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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Atlantis

Blast Off to the Kennedy Space Center

If you were obsessed with the 1986 classic movie Space Camp like I was, (didn’t every girl want to be Tish Ambrosia and have photographic memory?), your dreams will come true when your kids are finally old enough to take a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL.  I say “old enough” because the Kennedy Space Center or KSC – just channeling NASA’s love of acronyms – is more fun if your kids are elementary age or older.  Middle school and high school-age may be ideal.  I recently went with my 8 yr old, 6 yr old and my hubby and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We only had one day and we quickly realized that a space enthusiast could plan on a couple days at the Center.  Thankfully the KSC gives you a suggested itinerary based on your audience and timing.  We should have listened to the rocket scientist’s recommendation and allowed for 8 hours to visit the park.  Who knew that they would be accurate?  We had about 6 hours and fell a little short of the items on our “wish list”.  The KSC is not an amusement park but more of a hands on educational immersion into the history and the future of space travel.

Kennedy Space Center
Happy space cadets

We did the bus tour first to get a sense of the history and scale of the place.  The bus tour is the only way to get up close to see the Vehicle Assembly Building and the launch pad.  The launch pad is several miles from the assembly building and the command center because the vibration of the launch is so intense that it is deadly to humans.  It’s mind-blowing to comprehend the Herculean task of moving the space ships from the assembly building to the launch area.

Vehicle Assembly Building
The Vehicle Assembly Building is massive! Excuse the Florida rain shower.

After driving around various launch pads, including the one that SpaceX is working on modifying, the bus tour drops you at the Apollo/Saturn V Center to explore.  You get to participate in a reenactment of the Apollo 8 liftoff that will rattle your nerves and your senses.  Afterwords you can stand next to the largest rocket ever made – Saturn V.  Talk about feeling small!  You can also enjoy the progression of prototypes for space suits over the years.Saturn V

After you finish the bus tour, whatever you do, don’t miss the Atlantis exhibit.  Your experience opens with dramatic flair as you enter the gallery at the tip of Atlantis.  There is a real rocket scientist standing by with samples of materials from the ship to touch.  Bonus, the scientist that day was a woman and she was happy to answer questions.

Atlantis
Walking in the room and being nose to nose to this old gal is breathtaking!
Cockpit
Driving the space shuttle
International Space Station
Crawling through the International Space Station isn’t for people with claustrophobia or short skirts.

 

 

There are tons of other hands-on activities like sitting in the cockpit and pressing all of those buttons (a kids dream)!

 

Getting to crawl through the International Space Station (ISS) was also a highlight.  We loved talking about researchers living in space and working right now!

But, the most fun by far was practicing exiting the space shuttle by slide and coincidentally the fastest way from the second floor to the first.  The giggles heard from the giant slide sounded the same coming from 6 year olds as they did from 60 year olds.

Shuttle slide
Disembark the shuttle like an astronaut, with an audible girlie giggle!

I love the age-appropriate lessons that bring to light the engineering roles needed to build the space shuttle.  They encouraged kids to do their own flying experiment with paper airplanes to

Space toilet
Bet you didn’t think you’d see a space toilet in this blog post!

see which shape went the furthest, highest, fastest.  Great analogy!

They also do a great job of answering those questions that we all want to ask like, “How do you go to the bathroom in space?”

We also really enjoyed the hands-on video games where you can work on the ISS or land the space shuttle.  We missed the Shuttle Launch Experience because my daughter throws up like clockwork when taking off and landing on a plane.  I didn’t come prepared with a change of clothes.  But, we heard it was excellent as long as you don’t go right after lunch.

One of our favorite experiences was the Astronaut Encounter, a 30 min presentation from a real NASA astronaut.  You get to hear about their history and experience in space.  And they leave time for questions at the end!  If your kiddos are setting their sights on a career as an astronaut, this is an excellent opportunity to reinforce the importance of an education. Parent bonus!

In general it was a really cool multi-cultural experience.  The kids played with kids from all over the world in the Children’s Play Dome.

Childrens Play Dome
A great opportunity for your kids to roll around and get some energy out without accidentally pushing a launch button.

The future of space travel is looking bright as NASA and a few commercial groups, like SpaceX and Boeing, prepare to explore Mars with a goal of 2030.  One of the greatest challenges will be how to live off of the land and grow food in the harsh elements.  Scientists are doing research right now to tackle this and other challenges on the red planet.

We left with a new appreciation for what astronauts go through and with dreams of what the new frontier has to offer.  Will we be traveling to space in our lifetime?  There’s a chance, I should probably go ask my kids!

Rocket Garden
The rocket garden is not only beautiful but also interactive because you can climb in some of the rockets for some great photo ops

Did you know?

We learned some cool space exploration facts while at the KSC.

You know the white stuff that comes out of the launch pad when a rocket/space shuttle lifts off?  It’s not smoke, it’s actually steam!  During a launch, they flood the launch pad with water to muffle the sound of the lift off because the vibration is so harmful to human ears.

The astronauts use liquid salt and pepper in space and they love using hot sauce!

When the astronauts are in space they have to exercise for 2 hours a day so that their muscles don’t atrophy.

They only used the giant tires on the space shuttle once, because the landing was so hard on them.

Tips For Busy Moms

  1. You don’t need to buy tickets online, but, you can if it makes you feel better.  They offer discounts all year round to military, seniors and teachers, but sometimes they have other specials for Florida residents.
  2. We visited a weekend in September and the crowds weren’t bad at all.  I suggest going at non-peak times.  Any time other than the summer, holidays or spring break.
  3. Arrive close to the opening time to take advantage of the day.  Keep in mind that the center is about 45 minutes from the Orlando airport.
  4. This is a great multi-generational trip.  There’s a lot of history so the grandparents can recount “remember when” stories and there isn’t too much walking.
  5. I recommend you do the bus tour first to beat the crowds, get a little history lesson and get your bearings.
  6. You can bring in water and snacks but, eating at the restaurants there is easy and tasty.  They have make your own salad options with hydroponic lettuce that they grow there.  And the cookies are outta this world.
  7. You can have lunch with an astronaut and hear about space travel first-hand while enjoying a buffet lunch. We didn’t do this but, the price wasn’t much more than the regular lunch.  We’d do this next time.  Lunch with the astronaut for adults is $30 and kids are $16 (check the web site to confirm)
  8. You need to be 44″ tall to go on the Shuttle Launch Experience.  If you are shorter, you can just experience the pre-show briefing.
  9. A new experience is opening in late 2016, Heroes and Legends with an astronaut hall of fame.
  10. You’ll want a souvenir but, keep in mind that they aren’t cheap.  And yes, they have space ice cream.
  11. Check the web site to see their launch schedule from Cape Canaveral and witness one in person or tune in online on the NASA web site to watch.
  12. Coincidentally National Geographic Kids Magazine November issue has a cover article Mission to Mars.  Pick it up for your little astronaut and plan a trip to Kennedy Space Center.
  13. When in Florida, don’t forget the sunscreen!
Astronaut
My kids loved getting to strike a pose with an astronaut and checking out his space suit up close.
Legoland Florida

Legoland Florida – To go or not to go

If Legoland Florida is on your short list of trips to take with your kids, consider reading further.  We recently got back from a day-trip with the grandparents and I may have done a few things differently had I known a little more of what to expect.  I’ve added a few extra tips at the end of this post so hang in there to read our picks for Legoland Florida.

It’s not Disney World – Legoland is near Disney World but in no way is it like the whole family experience you get in Disney World.  Many of the rides are only for kids so as a parent or grandparent, you’ll do a lot of standing around and waving from afar.  Also, the rides aren’t as sophisticated or as smooth-riding so expect a few more jerks and swerves on the roller coasters.  The lines are not as efficiently run but, as a bonus, there are places for your kids to hop out of line to play with Legos while they wait.  You however, get to wait in line.  The “model citizens” (staff) are helpful most of the time but don’t have as much pep as the average Disney cast member.  Maybe it’s because they didn’t get to work at Disney.

Tickets can be pricey – The adult tickets are only a few dollars more than the child’s ticket – a full-price adult ticket is $89.  Ouch.  If you are planning at least 2 weeks ahead of time you can save at least $15/ticket, which adds up if you have a family of four.  Sometimes you can find a coupon for discounts or a buy one adult ticket and get a child’s for free – a huge savings.  Register with Lego and pray they send a coupon before your trip.  Of course, you’ll also receive other “helpful” emails from time to time.  Some Lego toys have a coupon on the back, a bonus if you don’t throw away your packaging.  We also saw discounted tickets at Costco around the holidays and of course, I neglected to buy them at that time.  I wish I had!  I’ve even seen a Groupon offer so deals are out there if you search.

Lego fans rejoice! – If you or your child is a huge Lego fan, you/they will be in heaven.  As you can imagine, there are life-sized Lego structures all over the park.  We loved turning the corner and seeing the next amazing thing that they built out of Legos.  One of our favorite features was that they included signs stating how many Legos it took to build each figure and how long it took to complete it.  Five year old mind blown.

Lego Triceratops
This triceratops was built with over 200,000 Legos!

 

Einstein
Einstein, larger than life!
In addition to Lego creations, they’ve organized the park in different themed “lands” so you can run right to your favorite theme or meander through and enjoy the changing scenery as you go from Lego City to World of Chima™.  There’s even a Duplo Valley, for the younger crowd (2-4), which is nice because they are often not tall enough to ride the rides in other parts of the park.  The Lego Friends are also represented in Heartlake City, but honestly we were a little disappointed in the entertainment here.  There’s one ride and it is a crazy spinning horse, bringing back memories of the swinging pirate ship at the county fair.  Or you can meet Stephanie at her newsroom.  Fun! (Who is Stephanie again?)  There are plenty of parts of the park that we enjoyed so I’ll get right to it.

 

Lego Heartlake ladies
We think Stephanie is in here somewhere.

Rides you don’t want to miss – These are our favorite rides and experiences around the park.  Keep in mind, my family members are not daredevils so we skipped the roller coasters and we’re glad we did because we heard that they were a little headache inducing.

  • Lost Kingdom Adventure (Land of Adventure) – This ride is whole-family-friendly!  Ride through an Egyptian-themed  adventure and use laser guns to shoot at targets.  It’s a little competitive, interactive, air-conditioned and a whole lot of fun.
  • Pharoh’s Revenge (Land of Adventure) – This is a climbing structure for the kids with air guns that shoot bouncy balls.  It was a huge hit with kids of all ages.  We literally had to drag the kids out to ride something else.

 

  • Driving School (Lego City) – They have two versions, a 5 and under and an over 6.  Our 7-yr-old loved this ride.  She watched a short video on the rules of driving and then got to drive her own Lego car (slowly) on a closed course, having to stop at stoplights and obey the rules of the road.  Not hitting other drivers is a real challenge and at the end of the ride you can purchase your very own driver’s license with your photo.  A really cute souvenir!

 

  • Imagination Zone – Our favorite hands-on activity in the park (we wish they had more spots to create with Legos).  Test your building skills and and race a Lego car to win the fastest time.  See if your building can withstand constant movement, like in an earthquake.  Learn more about the science behind building. Engineers rejoice, this is a really cool area of the park to have fun and use your brain.

 

Imagination Zone
Lego car race track

 

Imagination Zone 2
Will this building withstand an earthquake?

 

  • Fun Town Theater – Watch a 4-D movie and enjoy the surprise of engaging all of your senses while watching your favorite Lego characters – I’m talking about you Emmit and Wyldstyle.  Bonus, air conditioning!

 

  • Island in the Sky – Enjoy breathtaking views of the entire park as a carousel-type ride lifts you up 150 feet in the air.  Listen to a history of the park and relax.  Ahhh…

 

  • Cypress Gardens – Enjoy a serene walk through the beautiful botanical gardens.  Before it was a theme park, Legoland was a botanical garden with waterways and native and exotic plants.  If you need a break from the hustle, this is a nice place to enjoy nature.

Miniland – Miniland needs its own section because it was the favorite part of the park for everyone in our party from ages 5 to 70.  Somehow they’ve recreated entire cities in Legos.  You get to walk around like Gulliver and tower over the expanse of Miniland.  It’s so impressive that you just have to slow down and enjoy every detail.  Count down and watch a launch of a space ship at Kennedy Space Center, Race cars at Daytona International Speedway.  Marvel at the detail as you look inside Penn Station in NYC.  Even watch a pirate battle, all made out of Legos!  A few of the exhibits have buttons you can push to make the Legos interactive.  It really is an impressive work of art.  And, Star Wars aficionados will love the recreation of each of the Star Wars movies including the life-size Darth Vader and R2D2.

Miniland
San Francisco in minute detail.

 

Miniland 2
Lady Liberty is the same size as some of the kids in the park.


Food – 
Generally, food was pretty standard kid fare; burgers, fries, pizza.  They serve Pepsi products so if you just can’t go there, bring your own drinks.  Our favorite food option were the apple “fries” – little fried pieces of Granny Smith apples served in a french fry container.  They weren’t too sweet and hit the spot when we needed a little after-lunch treat.  Ask for a side of caramel dipping sauce.  The best deal in all the park was the single scoop of ice cream for $2.45.

Shopping – Let’s face it, you really aren’t going to be able to make it out of the park without buying some Legos.  And, why would you when all of the selection is right in front of you?  There are shops throughout the park but, the one near the entrance, the Big Shop, was our favorite because it had all of the different kinds and is conveniently located near the exit, so you don’t have to lug around your bags all day.  You aren’t going to find discounted prices but the selection is excellent.

Legoland Hotel – We didn’t actually stay at the Legoland Hotel but we checked it out after our visit to the park.  The hotel can be a little pricy but, there isn’t much else around so if you don’t want to drive back to Orlando, it is a great pit stop.  It definitely looks like a great place to spend the night to fully immerse your family in the Lego experience.  Our favorite feature was the giant play structure indoors with bins of Legos.  Kids could literally spend hours just digging and creating to their heart’s content.  Conveniently, the bar is located next to the play structure so you can sit back and enjoy watching your child occupy themselves for hours while sipping on a cold one.  Genius.

Legoland Hotel
Just try to drag your child away from the giant bins of Legos. Actually don’t. Go grab a beer at the bar.

The hotel also has an impressive pool with plenty of life jackets to keep little ones safe.  They’ve also got floating Lego blocks to play with in the pool.

Legoland Hotel 2
It’s okay to play with these Legos in the pool.  They float!

Some of our other favorite features were the reception desk with thousands of Lego miniatures lined up at your service.

 

Legoland Hotel 3
We loved the Lego Minis behind the front desk!

And, the disco elevator is not to be missed.  We rode it to every floor to check out each theme, dancing all the way (sorry other passengers).  We didn’t get to check out the rooms but they are decorated either in a pirate, adventure, kingdom or Lego Friends theme.

Legoland Hotel 4
House party in the elevator!

Despite some of my critical reviews, I’m not the target market of Legoland.  If you asked the under 10 crowd in our party what they thought they’d say, “Everything was AWESOME” and that’s what we sang all the way home…you better get your tickets.

Tips for busy moms:
1.  Pack your own food if you have picky eaters.  If you are able, bring a backpack with water as the water in the park is pricy and the park gets hot!
2.  Don’t spring for the preferred parking.  It’s $5 more and doesn’t get you much closer than the regular parking – priced at $17.
3.  Bring a stroller if your little ones don’t like to walk.  It’s an over 10,000 step day, at least.
4.  If you are staying in Orlando, Legoland is about a 45 min drive (in the middle of nowhere) from Walt Disney World.  Most of the hotels have a shuttle that will save you money for parking and allow for a nice nap on the way home.  You just have to travel on their schedule.
5.  If you can, plan a trip at an off-season time.  We went on a Saturday in January and it was delightful!  The weather wasn’t sweltering and there weren’t many lines anywhere.
6.  They do not serve alcohol in the park, but they do next door at the hotel so if you need to take the edge off of a long day, stop there on the way out.
7.  They also have a water park.  We didn’t use it because it was chilly but, if you go during warmer weather, bring your bathing suit!
8.  In my opinion, you can knock out Legoland in one day.  It’s a great day-trip if you are heading to Orlando for a week and want a break from one of the other theme parks.  If you are really-really into Legos, go for 2 and take your time.
9.  Bring your Minifigures.  You can trade them with Model Citizens while you are at the park and if you don’t have any, don’t worry, they are are for sale in the shops.
10.  When in Florida, don’t forget your sunscreen!

Christmas at Gaylord Palms – Orlando

When you think Orlando, you probably think Disney World, right?  We used to do the same until we stumbled upon the Gaylord Palms hotel, thanks to my son’s preschool teacher.  Even if you only have a one-track mind and must visit Disney while in Orlando, the Gaylord is an excellent choice for a hotel because it’s about 4 miles from the entrance to the parks and typically a lot less expensive than the resort hotels, but just as grand and impressive, maybe even more so. Yes, the Gaylord caters to the Disney crowd and offers free transportation to the parks and can help with tickets and reservations.   But, don’t overlook all the hotel has to offer…

Rooms overlooking the waterfall and plants

The hotel itself is impressive with the commanding lobby which leads you into the huge glassed atrium with rooms surrounding a lush landscape of plants and animals native to Florida.  Yes, I said animals -well, really reptiles.  They have baby alligators and turtles living in the atrium.  You can walk up and watch them swim or just enjoy the metal railing that separates you from their little jaws.  In another water feature they have fish and other marine life native to Florida and every afternoon there’s a fish feeding that you can watch.

Alligators enjoying sunning on the rocks and swimming

The pool (also known as the Cypress Springs Family Fun Water Park) lives up to its name.  We could have easily spent all day poolside because the kids were entertained, which means the adults could take a break from everything, really.  The fort/tree-house-type water feature has slides, water guns and one of those giant buckets that dumps water on unsuspecting sliders every few minutes.  It’s hilarious to watch, especially if you are sitting in a lounge chair clear from the spray.  The pool has a zero-entry side, great for little people and floating basketball hoops for some one-on-one.  They also have a giant screen that plays movies nightly.  The Sand Bar is a few steps away with adult beverages and a great lunch menu.  Not to worry, if you just can’t get out of your chair, they will come to you.  If only the little elves at my house did the same at mealtime.  You can also rent pool cabanas if you need some privacy and like to roll like that.  If you happen to be at the Gaylord without children, they have an adult-only pool that offers peace and quiet, not something we know anything about these days.

About as family-friendly as they get and hours of fun
Nightly movie showings and a screen large enough to impress any dad

The Gaylord Palms goes all out at Christmastime and we think it’s a great way to kick off the holidays, Florida style.

Think it doesn’t get cold in Florida?  Well, you may think otherwise if you head to Gaylord’s Alpine Village.  You could spend most of the day here soaking up the chilly fun.  For an adrenaline rush and giggles, head to the Alpine Rush Snow Tubing.  The hotel built an 8-lane snow hill so you can tube to your heart’s content.  They even have a double tube for families with little ones.  If your kids have never been sledding before, this is a must-do!

Possibly the most impressive feature in Alpine Village is “ICE! featuring ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  The magic of Christmas comes alive in this frozen treat.  Two million pounds of hand-carved and colored ice sculptures decorate the ICE! exhibit.  They tell the story of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and even show you how they put the while thing together with illustrations and an ice carver who may be working on a hands-on creation.  They do warn you about putting your tongue on the ice.  No Christmas Story repeats here.  They’ve even built an ice slide so you can remind yourself how hard and slippery ice is.  We loved that they ended the exhibit with a beautiful nativity scene.  The whole exhibit is truly impressive and F…F…Freezing!  The exhibit is kept at 9 degrees to keep the sculptures in tact, so you’ll want to layer up and bring a hat and gloves if you want to spend any time inside (of course we didn’t have any because we live in Florida).  They have giant parkas to help keep you warmer but, it’s amazing how cold you get so quickly in 9 degrees.  Don’t worry, you can buy hot chocolate to warm up after you exit.

…were all cozied in for their long winter’s nap  (this is all ice!)

 

Ice sledding a little hard if you don’t have padding on your tush.

 

A stunning and moving nativity display

Santa’s available for consultation at the Alpine Village and he took the time to have a memorable chat with our kids.  He even let us walk through his workshop to see what he was working on for Christmas.  We could order a packet of pictures or just chat for free, which was a nice touch.

They also have opportunities to make a gingerbread house, have breakfast with Mrs. Claus and do a little shopping, including a Build-A-Bear workshop.  You really could spend some time here so if you plan on going, so give yourself a few hours.

In addition to the Alpine Village, the hotel has an Elf on the Shelf® (gosh I wish I thought of the Elf on the Shelf) scavenger hunt!  They give you a guide book and you read clues to find 10 elves hidden all around the hotel.  Let me tell you, those elves are sneaky and you never know where they will be.  It’s actually pretty difficult, but a great way to explore the hotel and learn your way around.  Disco, our elf, forgot to make the trip with us that weekend so it was nice to have his friends there to keep an eye on us.

If you do nothing else at the Gaylord, try to go by for a visit to see the Cirque Dreams Unwrapped show.  It is a free show in the atrium with Cirque du Soliel performers doing what they do best: awe-inspiring feats of contortion and acrobatics.  We heard mumblings of “how did they do that?” throughout the 30 min performance.  After the show they light the grand tree in the atrium and all is right with the world.  They do performances daily and sometimes twice a day.

Cirque show with the tree lit and wide-eyed viewers as far as the eye can see

Now you don’t have to stay at the Gaylord to experience the holiday splendor but, if you do, you can purchase a package deal that gives you access to all of the holiday events and allows you to avoid a few lines.  We heard some of the lines got long so it was worth it to us to stay there.

Quick tips for busy moms:
1.  Book ahead of time to book rooms and ask for packages with ICE! tickets or snow tubing.  If you can swing it, get a room overlooking the atrium.
2.  Pack hats, gloves, layers for the ICE! show.  And, also pack your bathing suit.  I know, crazy!
3.  To see the Cirque show, get a seat or a spot on the stairs early because it is popular and crowded.  We recommend grabbing a drink or dessert and sitting down about 45 min to an hour before showtime.
4.  You are not far from Disney.  If you don’t want to drive over and pay for parking, take the shuttle but, check for times before you commit.
5.  The food at the hotel is really good but, a little pricey.  If you don’t want a pricey brunch in the morning grab something at the coffee shop or pack food to enjoy in your room.
6.  The Gaylord is a convention center so don’t be surprised if rooms are booked up or you see people walking around with laniards on in business suits and sensible shoes.
7.  When in Florida, don’t forget the sunscreen!

Merry Christmas to all of my blog readers!  Here’s to a healthy and happy holiday filled with a little wonder and a lot of thankfulness.  xoxo Katy

ICE
Merry Christmas from our crazy family to yours!