Ever come back from a great holiday only to discover that you’re not in any of the photos? You might be a great shutterfly, but after the effort of packing and finding the perfect travel outfits, you shouldn’t be an invisible face in the photographic memories of your trips. Disney Resorts’ Disney’s Photopass Program make it easy for you by hiring their own professional photographers in and around the parks with the Disney’s Photopass program. At many of the famous sights and locations with great vistas, you can get snapped by a pro. Ask for a free photopass, get as many photos as you want added via scanner throughout your day, and pop online later to see which ones you would like to order. (And you don’t have to look like a tourist with a huge camera around your neck all day.) Disney’s Photopass program allows you to finally be in the family pictures, too!
We’ve all been there (if we’re lucky) – the lineup for the Dumbo ride, the first time on Space Mountain, or the Mickey Photo. Rich or poor, young or old, Disney is the great equalizer – our smiles reflect happiness and our memories last forever. And it’s not only at the parks that our spirits are moved.
Ka-Chow! The excitement is mounting as the kids and I depart tomorrow on a sneak preview of Cars Land at Disneyland Resort in Southern California. Plane trips can be tricky and it helps to be prepared. Space is at a premium, entertainment is key, and yet you can also take the opportunity to do some teaching and nurturing. Here’s what we packed:
1. Mader, Doc Hudson and Lightening McQueen (a great way to educate and get them excited about what is to come. You could do this with any destination – this of what you’d pack for Asia, Paris…)
2. The Blackberry Playbook, complete with Montessori learning apps and a few games.
3. Soy rock crayons.
4. Big foam magnetic letters that the kids are having difficulty with – they will be a captive audience on the plane for learning their ‘G’ and ‘W’!
5. A hackey sack for burning energy in the airport.
6. An iPod with their ‘go to sleep’ music downloaded.
7. Nemo waterwings to get them excited for swimming when we arrive.
8. Again in the Disney theme, a few little green men from Toy Story. They can stage battles for hours and we have so many we won’t miss them if a couple get left on the plane.
I had the pleasure of getting a lesson on filming with Kimberley Blaine and Sony at the Disney Social Media Moms Conference – a perfect fit with the launch of UrbanMommies TV. And now, Sony has teamed up with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts to promote its latest line of Handycam® camcorders in an integrated marketing campaign that focuses on capturing and sharing family memories.
The “Share Magical Memories” co-branded campaign will feature a unique online contest and dedicated website hosted by Disney Interactive at www.disney.com/memories where guests* can submit a written entry about a special someone in their life, a family member, friend or educator, who has helped create a lasting memory. A panel of judges will review the stories about the special memory makers and select five grand prize winners. Each grand prize winner will receive a vacation for themselves and three guests, plus a vacation for their memory makers and three guests to Walt Disney World Resort. The winning families will also receive a Sony® HDR-PJ260V projector camcorder to document new memories before, during, and after their experience at Disney Parks.
There will also be a weekly sweepstakes on www.disney.com/memories where guests can enter daily on the site or text “SONY” to DISNEY (347639) on their mobile devices, for a chance to win prizes such as a $200 Disney gift card and a Sony HDR-PJ260V camcorder. One winner will be awarded per week.
Gotta go enter.
To see your children happy. Isn’t that every Mother’s goal? I can’t get the vision of the ‘Mickey Pool’ out of my head. We had the great fortune to cruise on the inaugural voyage of the new Disney Fantasy. Modeled after the Disney Dream (the Fantasy is the sister ship to the Dream, and both are about 40% bigger than the Wonder and the Magic) the Fantasy has added a few extra pleasures including the Aquaduck – a see-through pipe waterslide that whisks you around the top of the ship in a raft. I’d be with the little son as the older one and his daddy waved hysterically through the slide’s clear glass. I don’t think I actually stopped giggling during the whole voyage.
As mothers, we feel it is our duty (and sometimes extra-special talent) to create happiness. We can take our children places, but it is ultimately our parenting that allows the kids to thrive in a new environment. The kids clubs on the ship, like the Oceaneer’s Lab and the Oceaneer’s Club, made this very apparent. These two rooms – one with life-sized toys replicating Andy’s Room in Toy Story – featured computer terminals, volcano-making, Tinkerbell leading activities and Disney films. How can a mother possibly compete? I must admit that I was a tad offended when I went to pick up the boys for dinner and they declined to join us. Oh. You’re having too much fun and I am not helping to create it. (And the ample staff taught them both how to use a computer mouse…If you think that’s amazing – my friend’s toddler came off the ship potty-trained!). Hmm. So I guess it’s a date night with my husband, then, without having to hire a babysitter. Right. Where to start?
Not only is there a toddler and child area though – but there are segregated sections for tweens (Edge), infants (It’s a Small World Nursery) and teenagers. The teen space is Vibe. The 14-17 year-olds need a special key card to enter and the chaperones are cool and educated. Teens can insert themselves into zombie movies, crash on the floor pillows or search for ghosts. Many parents I spoke with were confronted with the same shocking realization – Disney was doing a much better job of creating fun than we were.
So my kids are happy. My husband is thrilled. The food is spectacular. The kids are wired with GPS and I have been given a ‘wave phone’ which rings even if they just want to hear my voice (it never rang). So what is left to worry about? Hygene? No. The staff of the Fantasy wiped our hands every time we entered any dining area. The rooms are meticulous. The quality of the surroundings? Nope. Frette has made the linens exclusively for Disney and people are washing down every area all the time. The infant water area – Nemo’s Garden – has fresh water pumped in continuously so that tots in diapers have no chance of imbibing contaminants. So where was I? Safety! Yes. Not only do they have that down, but the actors from the spectacular shows run the drills so they are the most entertaining musters I’ve ever attended. (Actually better than most of the theatre I’ve seen lately). But I can apply the suntan lotion. And I can cut up the food for the kids. Oh wait. No – the waiters in the dining room do that. After they squeeze the ketchup into a Mickey Mouse shape. Oh – and when we arrived to dinner each night (you try each dining room and the staff actually rotates with your family) the kids’ names were clearly present on their cups.
So what struck me the most was my role as a mother, as part of a family. It became more and more clear that I wasn’t responsible to be everything to the kids. My job should include having fun too. And creating memories with my spouse and family. We had lots of time and made a thousand memories as a unit of 4, but I also relaxed as an adult – as a woman. And my husband and I bonded and reconnected. There were so many adult-only areas on the ship, and it was so over-the-top classy that I would return to any Disney cruise even without my kids in tow.
The decor was timeless. Like grand ships of the ’40s, the profile of the Dream and the detailing of the mill work throughout was incredible. Our stateroom had a bathtub – great for infants (and me) and the theatres were opulent. It was kind of like ‘choose your own adventure’. You could catch a film in the movie theatre as a family, take in the fireworks on deck, hit the arcade, chill in the family ‘D Lounge’, or eat (some more). A new addition from the sister ships is also the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I sent my husband out to purchase suntan lotion and he found himself at the Boutique. He returned ashen-faced and empty-handed. The boutique transforms little girls into Disney Divas or Fairy Tale Princesses. A full-on salon environment, the boutique allows little princesses to choose from packages with hair, nails, makeup and exclusive outfits and crowns. For the tiny princes, as well as girls and grownups (SCORE), there are pirate nights. “Applications of beards and bandanas, swords and scars, earrings and eye patches are all done with the savvy skill of a veteran pirate who shares his own tales of sea-sailing adventures.”
If you prefer an adult escape, you could ditch the kids and go to any of the bars and lounges in Europa, the adult area, like The Tube (a la London), Ohh La La (Paris boudoir), O’Gill’s Pub (Ireland), La Piazza (Italy), or the Skyline. It features full visual skylines of world-famous cities behind the bar and they change over the course of the evening. The Skyline single-handedly convinced my other half that St. Petersburg needs to be our next big trip. Thank you Disney Fantasy. I’ve been working on that jaunt for years.. There are also fun bars on deck, and of course the shows. But you wouldn’t really want the kids to miss those. And in the big scheme of finances – once they’ve seen a live musical on a Disney cruise, you don’t have to break the bank taking them to Broadway, because the performers are THAT good. (I used to do musical theatre). Save the cash for the St. Petersburg trip.
Castaway Cay is Disney’s private Island in the Bahamas. I could yammer on and on about the white sand and the snorkeling, the water sports, the teen beach or the adult-only areas, but I took one huge thing away with me and can’t get it out of my head. Mahi Mahi and fruit. When we arrived, there was a table covered in ready-to-eat fruit. For lunch, amidst burgers, chicken and ribs, was the most perfect Mahi Mahi I have ever experienced. Ditto for the kids. And that’s the thing – my kids ate better during this cruise than they have ever eaten (yeah – my Mom self-esteem is plummeting). I discovered that they LOVE white fish. Papaya. Scalloped potatoes. We tried to make a point of pushing them out of their comfort zones – they were so happy all the time they hardly noticed. (One restaurant – Animator’s Palace – actually encouraged you to draw a figure and then you could see it come to life on screens around the room as you ate!!) So many childrens’ menus do a disservice to our parenting and our children. And the colouring is always interspersed with the offerings of mac and cheese, hotdogs and garbage. At Disney I would have ordered off the kids’ menu. But could someone please cut up my food?
So when you’re not getting photographed with the princesses (there are tons of opportunities), getting the kids styled at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, you can head to the Shipboard Detective Agency on Deck 4. Many parents I knew on the cruise couldn’t get their kids to stop this activity. So you become a detective. You find clues within the art on the ship, and you solve a mystery. There’s even one involving the Muppets. (My kids love the Muppets because we saw a 4-D show in the Magic Kingdom which took me back to childhood. They could see my delight and now every time they see a Muppet commercial on tv the scream their heads off in joy to show me. And I think they are dying. But I digress.)
I’ve taken a few lessons home from Disney. Fun and relaxation instill progress and learning. Adult time is important. Try new things with your kids when you have the opportunity. Focus on your family and it’s unique qualities in determining your activities. Remember that no one person should pressure themselves to teach, entertain and care for the kids all the time. Share the responsibility. And if you still feel like a really crappy mother, hop on a Disney Cruise, dress like a pirate, watch fireworks and focus on the joy in your childrens’ faces. Your parenting has enabled them to feel this true joy, and Disney does a magnificent job in helping them bring it to the surface.
Disclosure: Disney Resorts provided accommodation, cruise fare, 1 airline fare for the family to travel to Florida in order to witness the ship and the inaugural sailing of the Fantasy.
The call of Disney is an unmistakable one, now that my kids are getting a bit older. However, I’ve done the theme parks, and as much fun as they are, I’m not sure my youngest is quite ready for a week of ‘It’s a Small World’ at Disneyland or Disney World. Enter the Disney Cruise. The Disney Cruise Line is specifically designed for family adventures balanced with some well-deserved R&R for mom and dad – all with the first-class style and service you’ve come to expect from anything Disney.
So I was invited on this amazing trip that was sponsored by General Motors and included my whole family. We flew to Orlando, stayed in a stunning home, saw various Orlando attractions and drove a Chevrolet Orlando from Florida to Toronto in the span of 3 days. The only part I was worried about was the long drive with the kids. My husband is injured and unable to drive, so I was on the hook for it all. I was shocked at how enjoyable it was. It was the quintessential Modern Road Trip.
Not only did we love the car, but the technology that was placed in the vehicle enhanced the trip to an incredible degree. The gadgets helped endlessly with ‘Are we there yet?’, fighting in the backseat and getting lost. The only issue was that it was a bit too easy. Too comfy. Compared to old-school road trips, where part of the fun is getting lost and having a good old-fashioned family feud about whose fault it was, we were all blissful. Next time we’d research a few fun things to do off the beaten track and incorporate tech-free hours. It never really occurred to us that the point of a road trip is that you see things along the way – not just your end destination. Channeling the movie ‘Cars‘: “All you see on the interstate is the interstate”. That being said… for the hours you have to put in getting from point A to point B… here’s what got us through.
Components of the Modern Roadtrip:
1. iPads. Each child in the back of the car was given an iPad and a credit for iTunes. And here I was thinking that my next vehicle had to have AV installed. For the cost of a couple of first-generation iPads and back-of-the-seat attachments, the kids can look at movies as well as find the golden eggs in Angry Birds. That’s modern. (Maybe not great parenting but modern all the same).
2. OnStar – Oh WOW – where have I been? I feel so secure and I loved talking to a real person. OnStar got us to Disney and home, though I am so bad at paying attention, my hubby still had to remind me to change lanes. After a few days I realized that you could also dial friends and family. I think that’s when my driving deteriorated.
3. MiFi: Rogers MiFi created a hotspot in the car so that laptops and iPads could be connected to the internet. If I hadn’t been driving I would have been seriously geeking out…
4. Sirius XM radio – we made a pact. If I drive I got to listen to Broadway the whole time.. And Martha Stewart, and favourites from Y2K. (I was actually nice and changed the channel once in a while). But I still sang at the top of my lungs as the Appalacian Mountains whisked by.
5. The backup sensor. As a tech innovation I have to mention it. Great tool – especially when someone walks unexpectedly behind the car. I’ve driven a few cars with video backup and I like the simple beep better. Less visual distraction.
6. The USB hookup. iPods can be connected directly to the car, and you are able to see your whole playlist on the stereo controls. The best? There’s a hidden compartment for the music player so you don’t even have to worry about it being stolen when you leave the car. (Or look at cords all the time).
7. The fold-down seats. Popping carseats in and out was super-easy, and all seats in the back folded down flat with tremendous ease. You don’t even have to jimmy the headrests off – they duck down when you pull the lever. Because of our fun accommodations as we drove through Savannah and West Virginia, we didn’t actually sleep in the car, but with this feature, you could create a campout in the back. Think of all of the fun you could have as a family hangin’ in the trunk.
Part of the success of the trip was the vehicle itself. I haven’t been asked to write anything about it, but I was so impressed that I feel like gushing. For the past few years we have been test driving BMWs, Land Rovers, Porsches and lots of family vehicles. (Well, expensive family vehicles.) We’re starting to develop a pretty clear idea of essentials for busy moms and families. In terms of the Chevrolet Orlando, we gave it a high score. Here’s why:
1. Carseats clipped in easily.
2. Good visibility and windows that were large.
3. The backup sensor (we’re usually pretty tired).
4. Not only can the stroller get into the trunk with ease, but there was a ton of room for our shopping after a trip to Target. (Much room needed, believe me).
5. You can you see the kids in the back seat (the Orlando has a childview mirror)
6. 7 seats with the option of putting 6 up so that there is still storage in the trunk.
7. Don’t laugh. It’s important. I didn’t break a nail or two when opening the driver door quickly. The handle is long-nail-friendly.
8. The technology was amazing – electrical ports front and back, and USB.
9. Drink holders in the armrest in the back for the kids.
10. Automatically locks when you put the car in drive.
11. Windshield wipers covered a big surface area.
12. OnStar handsfree calling and Navigation – knowing where you’re going reduces stress.
13. Low back windows in order to increase kids’ visibility – it keeps them entertained.
14. Don’t laugh again. I liked the look of the car. I want a friendly-looking beast of a vehicle.
15. I loved the driver’s armrest.
16. Ease of cruise control rocked – right on the steering wheel.
17. All seatbelt clips had fabric around them which prevented mini lego pieces (and Cheerios, and smarties… ) falling into Neverland (excuse the Disney reference).
18. The material of the seats seems totally durable and dried really well when we soaked it. With rainwater. Stop snickering.
19. The seats go very high up for short/vertically challenged people.
20. Directional compass right on console is so helpful for those of us who are navigationally impaired.
21. Easily cleanable cockpit without many places for dust and schmutz to collect.
22. You can put a drink in each of the doors.
23. You can open the trunk hatch with one hand when you’re carrying a baby as well as groceries.
24. The driver’s seat goes really far back in case you need to use the car as a nursing/feeding place.
25. Especially with seats 6 and 7 down, the back makes a great diaper change area.
Mom stuff that’s crucial – wouldn’t you agree? In all, we loved the car and also the idea of a family roadtrip. We became closer as a family and saw areas of North America that we have only ever heard about. Now, if only we could find the rest of those Golden Eggs.
Disclosure: UrbanMommies was provided air and car travel, accommodation, meals and one day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. For more insights, we Tweeted under the hashtag #chevyorlando.
After an incredible trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, I feel super-connected to my family and am flooded with memories and images that I will cherish for a very long time. The kids gave up the bunks for their own king bed together. They held hands as they slept. The grins and shyness at meeting the ‘real’ Woody and Jessie are etched into my consciousness. We enjoyed every minute. We felt like great parents, and all of the bits of good behaviour and thankfulness made us feel as if we’ve done a bang-up job for the past few years. (Especially when we left a store at the end of each ride empty-handed and no meltdown occurred).
Both of our boys (3 and 5) were transfixed with the rides, the performances that popped up out of nowhere, the Jedi training Academy, and the plentitude of characters that were wandering around. I was very impressed with how many opportunities there were for photos with Disney stars.
That being said, I had already booked a lunch with the Disney princesses (the last time I came, I was 8 and I remember that being the only way one could see characters). We jumped on a boat from Hollywood Studios to Epcot, and raced to lunch. I should mention that my husband is currently in a wheelchair (torn achilles tendon) and I pushed him (usually with the kids on his lap) around for hours. When we got to Akershus (Norway Pavillion) I was soaked with the 90 degree heat but the lunch (and the air conditioning) was out of this world. Apparently Johnny Depp’s fav restaurant at Disney (he donated his red throne from Pirates of the Carribean), we were whisked into a castle only to meet Belle (in the gold gown) at the front. Needless to say, my 5 year old son dove for cover. Not because he’s against girly things (pink is his favourite colour) but because he was so taken by her princess beauty that shyness overwhelmed him (after just having done a rollercoaster and conquered the dark side of the force). The little one, incidentally, was asleep in the wheelchair, and missed every princess. My husband and I proudly have an 8 x 10 of he, I, and Belle (me looking like the soaked-in-sweat third wheel). Lunch was exquisite, the service was even better, we (well not my shy son or the asleep one) met all 5 Disney princesses and the chef will be emailing me recipes of my favourite dishes – not because they even knew I was a writer, but because that’s what they do. Cool.
In all 4 Disney parks we experienced customer service like I’ve never seen. You know.. it’s super expensive for a family to come to Disney (and the Park didn’t sponsor me in any way, by the way). But throughout our day, I didn’t have one single criticism of the place. No chips in any paint. Perfect smiles from every server, security person and vendor. The ‘Magical’ experience for every family seems to be taken to heart by all Disney personnel (or ‘cast’ as they call them.) Many families save for a lifetime to allow their kids to experience Disney, and you know, I think Walt Disney World does such a good job that all of the saving is totally worth it. The key, though? Good parenting. After every ride, everywhere you turn, there is stuff to buy. Stuff that kids really want (Disney does their homework on desirable kitch). I overheard one mom screaming at her child in the ladies’ room for asking for more toys, and witnessed so many tantrums. Most people would say: ‘prepare the kids’. ‘Know what you’re getting into before you go and figure out how you will handle it.’ But really? How are you supposed to prepare? Disney is like no experience on earth. Just set some boundaries, stick to your guns, and know that this experience and the sensory overload is probably just as overwhelming and difficult to manage for your children as it is for you.
One piece of large crowded areas that always scares me is safety. The kids have business cards in their shoes and know their names and numbers, but I still wasn’t relaxed. I mentioned lost children to the lady at the will call booth, and she handed over shiny buttons sporting ‘My First time at Disney’, on which I wrote all info on the back with a sharpie marker. (Several employees throughout the day picked up on the buttons and talked to the kids about it being their first time). Still…. what if (gasp) some psycho-crazy nabbed them and easily disposed of the buttons and cards. (I also wrote on their arms with pen but it was so hot the sweat got rid of it within an hour). So I conjured up an idea. Henna Tattoos. Can I patent that? I think I might be brilliant.
A highlight of my day at Hollywood Studios was the Muppet 3D experience. It is so comforting to know that the stuff I watched every Sunday when I grew up still goes strong. And it has also evolved. The 3D experience transposed on Kermit and gang was so warm and current. And the kids liked it as much as the new stuff – Cars, the Little Mermaid, or anything else.
At both Epcot (for obvious reasons) and the Magic Kingdom, I was so impressed on the inclusion of different cultures and esthetics into the park. The catch? A parent must choose to go to these places over the roller coasters and help children understand (yes, I was the obnoxious one on ‘It’s a Small World’ teaching about continents) but the learning opportunities are certainly there, provided by Disney.
Magic Kingdom is all about tradition – an American tradition, a cultural icon that is Disney – and there is no alcohol at the Magic Kingdom. While it would be nice at times (ahem) to have a glass of wine after the “why can’t I get the 3 foot Buzz Lightyear temper tantrum”, it is also incredible. I’m sure more money could be made if they sold liquor, but the party atmosphere didn’t suffer a bit, and I am sure parents were more attentive and tuned in to their kids without the late afternoon beer skin. Good job, Disney, on being a role model. That’s one lesson I’m certainly taking home.
In all, we have come back with so many family memories. My goal for the year is to incorporate as much magic into our daily lives as possible – Magic a la Disney.
It’s a beautiful sunny day, big marshmallowy clouds are floating by, waves are crashing and my kids are playing happily by the ocean. Sounds like malarky – I know, especially to a Calgarian (what, no snow?, its April!!) but this is how our spring vacation to Orange County California rolled out. We started our Californian adventure with a tour through the small town of Laguna Beach. Staying at the Pacific Edge Hotel, we had an ocean view room that even our kids found more interesting than the tv. With just a few quick steps past the restaurant and outdoor pool, we landed on the famous Laguna Beach – and, no word of a lie – dolphins swam past as if to greet us. My kids went bananas – so did my husband and I.
Once you have kids, the days of stolen mini-breaks with your honey are pretty much gone, unless you have a great nanny or very forbearing parents nearby! Traveling with a family can be tricky and expensive, but it is possible to enjoy a vacation with the kids; in fact, sometimes it’s even more fun than vacationing alone with your partner…although it is a different kind of “fun!” Here are the top 10 travel destinations for kids.