Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How to have a freaky fabulous Disney trip part 1

We've been to Disney twice now, so I'm far from an expert, but I do have some valuable insight to share about going to Disney with a family.

My first piece of advice would be to wait until your kids are older. 7-8 is a pretty ideal age.  We went for the first time when the kids were 8 and 12 and it was really great.  They are old enough to not need naps or strollers or to be carried all over.  Strollers are kind of the bane of my Disney existence and the more people I can convince to wait until their kids are don't need them, the better.  People use them as battering rams, they stop and block the whole walkway with them, they take up a ton of space on the buses.

This trip was even better because they are 10 and 14 and were very nearly independent.  WF could be done at the pool and head back to the room by himself.  MF was able to get her own food and drinks and could be told "we'll meet you outside the bathroom" and she could just go.

When you are thinking about your vacation, your best bet is the off season.  Once kids go back to school, the crowds tend to be smaller.  That means your kids will be missing school, but it is totally worth it.  Alternately, homeschool and don't take all the single days off and group them all together into your vacation week. You can also visit Hall of Presidents, Living with the Land, Ellen's Energy Adventure and call it a school day! :)

If you HAVE to go during traditional break times, be prepared for large crowds and long waits.  In the past few years, Disney has closed a few times due to capacity crowds during the holidays and summer.  Considering that MK alone can hold around 100,000 people at a time, you are talking MASSIVE amounts of people, so think long and hard before you chose to go during the peak season!

You can visit WDW Prepschool (my personal favorite Disney site) or Your First Visit for crowd calendars to see what week are predicted to be lowest.  Keep in mind, there really are no "off" weeks anymore.  There are weeks when crowds are lower, but Disney has been offering all kinds of deals and discounts to increase attendance during traditionally slow times.

You'll need to do some research about how long you want to stay.  This will depend on your family, your travel dates, and your budget. Two years ago, we went the week before Thanksgiving and if we had stayed the full amount of time we wanted, our return airfare would have more than doubled! We ended up cutting our trip short by two days and, although the savings were important, I regret that we tried to cram our full vacation into a shortened amount of time.  We only had 4 park days, which included a day at Universal and we were running for 12-15 hours every single day.  We were all totally exhausted and miserable by the time we came home.

This time, we had 6 parks days, no Universal and it was much better!  We had time each day to take short breaks.  We were able to have a couple of early evenings and a few later mornings, which made everyone so much less tired and crabby.  If you can take the time, once you get over 4 days, the price per day of park tickets gets much smaller.

You'll also want to consider your budget.  I figure about $1200 per person, including our airfare, but we stay and fly as cheaply as possible.  You'll need to research the various resorts and the amenities your family needs.  How many people are staying in a room is also a consideration because most rooms are sized for 4 and only some resorts offer family suites.

Personally, the key to a great Disney vacation is in the planning.  My family makes fun of me, but I create a lovely spreadsheet for our trips, that includes all the rides, shows, characters, meals, fast passes, plus a listing of restaurants in each area that my family would eat at.  3/4 of us are pretty picky eaters, so no world showcase food or just popping in to a restaurant and finding something we'd eat for us. I need to know ahead of time which places serve food that we'll enjoy.

This is one day of my spreadsheet.  On sheet one, I had the must do list.  Then I had a sheet for each day with just that information.  Breaking it down by day kept it from being overwhelming.  Yellow is food, blue is rides, green is characters, and red is anything that had a specific time. 

You'll want to start your planning at the Disney website.  You can also use the My Disney Experience app on your phone or tablet.  I feel like the app is better on the go, to see all of your plans in one place, while you are in the park, while the website is better for planning but your milage may vary.

I started by going through each park with the kids and asking them to list their "must-do" attractions, characters, shows, and food and I listed those things.  I polled the rest of the family and was told that whatever the kids wanted was fine with them.  It took us about 40 minutes to go through all 4 parks with both kids (I separated them, because they are contrary and would say that they hated something their sibling was desperate to do, just because). There was a lot of overlap, like everyone wanted to do Space Mountain, but even on the things only one person wanted, it made it on the list for everyone to do.

I know this seems like a pain and who has the time to do crap like that, but trust me.  Time is at a premium in the parks and you are paying a pretty penny to be there.  You will appreciate knowing what to expect ahead of time.  While other people are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, you'll know when things are happening, how to get there, and you'll be able to make the most of your trip.

During the planning process, you'll also want to think about where to stay.  The first question is on property or off.  We stay on property.  I feel like the benefits FAR outweigh any minor drawbacks.  The benefits, as far as I'm concerned, are the Magical Express picking you up at the airport, access to Disney transportation to other Disney properties (including parks, other resorts, and Disney Springs), and access to the Disney dining plan.  

I don't have many cons.  Some people don't want to be in the "Disney bubble" their whole trip (for whatever reason) and some of the hotels are expensive.  Other than a desire to just not be devoted to Disney for your whole trip, price is a major consideration for choosing a hotel.

That leads to researching the various Disney hotels and their prices.  There are three main levels of resorts: value, moderate, and deluxe.  Each has pros and cons and where you stay will take a lot of factors into consideration.  The "value" (read cheapest) resorts also have the smallest rooms.  If all you are doing is crashing there between parks, this is more than enough.  Moderate resorts have somewhat bigger rooms, potentially different transportation options, and more amenities.  If you are planning to spend more time in your room, the extra cost might be worth it.  Deluxe is the most expensive, it offers the most amenities, the most transportation options, room sizes vary by resort.  Rooms run $85-$2000+ a night, depending on the season, the hotel, and the room type.

We've only stayed at All Star Music which are pretty comparable to most low to moderate priced hotel chains (the other two All Stars, Movies and Sports are very similar, just slightly different themes).  Think Holiday Inn or Comfort Inn.  They have double beds, a single bathroom, and an in room refrigerator and not much else.  Each resort does have a pool or two and a restaurant.  The values have plain pools and food court style dining.  I think that is just fine, because we aren't there to hang out at the hotel.  I also prefer the food court style dining, because they have several food stations, each offering different options, so everyone can find something they like.  I ate roast beef three out of the four dinners we ate at the hotel and WF had a burger every time.  Other options, include salads, pizza, and snacks.  Some of the other resorts offer multi room suites, hotel specific water parks, and actual sit down dining. Since we go in the off season, we pay less than $100 a night at All Stars and got to take advantage of the free dining promotion as well.  For that price, I can't imagine staying off property and having to rent a car and pay for parking, as well as paying for food out of pocket, since only people who stay on site are eligible for free dining.

The other hotels in the Value category are Art of Animation and Pop Century.  Depending on the time of year, they can cost nearly the same as the moderate resorts.  Their theming is more elaborate and they may not be included in free dining, because of their popularity.

Part two is coming soon and will discuss more about transportation options, how to prep for your trip, and what to pack for your trip!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Disney DIY shirt

So, I didn't blog last week (or really the week before) because our schedule has been messed up and then we were on vacation.  I'm sure my mom was the only one that actually missed it, but she was on vacation with us, so she didn't really miss anything.  I'm working on a Dos and Don'ts of Disney post, but in the meantime, here is a Disney shirt DIY.

When we took the kids to Disney two years ago, we didn't tell them ahead of time.  We got them all the way to the airport before we broke the news and it was great! This time, since my parents went with us, we decided to let them in on it from the beginning, but I still wanted some surprises (that wouldn't break the bank, since Disney lets you do all kinds of in room celebrations, for a fee).

I decided to make everyone matching Disney shirts, in a color that matched their magic band.  After about 12 hours in Joann Fabric debating options (iron on? paint? sparkles for some?) we decided on bleach.  I don't have any pictures of this process, because it was a super stressful DIY project, that involved a lot of cussing and even a few tears and I was so focused on getting it right, I didn't take any pictures.

I used this tutorial for the basic stencil. You can use about anything, so long as it is a silhouette and doesn't have much in the way of details.

We bought our shirts at Joann's but anywhere that sells the color of shirt you want is fine.  You'll also need freezer paper, which is NOT freezer wrap.  It has to be the papery stuff and Meijer will look at you strangely when you buy the wrong thing and then return it! LOL

Pre-wash your shirts, for proper fit and to help the freezer paper stick and the bleach to work correctly.

Print out the design and trace it on to the freezer paper.  Cut it out carefully.  If you are using a more detailed design, you will want to use an x-acto knife and a self healing cutting mat.  The Mickey head in the tutorial above is simple enough for plain scissors.  Freezer paper is single use, so if you are doing multiple shirts, go ahead and cut out multiple stencils now.

Get your iron and set it on medium to high heat and iron the stencil on the shirt, where you would like it.  Make sure you put the shiny side down, because it warms up and sticks to the shirt.

We had some debate about the best location and finally decided front and center was the way to go.  Be super careful to get the edges sealed tightly or your bleach will bleed under and mess up your whole design.  Even though I recommend cutting all your stencils at once, don't iron them all at once.  This isn't a strong bond and the edges will peel up.

Now you need to mix your bleach.  It is going to depend on that shirt color that you are using how much bleach to how much water, but 50/50 is generally a good place to start.  Our shirts were red, blue, orange, green, pink, and yellow.  Blue and green worked REALLY well.  Red and pink were pretty good, orange was eh, and yellow sucked.  By the time I got to yellow, I was almost straight bleach and you still couldn't see it very well.

I've seen places online recommend using a pump type spray bottle, but I've never tried that.  I just used a cheap spray bottle I picked up at Dollar Tree. I wasn't able to get the "sprinkle-y" look that I was going for, with a solid outline of the head at the same time, so maybe a pump would have helped.

Next you are going to want to line the shirt with something.  Originally, I used just a sheet of aluminum foil.  We eventually settled on a piece of cardboard, covered with aluminum foil (because the bleach soaks in and the cardboard gets soggy). Whatever you pick, LEAVE IT IN THE SHIRT UNTIL THE BLEACH IS DRY or at least rinsed out.  We didn't do that the first time and the design bled through to the back, but only sort of and it looked kind of terrible.

Be sure to protect the parts of the shirt you don't want bleached.  You won't be able to control every drip and drop of bleach, so tuck the sleeves, bottom of the shirt, neck, etc underneath the liner.

Hold the spray bottle about 6-8 inches above the shirt and mist the bleach on the shirt.  Watch the process and make sure you have as much of the shirt covered as you want.  Make sure you dab the bleach off the freezer paper, or it will soak through or run off when you pick up the shirt.  Mist a second time, if the color isn't where you want it to be and dab again.  Let it set for a few seconds, and peel off the freezer paper.  At this point, you can either dunk the shirt in cold water to stop the bleaching process or you can set it aside to dry.  We decided we wanted the higher contrast, so we set the shirts outside to dry.  You don't want to put these on anything that can be damaged by bleach and we wanted to keep them away from the pets, so we stashed them on the patio for a couple of hours.

Once they are dry, wash them on cold, by themselves.  There is still bleach on these, even if you rinsed them instead of drying and you don't want to ruin other clothes.  Dry normally. Finally, sneak them into your carry on luggage and surprise your family with new shirts on your first park day!

Keep in mind, you are working with bleach, so don't spray these on the living room rug or while wearing your favorite black sweater! I did them on the kitchen table, one at a time because of overspray, but if the weather had been even a little bit warmer, I would have done the whole thing outside.  The fumes were pretty strong and, although I'm a weirdo that likes the smell of bleach, it was a little overpowering for the rest of the day.

Some notes, I had a hard time getting my stencil to stick right.  Mostly, I just cranked the heat on the iron and pressed really hard.  I've read online that some people used a glue stick and then ironed it.  Spray adhesive and even Karo syrup have been suggested as alternatives as well.  If you use any of those options, let me know how they worked.

You can see here that the yellow didn't work well.  Part way through the day, I whipped out my Sharpie and traced the head, so it would at least show up some.