Family Vacation

In Search of The Next Great Family Vacation – Part 2

Hopefully by now you’ve read Part 1 of In Search of the Next Great Family Vacation.  If you haven’t you can dig in here.  Transportation, check!  Place to stay, check!  You’re now on your way to a great family vacation!  Now that you’ve chosen your vacation spot let’s talk about how to plan your time for maximum enjoyment.  I promise if you do a little planning, you will appreciate being able to answer the nagging question, “What are we going to do now?”.

Unless you are going on a cruise,  you’ll need to have some sort of a plan each day.  When I go somewhere I am totally unfamiliar with I usually buy a guidebook so I can make notes and have a paper map.  Rick Steves and I are good travel companions during European vacations although I usually pack more than khaki pants and a button down.

Remember when you had everyone choose their #1 activity?  Refer back to that list and do some research.  Do you already have specific dates/times set for activities you really want to do?  Go ahead and put those in your calendar and work around your #1 activities to plan the rest.  I am a visual person.  I like to use index cards so I can fill in details about each day’s activities.  Of course, working off of a spreadsheet works too.  But in the event that my computer/phone dies from someone playing hours of Dino Zoo I like to have a paper back up.

Have the kids help you navigate

Get a map so they have something to hold and ask them to figure out how to get where you are going.  It can become a game, especially when no one knows where they are going!  My son practically memorized the subway map on our last trip and it definitely came in handy.

Plan for time to just run around

Get outdoors let your kids do what kids do best, run and scream their heads off.  This can be a great release for you and them, especially if they have had to stay composed on a tour for several hours.  Locate a park on your map for times you need to blow off steam.  A hotel pool also works well.  Ahhhhh!!!

Kids tours/scavenger hunts

Don’t rule out going someplace that you think isn’t “kid friendly”.  I honestly don’t like that term most of the time.  Almost anyplace can be kid friendly if you set expectations (for yourself, your spouse, and your kids).  As long as it is interesting to someone in your group, you can make learning about almost anything enjoyable.  Many museums nowadays have special guides for the kids that include interesting facts and even scavenger hunts.  They are super interactive and lots of fun, not a word you think of when you think of museums.  We also really like the Jr. Ranger program at the National Parks.  Again, its a scavenger hunt format but a really cool, hands on way to learn.  Look into these things ahead of time.  Make learning fun!  Just know the kids won’t last 5 hours in the museum.  When you need a break, seek outdoor space STAT!

Explore the grocery

Some of the novelty of being somewhere new is seeing the differences from your hometown.  Since I’m always dragging my kids to the grocery store, one of my favorite things to do is visit a local grocery store or farmer’s market.  You are guaranteed to find some goodies that you don’t see at home.  Go ahead, try something new!  You’ll need travel snacks and breakfast items anyway if you rented a house or apartment.  My kids love getting to pick out a special snack.  Sometimes it goes over well, other times, not so much.  We do not recommend shrimp flavored potato chips!

Try new foods

It’s so easy to get in a food rut and feed your kids the usual suspects on menus at restaurants – chicken fingers, pizza and burgers.  Use a trip as a fully immersive “get out of your comfort zone” experience.  We have a rule that we all have to try something new (adults too) when we travel.  Warning, the kids may start to order off of the adult menu.  Actual comment from my 7 yr old, “I’ll take the muscles please”.

Enjoy Eating Out

In order to keep your dining out options open, and resisting the urge always stop at “kid friendly” restaurants – there’s that word again – I recommend keeping your family engaged by playing games.  It helps pass the time when you are waiting for your food and makes for a great conversation starter.  I like to keep a pack of UNO cards in my bag and a pad of paper so we can play hangman or tic tac toe.  If you have little writers in your midst meal times are a great time to journal.  My kids hate to write ironically, so this hasn’t worked for me but give it a shot!

Indian food
My son trying Indian food for the first time. Not something he would have done at home. But the novelty of trying it on vacation gave him a sense of adventure!

Play an ongoing game

As you know, traveling usually involves a lot of walking, waiting, standing, transporting, and waiting some more.  On our last trip, we started playing a game to pass the time.  My kids love seeing people who have dyed their hair fun colors.  I’m talking pink, purple, blue, rainbow, etc.  So we started counting the people we saw with fun colors in their hair.  We kept a tally and would say the number and the color.  So, “that’s #12 pink!”.  I got crushed because I was usually navigating or figuring out where to stop for lunch but they loved it.  And they just loved beating their mom.  You could do any old game, just make it fun.

Meet other kids

A really fun way to learn about other areas is to ask a local.  Kids are notoriously honest and hilarious so why not interact with some pint-sized locals to learn a little more.  My kids are super shy but we’ve found an easy way to strike up a conversation is at a local playground or store.  Don’t be creepy about it, just say “hi”.  On one of our trips we met a British family and we all laughed about how we call things different names.  We were on “vacation”, they were on “holiday”.  Kids are equally interested in meeting kids from other areas too.  It’s highly entertaining and dare I say, educational?!

Let them see you make mistakes

Traveling can be stressful.  Even the most prepared vacationer can run into snafus.  There are so many things that are out of our control; missed flights, delays, wrong turns, forgotten items, bad food, lack of sleep and the list goes on and on.  Consider this a great time for you to show your kids that you are human.  We make mistakes.  The world isn’t perfect.  How we deal with those bumps in the road are great lessons in life.  I wish I could say that I have always calmly dealt with mishaps.  I haven’t.  But when I have acted calmly I can tell my kids are paying attention.

A few more tips right before you leave

Call your credit card companies and tell them your plans for travel so they don’t think someone has stolen your card when you use it outside of your hometown.

If you are traveling internationally, call your phone provider and see if they have any international travel plans for voice and data.  You’ll want to use your phone to call home but also to make reservations or contact people locally.  And, check out the data plans.  Using your GPS abroad uses a lot more data than you might think.  I guarantee you’ll be using your GPS.

Make copies of any important documents and keep them somewhere other than with the originals.  I’m talking; your credit cards, passports, insurance cards, hotel reservations and even any important prescriptions that you have.  You can take photos or also a paper copy to put in your suitcase.  You may not always be near a computer or able to get to your email via your phone.

Okay, now you are all ready for your Great Family Vacation!  Pat yourself on the back for pre-planning a bit because now you can sit back and enjoy yourself.  Go out there and explore with your tribe!  Happy travels.

Kid's suitcases

In Search of The Next Great Family Vacation – Part 1

Apparently fall is in full swing.  I don’t know about you but, I find myself longing for the days when my family was making lifelong memories together on vacation.  Where did summer go? If your vacation didn’t live up to the hype and you are vowing to do better this year OR if you are in search of your next great family vacation, I challenge you to start daydreaming today.  It’s never too early to think (and save) for your next vacation. Heading to your local beach is what childhood memories are made of, but sometimes mixing things up and thinking bigger can be risky and I promise the reward is well worth the effort.  The idea may be daunting but it is manageable if you plan ahead just a bit.  I promise.  Here is a list of ways to plan an awesome family vacation.

Brainstorm

Brainstorming is a great place to start and an entertaining topic of conversation for dinner that doesn’t involve the dreaded question, “How was your day?”  Talk about places you’ve always wanted to go on your family vacation or experiences that your family wants to have together.  Do you really like animals?  Have you always wanted to be a cowboy?  Or are you looking for a little culture in the city?  And I love going old school.  Get a globe out, spin it around.  Think big and make a list.  There are no bad ideas but some just may not be feasible…yet.  Narrow your list down to places/experiences that are realistic.  A list of 2 or 3 is fine and then it’s time to head to the next step.

Research

Okay, I’m stating the obvious here but do a little online research to learn a little about your top locations.  Get your kids involved.  Go to National Geographic Kids and see if there are any videos about your chosen location.  Research some of the native animals or learn about a new state.  I also really love hitting the local library with the kids.  My favorite books to check out are the Who Is/What Was series.  It’s a fun way to read about an important person or event from your vacation locale.  Here are a few for sale on Amazon if you can’t get to the library.

 

Doing a little research can teach you about the local culture.  Traveling takes you out of your hometown, which means you are in an unfamiliar place with a different culture.  It’s important to understand and appreciate similarities and differences.  You don’t want to accidentally offend someone by showing them the bottom of your shoe or leave a tip at dinner if that is not customary.

Discover activities that are age appropriate for your family.  Will you have to walk everywhere?  Does your dream day involve getting out in nature or touring a museum all day?  Have the kids pick an activity or two that they can’t wait to do and you do the same.  That way, you can head off future grumblings about not wanting to do said activity with, “It was Dad’s #1 pick so let’s all find something we like about this pub.” (actual conversation on our recent trip to London)

Globe Family Vacation Planning
Around and around we go, where it stops, no one knows!

Rent a home

I love a hotel as much as the next mom.  Daily housekeeping, anyone?  But there comes a time when a small hotel room just doesn’t cut it in the vacation sanity department.  If you are traveling for more than a few days you may want to stretch out a bit.  You will want to unpack your bags and not eat out 3 meals a day.  It gets expensive!  I strongly encourage you to look into renting an apartment/home for your family vacation stay.  There are several sites that offer a great selection of spacious places to stay.  We’ve rented through Home Away and Airbnb in the past and had wonderful experiences.  They have homes for every budget and you can even book experiences through them.  Between Home Away and Airbnb you can choose homes, apartments, cabins and even boats!  I like to choose places with kitchens so you can make a quick breakfast in the morning or store wine for a nightcap after the kids are in bed.  Also having a washer/dryer is a bonus when your kids spill something on their clothes. Every. Single. Day.  And separate bedrooms mean that no one has to try and read books under the covers with flashlights while little ones sleep.  Although you won’t have a hotel concierge to pepper with questions, many of the people renting out their homes are happy to help you with restaurant recommendations or questions about the area.  We found that most places had local brochures and maps available.  Before you book check these things:

  • Check the location.  If you don’t have a car, is it close to transportation?  Within walking distance to major sights?  Is it on a busy road – that could be noisy and/or dangerous with kids.
  • Read the reviews.  What have other travelers said?  You have to walk up 3 flights of stairs with your luggage and 2 tired kids?
  • Check the amenities.  No WiFi?  Could be a downer when trying to plan your day.  Daily cleaning included?  Score.  Welcome basket with coffee and pastries.  Now you’re talkin’!
  • Understand your cancellation penalties.  If you cancel within a certain amount of time before your stay most will charge you for some or all of your trip.  You may be able to get trip insurance but, make sure you understand your vulnerability.  Life happens.

Make you sure you are prepared

If you are heading out of the country, check everyone’s passport NOW so you have time to renew or apply for a new passport.  Everyone in your family needs one, even babies, so start hunting around for your important paperwork and apply.  It can take up to 2 months so plan accordingly.  If yours is expiring soon, like within the next 6 months go ahead and renew it anyway even if it isn’t expiring until you get back.  Just to be safe.

If you plan on taking several trips abroad in the next 5 years, consider applying for the Global Entry Program.  It’s basically a fast-pass through customs when you return back to the US.  I’ve found when I return back on US soil one of the last things I want to do is wait in line with tired/cranky kids.  You can thank me later.  Again, everyone in your group has to apply so start the process early.

These days you really can’t be too careful.  Check in with the US Department of State to see if your travel location has any alerts or warnings.  You can register your travel plans via a program called The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  It’s FREE and it notifies the US Embassy in the country you are traveling to know your plans.  They will send you notifications if there are any emergencies like a natural disaster, civil unrest or even a family emergency.  It’s just another way to feel safer traveling with your family.  And speaking of US Embassies, know where the closest one is in case you need to recover a lost passport. It happens.

Okay, now that you have picked out a family vacation spot and have prepared for the fun and memories, let’s talk about how to have a good time.  I know that sounds silly, of course you are going to have fun but let’s talk about EVERYONE having fun.

Read on here In Search of the Great Family Vacation – Part 2

 

Lion Country Safari

Lion Country Safari – Drive Thru Gone Wild!

Drive thru Starbucks – genius, especially when you have a sleeping baby in the back. You may also enjoy the convenience of a drive thru dry cleaner.  And of course we all succumb to the drive thru fast food from time to time.  But, have you heard of a drive thru safari?  If not, you’ve got to check out this wild (literally) experience at Lion Country Safari, located about 20 miles west of West Palm Beach.  What the heck is a drive through safari, you might ask?  Well, remember the movie, Jurassic Park?  Yes, yes I realize mentioning that and then talking about LION Country Safari may have you think twice about bringing your precious babies there.  Trust me.

The Drive Thru Safari

The safari is a self-guided driving tour through various African environments that allow you to see real animals in their natural habitat, roaming free.  Well, except for the lions, they aren’t roaming free.  They are safely behind a fence with an on-site park ranger to make sure that everyone is safe.

Lion viewing area
Gate to the lion viewing area.  Deep breaths.

 

Lioness
The lioness is safely behind the gate.

Don’t worry, you have a designated path and the park gives you an audio CD that guides you and tells you more about the animals in each section.  You are kindly asked to keep your windows rolled up, drive slowly and keep your eyes open for roaming animals.  But, it seems that most of the animals are very accustomed to vehicles driving through their “African” plains.  Being stopped in your car by an impala crossing isn’t something that you see every day, well, at least not in Florida.

Animal crossing
An impala making it’s way to greener pastures. As they say here, “Animals have the right of way!”

You are welcome to drive through at your leisure and they have places to stop and watch the roaming wildlife and take photos.  If you are organized (which I wasn’t) you can go to their web site and get a list of the animals on the safari so you can study up before seeing them in action.  The audio CD is great, but sometimes when they are talking about the Brazilian tapir, an alpaca is crossing in front of your car instead. You’ll encounter all kinds of 4-legged animals, reptiles like giant tortoises, water buffalo, ostrich and rhinoceros.

Rhino out of car window
It’s not every day that you see a rhinoceros outside your car window.

They even have a chimpanzee habitat for your car full of monkeys to watch.  And, of course the lions, who are rather docile during the safari are roaming behind the gates.  We saw one lumber over to the chain link fence, but that’s about it.  One of our favorites was the giraffes.  You can see them roaming from the car, but I highly recommend you spend a few dollars to feed them because there’s nothing like having a giraffe nibbling lettuce out of your hand (more on that in the Safari World Amusement Park).  It truly is magnificent!

Safari World Amusement Park

When you’ve finished the drive thru safari you are led to the Safari World Amusement Park.  At this point you have to leave the comfort of your vehicle and explore on foot.  It’s time to load up on sunscreen, grab your bag and stretch your legs.  The amusement park promises hours of entertainment but the entertainment options are a bit disjointed, much like the attention of a 5 yr old.  You can do anything from explore a petting zoo, paddle boat, play miniature golf, ride a train, see an animal show and even get soaked at a mini water park.

Lion Country Safari Train
Little ones will love the Lion Country Safari train ride.

If you visit during one of the hotter months March-November, you may want to bring a bathing suit or clothes you don’t mind getting wet.  Let the animals inspire you and cool yourself down at the water park.  They also have ice cream if you want to cool down from the inside out.

Safari Water Park
Cool off at the water park on the splash pad or one of the water slides.

Being from the western part of North Carolina, my kids won’t pass up the opportunity for some good old gem mining.  For you gem mining newbies, you get a bag of dirt and sift through it with a screen while submerging it in a trough of running water.  It costs a little extra to buy the bag of dirt but my kids just dug around for cast offs from other non-experienced miners.  We walked away with some cool rocks, I mean “gems”.  Y’all my kids spent 15-20 minutes hunched over this trough.  If I could get them washing dishes like this, it would be a miracle!

Safari Gem Mining
Not sure how many mines are in Florida but they have gem mining!

For a truly special and unique experience, spend a few extra dollars to feed the giraffes a little safari salad.  They prefer romaine, in case you were wondering.  You feed them from an elevated platform and it’s hard to appreciate their size until they walk up to you and grab lettuce from you with their incredibly long tongues!

 

Giraffe Eating at Lion Country Safari
We knew giraffes were tall but we had no idea that they had really long tongues!

The bird feeding tent is another “fun” animal encounter.  For a few extra dollars you can feed birds out of a little cup in your hand.  Warning, when you grab the cup they swarm at you. My kids got a good laugh. Can you tell I am not a bird person?

Safari bird feeding
The claws of the (whatever this bird is) are super sharp!

Eating

When you want to do more than graze, like the animals, you have a few options.  You are welcome to bring your own food to the park. They have a designated food area with picnic tables.  They also sell food at various locations throughout the park.  This visit I brought my wild pack of kiddos to the “Main Restaurant” (I know the name sounds delish!) for lunch.  They had a surprisingly varied selection of food.  The usual culprits were there; burgers, pizza and fries.  But, they also have deli sandwiches, salads, fruit and sides like mac & cheese and beans and rice.  The food was just fine and great fuel to keep us going for a few more hours.  Save some room for a treat later.  We recommend the ice cream and chocolate covered frozen bananas.

Tips for Busy Moms:

  1. Lion Country Safari ain’t cheap.  Adult tickets are $37 at the door and children over 3 are $26!  It’s actually pretty pricey, but whatever you do, promise me that you’ll do a quick online search to find discounts – or just click the link below for your very own coupon!  They usually have a Groupon running.  And they usually have a coupon on their web site.  The day we went, I found an $8 off coupon for each person in the car.  And for you home schooling moms, there is even a better discount with some extra educational opportunities.  The annual pass is just a little bit more than the regular ticket and it makes sense to buy it if you plan on going back, even just one time.
  2. If you don’t have a CD player in your car, you can go to the Lion Country Safari web site to stream the audio tour for the drive thru safari portion.  Just be sure your phone is charged before you leave home.
  3. Bring snacks for the car.  For some reason watching animals constantly munching makes you hungry.  I recommend crunchy ones.
  4. The park recommends that you go when it is raining, the animals emerge from the shadows to enjoy a shower and you can get some great photos.  Early in the morning is the second-best time.  Set your alarm clock!
  5. Load up a stroller so little ones can take a break from walking and you can take a break from carrying everyone’s “stuff”.
  6. Pack your bathing suit and towel if you plan on going to the water park.  It’s really just a few slides and a splash pad but you will want to be ready to get wet.
  7. In my opinion, the park, especially the Walk-Through Amusement Park is geared more towards the 5 and under crowd.  But, older kids may have a better appreciation for the Drive Through Safari.
  8. They have special educational days for toddlers and fun options for school break camps and summer camps for the kids.
  9. Don’t forget your sunscreen!

Lion Country Safari coupon

 

Christmas Road Trip Bingo

Christmas Road Trip Bingo

Is anyone else adding a major road trip to your magical holiday “to do” list?  If you are, you’re going to want to print out my Christmas Road Trip Bingo!

We have a 12 hour car ride coming up sooner than I’d like to admit.  The kids and I are trying to think of something to do in the car (other than watch movies for 12 hours) and we thought it may be fun to make our own car bingo.  Good old car bingo is on our short list of games that go with us in the travel bag when we hit the road.  I wrote about our favorite travel games in my post 13 Travel Games Under $15.

Since we listen to holiday music nonstop these days and we love looking at holiday lights, we thought it would be fun to create a Christmas Bingo that includes some of the things we tend to see on the road during the holidays.  I plan on printing these out before we leave and bringing markers and clip boards.  If I’m organized I may have a prize for the winner.  We’ll see if I am THAT organized.

If you are looking for a little something extra to put in your road trip bag of tricks, feel free to print these out and watch as your family is entertained for oh, 20 minutes or so.  Consider it my Christmas gift to you!

Now get out there and pass it on.  We all know where the Christmas magic comes from.  Beautiful moms like you!

Download your FREE printables here!

Christmas Road Trip Bingo

Safe travels, over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house!  Happy holidays from my family to yours!

Disney World Castle

What to Pack for a Day at Walt Disney World

Planning for a day at Walt Disney World in Orlando can be both exiting and exhausting.  Believe me, you don’t want to leave something in your car or forget it altogether.  Everything you can do ahead of time to plan will reward you later on.  We had an annual pass to Disney World and we went to the parks over 20 times, so I had packing for our family of 4 down to a science.  Here’s what I recommend taking into the park:

Back Pack

We don’t have a fancy back pack, in fact I think ours is an old Jansport from 15 years ago.  All you need is something that fits some essentials and if it has a water bottle holder on the side, bonus.  Just make sure you can be hands free.  Here’s a pack that would do just fine.

Stroller 

Can your kids walk for a minimum of 3 miles without whining?  If not, bring a stroller.  Even if your child refuses to ride in it sometimes, it’s a great way to carry your stuff and give your back a rest.  If you are flying to Orlando you can rent them at the parks – well worth the money, in my opinion – if you don’t need one at the airport.  I promise, at the end of the day your little one will use it, even if they are too stubborn to thank you in person.

Running/walking shoes 

Wear the most comfortable shoes that you own.  You will be standing and walking for 8 plus hours and even though you have Converse that look so cute with your Mickey T-shirt, save your feet and wear your shoes with support.  I’m an Adidas girl myself.

Fitness Tracker

If you don’t have something that counts your steps like a FitBit or UP, please don’t feel the need to go buy something.  This is strictly for entertainment and/or bets with your husband.  You will be amazed at how many steps you’ll take in a day when at Disney World.  The walk from the parking lot at Magic Kingdom alone is several hundred steps.  And, it makes you feel less guilty about getting a Mickey Ice Cream bar in the afternoon.  I like the UP band because you can track your friend’s or family member’s steps which is a fun way to encourage (compete with) each other.

Reusable Water bottle

All that walking is going to make you and your little ones thirsty.  Instead of buying water bottles in the park at airport prices, bring your own so you can keep your drinks cold and create a little less trash.  We love the Swell bottles because they keep drinks cold for at least 24 hours – a Godsend when it’s hotter than heck out there.

Snacks

Yes, your kids are going to get hungry and you may not want to drop $20 on chips and french fries.  Bring a small snack to tide the hunger pangs so you can save your money for big meals.  I like to pack granola bars, bags of nuts or the old standby, Goldfish.  Don’t pack any chocolate because it tends to melt in your bag.  Not a mess you want to deal with after being on your feet for 8 hours.

Hand sanitizer/wipes

I am not a clean freak but even I appreciate the benefit of having hand sanitizer at the ready.  Disney does a great job of having a restroom nearby most food areas so we always pop in before meals to wash our hands. But people who wake up not feeling well always seem to make it into the park anyway.  It doesn’t hurt to squirt a little hand sanitizer while you are waiting in line listening to a chorus of coughing and sniffling.

Cell Phone

I know, duh.  But, before you get to Disney make sure you download the My Disney Experience app.  There’s a link to more info about the app here.  It will have all of your dining reservations and Fast Passes loaded so you don’t miss anything.  I especially like the ride wait time postings so you don’t have to hike over to Big Thunder Mountain if the wait is over 60 min.  The map comes in handy too.  Disney has free Wi-Fi so you won’t have to use cellular data constantly.  Warning, it is slow many times.  Your phone is also great to use for taking a picture of the row you park your car in, so you aren’t looking for it at the end of the day.

Portable Phone Charger

Your phone isn’t going to make it a whole day without a charge.  And, you aren’t going to want to sit down near an outlet and wait for it to charge either.   All of those adorable videos and photos take up a lot of battery life and I promise you’ll have the My Disney Experience app open plenty.  I like this Mophie external battery pack.  You just pre-charge it at home and then pop it on your phone when it gets low to give you an extra boost to make it through the day.

 

Sunscreen

They don’t call it the Sunshine State for nothing!  Unless you plan on jumping from shadow to shadow, you’ll want to put on sunscreen.  Being outside for 10+ hours can do a number on your skin and your children’s.  Nothing ruins a vacation faster than an uncomfortable sun burn.  I like throwing a sunscreen stick in my bag for our faces and then using lotion for arms, backs of necks and any other skin peaking through clothes.

This Sun Bum sunscreen is my favorite sunscreen for kids because it is in stick form. Older kids can even apply it themselves. And it is small and easy to throw in your bag.

 

Rain Poncho/Light Jacket

Depending on the time of year, you may want to throw a light jacket or rain poncho in your bag.  In Florida rain showers come and go really quickly.  I wouldn’t recommend a rain coat because it just takes up too much room, and you aren’t allowed to bring in umbrellas.  The winter can get a little chilly in Orlando so dress in layers.  You’ll warm up walking for a few miles.

Disney Shirts

I know you’ve seen photos of families standing in front of Cinderella’s castle in cute shirts that have Mickey ears and “Daddy” written on them. Mom has a similar one with Minnie ears and you get the picture.  I’ll tell you, I was a skeptic the first time I saw them and then I realized the genius of the matching family T-shirts.  It’s a great way to quickly spot your family in a crowd of Disney fanatics.  While the neon yellow shirts are slightly obnoxious it’s even easier to spot Grandpa when he sneaks off to take a picture with Tinkerbell.  There are tons of people on Etsy who will customize shirts for your family vacation.  Bite the bullet and order some.  I promise you will want them once you walk around and see some of the cute shirts people have made.  Here are some I found on Amazon.

Princess Dress

If your little Princess has an appointment at the Bibbiti Bobbiti Boutique she will definitely want to complete the ensemble.  You can purchase a dress, shoes and a tiara at the Boutique or at any of the stores in the park, but you’ll spend over $100 and wonder why it isn’t made to last for at least 5 years.  Or, you can bring your own gown and save a bundle.  You can even buy it from the Disney Store online for less money or even go to any of the big box stores for a knock-off version.  Just hope your 5 yr old isn’t brand loyal.  The fairy godmother at the boutique will be wonderful and gracious no matter if you spent $120 at the boutique on a costume or not.  She never resists the urge to sprinkle you with pixie dust!

Photo Matte for Signatures

If you have younger kids who just can’t wait to get Mickey’s autograph or want to meet Elsa in person, you’ll want to have something for them to sign.  While I like and autograph book, it’s not something that my kids revisit or look at very often.  A few years ago I saw someone on Pinterest who suggested bringing a photo matte for a picture frame and having characters sign that.  I love the idea because it’s fairly easy to fit into your backpack and then you can insert a photo of your child standing with his or her photo when you get home.

photo matte
My daughter has this in her room to remember her first visit to Disney World. We just brought the matte with us to the park for signatures.

Pen/Marker

Don’t forget to bring something so the characters can sign your photo matte.  I recommend a Sharpie.

Hats

They keep the mid-day sun out of your eyes and keep your head dry in a rain storm or a ride down Splash Mountain.  What’s not to love?

Sunglass Strap

I recommend bringing a cheap pair of sunglasses that you could lose without losing, you know what.  Have you ever looked on the ground below some of those roller coasters?  To ensure that your sunglasses don’t fly off while you scream your head off on the Seven Dwarf Mine Train, bring a sunglass strap.  There’s a lot of walking from dark places to blazing bright sunlight so minimizing the time that you are fumbling for sunglasses is key.

Patience

Finally, pack your patience.  It’s almost always hot, crowded and filled with people who also want to have a magical vacation with their families.  Having a “we’re all in this together” attitude is more pleasant way to spend the day.  As we say in the south, “you catch more flies with honey”.  Don’t turn the trip into a visit to Ordeal Kingdom.  I heart you, The Onion.

Okay, you’re all set for a day filled with the beauty of Disney magic!  Now, who wants to carry the backpack?…Not it!

 

 

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Road

13 Travel Games Under $15 For The Kids – Unplugged

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Let’s be honest, traveling with the kids can be daunting.  The amount of time we can go before we hear those dreaded 4 little words, “Are we there yet?”, is a running joke with my husband and me.  Can we make it an hour?  The journey may not all be fun and games, but I promise you happy family memories can be made with some preparation.  And, preparing yourself doesn’t have to break the bank either.  Here is my family’s tried and true list of 13 Travel Games for under $15 to entertain your kids (and you) on your next family trip.

Don’t get me wrong, the iPad is still king in our car, but little eyes can only stare at screens for so long.  These travel games are also handy for those times when we’ve forgotten the iPad charger, which has happened more than once.  The kids actually don’t mind being unplugged…sometimes.  The games are great for upcoming travel to grandma’s house.  Or, save them for the perfect stocking stuffer for the holidays. Just travel prepared people!  That’s all I’m saying.

1.License Plate Game

We love this game from Melissa & Doug, especially when we drive to North Carolina from Florida and are trapped in the car for 12 + hours!  Once we saw 34 different state’s on license plates.  It’s actually entertaining for the driver because it gives them something to do when the ride gets monotonous.  It’s a geography lesson too.  What’s the capital of North Dakota?  And, surprisingly we’ve seen Hawaii!  Still scratching our heads about that.

2.  Travel Bingo

Call me old fashioned but I loved playing this game when I was younger, before iPads and DVD players.  I remember sitting in the back of our station wagon with my sister and desperately searching for a silo or a cow as we drove up I-77.  With no seat belts on.  Why would we wear seat belts?!  It’s still a lot of fun and a great way to get the kids to look out of the window.

3.  Table Topics Kids

Do you ever have this conversation?

Mom: How was your day?

Kid: Good. (End of conversation)

I do all the time.  I like to spring something on my kids called the “art of conversation” while they are captive in the car or dining out.  It’s easier said than done so this travel game of Table Topics is a fantastic way to break the ice and make conversation a game.

4.  UNO

Even a 3 or 4 yr old can play this game.  The younger ones might need a little help but, it’s a great way to pass the time in the car or when you want to savor your meal instead of inhaling it.  And for little hands, this card holder has been a lifesaver.

5.  Hangman

Melissa & Doug have a great assortment of wooden toys that I love.  This Hangman game is always in our travel bag because we can all play.  Even the driver can shout out letters from the front seat.  My only complaint, the blocks can be a little difficult to turn and don’t lose the pen!

6.  Wikki Stix

This is another all-age crowd pleaser.  Wikki Stix are waxy sticks that you can bend and mold into whatever your imagination desires.  They are great to throw in your purse to entertain your kids at dinner too.

7.  Scratch Art

Scratch away and reveal a rainbow of colors and patterns.  It can get a little messy if it’s in your car but if you are traveling by plane, who the heck cares?  It’s entertaining.

8.  Kanoodle

Kanoodle is a 3-D puzzle game that will entertain my kids long enough to enjoy a whole meal and have a glass of wine (or two).  And the best part is, it’s a mind stimulating game.  Yes, the kids are using their brains and they don’t even know it.  Bwhaa haaa (insert evil laugh).

9. Travel Etch-A-Sketch

It’s easy to handle for little hands and it’s a fun way to write secret messages or just doodle.  Travel Etch-A-Sketch, has been a member of our family since age 2.  And it never dies or needs batteries.

10. Checkers

Checkers is a classic game for kids to learn so they can show grandpa how it’s done when you meet him at Cracker Barrel, on the tabletop version.  The little pieces will get lost even though they are magnetic.  Know this in advance and you’ll be fine.

11. D is For Doodles

Learn some clever ways to draw all sorts of animals just starting with a letter of the alphabet.  It’s fun for the whole family and kept us occupied and not fighting in the car for 30+ minutes.  Score!

12. The Coloring Book of Cards and Envelopes NATURE

This is one of those intricate coloring books that’s all the rage these days.  I love this one because you are coloring cards and envelopes.  While you are on your journey you can send a letter to grandma or a pen pal along the way (stamps not included).  Everyone loves getting snail mail.

13. Rubik’s Cube

It’s taken me 25 years and I still can’t master the Rubik’s Cube.  Apparently it can be done and my kids are determined to figure it out.  I love how it keeps their hands and their brain busy.

Thanks to Amazon for having everything I need with a press of a button.  Sanity saved! There are affiliate links in this post.

Safe travels this holiday season!