Saturday, September 20, 2014

Isla's First Day of School

This happened like three weeks ago, so I guess I'm a little bit behind with blogging.  I'm going to try to catch up before we leave for Disney, so get ready to be bombarded with posts, if I manage to get the posts written in the midst of packing!

Isla started preschool!  She is in the yellow room at her school, the same classroom and teachers that Audrey had when she was three.  She is going to school two afternoons each week.

Isla is not very social and is generally very quiet and timid around people she doesn't know.  She doesn't like to talk to people she doesn't know, she doesn't really like to be in big groups.  I think if she had her way, she would love to just be invisible!  So going to school is a big and difficult step for her.

Isla's first day of school got off to a GREAT start!  I was able to convince her to let me take her picture, which was miraculous!  And I even got a few with her smiling AND looking at the camera!

And of course, the side by side comparison picture with Audrey and Isla in their first year of preschool.

When we got to school, Isla was immediately excited about all the toys and activities in her classroom.  She jumped right in and started playing with the sorting toys at one table.  I hung around for a minute, and she decided to switch to painting.  Then I told her I was leaving, and she told me bye and went back to painting.  I left school thinking this was going to be a much easier transition than I expected!

Then I picked her up after school.  Her teacher pulled me aside and let me know that Isla did not do anything all afternoon.  She sat in the chair where she was painting when I left, and she didn't move.  Except for when the teachers had to pick her up and carry her when they went outside to play.  She didn't do any of her coloring, she didn't eat her snack, and she didn't even sit at circle time.

Now, this sounds like the Isla I know (and love!!).  She tends to just shut down completely when faced with a new situation and a new crowd of people.  It's like if she doesn't say anything or do anything or look at anyone she can just make it all disappear.

Since the first day, it has gotten harder and harder to drop her off at school, as she becomes more and more resistant to the idea of going to school.  She does not want to go.  However, once she gets there, she has shown some signs of improvement.  While she still doesn't eat the snack or do any of the crafts or activities, she does now walk holding her teacher's hand from the tables to the circle to outside and wherever else they go.  For the first couple of days, she had to be carried if they wanted her to move.  And she will also now nod her head yes or no in response to her teachers' questions.  So that is an improvement!  Baby steps!!

I really feel like she needs to be in a school setting this young so that she can learn what is expected of her in social situations.  Even if she doesn't like it, she has to learn how to be polite and interact with the rest of society!  When she is comfortable around a person, she will really open up to them.  But it takes her a long time to get there sometimes!  I think her teachers are willing to be patient with her, so that's a good thing.  I'm kind of afraid that she might get kicked out of preschool!

Hopefully by the end of the year, she will at least be participating in the crafts, activities and snack.  That's my biggest goal for her.  I think it might take her longer to warm up to the idea of talking to a teacher or playing with another kid or singing a song during circle time.  But she will get there someday, right?  Since birth, Isla has constantly reminded me that she is her own person, and that she does things in her own time.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Disney World: Our Touring Plans

I'm not sure that anyone really cares about this, but I'm going to go ahead and post it anyway.  These are our (my) detailed plans for each day we are in the parks at Disney.  I have no idea if these plans will work.  It will be interesting to see how much we stick with the plan and whether or not we liked having a plan.  I needed to make a plan just to know that it is possible to fit in everything that we want to do.  I think this plan is doable, with  a few days being more packed than others.  If we don't follow through with the plan, that's okay with me.  I just needed to make it for my own peace of mind, and I know that we will have to be flexible (hello rain!).  Plus, you know I just love to plan!

We originally were only going to do four days in the parks with one free day at the resort, but then that shifted into five days at the parks, because...why not??  Mostly we are planning our days from about 9:00-4:00, which means we will get up early and go to bed early.  There is one day when the girls and I are planning to sleep in, though sleeping in with my girls means they will be probably up at 7:00 we may have lots of morning swim time that day.

I don't have any breakfasts planned.  Most mornings I am planning to just eat something in our rooms (or on the bus!), either something we bring from home or something that we buy at the food court.  We are trying to make rope drop most days, so that means there isn't much time for breakfast!

After much tweaking, here are our final plans (for the moment at least, I'm sure they will change again before we leave, and then again once we get there):

Day 1:  Magic Kingdom
  • 8:15-8:30:  Arrive for Rope Drop
  • 9:00:  Park Opens!  Meet Merida, Ride Winnie the Pooh, Meet Ariel, Ride Little Mermaid, Ride Dumbo, Meet Minnie and Daisy 
  • 10:30:  Fastpass for Rapunzel and Cinderella Meet and Greet
  • 11:00:  Fastpass for lunch at Be Our Guest
  • 12:15:  Ride Carousel and look for Fairy Godmother by the castle
  • 12:45:  FastPass for Enchanted Tales with Belle
  • 1:50:  Fastpass for Peter Pan
  • 2:00:  Try to get a 4:00 FP for Jungle Cruise, get snack at Aloha Isle, stake out parade spot and rest for a bit
  • 3:00 Festival of Fantasy Parade
  • 3:30 Meet Aladdin and Jasmine
  • 4:00  Jungle Cruise (if we get FP or if the wait is short enough)
  • Leave MK, take monorail to Grand Floridian for 4:40 dinner reservation
  • After dinner, back to resort for EARLY bedtime!  I think we are going to be worn out after this jam packed day!!
Day 2:  Epcot
I don't think Audrey is going to be brave enough to ride either of the two big rides here:  Test Track and Soarin.  So my plan is to send Daniel on those rides so at least someone in our family gets to ride them!
  • 8:30: Arrive for Rope Drop
  • 9:00:  Park Opens! Send Daniel to Test Track while the girls and I go to Character Spot
  • Ride Journey into Imagination with Figment, look around Image Works
  • 10:00:  Fastpass for Daniel (and maybe Audrey if she is feeling brave???) for Soarin.  Isla and I (and maybe Audrey) will just hang out and walk around
  • 10:15:  Living with the Land, The Seas with Nemo, and Turtle Talk with Crush.  Then stop for a drink at Club Cool.
  • 11:30-2:30:  Explore World Pavilion.  Get snacks, look for some characters (Mulan is our only must meet here) do a few activities at Kidcot stations, maybe rest and watch one of the world movies.   Ride Donald Duck ride in Mexico.
  • 2:30:  Try to check in a little early for 2:55 lunch reservation at Akershus
  • 4:00:  Fastpass for Spaceship Earth, but if we are done with lunch we might try to ride earlier
  • Then back to resort to rest 
  • 7:30:  If we are rested and feeling up to it, head to Polynesian to watch Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach (and get Dole Whip and maybe late dinner at Cpt Cooks).  Otherwise, maybe a light swim and early bedtime!
Day 3:  Magic Kingdom
For Daniel's birthday, we got him a Keys to the Kingdom tour, which is a backstage tour of the Magic Kingdom.  So he will go to his tour first thing in the morning, while we sleep in and then we will all meet up at MK later in the afternoon.
  • 8:45:  Daniel checks in at Magic Kingdom for the Keys to Kingdom tour
  • The girls and I will spend the morning sleeping in a little, swimming and relaxing at the resort, with lunch at the resort food court
  • 12:00:  The girls and I will head to Magic Kingdom
  • 12:40:  Fastpass to meet Tinkerbell
  • 1:00:  Take a ride on the WDW Railroad at Main St station. (Look for Mary Poppins here!)  Ride to Fantasyland.
  • 1:15:  Ride Dumbo, then walk around and get a snack
  • 2:00:  Fastpass for  Little Mermaid ride
  • 2:15:  Meet up with Daniel in Tomorrowland
  • 2:30:  Ride People Mover and Monsters Inc Laugh Floor
  • 3:00:  Mad Tea Party, Barnstormer then take Railroad in Fantasyland to Frontierland
  • 3:45:  Explore the Frontierland/Adventureland area depending on what we feel like:  Tom Sawyer Island, Country Bears, Swiss Family Treehouse, Hall of Presidents, Look for Tiana and Peter Pan
  • 5:30:  Meet Mickey at Town Square 
  • 6:00:  Monorail to Contemporary Resort, reservation at Chef Mickeys at 6:40 pm
Day 4:  Hollywood Studios
I had this day all planned out, and then Disney announced that they were extending their Frozen Summer Fun events through September.  So I had to rearrange everything, because I know the girls wouldn't want to miss the Frozen fun.  I'm still not sure I am settled on this plan, so we will see what actually happens!
  • If we are feeling ambitious, we will try to get to Hollywood Studios by 7:30 for the Extra Morning Hours that begin at 8:00 am
  • If we are still feeling ambitious, we will join the stampede of people rushing to ride Toy Story Midway Mania before the lines get too long (we have a FP to ride it later in the day, so if we do this, it would be with the intent of riding it twice!  It's a fun ride, worth riding two times, but possibly not worth getting run over in a stampede.  I haven't decided yet!)
  • If we survive the stampede, we will continue with our day as planned!
  • 8:30:  Muppet Vision 3D
  • 9:00:  Wandering Oaken's Frozen Funland and Trading Post
  • 9:40:  Fastpass for Voyage of the Little Mermaid (10:00 show)
  • 10:20:  Grab a snack and stake out a spot for the parade
  • 11:00:  Anna/Elsa Welcome parade
  • 11:20:  Visit Animation building, meet Wreck it Ralph and Vanellope
  • 12:00:  Check in for 12:15 reservation at Hollywood and Vine
  • 1:15:  If done with lunch, try to catch the 1:30 Disney Jr show
  • 2:00:  Fastpass for Toy Story Midway Mania
  • 2:20:  Visit Honey I Shrunk the Kids, then sit and rest for a few minutes
  • 3:25:  Fastpass for For the First Time in Forever Singalong
  • 4:40:  Characterpalooza in the Streets of America
  • 5:00:  Back to resort for the night
Day 5:  Magic Kingdom
  • 8:30-8:45:  Arrive at MK
  • 9:00:  At opening, ride It's a Small World, Mickey's Philharmagic, the carousel, and maybe Winnie the Pooh if time
  • 10:20:  Snack at Gaston's Tavern, look for Gaston
  • 10:45:  Fastpass for Seven Dwarves Mine Train
  • 11:15:  Look for Alice, see if anyone wants to ride Mad Tea Party again
  • 11:55:  Fastpass for Tomorrowland Speedway
  • 12:30:  Try to check in early for Liberty Tree Tavern lunch at 12:50
  • 1:50:  Magic Carpets of Aladdin
  • 2:30:  Fastpass to meet Elsa and Anna
  • 3:00:  If girls want to watch the parade, we will watch it.  Otherwise, it's time to leave!
  • Go check in at Art of Animation for our last night at Disney!  Swimming, eating, and relaxing before we have to fly home the next morning
Next Up:  Fastpass+ Priorities and Strategies

Friday, September 5, 2014

Disney World: Touring Strategies

It is very wise to have a strategy for how to tour the Disney World parks.  There is so much to do and so much to see and so far to walk and so many people everywhere!  A plan can help ensure that you are able to do what you want to do in a timely manner.  I'm sure there are plenty of people who walk into the parks with no plan at all.  That can probably work for you if:  1) you don't mind waiting in line, 2) you don't have a list of Disney must dos at each park, and 3) you like to walk.

Actually that was Daniel and I when we went to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party last year.  We went without kids, so I thought we could just wing it.  The crowds were pretty low, and we didn't have anything really on our must do list.  It worked out okay and we had a good time, but we walked aimlessly around the park a lot and ended up walking WAY more than was necessary.

This year we are going in with a very specific plan of attack.  I am making a specific plan with the idea of being flexible with it once we get there.  We may completely abandon our plan once in the parks, but I think having the plan on paper will be a good start.  Plus, with meal reservations and Fastpass+ reservations, we are kind of forced into sticking with a fairly specific schedule.  I will share our touring plans in the next post, but for now, I want to talk about some general touring strategies for all the Disney World parks.

Rope Drop
I think most all Disney World veterans would say that getting to the parks for Rope Drop is the best strategy for touring Disney World.  Rope Drop is the time when the parks open.  As many people don't like to get up early, the first hour or two at all the parks are usually fairly empty with short wait lines.  The parks generally open at 9:00 am.  To be at the front of the rope drop crowd, it's  a good idea to plan to be there by 8:15 am.  Several of the parks have opening shows that begin around 8:40, so everyone is allowed into an area that is roped off.  After the show is over, the Disney cast members "drop the rope" and allow you to enter the park.  Right now in several parks, they are actually leading guests in a parade like fashion behind a rope into the parks to avoid stampedes.  It can be a little crazy at Rope Drop, as some die hard fanatics are determined to be first in line for their favorite attractions!

This link will give you a lot more details about how rope drop works in each park.  If you can manage to get there early enough for rope drop, I'd say this is the number one strategy for being able to tour Disney World without the huge crowds.

Many people choose to do rope drop, tour the parks until about noon, then head back to the hotel to rest and relax before coming back to the parks for the evening hours and fireworks.  This is a pretty smart plan, as it allows you to avoid the afternoons which are the busiest (and hottest) time of day at Disney.  (Even though it's smart plan, we are not actually planning to follow this strategy, but I will share more on why later!)

Crowd Calendars
 When I was making our plan, I needed to decide pretty early what park we would want to visit on what day as this affected our dining plans and Fastpass+ reservations.  I used a couple of different crowd calendars to help me make the decision on what park to visit each day.

My first source was  Scroll through and find the month you want to visit.  Then you will see a monthly calendar with all kinds of info on it!  There is one line that is green and red, which lists the park in the most preferred order for that day (green means go, red means don't go), for example:  MK, AK, EP, HS.  Then if you continue to read below the calendar, he gives you an explanation of why that park is recommended or not recommended for each day.  It's nice to know the logic behind his recommendations!  I am following his advice and choosing the recommended days on all but one of our days. 

I also used to consult their crowd calendar.  Touring Plans has some free features, but there is also a paid subscription option.   The full crowd calendar is a part of the subscription, which is $10.95.  Touring Plans also has an app that is helpful when in the parks.  So I decided to go ahead and get the subscription.  I like Touring Plans' crowd calendars, which are based on historical data, because they give each park a rating on a scale of 1 to 10, as well as an overall resort crowd level for each day.  For our park days, the crowd levels are as follows:
Magic Kingdom, Day 1:  4/10
Epcot:  5/10 (the food/wine festival is going on at Epcot, and crowd levels were predicted at least 5 or higher for our whole trip)
Magic Kingdom, Day 2:  3/10
Hollywood Studios:  4/10 (this is the day that was not recommended by
Magic Kingdom, Day 3:  1/10 (I'm interested to see what Magic Kingdom is like on a predicted crowd level of 1 day!)

 Extra Magic Hours
If you are staying onsite at Disney, then you have the option of going to the parks during Extra Magic Hours, additional park hours either in the morning or evening for Disney resort guests.  The idea is that you will be allowed in early or allowed to stay late and visit the parks when they are least crowded.

If you read the site listed above, he usually does not recommend going to the park with Extra Magic Hours.  Those days are usually more crowded at the parks, as many resort guests choose to go to that park on that day, making the parks more crowded for that whole day.  However, during the Extra Magic Hours time period, the parks should be considerably less crowded.  So you have to weigh the advantages to the less crowded EMH time versus the possibly overcrowded times later in the day.  If you have parkhopper, you could hop to a different park and still take advantage of EMH, but we are not doing parkhopper for our trip.

We are choosing to do EMH on only one day, at Hollywood Studios when they have an 8:00 am EMH.  Since my kids are early risers, we are going to try to get to the park super early at 7:30 and if we are feeling ambitious, we are going to try to ride the extremely popular Toy Story Mania during the EMH rope drop.  I've heard it is like a stampede to that ride at rope drop, so I may chicken out from trying this...we'll see!!

Make a List
Once you have decided on which park to visit each day and whether or not you want to use the EMH, then it is time to decide what you are going to do in the parks.

It can be overwhelming to get started with this, as the possibilities are endless!  I found it helpful to make a list of what we wanted to do at each park.  I just looked through all the attractions at each park (available on the Disney website) and categorized each attraction into what we MUST do, what we would like to do if time, and what we don't want to do.

Then I used those lists to help me make a touring plan for each park day.

 Touring Plans
The site listed above also gives a ton of touring plan options based on your interests, ages and thrill seeking level.  I found it interesting to look through all of these pre-fabricated touring plans, but I didn't find any that were quite right for us.

You have the option of customizing any of the pre-fabricated touring plans.  Or you can start from scratch and make a touring plan all on your own.  I started by using one of their suggested touring plans, which I think helped me have a good understanding of what to do in what order.  But then I just ended up making all of my own plans from scratch. lets you save your custom plans, and you can access them from the website or from the app, and you also can print them out.

There are a few features to these touring plans that are a lot of fun.  For each attraction that you add to your plan, the website will give you a list of times which include:  how many minutes you will wait in line, how many minutes the attraction will last, how much free time you will have in between attractions, and how many minutes it will take you to walk to that attraction.  Obviously, these numbers are all based on data and are just predictions, as no one can see the future and give an accurate number in advance.  I am curious to see how close these estimates are to reality though!  For our big day at Magic Kingdom, where we plan to be in the park from 9:00 am-4:00 pm with a total of 18 attractions on our plan, the total wait time they predict for the WHOLE DAY is 83 minutes.  Considering that often people can wait in line for 83 minutes just for one attraction, that sounds pretty good to me!

Also, once you have added all the attractions to your plan, you can then tell the website to optimize your plans.  This means they will put them in the order that will save you the most time/walking.  I found this to be helpful in getting me started with putting attractions in the right order, but still I made adjustments on my own after the optimizing was done.

For someone who enjoys  planning park days, Touring Plans is a fun way to customize your plans for each day!  For those who don't enjoy planning, checking out one of the suggested touring plans might be an easy way to plan your park day with very little time or effort.

Next Up:  Our Detailed Touring Plans for September 2014

Monday, September 1, 2014

Dear September

Dear September,

All summer long I have been both anxiously dreading and eagerly awaiting you.

This month marks the first time that both of my girls will be in school at the same time for a few hours each week.   I'm dreading the busy schedule and craziness that begins now (and for the next 15 years!) which includes dropping off, picking up and transporting the girls to various activities.  Not to mention the stress involved with girls who are anxious about leaving home and going to school.  But I'm also excited about the opportunities that await the girls in school, and I can't wait to see them learn and grow.  And obviously I'm just a little bit excited that I will now have five hours each week all to myself!

This month also marks the return of my busy piano teaching schedule.  I dread trying to fit in teaching 17 students while still spending time with the girls, making sure the house is decently clean, fixing dinner and taking care of my family.  But I am super excited to have all my students back, and I have spent much of summer break preparing new ideas for teaching them.  My brain is about to explode with all the new piano teaching ideas I have right now, and I am frantically trying to get the mess of ideas in my brain organized and ready before lessons start on Wednesday.

This month Daniel is running sound for another show in our local community theater.  I dread all of the nights when he will be gone, and I'm sad that between me teaching and Daniel running sound we don't have a free night at all during the whole month of September!  But I do look forward to the extra paycheck he will bring home at the end of his show!

This month is also our long awaited Disney trip.  And that is one thing that I'm not dreading at all.  We are all super excited about it (and I have more Disney posts to write one of these days!!!)!  I am a little worried that someone is going to get sick during our trip.  It seems like we have all been well for too long, so it will probably be someone's turn to be sick right when it is time to travel.  But hopefully I'm just being paranoid!  It's going to be great!

So September, this letter is to tell you that we are ready for you.  All of you.  The good and the bad.  Bring it!