Universal Orlando vs Disney World

We are what is referred to as Disney People.  We love all things Disney.  We love Disney World.  We love the parks, the rides, the shows,  the food, the shops, the characters, the music, the atmosphere.  We love driving into Disney World and seeing the sign that welcomes us.  We love parking in a themed parking lot. We love the ferry boat and the monorail and sometimes can’t decided which one to ride. We miss the sorcerers hat at Hollywood Studios, the robotic garbage can in Tomorrowland,  Mickey and Minnie’s houses in Toon Town (Pluto’s house was Quinn’s favorite picture spot.)  We miss the Back Lot Tour. We are sad that there were attractions we never got to experience like Maelstrom, which for some reason we chose not to when we went to Epcot or (for all but me) the 2000 Leagues Under the Sea Ride which was gone before Scott made his first trip to the Magic Kingdom.  But we look forward to the new attractions, restaurants and shops that are coming.  We can’t  wait to ride through Arendelle and travel to Pandora.

That being said we also have some huge Harry Potter fans in the house and have been planning to go to Universal Orlando since the Wizarding World’s of Harry Potter have been added.  So this year was the year.  I had hoped to go to the Magic Kingdom as well, but since we like to only do a couple park days and since we couldn’t pick one Universal park over the other we put Disney off.  (Yes I am counting down to the next visit.)

So the question is ‘Is Disney better than Universal?’

Better no, Different yes.

  • Cost. We had heard over and over that Universal was more expensive than Disney.  A 1 day ticket to Magic Kingdom was $105 when we went which is the same as a 1 day ticket to either Universal park.  Disney includes 3 fast passes to begin your day with the cost of admission.  Universal charges for their express pass, $39.99.  This pass gets you unlimited express pass access to all rides that it is valid for for that day.  It does not include the 2 big Harry Potter rides (one in each park)  so we personally did not spend the extra.  Food was similar in price. But Universal had a refill program that Disney does not.  You could purchase a souvenir mug and refill it all day at one of the many Coca Cola Freestyle stations around the park (it uses the chip technology and you do need to  wait 10 minutes between fills.  You are also able to have the chip reactivated each day for about half price.)  as well as refill your souvenir bucket of popcorn for a few dollars.
  • Story Lines.  At Disney most of the story lines for shows, rides and attractions put you into the current story you already know. On Peter Pan’s Flight you soar over London to Neverland and take in the sites of the story just as Wendy and the boys did. Indiana Jones gives you the feeling that you are on an adventure with Indy to find some lost gem. The attractions at Universal seem to tell a new story. You may be on a broomstick flying around Hogwarts but you are not living the same adventure you watched in the movie.  In the Terminator you watch a new story unfold instead of just taking part of the one you already know.  For some new is good and a new story is a great way to continue on, but I like to live the story that I already know and that brought me to the park in the first place.
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  • Attraction Format. Universal rides are a little different than those at Disney.  They definitely shake you more and there seems to be more of an emphasis on motion.  There are less shows and rides that just take you through the story.  After a half day at Universal Studios I knew that I had enough and would have to sit any additional rides out.  The Minion ride did have an option to sit in stationary seats and just watch the movie that played, this option also decreased wait time by well over an hour.  ET was a simple ride that took you though the forest searching for ET but when the signs advise you that if you are pregnant, have back problems or motion sickness believe it. Islands of Adventure rides were a little easier going for me. Dr Seuss land was a great spot for all ages and adventure styles- not much shaking but you will get wet (as to be expected) on One Fish Two Fish. And beware that you will spin win fighting the villians in The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man and my eyes remained shut for most of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
  • Meet and Greets.  At Universal it was old school style.  No fast passes for meet and greets.  No cued lines.  They characters just finish their street show, the MC makes an announcement and BOOM lines form.  I LOVED this.  For us it worked great in Dr. Seuss land.  Kooper quickly made her decision we formed a line and since we were so fast the rest of the line formed behind us!  Best way to meet the Grinch and Sam I Am EVER!!
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  • Harry Potter. Hogsmede and Diagon Alley were awesome.  You don’t have to even be a fan to appreciate the coolness of these to areas.  You also do not need to ride the major rides to enjoy the worlds created in the Harry Potter stories, all the detail in them makes them easy to enjoy on their own- the rides are just bonuses.  The authenticness of the streets and shops was beyond amazing.  You felt like you were actually there.  The employees were well versed and knew their subject matter. The merchandise was great. The fire breathing dragon outside of Gringots was spot on. Hogwarts felt life size- wether you were looking at it from the street or walking though it on your way to the Forbidden Journey Ride. Interactive wands and wand choosing at Olivander’s. The train station, Hogwarts Express and 9 3/4 Platform at Kings Cross. Seeing the house elf peer out the window at #12 Grimmwald Place. Butter Beer (regular, frozen, and ice cream). It is something that can only be truly appreciated in person.

 

  • City Walk vs Disney Springs.  Disney Springs has free parking.  City Walk shares a parking ramp with the 2 parks so parking is currently $20 before 6 pm (discounted after that.) Both have restaurants, street shows and night life. Disney Springs, however is much bigger and has more of everything.  I would be able to spend a lot more time walking around Disney Springs than I could around City Walk.  City Walk seemed to be more about a destination that you would need to spend money at, I could easily just walk around Disney Springs for hours looking at things and watching the street shows.  That being said I have really only eaten at City Walk once, 15 years ago and walked through it on my way in and out of the parks.  We did try to go there last year but couldn’t rationalize paying to park to just walk around and eat dinner (although it does have some amazing restaurants!)
  • Rides that didn’t allow you to take anything on with you.  Many rides at Universal made you completely empty your pockets before getting in line (or going beyond a certain point.)  I have never experienced this at Disney.  You would get to a certain point and have to put ALL your belongings into a locker that was access by thumb print.  When I say all ALL I mean it- cell phones, sunglasses, hats,  bags, wallets, change from your pocket. When getting in line for Rip Ride Rocket we even had to go thru a metal detector to make sure we didn’t have anything on us still (and I was just walking thru the line- I didn’t ride the ride.) I guess I can understand this for a ride like that it was a pretty crazy coaster and they could be concerned about stuff falling out but we had to use the lockers for the Men In Black Ride as well.  If you have never been on it but are familiar with Disney it is similar to the Toy Story Rides- you just spin more.  I found it quite annoying having to find an empty locker, shove all my stuff into it (which really meant finding at least 2 lockers), going thru the process of opening and locking it, and having to remember the locker number(s).  Then get back into line without my drink or snacks for another 30-40 minutes.  Seriously this locker thing was probably the biggest annoyance of the day.
  • Food.  Although the food was somewhat themed Mel’s Drive Inn in Hollywood Boulevard, Krusty Burger and Moe’s Tavern in Springfield,  Wimpy’s in Toon Lagoon the only thing that could really compare to Disney iconic Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Bars, Mickey shaped soft pretzels, and dole whip (as well as the food served at the many quick service and full service restaurants) was the Butter Beer and Gilly Water in Diagon Alley and the french fries and atmosphere at Mel’s were fabulous! And again I must give props to that refill program.  For us being able to refill our soda and popcorn bucket is huge. And since it was a freestyle machine there were tons of non soda options as well.  You could also use the machines for ice and water free of charge.

These are just some of the big difference I picked up between the two.  Lots of things were similar. I have heard many times that the service isn’t as good at Universal as it is at Disney.  I did not find this to be the case at all.  I listened to the gentleman outside Olivander’s tell countless numbers of people that the line was for the wand choosing experience not to purchase a wand.  He did it with a smile every time.  He also talked to my kids while we waited and was never annoyed.  The park was clean, there was no garbage lying around.  Lines moved as quick as they could. There was rider swap and single rider lines. Questions were asked and answered just as they would be at Disney. The displays were fantastic and there was fun to be had around every corner. There were character meet and greets happening all the time.  Tradition was still upheld. And yes both Universal and Disney have Starbucks.

 

Is Disney World better than Universal Orlando.  No it is not.  Is it different? Yes, there are some similarities but they are two very different theme parks. I am glad we finally went to Universal but I am glad we waited for all of the kids to be older.  Kooper may not love Harry Potter, but she was able to appreciate it. She did love Dr Seuss Land, the Woody Woodpecker Coaster, The Barney Live Show, Fieval’s Playground, Kang and Kudos Twirl and Hurl and the Minion Mayhem.

Would we go again?  Yes. Honestly we could spend most of the day just walking around the Harry Potter Worlds.  The other attractions we hit would just be a bonus.  I would probably do both parks in 1 day though.  I think with the park hopper we would have been able to still do everything we wanted to do as well as ride The Hogwarts Express- which we unfortunately did not get to do since we didn’t have the park hopper.  There’s always next time.

Our First Adventure

 

School was cancelled due to an potential 6-12 inches of snow with high winds.  How did we spend the day off?  We finished our packing and loaded up the RV.  We were getting out of this icky weather the following morning.  Heading to warmer weather.  Loading up in weather like that is not fun but we turned the heat on and did our best.  4 AM came we all took our seats and we headed for the highway.

We had a full tank of gas so our first stop was 6 1/2 hours south in Lebanon, IN for gas and a leg stretch.

It took almost to Indianapolis for the icicles to fall of the roof.

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We stopped again at a rest area about 30 miles from Kentucky where we had lunch, sandwiches and tacos, and Scott took a nap.  That was awesome.  He usually gets tired in Indiana and since I wasn’t comfortable driving the RV yet he was able to shut the bedroom door and sleep while we all ate.  It turned out that our lunch time and bathroom break was the was the perfect amount of time for him for him to rest because he got up right as we were finishing.  He then had a sandwich and we headed on our way.

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Parked at the Rest Stop in Indiana

There was a ton of traffic in Tennessee.  We took an alternative route around Nashville- not our normal one either.  Saw lots of cool Ranches.

Also had to bypass Chattanooga.  We ended up on a road that went along the other side of the Nickajack Lake.  I wish it would have been light out because it looked like it would be a really cool area.

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traffic back up on I24 going into Chattanooga

We had planned to stop for the night in a Walmart parking lot.  We called ahead and had 3 or 4 on our list.  But saw a billboard for a Cabela’s in Acworth, GA so opted for that instead.  When we pulled in there was one camper there already, and since this was our first boon docking experience that made us feel a lot better.  The lot was well lit and spacious.  It had enough room for a few RV’s. It was quiet all night.  When we woke up I showered and we were able to leave before the store even opened so we weren’t able to go in and buy anything but if it had been we would have checked it out. Only down fall was that we hand’t worked out how to make coffee- where was the best spot to store and set the pot while driving.  That will be taken care of before the next trip because not knowing when you will get coffee is not the way to start your morning. Thankfully we needed gas and it only took about an hour before we stopped.

We got to the resort late in the afternoon the next day. We stayed at Marriott’s Harbor Lake which is the vacation club resort we own at.  We had a 2 bedroom unit with a full kitchen and washer and dryer. Our unit was located right off of one of the main pools and 3 gas grills were located next to it (we used them twice!) . As always the resort activity center did a great job- egg hunts on Easter, poolside trivia, magic shows, an alligator show, teen poker night, crafts, daily ice cream sundaes, and for the adults wine and beer tastings.   We were also pleasantly surprised to find out that they had several spots to park RV’s.  We parked right on the other side of the parking lot for our building.  This was great since we were completely prepared to have to drive to the RV if we needed anything in it. But it only took a few seconds to walk there, and yes we made several trips to get essentials from it.  We also were not rushed to unload it, which was greatly different that last year.  Instead they told us to take our time and made sure we knew all of our options for parking and the easiest ways to get to them.

We did rent a car while we were there since we were unsure how parking would be at the resort and at Universal.  It wasn’t necessary since both seemed to be pretty convenient.  I don’t think we would rent one again .

While there we were able to enjoy pool time, wine on the dock, a wine tasting, both Universal parks (yes we have some big Harry Potter fans in the family),  hit the outlet mall, and hung out at Disney Springs.  It was probably more than I typically like to do- not enough sitting around time.  But I am always happy to have time with the family no matter what we are doing. And if we missed something it just gives us more reason to go back.

On the way home we encountered a ton of traffic (which is typical for that weekend) and accidents causing back ups.  It was a great benefit having the bathroom and the space to move around during this. And there is nothing better than the kids having their space.  They did spend a few hours watching movies on the big screen together but when they got sick of each other they didn’t have to be next to each other anymore. It was also nice not having to book a hotel or try to find one once we wanted to stop.  When we were ready we just found a Walmart, checked to make sure it was o.k. to park overnight there and pulled in for the night.

The Walmart we chose was in White House, TN. We have stopped at the Quality Inn across the street many times.  I would highly recommend this spot.  It was a huge parking lot that had a Waffle House, a Mc Donald’s and a gas station all connected to it.  We got there about 11 PM and there were already several RV’s parked.  2 more came in before we woke up.  The lot was also well lit and felt safe and the staff at both the Walmart and Mc Donald’s (yes we were able to get coffee before heading off in the morning) were very friendly.

We used the dump station at a Flying J in northern Indiana, cost was $10.  We really like to stop at Flying J’s and Pilots because they have room to pull in for gas and move around.  Plus they have Chicken Pot Pie soup  that Kooper loves to have for lunch.  This one happened to be right across the street from a Wendy’s so we all got lunch and snack size frosty’s for the kids. We did realize about 15 miles up there road there was a Cabela’s which we could have dumped at for free, since we have the Cabela’s card- mental note for next time.

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful other that it being extremely windy.  We got home about 7.  The best part when we got home with our own RV instead of a rental was we didn’t have to unpack everything (just what we wanted) fill up the gas tank and return to the dealer.  However we (well Scott) did have to re-winterize it.

Can’t wait to use the RV on it’s first camping trip. I can already tell that it is going to be great accommodations.

 

 

It’s Ours

It’s ours.  We have the keys in hand.  It’s parked in our driveway. We can officially walk in and out of it as many times as we want. We can finally decide how we want it organized and start filling it with our stuff.  Bonus we can get all of the stuff from the old camper out of the family room and basement.

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Once we got it home the big question was where to put the pots and pans and where to put the garbage and broom. After a little thought and moving things around everything was put into a place (with a few cupboards and drawers still empty.)  Can’t promise it will stay where it currently is after the first couple trips but the great thing is there is a lot of room for error and switching where things are placed.

There is a ton of storage.  Really, I put everything away and still have several drawers and shelves that are empty.  This is great because of course we will need food shelves as well as cupboards to put our bags in out of the way when we are on the road.  If we sleep in the RV on our way to a destination we don’t want to have to sleep with our overnight bag or trip on it as we try to walk around at night.

The cab is great.  The seats are leather and very comfortable (but ask me again after a 20 hour drive to Florida.) The driver seat spins around to become part of the coach. There is a DVD player (only usable when parking brake is on), CD player, GPS, Pandora, Sirius XM Radio, 2 12 volt plugs, USB port, and an Aux port.  There are also several storage cubbies and cup holders.

 

It came with 2 12 volt TV’s and has a spot for a third (which we already added.) 2 additional stereos and a sub woofer for the main entertainment system.

One of my favorite features may be the cup holders.  There are 3 in the cab area, 3 behind the sofa, 2 built into the table and 2 in the over cab bunk.  When we rented the RV last year I remember well telling the kids to have a secure spot to put your drink so they would not have to worry about grabbing it quickly or having it slide across the table and spill.

6 sleeping spaces.  Queen size memory foam mattress in the main bedroom. Full size pull out couch and twin bunk in kids room.  Full size couch and full size table in main living area and queen size mattress above cab. That’s sleeping for 11.  There is a curtain to block off the over the cab bed, a folding door to separate the kids room from the living area and a sliding door to separate the kids room and main bedroom.  Separation and privacy is essential in a family of 5 with teenagers.

 

The master bedroom, as I mentioned has a memory foam queen size bed, 2 large windows , a large wardrobe, coat/hat hooks, 2 night stands with cubbies (one with an extra drawer), over head storage and 2 long closet type cupboards.  It also has an outlet and USB port IMG_3185on each side of the bed and under bed storage.

 

 

 

2 slides.  The living room and kitchen slides out as well as the wardrobe of the main bedroom and the bunkhouse.  It’s amazing how much extra room the slides provide, but yet  when they are in during the drive you still have plenty of room to move around and not be on top of each other.

USB ports.  In addition to the 12 volt ports for the TVs, in the main cab and 1 under the table, most, if not all, USB (8 of them- 4 above the couch- accessible to the living area and overhead bed and 2 on each side of the main bedroom bed- there is 1 additional in the cab that I have not tested) work on battery – no 110 volt electricity or generator needed.  They are conveniently located as well.  This will be beyond beneficial when 8 people need to charge there phones at the same time.

Even the outside of the RV is sweet.  8 storage compartments- even that all the camping stuff has its own place and most of it wont have to be moved for non camping travels.  There is also a larger compartment in the back that will be great for suitcases when going on longer trips and more is packed, then when going camping it can be used for the camp kitchen, outdoor stove, EZ Up tent and larger camp site items. There is a water filtration system, outside shower, rechargeable dyson vacuum, outside cable hook up, outlets, and speakers, and an automatic awning. It is equipped with the arctic package as well so we can use the water tanks all year.

Camera’s.  There is a back up camera with the ability to hear from the outside so you can hear your spotter say stop or whatever else it is the may be trying to say about you.  Two side cameras, one on each side, so you can see whats going on next to you- these also turn on when using your blinker to change lanes.

Automatic. Pretty much everything can be done with the push of a button.  Both slides are automatic and we had auto leveling jacks added so we can stabilize the unit easily upon pulling into any site. Look forward to leveling it at a campground this summer drink in hand- watching everyone else level their manual jacks.

The kitchen table is on a slide bracket and easily slides down when ready to use as a bed.  The bench behind the passenger seat moves to give the passenger seat more adjusting room. The under bench storage is onCloud content-0364162E-1458426606000 a slide out drawer- which is great because you can easily access it at any time no having to move questions and lift the board to get at it. There are even 2 LATCH hooks so you can securely install car seats for young children.

 

 

Love that there is room for everyone.  With three kids who you have completely different interests it will be a bonus that they can each watch TV in their own area not bothering the other.  And we can listen to the radio while they are doing this and not disturb them.  Of course this means not only will I not get to see the movie but I won’t hear them anymore either.

Can’t wait to head off on our first adventure.  The RV is loaded with essentials, just have to add everyone’s suitcases and personal bags.  The count down is on! And if you are wondering no I still haven’t driven it- I’ll put that on the bucket list for this summer.

Why we upgraded AGAIN

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Last summer after we took our annual family camping trip we decided that we had outgrown the $500 pop up we had been using for the last 5 years.  It worked ok when the kids were smaller, didn’t each need 2 bags of clothes a bag of shoes, toy bags, electronic devices, portable DVD players, countless numbers of DVDs and a bathroom bag.  Oh and don’t forget the friend they want to bring and all of the friends stuff. We purchased a 25′ travel trailer with a queen bed in the main bedroom, 2 full size bunks, a couch and table that both converted into beds and best of all a bathroom.  With the new camper camping sounded fun again and we ended up going 5 times between the end of July and October.

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Its a great camper.  Double bunks for the kids, a bedroom for us, a bathroom with a decent size tub and shower, lots of cupboards and light weight. Bu again the thinking starts.  If we are going to go that much should we have gotten someting bigger?  The 30′ travel trailer with the bunkhouse would give the kids more space and we wouldn’t have to use the couch or table as a bed on a regular basis, and its almost like a bedroom- all their stuff could be back there out of site. The island in the kitchen would be awesome.  What about slides to make the living area bigger and the outdoor kitchen, how cool is that. What about an RV???

We ended up with a 31′ Sunseeker 3170DSF Class C Motorhome, and here are 12 reasons why:

  1. A travel trailer is less expensive BUT we would need a new truck too- which is why we went with the 25′ trailer to start with.  We needed to stay under the tow rating of our Suburban or buy a new truck.
  2. If we buy an RV we can use it to drive on other vacations like when we go to Florida over Spring Break
  3. We wont need to stress about getting hotels when we drive on vacation.  When we are ready to stop we can just find a overnight parking spot and sleep. We will save money on hotel rooms that we only sleep in.  We can also save money on food since we have more room to pack it, a fridge to use instead of a cooler and more areas to eat comfortably.
  4. Plenty of room for the kids, the dog, their stuff and friends.  The Sunseeker 3170DSF has a kids bunk room.  It has a single top bunk that can be stored flipped up, a couch that converts into a bed and an entertainment center.  Everyone has there own space or room while we travel (this is huge with 3 kids who have completely different interests.)
  5. This specific RV has the beds.  The bunk house area is what got us thinking about the upgrade to begin with.  Yes the Jack Knife couch is easy to put up and down- but then there’s the sheets and the blankets that need to be used, so lets be honest unless it was raining it just got left down as a bed.  With the bunkhouse room we wont have to use the dinette or the couch as beds unless we have extra people staying with us (Even if the older 2 kids have friends with they can still just use the over over cab bed or the couch bed in the bunk area both have room for 2 to sleep on). Plus the master bedroom has a Queen bed and a wardrobe as well as two closets on each side of the bed and there is a twin bed in the bunk house over the couch.  Everyone has a spot.
  6. The bunkhouse room itself.  Also referred to as the kids room.  Equipped with a couch, TV and an entertainment center.  It will come in very handy not only during the drive but during the rain while camping.  The kids can watch their own movie or hook up a video game console – close the door and not bother the adults
  7. Towing ability. Since the RV can be used as the vehicle we will be able to tow things like the Jeep to Moab, the ATVs to a campground on the trails or a boat to one that is on a full wake lake.  With the travel trailer we were pullong the trailer itself, if we wanted to bring other toys we needed a second car.
  8. Use for other events like taking a group to tailgate at the Packer or Brewer game or on a tour of the area wineries.
  9. Seat belts for 9.  That means more than just our family can comfortable ride with us.  When we go camping the kids could all bring a friend.  When we go on longer trips another family could ride with us.
  10. Class C over Class A- totally personal preference.  I just don’t love the huge size of the class A.  I think they look like a bus and I don’t want to ride to Florida in a bus.  Thankfully that works well because I think that’s what my brother in law wants.  Since we want similar interior layouts we can have different RV’s.
  11. 12 Volt TV’s that can be watched while driving
  12. It will be like having my home away from home when I finally get to stay on Disney property at Fort Wilderness Campground (yes it is already booked)

Now we just have to wait til we can pick it up and use it…

ways to make the drive bareable

When I woke up on Dec 28 we still had not had any sort of accumulating snow for the year. To me this is great.  I am not a fan of winter.  I don’t ski or go sledding and I don’t mind mild weather for Christmas.  Yes snow on the trees is pretty for a day or two, but my life would be fine without it.

When I woke up on Dec 29 we had just under 13.5 inches.  Seriously overnight we had 2 months worth of snow (and not even a snow day for the kids since we are on Christmas Break.)

Mostly this much snow just makes me wish the vacation countdown would move faster and it gets me longing for that 20+ hour drive to the fun and sun.

People ask all the time how and why we drive.  The why is easy.  With a family of 5 the cost savings can pay for the vacation itself.  Just for kicks I just looked up prices to Orlando on Expedia.  The lowest price flight is currently $610 with an o.k. departure time but not arriving til 530 PM (we have now missed half of the first day of vacation) and we would have to leave Orlando at 9 am (that doesn’t work well with a teenager) AND a layover in Chicago- I am not a huge fan of O’hare and do whatever I can to avoid- which for 2 plane tickets is worth paying more but for 5- YIKES.  I wont even start on it not being my choice airline… Anyway at 610 times 5 passengers we are at a total travel cost of $3051.  The last time we drove my Suburban (July 2014)  gas prices were an average of $3.40 per gallon.  We spent an actual dollar amount of $693.44.  We spend an average of $115 a night on hotels.  The drive is completely doable with only one stop which would be $230 total.  That’s a total of $923.44 travel for a savings of $ 2127.56.  Gas prices are lower now and we have a mini van that gets better gas mileage so we potentially should save even more.

Yes if we would have booked flights further out they probably would have been cheaper.

Scott and I also enjoy the quality time we have together.  Time to talk and catch up on life.  Play the alphabet game, look for state licence plates, see the country.

But the bigger question is probably how.  How do you do it with 3 kids.

  1. Be prepared.  Have snacks and drinks.  Games, activities, movies, headphones, books, pillows, blankets.  Make sure DVD players and handheld games are charged and that you bring the chargers.  Headphones for everyone- may be the single most important thing you pack.  Do your best to make them easy to get to.
  2. Snack and drinks should be handy.  Snack size bags and individual portions.  It’s nice to have some healthy options as well. Eating on the road can grow old fast.  By the time vacation is done you wont even want to look at fast food so pack some healthier options to alternate with the easy options.  I think to have veggies and dip, fruit, sausage and cheese salsa and guacamole all packed in individual containers  A small cooler with drinks that can be easily opened is great too.
  3. Be willing to make stops.  Kids are kids they will need to use the restroom, and probably at different times.  Stop at rest areas- typically a faster stop- but also a great place to burn some energy. Take advantage of gas station stops.  Everyone uses the restroom whether they need to or not.  Also let the kids get a snack (or slushie) once in awhile.
  4. Bring along paper towel, wipes and hand sanitizer.  There will be spills and messes. Even my neat teenager spills on herself.  Hand sanitizer is great for that gas station that you normally would not have stopped at but the crying 8 year old couldn’t wait any longer so you had no choice to stop at.  There is always one and it’s nice to have in the car to use once you have washed your hands and still don’t feel clean.
  5. Take an alternate route. We have tried this a couple times.  It changes the scenery and allows you to see more of the country and some times discover things you would not have seen before, but we typically prefer our normal route and knowing the stops we can make.

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    The Atlanta Motor Speedway – on an alternate route to avoid traffic
  6. Take the time you need.  If you don’t think you can drive for 19 hours (with your stops) don’t.  Those last few hours could be horrible.  If you only want to stop one night figure out your half way point and if you get farther than that great.  Or figure out what time you want to get to your destination and go from there.  If you have an extra day plan a stop along the way.  If we only stop one night we like to head out at 4 or 5 am and drive until 11 pm or 12 am.  It’s a ridiculous long day but once the kids are asleep it seems to get easier for us again. This is definitely not for everyone.
  7. Don’t set your expectations to high. Siblings will fight.  They will not pass things back to the other.  They will also get along surprisingly well.  Then they will gang up on each other.  Then it will happen all over again. They will also need you to hand them millions of things-just expect that.
  8. If you do stop at night try to give yourself some time to relax.  Put the kids to bed and spend a few minutes unwinding.  We have spent many nights in the hallway outside the hotel room doing this.  Even if its only a short time it really helps us. Pick a hotel with a good continental breakfast if possible.  A good free start to the day always helps.20150621_122323909_iOS
  9. Expect delays.  There is something to be said about being planned and knowing you have a hotel to stop at for the night, especially during high travel times.  But every time I do this we have a huge traffic delay that puts us 2 hours behind and we end up driving longer than we like because we are passed our cancellation window.  For this reason we like to pick our destination and book a room about 2 hours before we are ready to stop.
  10. Take lots of fun pictures along the way.
  11.  Enjoy your time as a family.  That’s what vacation is about.

 

An adult only vacation

So a few weeks ago I turned 40.  Since it was a milestone birthday my loving husband graciously planned a vacation for me and him.  Yes you heard that right just the two of us, no kids.  The kids didn’t get it.  Mom and dad don’t go on vacations with out us.  They were in denial for some time.  But the day came, my parents arrived to our house bright and early and we headed to the airport without them.

That’s right too, we flew.  Sounded like a great idea when booking.  Just the two of us and rates weren’t to bad.  Flight times were ok…  Then the times changed on our flight down. So I had to spend a Sat night on hold with Delta for a half hour to get a better time (this was a blessing in disguise since this time was way better than the first.)  Then a month or so later the time changed on our return trip so repeat process.  Again blessing since I decided at that point to pick seats and got Delta Comfort + which may have been the only way I was able to get back on the plane on the way home- more leg room and free wine and beer.  I typically don’t mind flying but with all the turmoil in the world my anxiety was up.

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So where did we go?, you ask.  Orlando, of course.  Specifically for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.  We haven’t been to Epcot since our honeymoon in 2001.  Just hasn’t appealed to us with the kids.  The other parks seem to have more to offer our children.  But we have talked many times how we would love to tour the worlds when they are older.  Instead of waiting another 4-5 years until they would all be able to do their own thing this became the perfect time, a trip on our own and Food and Wine Festival- perfect!

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Epcot Food and Wine Festival was amazing.  The lines at all the booths moved faster than I would have ever guessed.  The food and drink was wonderful (seriously didn’t have anything I didn’t like.) The variety was great. The weather was perfect.   The prices were reasonable.  My favorite was the tenderloin and Malbec from Patagonia and Scott’s was the filet from Canada.

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Bonuses for getting to ride Test Track before the festival opened, a not so long line on the boat ride with the Three Caballeros in Mexico and the chance to see Captain EO before it closes later this year.

Plus we found Remy and Donald Duck.

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Highly recommend attending this event.  Really there is nothing better than food and wine tasting at a Disney Park.  Hoping to go back next year.

 

What else do you do in Orlando without the kids?  Lots!  Disney Springs is a ton of fun as an adult.  We got to go to the new tavern Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar.  It was awesome, really really awesome. They decor was amazing, the drinks were great and the bartenders, Launchpad and Scooter, were fantastic. They even have domestic beer in aluminium bottles if you want to take it to go.  And we got to eat at restaurants there that the kids would not have picked.  The first night we ate at The Boathouse, right on the water, and then later in the trip at The House of Blues (where we learned some new information- if you get on the water taxi behind The House of Blues you can take a ride to the other end and get dropped off near The Rainforest- then walk back towards where you parked- or vice versa.)  We were also able to make it all the way through and able to look at all the stores with out the kids.  Normally we only get about 2/3 of the way before we have to turn back.

We sat by the pool.  I read a book and didn’t have to watch any kids swimming.  Don’t get me wrong I love to watch my kids having fun in the pool, but I also love to read in the sun.  We had drinks and lunch delivered to us pool side as well.  There was also a man made beach at the resort that we relaxed on. (Huge plus the Marriott refillable mug!  Love it.  Have to get one every time we go)

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We took walks around the property.  We did not feed the alligators

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We went to the mall.

We had dinner at the fancy restaurant, The Grille, at the golf course at the resort. It was amazing- easily my best meal on the entire trip.

We, peacefully, enjoyed coffee and breakfast, each morning on the patio of our suite which overlooked the golf course. Our suite at Marriott’s Grande Vista  http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/mcogv-marriotts-grande-vista/ was a 1 bedroom with full kitchen and washer and dryer. We love having a kitchen to cook breakfast in and reheat leftovers for lunch.  Then we can eat dinner out and not feel like we are eating out all the time.

We did debate going to the Magic Kingdom.  I am still a little disappointed that we chose not to.  It would have been fun to take everything in as just the two of us.  To just do whatever rides we decided to do on a whim and not be super planned while there.  Not to mention to be able to see the park decorated for Christmas- but I guess that gives us a reason to go back during this time of year.

Adult only vacations are good every once in awhile.  They are a great time to reconnect and be together.  But family vacations are great too- and I can’t wait to go back with the kids

Cold Weather Camping

Do you pack up all your camping gear right after Labor Day and put it away til next season starts? Or do you bear the elements, hoping for that last unseasonably warm fall weekend?  Hoping to see the leaves change colors, fall to the ground and extend the vacation season as long as possible.

Two weekends ago we had temps in the low 70’s.  It was fabulous outside.  We had dance pictures on both days of the weekend so we weren’t able to go away anywhere.  2 of the 5 of us did walk to church.

This past weekend highs were in the upper 40’s.  Yet we decided that it would be a good idea to take one last trip before winterizing.  So we set out with some family friends and headed to Door County.  Egg Harbor to be exact.  We parked for the weekend at Frontier Wilderness Campground http://www.frontierwildernesscampground.com, which we chose because of the indoor pool they offer.  Yes an indoor pool at a campground.  How awesome is that, right. When booking a month ago I figured it could be the savior of a mid October weekend. We also figured we would spend plenty of money on wood, keeping the fire roaring most of the time.

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The sun was out on Saturday so it was pleasant, but the best advice I can give you for camping in October is to pack winter coats, hats and gloves and to test the furnace in the camper.  It was the first time we used the furnace and it was lovely being able to come inside to warmth.  Another bonus was being able to take a hot shower in the camper and not having to walk back from the shower house (which on a side note was one of the nicest I have ever seen) in the cold. Even during the day with the sun out I had a heavy sweatshirt and vest on.  Once the sun went down it was a jacket and hat and boots. But despite the temps we were able to mini golf (which was free this weekend!), play on the playground (which our site was right across from- so convenient), use the activity center- which included arcade games, a pool table and free wifi, swam in the pool and hung out by the fire. The kids also watched movies and played a few games in the camper- but they were still hanging out as a family- even if they weren’t outside. Oh and how could I forget- get hand scooped ice cream from the camp store.  Yes despite the cold weather the kids always need their ice cream.

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Our friends even tried out their new dutch oven.  We also planned to cook in ours but life happened and we cooked burgers and brats on the grill.  The grill that started into flames which we were afraid wouldn’t burn out.  The grill that ended up in the garbage.  Dutch oven would have been a better choice. We did get to use our new grill basket for some late night cooking though.  Nothing like a hot snack on a cold night.

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Since we were in Door County we did make a pit stop at Door Peninsula Winery https://store.dcwine.com on the way home.  Bought a bottle of vodka from the distillery for Bloody Mary’s and some old fashioned candy sticks for the kids.  Can never go wrong with old fashioned candy. Didn’t do any tastings this time because it was crazy busy.  Door County is always busy in fall but especially so when the home Packer game is at 3 PM giving all the fans extra time to do other things in the morning.

Would I recommend camping in the fall?  Yes.  Even if its cold?  Yes.  Of course I will always pray for it to be one of for those random warm weekends.  But the weather isn’t going to keep me home.  We have plenty of time for trapping ourselves inside the house in the real winter months of November, December, January and February.  And we can head south for a spring break in March.  Outside in October isn’t really anything to be afraid of.  With the proper gear it’s a great time to enjoy the outside (and as a bonus you use less ice keeping your drinks cold 🙂 )

Summer’s unofficialy over

For me there is nothing more depressing than the end of summer.  Because of this I don’t like Labor Day. The kids go back to school. Bedtimes get earlier. Weekends are no longer available for sitting on the patio all day, instead they are filled with dance practice, football games, and homework. Don’t get me wrong I love all of that stuff but it also means that winter, snow and cold are right around the corner- and that I do not love- at all.

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I do, however, enjoy the long weekend that comes with Labor Day and the time we get to spend with family and friends.  This year we packed up the camper and headed north to Chute Pond Campground with 7 other families.  There was lots of kids and conversation, some rain, biking, swimming, fishing and grilling.  It was a great weekend with many hikes to slippery rock and the beach. The kids got along great and there was always something for them to do.

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Even the pouring rain on Sunday night didn’t scare us away.  We just made the fire bigger and pulled our chairs closer under the canopy.

But Monday had to come and we had to pack up- even tho most of our stuff was still soggy.  The camping/ cottage season is done for many, but I have heard that fall is a great time for campgrounds.  I’m not ready for the winter hibernation to start.  There’s nothing wrong with swimming in Sept, sitting on the patio, or pulling the trailer up north for one more weekend. We are going to do whatever we can still fit in, around the crazy schedules that come with a family of 5.

Summer doesn’t officially end for another few weeks.  And September can be warmer than June so for now that’s what I will think about.

UPGRADE!

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We talked about it and we did it.  We upgraded from the 1970 something pop up to a 2016 travel trailer.

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And of course once we brought it home we couldn’t wait to take it out for a weekend.  So we packed it up (and have a list now of all the things we need to add to it) and headed west to Shawano County Park. Neither one of us had ever camped there before.  We needed 2 sites but since we booked it about a week and a half before we went we weren’t able to get them next to each other.  That was kind of annoying but definitely understandable. We only had 2 sites between us so it wasn’t the end of the world either.  The sites were pretty big and didn’t have a lot of trees (which is both good and bad.)  And they had both water and electric hook ups.  They were a short walk to the lake (about 450 steps- yes I counted) so going back for things we forgot wasn’t too bad.

There was a nice sand beach at the lake .  It was busy but not as crowded as expected.  There is a newer playground for the kids, lots a picnic tables and trees for relaxing under.  There is also a snack bar that serves hot food as well as both hand-scooped and soft serve ice cream and treats.

It was great to have the kids out in nature.  We had mobile service so they were able to stay connected but mostly they hung outside with us.  They road bikes, walked to the beach, sat by the fire and had conversations. I love this about camping.  At home the older kids tend to hide in their bedrooms for extended periods of time. When we are camping they come outside even if it’s just to sit around.  And when it rained Sunday morning we had a nice awning to sit under and a great camper to keep the kids dry.

Camping also gives us opportunities to teach the kids new things and to get them to help out.  Cleaning up the site before we leave, putting things away, taking the dog for a walk, and even tearing down and getting the camper hooked up to the truck.  Hopefully by the time they are old enough they will be able to do this all by themselves.

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Family Camping

Every year, for the past 16 or 17 years I have spent the second weekend in July camping with Scott’s family.  We spent this trip at Bear Lake Campground in Manawa, WI.  The campground is located on a full wake lake and a short drive to the Iola Old Car Show and Swap Meet, which the guys spend two or three days at.  This year Scott came back with an awning for our pop up- which sure beats the grey tarp we have been using.

After having to walk up to the park with my two oldest children everytime they wanted to play I teamed up with my sister-in-law to get everyone to move to sites closer to the park.  Best move ever.  We can now watch the kids play from our sites.  We are also right next to the big open field where there has been many a kickball or baseball game, water gun fight, horseshoe game and yes even grown adults playing in hamster balls.

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The lake is shallow for quite some distance which can be stressfull when the little ones wonder out to far, but is great fun for the big kids.  The camp store has hand scooped ice cream and ice cream treats, inexpensive candy and they rent row boats, kayaks, and paddle boats.

But the kids may enjoy their night swim the most.  I told them this year that you had to be 10- I will regret that in 2 years when my 8 year old remembers that I said that.

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Traditionally on Sat we have walking tacos for dinner.  Everyone always brings something and we make it a big group effort.  Always a struggle to find the individual packages of Fritos but we always do.  We also usually do some sort of craft or project. Last year we did a scavenger hunt.  Before that we colored white t shirts or fabric with fabric markers.  This year we decided to step back to our youth and tye dye.  It went surprising smooth.  The older kids went first and then the younger.  Everyone had so much fun the older kids even helped the younger ones.  We used t shirts, pillow cases, boxer shorts, headbands, pieces of cloth, and tote bags.  Lots of different patterns and everything looked great.  We filled buckets with warm water salt and the tye and used cups to dump it onto the fabric letting it run back into the bucket.  Not as fancy as all the new squeeze bottle kits you see but went a lot farther and worked great.  We set everything out for about 45 minutes cut the rubber bands and washed and dried on a short cycle at the camp store.  Then the kids all got decked out in their new apparel and called themselves the TD gang.

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We have a nightly bonfire with many conversations and smores.  Someone always falls asleep in front of it.  Rumor has the last ones came in this in around 5 am.  Not this night owl.  I loved the excuse on Sat that my baby needed me to lay with her.

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Everyone stays for a different amount of time.  My middle guy stays with grandma and my youngest is never happy she has to go for dance.  A long weekend in a pop up tripping over everyone’s stuff and crawling over everything to get into bed is enough for me. Maybe its time to upgrade.