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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Husband's Birthday!

Yesterday was the husband’s birthday!  And, like a fine wine, he is getting better with age although he continually reminds me that he is younger than I am—by 13 months and 2 days if it is not a leap year.

The husband has celebrated his birthday at sea as our first Disney Cruise was to celebrate him turning 40.  He has also celebrated his birthday at Walt Disney World as we took advantage of the special offers during one year of either getting a free ticket, a Disney gift card, or FastPasses for your group if you traveled to a Disney Park on your birthday.  We registered his birthday on-line to take advantage of the special.  We spent the evening at Hoop-Dee-Do Review and he had an extra special experience that he thought I had arranged but was all Disney magic at work.  (Click here toread more.)

Yesterday, we celebrated his birthday, just not as extravagantly.  I was actually challenging myself to see how much we could celebrate on less money.  Here’s what we did. . .

His favorite 3 pins
The day began with the husband getting his birthday gift.  50 Disney trading pins that I scored for FREE!  Amazon sells “lots” or groups of these pins and there was an offer of 50 pins for $39.95 that qualified for FREE shipping.  I just needed some Amazon gift cards to make the purchase.  I got the gift cards from 3 different programs.

MyCokeRewards offers a $10 Amazon gift card for 690 points at the “Silver Reward Level.”  If you haven’t started using MyCokeRewards, I highly recommend it.  Just grab some Coke product lids that have the codes inside or the codes from inside the 12-pack or larger products.  Even Powerade and Dasani Water have codes!

My Smartphone also helped me earn with the “Receipt Hog” app.  I downloaded the free app that is available for both I-Phone and Android and started “snapping” my receipts to earn coins.  The coins add up you can even earn more coins through “spins.”  Within a few weeks I was able to redeem my coins for a $10 Amazon gift card.  Earn 5 free spins when you join using code spud7623!

Swagbucks was another program I used to earn Amazon gift cards.  I earn Swagbucks when using it as a search engine—just like Google.  Users of Swagbucks can also earn through taking polls, entering Swagcodes released throughout the day, and playing videos.  The neat thing about Swagbucks is that you can earn on your computer but also by download the mobile apps for Swagbucks and Swagbucks TV.  I scored multiple Amazon gift cards through Swagbucks. Click here to get started using Swagbucks.

So, with all of that, the husband’s gift came for FREE!

Next, breakfast.  Coincidentally, a local grocery store was hosting a special Easter breakfast for the kids—12 and under—that allowed the kids to eat breakfast for free when an adult breakfast was purchased.  We took advantage and stacked on a few more coupons—free coffee, free drink, and a buy one meal, get another meal for ½ price.  When combining the boy’s free breakfast with the coupons used for the breakfast for both of us, our out of pocket cost was $10. 

Later in the day, we went to see the new DreamWorks movie “Home” featuring the voices of Jim Parsons (Sheldon on Big Bang Theory), Rihanna, and Jennifer Lopez.  The cost for admission for three of us—FREE!  Last fall we attended an open house of our local historical museum and won a door prize of free movie tickets.  There was a very long date for expiration and we kept a look-out as to what movies would not allow passes.  All pieces aligned yesterday and we very much enjoyed the movie. 

There you have it.  A great day, hopefully, for the husband with a gift he very much appreciated, a hearty meal, and a good movie.  All for $10.  And, according the husband, it’s not the price of the gift that counts, but the love behind it!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

High Adventure Just A Few Blocks From Home

The husband had just sat down to enjoy his lunch outside on our patio when his phone rang.  It was a friend indicating that there were cans and bottles to pick up at her son’s house not too far away.  I jumped into the van and headed out.

You see, the husband is known for taking cans and bottles to our local redemption center and getting cash!  He has a route that includes several single ladies, who prefer him handling the can redemption, that he travels every couple of weeks.  The friend who called is one of his usual pick-up locations but she was at her son’s house.  Her son was redoing his home with great care and artistry and was tackling the garage—tearing it down.  The cans and bottles had to go. 

When I arrived at the house a handful of blocks away from our home, I parked in the driveway.  Then, we discovered it was going to be multiple trips across the yard to get the cans/bottles into the back of the van.  So I decided to back the van into the yard.

After loading some 800 cans/bottles into the van, I discovered that the front tire on the driver’s side had sunk quite a bit into the moist yard.

The men pushed, put cardboard, plastic, and even wood under the tires to attempt to get traction so I could pull out.  They called in another guy with a big truck who took one look at our situation and agreed that calling a tow truck was the way to go.

Since I had only gone a few blocks AND had left the house in a hurry, I had not grabbed my purse.  But, I did have my phone.  I called the husband and asked him to call AAA for a tow truck.  I gave him the address.  He called back and said a tow truck was on its way, but that I needed to have our AAA number to give to the tow truck driver.   The husband sent a text message with our AAA number along with the phone number of the towing service.  Great problem solving!

The tow truck came to the rescue strapping up the van and towing it back onto the road.  While I was grateful that the van was no longer sinking into the mud I felt horrible about the holes left in the yard.  The hosts were gracious.

So, an hour and a half later I arrived back at home shaking my head at the idea of needing to be towed out of someone’s front yard a few blocks from home.  And, the husband?  Well, he immediately took off to the redemption center!  He promised to tell me the next time someone uses the phrase “mother load” to describe any can/bottle pick-ups. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Tribute To A Loyal Companion

Phoebe and the boy sharing the couch

We put Phoebe down on Thursday.  It was a tough decision but it was time.  Our loyal friend and companion isn’t with us anymore except in photos, memories, and stories.  Here’s the story of Phoebe. . .

On a Sunday afternoon in October 2001, the husband and I ventured to our local animal shelter to “look.”  We had just had lunch at his mom’s house which was the tradition at the time.  The husband had grown up in a house full of pets—dogs and cats.  We had been living in our home since March and he continued to return to his mother’s home almost daily to walk Daisy, the current canine companion.

Our “looking” turned into adopting a quiet, soulful blue heeler, but not on that day.  The husband returned to the shelter on Tuesday to finalize the adoption.  I was at work.  It was a running burr in our relationship that he didn’t put my name on the adoption paperwork, just his.  Phoebe was HIS dog, not mine.  We owned a house together, but by golly, he was going to get the dog if anything ever happened.  I digress. . .On Wednesday of that same week, the husband took his mother to meet Phoebe at the shelter.  We weren’t going to bring her home until the week-end as we needed to prepare for her arrival. 

Turns out the Phoebe was about 18 months old and had already been adopted once and returned to the shelter as she had killed a chicken.  She had had other names, too, including Rascal.  To us, she was Phoebe.  And when we brought her home she sat in the front seat of the car between the husband and I looking expectantly over the dashboard. 

After a bath and tour of the house and neighborhood, it was time to say good-night.  That first night, we had planned to keep her in the kitchen with a doggie bed and baby gate blocking the entrance. When I turned in, she barked down the hallway as if to say, “What about me?”  When we were home, she had free reign of the house, but when we were gone, the baby gate was used to keep her in the kitchen.  That didn’t last long.  She figured out how to knock down the gate, so we reinforced it with chairs.  I spent one night sleeping on the couch with her next to me, just to make sure she was okay.  On Friday of the first week she was home, I came home from work to find her on the other side of a chair-enforced baby gate.  Upon further investigation, it turned out that she had somehow gone over the kitchen counter.  That was the end of the baby gate.  She roamed free throughout the house day or night.  And, that was the end of the doggie bed even though it stayed put for several weeks as Phoebe liked sleeping on the couch or in our bed. 

Phoebe on our bed.  A pile of pillows was just right!
 Part of the adoption agreement with the shelter is that owners agree to have their pet spayed or neutered.  I remember calling the vet to check on her after the surgery.  The vet laughed as the husband was calling on the other line at the same time.  Turns out, Phoebe had already been spayed but her fur was so thick that it was difficult to see the scar.  We were able to bring her home sooner--no overnight stay.  Poor girl!

Almost a year after we brought Phoebe home, we brought the boy home.  I remember bringing blankets from the hospital home for her to smell before the squirming bundle of noise appeared.  Phoebe was his guardian right from the start and provided him with much love and kisses.  The husband’s mother would brace herself a bit when Phoebe went for the licks, but I attribute much of the boy’s healthy immune system to living with a dog he liked giving and getting kisses from.

During those sleepless infant nights, Phoebe would look up at us as if to say, “Why are all the lights on?  And, why isn’t anyone sleeping?” 

Phoebe’s love for the boy deepened during the highchair years when goodies were dropped for her enjoyment.  I recommend having a dog during the toddler years.  It makes clean-up so much easier.  On Thursday I reminded the husband that we were going to have to be much more careful in the kitchen now as there was no more quicker picker upper to come along and take care of any spills.

Phoebe with her friend Hunter
Phoebe was there when the boy learned to roll, crawl, walk, talk, and even take care of her on days he was the first one home from school.  He can’t remember a time when she wasn’t around to share the couch with him.  Until now.

Phoebe’s decay became evident late last summer.  And by winter, her appetite had changed.  On Monday of this week, as I watched the strong wind almost blow her over, I once again approached the husband about his plan.  He wanted to wait until school was out.  I supported his decision. 

Then, early Thursday morning, he came to me and said, “It’s time.”  He had planned to call the vet later in the morning to make the appointment. 

We waited a bit to tell the boy.  When we did, there were wails and sobs, only stopping to ask questions.  We reassured him that Phoebe would not experience pain. 

Our morning was full of “lasts.”  Visiting the neighbors one last time, going for one last walk.  The boy even played his trombone for her so she could hear him play one last time.
Three loves!
 What got me was the boy’s loyalty for Phoebe. . . and our family.  In his grief he said that we wouldn’t be the Williams Family anymore without her.  I reassured him that we would always be the Williams Family.  He wanted her cremated so he could keep the urn and that the urn would be in “the family home.” 

All of us were there at the vet’s saying our good-bye’s and loving our faithful companion one last time.  The boy called for one more family hug over Phoebe.  He brought home some of her fur in an envelope that the vet shaved off her leg to find a vein for the injection along with her collar.  He awaits the urn with the engraved name plate to add to his collection.

And what about the chicken killing?  We never saw a ferocious Phoebe.  She was kind and gentle and loved being loved.  Even when we brought Georgie, our cat, home when she was a bit older than a kitten, Phoebe was patient and friendly.  Turns out that they, too, became good friends. 

Georgie the cat.
 Phoebe loved treats, walks, and watching Survivor with all of us in bed as she would get a popcorn treat every now and then.  She liked napping in the sun in front of the door or in the backyard.  She did not like baths, swimming, getting her nails trimmed, or the sound of fireworks.  She would hide in the bathroom during thunderstorms.

So no more early morning barking or scratching of her neck that made the tags on her collar jingle to tell us to wake-up that it is time to go out.  No more evening walks. . . with her.  The husband and I did go for a walk on Friday and I held his hand so it wouldn’t feel so empty without holding the end of Phoebe’s leash.  He took my hand to his lips and kissed it.  He misses her. . .his good friend. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

A "Lucky" Relationship

I had an “ah ha” moment about the husband and I’s relationship after attending a family friendly gathering a few days ago where people were sharing vacation and retirement stories.  A wise person mentioned that I was lucky that the husband wanted to go on all of our vacations and that he and I had the same retirement dreams/plans. 

I hadn’t considered that we wouldn’t have the same retirement dreams/plans or that we would want different things from a family vacation.  If that were the case, would we be married and together for 14 years?

We weren’t Disney fans when we got married.  We were, however, adventurers.  Both of us enjoyed traveling.  The whole “Disney thing” we discovered together.  And, as our relationship has grown so have our travel plans and retirement dreams.

We’ve been asked if we would travel to Disney without the boy.  “You betcha!” is the appropriate response.  It is just that we haven’t traveled without the boy as of yet, but both of us certainly would.
Would we ever consider non-Disney vacations?  Definitely.  And, we have.  It is just that each time we experience a non-Disney vacation we realize that we miss the Disney difference; the service, efficiency, and, well, magic.

And, Disney allows for all of us to meet our vacation wants/needs whether it be down time and relaxation, great food, or high adventure.  Maybe that is why both of us, well all of us, lean to Disney time and time again for our family vacations. 

Now, about retirement plans. . . Those plans are in the works, too!  And, the husband and I are on the same page with those plans, too. 

Guess we are both incredibly lucky!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why We Fly!

Keeping up with Disney news is tough, but someone has to do it.  So when I was reading an article from wdwinfo.com about whether or not to drive overnight to Orlando—click here to read the article—a smile started to spread over my face and ended up with laughing out loud.  What was making me giggle?  The thought of US driving to Orlando!  I wanted to rename the article—why we fly to Orlando (or anywhere else for that matter).

I get it; the idea of driving to see the mouse.  More flexibility and ideally less cost.  A drive allows for stopping at various sights along the way, possibly seeing family if they, too, are in the vicinity, bringing your own food, even pets can join the fun.  So, yes, I understand the reasons behind choosing to drive.

From where we live, the drive to Orlando is about 20 hours.  I’ve done it once, as a passenger when I was 11.  And, yes, we piled into the car either late at night or early in the morning.  There are only a few things I remember from that trip:  stopping for gas somewhere in Georgia where my brother hit the switch on the gas pump that wiped out the total for the sale before we paid, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at Howard Johnson’s where we stayed, and having to strategically use the tickets in my ticket booklet at the Magic Kingdom—the only park open in the mid-seventies.

Flash forward to me as an adult and licensed driver.  I’ve driven long distances either by myself or with a passenger such as to Houston to see family—a 17 hour jaunt. 

Then, I got married.  The husband is a good passenger when he is watching movies with the boy in the backseat of our van or sleeping.  But he’s not the best at navigating new terrain and can get lost trying to find familiar places in the rain.  Yes, there are GPS systems and we have one, but he also gets nervous driving on highways and freeways, even though he’ll say, “just get me to the highway” thinking that he can then just drive forward and not have to think or consider anything.  Basically, either I have to drive or navigate while he drives, which either way keeps me engaged for whatever the duration of our trip.  And, since I have to be engaged, I might as well drive.

Our longest car trip to date is 8 hours—to Branson.  Our limit, or should I say mine, is about 3 ½ to 4 hours which is great as that takes in several airports within that diameter. 

So, we fly.  We tell people that we fly so we can stay married.  There are several elements of truth in that statement.  Less driving means less fatigue, less arguing, less resentment and more enjoyment for all of us. 

Being a family of three, the cost of flying is less than larger families.  We also fit nicely in a row of 3 seats across on an airplane; no dividing up the family into multiple rows.  Our pets stay home, so no worries there.  And, we still bring our own food along with us to cut down costs and provide tastier options.  As far as time and flexibility goes, given that we have multiple airports to choose from, we’ve done very well finding flights that meet our timeline needs.

The husband has gotten very adept at navigating airports, luggage, and airport security.  One of my favorite stories was when he stayed behind to get our gate checked roller bags at the jet way as the plane was too small for the bags to fit in the overhead bins.  We were at Chicago O’Hare Airport in December and the boy and I moved along to use the restroom and then wait for the husband near the gate.  It took longer than I expected, but sure enough, there he came with the three red Mickey bags in tow.  Seems that the workers unloading the plane decided to take a break after delivering 2 of our 3 bags.  The workers told the husband that there were no more bags.  The husband directed them to check again as he knows and saw the third bag being loaded onto the plane.  He must have been quite forceful as the third bag was with him.  He told me that he was more scared of telling me about the missing bag than of the workers unloading the plane.  Maybe he is ready for a long drive!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

We ARE Water Park People!

Typhoon Lagoon

We ARE water park people!

This was the reply I gave when the subject of whether or not people/families are water park people or not in a thread on a Disney message board I frequent.   My reply got me thinking. . .

The husband grew up swimming in the lakes of Minnesota and has never shied away from a dip in any body of water since I’ve known him.  He enjoys the water slides and is only slowed by the impending threat of losing his glasses.  The solution is either to take them off or use a strap to secure his glasses to his head. 

I, too, grew up frequenting swimming pools and supervised a pool one summer in college.  In high school, I was co-captain of the Shark Club, a synchronized swimming team that I participated in for multiple years.  I now enjoy water slides, I just don’t enjoy the climb (heights) to the water slides. 

The boy’s November birthday allowed him to meet the requisite 6 months old before his first summer spent at our local swimming pool.  He’s been in swimming lessons since he was an infant—not toddler—infant!  He did one season on a swim team and enjoyed the practices—swimming laps—but not the competition.  He was 18 months old when he experienced his first water park away from home and even yesterday asked about when we could return to Great Wolf Lodge as the water park is so cool.  He’s got water parks like Coco Key and Schlitterbahn under his belt in addition to both Walt Disney World water parks. 

So, yes, we are water park people!  And, while we are at the Walt Disney World Resort, we enjoy spending a day or two at the incredibly themed water parks of Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.  (Click on the links to read more about the water parks.)

In addition for our love and comfort with water that makes us water park people, we also come prepared.  Sunscreen, water shoes, sunglasses, and towels make for a comfortable day at a water park.  We wear our swimsuits to the water park so there is no delay in getting into the water and we apply sunscreen when getting dressed, again, avoiding any delay.  I sort of laugh when I watch families taking their water park time to apply sunscreen only to have the kiddos immediately jump into the water and wash the majority of it away, unless the sunscreen is waterproof.  Applying sunscreen 30 minutes prior is preferable, even to manufacturer’s recommendations.

Blizzard Beach
Speaking of water proof, we also wear waterproof watches and use a water proof camera at water parks.  If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me for the time when we have been at a water park. . .

Ski Patrol at Blizzard Beach
Prospective guests will ask which water park we prefer and the answer is so difficult.  Typhoon Lagoon wins by a bit, but it has more to do with theming, the pool near Crush-n-Gusher, and the availability of ordering shrimp for lunch with an incredible special sauce than with anything else.  Blizzard Beach’s Ski Patrol area is one of the boy’s favorites and the family raft ride and lazy river are both longer at Blizzard Beach.

With the approaching of summer, it is inevitable that many guests traveling to Walt Disney World will wrestle with the idea of taking advantage of one or both of the on property water parks.  As for us, our travels to Disneyland will allow us to take advantage of the resort pools as there is no water park at Disneyland.  No worries for us, as Legoland does HAVE a water park and we plan to visit it first!  Yes, we ARE water park people!
The "Wave Photo" at Typhoon Lagoon

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Transfers and Transportation All Arranged for Our Summer Disneyland Vacation

Check transportation off the “to do” list for our summer Disneyland and Legoland vacation!

We secured round-trip transfers from LAX to the Disneyland Resort.  Using Disneyland’s transfers, that have a fee, were only going to be an option for getting us to Disneyland, but not back to the airport as the buses start their runs later in the day than we needed to catch our flight home.  Super Shuttle was another option that we explored.  Sharing the ride and multiple stops were cons especially since there was a charge for this service.  (Disney’s Magical Express’ stops don’t seem so bad when it’s free!)  Then, we discovered Lansky Limousine Service or DK’s Livery Service because of a comment on the Williams Family Blog. 

I went to the website and filled in the form for a free quote.  I received an email within minutes and after one phone call we had our transportation all arranged including round-trip transportation to and from Legoland.

The round-trip fee to get from LAX to the Disneyland Resort is $180 and includes taxes, gratuity, and a stop at a grocery store.  We will be greeted at baggage claim and directed to our transportation. 

When I called, I talked to Daniel, who is the “D” in the “DK.”  One question I had was how long does it take to go from Disneyland Resort in Anaheim to Legoland in Carlsbad.  The 72 mile journey will take about 90 minutes.  Having that information helped us to plan for a timely pick-up at both Disneyland and Legoland.

Also, when talking to Daniel, he said that a sedan or town car would not be comfortable for three people and luggage.  So, he is sending us an SUV.  He also asked if we needed special child restraints that are required for children under 8.  I told Daniel that we were a party of two adults and a 12 year old, so now child restraints needed.

Items left on the “to do” list for our summer vacation include making dining reservations, including any special dining experiences and any tours.  Both of those have to wait until the 60 day mark which is two months away.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Two New Sets of Matching Shirts--Fun and a Great Deal!

 When the husband and I were changing the sheets and making our bed this morning, I asked him if he would wear a red t-shirt with Mickey Mouse heads all over it.  He not only said “yes” but that he would be proud to wear it.  That’s all I needed to hear!

The day before I had been walking in our local mall and JCPenney store and saw the Disney inspired t-shirts.  The shirts were on-sale but not all of the sizes we needed were available in the store, but they were on-line.

It must have been serendipitous that I wanted to order the shirts today as I scored a great deal.  The t-shirts were on-sale for 50% off.  And, I started my on-line shopping at Ebates.com which had a 10% cash back offer for JCPenney.  And, there was an additional 20% off promo code!

So, we now have 2 more sets of matching shirts for our next Disney vacation!

Want to know why we wear matching shirts?  Click here to read more.