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Best Walt Disney World Resorts for Families to stay on your next family vacation., walt disney world, disney world vacation, 10 tips for maximizing yoru walt disney vacation for free, magic kingdom, happily ever after, mickey mouse, pandora, #disneySMMC, Toy story land, epcot, astro orbitor, rose gold ears, disneyfamilia, familia first, disney family, family travel

I’ve been to Walt Disney World many times and each time I go I learn something new so I am sharing my 10 tips for maximizing your Walt Disney World Vacation for free. These are simple tips that every person that takes a Walt Disney World vacation should know before going. I’ve been about 20 times and some of these I just learned this year when I attended Disney Social Media Moms Celebration so these tips can even teach a seasoned Disney World vacation taker a thing or two or ten. Hold on to your rose gold Mickey Ears because you’re about to be blown away.

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10 tips for maximizing your Walt Disney World Vacation for free

1.There are outlets and charging areas in each park. Some are well-known and easily found others are hidden in plain sight. One option available at all 4 Walt Disney World parks is to drop your phone off at Guest Relations in the park for charging. You provide your own charging cord and they will give you a claim ticket. There are outlets throughout the parks if you know where to look. My favorite charging stations are the ones in the Magic Kingdom, particularly, the false tree stumps across from the bathrooms in the Rapunzel/Tangled area and the outlets in The Yellow FastPass+ Tent in Storybook Circus.

2. You don’t have to pay $3.25 for water to survive the raging Florida heat. Disney World provides free ice water/ water bottle refills at all quick service restaurants. All you have to do is ask.

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3. Everyone knows that you get three fast passes per person per day on your Walt Disney World vacation. Did you know if they are used before 3 pm, you can then schedule 1 more at a time for your group so the earlier you schedule your fast passes, the better.

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4. If you are celebrating a special occasion (birthday, 1st visit, honeymoon and anniversary) every cast member will wish you a happy, pixie dusted celebration and some places you even get royal treatment like free desserts and fast passes. It’s a great way to make a celebration even more special but please, don’t say you’re celebrating if you’re not.

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5. If you love Walt Disney World but hate long lines, have I got a tip for you. Lines are always shorter for rides during parades, fireworks and mealtimes. I know, it is total common sense but if you are like me, you might get swept up in all the Walt Disney World magic and totally lose all that common sense when you hit the parks. I do.

6. Speaking of long lines. I tend to get hangry and a hangry mom is a bad situation. It’s even worse than hangry toddlers. So to avoid both, use Disney’s new mobile food ordering option on the My Disney experience app. It’s like the Starbucks app, you place your order, pick up your food and eat and avoid the lines and the hangries. It’s a win, win, win. Nothing ruins a nice Disney World vacation with your family like turning into monster mom because you need food.

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7.  As I just mentioned the My Disney Experience app, I’m going to mention it again because it is THAT good. I use it to schedule fast passes, meal reservations and know the extended magic hours (if you are staying on grounds) 180 days in advance. Believe me you will want to get those coveted reservations as far in advance as possible. But even if you miss that 180 day window of opportunity, by using the My Disney Experience app, you can check while you are on grounds and reservations open up all the time and if you want to go old school and you like to do your Disney World vacation with no tech whatsoever, most restaurants do take some walk-ups.

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8. Speaking of magic hours, like the way I did that? If you are staying at one of the Disney resorts on grounds or one of their participating partners, you can take advantage of magic hours which are either an extra hour in the morning before the general public is allowed into the park or a few hours at the end of the night. It is a great way to grab photos that are not saturated with strangers and get in line for the most popular rides and avoid some of the wait time. At night, it is so much fun to ride the rides in the dark and also to have access with so many fewer people. I highly recommend planning your days in the park according to the days they have extended hours.

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9. Memory Maker is your friend. As a mom, I’m usually never in the photos and that makes me sad especially when we are making all those amazing memories on our Disney World vacation. However, with Memory Maker I can just let Disney take all the photos and not worry about it. Then I have access to 100s of photos including those hilarious ride photos. It’s simple you find the photographers in the parks ( they are everywhere) and they will take your photo. They scan your magic band and voila, they appear in your my Disney Experience. Same protocol when you get off the rides, go to the kiosk and scan your band. They even do some Disney Magic and add fun little surprises to some of your photos.

 

10. Last but not least, my best tip for maximizing your Walt Disney World vacation for free is to simply be in the moment, enjoy yourself and most importantly enjoy your family. Those little ones will only be little for a little while and it goes by in a flash. Who stole my toddlers and gave me these teens? Luckily, magic is not just for the little ones. Walt Disney World has a way of transforming us all into happy, excited 4-year-olds every time we walk through the gates. That’s the real magic and I love every single minute of it, every single time.

What is your best tip for maximizing your Walt Disney World vacation for free?

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Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive, How to have an Amazing Florida Vacation on a Budget, Wyndham, Orlando, iDrive, Resort, Walt Disney World, International Drive, Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds

Normally, when you think of a vacation to Orlando, Florida it’s synonymous with a family trip to Walt Disney World. Believe me, I get it. We are huge Walt Disney World fans. Our first trip was on our honeymoon in 1999 and I believe we’ve been at least 20 times since then. Honestly, I think we’d live in the Magic Kingdom if there were real estate available but, obviously, that is not realistic.

Have you been dreaming of taking your family to Florida for vacation but just can’t seem to get there because saving up the whole year for a week’s long spring break feels daunting and overwhelming? Maybe it’s not as impossible as you imagine. Maybe you can have an amazing family vacation in Florida on any budget. Sometimes we just have to broaden our perspective and reimagine the idea. Don’t break the bank, but don’t shortchange yourself of a stay in a beautiful resort, located near everything like the Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive.

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive but all opinions are my own. 

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Recently, my family had the privilege of being invited to the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. For the duration of the conference, we would be staying on grounds at Disney’s Coronado Springs resort but we wanted to get in town earlier to enjoy the parks. I had some difficulty finding a room the nights we needed at that resort because they were booked so I started looking at other resorts on and off grounds because, for the first time, it hit me that there are a bajillion hotels and resorts in Orlando.

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After talking to a friend (@BeckyBoricua) who lives in Florida she recommended I consider one of her favorites, the Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive and so I did. It was beautiful and it had all the amenities we were looking for, plus a separate sleeping area for the girls in the family suite, which was awesome. It gave us all a little privacy. And it was located only a 15-minute drive from the Disney parks and even closer to the Universal park. Did I mention it is only a 90-minute drive from the ocean and Gulf beaches?

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On top of all of that, from the moment of your arrival, you will know that you are someplace special. Whether you are seeking to experience the thrills Orlando is known for or to unwind and relax, this true Florida resort has exactly what you need.

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The Orlando Wyndham resort is the official hotel of I-Drive 360, putting you right in the heart of exciting new attractions, outstanding dining, and world-class shopping. The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, offering breathtaking, 360- degree views of Central Florida, is just a short walk away. The resort offers a complimentary shuttle to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and SeaWorld Orlando theme parks.

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Not only is the Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive located at the epicenter of Orlando’s ever-popular International Drive, the Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive boasts newly renovated surroundings—everything from guest rooms to their poolside restaurant is new and improved.

One of the great features of Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive is you can stay where you play! Conveniently located near I-4, Florida Turnpike, SR 528 and only 12 miles from the airport, it is easy for you to get here.

As the official hotel of I-Drive 360, the Wyndham is just steps away from the heart of outstanding dining, world-class shopping and exciting attractions on International Drive. Attractions like the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium, Madame Tussauds Orlando, Skeletons: Museum of Osteology and 7D Dark Ride Adventure.

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There are no shortage of choices of places to eat in Orlando but at the Wyndham Orlando resort you can literally walk to Sugar Factory, Lisbon Portuguese Cuisine, Cafe 34 Istanbul Turkish Kitchen & Hookah Lounge, Tin Roof, (one of our favorites) Shake Shack, Yard House, Tapa Toro, Uncle Julio’s Mexican, Cowgirls, Rockbar, Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sofra Mediterranean Grill, Kotai Sushi, iCafe de Paris, Ben & Jerry’s and so much more.

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The 22-acre resort property immerses our guests in tropical landscaping, winding lagoons, and relaxing courtyards. Two spacious outdoor pools and a heated spa are nestled among lush gardens, and the property features multiple on-site dining options, including the relaxing lobby and a poolside bar.

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A recent multi-million-dollar renovation also means the resort’s 613 guest rooms feature all of the latest upscale touches, including pillow-top mattresses, massaging showers, mini-fridges, 40-inch flat-screen TVs and complimentary high-speed wifi access and concierge service.

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Family-friendly suites include an area just for the kids, complete with fun bunk beds and a kid’s TV with parental controls. And because the resort is pet-friendly, even the furry members of the family are welcome to join the fun. We didn’t bring Lola because we were there for a conference and part of the conference was on the Disney Dream Cruise but it was nice to know we could have brought Lola with us if we wanted to.

Bottom line, the Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive is a great place for families to stay in Orlando.

I love that it’s located centrally to everything in Orlando.For a lot of families, a trip to Orlando and Disney World is something that happens once in a lifetime. There is a way to enjoy the fun and sunshine of Orlando and even Disney World without breaking the bank and sacrificing all year to pay for it.

Also, if you use my special booking code you can save 30% off their Best Available Rate with NO minimum nights required.

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Disney Cruise, Disney Dream, Castaway Cruise, Bahamas, Disney Social Media moms Celebration, Disney dream cruise, Walt disney world, #DisneySMMC

Last week at this time, I was debarking from a Disney cruise with my family. We were living the dream, the Disney Dream that is, thanks to Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. Life was magical. Today, not so much. My husband and I both have the flu. Now, I get why they kept handing me sanitized wipes for my hands.

Let me tell you about cruising because a Disney cruise was my first ever cruise. I think the Disney Dream may have ruined me for all other cruises. I’ve always wanted to try a Disney cruise. I love being on the sea, I love traveling with my family and I love, love, love Disney so what was there not to like? But, I had no idea what to expect. I think cruising is one of those things you really need to experience for yourself, like childbirth and marriage, no one can explain in words how it actually feels but I will try.

Cruising on the Disney Dream was like no other vacation we’ve ever had. I used to think to vacation in the great outdoors was the best a family vacation could get but I see now that a Disney cruise gives you the best of both worlds.  It was luxury beyond anything I could have imagined. I get why they call it the Disney dream.

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For someone like me, who is always connected, the Disney Dream allowed me to live one of my biggest dreams…being present and in the moment. Yes, I had WiFi and was still connected but not in the same way as I am in my day to day life. I was semi-connected but I was 100% plugged in and present for my life and my family. I was given the gift of time to breathe and exhale and to look around and see all the beauty and wonder that was right in front of me. I think that is a gift that all of us deserve and can use in today’s world of fast-paced living.

I woke up to sunrises on the horizon of the ocean and went to bed with the sounds of the ocean waves lulling me to sleep. It was definitely magical but of course, it was a Disney cruise so I would expect nothing less.

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Everything You Need to Know About the Disney Dream Cruise

  1. Excellent service from the cast members from everyone on board, everyone was so kind and generous with their time and efforts just as we’ve all come to expect from all Disney employees.
  2. Amazing food, high-quality meals and options galore. You will eat like a King/Queen while onboard a Disney cruise ship.

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3. Amazing Broadway shows like Beauty and the Beast. It was beyond amazing and as a theater freak, I’m telling you, that it is a must see.

4. More food. There was so much good food, I wished a had more days but I’m not sure my jeans would have survived the trip.

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5. Lots of onboard activities for adults too, so there is no chance of getting bored; beer tasting, mixology course, tequila tasting, BINGO, fitness center, several pools, Aqua Duck, Nightclubs and lounges, Senses Spa and Salon and movie theaters.

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6. Relaxation beyond anything you could have ever imagined. There are separate adult only areas and a Spa onboard but beyond that, they’ve even thought of ways to keep the kids occupied so that you can relax.

7. Kids clubs with different age-appropriate activities for kids of all ages. They are full of activities like putt-putt golf, basketball, foosball, dodgeball, crafts, movies and video games to name a few. My girls were at Edge (for kids ages 11-14) and it was amazing because they were in a safe and secure environment being supervised by trained cast members. They got some freedom and it gave us some time alone. It was a nice perk, I hadn’t expected.

 

8. Thoughtfulness, it is apparent in everything from the towel characters they leave on your bed with the chocolates at turndown service to the royal proclamation of your family upon your arrival. The cast members notice the little things and remember your preferences. It really makes for a special trip.

9. Free 24-hour room service, including Mickey Mouse ice cream bars and pizza.

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10. Cleanliness. Our staterooms were spotless and so was everything else on the ship. In fact, they even handed us sanitized wipes before entering all restaurants to help stop the spread of germs.

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11. Unlimited ice cream. This was my daughters’ favorite thing ever. All the soft serve your heart can desire.

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12. Time alone on a private island. Our Disney cruise culminated with us spending our final day on Disney’s Castaway Cay; Disney’s very own private island, perfectly manicured and peaceful right in the middle of the Bahamas. If you’ve never been on a private island, and who of us have been, you are really missing out. It’s having the best of all worlds with just a fraction of the population. We tubed, we rode in a paddle boat, we swam with the fishes, biked and hiked and that was just tip of the iceberg as to what is available. There is parasailing, chartered fishing and so much more but I will save that for another post.

13. You will never forget it and you will be changed for the better once you take a Disney Cruise. The Disney Dream allowed me to slow down enough in my life to set reset and shuffle my priorities. Being with my family on the cruise made me realize how lucky I am and how important and fleeting these next few years are with my family. I want to make the most of every single second. The Disney Dream gave me fresh perspective by letting all the noise of our day-to-day fall away and focus on what’s really important; the people.

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14. Last but not least, the first 24 hours you might experience a sensation of feeling a little unsteady on your legs while the boat is moving. No worries, you just haven’t found your “sea legs” yet. Make sure to take your dramamine before you start to move and you will be fine in no time.

But the Disney Dream is only one ship in a fleet and only one adventure you can take. New itineraries for May through September are available and you can book your very own Disney Cruise starting March 8 at 8 a.m. EST!

Check out the new destinations and set your sights on a high seas vacation brimming with excitement and allure—and be among the first to experience special sailings in Europe, Alaska, the Caribbean or The Bahamas.

This is everything you need to know about the Disney Dream Cruise but if you have any other questions, please leave below and I will answer.

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Kia Soul, why buy a kia soul, kia, kiafamily, pros and cons of buying a kia soul

Have you ever driven a KIA SOUL? I did recently and honestly, I was expecting to be underwhelmed but if you’ve ever wondered why buy a KIA SOUL? I think I may have figured it out. Well, aside from being an award-winning compact crossover and starting as low as $16,200!

Driving for me has always been something that I did to get from here to there. I started driving when I was 13-years-old, (shhh, don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to get retroactively arrested) running simple errands for my mom like picking up milk or toilet paper at the local grocery store. It was only a few blocks away but my parents needed help with 6 kids and I did my part. Fast forward a couple decades and I’m still driving to get kids from school to extracurricular and I’m still running errands. I’m a mom chauffeur and when you have to do something, it becomes menial and not fun.

There have been cars that I prefer over others for one reason or the other but mostly, it boiled down to how well it got me from here to there. Only recently have I really started to consider that driving isn’t just about destinations, it’s about the journey. I know it sounds cheesy but it is true.

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For me, the car is my decompression space. It’s where I can play the music as loud as I want. Listen to what I want. Drive in silence. When I drive, it’s a little bit like going to church. There is this weird peaceful feeling I get when I am driving alone. You noticed, I said alone. It’s because I am the mom of a tween and teen girl and sometimes the silence in the car when I am alone, is the only thing that gets me through the day.

As I said, I do have my preferences in cars. I’ve driven enough cars to know that some are better than others. And all the bells and whistles can’t make up for subpar engineering. You can definitely tell the difference between a well-made vehicle and a lesser vehicle. It has nothing to do with looks and everything to do with what is under the hood. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Also, sometimes we underestimate the performance of a car because it’s cute. I never realized I did this until recently. The way most people assume attractive blonde women are less serious than brunettes. But in the same way we need to get to know people beyond the color of their hair, we need drive a vehicle before we can know anything about how it performs.

Kia Soul, why buy a kia soul, kia, kiafamily, pros and cons of buying a kia soul

I was loaned a KIA SOUL to drive around for a week. My expectations were low. Not because I think KIA is a subpar brand because I know that they are not. I’ve just always associated the KIA SOUL “cute”. The commercials are cute and they come in cute colors and they don’t seem like something I’d take very seriously. Then, I drove one.

The KIA SOUL surprised me because even though it was indeed adorable, it handled like a high-performance, seriously engineered vehicle.

It hugged curves and handled amazingly in the snow and the rain. It was serious on the road and party on the inside, my girls loved the light up speakers that “danced” to the beat of the music. The SOUL is affordable, dependable, well-built, beautiful and cool.

So if you’re still asking yourself, why buy a KIA SOUL, I want to ask you why would you not buy a KIA SOUL?

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American Heart Association, Hands Only CPR

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post written in partnership with the Anthem Foundation, however, all opinions are my own.

Do you travel a lot? I do and I love it, however, I hate layovers. They always seem to be either too short, where I find myself running through the airport breathing like I’m having an asthma attack to make my flight or too long, where I feel like I’m sitting around wasting my time when all I want to do is get to my destination. I’m all about a good journey but sitting in an airport feels like wasting precious time.

Sure, short layovers make for a good YouTube video but it’s not exactly fun for the poor person running through O’Hare bobbing and weaving trying to make their connection. It’s not particularly healthy for some of us. We’re not all marathon runners, most of us are average middle-aged parents living in the land of the biggie-sized and the home of the sit around and binge watch all day. One time trying to make my connection to a flight to L.A., I was convinced that I was going to have a heart attack right there in the airport. By the time I got on my flight, I was doubled over out of breath and all red in the face.

Speaking of heart attacks and long layovers, did you know that now people can learn Hands-Only CPR through Anthem Foundation supported training kiosks in about five minutes while they wait for their flights in many U.S. airports?  I had no idea this was a thing. Pretty awesome, right?

Each year, more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside the hospital, and about 20 percent occur in public places such as airports. Hands-Only CPR has been shown to be as effective as conventional CPR for cardiac arrest when it occurs in public, and CPR can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival.

The interactive kiosks are designed to train large numbers of people on this simple, lifesaving technique. Each Anthem Foundation- supported kiosk has a touch screen with a short video that provides an overview of Hands-Only CPR, followed by a practice session and a 30-second test. With the help of a practice mannequin or a rubber torso, the kiosk gives feedback about the depth and rate of compressions, as well as proper hand placement – factors that influence the effectiveness of CPR.

Travelers can also select Spanish from the kiosk’s main touchscreen. The Spanish language capability along with closed captioning in Spanish is available on all Anthem Foundation-supported kiosks at airports.

Hands-Only CPR has two steps, performed in this order: when you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse, call 911. Then, push hard and fast in the center of the chest until help arrives. Remember anyone can save a life.

I can’t think of a more productive way to spend my layover than learning how to save someone’s life. Just as I can’t think of a worse way to spend my layover than by standing around helplessly watching as someone else dies from a heart attack, maybe some poor out of shape mom, like me, who had to run through the airport to make her flight.

 

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Netflix, roadtrip, Streamteam, travel, children

The holidays are my favorite time of year. There is just something about the chaos of it all that makes me energized. I thrive on the craziness. It’s my happy place, especially when you add in baked goods, holiday music and all the twinkling lights your heart can desire. There is one part however that I could give a good pass on; holiday travel.

It’s not that I don’t like traveling. I love it. I love visiting family. I love going home. I love seeing new sites and old ones too. I even love the actual act of traveling…the journey, not just the destination but during the holidays, traffic is a special kind of hell. Everyone is trying to get somewhere and all of us are getting nowhere fast. There is nothing I hate more than being stuck. The worst kind of stuck is in an enclosed compartment for long hours with no possibility of escape and children.

My children have fortunately inherited my wanderlust and verve for life. They’ve unfortunately also inherited my lack of patience. On the precipice of tweendom, they are far more pleasing travel companions than they were as toddlers. Aside from the occasional, about 25 times an hour, inquiry, “are we there yet?” they tolerate long trips very well. Nothing a pair of good noise canceling headphones can’t rectify. But when they were tiny, as cute as they were, they were the worst.

Road tripping with toddlers is not for the weak. A few years back on a quick trip to Virginia to check out the city for a job move, we found this out the hard way. The girls were just about 2 and 4-years-old. We decided in our youth and naiveté that a long drive across the country was just what our sanity needed.

The area was one of the most gorgeous parts of the country that I’ve ever been. The weather was perfect, the scenery beautiful, large metropolitan cities concealed by nature. There as nothing not to love about the destination.

The 12-hour journey with toddlers, however, left much to be desired. My, otherwise, sweet loving girls apparently had a time limit to being constrained in those 5 point harnesses. On a good day that was a trip across town. You can imagine their state of mind at the very thought of taking their very first long road trip imprisoned in those body shackles.

My rambunctious eldest insisted on asking, every 20 minutes, “Are we there yet?” I always thought that question was a parenting cliché but now I realize that it is, in fact, the truth of traveling with children. I never realized how frazzling that could be to me as a person. I thought “those” moms have no patience. Just say, “Not yet, in a little while.” Why all the overreaction? Then I realized that it can actually bring you to the brink of insanity and make a grown woman ugly cry if asked in the right voice and enough times over a 12-hour period.

While the oldest was hitting us with the barrage of “Are we there yet”s the youngest was freaking out over a gnat. Yes, a gnat, that supposedly must have been the scariest, meanest, baby eating gnat you ever did see because, god bless her little bitty heart, she screamed bloody murder for at least 3 hours of the trip. We were all ticking time bombs.

In summation, my 4-year-old was wondering if we were there yet, every single second of every single minute we were on the road. My 2-year-old was being terrorized by a gnat and screaming so highly pitched, that all the dogs of the world were seeking her out to eat her and end the misery. I was on the brink of insanity, on the verge of losing the battle and my poor beloved husband was trying to plot his course to the nearest gunsmith to rent a gun and buy a bullet.

Then I pulled out my bag of tricks because obviously, the 1200 DVDs that I brought were not holding their attention. First, we colored (you know those Wonder Crayola colors that magically appear on the special paper but nothing else. That’s what you think, but that’s another story entirely), then we colored the glittery ones, then we colored My Little Pony. We sang, only the songs that they know so we had Bella’s favorites, “Twinkle, Twinkle” and “Mary had a little Lamb” and Gabi’s favorites “Happy Burtday to you!” and ” Five, Five Dolla..Five Dolla foot long!”

Yes, my 2-year-old was obsessed with the Subway commercial jingle. Have you any idea how many times they used to play that thing? I do, because she sang it incessantly for her second year. Don’t get me wrong, in the right context, it was absolutely adorable. She was the cutest thing that ever walked the earth, besides her sister, of course, but everything in moderation. Interrupted only by the “Are we there yet?” inquiry of her sister.

So on the brink of insanity, on the way to the gun shop, we stopped at lunch to let them stretch their tiny legs at some wayward Wendy’s in West Virginia. Not my idea, have you seen Wrong Turn?

We got lunch, they had ants in their pants and couldn’t keep still. We got the food, the chicken flavored whatsamanuggets are not done, still doughy,”EWWWW, gross”, as my daughter liked to say. I returned them. We waited again, I returned with nuggets, all is good in the land.

Then a “fly” dared to descend upon the table. All hell broke loose. Toddlers jumping everywhere, screaming, crying, running away in terror. I mentioned it was a fly and not Godzilla, right? Not a horsefly, just a regular old house fly! In true fix the situation fast fashion, I took off my flip flop and the untimely death of one unsuspecting fly ensued. All was good in the land.

Then Gabs, because all of the attention we just received was apparently not enough for her, screamed, at the absolute top of her lungs “EWWWW, FAARTED.Stinks”. Absolutely, mortified, I say ” OK, honey, it’s OK.” Then I realize, amongst all of the commotion, she did not have any kind of flatulation incident. Apparently, she just thought it was funny and liked to take credit, really loudly.

The point of all of this recounted trauma is that I am so thankful for things like Netflix and noise canceling headphones and toddlers who have grown into tweens who now find many ways of entertaining themselves. Daddy’s hotspot has saved us all many times on long road trips to Disney.

If you are looking for something to binge on your next long trip. My top recommendations are Alias Grace, Godless, She’s Gotta Have it, Glitch, Frontier, Man Down and Stranger Things.

For the tweens, I recommend Riverdale, Stranger Things, Anne with an E and my girls’ favorite, Project MC2.

Netflix, Streamteam, travel, childrenFor the toddlers/preschoolers whom I adore, Octonauts, Beat Bugs, Super Monsters, PJMasks and Word Party which are all available for download.

Netflix, Streamteam, travel, childrenSpeaking of long drives to Disney World, did I mention all of the amazing Disney Movies that Netflix currently has in the queue? What are you binging right now?

Disclosure: I am a member of Netflix’s #StreamTeam but all opinions and genuine love for Netflix are my own.

 

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toyota, highlander, Toyota highlander hydrid limited, travel, family travel

I don’t know about you but travel is a form of religion to me. Nope, I don’t think travel is my God but in a profound way, I feel closer to something bigger than myself when I’m experiencing the beauty and the wonder of the world, especially if there’s music playing loudly in the background. For example, when I am flying or on a boat in the ocean, I feel freer and smaller than I’ve ever felt before yet, at the same time I feel grounded and significant in my small part. Sometimes when you’re on the open road headed toward a destination, driving can feel almost like a holy experience. I know, it might sound weird to some of you but to others you completely understand.

There is just something about taking all of that beauty in and really comprehending the enormity that this planet is where we get to live, in all of its natural glory. I’ve always loved travel but it’s only been the last few years where I’ve really begun to appreciate the beauty of the different landscapes, people and cultures. I want to show my children the entire world and everything in it

Last month, I was loaned the new Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited in toasted walnut pearl. I mean, is there a more perfect color name for a car that you are driving around amongst the changing leaves? The 2017 new front fascia with an updated front grille and redesigned headlights make a bold first impression.

toyota, highlander, Toyota highlander hydrid limited, travel, family travel

I don’t know everything there is to know about the Toyota brand, as I have never owned one myself but I know what I like. I have friends and family members who will only buy Toyota because they hold up so well and last for so long. To me, that says something about the brand. The Highlander certainly exceeded any expectations I had.

I was pleasantly surprised by what it added to our travel experience. Not only is it a beautifully sophisticated piece of machinery, it is eco-friendly, which is something else that I tend to look for more as my fondness for the planet grows deeper.

toyota, highlander, Toyota highlander hydrid limited, travel, family travel

Traveling with my family is my favorite thing to do and we do a lot of that traveling on four wheels. We like the freedom to stop and explore along the way. So the little things matter, especially when you are in a car for 18-24 hours.

Here are some of my features of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid:

  • Color-keyed heated power outside mirrors with turn signal lights and blind spot warning indicators and folding features. Safety, convenience and indulgence all rolled into one.
  • Panoramic moonroof with power sunshade and jam protection. This moonroof adds a level of sophistication and adventure.
  • Three-zone automatic climate control with air filter, separate second-row control panel, individual temperature settings for driver, front passenger and rear-seat passengers, and second- and third-row vents. This is perfect, especially for long road trips with children, tweens and/or teens. Everyone controls their own temperature, a little less complaining and distraction for the driver.
  • Integrated backup camera with dynamic gridlines. At this point, I am annoyed with any vehicle that doesn’t have backup cameras but the dynamic gridlines feature is perfect for new drivers learning to parallel park and just be safe in general.
  • SofTex®-trimmed 60/40 split, fold-flat third-row seat with sliding headrests and recline function. I know this sounds like an unnecessary luxury but believe me when you have tall passengers, stuck in a vehicle for long amounts of time the recline functions is definitely one that you will appreciate.
  • Blue LED ambient lighting on the interior of the front and rear doors and in-dash shelf. This sounds so unnecessary but I’m telling you, it’s one of those things you never knew that you always wanted. That little bit of ambient lighting makes all the difference when getting into your car at night.
  • Five total USB ports (three front and two second-row). Talk about convenience and luxury. There are 4 of us, we each have an iPhone and iPad and they need to be charged. No more fighting/bickering over whose turn it is to use the charger.
  • Second-row retractable window sunshades. If you have babies, this is a lifesaver on long trips. If you have children of any age sitting in the back seat trying to stay entertained with electronics or just not spend the drive with the migraine-inducing sun in their eyes, you too will love these window shades.
  • I love the safety features. I will have teen drivers in not too many years.
  • Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) — Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/PD), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA), Automatic High Beams (AHB) and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC). My girls will be driving before I’d like to think about and I will feel a lot less anxious if I know they are driving in a vehicle that does its part help keep them safe.
  • More safety features we can all get behind. Star Safety System™ — includes Electronically Controlled Braking (ECB), Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA) and Smart Stop Technology® (SST).
  • Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA) like backup cameras, how did we ever live without these features?
  • toyota, highlander, Toyota highlander hydrid limited, travel, family travel

**No husbands were harmed in the taking of this photo. He just has a morbid sense of humor and was in desperate need of a nap.

  • The storage space is huge. I was able to put my 6’5″ husband in the back. Not that you’d move a body in the Highlander but, the point is, you could if you needed to 😉
  • And, did I mention the mileage on the Highlander Hybrid? If I didn’t I definitely should have. I had the vehicle for 10 days and never had to fill it up. The mileage is out of this world compared to my Enclave.

toyota, highlander, Toyota highlander hydrid limited, travel, family travelI could go on for pages but these are just a few of my favorite features of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited. All of these features help me to focus on what is important about family vacations, family and not let the small stuff like comfort, charging stations and gas mileage ruin the whole thing.

Travel really is an experience that transcends time and space, your mind needs to be free to wander without distraction and completely immerse in the people and places you visit. Traveling with my family, showing them the people and places of this planet, is having the very best of both worlds. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited makes the journey as fantastic as the destination.

What was your favorite family trip destination? How did you get there?

Disclosure: I was provided the Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited to drive for review purposes but all opinions are my own.

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camping, GoRVing, Traverse City KOA, KOA, Michigan, Family travel

I’m definitely a 5-star resort kind of girl . I love luxury, lazy rivers, hot tubs, and wifi. I blame my husband. Before him, I was the outdoorsy type. I’m not sure if I loved roughing it or I just grew up in a family of 6, so roughing it was the standard on vacation. I never considered that RVing is the best family trip you can take your children on.

I could often be found hiking, swimming, rolling down some grassy hill, laying outside looking up at the stars or just staring in wonder at the natural beauty surrounding me. I took great pleasure in the simple things. The beauty of a sunset, the grass beneath me and the sand and surf between my toes. These things made me happy.

camping, GoRVing, Traverse City KOA, KOA, Michigan, Family travel, Why RVing is the Best Family Trip You can Take Your Children On

I graduated from university, started having babies, a bad back and no time. Suddenly, 5-star resorts became my gold standard. I’m not afraid to admit that I adore a good room service breakfast in bed. Achy bones and a weary body make a good bed and a deep tub my happy place. Until a couple years ago.

READ ALSO: Why Every Family should go RVing before their Kids Grow Up

I attended an epic road trip with Ford where I drove from Kamloops to Calgary and it was a life-changing moment for me. I was reminded of how truly awesome this world is and how it is ever changing. I knew then that I needed to share this with our girls.

I came home from that trip changed forever. I wanted nothing more than to immerse them in that inspiring, mind-blowing beauty in person; to see how breathtaking mother earth is without the distractions and noise of everyday life. I wanted to take them to this quiet solitude with nothing but the hum of cicadas, the soft summer breeze as it rustles the trees and the crash of the surf meets the shore. I wanted them to hear the ripple of their life that you can only hear when alone in nature.

camping, GoRVing, Traverse City KOA, KOA, Michigan, Family travel, Why RVing is the Best Family Trip You can Take Your Children On

My love for nature is innate. Both of my parents descend from farmers, so we appreciate the earth because we know it gives life. I guess I just never realized how damn beautiful she was until that moment in Banff. I was ready to share this immediately but photos can’t do justice to that sort of beauty. It always falls short plus that kind of natural peace has to be felt to be understood. But due to circumstances beyond my control, that moment would have to wait.

Finally, last month, we got the chance to give them a taste of all that beauty. We took the girls on a camping trip to Michigan, courtesy of the Traverse City KOA and GoRVing and it did not disappoint.

camping, GoRVing, Traverse City KOA, KOA, Michigan, Family travel, Why RVing is the Best Family Trip You can Take Your Children On

A bad back and age sometimes make me feel like I’m in my 80’s. But, I dream of sharing all the national parks in the United States with my girls; being outdoors and appreciating the small things that we take for granted so often. I want them to look up at the sky at night and see the millions of stars surrounded by nothing but nature and love. I want them to see the Aurora Borealis dance across the sky and be left breathless. To do all of that, you have to leave the bright lights of the city and go to where nature is still untouched. You have to go camping to really be in it.

camping, GoRVing, Traverse City KOA, KOA, Michigan, Family travel, Why RVing is the Best Family Trip You can Take Your Children On

We stayed in a stationary RV that looks just like a cabin but is actually built on an RV chassis and towed to its final destination. It was gorgeous and perfect for the first time camper, the person who wants to be one with nature but prefers indoor plumbing, the avid glamper or those of us who just might prefer some of the luxuries of home, while communing with nature.

READ ALSO: The Secret to the Best Road Trip Ever

However, you slice it, I would highly recommend staying at the Traverse City KOA and renting a GoRVing RV, stationary or otherwise. You won’t be disappointed. I know we weren’t. It had all the comforts of home, including tv and WiFi, which we didn’t really use but it was nice to know it was available if we needed it.

Our trip was for 4 days and it was the best vacation we had all summer. We travel a lot and we do love it. We love big cities and exciting things but being in nature is a different kind of vacation. There was no need for scheduling and planning. The only plan was to get on the open road, enjoy one another and the nature all around us.

camping, GoRVing, Traverse City KOA, KOA, Michigan, Family travel, Why RVing is the Best Family Trip You can Take Your Children On

Camping is the kind of trip that refuels your soul. There was something absolutely magical about sharing the Sleeping Bear Dunes with my daughters, swimming on a private beach and eating the best pizza ever at a market.

camping, GoRVing, Traverse City KOA, KOA, Michigan, Family travel, Why RVing is the Best Family Trip You can Take Your Children On

We combed the beach for rocks to make kindness rocks for others. We danced and sang with our tweens as we barbecued outside and laughed so hard that we cried while sitting around a bonfire talking and roasting smores. It was magical because we slowed down enough to just be with one another. We talked. We listened. We laughed. We came back together stronger.

camping, GoRVing, Traverse City KOA, KOA, Michigan, Family travel, Why RVing is the Best Family Trip You can Take Your Children On

I don’t know about you and your family but I suspect it’s similar to mine, we work all the time. We work hard. Between the Big Guy and I working, the girls going to school and 6 days of ballet a week, there is not a lot of time for just being, as much as we would love more of it. We try to have dinner together and we do talk to each other every day. We make the effort to ask questions even when we are all so busy and tired all we want is a nap and some silence. Camping together allowed the rest of the world to fall away for four days and it was just us and nature and it was truly the most special time.

camping, GoRVing, Traverse City KOA, KOA, Michigan, Family travel, Why RVing is the Best Family Trip You can Take Your Children On

Before we even got home, the Big Guy was talking about making this an annual trip. But I think we want more. I’m hoping to get to take my family to the national parks out west next summer, hopefully in an RV. I want that togetherness that camping provides.

camping, GoRVing, Traverse City KOA, KOA, Michigan, Family travel, Why RVing is the Best Family Trip You can Take Your Children On

I only have 6 more summers with my oldest daughter before she goes off to college and that fact is not lost on me. Each moment is precious. I’d love to have at least 6 more RV camping trips with our girls. I want them to look back on their childhood fondly and remember all the magical moments together standing in awe of the beauty of nature surrounded by all the love.

Why RVing is the Best Family Trip You can Take Your Children On, sleeping bear dunes, camping, GoRVing, Traverse City KOA, KOA, Michigan, Family travel

I want to extend a sincere thank you to GoRVing.com and the Traverse City KOA for facilitating this absolutely magical trip for my family. It’s changed the way we vacation. I guess I’m not as much of the 5-star hotel girl as I thought I was. The outdoorsy me is still inside and begging to sleep out under the stars.

If you don’t have an RV, staying in a park model cabin like the one we stayed in is a popular option to try out the RV lifestyle.  Some campgrounds also have travel trailers all set up on site available for rent.
In addition, there are some companies like Camp N Style located in San Diego that will bring an RV (could be a travel trailer or a motorhome) right to the campground and hook it up so when you get there, its ready to go!  These are generally equipped with pots, pans, dishes, full kitchen & bath, AC & heat, too!.

Ready to plan an RV adventure of your own?  Visit GoRVing.com for info on how to get started, how to choose the RV that’s right for you, where to go, what to bring and so much more!

 

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Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

Ever wonder what the secret to the best road trip with family really is? I see families doing it all the time and I’m like, “that’s never how our road trips go.” We’ve spent countless road trips being tortured with, “Are we there yet?” So much so that I think I may actually have some road trip PTSD to join my stepping off curbs variety. I just always suspected all those awesome families having amazing road trips must be either the really patient types ( I envy them) or maybe just well medicated. But I wanted whatever they were on because I loved the road trips of my childhood and I want that with my girls. I love the whole “expect the unexpected” sense of it all.

READ ALSO: Why RVing is the Best Vacation You Can Take Your Children On

A couple weeks ago, we went on one last summer road trip as a family. We just needed to go someplace to be one with nature and one another. You know what I mean. We needed to unplug and focus on what was really important before plunging headlong back into the craziness that is our day to day life. We decided to visit the Traverse City KOA in Michigan.

We’ve never been to Traverse City and the girls and I have never been camping but it’s something I’ve always wanted to try. Traverse City is about a 4.5-hour scenic drive from our house and there was a promise of quiet, stillness, sand dunes, waves and Lake Michigan for as far as the eye could see. Most importantly, it was going to be togetherness with no distractions.

READ ALSO: Places You must see and Do on San Diego Road Trip

The girls are 10 and 12-years-old now. Not to jinx it but I like them. They are becoming humans who I want to spend time engaging with, listening to and getting to know. So the only thing I had on my mind was getting to where we were going and enjoying the journey, company and the destination. I wanted to bask in every single moment of it.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

Thanks to the generosity of KIA I was loaned a 2017 KIA Sorento for the journey. I’ve driven a Sorento before, a few years ago, on a press trip. But there is a big difference between driving a vehicle for a few hours and driving it for a few days on a trip trapped in the car with your family.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

It takes some time to really get to know a vehicle and be comfortable driving it on different terrains, at different speeds, in stop and go traffic, local traffic and on the highway. These all make a difference in the feel of the vehicle and let you experience how it handles. Sort of the way, taking a group of city folks into the wild and letting them camp for the first time does. Put it this way, we all learned a lot about ourselves doing new things in a new place that weekend.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

I’ll tell you about the camping trip in another post but I want to tell you about this vehicle. When I think of KIA, I think dependable and budget-friendly. I used to think of the perfect car for someone in their 20’s.

I love the brand and the brand’s mission. They really are working to make the world a better place with their hybrids and eco-friendly line but this 2017 Sorento SXL surprised me. It wasn’t what I expected.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

Firstly, the Sorento is not only gorgeous, it rides like a luxury line vehicle not what I expected for this price point. Talk about getting a bang for your buck and being pleasantly surprised. Currently, we own an Enclave and a Cadillac SRX. We love both cars but the 2017 Sorento had the luxurious drive feel of the Cadillac at a much lower price point, about half even less if you didn’t get the SXL. It also had better gas mileage than both of our current SUVs. We do a lot of driving around town with our girls and all the activities they are in so gas mileage is important to us.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

The Sorento has too many bells and whistles to mention all of them but some of my favorites were the reclining second-row seats, perfect for road trips and tired tweens. I’m all about convenience and comfort. We’re tall people, well they all are, and they need lots of leg room. There was plenty in the Sorento.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

Speaking of the tweens, they loved the panoramic sunroof and power shade and the integrated 2nd-row window sunshades. This is perfect to keep the sun out of your baby’s eyes or for the tween trying to sleep or shoot a Music.ly without being washed out on film. Either way, it beats the heck out of those shades we used to buy at the baby stores to keep the sun out of their eyes. It was super convenient and seamless, not obtrusive and ugly.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

I, personally, loved the power-folding outside mirrors, windshield De-Icer, heated and cooled front seats, smart key immobilizer and adjustable height smart power liftgate. My husband is 6’5” so he needs super-sized everything and not banging his head on the liftgate is a definite bonus. He fell in love with the Sorento.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

Did I mention the UVO eservices with navigation, 8” color touch screen display, SiriusXM traffic, HD radio, Android Auto and Apple Car Play? All pouring into the car via the Infinity 10-speaker audio w/Clari-Fi External Amplifier and subwoofer. We are huge music people and a road trip is just not a road trip without music. I mean, seriously, you need your Despacito to be loud so you can all sing along but be able to hear it so crisp and clear that it feels like you’re at the concert, was the icing on the cake.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

Now, on top of all of this, the 2017 Sorento SXL has everything I’d want in a car for my girls who are approaching the driving age faster than I’d like to admit. So in addition to being sleek, sexy and beautiful, having a ride like you’re in your Lazy-boy at home and every convenience, you could ever possibly dream of it is safe because KIA is all about family.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

The 2017 Sorento has a rear-camera display, rear parking assist system, surround view monitor, blind-spot detection system, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning system, forward collision warning system, autonomous emergency braking and steering wheel mounted audio, hands-free phone and cruise control so no searching around and not paying attention. For me, this makes the Sorento the perfect vehicle for everyone in my family.

READ ALSO: Best Things to do in Boston with Teens and Tweens

From the mom with the precious cargo on board to the family with tweens in the back seat as your road trip across America to the new teen driver who you send out into the world on their own; there’s no car I’d feel safer doing so in than the Sorento.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travelI can honestly say that driving the 2017 KIA Sorento SXL on our road trip made the journey as amazing as the destination, and the destination was pretty damn amazing.

Michigan, road trip, family, KIA, Sorento, travel

Disclosure: I was provided the KIA Sorento to drive on our road trip but all opinions about this vehicle are my own and those of my family. We loved it and that’s the secret to the best road trip ever.

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family, disney vacation, walt disney world resort, epcot, frozen ever after

Last month, we took the girls to Walt Disney World in Orlando. We’ve been many times in the past 18 years but, apparently, never in the sweltering hot months. I am here to warn you, NEVER go to Orlando during the summer months. We were there at the end of June and the heat index was 108 degrees. I felt like God was holding a magnifying glass over Cinderella’s castle at the Magic Kingdom while trying to fry all of the park goers. I literally wanted to cry, as my face was melting off. Lesson learned. But still, happiest place on earth.

But thanks to that horrible, swampy heat we did get to discover some rides and shows that we would have otherwise never have tried because when you are that miserably hot, you get a whole new perspective and exerting the least amount of energy, going where there is air conditioning and staying cool becomes a game of survival. Heat stroke is no joke so I’m telling you all the cool things to do at Disney.

I’m glad we went in June so now I know to never do that again. I’m just too sensitive to the heat to enjoy that kind of warm weather. If it wasn’t sweltering heat, we were being caught in torrential downpours. I am not referring to the quaint mid- day showers that come through and cool Orlando down, these were unrelenting and turned all of Orlando into a soupy, sweat box. It was hard to stay focused on the fact that I was at my happy place. Heat makes people grumpy.

Aside from the heat, the trip was one of our most enjoyable to Walt Disney World because we’ve gone so many times, we were able to mosey and not rush and when we were tired we went back to the hotel and rested. I’ve told you the top 25 secrets to rocking your Walt Disney World vacation but this is the addendum for the summer. Also, remember, everything is cooler at night and Walt Disney World has you covered with extended hours if you are staying at a resort on grounds.

Here are a few of our best tips to beat the heat at Walt Disney World during summer

Walt Disney World, Disney, hollywood studios, Sci-Fi Theater drive-in, stay cool at walt disney world, magic kingdom, buzz lightyear, toy story

Magic Kingdom

The Liberty Tree Tavern

I know it was hot outside but this place serves comfort food to the extreme. Think Thanksgiving all year round. Yes, I know, in theory, it sounds like an unwise choice in the heat but with all that walking and burning of calories, it was the best thing ever. It was so good, in fact, that we are actually planning our next trip in the fall, just so we can fully appreciate all that comfort food.

Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies

Best.Sundeas.and.Smoothies.EVER. But if you want to be practical, get the smoothie, it cools you down longer.

Casey’s Corner

I have passed this hot dog, ball park themed restaurant a million times and never stopped. Enter, hungry Debi looking for an air-conditioned restaurant on a sweltering day. The food was simple but delicious and the air was divine.

Mickey’s Philharmagic

Had it not been for the heat, I would have bypassed this gem and made my way onto something outside but I am glad that I didn’t because it was adorable and cute. Perfect for the entire family.

Astro Orbiter

Coolest ride ever. Did I mention, all these years and I never knew it was an actual ride? Yep, I thought it was just really cool decoration. Look up, people!

Transit Authority People Mover

I’ve seen this but never rode it before. It was awesome. Yes, it moves slowly and totally reminds me of something out of Wall-E but when it’s 108-degree heat index, it is totally okay to just ride instead of walk.  Not only is it ok, it is encouraged by this Disney addict. Survival of the fittest, and sometimes “fittest” means the lady who was smart enough to stop exerting herself in the heat.

Haunted Mansion

Enchanted Tales with Belle

It’s a Small World

Pirates of the Caribbean

 

Walt Disney World, Disney, hollywood studios, Sci-Fi Theater drive-in, stay cool at walt disney world

Hollywood Studios

The Great Movie Ride

For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along

Sci-Fi Dine IN Theater

One Man’s Dream

Pizze Rizzo

Walt Disney World, Disney, hollywood studios, Sci-Fi Theater drive-in, stay cool at walt disney world, magic kingdom, epcot, frozen ever after

Epcot

Coral Reefs: Disney Animals

Walt Disney World, Disney, hollywood studios, Sci-Fi Theater drive-in, stay cool at walt disney world, magic kingdom, epcot, frozen ever after

Frozen Ever After Ride

Soarin

Gran Fiesta Tour Featuring the Three Caballeros

L’Artisan des Glaces

All of these places mentioned at Walt Disney World are sure to keep you cool and indoors.

Not to say that there isn’t still plenty to do outside. I mean, come on, the place is a beautiful, waking fairy tale but when the heat is out of control, especially if you are from a climate that is not as hot, it’s good to have cool options to pop in and out of throughout your day at Disney World.

This trip also gave me the opportunity to explore lots more different restaurants (table service is your friend in sweltering heat) than normal because we usually stick with favorites. I will do a follow up to this post on all the great places to eat at Epcot and tell you all about Pandora, including lots of photos, insider tips, and video. You won’t want to miss it!

pandora, pandora at night, Walt Disney World, Disney, hollywood studios, Sci-Fi Theater drive-in, stay cool at walt disney world

What’s your favorite attraction, ride, restaurant or thing to do while visiting Walt Disney World?

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