Showing posts with label Vacations and Trips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vacations and Trips. Show all posts

The Happiest Place On Earth



We decide to skip the trolley.  After waiting in line for the ferry to leave Disney World for over an hour, I do not want to wait in another line.  "Let's just walk," I suggest, and I hope the parking lot is as close as I think it is.

We trudge across a nearly empty parking lot to a bridge that crosses over one of the many channels of water in Orlando.  Clouds cover the stars, but we can see the moon peeking out on the edges, a handbreadth up from the horizon.  We cross the bridge and I notice how the moonlight shines across the water through the trees.  The sound of junebugs are everywhere, and birds that are strange to our ears call from these little patches of nature in the middle of all the cement.

"Let's pretend we are explorers, and we just landed in the New World," I say as I push the stroller, trying to distract the big kids from their aching feet.  "See that little water channel, and those trees?  It would be like that everywhere.  And there would be birds calling, and crocodiles in the water, and maybe a panther in the trees!  Can you imagine what it would have been like to be here then?  Would you be scared?"

My oldest son's eyes light up as he considers the possibility, while my daughter looks happy that this is just a pretend game.  Up ahead I hear laughter, and I glance up to see Derek with our preschooler in one arm, and our near-kindergartner in the other.  They grin at me over his shoulders, and I grin back, listening as my oldest two beside me discuss how they would protect themselves in the jungle.  

And that's when I finally feel it.



We've been in the "happiest place on earth" all day, but here in this moment, walking on aching feet through a dark parking lot as if we are conquering explorers, this is when I feel the most magical.

And I realize now that we don't have to travel across the country and have "magic" manufactured for us.  We had tried that all day, and it was a failed attempt.  No, those blessed, happy, magic-filled moments can happen anywhere with a little imagination and gratitude, whenever I open my eyes to them.  They can happen with sore feet and damp hair, they can happen at home or far away, when we are doing something exciting or when we are so tired we are merely longing to be tucked under cool sheets.  

Just being with the people I love most in the world, laughing and walking along together, that is the happiest place on earth.  That is a beautiful blessing given to me by God Himself.



That is magical all by itself.

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I wrote this after our trip to Florida in August, and now seemed like a good time to share it, since my month of memory-keeping is almost over!  You can read all my posts in this series by clicking on the picture below.


Should You Visit Kennedy Space Center With Young Kids?



We almost didn't go to Kennedy Space Center on our trip to Florida.  This was a special (ie. expensive) trip for us, and we barely had enough budget to cover everything we wanted to do.  We considered skipping Cape Canaveral to save a little money, but I'm so glad we didn't!

I did not expect us all to enjoy Kennedy Space Center as much as we did, but my excitement spilled over onto Instagram, and I got a few questions about whether it is worth it to go with young kids.  My short answer is yes, depending on ages!  But I wanted to give a few more details on what we enjoyed about our visit there.

(Rockets in the rocket garden.)

1. I could tell they really want to inspire kids.

The first thing we did when we arrived was to get on the bus to visit the Saturn V rocket, which is the rocket that took Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins to the moon.  They played a video on the bus, and I could see right there that one of the goals of the Center is to inspire kids to be interested in space.  They showed interviews with kids, the video was really friendly, and they talked about an "astronaut in training" program for kids to give them an idea about what it's like to be a part of the space program.  I was inspired myself!

When we arrived at the Center, my kids were genuinely interested in seeing the rocket and the moon capsule.  It's honestly hard not to be interested in the rocket, because it is so huge!  You can't help but be impressed.  We also got to look at the moon capsule, and I explained a little bit about the thickness of the walls.  It was cool for them to see it and have that tucked away in their memories for when we learn about space in school this year.

They also had a show about the history of the moon landing, and once again, my kids were way more fascinated than I thought they would be!  It was a gripping show (there was alot of drama with the moon landing!), and you could see the goal of it was to not only inspire adults but kids too.  Afterward we exited into a room that showed artifacts from that period of space exploration, and my kids loved seeing the space suit with moon dust still on it!


(Outside the Kennedy Space Center.)


(The Saturn V rocket.  These pictures do not do it justice!)

 (We couldn't even get the whole circumference of the bottom of the rocket, it was so huge!)
(My girls, looking at the moon capsule.)

2.  There are many activities specifically for kids.

Aside from all the history at the Center, they also have alot of activities that are specifically for kids. After we visited the Saturn V, we came back and checked out the Atlantis exhibit.  We watched a short movie about the development of the space shuttle, and it was incredibly well done.  We exited from the movie right into into the room that holds the Atlantis space shuttle!  The whole production was really well done and inspiring, and on top of that the sheer size of the shuttle is absolutely amazing!

I was also surprised at how many activities they had for kids in this area specifically, but at the Center in general:

-They have fun green-screen photo booths where kids can pretend to be astronauts in a photo. 

-At The Kennedy Space Center they had a kids' play area.  

-At the Atlantis exhibit they had a very fun slide that coincided with the angle/curve the space shuttle uses to land  (you can watch the video on my Instagram highlights!).

-At Atlantis, they have a faux International Space Station tunnel play area for kids.  My kids did not want to leave!

-They have a shuttle launch simulator.  My biggest three (5 years old and up) were all able to go on the shuttle launch experience with me, and it was really cool!  They had a fun educational video to explain what was happening, and the simulator experience itself was fun and wild!

-They have "astronaut training simulators" for moving a robotic arm, docking a space shuttle, etc.

Keep in mind that this was only at the areas of Kennedy Space Center that were able to visit.  There are two or three other areas that we missed, including a section called "Journey To Mars: Explorers Wanted", the new Mars rover vehicle, and various shows and IMAX movies that I think my kids would have also enjoyed.

 (My kids by the rocket that launches the space shuttle into space.  I couldn't even get a picture of the whole thing, it was massive!  That orange bit is the very bottom of the fuel tank.)
 (Derek under the space shuttle rockets.)

 (The space shuttle.  I can't even explain to you how huge it actually was!)

(My kids playing inside the International Space Section playplace!)

(A slide that simulated the angle the space shuttle uses on re-entry!)

3. I can't think of a better place to spark an interest in space and STEM topics.

As I said in my first point, I think there is an active effort to inspire an interest in space in children at the center.  NASA and companies that have an interest in space extortion know that they need bright young people to continue the effort to explore space, and they do everything they can to interest over kids in the program through their "astronauts in training" camps, and just fun exhibits.  If you want your kids to learn a little more about space, or if you want to share a love for space science and engineering, this is the place you need to go.

As far as ages, I think my big three really enjoyed it, so I would say 5 and up is a good age to shoot for.  My 3 year old liked the slide and space station play areas, but I don't think she understood as much of what was going on.  And obviously my 1 year old didn't either.

As an adult, I wouldn't classify myself as a space nerd.  I have developed a little bit of interest in the history of the space race over this past summer, and that's been the extent of my interest in space during my life.  However, by the time we left Cape Canaveral, I was seriously regretting not buying myself a NASA t-shirt, and I immediately downloaded more space-related books to read on my phone.  You do not have to try very hard to be inspired at this place.



(The kids in the rocket garden on the way out, holding the astronaut teddy bears we got them for a souvenir.  Those bears have gotten some good playtime since then!)

If I were to go again, I would absolutely spend a whole day there, instead of just half a day.  I was regretting that we didn't get to check out the Mars exhibits or other areas.  Overall, the Kennedy Space Center was a fun and relaxing visit for us, and my only regret is that we didn't have more time!  Maybe we'll just have to go again one year!

Have you been to the Kennedy Space Center, ever or recently?

They have added so much, and we loved it!

How I'd Do Disney Differently With Five Young Kids


The story is out - our trip to Disney World was less than I had hoped it would be.  And honestly, my expectations were rather low in the first place.




(The photo opportunities were gold though!)

I've told a little bit of our experience on Instagram and in this post, but today I just wanted to share a few of the things I would do differently were we to visit Magic Kingdom again with young kids.  These "tips" are coming from a non-Disney person who does not like to plan excessively for trips, so these are basic suggestions in case you are like me and just want to keep your Disney experience relatively simple!  If you are not like me and like to plan your Disney trip within an inch of it's life, I'm hoping that some of you will comment your favorite in-depth Disney planning resources below!

Here are my very basic ideas on how I'd improve our Disney experience next time.

Skip Disney World And Just Get A Character To Come To Your Kids' Birthday Party

I kid, I kid.  Kind of.  But honestly, some of my kids' favorite moments of the Disney trip were when they got to meet the princesses.  They burst out laughing when Pooh Bear found a water puddle right in front of us and splashed in it.  I didn't expect my kids to love the characters so much, because they acted so shy, but it was definitely a highlight. If we went there again, I'd try to meet a couple more characters.  Or save the $750 it cost for us to all get in there, and just hire a character to come to their birthday.  Kidding!  Sort of.  It would be cheaper.




Have A Plan For Navigating The Crowds

A huge reason why we didn't enjoy Disney as much as I expected was the massive amount of people there.  Unfortunately that can't be helped.  However, I had not been to Disney, or anywhere with that many people, in so long that I did not really think through how we were going to get from one place to another with five small children, and only four hands between Derek and me.   We just walked together like we normally would, but I forgot how people cut in front and between groups when it is so crowded. We ended up briefly losing various kids THREE different times while we were there!  Losing my child once in their childhood would be quite enough for me, so feeling that panicky I-don't-know-where-my-kid-is feeling three times in one day was a little much.  If we went back, especially with so many kids, I'd make everyone hold onto backpack straps, shirt hems, or the stroller at all times when we are walking.





Figure Out The Fast Pass Thing Before We Go

As I've already established, I am not a planner.  When I go on vacation, I like to just show up and have fun.  I heard about Fast Passes, but I thought it was a special perk that you paid extra for.  When we bought our tickets, I found out that you actually get three free Fast Passes with each ticket.  However, since I had done zero research, I did not realize that you still have to go to a special Disney Kiosk and pick your Fast Pass time slots for specific rides, or that you could even do it online before you even show up.  By the time I figured this out, there were hardly any Fast Passes left for the day.  So if you want to make use of your free Fast Passes at all, I'd recommend reserving them before your trip, or at the very least at the beginning of the day when you visit Disney.  Unless you want to waste it on the teacups, which never have much of a line anyway.




Only Go On Rides We Could Do All Together 

We picked a pretty difficult age to bring our kids to Disney.  We only have one kid who could ride on the bigger rides by himself.  We had three kids who could ride, but they each needed an adult to ride with them because of their ages.  And of course we have one baby who can't ride the bigger rides at all.  If you are doing the math, that means we'd have to go through the line for each ride twice, while taking turns waiting and holding the baby, in order for everyone to get a turn.  We did this with one roller coaster, and getting everyone a turn, even with Fast Passes, took over an hour.  If I were to do it again, I'd just skip the big rides, except maybe a really special one that we didn't get to go on at all (ahem, Splash Mountain), and I'd just focus on all the rides we could all ride together.  There were plenty of them, and I think we all would have had more fun that way.




Focus On The Movie Themed Rides

Our favorite rides in the park were the really simple ones that basically take you through the stories of Disney movies.  We could all ride them together, and the kids (8 years old and younger) were at the best age to enjoy those rides.  We did a couple of them (Little Mermaid, and Winnie The Pooh), but there were a few we missed because we ran out of time.  If we went with the kids at this age again, I'd do all the movie themed rides first!




Leave During The Fireworks

We had grand plans to sneak over to Splash Mountain and try to ride it when everyone was leaving after the fireworks.  To which plan I can only now say...ha!  The line for Splash Mountain was still quite long, and we decided that we didn't want to keep the little ones up another hour while we waited.  So instead we rode the Magic Carpets, and then headed out of the park.  I expected we'd be back at the hotel in time for a late-night swim in the hotel pool, but...no.  We waited for over an hour just in the line to get out of the park.  There was a lot of complaining about sore feet, alot of asking how much longer, and a danger of developing claustrophobia.  And that was just me.  If we did this again with young kids, I'd probably try to beat the crowds to the ferry and leave while the fireworks were still going.  (Of course, I can say this because we ended up missing the fireworks anyway - that whole lost kid thing.)




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Despite a few of the rough patches and lessons learned, I am really glad we did visit Disney!  I think the kids had fun overall, and it'll be fun for them to be able to talk with their little friends who have already visited Disney.  It is just naturally a fun thing to experience in childhood, and I'm glad we got that chance.  It wasn't all bad.  We made plenty of fun memories at Disney too, so I'm tacking on a few things I'm glad we did...

Using The App

The Disney World app tells you all the wait times for the rides, meeting the characters, etc.  I'm so glad we had that, because we were able to get on a few rides when the lines were shorter!

Packing Snacks And Eating At Casey's Corner

We got out of Disney World only spending about $50 on food.  I think that's pretty good for a family of seven!  We packed a ton of snacks in a backpack, and we snacked straight through lunch.  Then when they shut some of the rides down for rain in the evening, we took that opportunity for dinner.  We got two corn dog nugget meals for the kids to split, and Derek and I each got a hotdog.  I think we accidentally found the cheapest restaurant to eat at in Disney, and I'm glad we didn't have to spend an extra $100 on food like I thought we would!



Watching Movies Beforehand And Enjoying The Atmosphere 

Alot of you have seen every single Disney movie, but my poor kids have not.  Alot of them are too scary yet for my particular kids, and we are not as into Disney as alot of people are.  However, I did try to pull out a couple new Disney movies before we went, and I'm glad I did!  One of our favorite parts of the day was visiting the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse.  I bought the movie for our kids to watch on this trip, so when we visited the treehouse at Magic Kingdom my kids were fascinated!  It was also a slower area of the park - so many people are focused on the rides, but alot of the atmospheric elements were just as fun to us!






I don't think we'll be visiting Disney World again in the near future, just because of the distance and expense.  But if we did, I know what to do now!



Disney Experts, now is your chance!  Give me all your additional tips, especially for making the most of Disney with young kids!  

You never know, maybe we'll end up going back sooner than expected!

Florida!



I am still in vacation mode over here!

Everyone I know is back to school at this point, but we've been spending this week recovering from our trip to Florida!  We had a wonderful time overall, aside from a few hiccups, and I wanted to record a few of the places we went and the things that happened before I forget.  To keep this post manageable, I'm going to try to do it in bullet points and limit the photos.  Here we go!

Miami

-We got a manageable flight that left around 6:30 AM, but the girls still fell asleep on the flight, so it was perfect!  The boys watched movies and read books the whole way.

-We stopped at Delray Beach on the way down to Miami to look at the ocean before sunset.  I personally love East coast beaches at sunset, the colors are so soft and pretty!

-Finally arrived in Miami at 11 PM, and realized that I'm pretty sure I booked us a night in a gang hotel, basically.  That is if the gang tags in the stairwell, marijuana, and sketchy area were any indication.  Plus the room wasn't clean - ah!  Clearly I am not allowed to book bargain hotels anymore.

-Booked another hotel straightaway the next morning.







Everglades

-We went on an airboat tour with Coopertown Airboats, and we saw the Everglades!  We all learned so much and saw quite a bit of wildlife and interesting plants - so fun!  The Everglades are one of a kind, for sure.







Bill Baggs Cape State Park

-We checked out a state park that an old blog friend recommended to me, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.  It was wonderful!  It had a lighthouse, iguanas were running everywhere and the kids were fascinated, and the beach there was probably the most beautiful beach I've ever seen!  It was seriously a tropical paradise. I wish we could have spent more time there!













Boynton Beach

-Stayed the night in Boynton Beach, and then checked out the beach there the next day!  The waves were not as calm as at Bill Baggs beach, but it was still beautiful and we enjoyed ourselves!  After the beach we started the drive to Orlando.

-Car tire started losing air on the way up to Orlando.  We called the rental car company so we could switch it out that evening.  The whole process took three hours, and we were bummed that we didn't have time to relax at the hotel!



Seaworld

-We went to Seaworld the next day!  I haven't been to Seaworld since I was a kid, and we all enjoyed it so much.  We saw a bunch of see creatures (orcas, dolphins, seat turtles, manatees, parrots, a pilot whale...), and we really loved the shows!

-We got the meal deal at Seaworld, so we each got to order an entree, drink, dessert, and side every hour.  We didn't actually eat every hour, but we could have.  Mostly it was just nice not to have to worry about what we were spending!

-The kids rode their first roller coaster, and it also just so happened to be National Roller Coaster Day!  How fun is that?

-They were having an extended hours day at Seaworld, so we got to see the Shamu Lights The Night show.  They were trying to get everyone to dance for the "dance cam" (I'm glad I didn't end up on it, ha!), and all the big kids were dancing, but Georgie also really got into it.  It was adorable!  I'll always remember her little baby rhythm and dance moves!

-Realized the car tire was losing pressure again!  We didn't want to spend another three hours of our vacation returning the car, so we just filled it with air every day for the rest of the trip.  But I will never use that company again.  Two cars with flat tires from the same rental car company is a bit much.






Kennedy Space Center

-We slept in the next day, had breakfast at IHOP, and then drove out to Kennedy Space Center.  We figured we could see it in a half day, but we were wrong.  I wish we had spent more time there, it was so cool!  More to come in another post on that.

-We saw the building where rockets are built, which was huge.

-We saw the Saturn V rocket and the space shuttle Atlantis (both so huge!).

-We did a rocket launch simulator!

-We absolutely loved the whole experience, and I hope to go back someday!

-Saw a crocodile in the "wild" on the way home!  Also saw a man lying on the shoulder of the road and flailing about, which was freaky.  We called the Florida State Police so they could check on him, but it was really weird.










Cocoa Beach

-Beach Day!  We did nothing but eat snacks and relax on the beach, and it was perfect.

-Saw a ton of brown pelicans catching fish!

-Back at the hotel, we watched Swiss Family Robinson with the kids as a movie night.  I loved it as a kid too, but I am still surprised how entranced they were!






Disney - Magic Kingdom

-We decided to do one day at Disney, and the Magic Kingdom seemed like the most exciting park, so that's where we went.  Oh my word, it was so busy!  I don't know what I was expecting as far as crowds go, but my expectation was less people than...that.

-We met Rapunzel and Tiana, we saw Pooh Bear and Tigger wandering about.  Pooh jumped in a water puddle right in front of the kids, and I tell you, that was a major highlight for them!  And for me, because I loved to see them happy!

-Rode Dumbo, Teacups, Magic Carpets, the Barn Stormer roller coaster, and the Winnie the Pooh and Little Mermaid movie-themed rides.  Saw the Monsters, Inc. show, and visited the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse!

-Lost various children three different times, once during the fireworks. Yikes!








Down Day

-After a slightly traumatizing Disney experience, we just took it easy the nest day.

-We visited an orange grove and fruit stand, and ate some pretty great barbecue for lunch!

-We went to see Dora The Explorer in the movie theater.  I think the movie is a bit mature for our kids' age group, and it had some rather gross potty humor and magic/mystical stuff in it.  We just glossed over all that, and most of it went over my kids' heads, so it was okay.  We enjoyed just relaxing for a movie though!  The kids watched the actual Dora cartoon later though, and I think we have a new favorite.

-Went back to the hotel and enjoyed the pool for the rest of the day!








Last Day

-We managed to squeeze a little bit more fun out of our trip before our flight, and we visited this huge McDonald's we kept passing in Orlando.  That place was amazing!  There were twice as many menu options as any other McD's I've been to, with alot of things that could be customized by their chefs.  The play place was huge (largest in the world), and the service was amazing!  They even had an arcade too.  Can we get one of those McDonald's here, please?





We had such a nice time overall, and I'm so glad we got to go!  Florida is not a trip we will be able to afford every year, so this was definitely a special trip.  We got to visit the big theme parks, but I think our favorite parts were being out in nature in habitats that we usually don't get to see.  There were hiccups, but I think we made good memories overall, and I think the kids will remember everything fondly!  And that's really the whole point of vacation to me, just to make those memories together.

More photos (with better explanations) of all of us on Instagram, including really cute pictures of my kids, so if you missed it last week you can hop over there for more info about specific things we did!

Have you been to Florida?  What were your favorite things to do there?  This was just a small portion of all the options of things to see!




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