Three Kids and A Hernia…or How We Finally Got Family Travel Right

The day you’re about to leave for a nine day vacation is not the day that you wake up, turn to your husband, and say, “Honey, I’ve got some uncomfortable, unusual, sort of alarming pain. I think I’d like to go visit the doctor before we leave in an hour. That’d be just fine, right?” So I didn’t. Maybe I should have. But, what if it were something silly, I thought. Like gas. Or a pulled muscle. Or last night’s wine.

Then we started driving. And I felt a little nauseous, and according to Google, that meant I had appendicitis, so I had to come clean. I was in pain and no position made it better. And another quick check on webMD assured me of the worst: I had appendicitis. For sure. I casually mentioned that if I was in so much pain I couldn’t speak or I actually began to get sick, to just swing by the hospital. Any of them we passed on the five hour drive from NYC to DC would do. NBD.

That night, minutes before sleep, I realized that I left my contact solution at home and would have to pick some up before we flew out the next morning. I have dry eyes though. Really, stunningly, dry eyes. So I did what any intelligent being with dry eyes would do: I soaked them in my nose spray. (PSA: Do not soak your contacts in your saline nose spray. It does not do the same thing. Like, at all.)

The next day was no better except my nausea was gone. I was still alive, so I figured my appendix had to still be in tact. So, really, who knows what was keeping me from bending down, sitting, getting up, and generally walking. I had a plane to catch and no time to think about it. And I had done my research: Orlando had good hospitals, so I wasn’t all that worried. Really. I bit my bottom lip, slipped my glasses on, and moved ahead as planned, which meant holding my tiniest little on my lap throughout our three hour flight to Disney World. And he showed me no mercy; he was a small Hercules battling for Olympus on my lap. He wiggled. He kicked. He ripped my glasses off my face. All of his abuses seemed to be directed to that one tender spot. Eventually, I had to send him across the aisle to sit with his daddy (and yes I may use this tactic in the future again…I’m not so scared to cry wolf when it comes to getting some down time on a plane).

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A wiggly little not sitting on my lap.

Upon landing, I grabbed a cute doll size container of contact solution for about $852 at the airport convince store. At the hotel, I put my contacts in after rinsing them, with just a slight burning sensation (which I was pretty sure was caused just by my own exhaustion). And then we headed out for a relaxing afternoon at the park. After years of making this trip, we know how to conquer the park without feeling too crazy (read “How to Turn a Trip to Walt Disney World into a Vacation” for more on that topic).

Meandering at the park served to be painful and fairly blinding. With each hour I hobbled more and more and my eyes teared more and more. The skin around them ripped up with rubbing and more eye drops. A kind woman even stopped me and gave me a small arsenal of disposable saline packets because she just couldn’t stand to see me in so much visible pain (i.e. wretched squinted eyes and goopy eyelashes). Eventually I could only keep one eye open at a time, and even then it was a blurry, foggy disaster. Basically, I was a zombie. After having lost one of my middle little’s favorite lovies, we all admitted defeat and headed back to our hotel as the sun set in front of us.

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Glasses…doesn’t everyone like to wear glasses on hot sunny days rather than sunglasses? Stay away from nose spray (at least in your eyes). Seriously.

Unable to keep my eyes open, I feel asleep as soon as my little people were in bed. I was unsure of how to get through the next day, my pain making me slower than my 14 month old and my eyes making me grumpier than all three of my littles when they haven’t been feed an appropriate snack in a timely manner. The day had been rough; I was sure the next would be rougher. But I still wasn’t going to bow out of the fight. Not yet at least.

That night my middle little crawled out of bed because his head itched (yep…his head itched…). As I picked him up to walk him back into his room to bed I felt a sharp pain. And then I knew. Like a flash. I had a hernia. After googling to assure myself, I told my husband and then spent the next day limping around the happiest place on Earth, feeling a bit of relief at having a clear diagnosis. We all worked our Disney magic; we rode the rides, snacked the snacks, and saw the sights. By four that day, we felt done (which is admittedly a privilege that comes from getting to Disney often), and my biggest little asked if we could leave the park. She never asks to leave the park. But she did. And my body was all too willing to comply. And that’s how we started to figure out how to get it right.

With pain shooting through my body, my eyes still recuperating from their little stint in nose spray, and a disinterested five year old, we decided to change our plans for the next day and do a late breakfast at a Hollywood Studios, which we could walk to, and then spend the afternoon taking the biggest little to the pool while the other littles napped. And that’s what we did. A slow morning without rushing to find shoes, scrambling to pack snacks, and repeatedly fighting to keep toddlers in clothes (seriously, it can’t just be mine…) served to create a stress-free stroll to brunch. A stroll my battered body could easily make.

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Napping little person. Tip: We use chairs to create bed rails for our little people.

After a few short hours exploring the park, we made our way back to the hotel. I waved good bye to my pool-seeking daughter and husband and put the other little people to sleep. Then, this momma opened the balcony doors and sipped a midday grown up drink. It was bliss. The sun was out and the grounds were quiet. And I finally felt like it was vacation.

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Relaxing on the balcony while little people sleep.

The biggest little came back to the room singing and full of sunshine. She made a new best friend, Lily, and she was going to meet up with her at the pool again tomorrow. (“Um…by the way, can we go to the pool tomorrow?”) She didn’t mind missing the rides or the characters; she had a pool and a new best friend. And she didn’t seem to notice that the water was 60 degrees and the air a mere 70. Her pleasure at being able to be free of having to be somewhere or do something superseded any discomfort she may have felt. She was allowed to be a rowdy, energy-filled kid and she was happy in this moment. She was free. And in her wake, she left a taste of that freedom for me.

And we continued this trend for two out of the next three days we were at Disney. We cancelled all our morning plans, shifted our dinner plans, simplified our days, swam in pools, took naps, canceled “to dos”, and asked the little people what would make them happiest. Our days became less about squeezing every last Disney drop out of the day and more about taking advantage of every last family moment of the day. There were dance parties, ice cream treats, and aimless wanderings, surrounded by little people conversations, grown up chats, and new best friends. There were giggles and little people secrets, snuggles and new games.

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My biggest little splashing her way around the pool with her new best friends.

It took a (self-diagnosed) hernia and a near blinding by nose spray to slow us down, but it set us straight. In our need to beat the system and conquer Disney, we had forgotten the human element. We were all apps and and reservations made months before. We forgot to remember down days, slow days, stop-and-smell the flower days that can’t be accounted for. We forgot about insular, family days and exploratory, new friend days. We just forgot. And all it took was a little hernia to remind us. No matter what wonderful plans we have laid out in front of us, we need to be in the moment and be open to what that moment is asking of us, even if it means changing those well-laid plans.

(Even though, it turns out, I didn’t have a hernia at all, it was still a good lesson to learn.)

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Surviving Disney World with a Newborn: You Really Can Do It

Having a newborn is no joke. I mean it’s all powdery smells and silky baby fuzz heads, but let’s be honest. It’s a job. Like a real, I am working way more than 40 hours a week, job. There is no pattern. There’s sleep and then suddenly just no sleep…at all. There’s diapers and feedings. Don’t even get me started on the constant eating that newborns do. Days become timed to when we feed the baby and when the baby sleeps. Day. Night. It’s all the same. It can be draining. It can suck the spontaneity out of even the most unplanned, freeformed of days. So, what happens when that newborn makes its sweet little appearance months or weeks prior to a planned trip (or really even an unplanned trip) to Disney World? Well, I’ve done it. At least three times. So, hopefully, my mistakes and lessons can be of benefit.

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Yummy newborn snuggles

My husband and I started going to Disney World regularly before children entered our lives. So, with three little people five and under, we’ve managed to make the trip with newborns of varied ages and with their siblings of varied ages in tow as well. Some of these trips have been successful. And, truth be told, some have not (there really is nothing like trying to bathe your tiny little in a small sink in a public bathroom, knowing full well that everyone eyes you with a mix of pity and disgust). But with each of our mistakes, we’ve learned a bit about how to survive the visually and physically overwhelming and exhausting landscape of Disney without completely losing our minds (at least I’m pretty sure I never did, but I don’t suggest you ask my husband whether or not I did…I feel his response may be slightly different and that’s probably not encouraging). Here’s a bit of what there is to know.

  1. Take Advantage of What is Offered: Disney doesn’t try to hide that they’re geared towards families, especially those with small children, so of course they have facilities that are designed to make life better. Each park has a Baby Center. They have quiet, darkened nursing rooms (Epcot and Magic Kingdom are shared spaces while Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios have private areas for each mother), large changing tables, microwaves, rooms to play and relax (for those wiggly little toddlers), and an assortment of baby items to buy (diapers, medicine, clothing, food, formula, pacifiers, sunscreen, among others). They have it covered. And the bonus? It’s air conditioned, so obviously this momma here needed to go to the Baby Center every two hours or so during that late May vacation in Florida. Thankfully it was free; otherwise, I’d still be working off that debt.

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    On the way to the Baby Center at Epcot, located behind Mexico next to First Aid.
  2. Use the Rides to Your Advantage: I’m going to be frank. Some rides are a once in a lifetime experience. Once is enough. For me, that ride is “It’s A Small World.” Unfortunately, my daughter didn’t get that memo. So we rode it. Again. And again. And, well, you know how it goes. The thing about It’s A Small World is that it’s a long ride. And it always stops, and the boat sits in that white room brimming with singing children for chorus upon chorus upon chorus upon chorus. Knowing I had countless minutes (at least 30) sitting on this comfy (relatively) boat, I decided to do what any mother does: I nursed my newborn. No one was looking at me. They were interested in the animatronic little dancing kids. So, while I wasn’t thrilled to be on the ride, I was able to make the best of it. I got to feed my tiny without having to make the rest of my entourage stop their Disney exploration. And this little trick shouldn’t be restricted to It’s A Small World. I go big. I mean, if it’s my fifth time seeing Frozen’s Sing Along Show, do I really need to pay attention? No way. I can feed my baby (and if I’m lucky catch up on a little sleep myself). Those shows are a great place to sit and tend to a newborn. They’re Disney’s gift to mothers of newborns, really.

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    Magic Kingdom’s People Mover is a great ride to take a break with your newborn. Here he rides in a carrier under a muslin blanket, napping the ride away.
  3. Bring Your Car Seat: It’s not often that I’m an advocate of the car seat and the car seat stroller. I find it restrictive, and for some reason I believe my newborn is hot and itchy all moments that he/she is in it. But at Disney? Bring it and use the snap and go stroller with it. Disney doesn’t really appreciate strollers in a restaurant, and many restaurants simply can’t accommodate them. Since tiny newborns can’t sit up in high chairs, they need somewhere to go. That somewhere is the car seat. With baby two we decided to fly down without the car seat. Not our best decision. I ended up trying to lay the poor tiny guy on chairs pushed together everywhere we went, if he wasn’t sitting in my lap (he’s always been a bit of trouble maker, so he was not one of those little people that could sit happily on my lap while I ate). Tiny baby three? We weren’t taking chances. Car seat all the way. And I couldn’t have been happier. The tiniest of my people was comfy and relaxed at meals. And (and this is incredibly important), I did not have to wake the tiny guy up from a nap to take him into or out of a restaurant or a car. Those naps were full and deep. Just the way a tired momma likes them.

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    Doesn’t that car seat look like it can get hot and itchy? But it’s a lifesaver.
  4. Walk as Much as Possible: When we don’t have our car with us, we try to stay at hotels that provide us with as much of an opportunity to walk as possible. While the Disney buses are fine and easy enough, they do require all strollers to be broken down. It’s just one extra step of madness. (Add to that a toddler or two, their accouterments, another double stroller, and the toddler’s general rule-following demeanor and the madness only increases ten fold…at least).

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    Walk whenever possible. This means a lot of trips on the monorails with a newborn.
  5. Bring a Carrier: The carrier’s value is limitless. Even with a cars eat a carrier is mandatory. I mean, I certainly can’t drag said car seat into a twenty minute “Peter Pan’s Flight” line with me. But, I can easily drop that tiny nugget into a carrier and go about my way (hopefully with a lovely cocktail in my hand (just kidding…seriously, Magic Kingdom really needs to get on that though)). The carrier is essential when going on rides that are newborn appropriate. That tiny person doesn’t want to be in and out and in and out of that cars eat (hot and itchy remember?), so I keep them close and let them hang out. Oh, and I haven’t forgotten that it is also every mother’s secret weapon for when she wants her child to sleep. Another reason to have it all times.

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    Meeting Elsa with a newborn in tow (sleeping in the carrier and covered with a muslin blanket).
  6. Prepare for the Elements: The rules are as follows: if there is no rain covering, it will rain. If there is no fan, it will be hotter than the seventh ring of hell. Bring both. Rain covers for strollers are highly important. Florida is required by law to have one random burst of rain every day. Be prepared. The stroller cover will keep the little person happy and dry. And if that tiny isn’t in the stroller, it will keep the stroller dry. No newborn (or anyone really) wants to then be sat in a sopping wet, foam filled, seat. And even though they are less than fashionable, ponchos are necessary. It is impossible to steer a stroller through crowds while holding an umbrella (scientifically proven fact). On the flip side, prior to that rain and immediately after, Florida is required to have insanely hot, sticky weather. Car seats have all that soft cushy padding surrounding a tiny person. It’s polyester. It’s everywhere. And they can’t move themselves because…well…no muscles. Bring a fan. And extra batteries. And a tiny screwdriver. My new born has never said it, but I’m pretty sure those sweet little eyes are filled with tears of thanks. And speaking of heat, we always bring a muslin blanket for the little people (all of them, toddler and big kid included). They’re thin and keep the sun off of their skin. Sunburnt little people are grumpy little people, and I don’t think that’s allowed in Disney World (except around 2-3 pm when pretty much all children under 7 begin to melt). Tip: We bring binder clips to clip the blanket stratigically to the stroller.

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    We were at Disney during Hurricane Matthew. Rain gear is a must.
  7. Relax: One of the most important things I’ve found as a mother of a newborn at Disney is that I am not alone. I’ve never walked through the crowds feeling like I was the only one dealing with the difficult, albeit lovely, job of hanging out with a newborn in Disney World. Women and men are all over the parks with them. And there are glances that say, “I get it.” When I sit outside a ride with my tiny person as my husband takes the other two on it, I am surrounded by others doing the same. Waiting. With tiny people companions. It is reassuring to know that I am not crazy in this endeavor. There is a tribe, and I am a part of it. If I can do it, someone else can do it. And when I hit a low, I see another parent with a newborn and am reminded, that yes, we can do this.

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    The tiniest little and me waiting for the others to finish a ride. Not so newborn anymore…we did it!

Disney with a newborn isn’t always a walk in the park (…see what I did there?). But, with a little planning and a little flexibility, it can be pretty darn close.

I’d love to hear how you make Disney doable for you and your newborn. Leave a comment below.

And if you’d like some more ideas on how to survive Disney World with or without a newborn, check out “How to Turn a Trip to Walt Disney World into a Vacation“.

Hotel Review–Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas, Lake Buena Vista, FL–Child Centered

Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas is my diamond in the rough. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t falling apart on the outside and it certainly isn’t in a questionable location. In fact, it may be one of my favorite hotels to stay at when we visit Disney World. The reason it’s a diamond in the rough is because it blends so seamlessly into the backdrop of a busy Atlantic shore boardwalk, but it offers so much tranquility at the same time. While well orchestrated chaos surrounds, I can slip off into a bench and watch it swim by, content in the knowledge that my little people are fully partaking in that chaos and I don’t need to do a thing to stop it.

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Map of the hotel and amenities

We are members of Disney Vacation Club, with our home hotel as Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, yet more often than not, we try to book our rooms at The Boardwalk. Why? As a frequent visitor to Disney World, there are two aspects to this hotel that keeps this family coming back to it again and again.

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The walkway between the hotel and Hollywood Studios winds around the lake. The parks can also be accessed by riding on the boat pictured.

First of all, we love the location. As a walking family, we appreciate that we can stroll easily to Epcot and easily to Hollywood Studios from the hotel (there are buses and boats as well, but nothing beats a nice walk). This is even more important since we have to bring strollers (there’s nothing worse than trying to grab all of our junk out of our two strollers, fold them (while keeping the little people from running into the road), throw them over my husband’s shoulder and get the three little people onboard a rapidly filling bus in a 30 second time period, especially when I’m not trying to look too crazy). Also, it’s not so bad getting to Magic Kingdom either, especially now that Disney offers the Express Transportation Option, which means we get to skip the security and entrance lines at MK because we’ve gone through them at Epcot. And what’s also great is that when we get to Epcot, we use the back entrance found quietly placed between France and England in the World Showcase where there is little to no line. This lack of line is of significant benefit when we are there for Food and Wine or the International Flower and Garden Festival. We can get in and out of the park quickly and easily. It also makes it quite simple to just slip over to Epcot for dinner after a day at another park.

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The easily accessed and usually empty back entrance to Epcot.

The second reason that the Boardwalk is on my list of go to Disney resorts is the amenities of the property. To be honest, Disney, in general, does a great job of making sure each resort has enough to do that we’d never have to leave the property, but the way in which these amenities are presented at the Boardwalk are what make it a standout property. As a mother of three littles five and under, I’ve figured out that taking breaks and not pushing too hard are essential to having an enjoyable vacation (for more momma survival tips, see my post “How to Turn a Trip to Walt Disney World into a Vacation”). This was easy when all my little people took naps, but that’s simply (and unfortunately) not the case anymore. So, what to do with a five year old (and occasionally a two year old) who don’t want to nap while the tiniest little gets a real nap in a real bed in a real room (albeit a hotel room)? At the Boardwalk, one of the grown ups takes the non-nappers out to explore the actual boardwalk area. Instead of just roaming the hotel (which they’d actually be more than happy to do as they fancy themselves hotel connoisseurs) they get to feel like they’re going somewhere special. They eat ice cream, get drinks, sit and watch the water, and take millions of photo booth pictures (and the hubs grabs me a lovely little adult beverage and brings it back to the room for me…it really is true love (hello AbracadaBar, I’m looking at you)). In the evening, we can come back to the hotel before dinner and still “go” somewhere for dinner when we eat on the boardwalk. It’s different than eating at a restaurant in the hotel. It feels special and new to the little people. It’s an experience. And the evenings on the boardwalk? They’re filled with caricature portraitists, magicians, face painters, and a slew of other entertainment that helps make it feel like we’re not at just a hotel’s amenities, but at an entirely different place.

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The courtyard outside of the entrance to the hotel off of the boardwalk. This is a great space to let little people run around and play a game of tag. Some evenings this turns into a theater with a large screen and blankets to sit on.

There are so many options to choose from when visiting Disney World, but my family and I keep coming back to Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas. Our days are easier without running to catch buses in enough time to break down strollers. We love having Epcot and Hollywood as options just to swing by to grab a bite to eat. It is the perfect combination of enough to do to entertain little people, but not so much that it is overwhelming and invites meltdowns. It’s a place to sit and watch the world go by without feeling like I’m missing out on that world.

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Patiently waiting for ice cream from Ample Hills, an amazing ice cream parlor that has its home base in Brooklyn (blocks from where the biggest little spent her first years…it always feels a bit like coming home.)

A few other fabulous and not so fabulous aspects of the hotel are listed below.

Pros Cons
The rooms are recently renovated (within past year) The choice of floor is difficult to keep clean (grained wood=little people grime sticks in textured grains)
Variety of room types available (with a variety of amenities such as kitchens, clothes washers, and dryers and high chairs, if requested) Rooms are relatively small (Villas) with no substantial table area (big enough for two only), and limited space for extra cribs/beds in bedrooms (only one would fit)
In the 1 bedroom Villa, the bathroom is split into two sections: shower, sink, toilet in section off of main living area and garden, jetted tub and sink off of bedroom (so toilet can be accessed without waking sleeping little people in bedroom) There are just shutters separating tub from bedroom (rather than a solid wall), so it is impossible to get a bath while little people sleep in bedroom.
The rooms have balconies The boardwalk side rooms can be loud if overlooking a busy section of the boardwalk as well as during the Epcot fireworks show
As a DVC member it is easy to access pool at Yacht/Beach Club The main pool is small overall (though it does have a slide). And the secondary pool is also small
Magic bands provided No on site character dining
Access to Magic Hours No on site Children’s Activity Center
Ample Hill ice cream (we lived blocks from the original in Brooklyn and it is un.be.liev.able.) Bathtubs (Villas) are large garden tubs, not ideal for bathing tiny little people
Outdoor play area
Outdoor grill
Kid activities (outdoor movie nights, smores, bike rental, etc)
Life vests for pool
Easy walk to Epcot and Hollywood Studios
Transportation to the parks (bus, boat, and walk)
Fireworks visible from both Epcot and Hollywood Studios (from room depending on room, but always somewhere outdoors)
Background of Epcot fireworks plays at the Boardwalk so you can experience the entire event from afar (yay for scared littles like mine)
Magical Express Service to and from airport
Resort Airline Check in (no need to drag bags to the airport or deal with lines at the airport)
A variety of eating and drinking options (from formal fish dinners to fried mac and cheese bites from a truck and onto a great drink at the AbracadaBar)
Childcare Services available for children 6 months to 12 years (prices found online)
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The delightful AbracadaBar right outside of the courtyard at the entrance into the hotel from the boardwalk.

What’s important to note is that we are Disney Vacation Club members, so we stay in DVC rooms, which provide us with kitchens and clothes washers as standard (in a 1 (+) bedroom villa). If these amenities are desired, they need to be requested. Additionally, if view is important, then it needs to be taken into account when booking the room. Some rooms overlook the boardwalk, some overlook a pool, while other rooms may just overlook the entrance or the parking lot. It is important to be clear when booking the room as there are a variety of room configurations and amenities available. Be aware of what you are booking when you book. That being said, regardless of the type of room you book, the location of the hotel and its “Coney Island”-like theme create the perfect balance of excitement and tranquility.

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Some Boardwalk photobooth fun (well, most of us had fun…).

Note: Hotels are based on a four level scale: Child Centered, Child Friendly, Child Accommodating, Unsuitable. A Child Centered hotel is a hotel in which the child’s comfort, happiness, etc. is paramount. A Child Friendly hotel has those implements in place to create a fun atmosphere for the child, though it is not the apparent mission of the hotel to continuously do so. A Child Accommodating hotel is that hotel where it will assist the parents in making the child comfortable at the parent’s request only. An Unsuitable hotel is a hotel that has no accommodations suitable for a child or the cons of the hotel make the hotel dangerous for the well-being of the child.

 

5 Things I Learned on My Most Recent Trip to Disney World

Honestly, there is just something about going to Disney World. Whether it’s the first time, the fourth time, or the fortieth time, each experience is new. Rainy days, park additions, growing little people, time of year, crowd size, my own patience level (there are only so many times I can ask my husband to slow down or my son to sit in the stroller): each aspect of every trip helps shape and mold the experience. This is why we go back. My family and I go at least three times a year. And it’s not just for the littles. In fact, my husband and I are going to swing by for a weekend at Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival this year little person free (yes, we will be accompanied by a bucketload of parent guilt, but it’s a small price to pay to saunter through a park, a beer steadily in one hand, rather than spilling it all over as I try to push a stroller with the other).

True to form, on our most recent trip to Disney World, there seemed to be so many changes and additions since our last visit two months prior. Granted, I live in a world of three little people under five, so I often don’t get to actually look at the world surrounding me. And when I do, I’m usually so mom-brained that I’m pretty much just sleeping with my eyes open. So these “revelations” of mine are a combination of those things that are new to the park and those things that I just discovered myself, even after all these years and all these trips.

  1. There are stand alone carts throughout Hollywood Studios that only serve alcohol. These popup carts have typically been in place in the park only during specific festivals or events like the Christmas lights. But because of the popularity of these offerings, the alcohol carts will now be permanent fixtures (and now all of the sudden Hollywood Studios has become the most popular of the four parks). Also, there is an absolutely amazing grapefruit beer. Amazing. To sip in the hot sun. Just. Amazing. IMG_9907.JPG
  2. The best time to do anything is the time of changeover. Let me explain. We are not morning people. We simply cannot get ourselves together and get out of our hotel room before 9:30 am. And if we try to, at least one of us will collapse into tears (I include myself in this.) Knowing this, we booked our breakfast at Hollywood Studio’s Hollywood and Vine for 10:30. My daughter and I like breakfast. My husband likes lunch. (My three year old eats nothing and my one year old eats anything so they’re out of this competition.) Within minutes of being there, half of the buffet was rolled over to lunch from breakfast. And with that blissful changeover, we were all dinner winners that morning. We had breakfast; we had lunch. But the beauty of the Disney World changeover goes beyond just meals. Usually we hit up Epcot in the Spring for the Flower and Garden Festival, but because we now have a Kindergartener (gasp!) and we refuse to go the week of Spring break (did it once…big mistake…huge) we were forced to miss it. We ended up going the last weekend of the new Epcot International Festival of the Arts (more on that later). And as soon as this passed, the flowers and topiaries started to pop up. So yea, I got a little taste of the Arts and a little taste of the Flower and Garden. Double win. And with that, I have learned never to underestimate the value of the changeover; in fact, look for it.IMG_0133.JPG
  3. Don’t worry if it rains. Go to Animal Kingdom and get on a Kilimanjaro Safari ride. When it rains, the animals are actually more active. We were able to see more animals in this single trip than we have on all our other trips combined (ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but honestly I had never been able to see a warthog before, so there’s that). There were elephants bathing, baby elephants rolling in mud, giraffe babies nursing. The animals were all over. And it was amazing.
  4. There are now Passholder Entrances at all park entrances. For the annual passholder, this is such a convenience. Perhaps this is more of a convenience for the passholder who can’t seem to get out of the hotel room at a reasonable time (just saying, not saying). And, according to three castmembers I asked, they have been trained to turn away any person in line who is not a passholder, which means even people who are friends of passholders. I didn’t ask, but I’m certainly hopeful, that if I didn’t renew my five year old’s annual pass, she’d still be allowed to get in the passholder line with me. IMG_9955.JPG
  5. Along the same line, the Disney Vacation Club has opened a new lounge in Epcot for members. This lounge can be accessed by going into the shop that is at the end of “Journey into Imagination with Figment.” They have soda machines, video games, TVs, computers, and pillows perfectly suited for little people to jump on and crawl on. It creates the perfect little spot for little people to team up and make some momentary friendships. And for parents to drink some caffeine and stare at one another.
  6. Right outside of the vacation club, which is located in the lost corner of Epcot near “Imagination!,” high above Figment, near the entrance to the new “Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival” are two important, yet hidden, spaces. The first is giant water area for littles (and probably a bigger person or two) to play in. It’s filled with water spouts that shoot water into the air in giant arcs. It’s a great place to get away from the crowd, cool down, and let the little people blow off some steam. Right next to this is a Visa character photo spot. Any Disney Visa holder will be allowed into the room to meet a secret, special character. It can be anyone (and, no, I won’t give away who it is so don’t ask).FullSizeRender-3.jpg
  7. Some of the fountains found throughout the parks have been changed from fountains with water to fountains with flowers. We first noticed this in the small fountain that’s typically outside of the First Aid and Baby Care Center in Magic Kingdom. We didn’t think much of it and moved on. The next day, while at Hollywood Studios, we found that the Muppet fountain had also been turned off and filled with greenery. After asking a cast member, I was told that the construction going on in the park made the water a bit, well, less than perfect looking. So, the decision was made to temporarily drain the fountain and fill it with the greenery. (This still doesn’t answer why the fountain in Magic Kingdom was filled with potted plants given there was no construction, but, sometimes I just have to accept what I’ve been told and move on.)IMG_0241.JPG
  8. Jasmine has a high-necked, long-sleeved, full length shirt now! It used to be that when eating at Cinderella’s castle, Jasmine came to greet the guests in the outfit she wears in the movie. Her shoulders are exposed and her midsection is exposed. Apparently, after a number of complaints about her outfit, Disney was compelled to change her outfit into the sad, shiny sack that it now is.

To some people it may seem crazy to keep going back to places again and again and again. It’s been done and has nothing left to give. But that’s simply not the case when traveling with littles. The little people are growing and changing every day. And whether we like it or not, nothing ever stays the same, even in a place as classic as Disney World.

Three Kids and a Reason

Everything happens for a reason, right? I mean that’s what we’re told. Surely it can’t just be a saying that we’ve adopted to help us get through the dark times. You know the ones I’m talking about. Those times when your heel breaks in the subway grate on your way out to a dinner date (oh wait…I’m a mom. I don’t remember what it feels like to go out on a dinner date and, more importantly, if they’re not Tom’s, Birkenstocks or my slippers, I’m not putting them on my feet anymore). What I’m really talking about are those times when you have a 5:30 pm flight from an airport that’s on the other side of the city (New York City nonetheless), and you’re daughter’s school day isn’t over until three and she doesn’t shimmy out of that big brick building until 3:15. Those times. But of course, this all happens for a reason (I am to believe). And maybe this did happen because we found our flight was delayed while we were stuck in traffic somewhere between the slightly whiney “He hit me” and the less slightly screeching “I want out. My buckle hurts.” A delay means that at least the little people won’t have to wait at the gate in an endless line that keeps getting longer and more endless with every passing moment that the flight is further delayed. They won’t be forced to watch everyone at the ready, poised to throw elbows in order to race down the jetway and find their coveted overhead space. They won’t have to endure the many glares and stink eyes that we inevitably get.

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe the airplane was delayed because we were going to be late. This late plane was what was going to salvage this quick three day trip to Disney World, so we could start the Christmas season off with the bubbly Main Street snow and abundant cookies and hot–but not too hot–chocolate that we’ve come to associate with the season. (Although this year it wasn’t just the standard sugar cookies FullSizeRender.jpgand hot chocolate–we were finding gingerbread cookies, egg nog, snow cones. This may sound good, but when the big little just wants the sugar cookie and hot chocolate she’s come to know and love, it is actually considered a form of torture (So maybe it was me and not the big little that wanted the sugar cookie. Fine. It was me. A girl has standards.) Either way, the positives in this trip looked like they were going to be what balanced and saved the negatives, so it was bound to be a restorative, yet quick, three days that would set the tone of Christmas celebrations to come (I know, famous last words).

Even when that delay was delayed, I knew it was for some reason. I had time to put my little people in their pjs and get them looking cute and fresh. They were fed. We weren’t falling apart, but ready to slip into our seats and snuggle our way into a late night flight to the happiest place on earth. We were ready. We were. And then it was delayed. Again. No big deal I thought, especially since my daughter told me she felt she might just sleep through this whole flight (other than overnight flights, she hasn’t willingly slept through a flight since…well…you get the picture). I thought the tiny little should be easy. He was flexible, could stay up late without getting cranky, and I’d be nursing him once we took off. The combination of snuggling, nursing, and the late hours pretty much guaranteed that in no time he would be dreaming sweet dreams of properly using a spoon and stealing his brother’s cars. Easy Peasy. The middle little? He’s his own man. No one really knows what to expect out of that one, but we were prepared and had him in a one to one ratio with his daddy.

Time to board and relax. I’m no dummy (or at least I don’t fancy myself one). I’m not one to drag much on board with me in the hopes that I can get anything done thatIMG_8252.JPG doesn’t involve the little people, but still, this time, I had hope. I pulled out my Kindle and stuck it in the backseat pocket. All the kid stuff was put in its proper kid stuff space, and we took off with all the squeals and delights that have become customary for my littles. The tiny one laid back and started to relax, the middle little got sucked into his special iPad shows, and the big little was content watching a preview for an American Girl movie. Over and over and over. Then the tiny little sat up like a rocket and picked at my face. He grabbed my necklace. He kicked the arm of the chair. He grabbed his sister’s headphones. He tried to climb to the top of my head. He saw his daddy behind me. He cried for him. He tried to climb over the chair. He tried to climb through the chairs. He wiggled. He poked my neighbor. IMG_8236.JPGHe poked him again. I apologized. He kicked the neighbor. He kicked him again. I apologized. I thought to myself, when did this little ball of blub turn into the most fidgety, picky, giggly, pokey little being I have ever had the privilege of holding in my arms? (It could have been a whimsical sweet thought, but let me be honest. It wasn’t. He spilled my wine.) Then his crying began to crescendo. And finally, with seconds to go in a flight that felt days long, he fell asleep.

But as it does, the light turned on so we could prepare the cabin for landing. And that tiny woke. And cried. And he fidgeted. And I fidgeted. And he got sweaty. And I got sweaty. And he cried. And I–wait a minute. I didn’t cry. IMG_8238.JPG(I mean not really. Not much.) Then he found the air vents and all was right with the world.

By the time we landed all of us were covered in sweat and tears, spilled apple juice and wine. We were so late we had to grab our own bags off of the luggage carousel and drag them to Mickey’s Magical Express (this is a service they usually do for you–unless it’s late at night). To our relief, immediately we were put onto one of the buses for our resort, except it didn’t go anywhere when we got on. We had to wait. And wait. (Catching onto a theme here?) When we arrived at our hotel there was no one to help us get our bags to our rooms. My husband dragged them there one at a time while I tried to soothe three intensely exhausted little people. IMG_8760.JPGThen only one of the cots we had requested was in our room, and upon calling, I was told it would take them quite some time to get the other to us. I pulled out my momma bear and that cot got to us shortly thereafter (I think the wailing two year old in the background punctuated my point). And then I managed to get all of those little bodies with their exhausted limbs, their tear-filled faces, into their beds. That night our children went to bed later than they ever have and as a result my expectations of our serene trip to the happiest place on earth shifted.

My children were going to wake up exhausted, short-tempered, overwhelmed by the day. They were going to be out of control on a day when both their daddy and I were exhausted and ill prepared for meltdowns. These three days were going to be spent just trying to brace ourselves for the flight home (fortunately it was an early morning flight). They would be too tired to want cookies and hot chocolate. The fake snow would fall in their eyes and they’d be upset. The little people would lash out at one another. That night, as my head sunk into the pillow, it seemed I couldn’t justify the stress of the nine hours it took us to get to Disney World. I couldn’t find the reason it happened that way.

And then the sun came up as it always does. And my little people were rousing. They IMG_8405.JPGspotted one another while their father and I buried ourselves deeper in our covers, and they giggled. They were eager. They were happy. After getting dressed, they chirpingly made their way to the park. There were no little hands picking at other littles hands, no squawking or screeching about fairness or wanting. It was calm. It was pleasant. It was amazing. My little people seemed unfazed by the day before, and they defied every new expectation I had created in my late night haze of exhaustion (it ended at three days when the tiny one and the bigger little got a stomach virus hours before boarding the flight home–but that’s a whole different story). Things happen for a reason.
But sometimes they don’t. Everything does not need to be the precursor to or result of something else. By far that trip to Disney World was the best trip I have ever taken with my little people. It defied every expectation and reminded me that one bad flight, one bad day, one bad experience cannot be the defining moment of traveling with little people. They move on. As parents, we have to too.

 

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Three Kids and a Hurricane

We had only halfway been tracking it in the week leading up to our trip to Disney World for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween. In fact, when I called my husband and said we should really keep our eye on Hurricane Matthew, he had the response one would expect from a FullSizeRender-3.jpgman who thinks his significant other is a slight bit paranoid. Which I’m not. Really. (Am I? Maybe I am? What if I am? But I’m not. Totally not.) As the days dripped on though, it became clear. We needed to discuss Hurricane Matthew. It seemed it (he?) would be headed toward Florida some time around Friday morning, perfectly timed with our Friday morning flight into FL. We weighed options: Go later? Cancel? What about school? Finally we settled on earlier. And so our mad rush began.

With three little people tearing through the house, it can be a wee bit hard to pack. I tend to do a handful at a time in the week leading up to our trip (my free time is usually when the two smallest littles are napping, and the clothes I need to pack are in the napping kids’ rooms. Go figure). There it was Tuesday night and I had to have it finished by Wednesday night. So I did a frantic pack. This is my least favorite type of packing. I can’t even manage it for a trip to the grocery store, let alone a rainy, hot, cold, sunny, windy, stuffy trip to Florida. But. I did it. Then when it hit me that we’d be in hotel rooms with the littles for an extended period of time, I had to pack more (I seriously hate bringing more). So I took more. More coloring books, more stickers, more cars, more dolls, more books, more puzzles, more rattling things, more rolling things, more wiggling things, more noisemaking things. More. Every. Little. Thing. And then some time in the middle of the night, I was done.

4:30 am and I hear it. Even though my husband has chosen the most gentle, soothing, sweetest alarm to wake up with, it still brings a solid cold sweat and a shock of denial every time it happens. I managed to pull myself like molasses from bed and started the task of starting the day. The last minute gather, the waking of children. The car ride. The security line. The airport. The airplane. And finally, the arrival.

There we were, tired, hungry, and, after a check in so long it was almost time for our flight home, roomless. Sure we were early, so we understood. The hurricane had travelers coming early, leaving late, not showing up at all, so we really understood (I mean, we were some of those travelers). Some smiles, some nods, and we were finally ready to get ready for the park (and food…there’s no way I was taking the little people anywhere hangry–even a Disney World park).

FullSizeRender-1.jpgWhile frantically inhaling our first meal of the day we were texted: one of our connecting rooms was ready. It was nearly two pm and perfectly timed so we could prep for the heat and the rain, head to Epcot, take the littles on a Nemo ride in a clam shell, and try to ride Elsa and Anna’s new ride before it closed for the hurricane at five (we had fast passes for 5:15…seriously?!?!?!?!). Our connected room would be ready for us by the time we got back. No big deal, or so we thought. We’d still get back in time to set up the littles’ room; unpack; and let them get some of their wiggles out, feel the lay of the land, throw their clothes around, strategically place all their stuffed animals, and evaluate the condition of the room (the five year old fancies herself a hotel connoisseur).

As we made our way through the back entrance to Epcot, the rain slowly started, and since TSA lost one of our stroller rain covers (thankfully meant for the single, not the double), we had to buy an extra poncho and rig a special cover for the five year old sitting alone. It was actually kind of perfect. She rode sitting criss cross apple sauce with the sun visor over her and stuck her sweet little face out of the poncho hood. She stayed dry, and it seemed like there was no barrier between her and the rest of us grown ups.

But that novelty wore off as we reached the Nemo ride and she had to be coaxed to go on fullsizerender-4(Bruce the shark is not that friendly of a guy in actuality). By the time we emerged, the rain had picked up and the five year old felt hot to the touch. She begged to put the stroller back and lay down with the rain cover over her, barring her from the world. We made our way, at her behest, to the Frozen ride in the hopes that the line was short since the park would close in 10 minutes. It wasn’t bad. But the knowledge of those lost fast passes ate at us while we waited with a sad little person who desperately wanted to go on the ride but was too sick to stand on her own. So my husband asked. He told them we have fast passes for after the park’s closing. And they let us in. Imagine that. We just needed to ask.

When the ride was over, the wind had started. We managed to stay dry to this point, but FullSizeRender.jpgwith the rain coming at us sideways, we knew this walk would mean we would get drenched. At least the littles would stay dry. And the five year old slept. Within minutes of being in the stroller, she slept. All the way back to the hotel, she slept. Through the wind and the rain, she slept. In the lobby while we waited to get the key to our other room, she slept. When the concierge realized that someone else was in the room we had been given, she slept. As my husband showed them the text with our new room number on it, she slept. And as we waited, she slept. As they grew more and more apologetic and more and more confused as to what to do with us, she slept. As my momma bear instinct began to wake, she slept. Through my mother in law and I deciding to take the kids up to the room we currently did have, she slept. The ten month old little though? Oh, he didn’t sleep. He hadn’t all day. And neither did the two year old. It was the perfect potion for a toxic night.

My husband appeared at our door much later, defeated. They could offer us rooms across the hall from one another right now or we could wait longer to see what connecting rooms they could put together. With littles as little as ours, we needed the connecting rooms. So we waited and went in search of some dinner, the little people hanging on by barely a thread, overcome with exhaustion from an early morning, a rainy day, a late dinner, the beginnings of an illness, and the knowledge that a hurricane was lurking in the dark. Then it hit me.

I understood when the rooms weren’t ready at first. I understood that it would take them time to get them cleaned. I understood that Hurricane Matthew caused some chaos with people coming early, leaving late, or not showing up at all. But the airports were closed. People weren’t looking to check out and head straight into the heart of a hurricane. FullSizeRender-2.jpgThe rooms were set. It was eight o’clock. My ten month old was sleeping at the table. My five year old was becoming feverish again. My two year old was about to scale walls from sheer exhaustion. They needed their beds, their stuffed animals, their sanctuary, their place away from all the stimulation. And my momma bear stirred again. And I left.

I spoke with the front desk for perhaps five minutes and made my way back to my table. I turned to my husband and said calmly, “Go up to our room and meet the bellmen there. They are on the way to get our things and move us to a two bedroom suite.”

I can’t tell you exactly what happened in those five minutes. I know I did not raise my voice. I was not angry. I was protective. I explained my situation-my little people, my loves. I did not leave room for thought. I explained what I needed. I explained what I expected. And that is what I received.

While it often pays to be flexible when traveling, there are also those moments when you have to be an advocate for your little people, your family, yourself. I wasn’t going to leave with promises that vanish into the air. I wanted action. I requested action. And I got action. (And it totally helped that we had a spacious, calming, three room suite to whittle the day away in while the hurricane swirled around us.)

Hotel Review–The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, Lake Buena Vista, FL–Child Accommodating

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is a hotel (two really) that my family stays at frequently. There is something about hearing the fountains and the boat horn and sniffing the cozy vanilla smell that immediately makes me feel at peace. IMG_7026.JPGIn fact, until we joined the Disney Vacation Club it was the only place we stayed initially for two main reasons.

First, the Swan and Dolphin have the unique quality of being the only non Disney hotel still located on Disney property. Due to this, guests have most (but not all) of the benefits of a Disney hotel (extra magic hours, transportation to parks, and character dining to name a few), but guests also get to redeem points or get points for their stay because the hotel is a Starwood Property (which just happens to be our favorite hotel collection, so there’s no way we would’ve turned a blind eye to these two hotels).

The second aspect of the property that drives us to return is its location. It is situated within a scenic and easy 15 minute stroll to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The walk to Epcot takes us past The Boardwalk area, so we have easy access to all the amenities there (the hotel restaurants, the restaurants, bars, ice cream shops, bakeries, etc), and when we get to Epcot the path terminates at the entrance found quietly placed between France and England in the World Showcase. This lack of line is of significant benefit when we are there for Food and Wine or the International Flower and Garden Festival. It also makes it quite easy to just slip over to Epcot for dinner after a day at another park.

All in all, staying at the Swan and Dolphin was a fairly easy decision for us before we had children. Since kids, we still come back about once a year, but it is not our go to anymore. While the hotel is clearly a part of the world of Disney, it is also distinct in how distant from Disney it can at times feel. The hotels have quite large convention centers that are usually booked. This means that rather than having a family vibe, they often have a corporate vibe with groups of adults running from one meeting to another and signs and tables situated throughout the lobby (at least of The Dolphin). It seems the lobby is less a IMG_7010.JPGplace to gather with a family than it is to be a meeting place of members of a larger visiting convention. When weaving our way through the throngs of convention goers, it feels as though we, as a family, accidentally stumbled into a meeting we were not supposed to be at. It is less than welcoming. In the Dolphin (our preferred property), the bar can become full of people mingling, and since the bar is located in the hallway of the lobby at the top of the escalators leading to the main entrance to the walkways and amenities, it is impossible to navigate at times.

IMG_7002.JPGI think the aspect of the hotel that keeps it from being Child Friendly can best be summed up by our last visit. We were at the Dolphin during Hurricane Matthew and the closure of the parks. We asked the concierge if there were any special activities they had set up for the day to keep kids occupied, and they told us the Children’s Center would be open, as it usually is on rainy days. This small collection of rooms, tucked into the back corner of the hotel was the only amenity set up for children on a day when all children were confined to the hotel. (Disney properties, on the other hand, went so far as to bring the IMG_7004.JPGcharacters into the hotels so children could visit with them while stuck indoors.) Additionally, while the hotel has some great activities like S’mores and parent’s Date Night, they do little to advertise these services and parents must go out in search of them (we chanced upon them listed on an electronic poster when wandering the hotel during the Hurricane). In the five years we had been frequenting the property with children, this information was never verbally discussed with us. In summation, the hotel has much to offer, but don’t be fooled into thinking that because it is on Disney property, it is the equivalent of staying at a Disney hotel.

Pros Cons
Access to Magic Hours Convention center can create chaotic, crowded, corporate atmosphere
Indoor ice ceam parlor Concierge service is not always knowledgeable
Kid friendly eating options Guest Services are slow, often requiring multiple calls (ex: we waited 10 hours for a crib)
Large, interesting pool with kid friendly depths Check in can be time consuming and rooms are not always ready “on time” (3 pm check in time)
Life vests for pool Balconies not in all rooms (always a nice place to escape with a grown up once your trapped in the room because of sleeping children)
Easy walk to Epcot and Hollywood Studios No transportation to/from the airport (no Magical Express of other Disney properites)
Transportation to the parks (bus, boat, and walk) Parking lot gets filled quickly so finding a spot can prove difficult even if it is paid for, and the valet service can get quite backed up
Fireworks visible from both Epcot and Hollywood Studios (from room depending on room, but always somewhere outdoors) Camp Dolphin is small with limited space and not always available
S’mores by the beach six evenings a week Disney dining reservations can only be made at exactly 180 days out rather than 180 days plus the duration of your stay
Swan boat rentals There are no linked Magic Bands for your park ticket, room key, or charges
Two complimentary hours of child care while dining at one of their signature restaurants or during a 75 minute spa treatment  
Character dining at Garden Grove  
Camp Dolphin: supervised activity center for children ages 4-12 (open nightly 5:30-midnight; call for reservations)  
Park tickets can be purchased on site  

Of note, the rooms are undergoing renovations.

Note: Hotels are based on a four level scale: Child Centered, Child Friendly, Child Accommodating, Unsuitable. A Child Centered hotel is a hotel in which the child’s comfort, happiness, etc. is paramount. A Child Friendly hotel has those implements in place to create a fun atmosphere for the child, though it is not the apparent mission of the hotel to continuously do so. A Child Accommodating hotel is that hotel where it will assist the parents in making the child comfortable at the parent’s request only. An Unsuitable hotel is a hotel that has no accommodations suitable for a child or the cons of the hotel make the hotel dangerous for the well-being of the child.