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Monday, June 26, 2017

Summer Must Have: Ever-Ready PicNic Bag

I'm a stay-at-home-mom.  What this means is that come summer time I have to find ways to entertain not only my preschool-aged children (who were home with me most of the time during the school year) but my school-aged children as well (whom are used to spending 6+ hours at school).  It's hard.  I'm not going to lie.  Sometimes I just look in the mirror and thing "I'm going to go nuts today if I can't find something to do with these little minions".

Yes, we go to the pool (one officially scheduled time every Friday morning with friends and then occasionally we act spontaneously and visit our neighborhood HOA pool) and we go see the free movies at the local theater.  We are part of the Library's Summer Reading Program, so we go and pick out books and visit the library for their weekly events.  And of course, we do all of the usual errands and chores that I have to do as a stay-at-home-mom (household chores like the laundry and dishes, yard work like mowing, watering, and trimming, and life chores like getting groceries, vet visits, doctor appointments, etc).  But there are some times multiple days in a row when we have nothing scheduled and nothing that needs accomplishing.  I call these the "do nothing" days.

That first "do nothing" day is great.  We lay around, watch movies, read books, play games and just generally enjoy playing.  We make exciting breakfasts (french toast or cinnamon rolls), cook delicious lunches (like grilled cheese and soup, this is vastly different from our typical "left overs" or PBJ sandwich and fruit lunches), and we enjoy the relaxation of just being.

Then comes day two.  Oh, day two.  Why can't you be a repeat of day one?  We had such a fun time laying around relaxing... why can't you be just as nice day two, why?!?!?!  You guessed it... the kids are board.  They pick.  They fight.  They yell.  They don't sit still.  They beat stuff up.  They whine.  They generally annoy the living day-lights out of me.  I'm not ashamed to admit it.

On this cool Summer day we went down to the creek and had a PicNic in our pallet fort (that we had build previously).
On this occasion we threw our little chairs into the fort for some added adventure.
So how do we make day two (and day three) subsequently more exciting and entertaining?  How do we keep the kids from eating each other's faces off?  The answer is simple and your going to think I'm one of those ridiculous geniuses...

If your like me, trying to throw a picnic together spur of the moment is rough.  There's plates, napkins, utensils (ugh, there aren't any clean utensils?!?! who was in charge of the dishes today?!), drinks, food, etc... then when you get to your destination you find that the table is dirty, the wind is blowing, and there is no where to sit.  UGH!  A fun trip just turned stressful.  Everyone is grumpy and no one is enjoying the picnic.

The answer is the Ever-Ready PicNic Bag.  Yes, a picnic bag.  Sometimes you just need a spur of the moment picnic to get your kiddos and yourself some sanity.  We find that a lunch time picnic is the PERFECT activity for those lazy summer days that we don't have other activities planned.  With this picnic bag we can throw some random food items into a bag and run out the door.  Whether it be to the playground in our neighborhood, down the street to the riverside park, or across the city to the big park, this Ever-Ready PicNic Bag is essential.

Here's how to make your Ever-Ready PicNic Bag:

1. Collect the necessary items (these items may vary according to your own family's picnic needs):

  • PicNic Blanket (for those times you have a picnic on the ground).  We used to keep a rectangular weaved blanket in the bag for this purpose, but found that it absorbed growund moisture.  So now we like a round style picnic blanket with a vinyl top because that allows us to set the food in the middle and self-serve while we sit around the edge and not get wet from a moist ground.
  • Table Cloth (for those times you have a picnic at a table).  We use a vinyl top/cloth backed  reusable table cloth that is easy to wipe clean after each picnic.
  • Paper Cups (because sometimes its easier to just throw the entire jug of juice into the lunch bag and not give everyone individual drink choices)
  • Antibacterial Hand Wipes (these have saved us sooooo many times!  You never know when someone will touch duck poo or pick up a creepy crawly while your setting up for the picnic!)
  • Napkins (we put them into a big ziplock bag to keep them clean between trips)

  • Frisbees (to keep everyone occupied while I set up the picnic and while others finish eating)
  • Clothes Pins (to keep your tablecloth attached to the table on those windy days... And they double as plate support if your put your paper plate inside the frisbee!)
  • Plastic Utensils (we also put these into a big ziplock bag to keep them clean between picnics... we also like to throw some little packets of salt and pepper into this bag)
  • Face Wipes (because for some reason my children ALWAYS make a giant sticky face mess)
  • Paper Plates (again, in a big ziplock bag to keep them clean between picnic trips)
  • PicNic Baskets (these are an added fun item that my children love... They make picnics a little more special and make my kids feel like they are eating some kind of special meal when their snacks are put in these baskets)
  • Grocery Bags (to use a trash bags for everything you need to throw away after the picnic is over)
  • A Canvas bag (to keep it all in! Why Canvas?  So that you can pop it into the washing machine every now and then)

2. Pack it all into the Canvas Bag

It all fits perfectly :)
3. Put it by the door or hang it on your coat rack.  Bam!  Now all you have to do is pack some food and your ready to leave!

Fully Packed and Ready to Go!

Ok, so I'm not really the genius that came up with the Ever-Ready PicNic Bag... I have to give credit to my own mother, who always had a picnic bag ready when we were growing up.  When I had children of my own and my little family moved 6 hours away she sent me plenty of love and advice, plus she made me my very own Ever-Ready PicNic Bag.  I've kept it stocked all these years and it has truly been a life saver every Summer!

Do you have your own version of an Ever-Ready PicNic Bag?  We also have a bag for the pool (fully ready with all the necessities) and a tub of stuff for the beach (always packed and ready to go!).  What other Summer necessities does your family rely on?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Top 5 Best Restaurants at Universal's City Walk

Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say about CityWalk at TripAdvisor

After a long day of endless miles walking around Universal's theme parks, or perhaps after a relaxed day laying around your Orlando Resort, there is nothing quite like taking in the exciting night life and tasty dinner options at Universal's City Walk.  Having been there countless times on numerous vacations, I have put together this list of the Top 5 BEST Restaurants that are sure to tantalize your taste buds:

1. The CowFish
This is my family's top pick for dinner at CityWalk.  We have even wished we had one closer to home.  My 5 year old says that this is his favorite restaurant of all time and it is the one place he requests each time we visit Orlando.  Their menu boasts some fun twists on the classics.  Whether your interested in classic sushi or if your love burgers and fries, this is the place for you.  The owner's ability to envision how any dish can be turned into a sushi roll is miraculous.   Here, you can get a classic pulled pork bbq sandwich complete with slaw and shoelace fries (like my husband), a classic cheeseburger (hold everything but add bacon, like my 13 year old orders), fried shrimp sushi bento boxes (like my 5 year old), or classic salmon sushi with candied ginger and wasabi (like I order).  Where else can your whole family eat like kings exactly catered to their own tastes?!
Read More About The CowFish on TripAdvisor

2. Bob Marley- A Tribute to Freedom
I'm a sucker for Jamaican food.  There is something about the fresh ingredients and spicy jerk seasoning that really make my mouth water.  This restaurant not only boasts classic Jamaican dishes, but also gives visitors a spectacular atmosphere.  Complete with live entertainment, partially outdoor seating, and an "everyting is erie" attitude, this is definitely the place to be after a long day.  For starters, get their Blue Mountain Jerk Chicken Dip which is sure to wet your appetite while you listen to the smooth reggae band.  For your dinner, try my favorite the Sun is Shining Chicken Curry.  The perfect blend of chicken vegetables and rice will have you singing the Island's praises.  Or if you want something a little different, try the Belly Full Beef Patties.  Their zesty warm interiors are absolutely authentic!  Whatever you do, make sure to order one of the many Rum drinks offered on their specialty drink menu.
Find Out More About Bob Marley A Tribute To Freedom on TripAdvisor

3. Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
One of CityWalk's newer establishments, the Chocolate Emporium is the PERFECT place for either a delicious meal OR the most delectable dessert.  My recommendation is to try one of the other awesome restaurants on this list for dinner and then head over to the Chocolate Emporium for dessert!  Whether your into milkshakes, desserts of chocolate explosion, peanut butter, brownies, ice cream, or totally unique concoctions of epic dessert proportion, this is the place for you!  With a separate dessert line on the left side of the building, this is a great place to stop off and satisfy your sweet tooth.
Find Out More About The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium on TripAdvisor

4. Antojitos
Looking for something familiar but still exotic?  Check out Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food.  The menu is sure to have items you are familiar with as well as fun and exciting dishes that will excite you.  Start your meal with a classic Margarita or my favorite the "skinny" (a great blend of tequila, lime, and syrup) while you enjoy some chips and queso and listen to the live serenading of the mariachi band.  Then move on to a filling dinner of your choice (if your like me you'll pick the tequila marinaded steak tacos called "Carne" on the menu).
Read more about Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food on TripAdvisor

5. Red Oven Pizza Bakery
If your family is looking for something a little more familiar, check out Red Oven Pizza Bakery.  A hit with the kids, this pizza place is sure to fill your tummies and satisfy your tastes.  All their pizzas are stone baked in an open fire oven, so they get that authentic Italian taste.  Enjoy the pizza quickly by using the take-out window or sit down and enjoy the night life while you wait table-side.
Find Out More About Red Oven Pizza Bakery on TripAdvisor
Are you headed to Universal's City Walk?  Have you tried any of these spectacular restaurants?  Share your thoughts, opinions and favorite orders below.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Vacation Budget Tips

While scrolling my facebook feed the other day, I read a post about vacationing with kids and it really struck a cord in my heart (here's the what I read on  The entire time I read I thought "YES!!! THIS!!!" Annie, author of ScaryMommy, does a great job of giving the top 5 reasons taking a vacation with your kids is important (head over to her post to read those 5 reasons).  This inspired me to share my thoughts on vacations, because I haven't always considered them essential (travel yes, but vacations were not on my list of essentials until very recently).

I'm an obsessive planner.  I need to have every detail of everything planned out.  I need predictability.  I need to know what's going to happen before it happens.  I need to have the security of knowing.  I don't like the unknown and I don't like not having planned for contingencies.  This means that I'm a miser.  Yes, I'm a miser.  A frugal, penny-pinching, second-hand buying, cheap-to-the-core, money saver.  I don't like to spend money.


This means that I am creative when it comes to travel.  It means that our travel is always within our budget.  But it also means that I meticulously plan our budgets and make sure to save enough money throughout the year to cover our vacations.  You see, we take multiple vacations a year.  Sounds crazy, right? Multiple vacations every year?!  How can we possibly afford that?!

We are a middle income family, but we haven't always been here, what we have always done is find ways to take family vacations.  It's important for our family's health and wellness to make those memories together.  It's also important for my husband and I to take vacations alone, without the kids, occasionally.  Date nights are great, but vacations together without children allows us to really remember who WE are as a couple, not just who we are as PARENTS.

Traveling is easy when it's just you.  One person is relatively easy to please and you can travel for cheap, eating is less expensive, hotels are cheaper for one, and air fare is much lower when your only paying for one person.  Traveling alone was easy when I was younger.  At first, traveling as a family was difficult for me to stomach because of the expenses.  Remember, I like to save money.  I'm a miser.  Traveling as a family is much more complicated and takes a great deal more planning, but over time I learned some tricks that have made me realize how important travel is and how easy it is to travel on a minimal budget.

Save On Airport Parking

 I would never recommend taking a vacation that you "can't afford".  Don't go into debt to go on a vacation!  That can just cause more stress and eventually will actually be more detrimental than good for your family's health.  So how do we budget so that we can afford these trips?

Budgeting Your Family Vacation...

1.  Make a plan to travel somewhere every 6-8 months.  Mark it on your calendar.  Now you know your time frame.  It's amazing how something as simple as blocking out a time to travel can push you into the motions of saving and planning.

2. Decide if this is a long vacation or a short vacation.  Longer vacations (5-7+ days) tend to be more expensive while vacations over long weekends or for shorter periods (3-4 days) tend to be less expensive.  Shorter vacations are also easier to manage with small children because they don't become as exhausted after being out of routine for only a few days.  Typically you'd want to travel somewhere close in a shorter vacation (easily driven in under 6 hours) and save the further destinations for longer trips (6+ hour drives or vacations that require a flight). Don't forget to ask for your time off work!

3. Decide who will be on the vacation with you.  Is this just a vacation for your family?  Or maybe you want your family to travel with another family (traveling with another family is a great way to get group rates and keep kids entertained!)?  Maybe you want to travel with extended family (having grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc on the trip with you can be very helpful when it comes to child watching and you can find great group deals).  Or maybe it'll just be your spouse and you on a romantic get away.  Make a decision so that you can start planning.

4.  Decide where to go.  Don't leave this as an open ended trip.  You need a destination (or at least a broad destination) so that you can start looking for deals.  If this is a short trip, look at cities or attractions near your home, or if you live in a destination city like I do think about if a stay-cation is right for you.  Check out large U.S. cities to see if they appeal to you and your family.   Maybe you want to try something tropical?  Decide that your destination will be in the Caribbean.  Whatever you do, pick a place or general geographic area and stick to it.  

5.  Save a little each month.  We set aside $20-$200 each month, depending on our destination and length of trip.  Our savings also depends on our other expenses.  After all, as a family some months are more expensive than others.  You probably wont save as much during the summer because expenses are higher.  December might not be a high-savings month because of Christmas. Maybe you can save a great deal in February because you get a tax return.  Whatever you do, make sure to save for your necessities FIRST and travel SECOND. Expect the amount you can save to be variable, but make sure to at least save SOMETHING specifically earmarked for Travel each month.  For shorter vacations we typically save $500-$800.  For longer vacations we tend to save right around $3000.  

6. Start looking for Deals.  Deals pop up all the time.  Follow a variety of websites and check frequently for price changes.  When you see a deal that appears to be the lowest price, snatch it up.  Last minute travel can be cheaper for one person, but waiting until the last minute to book deals as a family can end up costing much more.  Typically you want to have your hotels, cruise, flights, etc booked about 2 months in advance for the best deals. Here is a list of the sites that I follow to stay updated on price:

7.  Not all Destinations are equal.  If your looking for a Caribbean vacation remember that each destination has it's own advantages and disadvantages.  Some countries are more expensive to travel to than others.  Likewise, not all U.S. cities will be equally priced, some cities are just more expensive than others.  *Read more about this in a future post*

8.  Try to find a resort that is all-inclusive or that has complimentary breakfasts.  This saves a small fortune for our family.  Not only does each member of our family typically get what they want, we also don't have to worry about nickle and dime-ing each meal.  All-Inclusive resorts normally have buffets that are more than worth their price and complimentary breakfasts will star your family off with a filling meal and last you hours into your day. *come back later for another post with tips on saving on your food expenses*

9.  Detail out a Daily Budget.  If your going to leave at 6am on a Monday and return at 8pm on a Sunday, plan out each day's meal budget (for our family of five if we aren't staying somewhere food is included we typically budget $25 for each breakfast assuming $5 in tax and each person spending about $4, $50 for lunch assuming about $10 in tax and each person spending about $8 on their meal, and $100 for dinner assuming about a $15 tax and each person spending roughly $16 on their meal... this makes our daily budget $175 for food).  Make sure to also include gas expense, parking expenses (at the airport, resort, or destination), travel expenses (flight, tolls, etc), tickets for attraction entry, etc...  Every little thing should be included in your budget.

10.  Plan for the Unexpected.  It's always better to over estimate your expense and come back having spent under your budget than to comeback and find out that you've spent way over.  Did you plan on spending $25 at a fast food place for breakfast and the line was sooooo long that you had to go to a sit down breakfast place and it came out to $50?  Ok, adjust your plan.  Since you spend $50 at breakfast, hit a fast food place for lunch and pick items from the value menu.  All the same, don't count your pennies the entire vacation!  That will just lead to added stress.

Other Tips...

11.  Put your trip on a Credit Card with travel points or reward points.  We get $25 for every $2500 we spend on our credit card.  It's not much, but the points do add up to extra savings.  If you do follow this advice, make sure to PAY OFF THE CARD as soon as you get back so that you don't end up paying interest.

12.  Hit up the Dollar Tree before you leave and get items like Ponchos, tooth brushes, travel size items, and snacks.  I learned this the hard way one year when an unexpected storm came while we were at Universal Studios.  In the park it cost $10 per poncho!  Likewise, if you forget to bring a tooth brush (because you planned on using it the morning that you left and then forgot to throw it into your bag) the price will be much higher in your resort gift shop.  Go ahead and buy everyone a new tooth brush before the trip and pack them in the bags right away.

13.  Take advantage of free stuff offered at your resort and in the surrounding area.  Lots of restaurants have free kids meals with the purchase of an adult.  Some destinations have free refills if you buy the big cup (just buy the big cup and let everyone share! then refill for free or cheaper than the cost of a new drink).  Some places even give you free entry for a child with an adult ticket.  Do your research and know your options before you arrive.

14.  Know the policies of the destinations your visiting.  It's all in the details.  Carnival Cruise lines charge for soda and juice (it's not included in your upfront costs) but they will allow you to bring juice boxes and soda cans on board (up to 12 per person).   Just remember that they wont let you bring bottles on board.  Some theme parks will not let you bring food or drink in, while others allow you to bring small items for children with special dietary restrictions.  Know the policies and use them to your advantage.

300x250 - National Park Lodging

15.  Do your research before the trip.  Not only can you do internet searches and read blogs like this one, but you can also join Facebook groups for local moms/parents at the destination you are going to.  Then you can ask those locals for advice on the best free and cheap things to do and places to stay.    You can also check out your destinations local government website and see the events in the area that are being advertised there.  Those events typically are for locals and typically have lower prices than touristy places.

How do you save for your family vacations?  Do you have any other great tips or tricks for saving some money while planning your trip?  Share your thoughts and comments below.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Disney World Tips and Tricks

Read the Ultimate Disney Guide on TripAdvisor

Disney World.  A trip that can both excite and exhaust us just thinking about it.  I spent my childhood at Disney World.  Every year, often twice a year, my family would make the 12 hour trek down to Tampa, Florida to visit my grandparents and while on that visit we would spend at least one day at one of the Disney Theme Parks.  And now I like to share those experiences with my children.  I've been to Magic Kingdom more times than I can count.  I've been to Animal Kingdom 4 or 5 times.  And I've been to Hollywood Studios (which used to be called MGM Studios wayyyyy back when...) and Epcot a handful of times.

But let's face it, no one wants to spend thousands of dollars on a Disney Vacation and then spend hours waiting in traffic and lines in the hot sun all day.  That's why I have developed a handful of tricks to maximize my time and fun at the parks.

Read reviews and find resort deals on TripAdvisor

Top Tricks and Tips for Making the Most of Your Disney Visit:
1.  Don't Visit During the Summer.  Let's face it, everyone goes on vacation in the summer or on holidays.  It's when our children are out of school, when we have long weekends, and when many don't have to work at all.  Skip the popular times, take time off work, and pull your kids out of school for the week because you will find much smaller crowds in the Fall, Winter, and early Spring.

2.  Go on Halloween Day.  Disney does a great Halloween night event each year.  Most people who are going to that event will be saving their energy for the all-night extravaganza and wont be at the park during the day.  This opens up a great opportunity for you!  Go Halloween day and forgo the evening events.

3.  Visit on Good Friday.  Everyone who visits Disney World the week of Easter will be either traveling to Disney on Good Friday (in order to spend the week after Easter in the parks) or will be headed home on Good Friday (in order to be home for Easter).  Again, this opens up a great opportunity for you!  Use that day to your advantage.

4.  Thursday is their Least Busy Day.  I'm not sure why, but the parks have noticeably fewer people on Thursdays.  This could be because week-long-vacationers have already visited all the parks and are taking a "rest day" or it could be because half-weekers are headed home, or that weekenders haven't arrived.  Either way, Thursday is your best opportunity for shorter lines.

5.  Visit the Other Parks.  Magic Kingdom is the ONE PARK everyone goes to, which also makes it the most crowded.  Many people skip Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.  Use that to your advantage!  Visit these other parks and save Magic Kingdom for another trip or plan to visit that park on one of their less crowded days (see #2, #3, and #4 above).

6.  Plan to ARRIVE an Hour Before You Can Get into the Park.  It takes that long to get through the maze of parking lots and to actually park your car.  Then you have to stand in the line to actually enter the park and get through security.  The closer to the front of the line you are the more likely you will be one of the first to ride.

Getting early entry into the park is also a great time to take that picture that EVERYONE wants!
Notice that we are all in jackets?  That's because we visited in Mid December!  The park wasn't crowded at all!
7.  Take Advantage of Early Opening.  That extra 30 minutes to an hour really makes all the difference for that first ride.  Often, if your early into the park you will have a minimal wait for your first ride, so plan accordingly and get their early.  It's worth the added expense.

8.  Plan Your First Ride.  Which ride do you want to ride the most and which will be the most crowded?  Make that your first ride of the day.  The first ride will often have the shortest line, especially if your utilizing early entry.

9.  Look at the Map Ahead of Time and Chart a Course.  This could perhaps be my biggest tip.  Look at the map long before you even arrive to Orlando and plan which rides you want to wait for and which to skip.  Create a plan of attack with routes into and around the park.  Having a plan ahead of time will save countless hours of deciding where to go next and will also save you from wasting time playing with the map in the park.

10. Get the Park Hopper Option.  The Park Hopper option is critical in my opinion and well worth the added expense.  Getting to switch parks let's you use early entry in one park, switch parks during the day, and then visit the parade of your choice at night.  This let's you have optimum time in each park and allows you to switch parks if you find yours to be too crowded.

Park Hopping or not, expect your children to pass out after the fireworks!
Make sure they have somewhere easy and safe to sleep and get the rental stroller!
Notice how the rental stroller on the right protects her legs from getting bumped into by stranger?
 It also would let a smaller child stretch out when sleeping.  
11.  Use the Rental Stroller.  People are maniacs in the park.  They steal stuff, they bash their strollers into yours to get a better spot in line, they don't look where they are going, and they have no concern for others.  I once had someone step over top of my sleeping child in a stroller and actually FALL on top of her.  The park rental strollers are much sturdier and wider than regular umbrella strollers, thereby protecting your little one.  Using a rental also deters thieves because your nice clean new expensive stroller isn't sitting their advertising your nice things, ripe for the stealing.

12.  Bring Someone in a Wheelchair.  Don't purposefully put someone in a wheelchair that shouldn't be (this is just dishonest) but if someone in your party has an ankle, knee, hip, etc problem let them ride in the chair!  My brother-in-law went with us to Magic Kingdom just weeks after breaking his leg.  It's a little known fact, but wheelchairs are often channeled through the quick pass line.  This is because there is limited handicap seating on rides and the ride staff show preference for those seats to those in wheelchairs and the people accompanying them.

Not only was the wheelchair a "get in quicker" tool, but it also
gave the kids a break from the strollers when they got to ride!

13.  Use The Rider Switch Program.  Another little known secrete is that often families will get to ride a ride multiple times with the Rider Switch Program.  Consider this:  you have a family of 5 (2 parents and 3 kids), 2 of the kids can ride everything but the youngest is just a tad too small.  So parent 1 takes the older 2 on the first ride while parent 2 waits with child 3.  The next ride, parent 2 gets to ride WITH THE OLDER 2 while parent 1 waits with child 3.  In other words, the 2 older kids actually get to ride the ride twice.  Total WIN!  The trick is making that time alone with each parent special with the child that doesn't get to ride.  I brought all kinds of fun things with us to do with our youngest while he waited for each ride.

14.  Eat.  Really, eat as often as your children want.  Don't try to make them share the pizza at lunch, don't tell them "it's not lunch time yet", and don't deny them the Mickey Mouse Ice Cream.  Keeping your kids full and happy is CRITICAL in enjoying your time at Disney.  A hangry child wont wait in a line and will not remember this vacation fondly.  Feed your kids.  And buy the big drink to refill!  Florida is hot and your little ones can easily get dehydrated.

15.  Don't Worry About VIP Tickets to Parades.  The parade routes are long and the parade is quick.  It's easy to find a spot to watch them and the VIP area isn't worth the added time and expense.

16.  Plan a Rest Day.  Don't try to visit all the parks back to back.  Even a grown adult will have trouble with this.  The heat and walking alone are enough to exhaust you.  Plan a day or two to just lay around the resort property.  Plan to play in the pool, sipping tropical drinks, and enjoying all the amenities the resort has to offer.

17.  Spend Two Days in Magic Kingdom.  There is just NO WAY to get all of Magic Kingdom done in one day.  If you plan on spending two days in the park it will be much less stressful trying to fit it all in.  This way, you can start your to do list (see #9 above) and if you have to skip something because of a long line then you can plan on making that ride a priority your second day.

18.  The New Rides Will Be the Most Crowded.  Feeling frustrated by the 3 hour line to Frozen Ever After?  For your next ride pick one of the older rides that often get over looked.  Our favorite go-to rides when we are tired of long lines are Small World, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, and Jungle Cruise.  These lines move quickly and are sure to have you on in no time.  We also like Haunted Mansion, the Tiki Room and Pirates of the Caribbean, who have very entertaining line areas (so you feel like your getting to experience the ride throughout the entire wait).

19.  Let your Kids Play.  Areas like Tom Sawyer's Island, The Swiss Family Robinson Tree House, the Boneyard, and Project Tomorrow are great areas to just let your kids run for a bit.  After waiting in lines it's essential for them to get some wiggles out and play.  You'll be surprised how refreshed they are after being out of the stroller for a bit.

Testing out the Gorilla Hands at Animal Kingdom.
The parks are about more than just rides, make sure to enjoy the sites and Play Areas too!!

20.  Big Groups are Better.  As much as traveling as just your little family of 4 sounds like fun, at Disney it's better to travel in large groups (multiple families or extended families, groups of friends).  Just don't expect people to stay together.  It takes a village to raise your kids, so bring your village with you to the parks.  This will most likely give you a small rest (when other's take over the care of your kids for a bit) and lets people with similar interests stick together.

A few more great tips:
21.  Get your Disney Parks Merchandise online instead of at the park!! You will find much better sales and deals here: Fantastic merchandise previously available only at Disney Parks can now be purchased exclusively at the online Disney Store.
22.  Planning to do Breakfast with the Princesses?  Get your costume BEFORE you arrive.  You can save with extra sales here: The Disney Princess Shop - Royal Adventures Await!
23.  Make sure your little one looks great in ALL your Disney pictures by getting them some great Disney apparel to wear.  Check out the sales here: Find the best Disney kids apparel for girls, boys, tweens, toddlers and babies when you do your Disney shopping at
24.  Save a bit by staying off resort and taking shuttles from your hotel.  Check out the deals here: Save BIG on Orlando Travel Deals. Don't Miss Out!

Have you been to Disney World?  What are your tips and tricks for having a good time and making the most of your trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth?  Share your thoughts and advice below.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Destination Wedding How-To and Tips

The question's been popped, the ring is on her finger, and the excitement is building.  Now comes the hard part: Planning The Wedding.  If your like many other couples the task seems daunting and often insurmountable.  Well, there is a solution: Have A Destination Wedding.  No, seriously, have a Destination Wedding!!  There is nothing more romantic than being whisked away to an exotic land where you can enjoy both a beautiful wedding AND a beautiful honeymoon!  That's right, you can have them both all wrapped up in one!  Plus, IT'S SOOOOO EASY!  You get to enjoy all the fun parts (like picking a dress and planning your colors) but don't have to do any of the hard stuff (your wedding coordinator abroad does most of the heavy lifting for you!) My husband and I were married in Ocho Rios, Jamaica and here are all the tips and tricks we learned while planning our Destination Wedding:

1.  Set A Budget.  Yeah, yeah I know... This is the "uncool" part.  We all want to have those limitless weddings where you can splurge on everything. But lets face it, that's just not a reality for the majority of us.  Look in your bank account and decide on a limit for your wedding and honeymoon.  Set realistic limits.  You don't want to be paying off your wedding for years, so try not to borrow too much (or any at all!) to pay for it.

2. Decide If You Will Bring Guests.  Your mother has dreamed of this day since you were born and goodness knows your mother-in-law will be up in arms if she misses her baby boy getting married... but can you foot that extra expense?  Do you want an extended family gathering or just a few of the closest family members?  Will your guests pay their own way or will you foot that travel bill?  How long will they stay (through the honeymoon or just the first few days)?  My husband and I decided to go it alone.  We wanted it to be intimate and just the two of us.  Make sure to do what's right for you and put everyone else's needs on the back-burner (this is YOUR day, isn't it?).

3.  Find Your Ideal Honeymoon Resort.   Sounds easy, right?  Well it is.  Find a destination and check out the resort options.  Find one in your honeymoon budget.  Find one UNDER your budget (that way you can splurge on other things).  Look for the following:
     Water- do you want the kind of place that has water slides and lazy rivers?  or maybe you want crystal clear beaches?  Maybe you like water sports and plan on snorkling and diving?  Check the included water amenities and find what's best for you (and your guests if your planning on bringing them)
    Food- All inclusive resorts are SPECTACULAR.  I always try to find resorts with all inclusive packages.  Food purchases on your honeymoon can really add up quickly (and if you plan to consume adult beverages that ups the price significantly if your paying each purchase), that's why all-inclusive resorts really pay off.  They cost more upfront but often end up saving a bunch on food and drink.
   Location- How far is the resort from the airport?  Is it beach-side, mountain-side, or one of those fun new Eco-resorts nestled in back in the middle of no-where?  No matter what you decide, make sure that the travel time and distance is manageable for your time-table and budget.  Pre-purchase connections and travel packages before arriving at your destination. There's nothing worse than trying to hail a cab while holding a wedding dress over your head and pulling a rolling suitcase in the other hand (trust me).
   Rooms- Do you want the entire wedding party together in the same building?  or maybe you want people spaced out throughout a larger resort?  Look for a resort that offers special Honeymoon rooms (these tend to be in the quiet and private parts of the resort where there are fewer children and less noise).

Certain Details in a Honeymoon Room will really help to
make the room feel like more than just a Hotel Room.
Here are a few Resorts that get GREAT reviews:
Riu Montego Bay, Jamaica on TripAdvisor
Sandals Ochi Beach Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica on TripAdvisor
Sandos Caracol Eco Resort in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico on TripAdvisor
Now Jade Riviera Cancun, Mexico on TripAdvisor
Azul Beach Resort The Fives Playa Del Carmen, Mexico on TripAdvisor
Moon Palace Cancun, Mexico on TripAdvisor
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort on TripAdvisor

4. Contact the Resort and ask about there Wedding and Honeymoon Packages.  Some resorts have packages listed right on their webpage, but call anyway.  Often they have additional deals that they can offer you.  Make sure you ask what's included in each package.  My advice is to find a package that covers the most things within your budget.  It's hard to add things on once you arrive at the destination and frankly it's a major buzz-kill to have to stress about extras once your there, so just buy the package with the most things covered and let the Wedding Coordinator take care of details.
Here are some things that you should consider:
    Flowers- You want these included in the price.  There is very little chance that you can ship flowers in or find flowers last minute, so make sure that the essential flowers are covered (boutonnieres, bouquets, etc).  Our resort had different flower packages.  We pre-purchased the package we wanted and when we arrived at the resort we picked the exact colors and styles of the flowers within the package.
    Wedding Music- typically resorts will offer you different methods of music ranging from live band to DJ to CD Player.  Make sure that your package includes whichever method of music you prefer and bring a CD of your music choices if necessary.
    Minister or Officiant-  We didn't travel with our minister (as most people don't on their honeymoon) but most Resorts will have contracts with local ministers or officiants who can legally perform the ceremony in that country.  Make sure to check ahead of time if you have specific religious requirements.  Some Resorts require Christians ceremonies while others are more open to a wide range of options.
   Hair, Make-up, Glamifying-  This seems like a given, but you really do need to check on this.  Some resorts have Spas that will do your make up and hair (and provide your pre-wedding room for bridesmaids, etc), but for an added price.  Better to know and plan for those prices upfront.  Make sure to also bring pictures of what you want your hair and make up to look like.
    Pictures-  You'd think this was given, but you really should check.  Most Resorts offer packages of various numbers of photos and various editing.  Pick what's right for you, but be prepared to add onto the package.  We bought the 25 pictures package, which ended up being a gross underestimation of the number of pictures we were going to want.  We upgraded to the 100 pictures package after seeing the proofs the day after the wedding.

We were able to get a good variety of photos in our package
all of which perfectly portrayed our special day

   Venue-  Most resorts will have multiple venues for weddings (varying in size, atmosphere and capacity).  Make sure that the resort you have chosen has a venue that meets your needs.
   Legal Documents-  This part could be the most complicated part of the entire process.  Talk to your planner (BEFORE arriving at the resort) and make sure that you bring the appropriate documents with you.  When we were married in Jamaica, we had to send them digital copies of a handful of documents weeks before arriving.  This was so that the planner could send the request for a marriage license off and the Jamaican government could approve of the marriage before we arrived.  Then it was just a matter of signatures and document verification.  This part of the process typically costs extra depending on the government your marriage license will go through. Also, make sure that the foreign marriage license will be accepted in your home country.
   Rehearsal Dinner- Most resorts will have on-resort dining facilities and will include a Rehearsal Dinner the night before the ceremony.  Make sure to ask if this is an additional fee and inquire about the menu if you have special requirements.
   Reception- Similar to the venue for your wedding, most resorts will have options for receptions.  My husband and I chose a quiet private dinner, just the two of us, at a special private outdoor table.  We've also see receptions that are sit-down dinners, large parties, gatherings that involve the entire resort, and private affairs.  Pick what's right for you.

Our Private Dinner after the Wedding

5. Buy Your Attire.  Yey!! Dress Shopping!!! Make sure to pick a dress that responds well in the environment you will be getting married in.  Beach weddings in hot climates require much different dresses than those in cold snowy climates.  Consider the surface you'll be walking on, temperature, weather, and how you will keep the attire from getting wrinkles in travel (perhaps getting a portable steamer would be advisable or check if your resort has a service).

logoConsider buying all your dresses online and save a small fortune: Shop Now Get Up To 60% Off Unique Dresses.

And Don't forget to buy some great new outfits for your honeymoon!!
Get Up to 15% OFF Tops & Bottoms.

6. Pack Your Bags and Be On Your Way!  Sounded too easy, didn't it?  Well it's not over yet.  Once your at the resort you will most likely have to have at least two meetings with the Wedding Planner.  Expect at least one of those meetings to be longer and the other to be short (just for follow up questions and detail confirmations).  They will walk you through the process, let you pick last minute details (like flowers, music, etc) and will prepare you for the big day (normally walking you to the various venues so that you can inspect them and change your choices if possible).

7.  Get Married.  The big day has arrived.  The details are set, all you have to do is show up when and where the planner has instructed!  You will be walked through each step by a very skilled planner.

8.  Enjoy Your Reception and Send Your Guests Home.  It's TIME FOR THE HONEYMOON!  I think you can wing it from here, after-all, what happens on the honeymoon stays on the honeymoon.  

Did you have a Destination Wedding?  Where was it and what was your experience?  Are you planning a Destination Wedding?  Ask your questions and share your comments below.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Top 7 Things-To-Do in Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Headed to Ocho Rios, Jamaica anytime soon?  I was married in Ocho Rios and spent a lot of time touring the area and experiencing the exciting local flavors and excitement of this truly Jamaican city. Stop looking at all those other lists of things to do while your there.  Those lists will have you spending HOURS driving around the island seeing sights all over the country.  Don't get me wrong, if your only going to Jamaica once in your life, then those lists are for you!  But if you plan to come back to "the land we love" then you need to take in all that each city has to offer individually.  Stop driving all over the island and really experience what's around you.  Ocho Rios is one of the larger tourist destinations on the island and features spectacular beaches, beautiful shopping districts, and once in a lifetime recreational activities.  It also features the major selling point of the entire island: friendly and laid back people. Here are my Top 7 Things-To-Do when your there:

1. Dunn's River Falls
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deals on excursions to Dunns River Falls
If your going to do ONE THING in Ocho Rios, you have to climb Dunns River Falls.  There is no adventure quite like climbing up a waterfall!  I was seriously worried about it at first (worried, intimidated, and a little bit scared!) but once our very knowledgeable guide showed us how NOT to climb the rocks (seriously, he FELL off one of the rocks and slid down a section of waterfall) I felt a little more comfortable.  Thankfully, they give you great grippy water shoes and show you all the best hand-holds along the rocks.  At the top of each waterfall (yes, there are a series of waterfalls an you climb them all!) there is a series of pools where you can relax, take pictures, and enjoy the scenery.  Make sure to wear a comfortable suite and bring your since of adventure!
Me, climbing up the falls
A view of the falls from the bottom... YES, YOU CLIMB UP THAT!

2. Jamaican Bobsledding at Mystic Mountain Rain Forest Adventures
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deals on Excursions to Mystic Mountain
One of my favorite adventures in Jamaica is visiting Mystic Mountain.  The History of Rum, Tree-Top Sky Lifts, but best of all: BOBSLEDDING!! Yes, we've all see that famous movie Cool Runnings, but did you know that you can actually RIDE on a Jamaican bobsled through a track in the rainforest!? Seriously this was one of the funnest adventures I've ever taken.  There is no rollercoaster that can compare to this ride across the mountainside!
Riding through the Rainforest on our bobsled

3. Eat Traditional Jamaican Cuisine at Mom's
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deals on Trips to Mom's

Take an afternoon to get away from your resort and while your out, taste some REAL Jamaican cuisine at Mom's.  Don't expect fine dining in this little "hole-in-the-wall" restaurant, but do expect AMAZING flavors and truly authentic tastes.  This small restaurant is hidden down a typical Jamaican street packed with evening commuters, market goers, and plenty of local real life.  Mom's was recommended to us by a Jamaican-born friend who I went to Graduate School with.  It really opened our eyes to the bold flavors of the island's foods.

The sign on the front of the door at Mom's
Our Lobster Curry dinner

4. Learn the history of Rum and take a tasting
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deals on a trip to Rainforest Adventures

Are you headed to Mystic Mountain to bobsled?  Well, here is anothe reason to visit Mystic Mountain and the Rainforest Adventures: The History of Jamaican Rum!! At the top of the mountain you will have the chance to walk around a wonderful exhibit detailing the history of Appleton Rum and explore the creation process.  Examine the variety of colors of rum, check out the historical images of plantations, and touch the barrels that give Appleton Rum it's intoxicating taste. While your there, take a tasting!  I recommend trying a little bit of each rum to get a full spectrum of flavors.  A good rum tasting also makes a great precursor for the bobsledding adventure!

The display of Rum flavors and colors

5. Head up to the top of Mystic Mountain via the Tree-Top Sky Lift
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deals on a trip to Mystic Mountain
Another reason to visit Mystic Mountain: The Sky Tram that brings you from the base of the mountain to the top.  With stunning views this wonderful tree top ride gives visitors the chance to see the park before entering.  It also gives Ocho Rios visitors the chance to see the aerial view of the beautiful city and coastline.  We were excited to be able to watch a storm roll in over the ocean and could watch the rain fall on our bay-side resort while we sat on the tram listening to the sounds of the rainforest.  If your familiar with ski resort lifts, this is very similar but with a tropical twist!

The view from the Tree-Top Sky Lift

6.  Stroll through Turtle River Park
Check out TripAdvisor for the Best Deal on a trip to Turtle Park

Hidden right in the heart of the city, Turtle River Park is a hidden gem that can take you to a whole new level of relaxation in the hustle of the city life.  Opened in 2003, Turtle River Park used to be a bus park, this park was developed to offer tourists and locals a chance to stroll flower beds, rest in gazebos, admire fish and turtles swimming in the rivers, and snack on concessions.  I found this park accidentally while walking around the crowded market area in the city.  It really is a gem of a find!  Absolutely refreshing!

Turtle River Park

7.  Walk the City.  One of the most important things to do when you visit any city in any other country is walk and talk.  Really SEE the city as a local sees it.  Talk to the locals and hear what they have to say.   You really can't appreciate the beautiful tourist attractions within a city without seeing the real life of the country's people.  When you walk around Ocho Rios you will see an interesting approach to architecture that is popular in Caribbean countries which consists of what typical North American's would consider an "add on" way of building (read more about it in the Montego Bay post).  Ocho Rios (as well as many other Jamaican cities) are famous for your ability to go from City to Country very quickly.  You can be strolling through grided city streets to the edge of the Jamaican rainforest in a few steps and you can see where nature and the city collide.  While your wandering the edges of the city admiring the nature, make sure to stop and talk to the people!  I have found that most Jamaicans are eager and willing to talk with you about their country and their lives.  They are truly a very friendly people with a rich culture and society, so get to know the REAL people and place, not  just what you see at the resort.

Also, check out my Top 5 List for Montego Bay, Jamaica

Want to visit Ocho Rios?  Check out these last minute deals: Ocho Rios
Want to head to Montego Bay?  Check out these last minute deals: Montego Bay
My next trip to Jamaica will be to beautiful Negril.  Do you want to go to Negril? Check out some last minute deals here:  Negril
Also, check out the other great deals on Check out the best hotel reviews and hotel deals at TripAdvisor!!

Summer Must Have: Ever-Ready PicNic Bag

I'm a stay-at-home-mom.  What this means is that come summer time I have to find ways to entertain not only my preschool-aged children (...