5 Ways Disney made our Munchkins EXCELLENT Travelers

I get it… Disney… really?  It’s funny how people love or hate the mouse and with equal enthusiasm especially in the travel industry!

As lame as you may think the mouse is I am going to make the argument that Disney is great stomping grounds for bringing up well rounded little travelers-

Here are 5 Ways Disney made my Munchkins EXCELLENT Travelers:

1)  The munchkins are great on airplanes

We walk on a plane with 4 kids and a baby and I swear all you can hear are sighs.  Plus, all the talk under peoples breath, the eye rolls and the avoidance.  It is hilarious!!!

I smile and laugh in my head bc our kids have flown 3-4 times a year from the time they were infants.  Every few months they are on a plane ride.  Initially, it was either to Maui to visit their Papa or to Florida to go to Disneyworld bc with the Vacation Club it was just SO affrordable!

All those miles up in the sky have made my kids EXCELLENT flyers.  Its a routine for them and we keep it consistent every time.  Hint- Kids LOVE routine!!!  My kids love the special treats they know I’ve packed them.  They know activities that will keep them occupied and they know that sleeping helps pass the time.  You know the saying “Practice makes Perfect!”

My favorite part about flying honestly is all the compliments we receive once we’ve landed.  People cannot believe how well behaved our kids were.  Its one of those mama moments that I just soak up– proof that I am doing a good job at this while child rearing thing 😉

Truth is it is not as much about my parenting though as it is about practice and routine.  And, that moment is thanks to all those trips.  The munchkins know hopping on a plane = fun.  They know if they misbehave they will miss out on part of the fun.  So, with that mindset our flights are easy peasy.

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2)  They understand and appreciate culture

Epcot is a fantastic way to introduce kids to culture and language.  The park represents 11 countries and Disney hires people from each specific area so kids are able to ask questions and learn about another country from its own residents without any language barrier.

My kids especially love making the cultural kidcot masks.  They get to visit a special kidcot area in each country where the cast member stamps the country and writes the child’s  name in their native language on the back of their mask.

EVERY. TIME. we go the munchkins HAVE to make a mask.  They never get tired of it.

It’s more than the mask though.  I appreciate that they are able to chat with the employees about their homelands and learn a bit of the language.  It sparks their curiosity and helps engage us in conversations about the world and where they might want to travel in the future.

It also helps in reverse when you are in the actual country and you can remind them of things they learned or saw in the parks.  It helps familiarize them to the area so they don’t feel so out of sorts.  Like when we traveled to Ethiopia and we were able to talk about the cast members we met, the pictures of the traditional African houses we had seen at the hotel, the Coke signs in the Africa area of Epcot and the drums the kids were able to play with.  My son was proud when he could show the Ethiopians that he knew a thing or two about their instruments 😉

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3)  The munchkins are patient

Disney parks are known for their long waits and while we do utilize fast pass and baby swap when we can… my munchkins still end up waiting in their fair share of lines.  This has been very useful bc trips always require you to wait in lines whether its at the airport, waiting to see the Eiffel Tower or to see an exhibit in a museum- lines are just part of traveling.

Having had so much practice at how to wait nicely, knowing fun little games they can play like “I spy” etc… really has been helpful.  The more routine the activity is… the better equipped your kids will be to handle themselves in a mature, respectful manner.

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4)  They love trying different foods

Disney has done a great job with all the different cultural restaurants they have now.  We have enjoyed African/ Indian inspired dishes at Boma and Jiko while staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The munchkins have eaten Moroccan, French, English, Chinese, Norwegian, German and Japanese food at Epcot and many more.  Food is such an important part of a culture and getting small tastes of it here and there has helped them appreciate trying new things.  I recommend if you visit the parks to not give your kids the kids meals with traditional mac and cheese and chicken nuggets.  Instead have them split adult entrees or order several appetizers to share.

They may turn up their noses the first few times but once they give it a go I guarantee they will find exotic foods to be quite fun!!  Mine have even made lists of all the different foods they have tried like escargot, injera and sushi.

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5)  The munchkins have learned how to have their own fun amongst the chaos.

Traveling is exhausting and chaotic.  Crowded tourist attractions, busy train and subway stations and the airport are all places that get NUTS!!  Guess where you can get that same type of vibe… that’s right Disney Parks.  Crowds, Chaos and Disney go hand in hand.

My kids are literally immune to the crowds.  They know how to stay close, they know what to do if they get lost… all of these details we have worked out previously through our many trips to Disney.  This helps give me more peace of mind bc I know my kids won’t be overwhelmed.  By ensuring the are not overwhelmed I also know I am avoiding potential meltdowns.

We also have a worked out a great flow.  We know our kids need to have a break to rest & eat every 2-3 hours when we are out.  We know what kind of snacks to have on hand and we can tell when one of the kids is losing their cool.  I am glad we practiced all of these things at Disneyworld where if I didn’t pack enough snacks or diapers there was a very easy fix at the next gift shop maybe 10 feet away.  Trust me Disney has you set.

I am glad to have had the practice as making a mistake while hiking in Costa Rica, driving across the countryside in Ethiopia or in the middle of the sand dunes in Dubai would NOT be as easy to fix.

So, if you are nervous about travel but would love to be a traveling family I think Disneyworld is a great starting off point.  It’s convenience can’t be beat and helps ease you into experiences so that you can get some under your belt.

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What to do in Oahu

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If you have been following my blog you will remember that one of our favorite resorts is Disney’s Aulani- see here.  We have already visited that resort 5 times in the short amount of time it has been opened.  So, we have rounded up some of our favorite activities OFF property just for you:

1) Waimea Valley-

We love Waimea Valley for several reasons.  1) The path is paved so strollers are welcome, 2) There is a waterfall at the end complete with complimentary life vests and lifeguards and 3) It is absolutely GORGEOUS!!!

You can read more about it on Yelp here.  Note there is an entry fee for this hike.  Below are some pictures of us at Waimea this past November.

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See the gorgeous Peacock behind the kids… I missed getting him when he opened that gorgeous tail up.  I think I was drawn in by the beauty of those feathers.

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Tiny lizard… love the kids getting to see all the wildlife up close.  There were also a ton of beautiful butterflies.

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Above is the waterfalls at the end of the walk.

*Tip- bring a few dollars for the guards working so hard to keep everyone safe.  They have a tip jar up there.

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Do bring your brother to entertain your children… definitely!

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Don’t take a picture next to said brother who happens to be 4 years younger yet towers over you.

I often forget how short I am until I see myself standing next to other adults ;)

2) Turtle Beach (really Laniakea Beach)

This adorable little strip of beach is super cool.  If you go mid day you are likely to see sea turtles either swimming in the waves close to shore… or climbing out to beach on the sand.  There are amazing volunteers who watch over them and keep records on each turtle.  These volunteers are amazing people and they have always been super informative.  This is a great hands on educational experience.  Just be very cautious when parking, crossing the busy street and climbing down to the sand.  For directions and more info view it on Yelp here.  Here are some pics:

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Dad was pointing out the sea turtles bobbing in the waves.

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3) North Shore-

As long as the weather permits you should be able to hang out and watch some amazing surfers doing what they do best.  My boys could sit and watch those surfers for hours.  Just make sure to grab some Matsumoto Shaved Ice before you hit the beach.  View on Yelp here

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Yum!

4) Food Trucks by North Shore

Great food… try the infamous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.  Read what others say about Giovanni’s here on Yelp.  But, be warned there are wild chickens running around and a fair amount of flies- yuck!

5) Manoa Falls

This hike is a little more work and not for those with super little munchkins as the path is muddy, slippery and not fit for strollers.  But, if you are a more adventurous family this is a fun (super muddy and messy) gorgeous hike.  I would recommend old sneakers and a change of clothes and shoes for when you are done.

See more on Yelp here

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*I do NOT recomend not listening to the warning sign by the waterfall.  As you see I am NOT on the other side of this.  I am the spazz yelling at them and taking their picture 😉

6) Waikiki Beach

Great food, history and a beach… ‘nough said!

7) Ala’ Moana Mall

Gorgeous mall with everything from high end boutique shops, name brands and little mom and pop shops.  You can walk the mall and several blocks around it.  Don’t forget to stop by the Hawaiian Cookie Store for some free samples 😉  My only complaint is that they recently shut down our favorite open air International Market right there next to the mall.  Heart breaking really.  So many memories from my own childhood there (sniff!)  See more on Ala Moana here

8) Dole Pineapple Plantation

This one is a love/ hate thing.  It is fun to go here once I think.  The kids get a kick out of seeing how pineapples grow, riding the train, eating the soft serve Pineapple treat etc…  However, it is a complete tourist trap with ridiculous prices, pushy sales people and cheap trinkets.  But, if you know it going in at least you will know what you are walking into.

* I also would recomend Pearl Harbor.  We unfortunately have not had the chance to take the kids.  However, I have heard it is a MUST do.  So, it is on our list.  You can read what other people are saying about Pear Harbor here on Yelp.

What do you do with your family when you visit Oahu?  I would love to hear from those of you who have a favorite zip line or horse back adventure that you would recommend as those are also on our list for next time 😉

Disneyworld… a schedule that works!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooks like we got brave and traveled with just our immediate family back in 2005.  And, we liked it SO much we went TWICE to Disneyworld in one summer.  Or maybe we are just crazy?

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Our kiddos were 2  & 4 and we were starting to realize we liked when they said “Welcome Home” what an affordable trip Disneyworld was when we booked the hotel with our Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points.  We actually liked it SO much we purchased more points that summer.

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I know people often think we are just insane to take the kids all the way to Disneyworld and multiple times.  But, look with Disney we knew we were guaranteed a good time.  We knew that everything was going to be clean (A type- yup that’s me), kids would be happy, grown ups would have good food & drinks etc… (and, yes you read that right… there are delicious grown up bevys served in the parks)  Plus, we just knew how to do it!

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When you travel to Disneyworld with munchkins (or any theme park) there are a few things you can do to ensure you have a great trip:

  • Keep visits in the park to 4 hours MAX
  • Go SLOW
  • Keep expectations low
  • Don’t let rides be the main focus
  • Pack snacks and bubbles- just TRUST me 😉

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  • Our schedule is usually to wake up early, eat a quick breakfast in the room and then go to which ever park has extra magic hours that day (don’t know what that means?- click here).
  •   We then go back to our hotel for lunch and to swim in the pools (depending on the weather and time of year).
  • The kids are usually pooped after that so we go back to the room to nap and relax.  Then we clean up, head out to dinner and a different park. *We don’t like extra magic evenings bc they get SUPER packed!

This schedule makes your days last SO long in the best way.  It makes sure everyone is fed, on a schedule (which munchkins thrive on) and well rested = less meltdowns.  YAY!!!!!

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My Aulani Review… Recently Rated #1 Family Beach Hotel

Initially I intended to handle this blog chronologically… but I just don’t seem to have the patience- ha!  Story of my life.

I ran across this article from Travel & Leisure and just had to weigh in on why WE LOVE AULANI!!!

1) FREE ChildcareYes I said it.  Just like the cruise… kids 3-12 can be checked in to Auntie’s Beach House for free play or some of the scheduled activities like Building a Volcano, Stitch’s Space Goo and a Hula with the characters.  This allows mom and dad to sneak next door to Ama’ Ama’ for a delicious cocktail and some yummy fish tacos.

2) Hawaii- I mean obviously. The scenery is unbeatable.  It takes my breath away EVERY time and we have already visited 5 times and plan to go back this year again.  Plus, Oahu has SO much to offer between the shops and history of Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Ala Moana, Dole’s Pineapple Plantation, Turtle Beach, North Shore and that is just to name a few that popped into my head.

3) The Cast Members– Seriously… Disney has this ability to find the most amazing employees.  We were lucky enough to meet Alyssa on our first trip and over the years have stayed in touch with her… now I would consider her a very dear family friend.  On one of our more recent trips she invited us into her home and served us tons of traditional food.  Absolutely an amazing experience.  And, well you can not expect that amazing service from every cast members you CAN bet on fantastic service.  In fact this alone has made Aulani or resort of choice trumping our old fav- Grand Wailea.  They definitely need to work on their customer service skills.

4) Kids Activities– Besides Auntie’s Beach House there are a ton of activities on property that will keep your munchkins entertained.  Snorkeling in the private lagoon, riding down the body or tube slides, floating around the lazy river, attending the family challenge (although if we are there we will beat you-ha!), getting wet in the menehune splash park, attending one of the free craft activities, watching one of the free movies on the lawn, attending the complimentary Starlit Hui, Fire Pit Stories, Star Gazing… geesh!  I feel like I could go on forever.  To be honest we haven’t even covered it all in our 5 trips!!!

5) The Villas– Okay… maybe I am biased but I have not been able to find nicer rooms that Disney’s Vacation Club Villas.  They are PERFECT!!!  And, we have stayed in some of the World’s Nicest Hotels people, so I feel justified making such a BOLD statement!  Disney knows what they are doing.  We love the 2 bedroom villas.  They have a washer and dryer so we are able to pack light, two bathrooms, two full bedrooms, couch bed in the living room and a full kitchen (you can even ask for a blender and rice cooker) *Costco is one exit down the highway 😉  Thank me later!  So, yes perfect set up, immaculately clean and the views are out of this world!!

Don’t believe me… I added some pics for proof.  Just GO!  Like book it now… I promise you will not regret it.  This and the Disney Cruise are the ONLY 2 vacations where I feel I actually fully unwind and relax.  Not that I don’t love Dubai, Ethiopia and Costa Rica… but those I call adventures.  Aulani is a true VACATION for EVERYONE- INCLUDING MOM!!!!

Snorkeling in the Private Lagoon

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One of the Pool Parties with Characters

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Family Challenge- we ROCK’d it!!

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Character Breakfast- I highly recommend it!

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Jumping in the pool over looking the beach

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Visiting our Family Friend (cast member) Alyssa for some Traditional Hawaiian Food- YUM!

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Tube Slides

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Just bc these two are cute!!

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On your 5th visit… make sure you bring as many extended family members as you can

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Seriously… the cuteness… I just can’t stop!!

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Memories like these are worth it… Go… Book it!!

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Thank you Aulani!

Disneyworld… this time around with two toddlers!!

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Disneyworld seemed to be our go to trip for quite a few years in the beginning and looking back I think it was the perfect fit for our family.  Disney allowed us to get out and go somewhere with all the conveniences we needed having two little munchkins along for the ride.

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Once again we traveled with our extended family.  I’m not sure if we thought we would not be able to entertain ourselves without more people, thought we needed extra hands with the kids or maybe we just wanted to share in the excitement.  Whatever the reason it definitely made for some fantastic memories and family bonding.

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Maybe it was just for the added entertainment… as I look back at the photos of these little ones at O’hana Restaurant in the Polynesian Resort- ha!  Which by the way is a fantastic dinner served up family style at your table.  Although, there are no characters there is plenty of entertainment… like limbo obviously, maraca parade and Auntie strumming away on her Ukulele.  Plus, did you read above?  They serve you family style meaning they bring you big dishes of food right to your table.  At the end of the day when your poor theme parked feet are aching you won’t even have to get up and take the kids to the buffet line… now that is my kind of restaurant!  Oh, and I haven’t even gotten to my FAVORITE part… dessert is a Bread Pudding a’la mode with an amazing carmel banana drizzle.  YUM!!!  Tip: order the kids the shaved ice in a bucket and keep all that delicious bread pudding for yourself… just make sure you are wearing your stretchy pants 😉

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Rain… rain… what is Orlando without its sudden downpours.  Make sure you pack an umbrella or two.  Or if you are a DVC Member (Disney Vacation Club) they often have umbrellas you can borrow see above.  Too cute!

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This trip we did a lot of exploring on the not so popular attractions (i.e. Innoventions, Shows, Character Greetings etc…).  The munchkins were not fans of waiting in lines for a ride… see below.

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Which brings me to MELTDOWNS… YES!  If you travel with toddlers be prepared for the tears, tantrums and pouting.  Its just going to happen.  But, don’t let that stop you from traveling bc you will miss out on SO many more smiles, giggles and memories that are being made by being together as a family.  Plus, someday you will look back at those pictures and laugh.  So, my advice… why wait.  When a tantrum brews just laugh, snap a pic and move on.  Distraction is key here 😉

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I mean seriously… how cute are they when they are having a good time!!!  I will take the tantrums if I get these moments with them.

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Oh, I almost forget make sure to book your character breakfast when you travel with toddlers as this was a hit.  You will want to make a reservation early here:

https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/

We prefer smaller ones in the hotels vs the parks which seem to always be rushed.  The one above is at the Cape May Cafe in the Beach Club Resort.

Disneyworld & Universal Studios 2003… Our first family trip.

In 2003 we traveled with our one year old son to Disneyworld for the first time.  I remember driving myself crazy trying to figure out what to pack.  Good thing they have a Target close by for us frugal families so if you forget anything (ahemm… like I did) then you won’t have to travel far to get it.  And, if you don’t have a car and don’t might the higher price… Disney has you covered on property too.

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We were joined by extended family which made the trip extra fun but also a little more complicating when it came to dinner and figuring out how to map out our day.  One thing that the large group did NOT complicate was our room situation.  We are Disney Vacation Club members and so we booked a two bedroom Beach Club Villa for our family and my sister and law’s family.  Then a separate studio villa for my in laws.  The rooms were FANTASTIC!!!  And, the kids made so many memories just hanging out and playing in the room I mean check out the space.

photo credit: Disney Vacation Club

Beach Club is probably our favorite of the Disney resorts in Orlando.  The villas are laid out very well and kept super clean, the pools are amazing, the lobby is always bustling with Captain there to greet you and Beach Club is home to Beaches ‘N Cream which has the infamous “Kitchen Sink” sundae.  It’s a HUGE family sundae with all the fixin’s and when you order it they turn off the lights and make a big fuss in the restaurant which our kids think is a big hoot!

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Beach Club and Disneyworld in general are always decorated beautifully… but during the holidays everything is turned up a notch.  I love traveling to the different hotels to see what candy creation they have.  Beach Club usually has a chocolate carousel… like HUGE real chocolate horses ladies.  The smell is divine.  And, they sell fresh baked Stollen bread which is a must… and for the kiddos you can buy the gingerbread house kit.

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The littles enjoyed Epcot a lot!  They loved making the masks as we walked to each country, sampling food and watching the unique array of mimes, jugglers and especially the Japanese candy maker.

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Now we enjoy renting a car when we travel to Disneyworld (see my post here) bc our family has grown.  But, on this trip back in 2003 we used the complimentary Disney bus service the whole time and it worked out great.  For one it is FREE when you stay at a Disney hotel, for two when you are new it is nice to not have to worry about directions or getting lost and lastly the kids think the buses are a ride.

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After having a blast for a week in Disney we decided we wanted to check out Universal Studios Orlando as well.  We had a shuttle take us over.  It was a quick 30 min ride and we stayed at the Portofino Hotel for three nights.  I think that was sufficient time to hang out over there.  Like Disney’s buses Universal offers a complimentary boat system for hotel guests to get you back and forth to CityWalk and the two Universal Parks- Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

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If you go during the holidays you will want to make sure not to miss the Grinch show in Seussville.  I enjoy that whole land really.  Especially, One Fish Two Fish… but beware you WILL get WET!

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One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

photo credit: Universal Orlando

A random favorite of ours is the fountain in front of the Eighth Voyage of Sinbad Show.  Have your kids start talking to the fountain… they will get a good surprise.  But, stand back this is another place where you will get wet!!!