Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Magic of the Cabanas at Castaway Cay!

If you have never cruised with the Disney Cruise Line, you are absolutely missing out on one of the most beautiful places on earth, Castaway Cay (pronounced "key"). I can honestly say that we have never felt so completely pampered than during our stay at the cabanas on Disney's private island. This is truly an oasis for the entire family.

For my money, the cabanas are worth every penny. I have mentioned before that we are a family that likes to be pampered. We know this about ourselves. Having the cabana all to ourselves made being on Castaway Cay an entire day's worth of fun and relaxation. It was definitely a highlight of our cruise!

You might be wondering what's included in your cabana. The rental for the cabana itself (on our March 2016 cruise) was $500. You can see almost all the amenities in these pictures below, but here is a comprehensive list of everything that was included. We truly wanted for nothing:

  • a sofa
  • 3 chairs
  • 1 chaise lounge
  • 2 deck loungers
  • 1 hammock
  • 1 outdoor shower
  • 2 outlets (to charge your devices!)
  • 1 pack n' play
  • a small changing area with curtain
  • music with adjustable volume
  • 2 beach chairs and 2 beach loungers
  • 1 beach umbrella
  • sand toys
  • sunscreen
  • lots of extra beach towels
  • snacks, drinks and cool washclothes in the fridge
  • a basket of chips and granola bars
  • all your island rentals (snorkeling, floats, etc.)
  • a call button for concierge services
  • there is also a cabana taxi service - golf carts that will take you to the farther areas of the island
  • you can have your alcoholic drinks delivered to you in your cabana

This is what the inside looked like from the front door:

and here is what it looked like from the beach:

The concierge staff manages the cabanas area for the guests during the day and we had some very nice interactions with them throughout the day. We were already on concierge level on board the ship and this was a very nice dovetail for us. Our favorite bartender, Amit, delivered drinks until 1pm when he returned to the ship to prepare for the concierge area cocktail hours. The drink menu is pictured below. There was something for everyone. (P.S. they will make Shirley Temples for the kids!) Someone came to replenish towels and clean up our food around 2pm.

Cookie's Too is very nearby which made getting lunch and bringing it back to the cabana a breeze. And of course, there were ice cream machines there too so the little ones were delighted! Lunch on the island is included in the cost of your cruise. but you should remember they are not open all day. Pay attention to your navigator and go grab some lunch before they close up. Our family found lots of delicious choices. If you do preorder food for food allergies, remember that you must pick it up at Cookies (not Cookie's Too). Have the cabana taxi squad come get you for a short ride over and back.

The cabanas also have their own restroom area with a family restroom as well. As always, the area was kept very clean. And it was easy to access for all cabanas.

 We stayed on Castaway Cay until 4pm, as we had reservations to Remy for later that night and needed to get cleaned up. I'm not sure if we would have stayed all day without the shade and luxury of the cabana. It was so nice we didn't want to leave!

If you find yourself wondering if renting a cabana would be worth the expense, I would strongly urge you to try it! We could not have asked for a better day on Castaway Cay, and I attribute so much of that to having reserved a cabana! Until next time, may all your days be filled with fairy dust!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

DIY Disney's Little Mermaid Inspired Hand Knitted Tails

We've gone a little Mermaid crazy in the cottage these last few months. It's funny how the littles will get obsessed with something and the ride it into the ground. And nothing I suggest or do can shake it. So, I just ride with it and see where it takes us!

Let me start by saying, Little Chef, although a boy, loves to be a merMAID. He want's nothing to do with the mermen, because, as he puts it, Ariel has all the fun. Well, it's hard to argue with that! I would certainly agree. As such, he loves to play mermaid with his sister and we are happy to let him do so (and any negative comments left here regarding gender roles will be lovingly deleted.) When I saw this pattern for knitted mermaid tails, I knew we were going to have to make two, one for each little. They picked out the yarn colors they wanted and I went to work with the hopes of finishing them for our cruise!

This took me exactly five days to finish. Having the littles breathing down my neck was definitely motivation to finish! And with our cruise quickly approaching, I had enough intrinsic motivation to get the job done! This was a prewritten pattern and since I was on a tight deadline, I just used that materials suggested. My gauge is always a bit larger, so I ran out of yarn before all the pattern repeats were done, but as you can see in the photo above, it was just fine for this little mermaid! All the specifics can be found on my Ravely project page.

Until next time, may all your days be filled with fairy dust!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Our First Disney Cruise Was Not So Magical

I'm conflicted about writing this post. I know that our experience is not the one most people have while cruising with Disney, and our family has some special needs that contributed to making our cruise what it was; but I am a huge proponent of honesty in parenting (and in living, really) and as such I feel this post must be written.

Let me start by telling you about our family's vacation style:

We are a high maintenance family (and we know it) with a strong love for all things Disney. We are DVC owners. We've been to WDW over 40 times. We have food allergies, as well as food and skin sensitivities. Our younger kids typically spend their days with a nanny or at preschool and are used to having personal attention and structure throughout the day; we also have a very independent, confident teenager. We consider ourselves free-range parents and like our kids to try new things and solve their own problems whenever possible. What we love about Walt Disney World and Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is that the cast members are never surprised by our requests or how to care for all of our needs. They often go above and beyond to accommodate us, which is what makes Disney destinations so enjoyable. We usually stay at villas so we have all the comforts of home. (My packing mantra is: if we left it at home we can always get it when we get there. Or as my aunt likes to say, all you need are your pills and money.) We don’t mind lots of walking and our kids often spend long hours in the car traveling to our various vacation destinations. One of us (the 3 year old) is very demanding and wants her needs met immediately and without exception; the rest of us can be relaxed and go with the flow. Staying well fed and rested is a key to our family happiness.

My expectations for this cruise were as follows:
  • Our free range style would be an asset to cruising. 
  • Our kids would adore the kids club. 
  • Our servers and the chef at each dining location would meet my high expectations for eating with food allergies and sensitivities as they concistently do at WDW. 
  • There would be plenty for us to find to do at our own pace (as there is in the parks). 
  • We would adore cruising in the same way we adore all our other Disney experiences. 
  • Dining at Remy would be out of this world. 
  • Renting a cabana would enhance our Castaway Cay day. 
  • We would be able to have down time in our room the same way we do at WDW for nap time.
  • Disney magic would find us everywhere.
This was our reality:
  • Our free range style was hard to maintain with such a strict schedule on such a short cruise. When I say strict schedule, I mean that unlike the parks, you can't choose from 12 dinner ADRs; there are two seatings. Take the time you want or don't eat in the dining room that night. If you want to see the show, there are not 4 times to see it, there are two. You will want to make sure you get there on time to find a good seat. We are not very good at that sort of thing as a family. We tend to get there when we get there. It was hard for us to adhere to a schedule we did not set for ourselves.
  • Our kids loved the kids club at open house times, but hated the kids club when we were not there with them; they cried the entire time they were there. And even 30 minutes of them being in there alone (and crying) was not enough to convince them to stay. The counselors called us on the wave phone and requested we come get them.
  • Our dining experience was exceptionally disappointing in the main dining rooms and with room service. Our food allergies and sensitivities made me feel like we were a burden. This has never happened to me with Disney before this experience. And my understanding is that it doesn't happen this way for most. I think our experience was abnormal, and my failure to research ahead hurt us, but still, it happened and our vacation was definitely worse off for it.
  • There was plenty for us to do but not at our own pace; we found we needed to be much more regulated than we usually are, which contributed to our overall frustration with one another. There was a lot of hurry up going on with our family or deciding too late to try an activity.
  • We do not adore cruising with toddlers. Especially our toddlers, who need lots of individual attention, cannot express their desires adequately, and require special food. 
  • Dining at Remy was out of this world and I loved every single moment. I would book that experience over and over again. Everyone from the sommelier, to our server, to the cheese master made our evening sublime.
  • Renting the cabana on Castaway Cay saved our vacation. It was far and away the most wonderful thing we did. We finally felt like we were a part of something Disney. And we were finally pampered in every way imaginable. Even the little ones were happy to be independently playing in the water and able to spread out.
  • Our children never napped. No not once. And trying to nap in the stateroom is a fools errand to begin with. The 5 of us maxed out the space in the room. While it was very nice for everything else, trying to rest midday was a total misfire.
  • Disney magic was sparse on this trip. And that was the most disappointing thing of all. We certainly had some magical moments, and the concierge staff when above and beyond to make our stay as lovely as possible, but the overall tone of this trip was definitely in a minor key.
Here's the long and the short of why this was a dreadful trip for us:
  • We should have booked a longer cruise. This felt like a such a compact cruise with barely enough time to see and do the standard cruise things. We really needed AT LEAST another day to fully enjoy all there was to see and do, and to get there on our own timetable.
  • Our toddlers are just not fit for cruise travel. They are slow moving, and they were tired and cranky for most of the time we were on board. Imagine having a 30-pound howler monkey tied to your hip for 3 days. That was us. The little ones simply would not spend any time on their own. I was actually in tears our third morning at the prospect of having to literally drag my family around the ship one more day. Fortunately, Castaway Cay saved me.
  • Our food allergies and sensitivities made it VERY DIFFICULT to find food in any reasonable amount of time and our head server seemed very new to the Disney way. This was a huge disappointment for us. I'll do a whole write up on that later but suffice it to say, this was sorely disappointing next to the stellar service and quality we receive in the parks. In fact, it was the #2 reason our trip was so trying.
  • We simply could not get what we had forgotten to bring with us. The ship's shops were closed every time we were in port (which on a 3-day cruise is every day); we would have purchased the things we forgot to pack (hoodies, sunglasses, packaged snacks and sunscreen) had we had the opportunity.
  • I failed to do any substantial research for our cruise. I cannot emphasize this enough. I didn't even know about debarkation. THAT was a spectacular fail. I'll tell you all about it in a separate post. It's comical how badly we failed that; you would have to try very hard to do it worse than we did! I wish I had researched what to expect in the dining room, with food allergies, at the pool, and traveling with toddlers. All of that would have gone a very long way to make our vacation more enjoyable. If we hadn't had the concierges to guide us I think our entire family might have been reduced to bloody stumps of people.
In all, I think we are a poor fit for cruising right now due to the age and temperament of our little ones. If you are a family who always enjoys being together, who generally finds parenting to be rewarding and you can't understand how other people find parenting so difficult, or you find living in tight quarters fine, you would probably love cruising. If you don't have little kids, you would might love cruising. If you have little ones with special needs (of any kind) I would not consider the 3-day cruise at all, as it will be frustrating. I would certainly think that at 4-day cruise or longer would be a much better experience.

Will we try it again? Probably. We would either wait a couple years for the little ones to be a bit more self reliant, or we would consider going just as the adults and leaving the little ones with the grandparents. And we would definitely book a longer cruise. Three days was just too short. And now that I know what I need to know more about, it can only help us to plan better and be more proactive about making sure our travel meets our expectations.

I'd love to hear about your cruise experiences here! If it was great and you love to cruise, share what makes it so marvelous for you. If you have grizzly stories, well, misery loves company! Bring them on. I'd love to hear about them too! Until next time, fellow Disney travelers, may all your days be filled with fairy dust!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Off on our Disney Dream Cruise!

We are off on our first Disney cruise today! We will be aboard the Dream. If you happen to be cruising with us be sure to stop and say hi! I love to meet my followers wherever we go!

I can't wait to see all the magic that is in store for our family! As die-hard Disney fans our expectations are unreasonably high. Rest assured that you will be getting my trip reports once we are back ashore. I have some fun surprises for the kiddos (Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and a Cabana at Castaway Cay to starters!) and I am very anxious to dine at Remy!

Enjoy the weekend and until next time, may all your days be filled with fairy dust!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

DIY Disney St. Patrick's Day Beer Sampler Set : Peace, Love, Mickey & St. Patty's Day

Let there be no doubt that we are a beer drinking cottage! We love St. Patrick's Day for so many reasons, but certainly the opportunity to drink some beer from across the pond rates high on our list!

And to celebrate such an auspicious occasion, I bring you the Disney St. Patrick's Day Beer Sampler! What better way to introduce your family to the tastes of Ireland than with this fun sampler set? And yes, it's simple to make if you have the right tools!

You may remember the Snuggly Duckling Beer Sampler Set from last summer. I found these blank sets in the $1 spot at Target. It was part of their Father's Day/Summer promotions. If they have them again this summer I'll be sure to pick up some more! The paddle was $3 and each glass was $1. It's one of the best deals I've seen from them.

I used my Silhouette SD to cut out each shape from stencil vinyl. I used this shamrockthis peace signthis heart, and I created my own Mickey shape using the circle tool. Remember, to draw a perfect circle, hold the shift key and drag. After that I simply adhered the stencils to the glass and used etching cream. I set the timer for 15 minutes for these. I really like the way these turned out. They are big enough to see.

If you are in the mood for a beer tasting, you might try these four Irish draughts: Murphy'sHarpSmithwick's & of course Guinness. Until next time, may all your days be filled with fairy dust!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Celebrate St. Patrick's Day with Guinness Stew from Disney's Rose & Crown

It's time to start thinking about your St. Patrick's Day plans, and this Guinness Stew recipe from Disney's Rose & Crown is the perfect addition to a St. Patrick's Day menu. It was simple to make and LOVELY on the cold winter's night we enjoyed it. It's hardy and filling and just the thing for your Irish soul. (We may have added a little more Guinness than the recipe calls for - it didn't hurt a thing!)

We paired our stew with a Liberté Cabernet Sauvignon which was delicious! We can usually find that at our local Trader Joe's. It's one of our go to bottles. Of course, you certainly could serve it with Guinness! We rounded out the meal with a loaf of crusty rosemary bread and some in season greens.

I found this delightful recipe at The Disney Diner, where there is a HOST of other recipes as well. If you had it in Disney and you want to try it at home, chances are Lisa has the recipe. Lisa also has her own YouTube channel too, so if you are like me and need to see it happen, this is a great resource for all you're Disney recipe needs! Let us know if you have a favorite of hers. We'd be delighted to try it out! Until next time, may all your days be filled with fairy dust!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

DIY Small World Passporter Envelope

This is a repost from years ago, but as we are getting ready for our first cruise I have my PassPorter out again and am planning like crazy! This little pouch has again come in very handy. And now that I am a Certified Disney Travel Planner, you don't need a BA in Disney Planning anymore, just give me a call (or send me an email) and I'll get you on your way to an amazing Disney vacation! All you have to do is pack your bags. Enjoy this re-post today.

As one of my dear Disney Buddies likes to say, it feels like you need a Bachelors Degree in Disney Planning to take your first trip to Walt Disney World, and an Associates in Disney Dining. We know it can be overwhelming for the first time planner. If you are unfamiliar with our friends over at PassPorter, please head over and take a look. They are THE planning tool for our friends and family. Even after 36 trips, we find the PassPorter a useful tool before and during our stay in Walt Disney World. I always get one for any new family traveling with us.

It should come as no surprise, that I have my PassPorter with me at every planning session. I like to have sticky notes, or post-it flags, and my favorite pen with me too. (I have a bit of a pen obsession!) So this fabric envelope from Bolt was the perfect solution for my PassPorter. Follow the link for the excellent tutorial. I made just a couple adjustments of my own.

I chose to do a button and loop closure on my envelope, and adjusted the length of the fold over elastic to measure 14.5" in order to fit over my PassPorter cover. This will accommodate the deluxe cover, or the entire book of the regular PassPorter. If you've never used fold over elastic, it's really great stuff! It comes in all sorts of colors and patterns. And Amazon has a nice selection of it too.

The fabric is November Books Kokka Children of the World. It reminds me of the It's A Small World attraction (one of my favorites!). I have only been able to find it on Etsy, and it can be expensive, but I love it so much I don't mind spending a little extra. The contrasting fabric (seen on the envelope flap) was purchased at JoAnn's. It's their store label.

Because this project requires very little fabric, it would be a great stash-busting project. And it's quite budget friendly too. I had everything I needed except the fold over elastic, and that was in the $6.00 range. Not bad at all for such a cute and useful item. If you make one of these for your Disney trip, please leave us a link to it in the comments. We love to see what our followers are doing! Until next time, may all your days be filled with fairy dust.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

DIY Disney Pirate Onesie T-shirt

I've mentioned before that we love having plenty of T-shirts while at Disney; this is especially true for our toddler set. And I especially love coordinating the onesies with the Quick Change Trousers I've made for them.

I have been able to find packages of plain onesies at Dollar General very reasonably priced. I would look around at your favorite discount shops for the best deal. This is great budget-friendly project. And it's another quick project (for those of you who have to find your creativity during nap time). I found this Yo Ho image all ready to go in the Silhouette shop. For those interested parties, it's pirate swords, image id 9329. From there it was as easy as downloading, printing on heat transfer paper, sending it through the Silhouette, and ironing it onto a plain onesie. 

Not only was this a great outfit for our little one in the Magic Kingdom at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party (a seriously easy "costume" to pack), it would be perfect for Disney's Pirate Adventure. Don't forget about these children's activities hosted throughout the resorts. They are the perfect thing for a non-park day. Your little one can experience a bit of themed magic and you can take an hour or so for yourself. Now that's what I call a win-win! To hear what other veteran Disney Mom's think of these children's activities, take a listen to this PassPorter podcast about child care in Walt Disney World. There are some great bits of advice in there.

Until next time, may all your days be filled with fairy dust.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

DIY Disney Themed Toddler Pants

I have a passion for sewing. Baby and toddler sewing is so quick, it's almost irresistible for me. I also happen to have a kid with extremely sensitive skin, so souvenir clothes require washing before wearing, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Making and taking our own is a perfect solution.

Here I used Anna Maria Horner's Quick Change Trousers pattern from Handmade Beginnings. I love this pattern because it's reversible. Those of us who have experience with kids in the parks know that sometimes, a reversible pant can save a photo op! Theme parks seem to have a way of throwing dirt on my kids without them even knowing it. This way, I don't have to carry multiple outfits into the park, and a mess truly is just a quick change to a clean pant. It's a win-win.

If you are an avid sewer, or fabric collector, these may even be a very budget friendly project. The smaller sizes requires under a yard for the main fabric, and the bottom patch can be made from less than 1/2  a yard easily. It was a great stash busting project for me!

I have had very good luck finding Disney licensed fabrics at JoAnn's, including what you see here, Winnie the Pooh, Phineas and Ferb, and Princess & Fairies galore! But don't think you have to spring for the licensed stuff. You can easily find fabric that calls to mind Disney without the branding (especially when those fabrics are in the parks). I have found fish/shark fabric in a Finding Nemo color scheme, generic pirate fabric (bottom right), little people dressed as you might find them in It's A Small World (top right), and non-Disney fairy tale illustrations. I've even used holiday fabric for the reverse when we were going to be in Disney over Halloween or Christmas. Use your imagination and take some time to browse. If you find it difficult to get to a store without a child nipping at your heels, Etsy has some terrific finds and you can browse those stores from the comfort of your own home. Etsy has it's own bonus as well: you can find fabrics there that aren't sold in the US (or wherever you're cottage is located). I love Japanese prints and there is definitely a Disney market in Japan. Sometimes you can find really unique fabric that's worth the time and cost of ordering.

And because some of you will ask, the licensed onsies were found at Walmart for under $5.00 each. The other two I made using the Silhouette SD. Stay tuned for tutorials on how to make your own Disney onsies. Until then, may all your days be filled with fairy dust!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

New Disney Inspired Pirate T-shirt on RedBubble

We are gearing up for our first every Disney Cruise in just 2 weeks! And if you have ever been on a Disney Cruise, you know that the pirate deck party is one of the can't miss events on board. Of course, I had to add my design to the mix of fun and fabulous Disney attire made just for pirate night!

And even more exciting, you can have this great design for your pirate event too! Or, if you're just a huge fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean, grab this design now. It comes in a variety of colors and sizes, and of course it's not just the t-shirt. There are all sorts of items you can get this on, including posters, bags, journals, tech cases and more! Head on over to the RedBubble shop and take a look for yourself. Show your Disney side!

Until next time, may all your days be filled with fairy dust!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Scrapping WDW | My Favorite Apps for iPhone Photos

Six years ago I would never have believed you if you told me I wouldn't be carrying my DSLR to Walt Disney World anymore. I mean, I am the queen of snapping vacation photos! I love to catch every moment - many times! And I actually scrapbook. Photos are a major part of my vacation experience anywhere I go.

But I have, in fact, been photographing my family exclusively with my iPhone for last several years. It may be because I now have two toddlers who keep me on my toes! Or it may just be the fact that I feel like my entire life is on my iPhone. Whatever caused the switch, I am quite happy with it. Let's face it; the iPhone is smaller, easier to pop out to catch that photo with, and always with me!

I'm guessing I'm not the only one who is experiencing this change in photography habits. So here are some of my favorite apps. They both help me post great pictures on the fly (to Instagram and Photos) and get them ready for the scrapbook! In full disclosure I use an iPhone 6 and have only tried these with the iPhone.

1. Snapseed - This is my go to app for any of the photo editing basics like brightness, contrast, and tone; it also has the ability to add some fancier features for filters, grain, etc. This app is free.
Edited completely in Snapseed

2. PicFrame - easy to use collage app that allows you to change the shape of just one photo. App price is $0.99
PicFrame was used to create this collage

3. Big Lens - my newest favorite! With this app you can create the effect of changing your aperture on a DSLR. Essentially you can get your subject to stay in focus and blur the background after you've taken the photo. App price is $0.99
Edited in Big Lens and Instagram

4. Squaready - can edit any photo to fit a square frame. Very easy to use and uploads directly to IG if you wish. It has several other functions, but I don't use them. This app is free.

5. Over - gives you the ability to put text and or art work on your photos. It's interface is super easy and allows for the basics. App price is $0.99
Over was used to caption this photo Doors Of Dublin

6. Rhonna Designs - this is for lots of artwork options and text. I use it sparingly, but it has lots of options for design. And there are tons of preloaded phrases and goodies so you don't have to come up with them yourself, all for an additional cost. App price is $1.99

7. RealBokeh - allows you to add bokeh to your photos after you've taken them. You can choose where to put it and what shape you want. There is also a Mickey mouse shape perfect for your Disney photos! App price is $1.99

And there you have it! The apps I use to edit my iPhone photos. Once you have the hang of it, it's easy to do while waiting in line or for your ADR! Until next time, may all your days be filled with fairy dust!