Saturday, June 30, 2018

Just keep swimming.... or strollering

Did you know, a person could average about 10 miles of walking at a Walt Disney World park?  It's true.  My fitness tracker confirmed that little tidbit of information.

As a fairly active adult, a 10 mile day at the park is all fine and dandy.  But add a 3 year old into the mix...well 10 miles of walking is a bit much for those little legs.  It was an absolute no brainer that we required a stroller for our family trip to Walt Disney World.

There are a few choices regarding using strollers in Walt Disney World.  Some folks prefer to bring along their own stroller.  Not a feasible option for the Goldman Family.  Therefore, we made a decision to rent a stroller.  Disney does rent strollers in the parks, but after dropping those strollers at the gate at the end of a day walking about 10 miles, you would then have to carry the little kiddo to the next mode of transportation to get back to your hotel.  That is enough reason for this family to go with Option 3, renting from an outside company.

A little FYI for those of you staying on Disney property, there are a select number of stroller rental companies that have the approval from Disney to leave rentals at Bell Services.  Those select companies are NOT your only choices.  The "'non-approved" companies will make arrangements to meet you in person at your resort.  We've done it on a previous trip and it really was no hassle.

Staying at Shades of Green this time around, we didn't have to worry about meeting anyone, as Shades allows rentals to be left with Bell Services.  We chose to rent from Baby Wheels Orlando.

Baby Wheels is a family owned and operated company.  I first heard about Baby Wheels from Touring Plans, my online Disney family for the past 6 years.  Our experience with Baby Wheels was great from reserving our stroller, to dropping it back off at Bell Services.  Baby Wheels offers 8 different stroller options, including singles, doubles and infant travel systems.  Every stroller comes with a rain cover and parent console.  The GT models also include a small soft sided cooler.

The Baby Wheels website is very easy to navigate.  It is very easy to compare the different options right from their front page.  Each stroller option lists its rental price per night, child weight limit, and dimensions folded and unfolded.  A single stroller was all we needed for our feisty 3 year old.  And since he's a pretty small dude, we could go with a stroller with a lower child weight limit.  On our trip 5 years ago, we used a City mini GT.  It was a great option, but this time we opted for the slightly smaller and lighter stroller.  With the Single Stroller option, Baby Wheels provides either a Britax B Agile or a Baby Jogger City Mini.  That's probably the hardest part of the whole process, choosing which stroller is right for your family.  After you click that "Book Now" button, is all very simple.

Baby Wheels gives you all of the information right on the booking page about the procedures on delivery day for your resort.  Select your Check-in and Check-out dates.  If the calendar is green, a stroller is available.  The remainder of the process is super straight forward after you click "Book Now".  There are a few other options you can add to your rental including insurance (which I would suggest because things happen), a case of bottled water, a glider board and even a snack sack.

To finalize the process, you will indicate the resort you will be staying at, and approximate arrival time which is mostly used for the resorts that require an-person meet drop off.  Like I mentioned, we didn't have to worry about an in-person meet, so our stroller was waiting for us when we arrived at Shades of Green.    it was easy to pick our stroller out at Bell Services because Baby Wheels puts a name tag with our Family Name, which is big enough to pick out in a sea of stroller at the parks.

We ended up with the Britax B Agile. This model, and the bright green color, helped it stand our from the numerous City Mini's rentals in the parks.  The size was perfect for our Littlesthead.  He could sit comfortably and it reclined fully if he wanted to lie down.  The canopy is very big and gives plenty of protection from that Florida sun.


 The parent console is a very useful accessory.  It has one designated cup holder, and 2 other compartments with covers that fold down.  We constantly had all 3 compartments filled with cups or our trusty misting spray fan.

The basket under the seat was also super roomy.  It could easily fit a change of clothes for Littlesthead, the rain cover for the stroller and rain gear (because it's summer in Florida and rains almost every day).

When it was time to get on one of those buses, the stroller folded up nicely.  It just takes a push of a button, and a pull on a strap.  We did need to get the rain gear out of the bottom basket, or it didn't fold up correctly. It was light to carry and didn't take up a ton of space, which is ideal for a crowded bus at the end of the day.
 At the end of our trip, I made sure all of our belongings were out of the stroller, the rain cover was in its bag and back in the basket, and that the stroller was in a condition just as I received it.  I wheeled it down to our Bell Services where it waited to be picked up by a Baby Wheels representative.

I don't know when our next family trip to Walt Disney World will be, but if we require a stroller, I know that I will use Baby Wheels again, and would definitely suggest them to anyone looking to rental a stroller during their trip to Mickey's Florida home.

**  I received a complimentary rental in exchange for my review.  **

Friday, June 29, 2018

"Standing here, it's all so clear. I'm where I'm meant to be."

School is out for Summer for the Goldmans.  This year we are celebrating ALL the things in a B I G way!  We kicked off the end of school with our tradition of driveway chalk drawings and water games. This year's chalk drawing gave a little foreshadowing into our adventure that was to start the following morning... a trip to Walt Disney World!

It has been 5 years since our last family trip to Mickey's home is Orlando.  Littlehead is a freshly turned 9 year old, and grew quite a bit since that last trip.  This thrill seeker was very excited to have the opportunity to ride ALL the attractions this time around.  Littlesthead is a very compactly-sized 3 year old who couldn't be more thrilled to meet some of his Disney heroes and see Mickey's house for the first time.

We did a few things different on this year's trip than our previous family trip 5 years ago.  We stayed at Shades of Green, a non-Disney owned resort on Disney property that is able to utilize some of the Walt Disney World resort guest benefits.  As Shades of Green guests, we were able to make Fast Pass selections 60 days out, dining reservations 180 days out, and take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, just like those staying in one of the 28 Disney-owned properties.

You have to meet particular military eligibility requirements to stay at Shades of Green.  We are fortunate enough to be eligible for stays at Shades of Green.  To see if you or your family meet the requirements, visit the Shades of Green website.

As you can see, Shades of Green is a pretty expansive place.  There are 2 pools, and a very nice Splash Park for the little kiddos.  Shades has a few dining options with 3 restaurants:
  • Mangino's Bistro Restaurant - an Italian inspired restaurant
  • Evergreens Sports Bar - the casual sports bar and restaurant with an arcade and pool tables
  • Garden Gallery - a breakfast and dinner buffet which has themed Family Nights each evening

There are two wings: the Magnolia and the Palm.  As of this moment (June 2018), the Palm Wing has been refurbished.  The Magnolia Wing is in the midst of its refurbishment.  We stayed in a standard room in the Palm Wing with a Golf Course view.  These rooms are HUGE at 450 square feet!  There are 2 queen beds and a sleeper sofa.  There is also a nice little dining area with a table and chairs, a mini-fridge, and even a balcony.  We had plenty of room with 2 adults, 2 kids and all of our stuff.  

One downside of staying at Shades of Green, you cannot utilize the Disney Magical Express.  But, there are a few options for transportation from the airport to Shades.  We made reservations with Sunstate Transportation.  They are the preferred transportation of Shades of Green, and they were very reasonably priced.  We were able to book a passenger van for 4 adults and 2 kids, and they provided a car seat for Littlesthead.  I received a text confirmation from our driver, who was very helpful and responsive when our flight into MCO was delayed.  Our driver at the end of the trip was great as well.  

As for getting to and from the parks, Shades of Green does have its own bus system.  However, it does have a specific schedule.  If you miss the pick-up time, you are waiting probably another hour for the bus again.  And if you have pre-park opening dining reservations, the Shades of Green buses will not get you there.  BUT... you can utilize the Disney transportation to and from the parks, you just have to make a walk over to the Polynesian resort.  Depending on your speed of walking, it can be an 8 - 12 minute walk from the front door of Shades of Green to one of the transportation methods the Polynesian has to provide.  Bonus, Disney buses, monorails and ferries run very frequently.  Some days we were fine using the Shades buses.  Other days, like the day of our 8:20am reservation at Hollywood & Vine, we hoofed it over to the Poly and used their bus.  Easy peasy.  

We had a great experience at Shades of Green, and are fortunate to be eligible to stay there.  If you and your family are eligible, Shades is a great option.  It is practically a deluxe resort at value resort prices depending on the level you qualify for.  It felt like home, especially after a long (or even short) day at the parks for this crazy bunch.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Disney Bounding

As an adult, it's somewhat frowned upon when you show up in Walt Disney World in a full costume.  Unless it is Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, then by all means... dress the part (some rules do still apply)!  But, the way around the no costume rule, is an awesome thing called Disney Bounding.  There are sites and Pinterest boards dedicated to this movement.  To be a successful Disney Bounder, you can utilize clothes straight from your closet. 

As a Disney fan, and a fan of dressing up to play a part, be it for Halloween or a play, Disney Bounding is definitely right up my alley.  So, I decided to give it a try during my latest trip to Mickey's House.  I had to pad my wardrobe a bit, but thanks to some local Thrift shops and sales, I was able design 4 different Disney Bounding outfits.

there was a girl who was not only a fan of Star Wars, but a huge fan of Han Solo.  That seems like a valid reason to create a Han Solo inspired outfit.  I found an awesome pair of capris with eyelets along the side, perfect for adding Corellian Blood strips, at my local Marshalls.  The Henley shirt and black denim vest were both found on Amazon for a decent price, and thanks to Amazon Prime, shipping was FREE!  Naturally, this Han Solo had a meet and greet with the number one Wookiee, who recognized his best buddy immediately. 

My three old son is quite the fan of Big Hero 6.  What's not the love?  A big huggable robot who moonlights as a Super Hero!  I knew that I was going to have the opportunity to visit Baymax in Hiro's workshop.  Every Baymax needs his Hiro.  And that was my choice for Disney bounding in EPCOT.  I found a red tee at a Thrift shop, that was perfect to use my craft skills, and add the robot as seen on Hiro's tee.  I only had to go as far as my closet for the cargo capris and the blue hoodie to complete the ensemble.  The photo opportunity would not have been complete with a Ba La La La La La La.

Animal Kingdom took a little extra thought.  I knew the Wilderness Explorer was an obvious option, because the Wilderness must be Explored!  
But I also wanted to incorporate something from the new World of Pandora.  Well, there are two groups who help provide us Terrans an unforgettable experience in Pandora: Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE), the eco tour group responsible for getting us to Pandora.  And Pandora Conservation Initiative (PCI), the group of scientists and conservationists who give us the ability to "fly"on a Banshee through the Mountain Banshee Project. 

  I am a scientist at heart.  In fact, there was a time in my life I was going to be a Marine Biologist, and science still is a passion of mine.  If I were relocated to Alpha Centauri, I would see myself working as a member of the PCI.  In my imagination, I wouldn't just be a part of research, I, through my Avatar, would be an Ikran Makto... a Banshee Rider.  And that is just what I became on my visit to Pandora, thanks to my Disney Bounding idea.     

There we have it.  My first attempt at Disney Bounding in Walt Disney World.  I hope to incorporate more ideas on our next visit.  I'm always looking for the not so obvious.  

Earning the Keys to the Kingdom

  It was a different way to spend St. Paddy's Day...  awake before the sunrise, a quick stroll from the hotel, and a non-alcohol related tour in Walt Disney World.  This was the day we decided to take the Keys to the Kingdom tour at Magic Kingdom, and it was MAGICAL!

  A little bit about the Keys to the Kingdom tour... it is a 5 hour walking tour.  It is primarily outdoors, so dress for the weather.  Tour-goers must be at least 16 years old.  A discount is available for Annual Passholders, DVC members, and Disney Chase Visa Cardmembers.  You may not use a camera, video equipment or a cell phone during the tour.  Yes, they know you will most likely have these things on your person while in the park.  Just do not have them out and in use during the tour.  Keep the cellphone in your pocket, or backpack, and you will be golden. 

  We started our day bright and early at the Contemporary Resort, with a little breakfast to gear us up for our day.  We utilized the walking path from the Contemporary to Magic Kingdom.  This is a fantastic benefit of staying at the Contemporary...a few minute walk from door to gate.  We were so early, the security checkpoint along the path was not yet open.  Perfect opportunity to grab some beautiful shots of the scenery.

  When we were able to continue on our path, we were able to proceed to the gates at the far left, bypassing the other park goers waiting to enter the park.  Those who have pre-park opening dining reservations and early tour reservations are let in through that specific gate when the all clear is given.  Yes, there is a list, and they verify that you are on it. 

 This was our view upon entering Main Street...  a clear line of sight occupied only by Photopass photographers. 

 That allowed us to get a fantastic shot with Cinderella Castle with barely a person in site!  Well, a person in site.  Disney fanatic achievement unlocked, nonetheless!!!

  After taking a few minutes to take advantage of the opportunity to catch the photographers along Main Street, we walked over to the Town Square Theater where we checked in, selected our lunch items from the menu provided, picked up our name tags and listening devices, and patiently waited for our tour guide, Caroline,  to gather us up to begin.  

The tour began just outside the Town Square Theater, with some information about Main Street itself.  I, as a Disnerd, have read quite a bit about Walt Disney World.  I knew some of the information our Tour Guide was sharing, but still learned so much more.  Plus, it was great to have someone point out the tidbits I had read and be able to see it in person.  Our tour went in a clockwise direction around the park with detours into backstage areas, including the Utilidors.  
The tour includes a ride on some attractions.  Our tour included Haunted Mansion and the Jungle Cruise.  The attractions the tour include vary per tour.  There is no guarantee what attraction a
particular tour will include.  We also enjoyed a nice lunch break at the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe.  As I mentioned we had preselected our lunch from the menu provided at check-in.  By the time we arrived at Pecos Bill's, our food was ready in a closed off area of the restaurant, reserved for the tour. 

As the tour concluded, we were brought back to Main Street via a backstage area just behind the Town Square Theater.  We discovered that Caroline had just completed her first ever solo tour, with her assessor/mentor acting as just another member of the tour. She passed with flying colors!  We all congratulated her on her newest accomplishment.

The Keys to the Kingdom tour was completely worth it!  If you are debating on booking this tour, DO IT!  It was a great way to spend part of the day at the Magic Kingdom.  Never did I feel that the magic was ruined.  In fact, I think it added to it.  This is definitely a must-do for any Disney fan.