May 22, 2017
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7 Books for Kids to Read Before a Disney Vacation

What are the recommended Disney books for kids before leaving on your magical vacation? Check out these 7 books for every kid in the family.

Getting kids ready for a Disney vacation? Every child, from babies to teens can benefit from one of these tried and tested Disney books for kids before their magical vacation. Whether doing Disney parks research, educating on the history of Disney or just getting familiar with characters, these are books kids will love. These are the top books for kids to read before a Disney trip that will get them prepared and excited!

Disney Books for Kids

Yep, the internet is great for travel planning but I don’t necessarily want my kids surfing the web (even if they’re just looking for Disney vacation stuff). I love that these Disney books for kids exist to help get them prepared for vacation. Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Black Loop. Today we are sharing the Disney books you should have in your collection. I’m talking about the books for kids that they should read before your Disney vacation.

Please note that I use affiliate links in this post. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you!

For Research and Planning

If you want to get the most out of your Disney vacation (money and time well-spent) you’ll have to invest some research and planning. Get kids on board with a guide book they can read with you at home.

The Birnbaum’s 2018 Walt Disney World For Kids guide book really helps to build excitement. Kids may have heard of the rides and attractions but not know any details other than that. The book informs kids on what to expect once they get to the Parks (psst…helping kids know what to expect can help minimize disappointment and meltdowns!)

For Babies

If you’re planning on taking your baby to Disney, I suggest helping them get familiar with the characters. Disney Baby I Love You This Much! features Mickey and his friends with a sweet story line. Point out the characters in the books and repeat their names. Expand baby’s character palate with the equally adorable Disney Baby My First Colors. I love the colorful fold-out pages and less often seen characters in this book.

My daughter loves these books (we received complimentary copies from Disney Baby). Most babies are very excited to see characters in the park though some might not want to get closer than a few feet. My daughter at 6 months old wanted to touch characters. However at 13 months old, she cried anytime we were within 10 feet! Read more about my “no-cry” ways to introduce your baby to characters in the parks.

For more tips about taking babies to Disney, read about the things to do at Disney World with a baby on TravelingMom or my posts at Disney Baby.

What are the recommended Disney books for kids before leaving on your magical vacation? Check out these 7 books for every kid in the family.

Even babies will appreciate these Disney books for kids before their vacation.

For Preschoolers

When planning your preschooler’s first Disney trip, you’ll want to give them more of a backstory on the attractions. Preschool #DisneyKids are easily drawn into the magic! My preschooler loves storybooks, like the Walt Disney’s Classic Storybook Collection.

Planning a California trip to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure park? Check out my TravelingMom post with insider tips for taking preschoolers to Disneyland. And more preschooler at Disney tips here, as well.

What are the recommended Disney books for kids before leaving on your magical vacation? Check out these 7 books for every kid in the family.

For Princesses-in-Training

Is your little princess excited to wear her costume at the Park? Get her ready from head-to-toe with the help of this DIY book, Disney Princess Hairstyles. The step-by-step illustrations make it easy to recreate some truly stunning braids, buns and up-dos, inspired by Disney Princesses. For even more inspiration, try Disney Frozen Hairstyles: Inspired by Anna and Elsa.

  

Give yourself plenty of time at home before your trip to practice and perfect some of the more elaborate designs.

Doing your child’s hair and sprinkling your own glitter will save you big bucks! However if you can’t handle the complexity of these styles, consider booking a reservation at Bibbidi Bobbity Boutique instead.


For Tweens

Many kids at this age have an appreciation or interest in history and historical figures. A non-fiction account of Walt Disney can really spark the thoughts of impressionable tweens. Walt’s quotes about imagination, hard work and steadfast dreams hold true for kids today. Tweens can truly find inspiration in knowing Walt Disney’s background and childhood history.

Tweens also love to find out how things work. The basic principles of creative “Imagineering” can affect tweens in a positive way.

I recommend Walt Disney: Young Movie Maker (Childhood of Famous Americans) and Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real.

    

For Teens

My fantasy-loving teen has really enjoyed the Kingdom Keepers (7 Book Series). Getting to stay at Disney after everyone leaves – amazing, right? Fighting Disney villains to save the world? Even better! This dramatic chapter book series is great.

For Aspiring Animators

Immersing kids with Disney pre-trip really gets them in the mood for a magical vacation. Watching the classic Disney animated features helps get kids excited for what they’ll see on the rides. And possibly for the character meetings they’ll have as well.

My kids enjoy the Learn to Draw series. The step-by-step illustrations guide kids how to draw characters, whether it’s classic Mickey from Learn to Draw Mickey Mouse & Friends Through the Decades, an animated favorite from Learn to Draw Disney’s Classic Animated Movies or Moana & Maui from Learn to Draw Disney’s Moana.
    

Stock up on sketch paper, pencils, erasers and colored pencils so kids can work on their art. This is a great on-the-road activity as well!


Looking for Recommended Disney Books for Grown-Ups?

Make sure to check out my post, Best Books to Buy When Planning a Disney Vacation. Those are the books that the grown-ups should read for research and fun before their trip!

Many of these books are available for Amazon Kindle as well.
Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial

What are the recommended Disney books for kids before leaving on your magical vacation? Check out these 7 books for every kid in the family.

For more Disney book recommendations,
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!


Here is the map of our Blogorail Black | Ultimate Guide to Disney Books

May 19, 2017
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Adjusting to Changes When Traveling with Kids

Traveling with Kids? These 3 practical tips will help ease into the changes like missing home or time zone adjustment.

Traveling with kids is rewarding for parent & child alike!

My family doesn’t leave home very often. Yes, I’m a travel writer for TravelingMom.com but most of our “vacations” are only one or two days and very close to home (that’s why I’m the Day Trips TMOM!) There are many considerations to make in schedules when traveling with kids, whether short or long distance.

Traveling with Kids

In the course of 30 days, my family and I had two scheduled vacations where we were gone from home a total of 16 days. As adults, we can likely adjust just fine to that kind of schedule variance. In many cases, we relish a break from our usual daily grind! But for kids, the changes in their daily routine can make things a little rough. They’re in new surroundings, away from their home and what they’re familiar with. Perhaps there is a time zone difference. And all the new people and faces they’re seeing and meeting can be confusing. Here are a few things we learned on our recent travels that I wanted to share in case they help next time you’re traveling with kids.

As an HP Smart Mom Panel member, I receive products, promotional items & educational material to use and share as I see fit. However, any opinions expressed by me are honest and reflect my actual experience.

Traveling with Kids? These 3 practical tips will help ease into the changes like missing home or time zone adjustment.

1. Bring Something Special from Home

Allowing your child to pack one special something can help ease travel anxiety. My son’s rainbow blankie is a frequent travel companion for road trips. A favorite bedtime book that can be read in the hotel room is another must-have. A small favorite toy (like a race car or a doll) can occupy kids and give them a connection of home. Help them choose one special thing (hopefully small!) that they can bring with them on the trip.

2. Aim to Keep Kids on Their Usual Schedule

I recently traveled with my 5 year old and 13-month old from San Diego to Orlando. I had the idea that I would keep the kids on California time and not change them to the three hour time difference. That meant my kids would be staying up till 11 pm and sleeping in until 9 am.

Thank goodness, it worked! My kids stuck to their California time schedule, which meant staying up very late and sleeping in.  Not only did I keep their sleep times the same but we stuck with a Pacific coast dining time schedule as well. This meant we were usually eating dinner at 9 pm EST! It totally worked for my kids and our travel schedule.

Traveling with Kids? These 3 practical tips will help ease into the changes like missing home or time zone adjustment.

Eating late-night pizza in the hotel Just sticking to our at-home schedule!

The key for us was staying in a hotel with blackout curtains so the kids could sleep in. I also made sure to put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door so the kids weren’t awakened by hotel staff wanting to clean the room.

3. Remind Kids of Familiar Faces with Photographs

When traveling with my little ones I like to bring photos. Photographs of loved ones can spark conversation and help with sadness over missing someone while away from home.

When my two littlest children traveled with me cross-country to Orlando, I made albums that included photos of their Dad and older siblings who didn’t come on the trip. These softback albums cost about a dollar and can be personalized with your own printed front cover. Include simple photos like a picture of your house, their bedroom or even a favorite toy that was left behind.My preschooler wanted pictures of his teacher and friends from school.  I’ve also made the albums for my husband and I to take with when we’ve traveled without our children. It’s a “brag book” of sorts, so we could show fellow travelers our brood left at home.

Traveling with Kids? These 3 practical tips will help ease into the changes like missing home or time zone adjustment.

Printing at home couldn’t be easier! My HP printer, Snapshots app & Instant Ink give me photos in a minute.

Print Photos at Home

How many photos do you have in your phone that have never been seen? Printing them out doesn’t require a lot of work. Good printer paper, a full color cartridge and your at-home printer are all you need. My new HP Envy 7640 prints photographs like a dream!

Traveling with Kids? These 3 practical tips will help ease into the changes like missing home or time zone adjustment.

Sweet memories at the Beach Club pool at Walt Disney World

I’m having fun with the HP Social Media Snapshots app and the coordinating photo paper sheets. You can print them off at home then take them on vacation with you. The back of the 4 x 5″ photo paper is stickable.

Simply peel off the backing, place the Snapshots wherever you want (in the car, a bathroom mirror in the hotel room, on your laptop, etc) and then pop them off easily without any damage. And since most of my photos are taken on my smart phone, I love that I can easily share and print from my mobile device straight to my printer.

Traveling with Kids? These 3 practical tips will help ease into the changes like missing home or time zone adjustment.

With the Instant Ink program I’ve never run out of ink mid-project. At a cost of $2.99 a month I receive 50 pages. My printer “talks” to HP and lets them know when my ink is low.  I get a new ink cartridge in the mail and never have to go to the store or figure out which ink cartridge I need. Sign up via my HP Instant Ink link & you’ll receive a month for free.

Traveling with Kids? These 3 practical tips will help ease into the changes like missing home or time zone adjustment.

What are the ways you adjust to changes while traveling with kids?

May 10, 2017
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What to Do on a Non-Park Day at Disney World with a Preschooler

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

No ticket? No problem! There are tons of things to do on a non-park day at Disney World with a preschooler from resort hopping, dining and free fun. Preschoolers can be notoriously fickle and many will have a better attitude when allowed free time and play without structure. These ideas for a non-park day at Disney World with a preschooler show you exactly what you can do with little ones without having to purchase a Park ticket.

Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Green Loop. Today we are sharing fun things to do at Disney on non-park days.


11 Things to Do at Disney World with a Preschooler

Being a longtime Disneyland guest if we go to Disney, we always go into the Parks. Outside of the resort hotels and a few shops at Downtown Disney, there isn’t much that’s “Disney” to do if you’re not inside the Parks. However at Walt Disney World there are so many amazing things to do outside of the Parks (and lots of these ideas are totally free!)

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

I’ve always wanted to pad my visit with several non-park days and I was recently able to do that. My one-year old toddler and my 5-year old preschooler and I were recently at Walt Disney World and we had three non-park days on our visit. This allow us plenty of free time to explore some of the entertainment options outside of the Parks. Keep reading for my tips on how to enjoy a non-park day at Disney World with a preschooler.


1. Transportation is a Ride for Preschoolers

My preschooler couldn’t wait to get on his first Disney World ride and was disappointed when I told him we weren’t going to Magic Kingdom the first two days. He was appeased however when I told him we’d be taking the Monorail, the bus, and several boats that day instead. For preschoolers hopping aboard transportation is a Disney ride. And you won’t need a Park ticket or even need to be a resort guest to ride them.

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

The boats from Epcot to the Boardwalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club and Hollywood Studios are totally free to ride!

2. Resort Hopping

During our visit we were able to visit a total of six different resorts. We chose to stay overnight at three different places (Port Orleans Riverside, Disney’s Caribbean Beach and Beach Club Resort). Then we jumped aboard the Monorail and made stops at the trio of resorts on the loop (Contemporary, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Grand Floridian). Walking through the lobby, wandering the grounds, grabbing a snack inside a quick service restaurant and perusing the gift shops were fun activities for my preschooler.

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

Be sure to check online as to different activities that take place inside the resorts that anyone can enjoy. After reading an article on the Disney Blog site, I found out that the annual Easter eggs would still be on display in the lobby of the Grand Floridian during our visit.

3. Preschool Fun in Disney Springs

The first night of our stay we hopped on a boat that took us from the Port Orleans Riverside. In just under 15 minutes we were deposited into Disney Springs, a lively outdoor shopping spot with plenty for preschoolers to see and do.

My preschool was enthralled by the splash pad. It was quite late at night but being Florida, it was still pretty warm. I happily let him run through the water and it pretty much made his entire vacation!

Other preschool activities could be taking in a G-rated movie at AMC Theater, The night of our visit there was family-friendly singing and dancing at the Waterview Park amphitheater. Brave preschoolers could take a high ride in the basket of the Characters in Flight helium balloon. If preschoolers just can’t wait for their first ride, the Marketplace area has a train and carousel.

4. Dining at Disney Springs That’s Perfect for Preschoolers

We ate dinner at Blaze Pizza, the perfect VERY quick meal for hungry preschoolers who don’t want to wait. The pizzas cook in just 180 seconds! Blaze had some deliciously unique pizza combinations available but we settled for simple pepperoni for my guy. It was a decent size for the two of us to share along with a green salad.

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

Other dining locations that preschoolers would love are T-Rex, Earl of Sandwich and Rainforest Cafe. The volcano outside the Rainforest Cafe ignited with shooting flames, something we had to stop and watch. Splitsville would be a great place for a few hours of dining and entertainment so you can eat and bowl a few games.

Ghiradelli ice cream and soda shop was our dessert location that night, with overflowing cones of mint chip. We’d intended to grab cupcakes from Sprinkles but the shop was closed and they were in the process of loading the ATM. There is also very preschool-friendly shaved ice from Florida Snow Company and treats from Erin McKenna’s Bakery.

5. Souvenir Collecting

If you plan on resort hopping, one fun activity that my son enjoyed was collecting pressed pennies. Resorts have themed pennies that you can only collect in that location.

Disney Springs has many great souvenir locations for preschoolers. Souvenir shops that are preschool-perfect here are Build-a-Dino inside T-Rex, The LEGO Store, Once Upon a Toy and the enormous World of Disney (only go in there if you have LOTS of time!)

6. Resort Playgrounds

What do preschoolers love more than playing! Many of the resorts we visited had playgrounds that let little ones burn off steam. My preschooler loved the waterside play area called Caribbean Cay at Caribbean Beach as well as the rustic playground in the woods at Fort Wilderness.

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

7. Get in Character

Even if you’re not going to walk through the Castle that day your little princess can still get dolled up. A visit to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique inside Disney Springs allows her to get a magical makeover with make-up and hair styling. With any luck (and no swimming!) her hair will still look stylish the following day.

Another fun option is face painting or hair braiding. Many resorts as well as Disney Springs have this option.

8. Making a Splash at the Resort Pool

Take advantage of the amenities right there at your resort hotel. A day at the pool is one of the best ways for preschoolers to enjoy a non-park day. While parents can grab a drink from the poolside bar, preschoolers can swim and splash to their heart’s delight. There are life jackets available for new swimmers. Some resorts have very cool interactive pools like the water slide at Port Orleans Riverside or the fenced in pirate play area specifically for preschoolers.

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

This play area at Caribbean Beach is made for preschoolers.

And nothing beats Stormalong Bay at Beach Club Resort. It’s the ultimate pool experience! My preschooler loved the sand-bottomed zero entry pool and the beach buckets and shovels to build sandcastles. And for brave preschoolers the dramatic water slide that shoots you through a pirate ship will be the talk of the trip!

9. Grab a Bite at a Resort Hotel

One of our favorite things on our non-park days was enjoying some of the dining at the resort hotels. While resort hopping, we enjoyed lunch as Gasparilla Grill inside the Grand Floridian. This quick service location offers freshly prepared dishes along with grab & go items (like this adorable and delicious Minnie Mouse cupcake!)

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

Minnie Mouse cupcake at Gasparilla Grill, Grand Floridian Walt Disney World

The following day we enjoyed lunch at Beaches & Cream Soda Shop at the Beach Club Resort. This charming location has such a fun vibe from the kid-friendly food and of course, the sweet treats. My son loved that his hot dog lunch came with the happy ending of a Mickey Mouse ice cream sundae.

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

The Mickey Mouse ice cream sundae comes with a kid’s meal at Beaches & Cream Soda Shop.

Dinner at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue was definitely one of our favorite things of the entire trip. We took the boat from Magic Kingdom to Fort Wilderness and wandered the grounds before dinner. I’m so glad we indulged in this dinner show. Everything from the plentiful and delicious food to the top-notch entertainment was perfectly tailored for everyone in the family. My preschooler loved the loud atmosphere, the strawberry shortcake & being handed a washboard to make loud music!

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

Strawberry shortcake at Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue

10. Indoor Fun for Preschoolers

Inside many of the resort hotel lobbies are artists waiting to draw your child’s portrait. My son had never had a caricature drawn before and it looked like a great souvenir to bring home so I had him sit for one.

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

We don’t usually watch television when we’re on vacation but I did let my preschooler watch a bit before bed each night. Disney World has an entire channel devoted to safety. This very fun and informative cartoon series features Timon & Pumba from The Lion King. It was the only thing that my preschooler wanted to watch!

While waiting for our dining reservation we wandered the lobby inside the Beach Club on a hunt for Hidden Mickeys. Preschoolers absolutely love spotting Hidden Mickeys everywhere from the flower arrangements to the carpet design.

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

Hidden Mickey finding is perfect fun for preschoolers! Here’s one in the Beach Club lobby.

Be sure to check the resort guide for other activities they offer to guests. Many have organized things to do indoors including scavenger hunts.

11. Outdoor Adventures

If your preschooler loves the great outdoors, take ‘em to the fishing hole and see if they can catch the big one! There are small places to fish (like this area at Port Orleans Riverside) or larger fishing excursions (like on the Seven Seas Lagoon).

https://youtu.be/TXvOjyZfnRI

Some of the resorts have horse drawn carriages that will take you for a tour of the property. Or rent a bike surrey and everyone can pedal while enjoying the resort.

We’d intended to visit the Campfire at Fort Wilderness however our dinner at Hoop-Dee-Doo let out later than expected and we missed it. Many of the resorts offer this evening activity with the option to purchase and prepare your own s’mores over the flames. At Fort Wilderness Chip & Dale greet guests and there is a cowboy singer (no charge at all to attend this event!)

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

Ready to explore Fort Wilderness

While at Fort Wilderness we had the chance to see the horses. My preschooler didn’t want to ride but that option is available if you have a horse lover.

There are dozens of things to do at Disney World with a preschooler. Here's what to do on a non-park day that doesn't require a ticket (and many are free!)

Did you know that Disney World has two mini-golf courses (Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland – read Adventureland Pam’s review on that with the link below). My son really wanted to go miniature golfing during our trip but we just didn’t have enough time. Guess we’ll just have to plan more non-park days on our next Disney World vacation!

For more ways to spend non-park days at Disney,
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!


Here is the map of our Blogorail Green | Things to Do on Non-Park Days at Disney

April 24, 2017
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A Week at Walt Disney World with TravelingMom

A Week at Walt Disney World with TravelingMom

I’m heading to Walt Disney World with TravelingMom today! We’ll be bringing you lots of great Disney updates around the parks all week long so be sure to follow the hashtags #TMOM and #TMOMDisney.

The TravelingMom conference will be taking place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday but I’ll be there a few days early with my little ones to explore. We’re going to be taking in some of the free things around the Disney World resort, like touring the resort hotels, attending a campfire and singalong and watching the Electrical Water Parade. Temperatures will be around 90 degrees so you can bet we’ll be spending plenty of free time in the pools too!

Port Orleans Resort – Riverside

My 1-yr old daughter, 5-year old son and I will be starting off the week at Port Orleans Riverside. We spent one overnight here several years ago and fell in love with the peaceful grounds. We even stayed in one of the beautiful princess themed rooms last time! We’re looking forward to exploring more of this beautiful resort.

Disney’s Beach Club Resort

The TravelingMoms are staying at this beautiful resort this year, my first stay at a deluxe resort. Before we meet up for our first conference day, I’m going to be sure to take the kids swimming at Stormalong Bay (you’ll find me floating in the lazy river!) The kids and I also have an Advanced Dining Reservation booked for Beaches & Cream Soda Shop (“No Way Jose”, here I come!)

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

Our final overnight will be at this colorful sprawling resort and I’m looking forward to the Fuentes del Morro pool. All dining establishments here going to be refurbished starting the following day of our visit, so I’m hoping that everything will still be operating business as usual (we’re planning on having Mickey waffles for breakfast here on our last day!)

Spending Time in the Parks and Beyond

For several days I’ll be with my two littles on my own. I’ve traveled to Disney alone with my baby before, so I’m not worried about that at all. And my preschooler has never had a meltdown at Disney, he’s always up for fun and adventure!

We’ll be hitting up Magic Kingdom for dinner at Be Our Guest, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular. World Showcase at Epcot is something my aspiring world-traveler wants to explore more this visit and we’re hoping to see Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom on this visit as well.

Walt Disney World Restaurant Review - 50's Prime Time Cafe

Walt Disney World- Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The decorated Easter eggs will still be on display at the Contemporary and Grand Floridian Resorts so we’re going to stop in and see them. We’re going to grab a Dole Whip at the Polynesian. And dinner on Tuesday evening will be at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, some place I’ve been wanting to visit for years!

I hope that you’ll follow me on social media this week. Please like and comment so I know you’re enjoying the coverage and I look forward to bring you more content about the Parks when I return from my trip!

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER, INSTAGRAM AND FACEBOOK THIS WEEK

April 19, 2017
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Budget-Friendly Guide for Mother’s Day Gifts Under $20

Looking for Mother's Day gifts under $20? Check out this budget-friendly guide with items to make mom (and your wallet!) happy!

I love to give gifts! And naturally, I love to receive them too. But it seems like there is always another “holiday” coming up with yet another gift to buy! And all the gift giving can really take a hit to the budget. I want to show my mom and mother-in-law my love and appreciation for them with a gift but I can’t really get too extravagant with it. Are you looking for Mother’s Day gifts under $20? Check out this budget-friendly guide with items to make mom (and your wallet!) happy!

Budget-Friendly Mother’s Day Gifts

Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Black Loop. Today we are sharing gift ideas for Mother’s Day.


Please note that I use affiliate links in this post. Clicking through and making a purchase will help me in a small financial way, thank you!

Something with Memories

I know what my mom likes to receive for Mother’s Day: new photos of the grandkids! From prints that she can put in a frame, mugs, a photo book or magnets for the fridge, she loves to show off the photos. I love Shutterfly for printing all my photo memories. Sign up to receive notifications of sales from Shutterfly and you can often receive 50% off or even free products!

Looking for Mother's Day gifts under $20? Check out this budget-friendly guide with items to make mom (and your wallet!) happy!  

Something to Eat

Give Mom a treat with no expectation of sharing! This Godiva Truffles Flight are decadent and all for her to indulge. Or maybe Mom’s a gourmet in the kitchen and would love this White Truffle Oil? Ever drizzled this stuff on popcorn, amazing!

Something to Drink

This beautiful poppy print Tervis Mug is a bright spot on a dreary day and perfect for re-hydrating Mom. Maybe Mom’s more of a coffee drinker? In that case, a Starbucks gift card is always appropriate so she can pick up her own latte!

     

Something for Pampering

A day at the spa is special but for pampering on a budget, there’s nothing like DIY at home. I love these little ways of treating Mom to a manicure at home with Jamberry nail wraps and hand care products.

Something for Travel

A cross-body bag (like this messenger bag that’s under $8!) is a great size for travel. Small enough to stay out of the way but roomy enough for essentials. A Travel Life Journal will give Mom a special place to jot down her travel memories and keep them all in one place.

Something for a Song

Mom loves to sing and dance to her favorite songs? For under $10 a month, you can give Mom the gift of song with an Amazon Music Unlimited subscription. There’s even an Amazon Music Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial to check it out first.

Rose gold is such a hot look and these in-ear headphones are stylish and practical.

Something for Summer

Think ahead to summer and gift Mom a new pair of sandals. The lightweight and stylish Crocs Kadee II Flip are summer-ready for beaches, boardwalks and beyond.

COUPON SAVINGS! Use code TOWEL30 and pin 4082 at Lands’ End to save 30% on a beach towel for Mom.

Something for Fun

One of my mom’s favorite things to do is to play a game with her grandkids. From board games to cards, a fun family game night will be something Mom will cherish.

Something Scented

Instead of splurging on the largest bottle of Mom’s favorite perfume, choose a travel size instead. She’ll love to receive her signature scent and appreciate the purse-sized bottle that she can tote with her.

COUPON SAVINGS! Spend a few dollars more at Sephora ($25+) and you can choose from one of 7 deluxe samples using the code SKINSAVER.

I hoard those trial-sized bottles of Disney resort Sea Salt Shower Gel! I just love the scent and this big bottle of it would have me in shower heaven.

 

Something to Warm Her Up

The Yankee Candle in Lilac Blossoms large candle with a spring time scent will burn up to 150 hours. Mom will think of you each time she lights it! This stylish scarf will keep her cozy and also has a clever zipper pouch to store cash or keys while she’s out exploring – Women’s Scarf with Zipper Pocket

Something with Art

If Mom is crafty, consider a box of Crayola art supplies and a grown-up coloring book. Nothing like a fresh new box of Crayola crayons! Or maybe she’d like to have something crafty that she can display in the house. This chic Craft Crush Felt Succulents Kit will give Mom something very pretty to show off when she’s done creating.

For more Mother’s Day Gift Guides,
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!


Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Black | Mother’s Day Gift Guides Loop:

April 17, 2017
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Walt Disney World Guide for Toddlers at Magic Kingdom

Toddlers at Magic Kingdom? Here's your Walt Disney World guide including what attractions are best, where to eat and what to pack with you for the day.

Toddlers at Magic Kingdom? A toddler’s emotions can go up and down quicker than a roller coaster! Is a trip to Magic Kingdom a good idea with your little one? I’m all for taking kids of all ages to Disney parks and I’ll give you the practical tips. Here’s your Walt Disney World guide including what attractions are best, where to eat and what to pack with you for the day when visiting with toddlers at Magic Kingdom.

Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Blue Loop. Today we are sharing tips to for taking toddlers to the Disney Parks.

Please note that I use affiliate links in this post. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you!

Toddlers at Magic Kingdom

Toddlers can be a fickle bunch. One moment they’re happily clapping along with Mickey during a meet n’ greet and the next they’re screaming in Pluto’s face when Mom tries to snap a photo. You might be wondering if it’s a good idea at all to take a toddler to Disney parks. I’ve been traveling to Disney parks all my life, including my very first visit to Disneyland when I was just one year old. I’ve been taking my children to the parks for years, including taking my then-6 month old daughter cross-country to Walt Disney World! I think taking toddlers to Disney parks is a wonderful idea and I’ll tell you why Magic Kingdom in particular is the perfect toddler vacation spot.

Of all the Walt Disney World parks, I think Magic Kingdom is tailor-made for toddlers. There is really so much that little ones can enjoy here including shows, attractions and dining. Many of the rides in Magic Kingdom do not have height restrictions, so toddlers can join their parents in the fun.

Toddlers at Magic Kingdom? Here's your Walt Disney World guide including what attractions are best, where to eat and what to pack with you for the day.

1. Do Your Research & Get Toddlers Prepared for the Trip

As noted, toddlers can be unpredictable. That being said, there is quite a bit you can do pre-trip to get them ready for Disney.

  • Brush up on which Disney rides your toddler will be tall enough for on your vacation. This list of rides that do not have a height requirement will be safe for everyone!
  • Order a Disney travel planning DVD and watch it with your child to show them what Disney World looks like.
  • Watch YouTube videos of the rides you think they’ll want to go on. They’ll be less stressed out or worried if they have an idea what to expect ahead of time.
  • Read Disney-themed books and watch age appropriate Disney films or Disney Junior programs to get toddlers familiar with some of the characters.
  • Create a countdown calendar that will count down the days until your vacation.

Toddler Tip #1: Find out from your toddler what their top three “must-do” things are for the trip. Whether it’s meeting a certain princess or eating a churro, put those things at the top of your vacation list and make sure they happen!


Toddlers at Magic Kingdom? Here's your Walt Disney World guide including what attractions are best, where to eat and what to pack with you for the day.

2. Have a Well-Stocked Toddler Bag

Every great Disney day begins with a well-stocked bag. These are a few of the essentials you should consider packing in with you.

  • Disposable bibs
  • Snacks
  • Sipper cup
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Diaper supplies (changing pad, diapers, wipes)
  • Change of clothes
  • Wet bag (for storing wet or soiled clothing)

Toddler Tip #2: Choose a backpack instead of a diaper bag. You’ll be able to wear the backpack in queue and remain hands free.

Toddlers at Magic Kingdom? Here's your Walt Disney World guide including what attractions are best, where to eat and what to pack with you for the day.

3. The Early Bird Gets the Rides

If your toddler is an early bird, I’d recommend getting to Magic Kingdom at “rope drop”. Arriving early will allow you to experience many of the rides in Fantasyland with less of a wait than if you waited until mid-day.

One you’re inside Magic Kingdom, immediately hit Fantasyland. Rides like Peter Pan’s Flight, “it’s a small world”, Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Dumbo the Flying Elephant are toddler favorites.

Toddler Tip #3: Start the day with a quick snack in the hotel room. Something like fresh-cut fruit, a granola bar or even dry cereal (avoiding sugary snacks) will get toddlers on the right side of the bed in the morning.

Toddlers at Magic Kingdom? Here's your Walt Disney World guide including what attractions are best, where to eat and what to pack with you for the day.

4. Shows to Make Toddlers Smile

  • Country Bear Jamboree
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic
  • Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
  • Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
  • Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade
  • Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire
  • Move it! Shake it! Dance & Play it! Street Party

Toddler Tip #4: Most toddlers will enjoy a day that’s well-balanced with rides, shows, play and rest. Instead of rushing around the park tackling all of the rides, make sure to schedule in some downtime before and after some of the shows that will allow for a nap, free play or a snack.

 

Toddlers at Magic Kingdom? Here's your Walt Disney World guide including what attractions are best, where to eat and what to pack with you for the day.

Toddlers that are too shy for meet n’ greets might just enjoy waving to characters at the parade instead.

5. A Full Belly Makes for a Happier Toddler!

A grumble in a toddler’s tummy will make them turn from beauty to beast! Here are some dining tips to keep toddler bellies full and happy.

Children Under 3 Eat for Free (sort of) – You are welcome to share your meal with your toddler at no additional charge. You can also prepare them a plate at any buffet meal without cost. However if you order your toddler their own plate from the menu or something from the kid’s menu, you will need to pay for it.

Look for the Mickey Check - Kid’s Mickey Check meals meet Disney nutrition guidelines as a healthier meal. These dishes limit calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

Full-Service Dining -

  • Plan ahead by making Advanced Dining Reservations for any full-service meals you wish to eat in Magic Kingdom (here’s how to get the reservations for the meals you want!).
  • Research menus ahead of your trip before deciding what restaurants will work best for your family. While you might be hungry for the Layered Ratatouille at Be Our Guest restaurant, your toddler may be less than thrilled at the Chicken Brochette. Make sure that what’s on the menu will be something your toddler will eat.
  • Plan on a much longer dining time at full-service locations. If your toddler can’t sit through a usual restaurant experience or fusses because he’s done and wants to leave, consider dining quick service instead.
Toddlers at Magic Kingdom? Here's your Walt Disney World guide including what attractions are best, where to eat and what to pack with you for the day.

You want Disney dining & your toddler probably only cares about the corn dogs!

Quick-Service Dining – 

  • Quick service meals are often delivered fast, making them great for when your toddler is hungry RIGHT NOW!
  • Divide up the adults when in a quick-service restaurant. One adult can grab a table and high chair for the toddler and the other adult can place all the orders.

Character Meals - Toddlers may especially enjoy the buffet character dining in The Crystal Palace with Winnie the Pooh and friends. One caveat: If your toddler is afraid of characters (or you suspect they might be), avoid booking character dining or risk having them cry during the entire meal!

Snacks – There are snack locations and carts all over Magic Kingdom with savory and sweet treats for toddlers.

Toddler Tip #5: Don’t think you have to rely only on the snacks sold in the park. Pack in your toddler’s favorites; you’re allowed to bring snacks in the parks with you! Be sure to balance out snacks with fresh fruits, veggies and lean proteins to avoid mid-day crash!

6. Let Them Think They’re In Control

Disney parks puts toddlers in control of the fun. Some rides let little ones take control and everyone knows that toddlers like to take the reins! If your toddler likes to push buttons, turn the knobs and take charge of the wheel, check out these Magic Kingdom attractions –

  • Astro Orbitor
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
  • Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade (for the cost of a few quarters)
  • Mad Tea Party
  • The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
  • Tomorrowland Speedway (32″ or taller)
Toddlers at Magic Kingdom? Here's your Walt Disney World guide including what attractions are best, where to eat and what to pack with you for the day.

Let your toddler think he’s in control behind the wheel!

7. Sleepy Kids (aka: Avoiding the Meltdown)

If your toddler is accustomed to napping you might want to consider returning to the hotel before nap time to ensure that she gets the rest she needs before the dreaded meltdown ensues!

If your toddler can sleep despite the extra noise and excitement inside Magic Kingdom, start by winding things down a bit and enjoy a few mellow attractions like Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover or Liberty Square Riverboat. Then seek out a location where your toddler can rest in the shade of their stroller. I found a nook near Gaston’s Tavern to be a great resting place that included a seat in the shade for me!

Toddler Tip #6: Use a stroller, even if you think your toddler won’t ride in one. Little legs get very tired from all the walking and it’s great to have a shady place for them to rest or just eat a snack. If you don’t want to bring your own stroller, consider renting one during the trip from Amusement Park Rentals.

Toddlers at Magic Kingdom? Here's your Walt Disney World guide including what attractions are best, where to eat and what to pack with you for the day.

8. A Place to Toddle

Take your toddler out of the stroller and let them roam in these fun and save environments (naturally, you’ll need to follow closely behind!)

    • Swiss Family Treehouse
    • Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station (bring a swim suit, towel and waterproof, slip-resistant shoes)
    • Tom Sawyer Island

9. It’s the Little Things

With a focus on the big shows and attractions inside Magic Kingdom, you might miss out on some of a toddlers favorite little things to discover. Toddlers often need more time to just watch and absorb the entertainment so make sure you’re taking this into account before pushing the stroller away. These little things might be your toddlers favorite too, so be sure to spend a bit of time checking them out:

  • Toddlers love to sing and dance. If you see Casey’s Corner Pianist playing or the Dapper Dans singing, let you toddler get up out of the stroller to dance and clap along.
  • Pressed coins. What toddler doesn’t love to turn the crank on the pressed coin machine and have a quirky souvenir to show everyone? Aim to collect several from around the park.
  • Save a souvenir to hand your toddler when you leave the Park. Something small like a race car or a bottle of bubbles can help prevent cranky kid meltdown at the end of the night (and also give them something to entertain themselves on the bus back to the hotel).
  • Electrical Water Pageant. Another great way to get your toddler out of Magic Kingdom, by showing them this simple and sweet parade that takes place each night outside the park exit.
Toddlers at Magic Kingdom? Here's your Walt Disney World guide including what attractions are best, where to eat and what to pack with you for the day.

Back at the Port Orleans Riverside, dreaming of Disney!

For more advice on taking toddlers to Disney,
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!


Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Blue | Traveling to Disney with Toddlers Loop:

April 11, 2017
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Getting Disney World Advanced Dining Reservations for the Meals You Want

Getting Disney World Advanced Dining Reservations doesn't have to be impossible; here are 8 tips for getting the ADR for the meals you really want to eat!

Want to eat at all the best Walt Disney World restaurants on your vacation? Here’s how to get the Disney World Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR) for the meals you want! Follow these 8 practical tips and you’ll soon be dining alongside Mickey, Cinderella and the Beast!

Getting the Best Disney World Advanced Dining Reservations

Disneyland regulars very rarely book ADR because most of the full-service restaurants are easy to dine in as a walk-up.  There are a few exceptions, like character meals, Blue Bayou restaurant and certainly during busier seasons and the Holidays.

Walt Disney World is completely different however, and ADR are needed for most (if not all) full-service restaurants. Many of these restaurants are experiences in and of themselves. Guests can dine inside of a castle like at Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table. Or step back in time at 50’s Prime Time Cafe or Beaches & Cream Soda Shoppe. Watch fireworks from a rooftop vantage at California Grill or giddy-up at Hoop-dee-doo Musical Revue. And of course if you want to dine with Mickey, you’re going to need a reservation!

Check out my Top 10 Tips for Surviving a Disneyland Rainy Day!

So how can you get that Advanced Dining Reservation for the meal you really want? These are basic tips for newbies looking to grab a few ADR for their trip. Keep in mind that these “dining experiences” often take up a good amount of time so build them in to your trip. I only book 1 ADR per day, usually for dinner. This allows us to eat a light breakfast in our hotel room, grab a quick service lunch whenever hunger strikes and then enjoy our fancy ADR meal at dinner time.

1. Plan Out Your Itinerary

Before you start picking out ADR willy-nilly, you’ll need to plot out your basic itinerary. You don’t want to be booking The Crystal Palace for breakfast at Magic Kingdom on a day you’d planned on being at Typhoon Lagoon.

Likewise be sure to check the times of the attractions you wish to watch before booking an ADR. I almost booked a coveted Be Our Guest dinner reservation but stopped short after checking my itinerary and realized it fell right during the fireworks show we’d planned on watching.

Dozens of ways how to save money on food at Disney!

2.Book at 180 Days

Your best bet for getting the reservation you want it is to book the very day that you can, at the very first moment they open the reservations (either by phone or online). This would be 180 days out. That is how you’ll get the most coveted slots like Cinderella’s Table, by being the early bird!

3. Check the Website Frequently

Missed the 180 day window? You may still be able to grab the reservation you want by frequently scoping out the ADR website for openings. I was able to grab a reservation for 50s Prime Time Cafe five days before my trip just by checking the site several times a day.

Walt Disney World Restaurant Review - 50's Prime Time Cafe

Dennis the Menace

4. Search by Meals, Not by Exact Times

When checking for availability, search by meals instead of exact times. You’ll have a greater chance at finding a reservation if you use the more broad “meal times” instead of exact times.

Inside the “Check Availability” box there is a drop-down menu that will say Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner (if the restaurant isn’t open for a particular meal, that meal won’t show up in the menu). If there is a time available there will be a button with the time available that you can click to reserve your spot.

5. Use a Travel Agent

Many agents will include booking dining as part of your vacation package. So instead of having to get up before sunrise to make those calls to Disney dining, your agent will do the work for you!

Getting Disney World Advanced Dining Reservations doesn't have to be impossible; here are 8 tips for getting the ADR for the meals you really want to eat!

6. Use Touring Plans

If you don’t have time to be constantly checking for open ADR, there’s a site that will help you with that! Touring Plans offers a Disney World Dining Reservation Finder. You just plug in the details of the restaurant meal you want booked and Touring Plans sends you an email when a reservation opens up.

Naturally you have to be the first person to grab it before it’s taken by someone else, but it definitely saves time not having to stalk the website yourself! I used it last month to get a reservation for Beaches & Cream Soda Shoppe. The email came through letting me know there was a reservation available and I was able to immediately go online and scoop up the reservation for the meal time I wanted!

7. Be Open to Different Times

How many of you would be willing to eat at Be Our Guest if the only reservation is for 9:30 pm on a Wednesday night? What if you had your baby and preschooler with you? I actually have this reservation set for my next visit and for us, it will work out great! Since we’re coming from the West Coast, I’m planning on keeping my little ones on Pacific Time so 9:30 pm (6:30 PST) won’t be that late of a dinner for them.

Getting Disney World Advanced Dining Reservations doesn't have to be impossible; here are 8 tips for getting the ADR for the meals you really want to eat!

Certainly, some reservation times just aren’t ideal for many families. But if you can be open to dining at a different time you’ll more likely be able to find a reservation. Consider pushing back lunch so you can have a later dinner. Then stay to play in the parks and sleep in the next day. Or if you find an early dinner reservation, eat a big breakfast, skip lunch, have your early dinner and then enjoy dessert later in the evening.

8. Last Minute Find

Even while on vacation, an ADR may open up for something you want on the trip. Many guests overbook and then cancel at the last minute (to avoid any no-show charges). This opens up an ADR for you! I was able to book a last minute Be Our Guest lunch the day we arrived. Keep checking the website on your mobile phone to see if an ADR opens up for the time you want.

What ADR tips do you have? Share in the comments!

 

April 7, 2017
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5 Things I Do When Budgeting Money Makes Me Cranky

What are the little things you can do when budgeting makes you cranky? 5 Things I Do When Budgeting Money Makes Me Cranky

Okay I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but constantly budgeting my money makes me cranky! With 4 kids and a limited budget, there’s not always a lot of wiggle-room when it comes to “fun money”. Yes, I’m always putting money in the savings account for our retirement and there’s a little bit going into the Disney bank. But when it comes to right here and now, not being able to just buy whatever-I-want whenever-I-want-it makes me irritable!

What are the little things you can do when budgeting makes you cranky? 5 Things I Do When Budgeting Money Makes Me Cranky

So I can’t go on a spending spree and that’s okay. These are 5 things I do when I need a little escape from reality. They are just the right pick-me-up when the budget is tight.

Please note that I use affiliate links in this post. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you!

1. Plan a Fake Vacation

Can’t hop a plane or jump ship? Just like reading a book transports you into another world, planning a fake vacation can transport you around the world with a click of a button. This is one of my most favorite ways to daydream. Pick a spot on the map and delve into this area as if you were really going to visit!

  • Borrow travel books from the library. Which part of the world are you most drawn to?
  • If you could only drive 500 miles or less, which direction would you go and what would you do?
  • If you had to travel in central Europe which country would you go to? (I actually made this decision when I won a travel contest!)
  • Read up on cruising. Check out the Disney cruise restaurants and menus – They’re all online!
  • Which attractions would you visit in Orlando other than Walt Disney World?
  • If money were no object (and it never is when planning a fake trip) which extravagant add-ons would you make?
  • Perhaps someday when you win the lottery (that’s totally going to happen, right?), you’ll already have your travel itinerary ready to go!

Planning a Disney trip? Pick up one of these recommended Walt Disney World or Disneyland books for everyone in your group!

2. Fill my Online Shopping Cart with Clothes I’ll Never Buy

I’m not literally going to go to Target, load up a cart and then abandon it at the door. But it’s TOTALLY okay to do that online! In an online shopping cart you can virtually mix and match, quickly move from dresses to shoes to jewelry. And when you’ve gotten the shopping bug fix, simply close the browser window and you’re wallet is still intact!

3. Get Rid of Stuff

If I’m on a budget I can’t buy more stuff but it does give me some joy to pass along some of the stuff we already have. Purging and giving makes me thankful for things I was able to purchase and reminds me that I already have enough “stuff”.

  • Weed through kid’s closets. What doesn’t fit and who can you pass the clothing down to?
  • Is there something in your closet you haven’t worn in a very long time? Request a bag from ThredUp and you may be able to resell some of your items.
  • Have a garage sale. Put the money you make towards something special.
  • Be ruthless in the kid’s toy bin. Keep only what they really play with and donate the rest.
  • Next time you pull out the holiday or seasonal bin, see how you can pare down the decorations so that you only keep your most favorite items.

Budget-friendly & Practical Organizing Solutions for Small Spaces

4. Buy Something Little and Fun

A cheap but meaningful splurge can really boost spirits when the wallet is tight. Obviously you can’t do this one every day (or even every week!) but once in a while buying something small is just what you need. What little thing makes you happiest? For me it’s something that pampers me, like new Jamberry nail wraps or a lipstick! For family fun, choose a new board game or get a gallon of vanilla ice cream and a few toppings for mid-week sundaes.

What are the little things you can do when budgeting makes you cranky? 5 Things I Do When Budgeting Money Makes Me Cranky

A manicure at home (on a budget) makes me feel better!

Look Ahead to Something Real

What fun thing do you have coming ahead in the calendar that you can look forward to? Whatever it is, start your planning now! I love planning and think that research is half the fun. So if you have a vacation ahead, cultivate your own official itinerary. Research restaurants, peruse online menus and decide which mouth-watering dessert you’re going to order when you get there. I find that looking ahead (and not dwelling in the I-can’t-right-now) really fills up my thankfulness cup and reminds me why I’m budgeting and saving in the first place!

What do you do when budgeting gets you down? Share in the comments!

March 23, 2017
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Epic California Road Trip – 5 Tips for Traveling by Car

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

My family and I will soon be heading for the open road on our first family road trip since adding two more to our brood! We’ll be hitting the road from San Diego and heading to Pismo Beach, Monterey, Reno and Bishop. Eight years ago we took a similar road trip when our older kiddos were in kindergarten. Now that we have four kids, we’re excited (and a bit nervous!) about taking the whole family on the road. Check out where we’ll be visiting so you can follow us on our road trip adventures!

My family and I will be hosted at several of these locations on our trip #hosted

California Road Trip

My husband and I are big time “planners” and like to have a solid route and itinerary. We already know a bit of what we’ll be doing at each location, with free time built in for relaxation, play and adventure! With our little one only just turning one year old, we know that extended time in the car won’t be feasible. We’ll be in the car no longer than 3 hours at a time. We’ll be working in plenty of time to get out, stretch and play at each stop.

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Ventura

We’re starting our road trip from San Diego and the first stop will be in Ventura. Even as a SoCal native, there are so many coastal towns I’ve never been to, including Ventura! We’re planning a stop at Marina Park Beach for a picnic lunch and to allow the kids to play on the pirate-themed playground.

Road Trip Tip #1 – No reason you have to eat all fast food or expensive restaurant meals on your entire road trip. Make a quick stop at the local grocery for healthy fruits, prepped veggies or freshly made sandwiches. Our favorites in California are Whole Foods Market and Sprouts.

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

Dinosaur Caves in Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach

Our first overnight of the road trip will be in Pismo Beach with a stay at the Hilton Garden Inn. We stopped in Pismo Beach in spring break of 2010. Our kids participated in an awesome Easter egg hunt and festival at Dinosaur Caves Park that overlooks the ocean. Hoping to make another stop at this beautiful park again this trip! There is an amazing Monarch Butterfly grove here but it’s only open from October to February each year, so we’re missing it this time.

Road Trip Tip #2 -Check the City Calendar

Each of the cities I mention here have a clickable link that leads to their website. You’ll be able to see what activities are happening in each community. Before your visit, check the city calendar to see if any special events are occurring. There might be a festival, art show or seasonal activity. For instance, the Pismo Beach annual Easter egg hunt was a highlight of our last road trip (totally free and fun for the kids before we got back on the road).

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

Where the mountains meet the ocean in Big Sur

Monterey

Next up for us will be two days in Monterey. With a county that includes Big Sur (a waterfall that pours into the ocean!), Pebble Beach (golfing!), Carmel-by-the-Sea (shopping!) and Salinas (food, glorious food!), there are countless things to do in this beautiful coastal area. We’re staying at the Monterey Tides Hotel, right on the oceanfront.

We’ll be taking in the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium, an agricultural tour at Earthbound Farms, and a surrey ride from Adventures by the Sea. We’ll be dining on local fresh seafood at Flaherty’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar and Peter B’s Brewpub. We have a pretty packed schedule so I’m not sure but we might try to squeeze in a Big Sur visit for some hiking. Also hoping that the Dennis the Menace park will be reopened by the time of our visit, it was a favorite of my kids last trip.

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

Dennis the Menace park in Monterey

Road Trip Tip #3 – Study Road Conditions

Check for road construction, updates and closures online before your trip. 7 years ago we drove Hwy 1, a two-lane route alongside the Pacific. Gorgeous, but slow-moving at times. And there is a section of this highway that is currently closed so thank goodness we’re aware of this and not planning on taking the same route this time! Check with CalTrans before your visit for a quick look at road closures.

Fairfield

About 3 hours outside of Monterey we’ll be stopping in Fairfield, home to two cool factory tours. Grown-ups will enjoy the Anheuser-Busch factory tour (with beer sampling). Kids (and adults!) will love the Jelly Belly Factory Tour. We’ll be making time for the Jelly Belly tour for sure!

Road Trip Tip #3 – Research Between the Big Stops

When plotting your course, check out those little towns along your route and see what they have to offer. We never would have considered a stop in Fairfield if we hadn’t seen that the Jelly Belly Factory offers tours here. Fairfield will be the perfect place to have lunch, take a family-friendly tour and make memories!

Lake Tahoe & Reno

After two days along the Pacific, we’ll be heading inland for “snow-much” more adventure! We’re heading to the Lake Tahoe and Reno area, where we’ll be visiting family and exploring the area. We’ll be staying with my husband’s family, except for one overnight at the Atlantis Casino in the city.

I’ll be pampered in the Atlantis Casino spa for my very first massage! While I’m lounging in the spa my family will be taking advantage of the indoor pool. Other than hopefully playing in the snow, visiting family and checking out the local culture, we don’t have much planned yet. And that’s okay by us, we’ll play it by ear.

Check out these helpful tips for a California road trip.

Enjoying the snow in Reno, Nevada

Road Trip Tip #4 Allow Plenty of Travel Time –

The last time we drove this route (from Monterey to Reno) we got held up in a snow storm. Being SoCal natives, neither of us had ever driven in a snow storm before so it was a very tense few hours. After putting on chains, it was a late night white-knuckle drive through the pass that had us arriving to our destination several hours later than expected. This year we’re allowing ourselves plenty of drive time and leaving much earlier in the day.

Bishop

Our final day of travel will include an overnight in Bishop, CA, one place we’ve never been before. We’ll be letting the kids play at Law’s Historic Village, taking a warm dip at Keough’s Hot Springs and visiting the historic Manzanar site. Bishop is where many “cowboy” movies were filmed, so as we leave town, we’ll stop in for a tour of the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine and take a short hike in the Alabama Hills to view some of the movie sites.

Road Trip Tip #5 A Mix of Fun and Learning -

Along your travels see where you can combine history, teaching as well as fun. While we’ll be visiting the Manzanar site (place where Japanese Americans were interned during WWII) we’re also leaving space in our itinerary for free play and fun.

What are your road trip tips? Share with me in the comments!

March 22, 2017
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Is it Worth it to Stay at a Disneyland Resort Hotel vs Off-Site?

Disneyland Resort Vs. Good Neighbor Hotels? Tips on how to choose the right spot for your family vacation.

When considering a Disneyland vacation, you really have some outstanding options when it comes to accommodations! With Disneyland located in the middle of city there are a bounty of “off-site” hotels to choose from. So why would anyone choose to stay at one of the three Disneyland Resort hotel when there are hundreds of other lodging options surround the Parks? I’ll break it down and determine whether it’s worth it to stay at a Disneyland Resort hotel…or not.

Disneyland Resort Vs. Good Neighbor Hotels? Tips on how to choose the right spot for your family vacation.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you!

Welcome to this month’s Blogorail Orange Loop. Today we are sharing parts of a Disney vacation that people often ask, is it worth it?.


Should You Stay at a Disneyland Resort Hotel or Off-Site Location?

My family and I have stayed at all three of the Disneyland Resort Hotels over the course of many years. We’ve also stayed at dozens of the off-site locations and found some of them to be nicely accommodating!

So which one should you choose – A Disneyland Resort Hotel or an Off-Site Hotel? I’ll be giving you many discussion points to review before you book your Disneyland-area vacation hotel.

Disneyland Resort Vs. Good Neighbor Hotels? Tips on how to choose the right spot for your family vacation.

What are the Disneyland Resort Hotels?

The Disneyland Resort area is smaller than Walt Disney World and includes only three resort hotels – Disney’s Paradise Pier, The Disneyland Hotel and Disney Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.

Each of the Disneyland Resort hotels have themed rooms, pool areas that offer a full day of entertainment, offer a unique Character meal and are within walking distance of the Parks. Some of the hotel areas are more “Disney” than others but each of them offers great customer service and that feeling of being inside the Disney Bubble while on vacation.

Disneyland Resort Vs. Good Neighbor Hotels? Tips on how to choose the right spot for your family vacation.

Disney’s Paradise Pier is always the lowest cost of the three resort hotels (but still not “inexpensive” by any means!) The hotel has a whimsical beach theme with a rooftop water slide and great views of Disney’s California Adventure park.

The Disneyland Hotel is a classic – The entire hotel is heavy on the Disney theming, from the Mad Tea Party teacups in the lobby to the imaginative light-up musical headboards in each room. A fantastic pool area with Monorail-themed water slides make this a magical place to stay.

Disneyland Resort Vs. Good Neighbor Hotels? Tips on how to choose the right spot for your family vacation.

Disney fans will appreciate the nods to Walt inside the Disneyland Hotel.

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is the closest hotel to the Park and hosts it’s own Resort guest-exclusive entrance to Disney California Adventure park. The dramatic lobby and more sophisticated style with subtle Disney details add to the upscale nature of this beautiful hotel.

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What are Good Neighbor Hotels?

Good Neighbor Hotels are off-site Anaheim area hotels that Disney promotes on their website. Not sure if these are actually hand-picked and approved hotels by Disney or if the hotels pay to be listed under the “Good Neighbor” umbrella.

Disneyland Resort Vs. Good Neighbor Hotels? Tips on how to choose the right spot for your family vacation.

Castle-themed room at Anaheim Majestic Gardens

I’ve stayed at over a dozen and there is a vast range in quality, from low budget basic rooms to elegant family suites. Bottom line is that some of these hotels are better than others. Some of them are downright lousy, if I’m being honest! Do your research – Read Yelp reviews. Take a look at the area map. Do a Google search. Ask a friend.

A few of my favorite off-site Disneyland area hotels:

Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel

Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites

Disneyland Resort Vs. Good Neighbor Hotels? Tips on how to choose the right spot for your family vacation.

A suite with a view! Watch fireworks from this window at the Holiday Inn & Suites.

Why Should I Consider an Off-Site Accommodation?

Cost

Far and away the best reason for booking off-site are the more reasonable low costs for a room. Hotel accommodations can be the major expense of any vacation and with Disneyland resort hotel rooms at $300+ per night, you might want to consider off-site lodging that is considerably less cost.

Walkable

Many very good off-site hotels are within walking distance of the Disneyland Resort. In fact, some are even closer to the front gates than the Disneyland Resort hotels! Be sure to look at a map of the area before booking though. Some off-site locations boast that they’re across the street from Disneyland only to find out that you’ll still have a long walk to get to the entrance!

More Dining Options

There are restaurants and fast food places located all around the Disneyland area, many of them inside off-site hotels. Many of the off-site accommodations also have a complimentary breakfast – sweet!

Disneyland Resort Vs. Good Neighbor Hotels? Tips on how to choose the right spot for your family vacation.

Free breakfast at the Holiday Inn is awesome!

Shuttles or Public Transportation

Even if the off-site hotel is a mile away, many of them offer free or low cost shuttles to the park entrance. Public transportation (like the ART) stops near other hotels for a nominal fee (definitely cheaper than parking your vehicle at the Disneyland parking lot!)

Variety of Room Options

The rooms at the Disneyland Resort are all pretty standard sized. If you need something with more space or a suite on a budget, looking off-site will give you what you need.


What are the Benefits of Staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel?

Extra Magic Hour

Want to get inside the Park early and avoid extra long queues? Disneyland Resort hotel guests can take advantage of Extra Magic Hour for each day of their stay.

Staying in the Magic

If you prefer to avoid the “outside world” while enjoying a Disney vacation, you’ll love the Disneyland Resort hotels. You’ll never have to leave the area or step outside of the Disney bubble!

Special Guest-Only Offerings

When you check in, the Cast Member will give you a calendar of items that are happening at the Resort during your stay. This may include pool-side activities, Disney movies under the stars, early access to shops in the Downtown Disney District or free tours.

A History Like No Other

When you take a look at this wall of photos in the Disneyland Hotel you can see the rich history of the resort and what it has meant to so many. That’s a history that many Disney fans will love to soak in!

Disneyland Resort Vs. Good Neighbor Hotels? Tips on how to choose the right spot for your family vacation.

Wall of historical photos inside the Disneyland Hotel.

If you want to know more check out these valuable reasons to stay at a Disneyland Resort hotel.

For more opinions on what is & isn’t worth the splurge at Disney,
check out the other great posts from the Blogorail!


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