July 28, 2013

How we do Disney Part 2: Planning & booking Disney Dining

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It's no secret that our family is severely addicted to Disney.  In my first installment of this series, I talk about saving and booking a trip to Disney World.  Once you have that part covered, you can move on to the next phase which should be planning & booking your dining.

Dining Plan

Every time we have gone to Disney, we have opted the Dining Plan.  Why?  It is expensive to eat there, but the food is totally worth it.  Disney could jack up the prices over and over and we will all still continue to eat at their restaurants!  We've done the math a few times, and for our family of 3, we definitely save money by choosing the plan.  You have to make the decision based on your family though!  For us, we love paying for the dining ahead of time and then not having to worry about budgeting much for food on our trips.  Sure we still have to pay for some snacks, or an adult beverage or two, but the convenience having 95% of our meals paid for is wonderful for us.  You don't have to do the dining plan at all, you can still enjoy great food while in Disney without it!

We get the plan that includes 1 snack, 1 counter service (almost like fast food, but a little better) and 1 sit-down (restaurant) meal per person, per night of the trip.  This last trip we stayed 7 nights so each of us had 7 snacks, 7 CS, and 7 SD meals.


We use the snack in the mornings, Ashley always gets a blueberry muffin and Dave & I each get a bagel with cream cheese.  It's the perfect amount of food and carbs to start a day of lots of walking and swimming and other fun things.  If we want a snack in the park, we just pay for those (usually only Ashley wants a snack, like popcorn or ice cream, Dave & I are usually so stuffed from whatever meal we have just eaten that we hardly snack at all!) With the dining plan, you get the refillable mug to use at your resort - unlimited refills on fountain sodas, tea and coffee.  We always use these for our morning beverages!  We always eat breakfast in our resort - every resort has some sort of marketplace that you can visit to start your day;)  There are places all over that you could use your snack credit for breakfast, places like the Main Street Bakery in MK or Boardwalk Bakery are other great choices!

Counter  Services

The counter services are usually our lunch - we've been branching out and tracking down some of the best counter services around the World.  Our favorite by FAR is the new Be Our Guest in Magic
Kingdom, New Fantasyland.  Seriously, that could be a sit down meal.  Counter services include the entree, drink and a dessert.  It's usually way too much food - and I recommend picking a dessert that you can take with you (hello, snack for later!!) like the chocolate chip cookies.  WDW has the BEST chocolate chip cookies!! Other counter services we love or have heard are awesome are Cosmic Rays and Columbia House in MK, Flame Tree in AK, ANY of the CS in World Showcase in Epcot (seriously, we love them all.  Mexico and Japan are some of our true faves!)

Sit Down Dining

Disney has some of the best dining we've ever tasted.  Seriously.  I know there are a ton of people out there who totally hate the food here and I have never understood that.  Maybe they aren't eating at the right places?  Maybe they are basing those opinions on the cheeseburger joints (which are just quick eating, not fine dining?)  Whatever the reason, I think those people are cracked.  We love eating everywhere in Disney, but especially at their sit down restaurants.  On the dining plan, you get an entree, a dessert and a drink (non-alcoholic) but you are welcome to add an appetizer, adult beverage, etc to your meals.  You will have a hard time finishing any meal - they give you a lot of food.  When you eat at a buffet, make sure you eat an early lunch and be prepared to fill up.  Our favorites?  Oh there are so many, but I'll try to keep the list short:  Ohana, Boma, Chef Mickeys, Whispering Canyon, Crystal Palace, Les Chefs, Ragland Road, Rose & Crown, and Coral Reef.  There are still so many places we haven't tried, and I can't wait to go back and experience more!

Making Reservations

To book your reservations at the sit downs, you really need to try to do this way before your trip.  You travel agent can do this for you, or you can call up Disney dining and they can help you, or you can go online and book them all yourself.  I choose the latter of these, because I can play around with the times and choices myself, all while asking Dave & Ashley what they think and want, and change as necessary.  Some restaurants require your credit card to hold your spot, these are the places that are really popular and take the reservation very seriously.  You have to show up, or they will charge you a small fee.  If for some reason you need to cancel, try to do so 24 hours beforehand.  If there is an emergency (one time I was sick and we had to cancel Ohana breakfast) just call them and tell them that and they usually won't charge you.

For the most popular choices like Be Our Guest (they do sit down dining for dinner) or Cinderella's Royal Table, you'll want to call as close to that 180 day mark (before your trip) as possible.  People are clamoring to get the same sit down time slot, and depending on the time of the year you go, you have to beat them to it!  I've never done this, personally, we've always been lucky enough to get what we want and if we don't we choose something else, which ends up working well for us because we discover new places that way!

Sum of it all...

Dining in Disney rocks my socks off.  Food in Disney is amazing.  It's one of our favorite parts of the trip - experience new and wonderful food and dining experiences together.  This last trip we tried Ohana dinner for the first time and wondered WHY IN THE WORLD have we not done that yet.  Seriously...we've even STAYED in the Polynesian before and we missed out?!?!  There are so many reasons to love Disney, and the dining is definitely one of them!  Cheers!

Stay tuned for Part 3...

July 26, 2013

How we do Disney Part 1: Planning and Paying

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HELLO and we're BACK!!  I took a week or so off from the blog world to go on vacation, I hope that's ok;)  We went to Disney World for 8 days and BOY OH BOY was it fun!!!  Disney is one of our favorite places to visit, if not THE favorite.  Since planning and going on this trip, I've had a lot of friends and family ask how we "do" Disney.  I am here to tell you how we do our trips!!

I think I'll probably do this in parts, so in this first part I'll explain the preliminary planning and the money part of things;)


The one thing people think of when they hear the words DISNEY WORLD is that it's expensive.  You are right, it can be pricey...but it can also be so affordable too.  We don't have all this extra money just lying around that we can throw at a trip, we work hard and save a lot and calculate expenses and really work it into our daily budget.  I actually can't imagine NOT working WDW into our daily budgets!!  We are already in the beginning stages of planning TWO more trips - a short weekend trip for Dave & I in October for the Food & Wine Festival, and another family trip, possibly a Disney cruise, for either Christmas, Easter, or next summer (we are still working out those details).  When you love it as much as we do, you just make it work.  We don't use credit cards or go into any kind of debt to go to Disney, we just try to plan really well to make it happen.  It pays off.

Let me tell you, it's totally worth it!  We had such a great time on our trip this last week, and all that saving or saying no to other things or extra shifts (on Dave's part, he is blessed to have the sort of job where he can work as much or as little as he wants) was really worth it all.

It's so easy to start planning too.  I work with my favorite travel agent, Nancy.  She runs the blog that I write articles for, The Affordable Mouse.  Using a travel agent takes the guessing and stress out of the planning.  You could go on the Disney website and book it all yourself, but it's nice to have the peace of mind that someone who really knows what they are doing has it all covered for you.  It costs NOTHING to get her to help.  She can give you a no-obligation quote.  When you are serious about your days and all that good stuff, you only need $200 to book the trip.  The balance of it all is due 45 days before you leave.  So you could book a trip for a year from now (as long as booking and pricing is available for 2014, which it is) and pay it off in increments.  This is what we do.  We booked our trip back in March and our balance wasn't due until the beginning of June.  We put the $200 down, and every other week or whenever we could, we put money towards the trip.  I love doing it this way, because you don't have to say goodbye to a whole lot of money at one time!

Before I even ask Nancy to book, I do actually go onto the Disney website and "build" the vacation myself, just so I know the ballpark price of what we will need.  Sometimes I change the resort to see what the price difference is, and then Dave and I talk about it, and then we decided and talk to Nancy and get her quote (just to make sure we did it right) and then book the trip.  We like to change our minds too.  Both of our last 2 trips we originally booked in other resorts, but then those wonderful Disney discounts came out and we upgraded to Deluxe resorts.  Deluxe is really the way to go - I mean, I love ALL Disney resorts, but the Deluxe are so worth it.  When you can match one with a 30% discount, it's like Christmas.  Suddenly a trip that seemed way out of our price range quickly becomes something we can do.


We always fly to Disney World.  When you work it right, it can even be cheap!  You could save a lot of money by driving, and we have yet to do that (although I keep trying to talk Dave into it!) but airfare doesn't have to be pricey.  Some tips I have learned are:  Don't go over a holiday if you can help it (the trip we took right after Christmas 2 years ago had us paying almost $600...PER TICKET.  We spent that on our tickets this time TOTAL!!)  Check the prices months in advance and check them as many times per week as you can.  You will usually see a dip in price if you check online between Monday evenings and Wednesday mornings - this is usually when the airlines put on sales or discounts.  Also, it's cheaper to fly on Tuesday and Wednesdays.  That's not official advice, that's straight from me and my experiences.  So if you can do it, fly in and out on those days.

I book our airfare separate from the Disney vacation (although Disney or a travel agent can do that for you) because I like to watch the prices and wait for deals.  There is a sweet spot that is usually 3 months out from your trip, where the prices will dip and that will be the lowest they will go.  Once that number gets to a place you are comfortable, book it.  You don't know for sure whether they will ever be that cheap again!!


You don't have to go broke or max out a credit card to visit Disney.  You don't have to go into debt to do it.  You just have to plan and be smart about it.  Disney can be affordable for anyone.  Even staying in a Deluxe resort can work, if you book the trip way in advance and pay as you go.  For us, the magic and fun and the attractions and the food and above all else, the memories, make it a no-brainer vacation for us!!  If you have any questions, just leave a comment or email me.  Or, you can head over to the blog and talk to Nancy!

Stay tuned for more...

July 14, 2013

10 thoughts

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These are my thoughts upon waking up at 10:30 on a Sunday...

1.  Ouch.  I am burned.  Yesterday we went to OC for the day and met up with our lovely friend Katie. It was a beautiful day after all.that.rain.  We were on the beach for 4 hours and even though I apply and apply sunscreen, I am still so red.

2.  In the summer, we never get up on time for church.  This is bad.  Very bad!

3.  We have 0 food in the house.  What am I going to do for breakfast??

4.  Our Disney vacation is almost here.  Shouldn't I be packed already?  Crap, I need to do laundry.

5.  I don't know what Zimmerman did or why everyone is talking about him.  I don't really have an interest in knowing either!

6.  I DO know that Cory Monteith died and that makes me very sad.  I don't watch Glee anymore, but he was so talented and so young:/  I hope it wasn't drugs, that would be a waste.

7.  Dave & I go on a lot of adventures together and I really appreciate that about us.  I am blessed with a husband who really is perfect for me!

8.  I really need to work on my DIY outdoor cart today!

9.  Should I get my hair cut shorter??

10.  I need a new book to read.  I've been bookless for 3 days now.  It's probably because I finished a series, when that happens, I have to take a timeout and get over it first.  It's like a relationship!

Have a blessed Sunday everyone!

July 12, 2013

Project Cloud

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Our bed in the master bedroom needed a major makeover.  All the sheets, comforters, pillows are 3+ years old and the pillows have lost all their fluff...it doesn't make for comfy sleeping conditions.

Dave has back problems, AND he sleeps during the day for half the week--and me...well I just love sleep (thanks to the permanent mononucleosis living in my body) and so we both NEED to be comfortable whilst counting sheep.

I have put this off for a while, because revamping a bed can be pricey.  I had nightmares of $150-$200 feather beds and hypoallergenic pillows and what not.  Finally, yesterday, I proclaimed that I couldn't handle it anymore and off to Macy's I went.  I saw on an email that they were starting a big sale today (Friday) and usually by Thursday evening all the sale signs are up and they honor them (little tip, shop the Macy sales on Thursday - less people and crowds and more options!)  I wandered around their bedding department for a good 40 minutes before deciding and here is what I came up with!

Martha Stewart Allergywise Fiberbed

4 of these Charter Club extra soft pillows

Charter Club Level 2 Damask Stripe Down Comforter

Charter Club Damask Solid 500 ct sheets

Oh heavens.  It's so lovely.  I wish I could give you the feeling of climbing into this comfy delight!  For now, you'll just have to deal with the pictures;)

It's so FLUFFY I could die!!  (Despicable Me, anyone?)  Dave and I were saying this all night!

You can see the faint stripes in the comforter, I like the detail.  I swoon for an all white bed.  I'd like it to be a bit more fancy but Dave didn't like the ruffle duvet cover I bought a few months back from HomeGoods.  He got tangled in it too much, no matter how many duvet clips I put on that thing!

The feather bed is SO fluffy, I think after a few weeks it'll probably not be as puffy, but oh.em.gee is it so soft and comfortable!

The pillows are billowy too!  They are extra soft, so your head sorta of gets lost in them which we love.  They do have this pillows in soft-firm-extra firm too.  It all depends on what you like!  I love that when we aren't laying on them they puff back up.

That's our bed makeover, as I am calling it Project Cloud.  When I lived in my apartment way back when, all my friends called my bed the cloud because my mom gave me all this featherbed/down stuff that I loaded up on there, so everyone loved to come over and flop down on my bed.  Seriously.  I should find the picture of everyone piled up on there.  It was a little weird, but that's us;)

Today we are running down to IKEA to look at some things for a few other projects I have planned.  I hope you all enjoy your Friday!  The rain is really putting a damper on my whole spray paint-the-outdoor-cart plans;)

PS - I hate our ceiling fan so please ignore it.  The old brown wood and brass combo is so gross!

July 10, 2013

Cart Troubles

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So I have this metal cart.  I'm trying to turn it into a bar cart.  It's being very stubborn!

Here is the original pic.  It's old and gross and so very dirty.  But I am determined to give it a jazzy makeover!

I started out with a good old rub down with some warm, soapy water, and then a spray with the hose on the jet stream setting...

All ready to tackle!  I hand sanded with 80...that's the really tough stuff.  This thing is metal and the dings and nicks and scratches in it are deep and no joke!  As I was sanding I ran into some gooey stuff.  Gross.

Out came some of this stripping gel to get it off, as well as some of the chipped paint.  I'm repainting it...so why not?  I like this gel because it's low odor  and safer, so you aren't afraid that you will strip your skin off as you go.  You should always wear gloves.  I should listen to my own advice;)

Scrub scrub scrub...

Ok, that's better, right?

More sanding.  Those dings are really making me mad at this point.  I know I probably need to figure out how to fill them.

I sand it down with the sander anyways, I give it a good go around maybe 3-4 times.

Then I figure I'll need to put a layer of primer on, just so I can see what is showing up.  When I run my hand over it, I can't FEEL any of the nicks, but that doesn't mean they won't show.

Well, they totally do.  So off to Home Depot or Lowes (at this point, I've been there so much I can't remember which one I go to!  That is SAD) and the guy there suggest this.  I really want spackle...that will work on metal, but apparently that doesn't exist (I see the need to create this product!) but this epoxy stuff does.  He said that will "probably" work since it's used to fill in dents/dings/nicks on appliances and other household things.

Well, it doesn't work Mr. Home-Depot-or-Lowes-man thank you very much for wasting my time and money!!

Actually, it may have helped a little, but after 3 or 4 coats of it, I can still SEE the stupid holes.  So Dave runs off to Pep Boys to grab something for the car and I ask sweetly, "Could you ask the guys there if there is a car dent/scratch filler thing?"  I am hoping he used those words!  He came home with this...

THIS!  This works awesome.  It was gray, but who cares?!?  It really filled those stubborn dents!!!  After I used THE.WHOLE.CAN on it, I sanded it down again.  I have primed the whole thing with white (it's a good outdoor primer that will help the next color stick and stay) and I can only see a teeny tiiiny bit of the scratches/holes/dents whatever they are called.

My mom says "the piece is probably going to tell it's story no matter what you do to it, if after all that you can still see something" so at this point I am letting it cure up before I spray it orange.  Yes, it's going to be a pretty but non obnoxious orange.  Hopefully after my training tomorrow (dumb) I'll be able to start coating it, if the weather cooperates.

Stay tuned for the Outdoor Cart Saga...it's riveting!

PSA - Don't spray paint in your house!!!  ;)

July 9, 2013

All hands on...

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Well, no it's really just MY hands on deck!  So, after starting 2 DIY outdoor related projects (an outdoor cart and an outdoor carpet) I realized that I didn't want to put these new lovely things on the deck when it looked like this!



Double gross!



Our house seems to attract a LOT of pollen, which then turns everything green AND makes us sneeze. I have no idea how old our deck is, and it could probably use a good re-stain and shaping up, but that's a bigger project that I don't want to tackle as of now.  For now, I just want that green goo gone!!

Since we go to Home Depot just about every other day, when we went on Sunday and asked someone about it, they led us to this...

Behr All-In-One wood cleaner.  He told Dave it was the best one that he knew of.  That was good enough for us!

We already had the bucket, hose with nozzle and the deep cleaning brush, so I was all set!

I did a little test spot, to make sure nothing weird happening and was amazed at just how dirty this deck is.  See that little ray of sunshine wood?  That is how it's supposed to look!  Ugh!  I started yesterday around 3pm and took little breaks here and there and finished up the project right around 8pm.  I took the breaks because I wanted the cleaner to really soak into the wood, the bottle says to keep it on there for 10-15 minutes before hosing it down.

I did the deck in sections, and I went over each section twice, sometimes even 3-4 times in some of the reeeeeeeeeeeeally dirty areas.

LIke the area under the table, that was all green...

I had to scrub and scrub to get that off, and it's still there a little bit, but so much better!

We kept our trash can here, so this part is all gross.  I have decided to keep our trash can back behind the deck now, I can't stand look at it or smelling it all the time!  We don't have a back yard, since we are on the front/side of our row, so storage space is very limited!

Wet, clean, scrub, wait, scrub, rinse.  That was my process.

I liked that the cleaner foamed while I worked with it, I could tell it was really working.

Scrub, scrub, scrub!

The work was totally worth it.  The deck looks SO much better.  It's still so wet and looks really dark, even this morning, I guess because I washed it over and over, but you can see the difference!

Look at that wood!

You can still see some of the greenish tint, so we may go over it again.

Look at that!  So much better!

Love it!

I can't wait for it to dry, so I can see what the wood really looks like!

That spot was so so so dirty and I scrubbed that one probably 5-6 times.  Maybe in another 5-6 scrubs it'll go away;)

I am happy with the results.  I mean, look...

Now I am not worried about putting my new DIY rug down there.  I know that it won't rot or succumb to any mold;)

I have been inspired to jazz up the deck even more.  I'm thinking flower boxes, plus my rug and the new cart, maybe some other fun things.  We spend lots of time out here grilling, eating, and sitting around on our phones or iPads in the evening.  Dave & I like to sit out there and chat about life and love and traveling.  It'll be so much more pleasant when it's clean and pretty!

I am off to work on the other outdoor stuff!  Oh and before I forget, I really wanted to create a nice seating area on our lawn.  Somewhere that we can go and put our feet in the grass (earthing!) and read or chat or get some sun.  Here is what we came up with!

We have this sweet little "secret" but not so secret area!

It's sort of hidden by the bushes that enclose those electric boxes.  It's not hidden from our side neighbors, but it is hidden from the street.

I like to sit out here while Dave is grilling, I can chat with him while he cooks.  I like to read out here too, especially in the morning or when the sun is going down.  We bought the chairs from Lowes, $18 each, and the pillows are from Home Depot, about $10 each on sale:)

I like jazzing up our outdoor space!  I love being outside in the summer!!!  Have a great day!