Sunday, January 31, 2016

PJ Masks Party Downloads

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This post is purely for access to the .jpg and .svg files I created for my daughter's party. They are free for you to enjoy for private use. These are not to be used to create goods for sales. Do feel free to share the resource, though. We all can use a little kindness.

JPEG of the circles used to make the cupcake toppers. Can also be used for buttons, or scaled down for bottle caps! I had mine printed out at Staples on extra large paper and hand-cut them. The background circles were cut out using Cricut's Accent cartridge.

SVG symbols over the JPEG rounds

SVG of Catboy's silhouette

SVG of Gekko's silhouette

SVG of Owlette's silhouette

SVG of all three characters' symbols (on the characters' outfits and bracelets)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

PJ Masks Birthday Party

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PJ Masks Party Success!

For all the mommas out there trying to plan a PJ Masks party, here is how ours played out!

Last night was spent last-minute crafting. What else are you going to do when there aren't themed goods out yet? Note: This glue is strong enough to glue your hand to your wine glass. There are worse things, I suppose.

The toppers came out awesome. I used my Cricut for the outer circles and cake pop sticks. 

I found a pink dress and green sweater at a local kids' consignment yesterday, and basted on the symbols. Success, and removable!

Owlette's cape was made by tracing V's armspan and cutting out lighter felt to look like overlapping feathers.

Jelly Belly favors!

The masks were a big hit! I used the pattern from Simply Real Moms

I cut Owlette's mask as one layer and used glow-in-the-dark puffy paint for details. Instead of poking holes in the masks for string elastic, I hot glued foldable elastic onto the backs. The bracelets are the same elastic with a felt oval, and decorated with glow paint. 

I used generic red, blue, and green decorations and utensils. I made .svg files of the characters' symbols and silhouettes, and cut them with my Cricut. 

We had a laser beam area and some obstacle rings set up for superheroes, as well as a Lego space. The aftermath was the only picture I got. 

It was wonderful, but only because we are surrounded by the best people. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Stroller at Disney World

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We have young kids, so we knew we would need a stroller at Disney. Our big question was whether to rent one or bring our own. Here is what we did and why, the pros, cons, and a few surprises.

First, your kids may not have used a stroller in years, but Disney isn't exactly a walk around the playground. Here is why you might need one:

Your kids still nap when they get tired.
Your kids are 7 or under (although we saw kids much, much older in strollers).
You plan on doing Epcot's World Showcase with kids.
You will be hitting parks for many consecutive days or full days.

We ultimately decided to rent. I love my City Select and airports have destroyed lesser strollers. If we were driving, I wouldn't have wanted to waste the car space on our stroller. (As it is, the car was filled going to the airport.) We don't really need strollers in airports, even for our 2.5 year old, especially since we had a direct flight.

I chose Magic Strollers because they had the lowest price on high-end strollers. They delivered the stroller right to the bellhop at our resort before 7am on the morning of our rental, and we could keep the stroller until 4pm on the last day. We skipped renting for the first day we were at the park, seeing as we arrived at 2pm, and picked up the stroller the next morning. I received a text message just before 7am telling me the stroller was ready and waiting at the bell hop desk! It was in great, used condition, and very clean. The stroller was all black, which isn't really an issue unless you are going in the summer. (You can put in requests. I saw several other rentals from this company around the parks in an array of colors.) For 5 days it came to just over $60 for a double City Mini by Baby Jogger. A rain cover was included, which came in very handy. The stroller also had a parent console attached, which is important for carrying coffee. (We used it for other things, too, but coffee is what is most important.) We never had an issue finding our stroller in the sea of strollers, despite it being the most common color and type, and my complete lack of marking. Magic Strollers also included an identification tag with our name, right on the handlebars.

My biggest issue is with the stroller itself and a few Disney policies. (Magic Strollers themselves was wonderful to work with, and these are things beyond their control.) The bottom mesh basket is pretty awful and you aren't fitting anything larger than a purse between the bars. It can hold a decent amount, just not one big thing, like a cooler or twin diaper bag. This becomes a bigger issue when you need to fold the stroller, which folds from the middle, effectively dumping out anything you had in any pocket.

We wouldn't have folded the stroller at all, but Disney busses require you remove kids from the strollers to ride the bus and that strollers be folded. This stroller does not fold into anything manageable, especially once you take everything out of the bottom so it doesn't dump out, and factor in juggling your kids. Maybe it is just because I'm used to big city busses that allow you to keep kids in strollers with the breaks on, but I think this hassle is a bit ridiculous when the bus is empty and the kids are asleep. We definitely extended some other passengers' rides. Sorry, other people. We did the best we could.

The stroller parking around the parks is well-labeled and we never had an issue with cast members moving our stroller out of the designated areas. A few times it took us a moment to find where in the parking lot they had moved our ride to, but this wasn't even a thing, despite what other bloggers had lead me to believe. (I was most impressed with the parking at the Fantasmic! show. Those people had the system down!)

The glitter. My daughters wore princess dresses every day. Cast members sprinkled them with pixie dust. The cost of renting the stroller was worth not having all that glitter in anything I own. I shook it out the best I could before returning it, and Magic Strollers didn't mind at all. I imagine they see much more glitter than I do in their every day, but not having that to clean was a huge relief. Because we all know that glitter never really leaves you.

Since we stayed at Bay Lake Towers, having a stroller to push the kids in while we walked made our "commute" to the Magic Kingdom about 5 minutes. Yes.

Our stroller at home has in-line seating. The person in the back sits up higher, and getting in and out can be tricky. This one was easy for both girls. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have been able to get in our regular stroller with those dresses. The downside to the seating arrangement is that they can't be divided. "She's in my spaaaaaaaaace!" got old very quickly. Do they make stroller dividers? They should.

This particular stroller reclined, was well-ventilated, and was much nicer than a park rental, which is made of hard plastic and costs over $30 per day for a double.

I wish I hadn't forgotten my Mommy Hook. I would have loved to hang my big bag that wouldn't fit underneath from the handle. If you go, I advise bringing at least one. Two is better.

After our last trip to the park on our last day, I shook the stroller out, folded it up, returned it to the bellhop, and that was that. I received a thank-you email with a discount code for our next rental, and one to share with a friend.

Overall, renting a stroller was definitely the right choice, and Magic Strollers could not have made renting their strollers easier. Despite my qualms with the actual stroller and Disney's bus policy, I will definitely choose Magic Strollers if we return to Disney any time soon.

All opinions expressed are my own and I received nothing in compensation or for trying out Magic Strollers. They were just so good, they deserve their credit!

PJ Masks Cupcake Toppers - FREE!

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My five-year-old wanted a PJ Masks birthday party. Disney was a surprise, and we do want to share this day with people we love, so we are throwing a pizza party at home. No frills, no fuss.

However, PJ Masks is a brand new show that Disney won't start to market until much later. Of course this has caused the Etsy scene to explode with pricey options.

I'm grateful for free online photo editing programs that work with my Mac and do what the costly Adobe program does. I also always appreciate something that makes my life easier.

Free PJ Masks Cupcake Toppers (jpg download)

These aren't perfect, but they are created by me and free to you. With a pair of scissors, lollypop sticks, and maybe some cardstock to back them, you too can top your cupcakes.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Disney Deluxe Dining - more food than you can ever eat. Ever.

Pin It I'm going to start this with a reminder that our intention was to do Disney once when the kids were under 8 or so, and were going for the "all-inclusive" experience.

There are many blogs dedicated to figuring out the value of the dining plan, and whether it is right for you. They are highly opinionated. This is my opinion, with explanation, for what we did and why it worked for us.

If you need one site in this field, this is it. You can put in your exact plans or ideals (like "standard quick service lunch") and the program will highlight the breakdown of every meal based on average prices, as well as if you don't use a meal plan. Try it.

After using that tool, we knew the deluxe was our only option if we wanted to save some money.


Character meals, character meals, character meals. We had so many character meals booked that deluxe was the only way to cover them all or not waste erroneous quick service credits. We could have paid out of pocket, but this did actually save us about $90 in the end.

We tried to balance character meals with other sit-down meals, so that we could eat some delicious food while on vacation. The character meals are great fun and a wonderful way to meet about 5 characters in one hour. (The one time all characters didn't get to us in under 45 minutes, a cast member brought one over to our table and walked us to another on the way out. No meal took over an hour.) The buffet food is okay at best at these locations, with the exception of Akershus breakfast in Norway and 1900 Park Faire. (Those buffets I'd gladly go back to!) For character meals, you are by and large paying to meet the characters while eating generic buffet food. We disliked the food at Chef Mickey's dinner so much that we switched our breakfast on the last day to the buffet at The Wave. No characters, but the food was better.

Since we were all in, we aimed for buffets at least once a day. Our 2-year-old wasn't on a meal plan, so the buffets made it a bit easier to share. (The kid entree portions widely varied by restaurant, and we found splitting a kid meal between the two of them was usually adequate, but occasionally small. Good thing they specialize in over serving adults!) Many of the buffets are themed, with a few unique dishes. Overall the food at most buffets was pretty good.

We visited Boma for breakfast before going to Animal Kingdom. Fair warning - if you rely on Disney transportation, the busses only run 45 minutes before a park opens. You will need to take a cab if you want to get from any resort or park to Animal Kingdom Lodge 45 minutes before the park opens. It cost us about $25 to go from The Contemporary to AKL. If I had known this, I would have made a later reservation. Ah well. The food was delicious, fresh, and unique.

For our Date Night, we ate at The Wave. Our server was phenomenal, and the food was delicious. Hands-down, the best meal we enjoyed. (We also ate at Tony's - awful faux Italian food, Cinderella's Royal Table, Be Our Guest Dinner, Chefs de France - do not recommend this at all, and Liberty Tree Tavern.) If you are going to have a date night and pay a sitter, definitely go for one of the more adult meals at Disney. While on our date, we also found that the Contemporary arcade room has massage chairs in a corner. $7 and 15 minutes later, our tired backs were feeling much better! Maybe it is a silly way to spend part of a date night, but in a trip centered around kids, all we wanted to do was stay out for a few more minutes while the sitter put them to bed.

To help use our snack credits and save on a few table service credits, we enjoyed snacking around the world at Epcot for lunch. There is such a variety of snacks to enjoy at this park! Do not miss it. We attempted the same thing at Hollywood Studios because our Fantasmic! dinner was at 4:15pm, and the snack choices were few and far between. For snack credit meals, Epcot and Magic Kingdom are the way to go.
The grey stuff is actually delicious.

I don't think we would ever focus on characters so much again (seeing as our kids won't be 2.5 and 5 at Disney again), and if we opted to do a dining plan in the future, we would take it down a notch. Overall we felt it was worth it for the characters and the lack of worry at least once. We used all but one table service credit and 3 snack credits, which I had banked for Starbucks (yes! fancy drinks are a snack credit!) before realizing the line would forever be 30 minutes or greater. I love my Starbucks, but not that much. (Seriously, Disney, putting one more Starbucks in each park would do you so many favors.) We were able to get our younger daughter her own meal, using our credits, when she wanted something different, and we used 6 credits total to dine at Cinderella's. (For the record, this was a cute meal and getting into the park early was amazing, but Akershus was the better experience overall, and a better bang for your credits.) The breakfast buffets hold a good deal of value, but I can understand now why people pack lunches to bring to most parks. It was the right call for us this time, and we really enjoyed the ease of the dining plan.

We also received refillable mugs as part of the plan. Each person on the dining plan gets one mug, and you can fill them at any quick service restaurant at any resort. Every morning, I took our mugs and filled one with coffee, two with Coke, and we tried to wake up as our kids bounced around, ready for a park day. You can not use the mugs for milk, but you can use them for coffee, tea, juices, and all fountain beverages. Seeing as our kids need none of that, my husband got a bonus cup of soda each morning. All the kids care about is having a cool souvenir, anyway.

A word to the wise, eating all meals at Disney - the food is typical American food. The portions are huge, the salt is obvious, and the focus is largely meat, dairy, and carbs, especially on buffets. Even the salads were overdressed and most vegetables were laden with dairy and sodium. Beware the bloat. Seriously, bring some bloat tea or cranberry juice, bring some kale with you, something, because by the end we all looked like we were harboring food babies. Three days of eating salads and soup have us all feeling better.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Disney World - credit where credit is due

Pin It Before I keep going, there are a few people who should get shout-outs for all they did to make our trip amazing. We really wanted a magical trip, and every little bit just made it all so perfect.

First, our travel agent, Abbie at Love the Mouse. She was highly recommended by a trusted friend who could not sing higher praise. We now know why. She is fast to respond, answers every question expertly, and makes great recommendations. If I wasn't such a nervous wreck about the dining reservations and fastpasses, she would have set all those up. As it was, I was only so successful at making all of our reservations for when we wanted them because of her advice. Abbie set up our Disney Magical Express reservations, gave us tips on what to bring with us and what we could go without or get there. (I packed a suitcase of princess dresses that I purchased on clearance throughout the year so I wouldn't need to pay park prices or have a disappointed kid who didn't have a dress - thanks for all the tips, Abbie!) Even if you are just considering a trip or have questions, contact Abbie. Her services are free and she isn't at all pushy. She'll help shape your perfect vacation and make sure you are on the right track for your expectations, timeline, and budget.

Second, my friend Kirsten, owner of Julily's Boutique. She made the girls these gorgeous dresses.

I picked out the Mickey fabric (Kirsten had a bunch to suggest!) and gave her measurements. She did the rest! We gave the girls these dresses when we surprised them in the morning, and they have been begging to wear them since we returned. They are not only adorable and received a million compliments, but they are washable and will be well-loved. Not to mention the yellow was nice and bright, and when my little one ran up Main Street, she was easily spotted and matched her sister, so we were easily found. (I will never ever judge a parent with a kid on a kid leash at a public venue again. She just sprints. Bright colors. Matching her sister. Every day.)

Kirsten makes all sorts of gorgeous clothes. She makes reversible skirts, reversible dresses, leggings, vests, bow ties, headbands... if you want a quality outfit for a special event or to your specifications, contact her. 

And for helping me not be a hot, SAHM hot mess:

My Origami Owl friend, Bonni, helped me coordinate my lockets (which I love!) to the park and characters. Go big or go home, right? Momma wants to look good, too, and sometimes it is the small things! Want some VIP treatment? Need some attention from a great rep? Visit Bonni's page. 

My Jamberry representative and amazing lady I am so glad to know, Laura. I love Jamberry. She made sure my nails were Disney without being horrifying or gaudy. 

To all you ladies, I thank you. You made our trip extra special!

Bay Lake Towers - Walt Disney World Resort

Pin It For our visit to Disney World, we stayed at Bay Lake Towers. The tower is linked to the Contemporary (literally - there is a bridge that has amazing views of the Magic Kingdom and you can make out Epcot and Hollywood Studios opposite the lagoon!) and finding information on it wasn't easy.

I'm here for you.

First of all, this is one of the more expensive options at Disney, but you'll see why. It was important to us that we have a space separate from the girls. We were hoping they would nap (hahahhahahah!), my husband had to do some work and make a few calls without kids in the background or later at night, and we spent all day, every day, with our girls. I'm used to this, so when my husband suggested a division, even if it was just for sleep, I was on board.


First, these rooms are huge. Bigger than NYC apartments.

Not only do they include a full kitchen complete with pots, pans, place settings, coffee maker, dishwasher and two eating areas (yeah.) but they have a washer and dryer. With laundry detergent. I thought that would be nice for emergencies, but ended up using it incase our flight was cancelled or we were stranded. I came home with half a load of dirty laundry. Half a load. Do you know how good that feels? Bonus: I used their machines to wash the princess dresses that had lost a battle to ice cream cones. All that glitter that is not in my house. We were on the Disney Dining Plan (more on that later) so we didn't use the kitchen to its full potential. Next time, I'd choose this room over the dining plan any day. Since we wouldn't go for all the character meals like we did this time, I'd use a grocery delivery service and pack lunches for the park and make easy dinners when we didn't eat out. 

The view:

Pay the extra few dollars for the Magic Kingdom view. It is my understanding that you can see the water light show from lagoon view rooms, but look at that. Look. At. That. 

Our room had a balcony (I think they all do) and we sat outside at night and watched the fireworks and drank wine while our kids slept. The night we had a sitter, she watched fireworks with the girls before turning off their lights and reading in the big chair in our room instead of sitting in the dark, awkwardly, while our kids tried to talk to her. 

There were two bathrooms: a standard one for the kids, and a giant one for us. Because we are paying. Knowing this tub was a thing, I brought a packet of bath salts and had myself a luxury bath. Yes. This is important. The shower also had a rain head, which was nice. But that tub. 

We are next to the Contemporary, but not in it. The Contemporary is cool. It also is highly criticized for being loud. It does have one of the most popular restaurants and a monorail right in the middle. There is a 24-hour quick service bar that has amazing desserts to cash your snack credits in on, a beverage bar for those using the refillable mugs (coffee and Coca-Cola all the time!) and a few really neat shops. One shop carries food, home goods for the kitchens in the Bay Lake Tower suites, and, what really just made Husby's day, The Wall Street Journal. (There were other papers, a great variety in various languages, but he only cares about THE paper.) This means that all that is an inch away while having more space and peace, plus some added bonuses. Bay Lake Towers has its own pool area (with a water slide!) and a kid club area all its own. The kid club space has DVDs to borrow and outdoor movies with s'mores, but we never got that far. The resort channel that plays classic Mickey cartoons was enough for my kids. I would have liked to do the Mickey Mouse tie-dye shirt project if we had a down day, but not this trip. (We went into this trip saying we'd do this once and do it big. Now I see why people do it every few years and do it... less. However, I don't know how people afford to go every year. Adopt me. I'm a great nanny. Anyway, I'm lobbying for 10/18 for a return. We have another 5th coming up, just 2.5 years away! And I don't Florida in the summer.)

The Contemporary and Bay Lake Towers are on the monorail, has a bus station (like all resorts), and you can walk to the Magic Kingdom. The bell hop will tell you it takes about 10 minutes to walk there, but the sidewalk is built for that exact connection and even my tired toddler walked it in less than 10. I'd say when the kids were in the stroller and we were fresh, it took maybe 5 minutes. Not only does this mean that you don't need to take transportation there (the monorail runs away from the Magic Kingdom through the Contemporary, so it would take 25 minutes to take the train to the kingdom, and maybe 5 to come back to the hotel) but you can also walk there to catch a bus to any other resort. Know that the buses only run 45 minutes before any park opens. We had 8am reservations at Animal Kingdom Lodge and thought we would take the bus. Magic Kingdom opened at 9am that morning. Fail. 


The price. It is not cheap. However, if you plan on using the kitchen or can splurge, this might be right for you. Like I mentioned, with two young kids, having a dividable space made sense. We weren't using this room just to crash, and renting two rooms next to each other would have cost more.

Bay Lake Towers is excluded from special events, such as free dining and discounted stays. You are going to pay full price regardless of the time of year. 

The theming is muted. This could be a pro or con depending on your view. You will still get some Disney prints on the walls and the soap bottles still have a tiny picture of Tink on them, but don't expect housecleaning to fold your towels into Mickeys or Dumbos or anything that isn't a towel on a rack. 

The housecleaning is not quite what you get at a standard hotel every day. It is what you get in a suite or townhouse. The first two days they made the bed and refreshed the linens. On the third day, they ran the dishwasher, cleaned up the counters, scrubbed everything down, ran the vacuum, all the stuff you typically find in a standard housekeeping clean. Unless you stay on the club level, there is no turn down. This wasn't really an issue for us except for the glitter. There was glitter everywhere from the dresses and the fairy godmothers. One morning our toddler destroyed a granola bar and although we picked up the pieces, I would have liked a vacuum that day. However, it also meant they didn't fold up the hide-away beds every morning, which was a pro for us. It all depends on your expectations.

All said and done, I loved this room. We loved this room. I'd love to try one of the themed rooms in a different hotel, but as for location and luxury of space, you can't beat Bay Lake Towers. The only hesitation we would have about staying here again would be the lack of promotions available to guests at this resort. But we'll make that decision when the time comes!

This is really something to wake up to. And say goodnight to. And look out the window at 2am because you can't believe where you are to. And pass as you walk the skybridge because your kids get up at 5:45am super excited to be at Disney and someone needs to go fill the mugs to. 

PhotoPass and Memory Maker - Disney MUST, from a photographer.

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I am a photographer. Not in the "I have a nice camera" way, in the "I have a minor in photography and took photographs for all my highschool and colleges publications, and I have a nice camera with nice lenses that I know how to use" way. I don't say that to be braggy, I say that so everyone understands that I didn't come by this choice lightly. I don't shoot weddings or get paid for taking photos, but that is because when I looked at the forked road in front of me, I didn't have the money to start professional photography and went into teaching. (The richest profession ever.)

I wanted to bring my big camera and my gorgeous lenses that all have names. However, that is a lot to carry, especially with two young kids. After much debate, my husband gave me a new Lumix for Christmas (which is actually quite impressive and fits in my pocket!) and I decided to go the Memory Maker route.

PhotoPass is a program Disney has that is open to all park visitors. Photographers in the park will take a photo and link it to your MagicBand or give you a card with a code that you can enter on Disney's website.

Memory Maker is what you purchase to have access to every single one of your photos to download, order prints and photo goods, and share for 30 days after activation. .

This is the best decision I made this whole trip. Better than getting up early to make restaurant reservations, better than staying up late for FastPasses, Memory Maker and PhotoPass are the best. The. Best.


1) There are over 20 photographers in each park, and they have really nice cameras with really nice lenses and most of them are more than just amateur photographers. They know their location, they know their cameras, and they are willing to get the shot you want if you are picky like me and have specific requests.  Some photographers are at certain attractions while others just mill about. Sometimes they will take pictures randomly and scan your MagicBand afterward. They capture moments and are good at it. ALL Disney PhotoPass photographers will use whatever camera you bring to take your photo, too. You don't need to buy the package for that! Sometimes there is a line waiting for the photographers (like in front of the castle) but usually it is less than 5 minutes to get a photo taken.

2) You get to be in as many shots as you want. I'm always the one behind the camera, and usually I don't mind. But our last family photo on our wall (meaning it wasn't a selfie) is from 2 years ago, and we are at Disney. I'm going to get in the photo.

3) It is cheaper than most professional photo sessions. Whether you go for one day or 14, the cost is the same. Obviously it is a better deal the longer your stay. I bought the package a week before we left to take advantage of the discount and so that all the photos taken on our trip would be included. (There is a 3 day waiting period if you buy the discount Memory Maker, so be aware that you need to do it early or pay more.) Over the 6 days, we had 900 photos taken. NINE HUNDRED. Every character meeting, some meals, all the rides with photo options, the Jedi Training Academy... it is all there, and in gorgeous color. I still took my own photos, of course, but for the Memory Maker, we paid about $0.15 per photo. Most of them were instantly uploaded onto My Disney Experience and viewable from my phone, even though I didn't activate Memory Maker until I got home. I downloaded all the photos from our trip in high resolution, and chose a few stock photos, too. Yes, they have about 200 stock photos from events, parades, and of the parks' iconic attractions without people in them. Great if you are going to make a photo book.

 4) It becomes something to do. We have a toddler and a preschooler. It seemed like one of us was always changing or taking a kid to the bathroom. Sometimes my husband would be paying for something or I'd be holding a spot in line while he found the stroller. Whenever there was a photographer nearby, we would take advantage of the few minutes found and take a photo. It was nice to have pictures with just one of us and one kid. Or just us and NO kids! Imagine.

5) Rides and some photo booths are included. A few rides even have videos now. You get all that.

6) Photographers can add magic. Just ask if they can take a magic shot. Location determines what sort of magic they will add to a shot. My 5-year-old was feeling a bit crabby, so a photographer asked her to put her hand up. This is what happened:

Now she is very certain she has Ice Magic. 

7) Your whole party can share photos. It wouldn't matter if we had 10 people with us or just one, any photo scanned on one of our bands shows up in our account. So if your mom is running around with your toddler and gets his picture taken with Jake while your teen is on Splash Mountain, they will all be there. All of them. 

8) This is probably the best one: You get to observe with your own eyes, not from behind a camera. Sometimes I prefer watching the world through a 35mm. But when my kid gets to run up to Mickey or is trying to hug Baymax or Tinkerbell is talking her ear off, I want to absorb every second. Someone else will capture the moment while I get to soak in every second. This alone is worth it. You won't want to miss these moments, trust me. 

I am so, so happy with this. Sometimes the lighting isn't great or the cropping what I would have chosen, but if you have some photo editing skills, you can generally tweak that. If not, the Memory Maker comes with basic editing tools to help and frames you can add to make background guests disappear. Each photo "session" included 5-10 pictures, so even when the kids were crabby or the sun blaring, we got a good shot. 

I am in no way affiliated with Disney. I was not given anything in compensation for my honest opinion. (Maybe someday I'll be that cool!)

The most magical place on earth! Preliminary post.

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We went, we saw, we returned (against our wills).

I have a bunch of things to say about Disney World - about what we learned, what we loved, what made us melt down. But this is just that post that is all about how magical our trip was. Everyone who blogs and goes to Disney has one, and if you've been, you know why. 

Because it is really magical. Even the skeptical leave feeling the magic, assuming you did a little planning. 

We stayed on site. I don't think we will ever stay off site now that we have had this experience. First of all, the Disney Magical Express is amazing. We checked our luggage at our home airport in New England, it arrived in our room while we were at the park. At check-out we handed our bags to the Disney Magical Express at our hotel, and they appeared back in New England. That was it. No rolling all that around the green earth with small kids and 10,000 carry-ons. The bus and videos were nice, too, but the real magic is in the luggage care. 

Our flight there was delayed, so we lost about 2 hours (and missed our first FastPass) in the park. However, it all worked out, because our second FastPass was for the Festival of Fantasy Parade. We had just enough time to snap a few photos, get some fries, find where our younger daughter ran off to (which caused me to spill the fries - I was in a bit of a panic, and someone bumped me. Spilled fries will make your family melt down, and it wasn't very magical.) and get our FastPass seats. If ever there is a fantastic way to start your trip, it is with this parade. It embodies all of what Disney is - loud, over-the-top detailing, and this sense of wonder that envelopes everyone. You've never seen a parade this gorgeous or well put together. My daughters lost it when the characters waved directly at them. There were bubbles and a dragon that breaths fire, and the whole thing was amazing. It also gave my young kids a chance to actually see characters (especially those in full costumes) at a bit of a distance. My younger one was not a fan of people in costume before this trip. Now she can't get enough. 

The first night, we ate at Chef Mickey's. Characterpalooza. I'll write more on restaurants later, but the big draw here was meeting the mouse that started the madness, Mickey.

I went to Disney once before, when I was 11. It was my birthday and not only was it not nearly the experience they make it now, but I didn't see Mickey the whole time. I took every opportunity offered to get near that mouse, particularly because he is the apple of my daughter's eye. 

Day 2, we went to Animal Kingdom. The tree is amazing, the Wilderness Explorers are adorable, the park is low-key, and this is where you can meet unique characters. My girls were fried from travel and surprised, so we went to Disney Springs on the same day. Animal Kingdom also closes earlier than the other parks, so we didn't lose much time there.

Day 3 was a very BIG birthday. We will never top this. When Disney knows it is your actual birthday, they make a really big deal out of you. (And they know because your birthday shows up on your FastPass, reservations, everything.) We had breakfast at Cinderella's, and that got us into the park before it opened. Check out how empty the streets are! Pictures!

Cupcakes and singing at every table service meal. There was a lot of sugar. 

We spent the whole day in the park, save two hours where we tried to nap and the girls just bounced around the room. Then they fell asleep in the stroller once we got into the park. Seriously.

We used our three passes for the day and still had plenty of time to meet characters and ride the rides. I don't think we waited more than 20 minutes for any ride or meeting our whole trip. (More on that later.)

When we boarded the carousel, so did Lady Tremaine and her daughters! She showed my older daughter where Cinderella's horse was (how exciting, to ride Cinderella's horse!) and my younger daughter might now aspire to be a villain, after all their conversation. The ladies walked my girls to the front of their meet and greet line for photos and signatures afterwards. It was pretty amazing. 

We had dinner at Be Our Guest. The grey stuff is delicious. The Beast was very cordial, and he was the only character my younger daughter was frightened by. He was 8 feet tall and hairy, so...

On the fourth day, we went to Epcot. We managed to do the whole park in one day without any major incident. The children opted out of nap, which made dinner less than entertaining, but every kid in Disney is crazed by dinner, so we were just part of the cacophony. My kids loved the KidCot stops, and the live shows throughout are pretty cool. 

Day 5 was Hollywood Studios. It. Poured. Not a typical Florida afternoon shower, there was sheet rain for a few hours. Good thing a good portion of this park is indoors. We had to wait for the Honey, I Shrunk The Kids! playground to be wiped down, but I'm glad we did. They are taking it out in April! After someone told me this, I took about a million pictures. This was one part that I really remembered from my childhood, and I wanted my kids to enjoy it as much as I did when I was younger. 

Day 6, our last day, we spent the morning at the Magic Kingdom again. It was cold by Florida standards, and many of the outdoor rides had very short lines. We watched a bunch of shows, since those were inside where it is warm, and overall the day was pretty full. Then we went to the airport and, due to weather, spent 6.5 hours on the plane and another 2 getting our luggage. We went to bed at 3am on Sunday, and the Disney Hangover is just now lifting. 

It was a full, amazing trip. I can't wait to go back!