a fast pass) and Star Wars.  We had lunch at Hollywood and Vine with the Disney Junior characters to include Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Doc McStuffins, Sofia the First and Handy Manny.  This was for Coop’s bday and he enjoyed it.  Food was good but organization was a little lackluster.  We thought we had signed up for the Jedi Training Academy but we hadn’t.  The boys really wanted to do this therefore we had a second day here.  Our boys LOVED the Jedi Academy.

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You dress like Jedis and get a quick training session from a Jedi Master before Darth Vader shows up and you fight him. If you do this, you must be at the park right when it opens, run safely (we were yelled out repeatedly) to the sign up counter and wait patiently in line.  If you are us, we practiced lying with our 3 year old to say he is 4 so that he could participate.  He would be 4 the next week so not really a big deal, right?!  The sign up is near the Indiana Jones Stunt spectacular.  It fills ups quick.  It was so much fun to watch the boys.  We have some of our best pics and videos from this one event.  Our kids loved all the rides here, including Tower of Terror.  Yep, we are the parents that take our kids on scary rides.

The Parks:  Epcot

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We spent the least amount of time here. We could have spent more but we just didn’t have the time budgeted in our week.  We went to Epcot for two dinners that were above average as far as our Disney dining experiences went.  We ate in Italy (Via Napoli) and Japan (Teppan Edo) and both meals were smash hits for adults and kiddos alike.  Note:  don’t go too late when you make a reservation at World Showcase.  You forget what a hike it is to the back of Epcot.  Or maybe it could have been that Courtney and I were riding in a circle on the monorail.  We were tired.  That is our excuse.  We rode a few rides here:  Soarin , Spaceship Earth (the big golf ball) and Nemo.  The boys enjoyed them all and really had a blast after the rides.  Epcot rides tend to let you off the ride into places with interactive exhibits.  The boys loved the aquarium and the games under Spaceship Earth  We would have tried

My one and only regret is not making it to the parks at night.  My kiddos and the adults were hitting the hay super early.  I wish we would have taken it easy for one day and went back to the park at night to ride some rides and maybe see the Electrical Parade at Magic Kingdom or the Fireworks at Epcot.  We will definitely do that on our next Disney trip and we honestly can’t wait to go back!