Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Disney: Magic Kingdom Day 2

Planning a trip to Disney World?  Read up on my tips and tricks before you go.

On our very last day of our Disney vacation, we went back to the Magic Kingdom.  We had a tour scheduled for 10 AM and the park opened at 8.  So we got up extra early that day to get on that bus at 7 because we all know that an early start is essential to having short lines.

Earlier in the week, we had pretty much ridden everything in Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland and Liberty Square that we wanted to.  Today we were focusing on Tomorrowland.  And guess what's in Tomorrowland?  Yup!  Space Mountain!!  The epitome of iconic Disney rides.  Well, maybe not the epitome, but still the ride we had been waiting for.  That's where we headed first.

So how did we like Space Mountain?  All but one of us loved it!  David had the misfortune of being in the front seat...and he hated the ride.  Guess we should have put him farther back.  But Julie and I liked it so much that we got a Fastpass for later and rode again.  Wahoo!

Next up was a ride all for David - Tomorrowland Speedway - loud, diesel-smelling, slow-driving race cars.  David liked it so much he and Tim rode it again while Julie and I took our second Space Mountain ride.  After our race car adventure, we headed over to the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin.  This ride was similar to Toy Story Mania but not as fun.  Inside is neon with blacklights.  The premise is that you need to help Buzz fight the evil emperor Zorg with your laser.  On the down side, you can't see where your laser is pointing so it's hard to tell what you are hitting.  On the plus side, it's the only ride that I beat Tim on!!!!!  And I beat him big time.  That made it fun.  That made us ride it again immediately.  Only I didn't win the second time, so I'm choosing to only remember the first time :).

At that point, it was time to head over to Town Hall for our Family Magic Tour.  I'm going to tell you all about that in a different post.  On our way we ran into:

Snow White.

Of course, we stopped to get her autograph and picture.  Then it was on to our tour.
Our Family Magic Tour was great!  But it did start raining towards the end of it.  It was the only rain we got all week and it only lasted about 2 hours, so I'd say we were pretty lucky.  Our tour ended about lunchtime, so we decided to eat at Ray's Starlight Cafe.  We discussed our plans for the afternoon and waited for the rain to end.  According to the "official" touring plan for the day we were done at lunch.  So whatever we chose to do after that was up to us.  

Our choice?  Get character signatures, see the parade and ride favorite rides one last time.  Since our tour had ended at Pirates of the Caribbean, we went ahead and rode that, getting in David's favorite ride one last time.  The next several hours were full of waiting in lines to see favorite movie characters.

Their autograph books filled up and their smiles grew.  David was funny.  He wanted signatures from all the princesses but did NOT want to get his picture made with them (except for Ariel - guess he liked her).  But the Disney photographers were not going to let him get away without taking his picture.  So we have numerous pictures of him trying to NOT get his picture made.

In the middle of all that happiness, we camped out on a corner in Liberty Square to wait for the parade.  The kids were hot and tired and were fighting nonstop.  They were getting on Tim's last nerve so he headed out for a few minutes to take a break and to get me a yummy funnel cake.  Then it was time to bring on the parade.

At the end of the day, we had just enough energy to ride Julie's favorite ride, Splash Mountain, one last time.  As we were exiting the ride, we saw Aunt Laura's favorite character, Goofy.  Aunt Laura had told us to tell him "Hi." So we just HAD to go see him.

That was the perfect note to end our Disney adventure on.

But, don't worry, I'm not quite done blogging about our adventures.  I'll be back with 2 more posts next week.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Giveaway reminder

Don't forget about the giveaway going on right now.

Win a 6 month subscription to the MathBlaster website.

 Go here to enter.

Disney: Magic Kingdom Day 1

Planning a Disney trip?  Make your trip a little smoother.  Check out all my Disney planning tips and tricks.

Yay!  It was finally time for the Magic Kingdom touring day.  When we started our Disney planning, we knew we wanted to incorporate 2 days to see the Magic Kingdom.  Not only is there enough stuff there to fill up two days (and more) but it makes our life a little less stressful to know that we don't have to do everything in one day.  In light of that, we had picked out our touring plan - the 2-day Touring Plan for Junior Pirates and Adventurers. 

 Since Disney said so, we can now officially "Let the Memories Begin."

The plan started in the back of the park at Peter Pan's flight.  But right away we were derailed.  We walked into the park on the wrong side - we went in on the left but the stroller rental was on the right.  As we walked over to get our stroller for the day, we heard "Come see Mickey.  No waiting."  See Mickey first thing?  Uh, yeah, we're going there.  And he was right.  We were second in line and we saw Mickey and Minnie first thing.

 Eager anticipation.
Then, of course, we had to take in some of the Main Street sights and get a few pictures taken.

OK, now we were finally ready to follow that touring plan!  Our first wonder of the day - Magic Kingdom stroller parking.  Now, Epcot had stroller parking but the Magic Kingdom really has stroller parking - like parking lot sized stroller parking.  After we parked that stroller, we rode Peter Pan's Flight (a great, non-scary little ride to start with), then watched Mickey's Philharmagic (awesome 3D!!!!).  Our touring plan called for touring the Haunted Mansion next; however, we had already decided to mark that one off.  I know too many kids who rode some scary ride (Haunted Mansion, Snow White's Scary Adventures, etc), got freaked and refused to ride anything for the rest of the day.  So we were nipping that one in the bud before it even got started.

We wandered over to Frontierland next.  OK, we really didn't wander.  When you're with me at an amusement park, you walk quickly with a purpose :).  Anyway...Splash Mountain was next on our list, followed closely by Big Thunder Mountain.  Splash Mountain was a HUGE hit.  So huge that we went straight over to the Fastpass machine and picked up passes for another ride later.  Hopefully it would be hotter then and the water would feel great.  Big Thunder Mountain, on the other hand, didn't go over with the kids that well.  Tim and I loved it but both Julie and David thought it jostled you around too much and "went waaaaaay too fast" (to quote David).

Following "the plan" we went on the raft/ferry to Tom Sawyer's Island next.  That was really boring, to be honest.  I thought it would be more like a playground to play on, but it wasn't.  And since my kids aren't old enough to have read Tom Sawyer, they really didn't understand what all the buildings and places were.  So we jumped on the next ferry back.

It was about lunchtime and we had decided to leave the park for a few hours at lunch (like our original plan that we veered away from at Epcot), so we headed out.  We decided to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (or some combination of those) back in our room.  We were planning to stay late at the park that night to catch the fireworks.  Eating in the room and resting just seemed like the best idea.  Tim and I took a nap after lunch, Julie read and David played.  But we all got rested and ready to go back that afternoon.  It worked out well for us.

**TIP** - When you rent a stroller, you can return it in the middle of the day, then pick it back up later.  All you need to have is your stroller receipt that is stamped with the day's date.  Just show it to the stroller rental people and they'll hook you right up.

After our midday break, we got right down to business.  Jungle Cruise was our first ride of the afternoon.

Classic ride as always, witty tour guide, silly little animatronic animals that the kids loved!  (Incidentally, "animatronics" is David's new favorite word.  He finds ways to use it in all sorts of sentences.)

Then we rode the favorite ride of all 5-year-old boys, Pirates of the Caribbean.  I don't know if you have ridden this recently, but as far as the action of the ride, it's tame.  As far as the content, it's a little sketchy - if you're in the know, you see brothels, drunk pirates and lots of theft.  If you're 5, you just see cool pirates.  And, they have redone the ride in the last 15 years since I've ridden it, go figure.  Now, the Jack Sparrow in the ride looks just like Johnny Depp.  Anyway, we all loved the ride so much, we rode it two times in a row...with no waiting either time!

And just for Tim, we went to the Hall of Presidents.  OK, OK, it was pretty good.  After some dinner at Pecos Bill, we camped out near the castle to wait for the fireworks show.  A little ice cream helped out the wait.  The fireworks were good but the show before the fireworks was even better.  They had this cool show where they put pictures on the castle then changed all the colors and all the decorations on the castle.  All done with the wonder of projectors.  It's hard to explain on here but it was really neat.

**TIP** - If you have a rest day, go to the fireworks show the night before.  Then when you arrive at the hotel late at night, you won't feel bad sleeping in the next day.  That is, if your kids know how to sleep in.  Mine, not so much.

And, just because my sister is a band director, I took this picture.  So here, Laura, this one is for you.  The trumpet player was really good, reminded me of you ;).

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bragging Time

It's bragging time.

Since it's my blog and since I'm a mom, it's my prerogative to brag on my child.

Tuesday night Julie had the second piano recital of her life.  Her teacher gives everyone a song from their book and a hymn to play.  One of the two songs always has a teacher duet with it.  In Julie's case, I get to play the duet with her every year.

I have to admit that after 10 years of piano lessons and 10 recitals as a kid, I still got nervous before I played with Julie the other night.  But we did well together. 

Without further ado, here she is:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review and Giveaway: Math Blaster by Jumpstart

We love Jumpstart!

Jumpstart uses technology that your kids are asking to play with all day and secretly turns it into learning fun for them.  Last summer we got the privilege of trying out Jumpstart.com's learning website for kids and posting this review.

Now Jumpstart is at it again with a new learning site called Math Blaster, focusing on learning math through interactive games.

Just like the Jumpstart website, on Math Blaster you can create and customize your own character.  You even pick a cool spacey name like David Magnetic Mercury.  Your cadet then moves up through the ranks by playing games.  The games all have a space theme and involve blasting dangerous aliens or foreign virus-like creatures.  And, oh yeah, they also sneak math problems in there along the way.  David's favorite games are HyperBlast and the Galaxy Grand Prix ("You get to create your own track!!")


After choosing a game, you get to choose the math lesson to focus on - addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc.  Then you choose more specifically what level you want - adds to 8, adds to 10, etc.  You can also choose easy, medium or hard.  So there are a LOT of ways to customize your child's experience.

If your child needs a little hand-eye coordination help or some extra math help, he or she can always visit the academy.  There you practice your shooting skills in a shooting gallery type game, or have your character climb up a mountain all while brushing up on math skills.


I, personally, played around a little on the site and even as an adult, it was a little addicting.  You want to answer those math questions faster and get a higher score.  The more games you play and the higher your scores, the higher you get ranked.  And who doesn't like to have their ego stroked a little bit by getting rewards, even if they are just virtual.

I think this is a wonderful site.  David is always asking for "screen time", as we call it at our house, and I definitely feel less guilty about letting him play the computer if he is playing educational games.  Also, as a little Star Wars fan, he loves the space theme to the game.  Julie enjoys being able to expand her skills by practicing multiplication and division, things she won't "officially" learn until next year in school.  But, don't take my word on it, take theirs.

Just for reading, on lucky person will receive a 6 month membership to the Math Blaster website.   To enter:
  1. Visit Math Blaster's blog and leave me with a comment of the name of your favorite article on there.
  2. Extra entries - Follow me on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway for 2 extra entries.  Leave the link to your tweet in a comment.
  3. Extra entries - Follow my blog and blog about this giveaway for 2 extra entries.  Leave the link to your post in a comment.
 That's it!  The contest ends a week from today on Thursday June 2 at midnight.  Good luck!
Update:  Due to commenting problems the contest has been extended to Sunday June 5 at midnight. If you have trouble leaving a comment, please email your entry to catwoman522@gmail.com.

Disclosure: I was provided with a membership good for Math Blaster and Knowledge Adventure at no cost by Knowledge Adventure in order to test the products’ abilities and give my own personal opinions on it. The opinions I have given are mine and may differ from others but were not influenced by the company or the free product provided.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How they've Grown

Yesterday was the official last day of school.  Monday was really the last day of school.  Tuesday we just went to collect report cards and hug teachers.  It's a little bittersweet.  I no longer have a Kindergartener and a 2nd grader and I'll never have that combination again.

To commemorate the day, I copied blogger, Tesa's idea.  I took a picture of the kids today in the same place that I took a picture on the first day of school in August.  Now we can see how they've grown.

 August 2010
May 2011

David's legs just look longer to me.  And Julie looks a lot more grown-up.  Sniff, sniff.  My babies are growing up.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The best laid plans

Well....I had big bloggy plans this week.

I was going to write and post all about our Magic Kingdom days on Monday and Tuesday, tell you how to add a menu bar to your blog on Wednesday, review a new Jumpstart game/learning site on Thursday and figure out Friday's post later in the week.  AND I was going to pre-write all of this stuff so it would be scheduled and ready.

But you know how the best laid plans go.

Instead, I went on a date with my husband on Saturday afternoon and evening after planting about 30 flowers.  I didn't even touch my computer all day.  (By the way, our date was wonderful.  As of Sunday, we have been married 12 years!  I love you, sweetie!)

Then on Sunday, church ran incredibly long (guest preacher); I took a nap; I planted more flowers; then the thunderstorm from down under rained down havoc on our section of town.  The power went out at 7:30 PM Sunday night and didn't come back until 9 PM Monday night.  Argh!!!  No computer for me.

Monday night the power came on at 9 ... and the internet and cable went out shortly thereafter.  Of course.

Today was the last day of school and Julie's piano recital is tonight (not to mention day camp registration, end-of-school lunch with Daddy, etc).  So this is my little window of computer time for the day.

Obviously this week is not going as planned.  But as Alexander's mom said "Some days are like that...even in Australia."

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Coupon Castle

I love me a good deal.  You guys know that. 

Some people are just starting out in their coupon journey.
Check out a first time couponer's experience learning that coupons do expire.

NoVae clothing

Check out this review of a new clothing website, NoVae.

NoVae review

Let me know what you think.

Medical Possibilities

I got some interesting mail the other day.
It was an Explanation of Benefits about my ER visit in March.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't usually enjoy mail telling me I owe yet another medical facility money.  However, this one was a little different. 

It said I'd met my out-of-pocket max for the year.  What does that mean?
  1. It means ER visits and surgeries are just WAY too expensive even with insurance.
  2. Better yet, it means insurance pays 100% for things from now on.
I know, I know, they won't pay for everything.
I'll still pay for copays, and prescriptions.
BUT I'm going to find out everything they will pay for and get it ALL done!

Lasik, spider-vein removal, allergy testing, boob job - yup, I'm calling the insurance about it all to see what they cover.  And if they cover a boob job, I'm totally doing it.  (Ah, I wish they would.)

What about you?  If insurance covered everything, what would you get done?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What I (am in the Process of) Learning Wednesday: Menu Bars

Well, readers, my hope was to figure out how to add a menu bar at the top of my blog and have it figured out by today.  However, as I mentioned yesterday, this is turning out to be a very busy week, so I haven't finished my learning for this post yet.  But I will keep on plugging and hope to have that out to you by next Wednesday. 

Disney: Hollywood Studios

Going to Disney, anyone?  Hear first hand tips from someone who just got back.

I decided not to go in chronological order in my touring posts.  Since we went to the Magic Kingdom 2 days - Tuesday and Friday, I thought I'd put those 2 posts together next week.  You can look for those on Monday and Tuesday.  Today I'm going to tell you all about our day at Hollywood Studios(If you went there when you were younger, it used to be called MGM Studios.)

Our family was just so excited about our Hollywood Studios day.  My kids love Star Wars, Cars, Disney channel characters, Playhouse Disney characters, etc.  All of those are at Hollywood Studios.  And Tim and I were excited about the shows.  We knew we had to veer off of our original plan to tour in the morning, rest in the afternoon and return in the evening.  That evening we were going to Mickey's Backyard BBQ and we would have to leave at 5 PM to get there, so we had to tour all day instead.

As usual I checked out the touring plan the night before.  We had decided on the touring plan for parents of small children.  Originally we were going to do the tween one because Julie wanted to ride the Tower of Terror and the Rock 'n Roller Coaster, but she changed her mind after hearing someone on the bus talk about them.  The plan called for riding all the rides in the morning and attending all the shows in the afternoon.  Since we were heading out early, we knew we couldn't make it to all the shows listed.  Instead, each family member picked a show that they really wanted to see and we made it our priority to see those.  Anything else was just bonus.

Just like the rest of the week we arrived early before the park opened.  About 15 minutes before opening, they allow you through the turnstiles onto the main street of the park.  But you can only go as far as the rope across the street lets you.  They have this little show, then open the park officially and the rope drops.  Just like the rest of the crowd, our first stop was Toy Story Mania.  In case you haven't heard, this is the hottest ride of all the Disney parks.  So hot, they have a Disney employee walking in front of the crowd pacing them so no one runs for the ride and gets trampled in the process. 

Even getting there with the crowd, we went straight onto the ride without a wait and, let me tell you, it was an awesome ride!!  I know why everyone loves it.  As you ride in the little vehicle, you wear 3-D glasses and shoot at screens, kind of like you're at an arcade.  At one screen you are shooting pins at balloons, at another you toss rings over Toy Story aliens' heads.  And all of it is made possible by the wonders of modern technology and 3-D.  It's really cool.  So cool, that we wanted to ride again.  So after we got off the ride, I hopped on over to the handy dandy Fastpass machines and grabbed 4 passes to ride again later.

**TIP - If you want to ride Toy Story Mania (and trust me, you do), go there first.  Do NOT get the stroller first.  It will slow you down.  Ride the ride first, then go back for the stroller.  If you want to ride again (and you will), get the Fastpasses immediately after you get off the ride.  Fastpasses for that ride "sell" out quickly.  If you wait there won't be any left.

After our wonderful ride, Tim went back to rent our stroller for the day.  In the meantime, my kids had money burning a hole in their pockets.  So they had to find a place to spend it.  Luckily there was a face painting booth right outside of Toy Story Mania and they happily took the kids money.

Don't our pirate and our water fairy look lovely?  Seriously, this is the best face painting job I've ever seen. 
I thought it was great!

Prince Caspian's attraction was right next to Toy Story Mania and our kids are huge Narnia fans, so we decided to check it out next.  It wasn't on the touring plan because the author really dislikes that attraction.  After seeing it, I agree with him.  It was awful - not even worthy of being called an attraction.  Basically they take you into this room with the stone table (if you've read the books or seen the movies, you know what the stone table is).  You're not allowed to touch the table.  So you just stand there as clips from the movie show on screens around you.  That's it.  Seriously, you're Disney and that's all you've got???  

**TIP - Don't waste your time with the Prince Caspian "attraction," even if you are a Narnia fan.  You'll be disappointed.

Unfortunately for my two little Star Wars fans, the Star Tours ride was closed for remodeling (it reopened yesterday).  But the Jedi training academy was still going on.  And that is what David chose as his show for the day.  Now according to my guide book, the master Jedi picked volunteers out from the audience to be trained in the ways of the force.  The guide's advice was to get there early and sit up front.  So we went there next...only to find out that you have to sign your kids up ahead of time.  They don't pick volunteers from the audience any more AND they were all booked for the entire day!  David was crushed.  Luckily the Star Wars store and the chance to spend more money helped cheer him up a little.  After he bought a LEGO Star Wars bad guy ship, he was ready to go watch someone else become a Jedi.

 The little Jedis got to fight Darth Vader.  I really wish David could have done it.
 Looking on, wistfully.
 At least he got to pose on a speeder.
My Jedi princess.

After that, we went on to Muppet Vision 3-D.  That was about the coolest 3-D I've seen (except for Mickey's Philharmagic in the Magic Kingdom - that was a little cooler).  We ate lunch at the fun, but loud Pizza Planet.  Our after lunch plans included catching everyone else's show choices and watching the Pixar afternoon parade.

We headed over to Tim's choice - the Indiana Jones stunt show.  That was really good.  They had a set that kept opening up to new sets with more stunts.  Everyone liked that, even David.  We had a few minutes before Julie's show, so we jumped on the Great Movie Ride.  I thought it was too slow and had bad acting.  You have a live driver who interacts with a live Bugsy character.  They were NOT good actors.  In fact, it really ruined the ride for me.  I thought it was the worst ride of the entire World.  Don't go on it.

After that lame ride, we had 5 minutes to make it to the American Idol experience - Julie's show choice.  We walked right in.  Julie picked a good one.  I really enjoyed that show.  They had 3 singers chosen from the people visiting the park that day.  The winner went onto a finale that evening.  The winner of the finale gets a golden ticket.  With the golden ticket, they can jump to the front of the line at any Idol audition.  Pretty good prize, I think.  It was a full-fledged show complete with a host and judges.  I couldn't decide if the judges were being serious in their critiques or if they were just acting.  But the first judge had the best arm muscles of any female I've ever seen.  I was so jealous.

From there we went to the Pixar parade.  While we liked the parade, I was a little surprised that there were characters from "Up" but no characters from "Cars" or "Wall-E."  My kids loved both those movies and could have cared less about "Up."

 The Incredibles
 A Bugs Life


And, of course, Toy Story

Just after the parade, we waited around on the San Fransisco street and got to see one of David's favorite characters, Mater.  Gotta love Mater!

To finish out the day, we went to my show choice - Beauty and the Beast.  It's always been my favorite Disney movie and the stage show there was wonderful.  I highly recommend putting that on your To Do list for your Hollywood Studios touring day.

We had a few disappointments for the day.  Star Tours was closed (although we knew that ahead of time), the Cars section of the park was closed in preparation for Cars 2 opening this summer and we didn't get to see Fantasmic, the nighttime show that everyone raves about.  But we did have an awesome day and really want to go back again soon to see all the stuff we missed.

And our final fun for the day?  Julie lost a tooth while eating a cinnamon bun and waiting for the bus.  

A cast member told her that if you lose a tooth at Disney World that Tinkerbell comes and puts $50 under your pillow.  Well, Tinkerbell didn't have that kind of money when she visited our room.  She only put $1 under Julie's pillow.  But since that was twice what the Tooth Fairy normally pays, Julie was pretty happy.