Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Vacations, Walt Disney World

Disney PhotoPass Ordering Tip: Buy the Largest Digital Size

I broke down and bought the insanely expensive family photos that a PhotoPass photographer took of us at both Epcot and Hollywood Studios:

Family Shot - Epcot

Family Shot - Hollywood Studios

What can I say? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing because it is HIGHLY IMPROBABLE that any of us will ever go back to Disney World (at least until grandkids come along. *ahem*)

If you order photos from Disney’s PhotoPass option, let me give you a tip:

Order the largest digital copy you can.

For example:

Here are the options that Disney gives you for purchasing the PhotoPass photos.

Hard Copies
Two 4×6’s for $14.95.
Or, one 5×7 for $14.95.

Digital Copies
4×6, a 5×7, or an 8×10 digital copy for $14.95 each.

Here’s my tip: Buy the biggest digital copy you can. If you’re going to pay the same amount anyway, pick the biggest digital copy. Download it, upload it to someplace like Flickr, or simply go to Snapfish (if you have an account with Flickr, it automatically defaults to Snapfish whenever you want to order copies), and order any size copies you want from that 8×10 for WAY less than you would pay for actual copies through Disney.

When you pay the $14.95, you’re also paying for a royalty-free license – which means you have permission to make copies of the picture, you just can’t make copies and then sell it to someone else.

At Snapfish, you can get 4×6 copies for $.09 A PIECE!
5×7’s are $.79 cents a piece and 8×10’s are $2.99 a piece.

So, if you’re going to pay the same price for all sizes anyway, you might as well buy the biggest size available so you can order more prints at a fraction of the cost someplace else.

Hollywood Studios, Vacations, Walt Disney World

Visiting Hollywood Studios (at Disney World)

Ready to visit Hollywood Studios?


The line for Hollywood Studios wasn’t too bad, and there wasn’t a Brazilian girl in sight. (They must have left because we didn’t see very many of them after that first day). Most everyone else was lining up to go to one of the two Disney World water parks.

We’re not big water park people, but it sure sounded good when we were down there. (Actually, it was hot in Florida, but it was even hotter back home in Missouri. In fact, it was about ten degrees hotter in Missouri than it was in Florida OR the Bahamas – but there was more humidity which somehow makes it worse, I think).

As usual, our bus was the last to arrive and we killed some time talking to the young kid who worked for Disney and was marking down the number of busses arriving. He was actually going to military school, but was working at Disney for the summer to get some kind of marketing credit and to of course, make a little spending money. It was really interesting to listen to him talk about his future plans and I was glad Dude was there to hear him. The kid wasn’t much older than Dude, yet he really seemed to have his life in order.

*hint-hint Dude*

The ride over to the park was quiet and uneventful – thank goodness. And the day looked bright and clear. Nonetheless, we went ahead and bought two umbrellas, just in case, because the boys got so wet walking around Epcot the previous day that we thought we’d plan ahead and be prepared this go around.

It didn’t rain a drop the whole time we were there, of course. (Though we left a little early and the clouds were rolling in, so … never mind, I can’t really justify why we bought the umbrellas other than to say HEY! Souvenirs! ha!)

So we get to the park and the first thing we see is the Tower of Terror. Well, not the FIRST thing, the FIRST thing we see is the giant Mickey magic hat in the center of the park, but we didn’t get a picture of that, so, Tower of Terror is where we’ll start. (Actually, we took advantage of Disney’s PhotoPass program and we have a picture of all four of us standing in front of Mickey’s magic hat, only I haven’t worked up the courage to actually buy it yet because as with all things Disney, it’s expensive. Like $15 bucks FOR ONE PICTURE expensive. Oh sure, we’ll end up buying it, but still, stalling a few weeks seems a little rebellious to me and I’m all about the rebellion, don’t ya know).

There was no way, on God’s green earth (actually, it’s not actually that green right now, but rather a lovely shade of dead) that I was going to ride the Tower of Terror.

Yes. Because I’m a big ‘fraidy cat. And I really had no desire to puke my guts up because I assure you, that’s what would have happened. Kevin actually visited Hollywood Studios with a bunch of his work buddies some years back and he rode the Tower of Terror. He said that he nearly lost it so I KNOW I would because Kevin has a stomach of steel.

Still. Kevin tried to talk me into it and I’m sorry to say, I flatly refused.


However, to try and make it up to him, we did end up walking to Aerosmith’s Rock ‘N’ Roller coaster and getting a FastPass right away. (Hey, we may be slow but we DO learn eventually). I’m not the biggest roller coaster fan, I can take them or leave them, but I knew Kevin wanted to ride it so … what’s a spouse to do? 🙂 Our scheduled time was between 1:00 and 2:00, so we had plenty of time to explore the park.

You know, looking at a map of Hollywood Studios I just now realized:

1. Our hotel was practically across the street from the park and

2. I think we missed a lot of stuff.


I think we were all tired from the previous day and we didn’t take the time to fully explore the park like we did Epcot. Plus, it all seemed so … childish, I think. We would pass something and I would ask if the guys wanted to go in and they were all like, “Meh.” So, we didn’t.

Like CRAP! We completely missed Fantasmic! I mean, we didn’t even walk down that way at all. Bummer! It looks pretty cool, too. Oh wait, it was only on select nights, so chances are we wouldn’t have seen the show anyway.

I wanted to see Beauty and the Beast, but the guys looked horrified when I even suggested it, so no, we didn’t see Beauty and the Beast. *sad face*

Looking at the map, I see we missed an entire other section, too. The part with Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, and the Magic of Disney Animation.

Crap again!

Oh well. We did go see Muppet Vision 3D, which was cute, but got on our nerves about five minutes into it. I like the Muppets, but they’re a little like Jim Carey to me, they are just too much, all at once and they’re exhausting to watch for any length of time because it’s non-stop … something.

But the show was cute and it gave us a chance to cool off.

We went through The Great Movie Ride and that was … okay. It was really cheesy and super loud, but whatever.

We went through The Studio Back Lot tour and I think the boys really enjoyed that one.


They did a special effects demonstration when we first arrived and we all really enjoyed watching them blow stuff up.


The canyon disaster was really fun, too.


There really wasn’t much else to the tour, I’m not sure what we were expecting, but it was more than what we got. However, it was fun and interesting and that’s all we could ask for, I suppose.

We ate lunch at the ABC Commissary – again, we ended up buying two plates and all of us shared it. (I mentioned the food was insanely expensive, right? Just checking).

By this time, Kevin was feeling the effects of not eating very much and he was starting to get snappy. (He will deny it, but I’ve known the man for 24 years and trust me when I say, he was snappy and on edge). This is the biggest reason vacations stress me out – the food situation. We should have just broke down and bought another $9.00 plate of something, but Kevin wouldn’t hear of it. Needless to say, by the time lunch was over, I was about over Disney World entirely. I know it’s kind of stupid to base so much of my opinion on their food prices, but good grief, people, I just really felt like we were being ripped off, big time.

After lunch, we checked out the Extreme Stunt Show. I knew Kevin really wanted to watch it, but they only ran two shows and we had missed the first one. The second one was at 4:30 and we all agreed that we would leave the park after the show was over.

We were tired, the park was smaller than Epcot, therefore more condensed and claustrophobic feeling and we were all just exhausted, quite frankly. We had had enough of all things Disney, I’m afraid.


We cashed in our FastPasses (well, we cashed in one, the other one we had had been stamped “invalid” for some reason, but the guy was kind enough to let us both go in anyway), and rode the Rock ‘N’ Roller coaster.


I had no idea it was an inside roller coaster and completely in the dark. One of the reasons I can even ride a roller coaster in the first place is because I can see where I’m going so I can anticipate which direction we’re going to turn or go upside down. Since it was pitch black, I had no idea what was happening. Taking off was pretty spectacular – going from zero to 60 in a few seconds was pretty thrilling. Kevin said he knew, though, the moment I started feeling sick because I suddenly stopped screaming.

I was afraid if I opened my mouth something other than a scream would come out. HA!

It was fun though and I’m glad we got to ride it. The boys didn’t ride, of course, (wimps), and waited for us outside. Kevin wanted to ride it again, but I just didn’t think I could stomach another round. I wish I didn’t get so sick like that, but … I do so … there you go.

After getting off that ride, we headed to the Indiana Jones show.


We REALLY enjoyed that show. It started out with the ball rolling after Indiana Jones scene before the “director” yelled CUT. The entire stage then parted to make way for another scene from the movie, the city scene where the bad guys do all sorts of kung-fu moves and Harrison Ford pulls out his gun and simply shoots the guy.

HAHA! I love that scene.

After the “director” yells CUT for that scene, that too rolls away to reveal a desert scene complete with an airplane.


This would be the scene where Indiana Jones fights that big huge dude and knocks him into the airplane propeller before everything explodes.


The heat off the fires were so intense we could feel them in the stands – it was that hot.

That show was a lot fun. By the time we got out of that show, it was time to go watch the Extreme Stunt Show.

The car stunts were truly impressive. After they ran a few chase scenes, the “director” would then explain a few tricks of the trade.

For example, there was one scene where our hero, being chased by several black, bad-guy, cars, drove backward the entire time. We were very impressed, until we saw that the stunt driver was in a car MADE to look like it was driving backwards – the windshield was actually the back window. Still though, it was impressive to watch them narrowly miss each other.

They did a few scenes with motorcycles, too. And jet skies. It was a great show.

After that was over, they then did a cute little skit with Lightening McQueen from the movie “Cars”.


He too had to chase the bad guy, identified by the big bomb strapped to its roof. HA!


It was a great show and we were really glad we stuck around to watch it.

But after it was over, we were done. All we wanted to do was head back to the hotel, have A LITTLE *ahem* bite to eat and turn in early.

I’m embarrassed to say, we never took advantage of the pools. We had gone back to the hotel with the intention of going swimming, but by the time we finished eating, none of us had the energy to attempt it. (In fact, we all took swim suits but none of us ever put them on. I know, we’re so boring).

But we needed our energy, because the FIRST part of our vacation was over – we still had the SECOND part to look forward to: the cruise.

Epcot, Vacations, Walt Disney World

Visiting Epcot

So it’s 9:30 in the morning on July 22nd, and we’re standing in line to go to Epcot. It’s hot. As in, two minutes of standing out in the hot sun and it was like I had just stepped out of the shower hot – I was dripping wet and already melting.

Though I was uncomfortable, it really wasn’t that surprising. We have hot and humid weather here in Missouri, so I sort of just endured it, and then ignored it. I mean, what are you going to do? You can’t control the weather (regardless of what some *cough* experts believe).

The resort had bus stops for all of the parks right outside their entrance, and we watched a bus pick up people for every OTHER park than ours for about fifteen minutes.


So the melting bit? Was pretty much a puddle before the bus ever arrived. I got on the bus already hot, gritty and wiping sweat out of my eyes. But again, not complaining. When I’m prepared to be hot and uncomfortable, I’m okay with it. It’s when I don’t WANT to sweat (like on my way to a job interview), that I get extremely cranky.

I bet they thought Kevin was a dirty old man for taking this picture. HA!
Just as the bus pulls up, and we’re getting ready to board, about 150 Brazilian girls come around the corner and to my surprise, they ALL board our bus. I couldn’t believe the bus driver didn’t make them take the next bus because HELLO, safety issues?? So the ride over to Epcot was even MORE hot and uncomfortable because now we had teenage Brazilian girls packed in like sardines and various body parts rubbing up against us.

We know they were Brazilian because Kevin asked them. And what little we could ascertain from their broken English, they were just one group of God knows how many (seriously, we saw HUNDREDS of these girls distinguished by their different colored t-shirts and/or backpacks at various points all over the place for the two days were at Disney World) milling around the parks. I still have no idea why they were at Disney World, but I think they were part of some big sports club/group thing.

All I know for certain? Were that they were annoying as all get out. They talked loud, they were rude, they had NO problem invading others’ private space and for some unknown reason, they would spontaneously break out into song at random moments (usually the moment when things would finally settle down and just when you felt it was safe to take a breath and savor the sweet silence). One girl would start chanting/singing a line and then all of them would chime in, at the top of their voices, and before long, the entire bus would rock and vibrate from the sheer noise.

Didn’t any of these girls’ mamas teach them what an “inside” voice was?

I know they were just being girls and having fun, but the sheer number of them was overwhelming and we were already hot and uncomfortable to begin with, then we had to endure hot, young bodies on top of that.

Actually, I think the guys were okay with that part. HA!

They had a particular fascination with Dude and Jazz. They stared at Dude a lot (he ignored them, as you can see in the picture), but they actually reached out and tousled Jazz’s hair. I guess they were drawn to his blondish color, I don’t know. But Jazz was NOT amused, I can assure you.

At any rate, it was a LONG ride to Epcot with all of those chattering girls and impromptu songs, let me tell ya.

But once we arrived at Epcot, we forgot all about the Brazilian girls.

I had bought two-day passes online, so we were able to go right through the gate. I thought it was interesting that in addition to inserting your card, they had you place your index finger on a scanner and scanned your fingerprint thereby imprinting that specific card as yours. That’s a heck of a lot more efficient than having to show a picture ID each time.

I walked through that gate, took one look at the giant Epcot ball and immediately forgot all of my careful planning. I knew about the FastPasses, but promptly forgot how important it was to GET those FastPasses immediately, so we were left standing there, scratching our heads and wondering what we should do first.

The only thing I knew? We were NOT going to stand in line for an hour to ride any rides. No thank you. We passed the entrance to the SPACE ride in the ball thingie and the line was completely wrapped around and insanely long. After strategizing (ha! That’s a word, I just looked it up) with Kevin a bit, we decided we would go through the park backwards – or at least in the opposite direction than most people were walking. So instead of turning left and going through the park clockwise, we went counter-clockwise.

We’re clever like that. HA!

Out of all the things that we wanted to do, the one thing that Jazz wanted to ride was the monorail.


I have to admit, it was pretty cool to see that thing silently glide through the park from time-to-time. We ended up riding it to the main transportation area, but we never got off, we just rode a big loop back to Epcot, but it was enough to scratch Jazz’s itch.

Somehow, we walked right by The Living Seas and The Land – I don’t know how we missed it. But we did end up going through the Imagination! Pavilion and though it was cute, it left the boys rolling their eyes and pretty much solidifying WHY they didn’t want to go to Disney World in the first place – too kiddish.

We then went to see Captain EO, starring Michael Jackson. It was in 3D and pretty cute – I think the boys enjoyed that. It was really fun to feel an animal rub against the back of our legs and to be misted with water.

Did you notice the water running UP instead of down?

We had every intention of walking through every country pavilion, but it didn’t work out that way. We did take a short boat ride through the Mexican restaurant and watched the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros, which was cute and offered us a moment to cool off and to salivate over the food.


Which only reminded us that it was nearing lunch time – and that food is INSANELY EXPENSIVE. (Sorry. I won’t let that go.)

I do wish we had taken a ride on the Maelstrom though, in the Norway pavilion. I didn’t even remember that ride until I started writing this post and was looking back through the attractions to jog my memory on what we did at Epcot.

We walked past several more pavilions …


China. Germany. Italy.

Then we came up on The American Adventure.


We stopped to eat lunch there (I won’t mention the price), and then we listened to the Voices of Liberty while we waited to go in and watch “35 lifelike Audio-Animatronic figures and filmed sequences in dramatic recreations of extraordinary people and events in American history.”

(I apologize for the video quality here – I had my camera set on the wrong settings. But you can hear them and that’s all that matters).

We really enjoyed the show. In fact, it brought tears to my eyes and made me proud to be an American.


When we left The American Adventure pavilion, we saw the Spirit of America Fife & Drum Corps.


And we also saw some pretty ominous clouds rolling in:


We got rained on at the Morocco pavilion and had to spend about twenty minutes hanging out there until the rain passed through.

We finished walking through the pavilions and headed back to the front of the park. Kevin really wanted to ride the Test Track, so we picked up a couple of FastPasses – we were scheduled to ride the ride between 6:20 anad 7:20. It was about 2:00 by that time.

So, we headed to the Space rides.

Kevin really wanted to do the Mission: Space simulators and I had read enough about them online to know that I did not. However, they have two missions – an orange mission, which is a lot more intense, and a green mission for those of us *ahem* who get motion sickness going across town.

We picked the green mission.

All of us positioned ourselves into our seats (it’s a good thing they warn you about being claustrophobic because wow, we pulled those panels into our laps), and prepared ourselves to take off in a rocket to Mars. We all had positions, I was the navigator (uh oh), Kevin was the engineer, Dude was the pilot and Jazz was the commander.

At various points in the ride, every one had their own buttons to push – and of course, I missed my mark. FAIL!

It was a really rocky ride and THANK GOD it didn’t last very long because Jazz and I stumbled out of the pod feeling pretty queasy – Kevin and Dude were okay. In fact, Kevin wanted to go again on the orange mission, but I knew there was no way my stomach could handle that ride again, let alone a more intense ride. (I started to get pretty worried whenever we first got in there because each station had their own barf bags).

After we left that ride, we walked back to the Epcot ball to see if the line for that ride had gone down. It had, in fact, we pretty much walked right into the ride. Spaceship Earth was probably my favorite ride.

The attraction’s Audio-Animatronic scenes depict the stirring story of human connection from the dawn of recorded time to the 21st century’s cyber age.

Bear witness to prehistoric man’s first words, behold the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians, follow the advanced system of roads amidst Rome, and journey through the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Information.

And then on the way down, the car simply reversed itself back down the spiral tracks. But to help distract you, they took pictures of your face and inserted them into an interactive story that you could punch options into and we all had quite a laugh over our choices.

It was time for dinner when we finished that ride, and Dude wanted to go back to the Mexican pavilion and have some tacos. (I won’t mention the price).


It started to rain on us again when we sat down to eat our tacos. (Well, the guys ate THEIR tacos, I sort of ate the left overs). The clouds had rolled back in and though it wasn’t pouring, it was raining enough that to walk anywhere without a poncho or an umbrella we would get soaked.

After dinner, it was time to use our FastPasses for the Test Track. We headed over to the ride only to be disappointed to see they had closed it due to the lightening. We were worried we would miss out on our FastPass time, but they told us that if the ride wasn’t open before the end time on our FastPass, they would honor the passes until closing.

It didn’t look like the rain was going to let up any time soon, so we went to watch Ellen’s Energy Adventure. The guys weren’t exactly thrilled with this attraction, but I really wanted to see it because I love Ellen DeGeneres.

It was amazing. The ENTIRE theater became the ride. The theater seats divided up into four sections and before we knew it, we were moving throughout the theatre. The show was quite funny, of course, because it had Ellen in it, and we all really enjoyed it.

After the show was over, we went back to the Test Track, but it still wasn’t open, so we walked around the park a bit more and since it was getting so late, we decided to just stick around and watch the fireworks.

Which were pretty amazing to watch over the lake in Epcot.

We never got to ride the Test Track and Kevin was pretty disappointed as that was the ride he really wanted to ride above all others.

After the fireworks show was over, the park closed down and several thousand people all left at the same time. We found our shuttle stop back to our hotel and were standing in line, when about 200 Brazilian girls began converging on the All-Sports Resort bus stop. They were loud and obnoxious both in speech (and who knows what they were saying, it’s probably best we didn’t know, actually) and in their crazy, spontaneous songs. We were all pretty tired by this point and we just wanted to get back to our hotel room. We were also VERY RELIEVED to see the girls weren’t trying to get on our bus.

Our bus came first and we got on. We had just settled into our seats when the first of the Brazilian girls came on board.

And they kept coming. We ended up having so many people on the bus that we were squishing faces into the windows.

And they were even louder in the closed confines of the bus. That was one LONG bus ride back to our hotel.

When we all finally filed out of the bus, we noticed that the Brazilian girls weren’t going into our hotel, but were walking to the All-Sports Resort next door. So they had bummed a ride on our bus to get back to their hotel room faster.


So we had a great time at Epcot. Even though we didn’t get to see everything, or ride everything we wanted to ride, we still felt like we had accomplished a lot and we really enjoyed ourselves.

Tomorrow – Hollywood Studios.


Vacations, Walt Disney World

Checking Into the Happiest Place on Earth

So Disney World … was fun.


The parks were awesome. But it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever go back. And it’s mainly because we’re just not that into all things Disney. But another big reason is because of the food prices.

Seriously. EIGHT dollars for ONE hotdog?!?!? That is insane, people. We were at Disney World for two days and I never ate a whole meal the whole time we were there; I just nibbled on the guys’ plates. I couldn’t bring myself to eat my own plate considering each plate cost a minimum of $7.00. I was very disappointed that everything was so expensive. I mean, I GET that they need to pay for all of their awesome “free” stuff, (i.e. transportation), but geez louise, talk about a kick in the teeth for families once they get there. And what are you going to do? You’re stuck. The food prices pretty much soured my Disney World experience, I’m sorry to say.

(I most likely dropped the ball on the food thing, though. Disney has dining options and I just sort of shrugged them off thinking, “we’ll just eat at cheap places.” The only problem with that is: there are no cheap eating places! So, if you’re looking into going to Disney World any time soon, I would highly recommend you check out the dining options and seriously consider going that route because winging it? Doesn’t work! And OW, my pocketbook).

I can’t say that I wasn’t warned, though. My mom and dad went a few years back with my brother and his family and mom did warn me about the food prices. But I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be THAT bad. Granted, I have a problem paying for food anyway, hence the reason we rarely go out to eat when we’re home, (at least in sit down restaurants), but I guess I was doubly annoyed because what choice did we have? We were sort of stuck on the Disney resort and short of taking a taxi somewhere to eat for cheaper, we really didn’t have a choice.

Stay on the grounds and pay the insanely expensive prices, or pay for a taxi AND THEN pay to eat somewhere else.

Staying on grounds was the lesser of two evils.

We stayed at the All-Star Music Resort. I picked that hotel because of Kevin and Jazz’s interest in music.

It was a nice enough hotel room, albeit small. In fact, the bathroom was so small that the door barely cleared the toilet when you entered the room. (Kevin bumped his shins I don’t know how many times). But I’m not complaining, hotel rooms have never been high on our priority list anyway. I mean, it’s somewhere to sleep, it wasn’t as if we planned on spending the whole vacation there, right?

Let’s back up a bit …

We flew out of St. Louis. We had to pick this route because it was way cheaper than flying out of Springfield and considering we didn’t have enough frequent flyer miles to cash in with American Airlines, we had to pay for our flights this go around. We ended up picking Air Trans because they had the best prices. We reserved our seats online (which, cool), and we left our house at 9:30 in the morning and made it into St. Louis about 2:00 p.m. (after stopping for lunch and making a quick trip to Wal-Mart because someone in our family *cough-Dude-cough* was having, erhm, stomach issues. He will die if he knows I just shared that with you all).

We parked our car at EZ Park, (which is convenient and way cheaper than surrounding car parks), and hitched a ride to the airport. Since we checked in online and had already printed out our boarding passes, (save yourself the hassle of waiting in line at the airport and check in online, ya’ll), all we had to do was check our baggage and go through security.

I always worry when we go through security because I never know if the detectors will pick up all of the metal in Kevin’s pelvis. But I needn’t have worried because Kevin sailed through security, but Jazz did not. He was tagged and they pulled him aside to give him a body pat. The guy was very respectful and told Jazz everything he was going to do before he did it. (And I stood by and watched him like a hawk. Though I was annoyed they were patting my 16-year old son down, I didn’t get upset. If we want to be safe when we fly, then we must endure the searches. Blame the terrorists).

Though I wasn’t too happy that Jazz was being manhandled by a stranger, I think I was more concerned that Kevin wasn’t flagged. (He wasn’t flagged on the way home, either). I don’t know if you guys have heard or not, but terrorists are now implanting bombs inside their bodies and if the detectors don’t detect all of the metal plates and pins inside Kevin’s body, what makes us think they’re going to detect a bomb inside a terrorist’s body?

It’s a little alarming, if you want the truth.

At any rate, our plane was waiting for us and our flight straight to Orlando went off without a hitch. We landed around 8:30 and by the time we got onto the Disney Magical Express and to our hotel, it was nearly 10:00 p.m.


The place was CRAWLING with people. And the pool was packed with screaming teenagers.


We dumped our baggage in our room and then we went back to the main building to grab something to eat – none of us had eaten since lunch – ten hours earlier. That’s when I nearly had a heart attack after seeing the prices.


The hotel was huge. As in, NINE buildings huge. Luckily, we stayed in building two, so though we still had a ways to walk back to the main building, it was nothing compared to the poor folks in the ninth building.

Our room was a corner room and right across from that piano pool you see above. Though it was pretty noisy at 10:00 o’clock at night, it was surprisingly quiet in the room. I’m a light sleeper, so I was concerned I would be up all night listening to rowdy teenagers. There was also some sleep sounds in the room alarm clock and I put it on the beach sounds to help drown out any potential noise.

Kevin ended up getting up about 3:00 o’clock in the morning to turn it off because there were these annoying sea gull sounds that would periodically cry out and wake us up. (Seriously – what wise guy thought adding periodic shrill sea gulls sounds to peaceful water gently coming onto shore would be a good idea? Gah).

Needless to say, we didn’t use the sleep sounds function the other nights we were there.

The boys have a hard time sleeping together. Jazz is a restless sleeper and moves around a lot and Dude snores, though not in an obnoxious way, but rather in a cute, little sea saw way, but loud enough to wake us up sometimes. Kevin took his cPap machine, thank God, so we didn’t have to endure his crazy loud, inconsistent snoring.

We meant to wake up and take advantage of the early park hours at Epcot the next day, but we didn’t make it. We ended up getting into the bus line about 9:30 – just in time to endure about 150 annoying Brazilian girls.

To be continued …

Cruise 11, Vacations, Walt Disney World

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

We’re home!!!

And we’re pooped.

We all feel like this right now.

Tuckered Out

Actually, Dude pretty much stayed in this position the entire cruise.

But more on that later.

We got home about an hour ago. It was a LOOOONG travel day. We left the boat and Port Canaveral at 9:30 this morning, arrived at the Orlando airport about 10:30, and killed time at the airport until 3:00 this afternoon to catch our flight.

We got into St. Louis about 4:00, stopped to eat at Taco Bell and we got home at 8:30 pm. After going through the STACK of mail (mostly junk – yuck), and putting away a few essentials (I’m not unpacking or doing laundry until tomorrow), we all jumped onto our computers and greedily gobbled up some Internet time. We didn’t have Internet the entire week and I think all of us were feeling the withdrawals.

I have so much to talk about, and some pictures to show you (after I go through them – and just for the record, I didn’t take as many as I liked because it was SO FREAKING HOT that I just couldn’t drum up the necessary energy to CARE, quite frankly), but for now, I must sleep. I’m wiped out.

Also? I came home to a TON of emails. It’s time to update all of the school websites and work on some projects that MUST get done in the next few weeks, so I’m going to be up to my neck in work for several weeks. In fact, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, if you want the truth. Please be patient with me as I prioritize work stuff and sort through vacation stuff.

But just know, we’re home, safe and sound and I can’t type any more or my head will explode.

P.S. I’m having trouble finding my land legs again. This is quite normal and I go through this every time we get back from a cruise. It’s like my body still thinks it’s on a boat and I have this really funky swaying feeling … it’s disorienting and quite annoying, actually. No worries, it’ll go away in a few days. In the meantime, WHOA.

Vacations, Walt Disney World

Full-Blown Vacation Mode

Ten days and counting.

That’s how long we have until we leave for Orlando Florida.

We’ll spend two days at Walt Disney World (we plan on hitting Epcot and Hollywood Studios) and then we’re catching a boat to the Bahamas.

We booked this vacation back in January. We booked it, and I forced myself to not think about it. And I did a pretty good job of just ignoring it until Kevin pinned me down the other day to finalize our shore excursions and after doing some research?

It’s all I can think about.

Which I suppose I should, considering we leave in ten days.

We have a nephew house sitting for us again. (So any would be robbers out there, beware. Our nephew is a football player, buff and not afraid to throw a punch, just saying). I’m sure he’ll have fun having a space to call his own for a week.

We try and plan a family vacation every year. We plan. We save. We research. We save some more. The boys, though they enjoy themselves, don’t always act as enthusiastic as I think they should, but then again, it’s vacation with mom and dad – not exactly the dream vacation for a teenage boy, I’m sure.

But still – it sort of irks me that they act so blasé about taking these vacations. I’m confident they will look back on these vacations and appreciate them, but right now? A little enthusiasm would be nice.

Even though we’re all sharing a room at Disney World (we’re staying at the All-Star Music Resort mainly because of Kevin and Jazz loving music so much), we have separate cabins on the boat. We book separate cabins every time we go on a cruise because it’s just more comfortable for every one involved. We do our thing, the boys do their thing, we all eat meals together and the boys are free to stay up as late as they want – granted they can get up the next day to go on excursions.

We communicate via walkie-talkies and so far, this has worked beautifully. In fact, A LOT of parents communicate with their kids via walkie-talkies while on the boat (you don’t generally have cell phone service on the boat unless you’re willing to pay astronomical roaming fees) and it’s sometimes tough to find an empty channel. But it gives the boys a chance to be independent. They enjoy walking around the boat, eating, hanging out in the teen area, eating, pretending not to notice the pretty girls in bikinis hanging out around the pool, and did I mention they dig the fact they can eat as much as they want whenever they want?

Just checking.

We’re becoming cruise veterans – this will be me and Kevin’s fourth cruise and the boys’ third cruise.

I know what you’re thinking, “Karen. Geez. How can you guys afford that?” But ah, taking a cruise is not as expensive as you might think. In fact, it’s not much more expensive than going to say, a blogging conference. (What are the tickets now – $200 average? And that DOESN’T include the cost of your room, or your transportation. Don’t believe me? You can book a Caribbean cruise for as little as $180 per person Look at me, Miss Cruise Director here).

Considering you’re paying for transportation to ports that you might never see otherwise, and having a blast GETTING to those ports, AND you’ve already paid for all of your food (though soda and alcohol is extra), AND you’ve already paid for some pretty kick-ass Vegas-type shows (seriously, don’t miss the shows, they are top notch), it’s really not that bad. Especially when you compare the price to doing the same thing separately.

Usually, the most expensive part of the trip? Are the airline tickets. And since we use a (as in ONE) credit card that earns us frequent flyer miles that we accumulate and cash in every other year for (virtually) free flights, it’s not really that big of an issue when it’s all said and done.

(*A note about the credit card program: We don’t charge things just to build points. Everything we put on the card are things we would have spent money on anyway. For example: groceries, utilities and other household bills that we have to pay each month … in other words, if we’re going to have to spend that money anyway, why NOT earn points for free airline tickets. Don’t sign up for these programs and then spend money JUST to earn those points – then it’s not worth the program. But if you set up all of your monthly bills to charge to your card, and then pay off that balance each month [don’t leave that balance, interest will kill you], then it’s a smart money investment. I’m bringing this up to inform anyone who is thinking of starting a similar program. Be smart with your money. Jazz took a Personal Finance class this summer and we’ve had LONG talks about spending money wisely. We talked, at length, about this credit card program and what a good deal it is – with the above caveats, of course).

I mentioned I’ve been doing a lot of research – yes. It’s always a smart thing to do whenever you’re going someplace you’ve never been before. Kevin and I usually end up spending hours on vacation forums, reading other people’s thought about the same cruise/areas and picking up tips on what to watch out for, places worth seeing and other places to skip, and just generally what to expect at those places.

This research has paid off in SPADES with past trips. Armed with that information, we’re then in a better position to plan fun, safe outings that will allow us to get more bang for our buck. If we’re going to spend money on excursions, we want to make sure (or as much as we can reasonably make sure) that it’s worth our time and money. Even though we take reviews with a grain of salt (some people just like to complain and seriously, their expectations seem way too high sometimes), we take each into consideration and if we notice a pattern of similar comments, or a particular excursion has gotten more negative reviews than positive (again, taking into account that people are more apt to complain than praise), then we will usually pass on that excursion and look for something else.

It takes patience. Which I don’t have. But when it comes to vacations, and trying to make our dollar stretch as much as possible, I have all the patience in the world. If there’s one thing I CAN’T STAND, it’s being ripped off. Though we’ve been disappointed in the past, we don’t really have any BIG vacation regrets.

I’d like to keep it that way.

I usually end up buying tourist books about the places, too. Even though that sounds cheesy and maybe not worth the money (and even though you can find some of that information online), I’ve still come away with some pretty awesome dos and don’ts about where ever we were going. So again, it pays to do your research.

We booked a Jeep tour in Freeport. We felt that was the best excursion for us. We’ll get to see parts of the island we might not have seen otherwise: landmarks, parks, wildlife, waterfalls, caves, beaches and even a blue hole. (The boys will love that).

Because the Jeep tour was a bit more expensive than what we liked, we’re going to wing it in Nassau and just do our own thing. We figured out (by doing research) that getting around the island by jitney is pretty cheap and reliable and we’ll save some money that way. However, plan B will be to purchase day passes at a nearby hotel so we can use their pool and their private stretch of beach complete with floats and kayaks, if we choose. It also includes a voucher for food (which is ALWAYS a serious consideration with Kevin and the boys – they don’t eat – no one has a good time, trust me). How smart are the hotels for offering THAT option to tourists?

Very smart.

I just contacted Disney to give them our flight information so that we can use their Magic Express transporation. They will deliver our bags to our hotel and we won’t have to pay a taxi to get there. We plan on taking the Express back to the airport where we will then board the shuttle the cruise line offers to the pier to board our boat. Again, to avoid having to pay for a taxi.

See? A little research goes a long way. 🙂 Now let’s hope it all works out as effortlessly as it sounds.

And that brings you up-to-date on the vacation plans.

I think we pretty much have our ducks in a row – we still have a few tweaks (can the boys even wear their swim trunks anymore? Note to self: check), but we’re getting there.

In the meantime? I’m already planning for next year’s vacation.

Because I was born to plan stuff.