Welcome to the Williams Family Blog!

Now that you have found us, we invite you to return often for more adventures!

Backs of Shirts Just as Important as Fronts!

Backs of Shirts Just as Important as Fronts!

Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Seizing The Moment!

You’ve heard the adages for living a content life. . . stop and smell the roses, slow down, buy lemonade at lemonade stands, etc.  Well, we are adding “play in open fire hydrants” to the list.

Late the other afternoon, the boy heard noises outside.  He opened the door to discover that the fire hydrant in the neighbor’s yard had been turned on and was spraying water.  He put on his swimsuit and his dad grabbed the camera!

They discovered that there just wasn’t one fire hydrant turned on but TWO!  Jackpot!

Seems that work was being done on a water main and the fire hydrants were opened to release the pressure and make repair work easier.

Both the boy and the husband seized the moment.  I am so proud of both of them and especially for the husband grabbing the camera so he could capture some great shots.  He’s so good!

It was a life lesson—seizing the moment.  It would have been easier to not do it, to be confined by fear and “what if’s”, but neither of them hesitated.  The boy’s curiosity and the husband’s sense of play overcoming them.  How many others drove by wishing they were playing in the water from the fire hydrant on that hot day in July?

Soon enough the repair work was complete and the fire hydrants returned to their off positions and the husband and boy satisfied with their adventure.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dining at T-Rex Cafe in Downtown Disney

Meteor showers, ice caves, and a giant octopus.  What do these have in common?  They can all be found at T-Rex Café in Downtown Disney.

We have dined at the T-Rex Café in Kansas Cityclick here to read more—the only other T-Rex Café so we wanted to give the almost new T-Rex Café in Downtown Disney a try. 

T-Rex Café is a part of Landry Restaurants—think Rainforest Café, Aquarium, Saltgrass Steak House, The Chart House, etc. and has restaurants across the U.S.  Rainforest Café already has two locations at Walt Disney World—Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney.  T-Rex Café gives guests another unique dining experience among the varied restaurants at Downtown Disney.

We made an Advanced Dining Reservation for lunch at the 180 day mark prior to our trip.  You can do this through Disney’s Advance Dining Reservations system on-line, by phone, or by calling the restaurant directly.  Our reservation was for after 1:00 pm, but we started to get hungry around noon and it started to sprinkle, so we headed to the restaurant a bit early for both food and shelter.  No problem, we were seated within minutes after checking in at the podium near the entrance. (The rain is also why we did not take any pictures outside the restaurant—but be sure to do this when you visit!)

The Ice Cave was our seating assignment for lunch.  We received menus and service quickly.  After we ordered, the boy and I wandered throughout the restaurant taking photos and talking about the various dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and sea life found in the restaurant.  Guests are encouraged to do this, as it is a site to behold.  The servers are pretty good at dodging wandering guests.

Our meal arrived quickly and we were graced with a meteor shower.  The Ice Cave changed colors from its more constant hue of blue.  We were smiling and enjoying the experience.  Much different than our first encounter at T-Rex Café in Minneapolis when the boy was small and he ended up on my lap, head in my chest, for most of the meal—though he remembers it fondly now.  The meteor shower happens about every 20-30 minutes and includes loud noises and roars from the dinosaurs. 

The boy had been talking about having dessert at T-Rex Café since our ADR day.  He wanted the Chocolate Extinction which is served with a dry ice volcano and is enough to share.  We had said yes, but when the time came to order dessert, he wasn’t hungry so we passed.  The memory or thought of it must have been enough.

There are enough varied items on the menu—burgers, steak, seafood, pizza, pasta, and appetizers to appease most guests.  Prices are aligned with other Landry restaurants and Downtown Disney restaurants—about $20 per person including drink and tax on average or more if adding on dessert or alcoholic beverages.

We were using the Disney Dining Plan, but paid out of pocket for our lunch at T-Rex Café as we had more reservations than restaurant credits and had planned to pay out of pocket for two table service meals.  The plan was that T-Rex Café would be one of our least expensive table service meals and we were right.  So, money wise, it was a good decision to pay out of pocket for this meal and get more for our money with the Dining Plan by using it at more expensive restaurants.

Another way to save money at T-Rex Café or any Landry Restaurant is to join the Landry Select Club.  Our server offered it to us during our meal.  Simply pay a one-time $25 enrollment fee and receive benefits including a $25 reward to use on your next visit to any Landry Restaurant, a $25 birthday reward, priority seating, $25 reward for every $250 you spend, exclusive offers, retail benefits, etc.  We passed, as we were not planning on returning to a Landry Restaurant anytime soon.  I played around on the Landry web-site to see if you could join on-line rather than at a restaurant and couldn’t find this option.

T-Rex Café includes a shop full of dinosaur and T-Rex Café themed merchandise.  Guests can also build their own stuffed dinosaur to take home.  There is also an area for kids to dig for dinosaur bones, though we didn’t use it.  There may be an additional charge for that experience.  You are welcome to browse the store even if you aren’t planning to eat at the restaurant.  Guests can experience the meteor shower from the store as well!

Dining at T-Rex Café is an experience, a unique experience.  If you haven’t tried it, go for it at least once!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

One Phone Call Saves Us $30

We have a budget at our house that allows for living comfortably and yet saving money for our Disney vacations.  So when I went to purchase a new cell phone I was surprised that there was a $30 activation fee.  Very surprised!

Our cell phone carrier allows a certain amount of time between phone upgrades.  Based on our multiple line family plan, it was time for me to upgrade my phone.  I had stopped at the carrier’s local store twice, just checking prices, specials, etc.  The whole thing gives me anxiety as I never know which phone price is mine—in the list of 3-4 prices of each phone.  So, on my second visit, I decided on a phone.  The clerk assured me that contacts in my phone could be transferred and microSD card removed and put in the new phone etc.  This was after I knew for sure which price of the phone I would be paying on the list with various prices. 

After the clerk had my phone and we were sitting down, that anxiety tang was in my stomach.  I asked if there were any other costs for the phone.  Yes, a $30 activation fee.  What?  I asked where that was written, displayed, etc.  I was told it wasn’t written anywhere, it just is and as of July 1. . . I had stopped listening.  I hadn’t planned on spending an addition $30.  It wasn’t in the budget.  I asked for my phone back.  Grateful that the transaction hadn’t gone any farther and wondering when I was going to be told of the unwritten, unpublicized activation fee I left the store.

A few days later, I phoned the customer service department for our cell phone carrier and inquired about the $30 activation fee.  I asked if it could be waived.  I was told it could under certain circumstances.  I asked which circumstances.  I was told that years with the carrier could be considered.  I suggested that my account be considered as I had been with the company over a decade.  I was put on hold.

After a couple of minutes the customer service representative returned on the line and informed me that the activation fee would be waived for my line only and not our other line.  Fine.  I asked how this would be known when I went to shop for a phone.  She told me that the waived fee would be noted in my account.  Good.  I thanked her.

Now what?  Well, I still don’t have a new phone.  I’m waiting a bit. . . for more of a selection and better prices and trying to make peace with my current phone.  So for those of you who I have talked to over my phone and had the buzzing and ringing during our conversations, I apologize.  And, it may be a while before I get a new phone that doesn’t do that anymore.  But at least the transaction will be just for the cost of the phone.

NOTE:  We take advantage of all the discounts offered by our cell phone carrier for a significant monthly savings.  Check your carrier for all available discounts that may apply for you.

It can be worth it to contact your “monthly subscription” providers about discounts or specials that are available.  We locked in a lower fee with our cable/internet/phone provider for agreeing to a two year commitment including a penalty if we disconnect services prior to the two years.  Consider gym memberships and video rental subscriptions and ask about discounts that might be available.  

Saturday, July 28, 2012

An E-Mail Reminder For Upcoming Disney Cruise

A personalized e-mail from Disney Cruise Line hit my inbox the other day.  The greeting assured me that magic on the high seas was coming soon in the form of our 5th Disney cruise and our second aboard the beautiful Disney Dream.

The e-mail contained important information such as our reservation number, sail date, Castaway Club number and level, and date that we could begin reserving shore excursions if our cruise was paid in full by that date.

Depending on Castaway Club level—silver, gold, or platinum—guests have various paid in full dates and ability to reserve shore excursions.  The higher the level—platinum—the further out the paid in full day—120 days from the cruise—and therefore the first chance to make reservations for shore excursions, spa appointments, and Palo or Remy dining reservations. Gold Castaway Club level members have the ability to reserve ship services at 105 days before their cruise if the trip is paid in full and Silver level members booking window opens at 90 days before the sail date.  New cruisers are able to make reservations for shore excursions, etc. at 75 days prior to sailing.  All cruises, excluding suite or concierge reservations, must be paid in full 75 days in advance.

Our plan includes having the cruise paid in full prior to the 90 day mark.  And, I have previously been at the computer at 11:00 pm central ready to log-in to the Disney Cruise Line web-site to reserve our shore excursions on day 91, as the reservations go live at midnight eastern.

Completing the on-line reservation for the cruise is easy, as most information is pre-loaded on the reservation such as passport numbers, birthdays, etc.  I recall having to enter that info for our first cruise, though.  In addition to reserving shore excursions, I also make sure the boy is registered for the kids club on-board.  The registration will ask for a secret word to use when dropping him off and picking him up at the club for security purposes—this is in addition to the electronic bracelet given to kids at their initial check-in at the club.  I am also able to denote any important information on the on-line form such as fears, allergies, etc. 

For this trip, deciding on shore excursions are the difficult decisions—if any decisions regarding a Disney cruise could actually be classified as difficult!

Our itinerary includes two stops at Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas.  Ah, paradise!  We decided that we would like to rent floats and bicycles while at Castaway Cay.  We’ve done both before.  There is a way to reserve these rentals as a part of the shore excursion reservations and deals can be found by bundling the rental for both days.  Savings! 

No parasailing this time—click here to read more—or Castaway Cay Stingray Adventure—click here to read more.  Just fun and relaxation on a pristine island paradise.

The itinerary also includes a stop in Nassau.  We’ve been to Nassau twice before and I thought we had this figured out already and were going back to Blue Lagoon for a day at the beach.  But now, we’re wavering. 

We have lots of choices, too many maybe.  One option is to stay on the ship.  This would give us the illusion of another “at sea” day and we could do whatever we wanted on the ship.  The boy could have more time in the club with the interactive play floor and everything else, as this is his last cruise that he can be in the Oceaneers Club.

Another option is to go to Blue Lagoon for the beach day.  The boy wants to return to the floating, inflatable slides and trampolines.  Click here to read about our time at Blue Lagoon.

And, yet another option is to go to Atlantis and the water park; a wish list item for the boy.  This is a pricey option, very pricey.

I’m going to get out my PassPorter’s Disney Cruise Line Guide and do some more research.  Thankfully, we have some time before we decide.  But it was great to receive the e-mail letting me know exactly how much more time.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Let's Talk Towels

Yesterday morning about 9:30, my cell phone rang.  A friend was calling from Des Moines asking about whether or not they needed to take towels into Adventureland for use at Adventure Bay.  My response: Yes.  I could tell by the audible sigh that “yes” was not the answer that was hoped for and the tone became even more prevalent when the message was shared with other traveling companions.

A short exchange followed with references to reading something on the blog about taking old towels and leaving them at the water park so you didn’t have to carry them around, but wasn’t sure it that was Adventure Bay or not.  Again, yes.  Another sigh and a wish for a great day before pressing “end.”  It wasn’t the first time I have been asked about needing towels. . . for Adventure Bay and other destinations.

It can be a bummer to have to lug wet towels around after use, especially for an extended period of time.  And, it can also be a difficult decision as to whether or not to take towels out of the bathroom of a resort or hotel for use in a pool—the towels are usually small and might be needed after a shower or bath.  And with checked luggage fees, who wants to take up valuable luggage space with beach towels?  The whole “to towel or not to towel” question can be quite a dilemma.

Clean towels on the far left with towel return nearby
at Port Orleans French Quarter.

So, do you need to bring a towel?

If you are staying in a Walt Disney World Resort and are planning on using any of the resort’s pools the answer is NO.  Towel cases are available near the pools and dirty/wet/used towels can be deposited in a “return towels here” container before leaving the pool area.  The pool towels are also a bit larger than the towels found in resort room’s bathrooms.

The crates behind Captain Henry and the boy
contain clean towels for guest use on Castaway Cay.

If you are taking a Disney Cruise and are planning on any shore excursions that involve water, playing at Castway Cay, swimming in an on-board pool, or just getting wet riding the Aqua Duck, the towel answer is again NO.  Disney Cruise Line provides clean towels for guests to take with on excursions.  We have also found clean towels in the wooden cupboards near the pools marked with a sign “Clean Towels.”  Just open, take, use, and return in a “return towels here” receptacle. 

We have also found return towel containers located throughout Castaway Cay—no need to lug the towels all the way back to the ship—and just outside the ship when returning from port excursions.  While this is a great convenience to guest, it also helps the ship’s cleaning crew keep sand/salt out of guest rooms and other areas of the ship.  

The husband with clean towels ready for a day on the beach.

If you are going to a Disney water park such as Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach, the towel answer is MAYBE.  Towels are available at the water parks for a rental fee.  To avoid the rental fee, we swing by our Disney resort pool and borrow pool towels to take with us to the water park.  Conveniently, there are towel disposal receptacles located at the exit of the water park so we don’t have to tote the towels back to the resort.  Click here to read about our experiences at Typhoon Lagoon.

What about needing a towel at the Disney Parks?  That all depends.  Guests can certainly find ways to get wet at a park—wet rides, rain, cooling misters, and splash zones can dampen or soak.  So, whether or not a towel is needed depends on personal preference and how much one can tolerate being damp for a bit, as you will eventually dry. 

We have seen guests bring towels to the park to use to dry off after a wet ride, brief rain, or another water experience.  We have seen towels used to shade strollers, denote seating areas for parades, and used as a cape during chilly evenings.  We have not seen towel return receptacles at Disney parks, so towels brought to the parks will need to be carried throughout the day.  I cannot recall a time when we brought a towel with us to the parks.  We have been wet for sure, soaked even, but eventually dried. 

Alas, if you don’t want to bring towels from home, there’s always the opportunity to purchase a Disney beach towel and use it during your trip.  It also makes for a great souvenir!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Williams Family Blog Featured In Local Newspaper

The Williams Family Blog was featured in our local newspaper and on-line—click here to read the on-line article.

The story behind the story goes something like this. . . Last week our local newspaper published an op/ed piece about how our local water park/pool may need to tread (no pun intended) cautiously when considering adding a lazy river feature.  I had to respond; I was compelled to respond.

After submitting my response via an editorial, the editor phoned.  Standard procedure—must check authenticity of the writer, source, etc.  I had a great conversation and since my editorial contained information from other nearby swimming pools/water parks, I made reference to our blog as the pools and water parks had been reviewed.  The editor then wondered out loud why they hadn’t done a story about our blog.

Cut to yesterday.  A reporter from the local paper phones.  I recognize his voice right away as we have visited about other stories within our community.  And, he was the ONE person who phoned me to tell me some pertinent information regarding a near tragic experience I had at work a handful of years ago.  I am still grateful that he went out of his way to make that call when he didn’t have to.

I am happy to talk to him.  It was easy to tell that he had done his homework, as he often quoted pieces from the blog or shared parts of stories.  I felt honored.   

When our conversation ended, there was still some uncertainty about when the piece might be published, etc.  There was a second phone call from the reporter later in the evening to double check some facts.  I was surprised he was till working and wished him a good evening and good night.

This morning, after fetching the paper from the mailbox and unwrapping the plastic cover to protect it from the welcome and needed rain, I found the feature on the front page with the continuing story on page 7 along with a picture from the blog.  The reporter asked permission, of course, to use pictures from the blog.

And as the origin of the Williams Family Blog was shared in the article, the continuation of it seems a bit of a mystery to some.  To answer the questions and clarify my own thoughts, I am just as compelled to write or share something almost daily in the Williams Family Blog, as I was to write the editorial for the local paper.  The words form and compose in my head, almost percolate, before they find themselves on “paper.”  The goal stays the same which is to help others have a smoother, better, more successful or satisfying experience whether it is to Disney or to a local pool or water park by sharing information that I would want to know as a guest or visitor.  Continually answering the question, “What would I want to know?”

And, if your wondering about our matching shirts--click here to read more!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sheltered Reality Provides Positive Message

Bridge View Center, our local event center, hosted the 4H Expo last week.  A highlight was Sheltered Reality, a drumming group with a positive message.  Sheltered Reality offered two performances. . . one in the afternoon and another during the evening.  We attended the afternoon performance.

This was our second time seeing Sheltered Reality as a family, but my third.  I got to see them perform on my birthday.  What a great gift!  And, then again on our anniversary!  Hmm. . . do I detect a pattern here?

Anyway, Sheltered Reality did not disappoint.  Their positive message continues to reverberate just like their drumming.

The boy was chosen to from the audience to drum along.  Actually, he made sure to mention to a couple of people with the show when we waited in the theater that he wanted to drum along.  They thanked him for his willingness, so it was no surprise that he was in the first group to go on stage.

He thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was recognized as a “repeat” customer from the group leader, Steve.

After a few more songs, more volunteers were picked.  I raised my hand.  One of the messages after all is “Take a chance.”  I was willing to give it a try.

It was thrilling and I had a great time!

Sheltered Reality’s message is simple—four steps to success: 
Take a Chance.
Do Whatever It Takes
Never Give Up
Believe in Yourself

And they demonstrate they believe in those steps with their performance using balls with drums.  Check it out:

Most recently, the group has been selected as a Class Award Nominee for Best Small Charity and is in the top 5 of all small charities.  I voted on-line for their win in the category.

Sheltered Reality has drum groups throughout the mid-west.  If you want more information, click here. 

We’ll be seeing them again next year!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Budgeting For Souvenirs

The husband with his favorite Princess!

The budget for our next trip is pretty much set.  I phoned our travel agent last week to double check due dates, total amounts due, and to add on Disney transfers to get us from the airport to the port and from the port to our Disney resort.  Note:  While Disney’s Magical Express which takes guests round trip airport/Disney resort is free, Disney transfers to/from the port are $70 per person.  For a party of 2 or less, the Disney transfers are more economical than a car service. A party of 3 is a toss up in terms of price, but Disney transfers are more convenient.

Other budget items include our overnight stay at the Hyatt, tips—for luggage handling, on the ship, dining while at Walt Disney World, and “mousekeeping”, gas for our drive, airport parking, any dining while on the road—we will most likely pack a cooler and we have a voucher for a free breakfast at the Hyatt, animal sitting while we are gone, snow removal during our absence, and souvenirs.

Souvenirs.  This is the category I have the most difficult time determining a specific budget. 

The boy is easy.  He’ll have $50 to spend for the length of the trip plus any other money he saves from his allowance, birthday, etc.  The husband and I usually hang on to his money and let him know how much he has left.  Spending on the ship is minimal for him.  The shops have Disney themed items including pirate gear, Cars, etc.  Since we bring those types of items along with us there’s no need or desire to purchase.  His most tempting items are plushies, vinylmation, or trading pins. At Walt Disney World it is all about Legos at the Lego Store at Downtown Disney.  He would rather spend the entire amount in this one location.  Fine by me, but let me get out my Lego Club VIP Card before making a purchase!

For the husband, souvenirs means pins; Disney trading pins.  Either to collect or trade or both.  Typically, he’ll have a pre-loaded Visa with a specific amount, say $200, and some expectations for purchases that contribute to the good of the group, like budgeting for any airport food purchases.  Most likely he will give into a request from the boy for the purchase of a toy and he usually comes home with money left on the card.

I, too, will have a pre-paid Visa with a specific amount.  So, what’s on my list for souvenirs?  Photos!  The plan is to pre-purchase the Photopass CD, which is an expense before our trip, and then the photo CD on the ship.  Our AAA member benefit for the cruise is a photo package.  I plan to check and see if this can be rolled over into a credit to purchase the CD and then pay the difference.  Then, I’ll most likely buy a photo package, too, for half price, as any photo purchases are half after purchasing the photo CD. 

Christmas ornaments to commemorate our trip will be on the list.  Most likely one from the ship and one from the World.  Since resort specific merchandise is now more readily available, it would be great to get a Coronado Springs Resort ornament.  Click here to read more about what we collect.

Art will also be on the list.  Again, a piece of art from the ship, possibly with the Captain’s autograph—click here to read about the Captain’s Signing Event.  And, a piece of art to commemorate our Walt Disney World stay.

One pin, maybe two.  Another way to commemorate our vacation.

Accessories.  Something I can wear to give me a Disney fix on any given day.  This may mean a watch, earrings, necklace, bracelet, or scarf.  I love getting my Mickey on!

A 2013 calendar!  It is actually on the top of my list.

Anything else will be for other people.  A little bit of Disney to take home a share with others.  Unless of course, I find a terrific bargain of some sort!

What’s on your souvenir list?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Maharajah Jungle Trek at Disney's Animal Kingdom

The Maharajah Jungle Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom can be found in “Asia.”  The entrance to the path that winds through ancient ruins can be found just past the entrance to Kali River Rapids.  The path entrance and exit are in the same vicinity.

Fruit bats are a highlight on the trek and guests will find a glass barrier lacking when viewing the bats.

Tigers play in a water fountain and rest in the shade are also visible to guests from a variety of vantage points.  If you see a set of stairs, most likely you will find a delightful surprise at the top.  Go ahead, climb.

The aviary is home to many species of birds.  The birds have their choice of lovely Asian inspired birdhouses in which to choose from.  I can just imagine the birds saying “I’ll take the red two story by the tree with the large front porch.” 

The Maharajah Jungle Trek theming is incredibly detailed and you feel as if you have walked back in time in the middle of Asia.  The lush trees provide shade and you almost forget that you are in the middle of a theme park.

Other animals that you might spy on the Maharajah Jungle Trek are tapirs, deer, antelope, and a Komodo dragon. 

Go ahead and enjoy the Maharajah Jungle Trek.  And, don’t forget your camera.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Grandma Carol's Birthday--A Williams Family Celebration

What a day!  Grandma Carol’s 85th Birthday and our anniversary.  Lots of reasons to celebrate.  And, the request was a picnic by a lake.  Got it!

We grabbed Hy-Vee chicken, coleslaw, and potato salad and added them to the cooler full of drinks and headed to Lake Wapello for the evening.  Uncle John brought cupcakes and ice cream.  We were blessed by a temperate day in the middle of a summer heat wave.

Grandma Carol got an Iowa Hawkeye scarf and a custom tote bag as gifts.

The boy brought along his remote control vehicle that can go on multiple surfaces including sand, water, and snow.  It got to run on two out of three.  The battery needed charging by the time we left the lake.

Everyone took a swim after our picnic meal.  And, given the lovely weather, it was almost chilly when we got out of the water shortly before 7:00 pm. 

Grandma Carol proclaimed that she prefers swimming in lakes as to pools.  When asked why it was because she grew up swimming in lakes.  Uncle John reminisced about how Lake Wapello had changed since his formative years.  All of us commented on the pebble and stone filled sand that was rough on the feet.  The husband suggested that the sand needed to be raked like they do on Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island.  (You knew I would get Disney in there somewhere!)

It was a beautiful evening—the lake, the milestones, the company!  Well done, Williams Family, well done!