Where to Hang Your Ear Hat at Disney

After you’ve decided to take the plunge down the Disney rabbit hole, the next big decision is where to stay when you get there. On or off the property? A room at a value resort or deluxe suite inside one of the parks?

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Credit: The Frugal South

How much should you spend?

Now, I LOVE love hotels. In fact when we go on vacation I sometimes wish our destinations were secretly more boring so I had a better excuse to sit in my hotel room all day wrapped in my white hotel robe on the white bed (white does not exist at my house even where it should) and watch hours of HGTV in between my mid-morning and mid-afternoon naps. HOWEVER, when planning our Disney trip, I made an exception to my hotel snobbery for a few reasons, and they are ones I suggest all parents who fall on the Mickey Meh side of the spectrum should consider:

  1. If you are sharing a room with small children, it doesn’t matter if it costs $120 per night or $500 per night. It’s going to be a shitty night’s sleep.
  2. You’re going to be so busy and exhausted from your days at the park that even if you are able to get everyone asleep and stay asleep without major meltdowns and musical beds (see number 1), will you have time to enjoy the amenities at one of the nicer resorts?
  3. If you have a set amount to spend on the entire vacation, more money spent on the hotel means less money spent elsewhere. I dare you to tell your 4-year-old that she can’t have the $25 bubble wand because you wanted to stay at the place that has made-to-order sushi.

I have friends who say it’s worth staying at resorts like the Contemporary because of the convenience of the Monorail. They can hop on and off and quickly get back to the hotel for kids’ naps without losing precious park time. I have other animal-loving friends who have no regrets spending money on the Savanna views at The Animal Kingdom Lodge. There are always packages available that can save you money, so if staying somewhere nice or with a unique ambience is important, ask your Disney Travel Planner if she can work her pixie dust magic.

On or off the property?

I think it’s worth staying on the property simply to avoid parking at the parks. Now mind you we went at Christmas, the most wonderful crowded time of the year, but those driving in from hotels in Kissimmee and Orlando had to park so far away, that if Clark Griswold had imposed his first ones in/last ones out theory at Magic Kingdom, he would’ve been closing in on a marathon. There is transportation from the parking lots, but if I had to wait in traffic, then wait to ride from the lot to the park, then wait in line to get into the park all before waiting in line for rides, food and the restrooms, I think I’d lose my patience before Morning Extra Magic Hours were even over. Which you can’t even get unless you stay at a Disney resort. Which is yet another fun rule you will try not to learn before you go, because you’ll swear you won’t care that much, but then you won’t be able to help yourself and you’ll get. Sucked. In.

Where we stayed

I eschewed my predilection for all things modern, white and mini-bar, and stuck to my budget-friendly guns with a value resort on The Property. My first choice, the Art of Animation Resort, stood out from the other value resorts for its pool, or I should say one of its pools. The Finding Nemo pool is the largest of any at the Walt Disney World resorts with a zero entry and music pumping through underwater speakers. Plus, it has a splash pad, which I prefer every time over petri dishes cleverly disguised as baby pools. I hear their Cars-themed pool isn’t too shabby either. Alas, they were sold out. So we opted for the neighboring Pop Century Resort (and then just snuck over and used the Nemo pool). I should say that aside from amenities, decor and variations in the food court menus, all value resorts boast the same basic model masked in a different over-the-top Disney theme. The “cast members” at each one offer unparalleled customer service and the rooms are clean. At Pop Century, the theme is nostalgia, with each building representing a decade from the ’50s through the ’90s. When I found out that the rooms were getting refurbished at Pop Century, I thought I might be getting the modern room I wanted. Our travel agent said I need not request a refurbished room, because they were all scheduled to be finished way before we got there. I should’ve made the request, because of course they ran behind and we ended up in one of the old rooms. There’s really no comparison. But I’m going to do it anyways:

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Old room
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New room (easywdw.com)

Our room was located in the ’60s section, which was closer to the main building than the already refurbished rooms of the ’80s and ’90s, but I would’ve happily walked a couple of extra hundred feet or so for the obvious upgrades and super cool second Murphy bed (I’ve always wanted one of those, and can we fold the kids up in that when we want privacy?). Then there was the overwhelming decor of the ’60s section. They did a little too good of a job simulating an acid trip. Upon entering the psychedelic pool area with giant water-squirting flowers, yo-yos and a three-story Play-Doh container with a blue elephant popping out the top, I was felt the anxiety rise into my slowly tightening chest and throat as my breath quickened. I could swear I even tasted metal in my mouth. With the help of a frosé from the pool bar, I eventually acclimated. The feeling never went away the entire stay, rather I leaned into it and just went with it. Whether we had started our Disney experience in the ’60s at Pop Century or at the BoardWalk Inn (which I could never, clown-themed pool slide, yikes), I think the drugged feeling was inevitable. Going to Disney is truly entering an alternate universe and you have to adjust and go with the flow or you’re going to have a bad trip.

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Also, if you do stay at Pop Century in the ’60s on the second floor and spot a squirrel with an unnatural amount of bravado lurking around the vending/ice area, be wary. He does not back down.

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3 Essential Disney World Planning Tips to Get You Started

 

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My Disney travel tips are for parents like myself, who don’t love Disney. You don’t hate it enough to deprive your children of this overpriced magical rite of passage, but it is indeed all about the kids. You didn’t go to Disney World on your honeymoon or after you won the Superbowl, and before kids, the last Disney movie you saw was when you were a child. You’re going for your children to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That is, unless they decide to go again when they are adults. Because you sure as hell aren’t taking them more than once. This. Is. It.

This is the first in a series of Disney World travel and planning posts, I like to call “I Don’t Give a Flying Fairy.”

Before we even get to the actual Disney experience, let’s talk planning. Learning the ins and outs of Disney World is enough to make your head spin like a giant tea cup: FastPasses, Magic Bands, park hopping, Rapid Fill mugs, snack credits vs. meal credits on your dining plan… Please take this chance to pause and grab a drink, Xanax, or dropper-full of CBD oil. The “happiest place on Earth,” which is the size of San Francisco and the largest single-site employer in the country, is truly a “World” unto itself.

That being said, here are my top 3 planning tips to get the Cinderella ball rolling:

  1. Start planning eight months out. Earlier if you can. Hotels book up fast, especially at Christmas. We got our second choice hotel starting this early, which wasn’t horrible, but still not our first pick. And restaurant reservations need to be made six months out for the popular places at the most popular times, like Christmas.
  2. Don’t go at Christmas. We went over winter break because at the time we were dealing with strict attendance policies at my son’s school. It was either crazy crowds at Christmas, or sweltering heat in the summer. Luckily, we chose Christmas Day as a day off between parks, because Magic Kingdom was so packed, Disney closed its doors for about five hours.
  3. Get a Disney travel agent. Just post on Facebook and ask your friends who they recommend. You will have so many to choose from, but at least it narrows down the field compared to a stone-cold Internet search. It’s unbelievable how many people do this for a living. Thank God they do, though, because it made my head-spinning level drop from giant teacup to Flying Dumbo. I can stomach Dumbo. We used the Frugal Fairy Godmother (can you stand the cuteness of her name?). She knows and loves everything about Disney so you don’t have to.

My next post in this series will talk about choosing where to stay and eat. To meal plan or not to meal plan? Stay tuned!

20 Thousand Questions: The Real Kids’ Travel Game

You’ve gotta love the curious minds of kindergartners. But the questions, my God, the fucking questions. Kids are so cute. They’re so precocious. Until you’re stuck in the car with one for 8 hours and sticking to your guns with your “I didn’t have an iPad when I was your age, I just looked out the window” crap.

Jed’s questions go from smart and philosophical:

  • What’s the goverment?
  • What does it mean to judge?

To strange and downright disturbing:

  • Do raccoons lose teeth and if they do, does the tooth fairy visit them?
  • Why is it illegal to dig up dead bodies?

It’s like having Carlton Blanchard (Wings) buckled up in your backseat:

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“Why do they call them handcuffs if you wear them on your wrists?”

“If the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, what do you suppose a doorknob would feel like?”

“If they were to carpet the state of Florida, how long would it take to vacuum it?”

“If dogs don’t sweat, then what are their armpits for???”

“Geez Louise, for the love of Mike, for Pete’s sake; Who are these people?

I’ve tried the “answering his question with a question” tactic when I don’t know how else to respond: “I don’t know Jed, do you think the tooth fairy visits raccoons?”

But some things you can’t leave to chance.

Me: “Digging up dead bodies is wrong, Jed. It’s just wrong.”

Jed: “But why?”

Me: “It just is. Doesn’t it just seem wrong to you?”

Jed: “Um, well –”

Me: “Yes! The answer is ‘yes!'”

What are some of the most shocking questions your kids have asked you? Have you been stumped or simply stunned?

Move over cheese. Say Moo!

This past weekend, our immediate family met in the middle (between the mountains and Charlotte) in Greenville, SC, to celebrate Jed’s third birthday. I cannot recommend a better family-friendly day trip than the Greenville Zoo. While we were in Greenville, we went to their Whole Foods. I’m spoiled forever knowing what a full-blown Whole Foods holds in comparison to its Asheville counterpart: a chowder station, barbeque station, cheese wheels that could fit on monster trucks. I was in yuppy foodie heaven.

Like our half of a Whole Foods here in Asheville (I’m really not knocking Greenlife, they rule), piles of pumpkins were displayed just begging for a photo op. I sat there like an idiot with my iPhone, begging Jed to look up at me for one adorable “pumpkin patch” pic. Another mother was beside me attempting the same, but with a lot more success. All of the sudden, I heard her moo over my shoulder and sure enough, her daughter had perked up, and so did Jed:

Now I have a rule about not inundating the Internet with pictures of my son–his online presence and identity should be his choice when he’s old enough, but I just can’t help myself. (Please resist the temptation to take this cutie viral.)

I moo’ed our way through the zoo, competing with the leopards and gibbons, and it worked like a charm! I’m trying to be careful not to overdo the moo. Once it becomes as desensitized as cheese, I’ll have to come up with something else.

What are your kid pic tricks?

 

My Soul is on Staycation

I imagine my soul sipping (while searching) on this fruity mason jar cocktail. Source: The Arugula Files.

She has been in an indulgent, introspective limbo for the past couple of weeks, but Lindsey Living will resume on Monday (not at all a coincidence the same day Jed starts up camp again).

 

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Back from Panama! It was an uh-MAZE-ing trip, but I was up for practically two days straight after a grueling travel schedule home, so I leave you with one of my favorite pics as an optical amuse-bouche of more to come. Bonus points if you can come up with a caption! Enjoy:)

 

Packing for Panama: Preparing for Rainforest vs. the Beach

Happy Mother’s Day everyone! For me, brunch on the couch is the new breakfast in bed (that happens when you get to sleep in until 10:30!), but we’re not going all out today because we have enough to look forward to this week because….(drumroll)… we leave for Panama in two days!

Pilferers and squatters need not attempt to track down our home. It will be occupied in our absence, and of course there’s the moat with the alligator that we keep just hungry enough.

So now I’m doing something that before child I’d always saved until the morning of, even the hour of departure… packing. Packing for Panama is not like packing for any beach. It’s a rainforest climate, which means SERIOUS humidity. You think we have it here in the South? Well, my friend who lives down there says she tries not to spend more than $10 on a dress, because unfortunately they don’t last very long down there. Everything is wet all the time. So with that in mind, she recommended swimsuits, quick-drying, moisture-wicking clothes, and well, that’s about it!

We’re staying at an amazing eco resort called Casa Cayuco, which is (at post time) the number two spot on TripAdvisor’s list of B&Bs and Inns on Panama’s Isla Bastimentos.

So packing clothing was a no-brainer:

  • 3 swim suits (two-pieces that I can mix and match)
  • 1 gauzy sundress
  • 1 gauzy, hangy tank top
  • 1 quick-dry skirt
  • 1 moisture-wicking short-sleeve shirt with UV protection
  • 1 moisture-wicking, quick dry hoodie with UV protection
  • 1 pair of running shorts (more for lounging or hiking than running, but they’re that quick-dry material)
  • 1 rain jacket (essential!)
  • 1 pair of thin cropped PJ pants
  • 1 cotton tank to sleep in (no quick-dry PJs in my arsenal)
  • 1 cute, short nightie (this is our first trip as a couple without Jed since he was born!)
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 pair of Chacos for hiking, more active endeavors

And it all fits into half the space of my LeSportsac Weekender duffel:

Mine’s a paisley pattern from several years back that you can’t find online anymore, but I love this fun owl print! These suckers are super durable and hold EVERYTHING. And mine’s complied with every airline’s carry-on rules so far.

Now the question is, will my skin and sun care regimen fit into the other half of my duffel? My skin is riddled with “beauty marks” that range from pre-pre-cancerous to pre-cancerous, so I am extra careful in the sun. So besides my straw fedora, which I think I can pull off (no matter what Dave says), I also bought a slew of different products to take down there. My friend Sue swears by coconut oil for a lot of uses, and I’m excited to try out any natural, local alternative to what I bring, but we are at least a 45 minute boat ride to any store, so I need to come prepared.

Skin Care and Sun Care for Panama

Avon beauty product
$7.99 – avon.com. I’m not a huge Avon person, but when it comes to bug spray, their SkinSoSoft is my first stop. And this one has SPF 30. Win, win!

Baby Bee SPF 30 Suncreen Stick – NEW- Burt’s Bees
$10 – burtsbees.com. I have sensitive skin, so when it comes to my face I use baby products. If it’s sensitive enough for baby, it’s gentle enough for me.

Buy Natrapel 8-Hour Deet Free Insect Repellent & More | drugstore.com
$4.99 – drugstore.com. Found this at Amazing Savings, picked it up as a back-up. If you’re not from Asheville, then you don’t know how amazing the savings truly are:)

Lip care SPF 25 – Sun Protection – Lip
$2.99 – albabotanica.com. Once on a Bahamas boat trip I forgot my SPF lip balm for one day and looked like Mick Jagger for the next four. Never again.

All Natural Spray On Oil Sun Screen Spf 30 from Kiss My Face
$13 – kissmyface.com. Another Amazing purchase. Skeptical about using oil, but it is SPF 30, so we shall see.
My sister knows me too well and bought me the Ahava after sun lotion for my birthday. I fell in love with their stuff when I visited the Dead Sea in Israel back in high school. My skin will love it after a day in the sun, burned or not.
Travel shampoo, conditioner and shave lotion were purchased based on what was available at Whole Foods in travel size (my hair Phyto regime is not travel-friendly). I don’t dislike Kiss My Face by any means (this is what I have for our guests at my house), but if you were to look at my packing list, you’d think I was obsessed!
I don’t know if I’ll post much of anything… at all… this week while I’m gone. If I’m proactive enough, I’ll put one in the works to be scheduled out, or post a few gorgeous pics of us swimming with the dolphins or something to make you jealous:)
This is definitely the most far-out, remote, tropical locale I’ll have traveled to. What’s yours? 

Shopping in Athens, GA

This past weekend, we went to Athens, GA, for a good friend’s wedding (a gorgeous rustic chic wedding that I will post pics from later this week!). I love traveling to weddings when I’m not in them. While Dave was off for a five-hour photo session with the rest of the wedding party Saturday afternoon, I got to eat, drink and shop my way through downtown Athens with a couple of my Charlotte girlfriends.

Both of my friends struck gold at this cute boutique called Pitaya, which apparently has locations all over the country, but this was the first one I’d been to. Great value pieces. Very affordable but not cheapy, on trend yet age-appropriate for the 30-something set. And all of their Pitaya label clothes are made in the USA. Margaret bought this dress for only $36!

It looks super cute paired with tall brown leather boots (think Frye) or belted with leggings.

My purchase was from one of the Athens locals’ favorite stores, Helix. And after going there twice (once on Friday for a birthday gift and again on Saturday for a “me” gift) I can see why. A something-for-everyone “Oh my God, come look at this!” gift store, I just wish I would’ve had the time and money to knock out my holiday shopping right then and there. I never buy jewelry for myself, but I’ve been admiring foundling from afar ever since I featured them in a style story I wrote a couple of years back. Made in Asheville (where I live) and I bought them in Athens. Go figure:)

Frances Posts: Made from recycled sterling silver, paper, resin, vintage fabric.

I love that I can wear these everyday. And they just made me smile.

Like I said, I never treat myself to jewelry, but I also have a shopping rule: If I fall in love with something that I don’t need or wasn’t planning on purchasing, I sit on it for a day. If I’m still thinking about it the next day (and really, have been thinking about it ever since) it was meant to be.

Do you have any shopping rules or guidelines to keep you in check?