Monday, July 28, 2014

Disney World: Planning your Trip on a Budget (Part 4), Travel and Extra Expenses

Depending on where you live, your travel expenses for getting to Disney World will vary.  For us, the big question was:  do we drive or fly?  Except it really wasn't a question, because I hate riding in the car.  Plus we are going during the school year, and driving takes extra time which means Audrey would have to miss more days of school.  So we decided to fly without much debate.

I feel like we got a fairly decent deal on our plane tickets, which were $220 round trip on Southwest.  This includes all fees, and bags are free as well.  We will fly into Orlando International Airport, then Disney's Magical Express (a free service provided by Disney) will pick us up and take us to Disney World.  So there is no need to rent a car!

We looked into flying out of our local airport on Allegiant, which offers flights to Orlando's Sanford airport at fairly cheap rates.  But they have so many hidden fees!  You even have to pay for your carry on bags with them.  Plus from Sanford, we would have to rent a car to get to Disney World.  It seems silly to rent a car only to park it at Disney for a whole week.  I think Southwest was the cheapest deal we could find.

Audrey being entertained by Mickey Mouse on the plane in 2011

I did find that it is cheaper to fly on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Airfare sales also seem to be cheapest on Tuesdays, and most of Southwest's sales seem to start on a Tuesday.  We were originally planning to fly back home on Sunday so Audrey could be at school on Monday.  But the flights were so much more expensive, about $70 per person.  It would have cost us almost $300 more to fly on Sunday rather than Monday.  So we just decided to throw in an extra night at Disney's Art of Animation resort for $118 instead!

We definitely could have saved a little money on travel expenses by driving.  But it would have been a two day trip for us each way, which means extra meals and an extra two nights in a hotel and more days of school missed for Audrey.  So, paying a little extra to fly is worth the convenience for us.

When I initially priced out this trip, I forgot about all the little extras.  The things that you don't think about ahead of time, but that start to add up as your trip planning progresses.  I think there were about $400 in extra expenses that I didn't really think about when initially figuring out if we could even afford this trip!  So I thought I would list out those expenses here, to help anyone else planning a trip to remember all the extra expenses!
During dinner at the Crystal Palace in 2012

With the free dining plan, our food is free, but we do still have to pay tips for our servers.  At first, this didn't sound like that big of a deal, until I started to think about how expensive Disney meals are!  We are doing five table service meals, and I have budgeted $100 for tips.  Assuming each meal costs around $100 (some will be more and some will be less), then a 20% tip would be $20 per meal.  This is not a small cost, so it is something to consider for all trips.  Even if you are not going with free dining, take into account that your tips will be more because your meals will cost more!

Stroller Rental
If you already have a stroller, then you can avoid this cost.  However, we no longer have our double stroller as Audrey has mostly outgrown needing to use a stroller.  (And even if we did still have our double stroller, I would probably still rent a stroller, because ours was not easy to maneuver!).  Even though Audrey doesn't need a stroller in everyday life, at Disney World, she definitely still needs a stroller.  You walk A LOT at Disney.  I've heard the average is about 6 miles per day, if you spend a full day in the parks!  That's a lot for anyone to walk, especially a five year old.  Plus, I don't know about anyone else's five year old (or six, seven, eight year old), but mine likes to dawdle and stop and look at everything.  In a crowded park, when you are trying to get from one place to another, there is no tie for dawdling!  The stroller is great to keep your family moving through the crowds, and to make sure you don't lose anyone!  I would recommend using a stroller for as long as the kids fit within the size limits.

You can rent strollers at Disney World.  They are big plastic strollers that don't look especially comfortable.  You can rent the double strollers for $27 per day (for multiple days, if going for one day, it is $31).  Single strollers are $15 for one day or $13 per day for multiple days.

 In 2012, we took an umbrella stroller and then rented a single stroller.  We thought it would be nice to have two separate strollers in case we wanted to go two separate directions.  This trip we are just going to rent a double stroller.  The City Mini single stroller we rented from Magic Strollers can be seen in the pictures above and below.

Last trip, we rented a stroller from Magic Strollers.  It was great!  They rent City Mini and City GT single and double strollers.  They are nicer strollers than what you can rent at Disney, plus they are cheaper!  You can go to their website for all the pricing, but for the City Mini Double it is $40 for the first day and then $7.50 for each additional day.  Also, with the Disney strollers you can only use them in the parks.  Magic Strollers delivers your stroller right to your resort, and then you are able to use it anywhere (parks, resorts, Downtown Disney, etc) throughout your stay.  They will deliver to many resorts in Orlando, not just Disney, so even if you are staying off property, this would be a possibility.

We aren't really souvenir people so our budget for this is pretty low.  I have planned $50 for souvenirs, and I am hoping to not even spend that much.  On our previous trips, I let Audrey (Isla wasn't big enough yet) pick one thing to buy.  And that one thing was limited to a stuffed animal in the $10-$12 range.  I might let the girls get something a little more expensive this time, but I am going to try to make them wait until closer to the end of our trip.  I'm afraid if they buy something on the first day, they are going to be ready for something new by the end of the trip.  And that's not happening!
Audrey with her souvenirs in 2011, one from us and one from Papa John

Autograph books are really popular with kids at Disney, as they can be used to collect autographs of all the characters they meet.  I don't really know the price of the official Disney books, but I'm sure they are expensive.  So we are working on making our own autograph book!  I will post pictures when it is finished.

Out of Pocket Meals
We will have a few meals while travelling that we will need to pay for out of pocket.  I am also going to buy some breakfast food and a few snacks to travel with us.  I'm hoping to keep all of these expenses around $100.

I think that covers every penny we will spend at Disney.  I hope sharing all this info was helpful to those who may be planning a trip. I hope sharing all this info hasn't bored you to death either.  I will be back one of these days with posts about our real life too.

Next Up:  How to Find Extra Money to Pay for your Trip

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Disney World: Planning your Trip on a Budget (Part 3), Dining

Picture above:  Mickey shaped waffles!  A breakfast favorite offered at many restaurants

While you are visiting Disney World,  you have to eat something!  Food at Disney, like any other amusement park, is not cheap.  One solution to avoiding the expensive food is to bring your own food.  Disney does allow you to bring your own food into the parks, so you could pack your own snacks and save quite a bit of money that way!

I've also read about people who have groceries delivered (or pack their own groceries if they are driving) and then cook most of their food in their resort rooms.  I suppose you could save a ton of money this way, but cooking all of our meals in a small hotel room does not sound like vacation to me!  I cook every day at home, and while on vacation, I want a vacation from preparing food!

While bringing your own food is definitely a budget saving tip, we are going to focus today on saving money while purchasing food at Disney parks and restaurants.

Disney Dining Plans
To help families budget their food money and create an all inclusive vacation, Disney offers dining plans.  You pre-pay for the dining plan, and then you are given an allotment of meals for each day.  The big question with the dining plan is whether it can save you money.  The answer:  maybe a little, but probably not very much.

Here are the current dining plan options and costs:

  • Quick Service Dining Plan ($39.64 per person for ages 10+, $15.75 per child for ages 3-9)
    • includes two counter service meals and one snack per person per day, plus one refillable mug per person (mugs can be filled at any resort counter service restaurant and can be used the entire length of your stay)
    • Total cost for a family of 4 (2 adults, 2 kids) for 5 days:  $553.90
  • Regular Dining Plan ($58.66 per person for ages 10+, $18.88 per child for ages 3-9)
    • includes one table serve meal, one counter service meal, and one snack per person per day plus one refillable mug per person
    • Total cost for a family of 4 for 5 days:  $775.40
  • Deluxe Dining Plan ($104.94 per person for ages 10+, $29.51 per child for ages 3-9)
    • includes three meals per day, either table service or counter service plus one refillable mug per person
    • Total cost for a family of 4 for 5 days:  $1344.50
To figure out whether the dining plan is worth the money, you need to sit down and look at where you want to eat first.  Some restaurants are more expensive, and if you plan to eat at enough expensive places, you might be able to save money with the dining plan.  Our family likes character meals, where the characters come around to greet you while you are eating your meal, and they can be pretty pricey (up to $150+ for our family to eat one meal).  You can find menus with prices on Disney's website or here.  Then there is this really handy spreadsheet, where you can plug in an estimated amount that you will spend on each meal.  It will calculate your expenses and then tell you if you will save money or not with the dining plan.

In the end, even if you don't save much money with the dining plan, the convenience is something to consider.  It is stressful to be in the middle of a busy restaurant trying to figure out what to order and whether you are spending too much money by ordering it.  With the prepaid dining plan, you don't have to stand in line counting your pennies and thinking about your budget.  And on vacation, that is a really great feeling!

There is one time when the dining plan can save you money, a lot of money actually, and that is during Disney's free dining promotion, which is when we are going in September!

Free Dining
This is an extremely popular deal from Disney, one that is rumored to possibly be discontinued someday, but for this year at least, they are still offering it.  With the free dining offer, you have to pay full price for your room (so this can't be combined with any room discount offers), but then each member of your party gets a free dining plan.  If you stay in a value resort, you will receive the Quick Service Dining Plan. . If you stay in a moderate or deluxe resort, you will receive the Regular Dining Plan.  You then have the option to upgrade to a different dining plan and pay the difference between the two.

So, here's where doing a little math can come in handy again!  For our trip, I knew that we wanted the Regular Dining Plan.  There are 4-5 character meals that I want to try while they are free for our family. We could have stayed in value room for 5 nights for a price around $650.  With an upgrade to the regular dining plan (around $220), it would have cost $870 for us to stay for five nights with dining.  For around $1000, we could stay for 5 nights in a moderate resort with the regular dining plan.  I decided that for an extra $130 it was worth the upgrade to a moderate resort.  

Me with my free cookie and hot chocolate at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, December 2013

Remember that you have to pay full price for your room to get the free dining offer.  Again it's important to run the math on this.  Some people just hear FREE and consider it a good deal.  However, there are cases where this may not be a good deal.  If staying in a deluxe resort, the room discount can be a better value.  For example, if you are traveling with only two adults and staying in a deluxe resort, you could be paying over $2000 just for your full price room for 5 nights.  A room discount of 30% is at least $600 or more.  A dining plan for two adults for five nights is $586.  So you could save more money by choosing the room discount over the free dining discount.  It's important to do the math and figure out if the free dining offer is a good deal for your family and your vacation.

For us, the free dining is a good deal.  We passed on the 20% room discount (which would have saved us $182) and instead chose the free dining plan (which is a savings of $775) for a net savings of $593 on our trip.  Plus everything is prepaid, so we don't have to worry about paying attention to food prices in the park.  For a budget minded person like me, that is a huge relief!!

This free dining deal is very popular.  You can read here about how I got up at 5:00 am to try to book the deal.  I recommend keeping in touch with rumors about free dining on the DisBoards (an invaluable resource if you want to be in the know about what is going on at Disney World!) to know when the offer is coming.  And then when it is released, be ready to book your vacation right away in order to have the best selection of rooms and resorts!

Making advance restaurant reservations is also important, especially during the free dining period, as everyone wants to eat at the best places to get the most out of their free meals.  I will have a whole post about this coming up soon!

Other Tips to Save Money
If you don't get the free dining deal and you don't want to purchase a dining plan, there are still ways to save money.  My first tip:  share your food!  Snacks and quick service meals can easily be shared, especially with kids.  I'm not a huge eater, so this might be easier for me than others, but I have found that portions are usually plenty big and can be shared by two light eaters.  Obviously at buffets, everyone needs to pay for their own plate, but at other places, I think sharing is a good way to both save money and avoid wasting food.
Daniel at Whispering Canyon Cafe.  If you ask for ketchup, they will bring it to you!!

If you are a Florida resident, an annual pass holder, or a Disney Vacation Club member, you have the option to purchase a Tables in Wonderland card.  The card costs $100 and saves you 20% at many Disney restaurants for a whole year.  This would only be a good deal if you visit Disney frequently enough to make it worth the $100 fee.

My final tip for saving money:  Plan ahead!  You can look at menus and prices before your trip so you can have an idea of where you want to eat and how much it is going to cost you.  It is REALLY easy to spend too much money when you just eat whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it in the middle of the park.  Having a plan can help you to stick to your budget.  And if making an exact plan before your trip of where/what you want to eat sounds horrible, consider the dining plan as a way to prepay for your food, give you some freedom to choose what you want on the spot and still avoid overspending.

Next Up:  Planning your Trip on a Budget (Part 4), Travel and Extra Expenses

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Disney World: Planning your Trip on a Budget (Part 2), Resorts

Today we're going to talk about the prices and deals that can be found with Disney resorts, as well as some tips on what resort to choose.

For our upcoming trip, we will be spending six nights staying on property at Disney.  We will spend five nights at Port Orleans French Quarter (a moderate resort) and one night at Art of Animation (a value resort).  The original plan was to just spend five nights at French Quarter.  But then as I was booking plane tickets, I found it was cheaper to stay an extra night and fly back home on a Monday instead of Sunday.  So I added an extra night to our trip!  It was cheaper, so what choice did I have really??

There are about fifty million hotels in the Orlando area, so you can definitely take a Disney trip without staying on property at Disney.  I'm a big fan of using Priceline and Hotwire to save money on hotels.  If you do your research (that's a whole post for another day!), you should be able to get a nice 3-4 star hotel for $50-$70 per night in the Orlando area.  Most hotels close to Disney will offer free Disney shuttles,  so you don't have to pay for parking at the parks every day. (It is $15 per day to park at Disney).

However, I think there are a lot of advantages to staying on property.  If you are flying, Disney's Magical Express will pick you up and take you to the airport for free, so there is no need to rent a car.  Disney knows what they are doing when it comes to cleanliness and quality, and I think all of the resorts at Disney are good quality, even the cheapest ones.  The same thing can not be said for every hotel in Orlando.  Plus Disney just knows how to make your stay fun and they are pros at creating fun environments for families.

Disney resort prices change depending on the time of year, so it's hard to give an exact price.  Below are my estimates using this site as a guide.  These numbers are all before tax, so don't forget to calculate tax which is usually around 12%!

Value Resorts
(Full list of Disney Value Resorts)

We have only stayed on property at Disney once, and we stayed at the Pop Century.  The value resorts are the cheapest option, around $100 dollars per night during a slower season (with prices jumping up to $150-$180 at busier times).  The value resorts are all themed in an over the top way, making them a lot of fun for kids, and perhaps just a bit on the tacky side for some adults.  We did have a good experience at Pop Century.  Audrey was three, and she just loved all the oversized theming throughout the resort.  Our room wasn't anything special, but it was clean and worked perfectly fine for the short amount of time we spent in the room.  We didn't try out the pool, but it looked nice.

The only thing I didn't like about Pop Century was the food court.  It was insanely crowded and crazy at all times of day, and we were there in February during a slow season!  I can't even imagine what it would be like in the busier months.  All of the value resorts have a food court as the only option for eating at the resort.  So if you don't like dining in big crowds with lots of kids, a value resort may not be the best option.

Disney often offers room discounts (you can see what specials Disney is currently offering here), and for value resorts you can typically get 15-20% off your stay with these offers.  So you could potentially get a room here for as cheap as $85 per night or maybe even less depending on what time of year you are travelling.

Art of Animation is Disney's newest resort, and I am super excited about checking it out on our trip.  The standard rooms are Little Mermaid themed, and Audrey is so excited!  Because it is so new and popular, you usually cannot find a discount for the Little Mermaid rooms.  The rate for when we are travelling is $118 per night, and that is full price.  Art of Animation also offers family suites themed to different movies (Cars, Nemo, Lion King).  These would be great for larger families who want to stay together, and they are $280+ per night.  But you CAN usually get a 15-20% off deal with the suites.

Moderate Resorts
(Full list of moderate resorts here)

We could have saved about $400 if we would have chosen to stay at a value resort.  However, due to the free dining deal that we booked (more on that in the next post), I decided a moderate resort was the best choice for us.  We chose Port Orleans French Quarter at a rate of $182 per night.  That is full price for the time of year we are travelling.  Prices at moderate resorts seem to vary from $180-$280 per night depending on the resort and the season.

Port Orleans French Quarter is a smaller resort, which is one of the main reasons I picked it.  It only has a food court option to eat, however it is right next door to Port Orleans Riverside which has a bigger food court and a sit down restaurant.  We will have the option of using the restaurants and pools at both Port Orleans resorts.  There is also a boat that goes to Downtown Disney.  I have only read good reviews for both Port Orleans resorts, so I am super excited to check them out!

My sister in law, who has taken many trips with her family to Disney, says that Coronado Springs is her favorite of the moderate resorts.

Most moderate resorts have both a food court and a sit down restaurant.  They also have hot tubs, which cannot be found at the value resorts.  The moderate resorts are all themed, but they are not quite as extremely decorated as the value resorts.  For me, I like that better, but value resorts probably have more kid appeal.

Room discount offers are usually 20-25% off for the moderate resorts.  So you could probably find a room here for around $150 per night during a slower season.

Deluxe Resorts
(Full list of Deluxe Resorts here)

The Deluxe resorts all look really nice.  But they are so far out of my budget, that I have not spent as much time researching them.  Prices vary greatly, but they are in the range from $300 to $650 per night and sometimes even more than that!!

Disney does offer the greatest discounts for deluxe resorts, usually 30%.  So, if all the stars aligned, that could maybe bring your price down to a more realistic $210 per night on a cheaper deluxe resort during a slow season (but that seems a little unrealistic to me).  I think Ft. Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge are two of the cheaper deluxe options.

One option for making a deluxe resort more affordable is to rent Disney Vacation Club points.  Vacation club members can sell their points to others, allowing non-vacation club members to stay in their place.  I have heard good things about this reputable site:  David's Vacation Club Rentals.  When I plug in our September dates here, I can find a value room at Animal Kingdom for just $142 per night, as opposed to the $378 per night quoted on the Disney website.  There are pros and cons to booking your trip this way, but you can definitely get a good deal on some really nice resorts.  I seriously considered this option for our trip, but decided to go with the free dining offer through Disney instead.

In my opinion, you really can't go wrong with any Disney resort, but there are definitely some pros and cons to each resort level.  When we get back from our trip in September, I will be able to give a more detailed review of Port Orleans French Quarter and Art of Animation.  So stay tuned for that this fall!

If you want more details about the resorts, this website has pictures, reviews and information about each resort at Disney World.

Next up:  Planning your Trip on a Budget (Part 3), Dining

Monday, July 21, 2014

Disney World: Planning your Trip on a Budget (Part One)

Those of you who know me know that I like to find good deals.  And that I can be a bit of a cheapskate when it comes to paying full price for things.  Disney World is not exactly a budget friendly place.  It is expensive; there is no doubt about that.  However, there are some things you can do to save a little money on your Disney World trip.  I'm going to share my best tips with you in this next group of posts.

I'm also going to be very transparent in our budget for this trip and what we are spending.  I find when planning a real life trip that it is much easier to plan when you have real numbers rather than general estimates.  I'm  including all of the numbers with tax included.  Tax can be tricky as the initial numbers on the Disney site do not include it.  Then when all the taxes are added up, it can add a few hundred dollars to your total!

For the record, this trip is a once in a lifetime trip for us.  It is a huge amount of money for our family to spend on anything really. It's probably not the wisest financial move we have ever made, as there is probably a better use of our funds than spending it all on a six day vacation.  I don't see us ever doing a big trip like this again though, so I figured we might as well make the most of it while we are there!

Having said all of that, this is a pretty cheap trip by Disney standards.  Most people spend a lot more money than this at Disney.  However, it is also possible to go cheaper than this too.  I will share more about some of the areas where you could save even more money in future posts.

Our Budget

4 day park tickets without Park Hopper (for all 4 of us, includes tax):  $1210
5 nights at Port Orleans French Quarter (includes tax):  $1068
1 night at Art of Animation Resort (includes tax):  $132
Dining Plan (includes 1 table meal, 1 quick meal and 1 snack per person per day):  $0
Tips:  $100
Souvenirs: $50
Out of Pocket Meals (at airport/on the road/breakfast food):  $100
Stroller Rental:  $80
Flight:  $880

Total Budget:  $3620

That should be every penny we will spend towards this trip.  There are always those little things (tips, stroller rental, souvenirs) that I tend to forget when planning a budget.  But this time I think I have everything that we will need to spend.  Eek!  Seeing it in print like that really makes it look like a huge number.  Because it is a huge number! The good news is that 95% of this will be paid before we leave, which means we will spend very little money while actually at Disney.  And that will make me feel good!

Park Tickets:  $1210
Park tickets are the most expensive part of our budget!  There is no way to get around this; they are just that expensive.  However, my husband helped put it in perspective for me recently.  We were at a a local carnival on the 4th of July, where they had several lame portable carnival rides.  We bought Audrey tickets to ride 4 rides, and it cost us $10!  Daniel said, "There is 1/10th of your ticket to Disney World!"  Considering that those 4 rides lasted a total of about two minutes, and they were really not fun at all, it made the cost of Disney World more reasonable to me.  It costs about $100 to get in for the day.  But once you are in, you get a lot for your money!  It is so much better than a local carnival.

The more days you go to the parks, the cheaper the tickets get.  For one adult to go to for one day, it is $99 before tax.  For one adult to go for seven days, it is $314 before tax, which is about half the price.  However, if you are staying for seven days, you still have to eat and sleep for those days, which will cost you more money.  We are doing four days at the parks, which is about the most our family can handle I think.  It would not be that much more money to add a 5th day, but I think four days is enough for us.  We will spend our 5th day just hanging out, swimming and relaxing at the resort.

You also have the option to add Park Hopper to your tickets.  With a regular admission ticket, you can only go to one park per day.  With a Park Hopper, you can hop from park to park as frequently as you want during the day.  Cost varies, depending on the number of days you are staying.  To add Park Hopper for us, it would have been additional $240.  That is not worth it for us, but for some families this is a "must."  However, I am perfectly content to just do one park per day.  With little kids and strollers, it just sounds like a pain to pack up and move from park to park.

You can buy discount tickets to the parks if you are not purchasing a package through Disney.  You don't save a huge amount, but you can save a little this way.  Undercover Tourist is a reputable site that offers discount Disney tickets.  If we would have booked our tickets with them, we would have saved $32 on our trip.  It's not a huge savings, but if you are not booking a deal with Disney directly, it might be worth the savings.

One more note about park tickets: kids age two and under are FREE at Disney World!  I thought about trying to take our trip right before Isla turned three, so we wouldn't have to pay for her tickets (a savings of about $300).  Plus, kids two and under can also eat free at all the buffets.

Next Up:  Planning your Trip on a Budget (Part Two), Resorts

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Disney World Series: An Introduction

I've been busy planning our trip to Disney World this fall.  I'm a little embarrassed by how much time I have spent researching and planning our trip, but I just love it so much!  Lately, I have had several friends ask me questions about planning a Disney trip.  I have decided to start a new series on the blog to share my wealth of knowledge when it comes to Disney trip planning.  I'm hoping that by sharing all I have learned it will make me feel less guilty about the time I have spent learning it.  Plus I just like talking about our trip!

So, here's a little introduction to our family and Disney World.  In all honesty, I do not understand why I like Disney World at all.  In theory, I should hate it.  It is big and crowded and stressful and so very expensive. All things that I do not like.  Normally I like to go on cheap vacations where I can just sit around and relax and do nothing.  That is the opposite of Disney in most every way.  Yet, there is just something about the place that pulls me in and makes me want to go there.

I think one of the things I love most about Disney is the amount of planning it can take to get there.  You could take a more casual trip with very little pre-planning and still have a great time.  But with my personality and my two kids and the fact that I don't like crowded places or waiting in line, especially when my kids are in tow, planning is necessary.  And I just love to plan vacations.  Disney World is a vacation planner's dream!

We have family in Florida, and we have taken a couple of one day trips and one 2-night stay to Disney in the past.  When Audrey was 2 1/2, we took day trips to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.  When Audrey was 3 1/2 and Isla was 9 months, we took a two day/two night trip to Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.  Last year, Daniel and I attended Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom on our anniversary trip to Orlando.  I have created on link on the right sidebar of my blog.  If you click on Disney World, it will take you to a page with all of our past trips linked there, in case you are interested in reading about our past trips.  I will also include all the info from this series on that page, so you can find it all in one page.

Next post:  Going to Disney World on a Budget!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mary Poppins Party: Decorations

The decorations for Isla's Mary Poppins party all centered on the invitation.  I purchased this set of Mary Poppins Digital Clip Art and used the character clip art to make the invitation and then everything else too.  I really had a lot of fun making all of this stuff!  And because most of the decor was just things I had made and printed, I didn't spend hardly any money on decorations at all.

I had this vision of hanging a black umbrella near the front of our driveway, along with this quote which is the opening words of the first song in the movie.  "Winds in the east, mist coming in, like something is brewin, about to begin."  Realistically, it was not possible to easily hang the umbrella, so I just ended up staking it in the ground like this.

For the record, I do not ever want to do an outdoor party again.  It was so windy!  I taped all of the centerpieces down to the tables, but still they kept trying to blow away.  I made these hats just using cheap hats from the party store and hot glued the flowers, ribbon and cherries onto the hats.  It's not quite EXACTLY like Mary Poppins, but close enough for me.

Here's the food table.  I was lucky to catch a moment of stillness when the fans weren't blowing around like crazy.

The girls' playhouse even got decorated with this 17 Cherry Tree Lane sign, which is the address of the Banks family in the movie.

I decorated the back of the house with some pictures of Isla and a few quotes from the movie.

The party!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pool Time!

Audrey started swimming lessons today.  She took private lessons last year and was swimming fairly well underwater on her own by the end of the summer.  Then we didn't swim all winter, and by the beginning of this summer, she had forgotten everything she learned.  She was back to being afraid to jump in, go underwater, or even attempt to kick or swim.  Over the past week, she has finally gotten braver and started to try more, and the result:  she is starting to swim again!

Today she started her first group swim lesson.  I thought the peer pressure would help her to be more willing to try new things.  Plus group lessons are much cheaper!  The teacher we thought she was going to have was mysteriously not there, and the sub teacher wasn't impressive.  Audrey got done and the first thing she said was, "she didn't teach me anything!"

I signed Audrey up for the Beginner 1 class, since she was so afraid of everything at the time.  But since I signed her up, she has gotten braver and started to remember how to swim again.  Probably she needs to be in a more advanced class, as I think she was a little bored and too advanced for the group she was with today.  I figure it's good for her to be in the beginner group, so she can gain some self confidence and experience the joy of being promoted next week.

After swim lessons, we hung out at the pool until it opened.  Once it opened, no one was there!  We had the whole baby pool and the whole medium pool all to ourselves!  Such fun!!  We didn't stay long because I had a lunch meeting.  But for about 45 minutes, the girls got to swim all by themselves.  Isla is finally warming up to her puddle jumper, which allows her to be much more independent in the water.  She is now willing to play in the baby pool (18 inches deep!) without us holding her hand!  In the 3 foot pool, where she can't touch, she still wants someone to hold her hand and stay close by even though she can pretty much stay afloat and swim around by herself in the puddle jumper if she is just brave enough.

Here is happy girl in her very own pool.

While Isla was having fun in the baby pool, Audrey really wanted to go to the medium pool.  I usually make her stay with us because I am not quite comfortable with her being alone in a different pool than us.  Even though there is a lifeguard on duty and she can touch through the whole pool, there are just so many drowning horror stories out there.  And I don't fully trust the young lifeguards to pay attention and do their job.  But since it was so empty today and Audrey would be the only one in the pool, I figured it was fairly safe.  Surely the lifeguard could keep a good eye on her since she was the only one in the pool!  Audrey thought it was the greatest thing ever.

And for a few moments, I got out of the pool, letting Isla swim by herself in the baby pool and Audrey swim by herself in the medium pool, while still keeping an eye on both of them.  I got a little taste of what it is like to be a mom of independent swimmers.  The moms who just get to lounge around the pool deck, sunbathing and reading a book and relaxing, while their kids swim safely on their own with friends.  What a lovely day that will be!!

For now though, we are having fun swimming together...most days at least!

And yes, I did just write a really long blog post about our 45 minutes of swimming today.  Thrilling, I know.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fourth of July

We had a nice Fourth of July holiday.  We started with lunch at our friend Jon and Heather's house.  Here's the super easy but yummy and festive dessert that I brought.  Recipe here.

Our friends had a pool and water table set up outside.  We forgot Isla's swimsuit, but that didn't stop her from playing and getting soaked.  The girls had a lot of fun getting wet!

After playing outside and eating, we all went inside.  The girls settled down to watch a movie.  Notice that Isla is sitting next to her friend Havanna on that couch (without her dress, because it was soaked).  Isla is not always very social, and sometimes she doesn't want to talk to any other people, especially kids her age.  She did an excellent job playing with Havanna today, and she had no problem letting Havanna sit right next to her.  Then Daniel and I left the room, and Isla just kept sitting there and playing with Havanna and Audrey...without getting upset.  Sometimes we see these little glimpses of social Isla, and it makes us so happy.  There is hope that she will someday outgrow her extremely introverted ways and at least be able to function with other people in society!  (That's a little bit of an exaggeration, but it is how we feel sometimes as her parents who want to see her make friends and socialize.  It's also ironic that I am writing about this frustration, because I too was an extremely shy and introverted little girl.  I still am, in many ways. So Isla probably gets it from her mom!)

While the girls played and watched a movie, the adults played a game of Catan!  Then it was time to go home.  At home, we played outside for a while.  It was a beautiful day, sunny with temps in the upper 70s.  The little neighbor girl who lives behind us came to the fence.  She has played with the girls a lot through the fence, but we have never invited her into our yard because we hadn't met her parents.  Well, we finally met Dad and felt comfortable inviting her into the backyard.  The girls had so much fun playing together, and I had so much fun watching them!  (And Isla continued to be Little Miss Social the whole time!!!)

We threw some stuff on the grill for dinner, then we let the girls try some sparklers.  Or rather we let Audrey try some sparklers.  Isla just wanted to watch.  This was our first time to do sparklers.  Audrey wasn't sure at first, and wanted Daniel's help.  But then she got braver and wanted to hold it all by herself.

We decided to meet up with some friends to watch fireworks.  The girls are not huge fireworks fans typically, so we wanted to be somewhere with a good view but not too close.  We ended up in a pretty good spot where we could see but it wasn't too loud.

While waiting for the fireworks, we had some popcorn and Twizzlers!

The girls' favorite babysitter Kaylee was there, and Isla just loves her so much!  She continued her social streak by sitting next to Kaylee the whole night.  Together, they cheered and oohed and awwed over all the fireworks, and it really was just the cutest thing ever.  I paid much more attention to them than I did the fireworks.  (Also, at one point in the night, Isla initiated a conversation with another two year old girl who she doesn't really know.  It was AMAZING!)

And here was our view of the fireworks.