Tis’ the Season {Part 2}

Trying to get caught up on all the Christmas activities we enjoyed this season! I feel like the whole Christmas season flew by, and while we did a lot of fun things, we ran out of time to do everything I had on my list. We were so busy with work and school and other commitments during the week, and I always found myself trying to cram things into the weekends. Just not enough weekends in December. We did make it to Brunch with Santa at the Chattanoogan, rode the North Pole Express and visited Rock City to check out the Enchanted Garden of Lights tour. Asher Wade got to see Santa at all of these events and was a very happy little boy. He consistently told Santa that he wanted a “police car he can ride in” (we assumed he meant a Power Wheels) and a “race car Blaze with a remote control.” Thankfully Santa came through with these special gifts;) We had some great family time with my parents and brother and also hosted a super fun neighborhood party a few days before Christmas. It was a busy couple of weeks, but so much fun…

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Oh, and Matt and I even got to sneak away to Savannah for some much needed R&R…

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Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas, and cheers to a happy and healthy 2017!

Vegas Trip {Miscellaneous}

The last bit of pictures from our Vegas trip our below. These are just some random shots I took around the strip and at our various show outings.  We saw Michael Jackson ONE and Cirque du Soleil “O” and both were fabulous!  ONE was so entertaining…they played all of M.J.’s popular songs and the performers/acrobats were awesome. I tend to be ready for shows to be over at the 1.5 hour mark, but I honestly could have watched this for at least another couple of hours. I loved all of the choreography and special effects. At one point there was a hologram of M.J. on the stage and you would swear it was really him dancing and singing up there. “O” was also incredible, but more in the “How in the heck do they do that?!” sort of way. The stunts those acrobats do are so risky, but they make it look so easy graceful. I actually found myself gripping my seat and hiding my eyes because I was just convinced they were going to fall. Everything was perfectly orchestrated though and the talent really was unbelievable. This is the show that is done over water, which added another sense of wonder to it. I honestly walked out of that theater like, “What just happened?!” It was all so crazy and surreal and awesome. Highly, highly recommend both of these shows if you are ever in Vegas.

We stayed at the Aria Resort and Casino after getting several recommendations from people, and it did not disappoint.  This resort was enormous, and somewhat overwhelming. You could probably go to Vegas, stay here, and never have to leave the resort…there was so much to do there alone. Countless restaurants, bars and lounges, shopping, the most awesome gym and spa and a fabulous pool (several pools actually). Then of course there was the casino. I was stunned at the size. Everything was very over the top and glamorous. Our room was great. We splurged on a “strip view” and it was worth it. Nothing quite like looking over the city lights at night. I would definitely recommend this hotel, and will absolutely choose to stay there whenever we return.

Can’t really recommend much as far as food is concerned. Everything we had was really good, but we didn’t really seek out restaurants for sit-down meals, but rather just snacked a lot and ordered from some grab n’ go type places. We were so busy sight seeing that we didn’t have a lot of time for a drawn out meal. Next time I’d like to check out the restaurant scene a little more, as I’ve heard there are some fabulous places. Honestly, I’d like to try all of the restaurants just in the Aria alone. We did eat at one the first night…can’t remember what it was called, but it was French, bistro style, and it was really good. We went to this pizza place for lunch one day (I think it was called 800 Degrees) and you basically build a pizza at the counter (hundreds of toppings to choose from) and they bake it right there in front of you. It was really tasty. We also grabbed Shake Shack one day because I love the NYC location and pretty much my favorite meal of all time is a veggie burger, sweet potato fries and strawberry milkshake…something they do really well. Oh, and I’d be remissed not to mention the breakfast buffet at our hotel, if you can even call that monstrosity a buffet. If you’ve ever visited a breakfast buffet on a nice cruise ship, picture that…x 20. Not even kidding. Pretty much anything you could possibly want, it was there. They even had stations that served traditional breakfast items from all over the world. It was crazy. I was also a huge fan of the Pinkberry that was connected to our hotel;)

All in all a fabulous trip and I really enjoyed it. It was a great place to celebrate my mom’s retirement. Now I want to go back with Matt so he can experience it. Plus I’d like to check out some of the night life. Mom and I were so busy during the day that by 10/11 o’clock at night, we were pooped. It would be nice to go back sometime and basically just hang by the pool all day and then head out at night. Oh, and weather wise, this was a perfect time to go. Warm enough during the day for shorts and swimsuits, but a little cooler at night. The 0% humidity was a welcome change too. I had the best hair the whole time we were there:-)

Vegas Trip {Red Rocks Canyon)

This was another example of how you can leave the Vegas Strip, drive a few miles and find yourself in a completely different environment.  We stumbled across this beautiful canyon while taking a drive one morning.  This was literally 20 minutes from the Strip and it was absolutely gorgeous. The blue sky contrasted with the red and gold landscape was really incredible. There were so many bikers and runners out that day, and I couldn’t imagine a more picturesque place to exercise. There were a lot of people hiking as well, but since we weren’t really prepared or dressed appropriately for that, we didn’t venture off too far. Plus, let’s be honest, pretty sure there are an abundance of rattle snakes in those parts. I would love to go back and hike that area some day…with the necessary supplies and copious amounts of snake repellent:-)

Motivation Monday {and weekend shenanigans}

This was kind of an off-week, at least towards the beginning of it, as I was still recovering from the half marathon and trying to give my legs a break.  I am planning to run another half marathon (because apparently I like pain and suffering) in November, so I definitely can’t take a running hiatus or anything.  Ideally I’d like to better my time on this next one, but I haven’t landed on an exact goal yet.  I’m really missing my group exercise classes while training and I’ve had to slow down on my favorite Orangetheory Fitness sessions, but I was able to fit in a couple this week.  I’ve backed down on the weight training a lot, mainly because I just don’t have time, but at least when I can make it to OTF I know I’ll get some good strength training mixed in.

Monday 10/17: Mainly rested my legs considering the half marathon I ran the day before, but I was itching for some activity that evening so I walked around the neighborhood for 30 minutes or so.

Tuesday 10/18: 4 mile jog along the river with my running buddy…it was unseasonably hot today, and we really struggled!

Wednesday 10/19: 15 minutes on the elliptical followed by 2 fast miles on the treadmill and some push-ups

Thursday 10/20: 60 minute Orangetheory Fitness class

Friday 10/21: 6 mile jog along the river with my running buddy in MUCH cooler weather

Saturday 10/22: 60 minute Orangetheory Fitness class

Sunday 10/23: We were actually in the Atlanta area today (see below) and spent most of the day out and about, but I did take a 30 minute walk around the neighborhood that evening.

On Saturday we drove an hour south to Kennesaw, GA for the Owl-O-Ween Festival, which is basically a hot air balloon festival with a Halloween theme.  It was held at Kennesaw State University, which to our surprise was a super nice university.  I randomly came across this event online and thought it looked really fun, so we decided to make a little overnight trip out of it.  The festival was really nice and well done with tons of stuff for kids and adults alike, but unfortunately the winds were too strong and they couldn’t put the hot air balloons up, which of course was the whole point of the festival.  I’ve never been up in a hot air balloon, so I was really looking forward to that.  Plus, there was supposed to be trick-or-treating from balloon to balloon, which wasn’t able to happen either.  So that was a bummer.  Not to mention that Asher Wade was kind of sick and probably shouldn’t have been outside anyways.  We only stayed at the festival for a couple of hours and were back in our hotel early enough to treat ourselves to dinner at Ruth Chris.  Since we were puppy free that night we had big plans to get a full, uninterrupted night of sleep, but then AW was up on and off throughout the night coughing, so that didn’t exactly happen.  So yeah, now that I think about it, the whole weekend didn’t really go as planned, lol.  We still had fun though, and as anyone that has a young child knows, you win some you lose some when it comes to making plans.  The next morning we got up, ate breakfast and headed out to a nearby outlet mall, which turned out to be really nice.  We got AW all fixed up for fall/winter, and I even scored two pairs of my favorite running shoes for the price of one!  All in all it was a successful shopping trip, so there’s the silver lining:-)

My child insisted on this cheap Dory costume and I decided this was a battle I didn’t have it in me to fight…

We found these PJ Masks at the toy store and AW thought they were pretty much the best thing ever. He LOVES this show!

Vegas Trip {Grand Canyon}

I have SO MANY pictures from our Vegas trip, although the majority of them are not technically Vegas, or at least not the Vegas you’re thinking of.  We took a couple day-trips out away from the strip, one being a couple hours away to the Grand Canyon, to see some of the natural beauty in the area.  Nothing about the Vegas Strip was “natural,” but it was still pretty in its own way with all the lights and glitz.  I did enjoy the beautiful hotels and casinos, with all the amazing architecture and design, but the great outdoors is definitely my happy place, and I really enjoyed getting out of the city limits and seeing some amazing sites.  The below pictures are from the Grand Canyon.  I honestly can’t even describe the beauty or magnitude of this place, and there’s no way my iPhone pictures do it justice.  Even the drive-in heading towards the canyon was beautiful with the Joshua trees and canyon in the backdrop (pictures towards the bottom of the collage).  I was completely blown away by the size and the gorgeous colors.  It looked like it went on forever and the sky was the most amazing deep blue.  None of these pictures have filters, and they were all taken with my phone, so that should tell you something.  Definitely worth seeing and I’m so happy we made the trip to this Natural Wonder of the World.

Mid-Week Shakedown and our Sarasota Trip

Wednesday is my least favorite day of the week.  Always has been.  Probably always will be.  I don’t even really know why, other than that I am always so tired on Wednesdays and I know I still have another two full days until the weekend is here.  Once I get over the hump, I’m fine, but man, sometimes getting over it feels like I’m sprinting up a mountain.  It’s just a challenge.  It doesn’t help that I’m currently still trying to get adjusted to being back to reality.  I just can’t get my mind right and I’m pretty much convinced that I should still be on vacation.  Whaa whaa whaa, I know.  Get it together, Leanne.

We had such a great time in Sarasota last week.  Saturday to Saturday is the way to do it in my opinion…I truly felt like I took a vacation and got away from work and responsibilities.  Not to mention how nice it is to have some extra sets of hands to help with Asher Wade.  My parents are so good to babysit and entertain him so Matt and I can sneak away to exercise, grab dinner or meet up with friends, and we definitely did all of the above.  Just being able to take a spontaneous date night (and not pay for a sitter…can I get an AMEN to that!) is such a treat for us.  We got lots of family time as well, visiting the beach, pool, splash pad, Mote Marine, Big Cat Habitat and our favorite restaurants and ice cream shops (duh).  We even had some family pictures done! Oh, and I got to attend a surprise retirement party for my mom!  We were B.U.S.Y.  It was awesome though, and we were so blessed to be able to stay down there for a week.  I love Chattanooga, but man, Sarasota will always have a special place in my heart…

Like I mentioned above, we also had some family pictures done by the very talented Alisa Forbis of Alisa Sue Photography.  I actually went to high school with Alisa and she is such a warm and sweet person.  This is the second time she has done our photos, and she is incredibly talented and has such an eye for photography.  I cannot wait to receive all of the pictures, but here are a couple she posted right after the shoot:-)

 

Toddler Tuesday {Toddler Camping 101}

{Totally forgot to do my Motivation Monday post yesterday. Last week was so crazy, I honestly don’t even remember what I did, other than trying to fit in some short runs when I could. Back at it this week for sure!}

We took AW camping for the first time this past weekend. I thought this would be a fun way to celebrate Father’s Day. Turns out, camping with a 3 year old is somewhat fun, somewhat stressful, and somewhat of a nightmare;) Let’s just say that our weekend of camping ended with us packing up and heading out at 10 o’clock on Saturday night, lol. This was after listening to Asher Wade whine and complain for the whole afternoon about how he wanted to “go home to the blue house NOW.” He started off having a really good time, until he realized that camping involved bugs and sleeping in a tent. The child is TERRIFIED of bugs. Like, it’s borderline ridiculous. Obviously there were creepy crawlers all over the place, so that didn’t go over well. Then we explained that he was going to sleep in a tent that first night, and he started crying for his bed. I mean, I guess I can’t blame him. Our beds are a lot more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. Next time we will definitely splurge on some nice Aero beds or something. Yes, there will be a next time. I’m not one to give up easily. In all seriousness I do think he’ll get more adjusted each time we go. It was just a totally different experience for him. Plus I felt like there was still a lot of stuff he couldn’t do, and we were constantly having to tell him “No” which I know gets frustrating (for all of us).

Still though, we had fun spending time together and Fall Creek Falls State Park was awesome. One of the nicer places I have camped. Beautiful scenery, lots of wildlife (deer would come right up into our campsite), the falls were stunning, nice swimming pool, horseback riding, hiking, golf, fishing, playgrounds and a huge lake with tons of water sports. For those that prefer to “glamp” there are cabins and a lodge and even a decent restaurant. We cooked our meals at the campsite, but I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to cheating a little and visiting the restaurant. There are just a lot of amenities that make the whole camping experience a little more comfortable. If you are more adventurous, there are also options for primitive camping. Options are always nice. I definitely recommend Fall Creek Falls if you are looking for a nice outdoorsy trip. We will absolutely go back.

As for the “101” aspect of this post, here are some of my toddler camping tips for amateurs a/k/a things we will know better next time: (1) Bring cots or Aero beds, stuffed animals, their own pillow, whatever you can do to make the sleeping situation more like home, (2) Bring plenty of toys, bikes, scooters, balls, coloring books, etc., so they have stuff to do while you’re trying to enjoy the campfire and drink a beer, (3) Bring a portable potty to avoid multiple trips to the bathhouse especially if you are in the midst of potty training, (4) Pick a quieter, less trafficked campsite, preferably close to the bathhouse and a grassy area, (5) Find a campground/state park that has other, toddler-friendly stuff to do (like a pool, playground, water falls, easy hikes), (6) Bring special/safer “tools” so they can participate (AW was fascinated with the lanterns, roasting pokers, lighters, matches, sledge hammer, basically anything we’d rather him NOT play with, (7) Bring lots of wipes and anti-bacterial gel, (8) Lots of non-toxic bug spray and sunscreen (we use the Alba and Honest Company brands) and a first-aid kit, (9) Practice sleeping in the tent BEFORE you go, (10) Lots of snack options and easy to make meals that they can participate in, (11) Start small and don’t bite off more than you can chew (a whole weekend was probably a little too ambitious), and my last and final tip that I always include when it comes to any sort of toddler event, (12) GO IN WITH LOW EXPECTATIONS:-)

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Since I had already planned to be off on Monday, I enjoyed spending the first official day of summer at home with AW. We also saw “Finding Dory” with Matt. This was the first time we have taken AW to the movie theater and he did great. It was such a cute movie!

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Disney Cruise {Tips, Tricks and Hacks you NEED to Know!}

Oh man, not even sure where to begin with this post, so I guess I’ll just start typing and see where it goes. It’s going to be a long one, but hopefully an informative one. I did a little research before we left and we have several friends that had previously done a Disney cruise and/or visited Disney World with kids in tow, so thankfully we had some insight and knew a lot of the tips, tricks and hacks prior to getting there, but we definitely learned even more during our actual trip. So here goes….my version of Disney Cruise tips, tricks and hacks that you should know, in no particular order.

Check-in. You can complete your online check-in for the cruise starting 75 days before your cruise. This is when you choose you port arrival time, and you’ll want to choose the earliest time available (see more about this below). This is when you can start booking excursions, spa treatments, special activities and reservations. Some things sell out fast, so I recommend booking as soon as available. This is also when you can register your kids for the kid’s clubs. Keep in mind though that if you plan to use the nursery (ages 3 and under), you cannot make reservations yet. You do this once you board the ship. As soon as you board, go visit the nursery (it was called It’s a Small World Nursery on our ship) and make your reservations.

Packing. You will not need as many clothes as you think you will, so keep that in mind when packing. I thought I packed light by bringing one casual outfit and one dinner outfit for each day (plus workout clothes), but I ended up not needing any of the casual outfits because I was either in workout clothes or a swimsuit and cover-up all day, only changing into regular clothes at night for dinner. It just makes more sense to stay in a swimsuit so you’re always ready for the pool. If anything, bring extra swimsuit cover-ups.

Drinks. Pack your own insulated cups. While fountain drinks are free on board, the cups are small, and you’ll find yourself constantly going back for a refill. We brought our YETI cups and were so happy we did. Also, they only have Coke products, so if you prefer other sodas, bring your own.

Alcohol. Alcoholic drinks are not free on the ship. You can also bring your own alcohol onboard (must be in your carry on). I believe you can bring 2 bottles of wine, or 6 beers, per person. We brought a few bottles of wine and would fix a glass to take with us when we headed out for the pool or dinner or whatever. Just don’t forget a bottle opener. While you can always request one from room service, it may take awhile for them to bring it to you. Oh, and unfortunately there’s a corking fee at the restaurants if you bring your own bottle to dinner. It was something ridiculous too…I want to say $25. However, they will let you split a bottle with your tablemates. We made friends with ours the first night, and started ordering a bottle of wine to share, and then just had the server split the cost between us.

Room service. If you want to avoid the restaurant one night and have your meal in your room, room service is always free, although some things do have a cost (like candy, popcorn and obviously alcohol). You can also request these ice cream Mickey bars that were awesome! They aren’t on the menu, but just ask. It’s is customary to tip the staff a few dollars like in most hotels.

Extras. Speaking of candy and “snacky foods” that you may want for the movies and whatnot…bring it from home. Candy, popcorn and packaged snacks are really over priced onboard, but since everyone wants candy and popcorn for the movies, people buy it. Save some money and bring it from home.

Port of embarkation. Get to the port city the night before. It makes the morning of embarkation much less stressful when you are already in the vicinity. Plus, with the uncertainty of traffic and flight delays, I wouldn’t want to risk missing the cruise! If you happen to leave from Port Canaveral, I recommend the Radisson. It’s 5 minutes from the port and they offer a shuttle service. You can also leave your car at the hotel for a much cheaper fee than what you’d pay to park at the port. Hotel has an awesome pool as well and a couple decent restaurants. Rooms were spacious and nice. We actually would have enjoyed staying a few days.

Free character call. You can request a call from Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, etc. before you leave for your cruise. Basically you make the request (through your online account on the cruise line website) and it will spit out a phone number. You call the number, hand the phone to your kid, and there will be a personal recording from their favorite character welcoming them to the cruise ship. Really cute way to start off the trip.

Boarding. Try and get an early boarding time so you can get on the ship as soon as possible. This is prime time for hitting up the pool and other popular areas before all the other cruise goers get on the ship. Remember that as the morning goes by, more and more people board the ship. Might as well take advantage of fewer crowds if you can. Even if you were unable to get the early boarding time, you can arrive earlier than your scheduled boarding time and they will likely let you on. Because we booked our cruise relatively last minute, the earliest boarding time I could get was 1:30 pm. However, we went ahead and got there at 12 and they let us on, no questions asked.

Carry on bag. Pack a backpack or carry on with swimsuits, sunscreen, and anything else you may want for the pool. When you board, they take your luggage from you, but it doesn’t arrive to your room until hours later. We boarded at 12, but our room wasn’t available until 1:30 and our luggage wasn’t delivered until close to 5. Thankfully, we had packed stuff for the pool, so as soon as we boarded, we checked out the ship a little and then hit the pool.

Lanyards and “Key to the World Card”. Bring a lanyard for each family member (those things that hang around your neck and hold a card). You will get a “Key to the World” card (each family member) and you basically have to have this on you at all times. You use it to access your room and turn the power on in your room (in order to turn the lights on, you have to have a card in the slot right inside your door), and you use it to pay for anything and everything (our wallets never left the safe). You also need it to get on and off the ship at ports. You literally need it at all times. So unless you want to carry around a wallet or purse, a lanyard is the best bet. We didn’t know to buy them ahead of time, so we bought them in the gift shop on board, but of course they were totally over priced. Another tip – after you’ve cruised once, Disney gives you a free lanyard for any subsequent cruises.

Childcare. You have two options depending on the ages of your kids. There’s a nursery and a couple different kids’ clubs. The nursery is for kids 3 and under. The kids’ clubs are for 3 and up, but they also must be potty trained to go to the kids’ clubs. AW was 3 (literally to the day) when we cruised, so according to his age, he could have gone to either, but since he wasn’t potty trained, we stuck with the nursery for the most part. We let him play in the kids’ club a little bit during their open house times, but we were with him. He loved the nursery (literally begged to go), but the kids’ clubs were so awesome. They have open house the day of embarkation, so definitely go check them out and make reservations to bring your kids.

Gratuities. This is an important one! They will automatically add a 15% gratuity to all bar and alcoholic drink purchases. They will also automatically add an 18% gratuity to all spa services. Check.your.bill. We did not realize and were adding an additional 20% gratuity when we signed the receipt, which means we were paying double gratuity. This isn’t a huge deal, BUT we got massages at the spa one day, which were not cheap to begin with. When we signed the receipt, I failed to notice the gratuity already on there, and I filled in an additional 20%. An additional 20% on a pretty hefty bill was quite a bit. No wonder those ladies acted so appreciative when we left;) As for gratuities for other service providers during your cruise (your dining room server, assistant server, stateroom host, etc.) you will have the opportunity to give them a gratuity of your choosing at the end of the trip. Little envelopes will be left in your room the day before you return to port and you can simply state that you want it charged to your onboard account, or pay the gratuity in cash by visiting Guest Services onboard (I don’t think they like you to stick cash in the envelopes, probably because of currency issues). You can go with their suggested rates (also available on the website) or choose your own. I looked at the suggested gratuities for the main service providers and upped them a little, because the service truly was exceptional, especially in the dining room. I understand you can also “pre-pay” your gratuities before leaving on the cruise. Just contact Disney Cruise Lines at least 3 days before embarking.

Storage. Store suitcases under the bed in your room to give you more walking space. There is enough space to allow you to slide most suitcases under there.

Refrigerators. Our boat (Disney Dream) had refrigerators in each stateroom, but I’ve heard that’s not the case on the Magic and Wonder ships, so you have to request one if you are on either ship. This may not be the case now, but it’s just what I’ve heard from others, so I’d double check, especially if you know you will need a mini fridge in your room.

Sail Away Party. Best viewing for the Sail Away Party is the deck above the actual party (Deck 12 on the Dream). Not so crowded, but still a great view to see all the action going on below. Also, staff will walk around offering the “drink of the day” – these are not free! However, if buy one, save your reusable cup because you will get a discount if you order another drink and ask them to use that same cup. Many people discard those reuseable cup…collect them, wash them out in your room and then use them to get the discount.

Navigator app. The Navigator app for your phone is a must! Download it before leaving and then follow instructions for connecting once you board the ship. This is how you know everything that is going on around the ship, all day, every day. All on-board activities, shows, special events, character appearances, the weather, port activities, literally everything cruise related. We referred to this throughout the day.

Dinner seating. Don’t worry if you were only able to get the late dinner seating (8:15). That’s all that was available when we booked, but it honestly worked out for the better, and we’ll do it like that next time as well. It’s less crowded and the youth counselors will come in at 9 and take any bored kids over the age of 3 back to the kid’s club so you can finish your dinner in peace. I was worried the late dining would interfere with bedtime, but go ahead and throw any bedtime schedules out the window right now. We are pretty adamant about bedtime when we are home, but AW was up till midnight most nights during this trip. There’s way too much fun stuff going on! Plus, with the later seating you don’t feel so rushed trying to get to dinner for 6:30. We’d swim and play and do whatever until 7 and then get ready for dinner.

Rotational dining. You will be assigned to a specific restaurant each night, and although your restaurant changes each night, your waitstaff and tablemates stay the same, so you dine with the same people every night, and have the same staff. This is awesome because you get to know your tablemates (they try to match you based on the ages of your children, or so I’ve heard) and your servers know your preferences. For example, our favorite drinks were always waiting for us upon arrival, and they knew we liked to eat and run because we often had some sort of activity to get to. They were awesome with AW and basically bent over backwards to appease him. We loved every single restaurant. On our ship there were three main restaurants, and since we were on a 4-night cruise, we ultimately would have visited one restaurant twice, but that’s the night we got room service anyways.

Food options at dinner. You can order whatever you want at dinner, a/k/a 3 appetizers, 2 entrees, only dessert, you get the drift. They had several healthy and vegetarian options. They’ll basically customize anything to meet your request or dietary restrictions. AW wanted applesauce one night, even though we didn’t see it anywhere on the menu or kid’s menu, and no joke, our waiter went to the kitchen and had some apples peeled and processed for him. Homemade applesauce!

On Demand movies. You’ll have “on demand” Disney movies in your room all day, every day. So awesome. It sounds silly, but one of my favorite parts of the cruise was climbing in bed at night with Matt and AW and picking out a movie to watch before drifting off to sleep. We introduced AW to a few of our favorites from when we were kids/teenagers, and he loved them. He also loved those old school Mickey cartoons, which was fun.

Pool shoes. The pool deck is slippery. Have sandals with good traction, especially for young kids that are more apt to fall. AW wears those Native shoes, and they were perfect.

Coffee. While there is 24/7 free coffee at the soda machines, the Cove Café has the best coffee bar and it’s in the “adults only” area. These coffee drinks are not free, but it’s really good and you can get your fancy coffee drinks. There are snacks under the glass that are free. Just ask for them if they aren’t easily accessible.

Professional photography a/k/a Shutters. There is a Disney photographer at every turn while you are on the cruise, and then you can visit the photo shop (called Shutters) and browse all of your pics. Basically they use face recognition (kind of creepy, huh?) so all of your family pictures will be automatically stored together in a hard copy and electronic photo book (gotta love that Disney magic).  You can choose to purchase as many or as few of the pictures as you want, but I’ll go ahead and throw this out there…it’s not cheap. I ended up going with the package of 10 prints and it cost me $150.

Adult pools, restaurant, etc. We never visited the fancy adults-only restaurants because we were content with the regular, family-friendly restaurants. Plus, they consist of those 5-course dinners, and we just don’t like eating that heavy. We did enjoy the adults-only pool on a few occasions. The gym/spa was right above it, so we liked working out and then hanging by the pool for a coupe hours while AW was in the nursery. They had a nice bar there too, right next to the pool. The pool was small, but still, the peace and quiet was a nice reprise every now and then.

Other pools. For that matter, the one thing I was disappointed in were the sizes of the pools. Even the main pool was surprisingly small. The deck area is huge and there’s no shortage of lounge chairs, which was nice, but I think they could expand the pools a little. It gets super crowded, especially on the Day at Sea.

Port day. When in port, stay on ship. If you don’t particularly care about the port, I advise you stay on the ship and enjoy the minimal crowds. We didn’t care about seeing Nassau, so we spent the day at the pool. There was hardly anyone there. The restaurants were less crowded too, and it was generally just easier to get around and do things.

Castaway Cay. A few things on this: 1) Get off the ship early so you can save chairs close to the water; 2) Grab several towels as you exit the ship; 3) Once you grab your towels you will get on a shuttle that takes you to the beach area. Get off the shuttle on the 2nd stop so you’ll be close to the slides and snorkeling; 4) Bring your own beach and sand toys. They sell some on the island, but again, over-priced. I didn’t know to bring our own, so I ended up letting AW pick out a few things; 5) Bring LOTS of sunscreen. That Caribbean sun is no joke; 6) We found it hard to find readily available water for drinking, so bring a few bottles, or fill your insulated cups before exiting the ship; 7) The food is barbeque, so not my cup of tea, but they had tons of fresh fruit, and another soft serve ice cream machine;); 8) Don’t be afraid to spend the first part of the day on the island with your kids, then bring them to the nursery/kids club for a few hours so you can have some alone time. Matt and I brought AW back to the ship and then headed back to the island for a few hours. We enjoyed some cocktails at this neat tiki bar area and just wandered around, enjoying the sights.

Pirate Night…costumes. People go all out. I’m talking full-on, Jack Sparrow outfits, make-up, hair, the works. In fact, you will be in the minority if you don’t dress up. I previously told the story of the epic failure that was AW’s costume and the meltdown that ensued when we took him for his appointment at the Pirate’s League, but that’s just a toddler for you. I had a shirt made for myself, and they do give you bandanas, but I was very underdressed compared to others. Next time I’ll be more prepared, and hopefully AW will be a better sport;)

Breakfast. The buffet breakfast is the bomb. Like seriously, best breakfast buffet ever. There was everything you could ever imagine or want, including tons of healthy options. Definitely just plan to eat here each morning. Our buffet style restaurant was called Cabanas, and while I think the name is different on each ship, they all have a buffet style restaurant. Also, before you leave the buffet in the morning, grab a couple boxes of cereal, yogurt, cartons of milk, or anything you think you may want as a snack later. To avoid purchasing snack type foods in the various shops, we’d eat things we snagged from the buffet earlier that morning. Plus, milk is hard to come by other than at breakfast, and AW drinks a lot of it, so I always grabbed extras and kept them in our fridge.

The peel n’ eat shrimp. Oh my word. The raw bar at Cabanas was the highlight of my lunch every day. The shrimp were huge and delicious. They also had stone crab claws. There was a ton of other lunch options available at Cabanas, but I mainly just ate the shrimp and crab, and maybe fixed a salad or something. Matt tried several other items and said they were all delicious. I’m normally not a fan of buffets, but the one on the ship was amazing. There’s also a decent grill and grab n’ go station near the pool area, where we would get things like hot dogs and hamburgers for AW, and tons of fresh fruit.

The soft serve ice cream station. Soft serve 24/7. They always have the standard chocolate and vanilla, but they also have a flavor of the day. We frequented this often. It’s just the perfect treat while laying at the pool.

Eating lunch by the pool. You can visit the Cabanas restaurant (or whatever buffet style restaurant you have on your ship in particular), fix a plate, and then bring it to your lounge chairs on the pool deck (just no food/drink IN the pool). We did this most days and would eat while watching a movie on the big projection screen.

Meeting characters. There is no shortage of opportunities to meet all of your favorite characters and it starts as soon as you arrive at the port. It’s so much easier to meet everyone on the ship than say at a park. All character appearance times and locations are available on your Navigator app, so you know where you need to be and what time you need to be there by. The meet and greet period is usually 15 or 30 minutes (it will tell you on the app), and as long as you are in line during that window, you will get to meet them. So for example, if the app says Mickey will be on Deck 4 Midship from 10-10:30, you must get in line at some point during that 30 minute window. There is always a crew member there keeping things organized and if you arrive after the designated window, they’ll kindly tell you that you can’t get in line. My suggestion is to get there 15 minutes before the actual window opens so you can get towards the front of the line, especially for the more popular characters. You can also get tickets ahead of time for some of the more popular characters. Just go to Guest Services as soon as you board, because I’ve heard they sell out quickly.

Room service and turn-down service. It’s everyday and every night. Your stateroom host/hostess will come in at some point late morning to tidy up your room, make your beds, fold up the trundle bed, etc. Then, during dinner, they will come back and get your beds ready for sleep (including pulling the trundle back out for the kiddos), tidy up, leave chocolates and a cute “towel creature.” This was really nice and it kept our stateroom organized and tidy. Plus, those chocolates were delicious:-)

The gym. The gym is really nice and I visited it everyday. The cardio machines and weight areas are new and in great condition. I loved running on the treadmill looking out the floor to ceiling windows at the turquoise water. I also took a spin class one morning, which was free, although some of the group exercise classes have a fee, so you have to check on that. There are sign-up sheets in the gym for the various classes, so if this is something you’d be interested in, I recommend visiting the gym each day to see what is being offered the following day so you can sign-up.

The spa. It’s nice, and they offer a ton of great services, but it’s pricey! Like I mentioned above, we got massages one day, which was definitely a treat for us and not something we would normally do, and don’t get me wrong, they were amazing, but I probably wouldn’t spend the money next time. Plus, they try to sell you all kinds of things. It was a little over the top. As soon as we finished our massages, the ladies came in with all kinds of products, telling you what you needed and why you needed it, blah, blah, blah. I somehow ended up walking away with $60 bath wash, lol!

Wake-up calls. If you request a wake up call, it’s Mickey that calls you!

Souvenirs. Before you leave, buy and inexpensive 11×14 frame mat (white, or another light color), bring it with you on board and take it to Guest Services when you first arrive on the ship. They will get it signed by all the characters during your cruise and deliver it back to your room before you disembark. When you get home, print off a picture from the cruise and stick it in the frame, with the signed mat around it. It makes a great souvenir. There are also several great souvenir shops on the ship, and they have one-of-a-kind items that you can’t get at the parks or at a Disney store.

Special requests. Don’t be afraid to ask! The staff will totally got out of their way to do anything and everything for you, within reason of course. I forgot to bring a picture mat with us (to do what I mentioned above with the signatures), but upon our arrival that first day we had received a large Disney picture frame for AW’s birthday (part of that room decorating package I purchased ahead of time). One night while we were waiting in line to meet Mickey, Matt mentioned to a staff member that we had this frame and were wondering if it would be possible to get it signed by some characters. She told Matt to run upstairs to our room and grab the frame. He brought it down and gave it to her, and then no joke, when we got back to our room that night, it was sitting there with all of the characters’ signatures around the matting!

Booking your next cruise while onboard. I think I mentioned in a previous post that we went ahead and booked a subsequent cruise while we were on board this one. Besides the fact that we loved it so much and definitely knew we wanted to go again soon, there is a pretty good benefit to booking while onboard. You only have to put 10% down (as compared to 20%), you get extra onboard credit, AND you get 10% off the entire cruise itself. You simply pick a “dummy date” and even if it turns out that you can’t go on that date, you keep moving it back until you find a date/destination that works. You just have to sail within 18 months of booking.

Preparing for your return. You will have to leave your suitcases outside your room the night before you return home. Make sure you set aside clothes for the next day and pack a bag with everything you will need in the morning, or at least until you can get your luggage back at the port in customs.

Customs. Tie a colorful ribbon or tag on your luggage to easily spot it when you get to customs upon returning. It’s pretty chaotic in there. Also, there will be workers that will offer to help you with your bags. This was extremely helpful. You do need to tip them generously, but seriously, with how chaotic it was in there, trying to keep tabs on AW, it was a Godsend to have this gentleman handle our luggage and I was happy to hand over some cash for this service.

Final tip. Let it go! Forget eating/naptime/bedtime schedules and trying to keep your kid calm and under control at all times. Seriously. Let it go. Relax and just go with the care-free, cruise attitude. Your kids are going to be up late. They are going to eat at all different times of the day. They may not nap (although, amazingly, AW took a nap each day). They are going to be ridiculously excited and probably a little obnoxious. No one cares. I’m not saying you should let your kid run around like a banshee, but seriously, pick your battles and know that everyone is dealing with the same thing. Disney makes kids (and some adults) a little cray-cray. Disney on a boat? Yeah, that’s a whole other level. Just go with it. As long as your kid doesn’t fall overboard (I was seriously terrified of this), call it a win and move on.

OK, pretty sure that was the longest post I’ve ever written, but I hope it was helpful! Feel free to message me if you have any other specific questions. It was seriously the best trip…I can’t recommend it enough. We cannot wait to go back!

Midweek Shakedown {still dreaming of the beach…}

Like I mentioned in my Motivation Monday post, Matt and I went to Seaside for the long Memorial Day weekend and I’m still trying to get it through my head that I’m no longer sitting on the beach without a care in the world. A co-worker came into my office yesterday afternoon to see where I was on a certain task and I literally just kind of stared at him like he had two heads for a few seconds. I had to refrain myself from asking him to please speak slower, bring me a mojito and my magazine. The struggle is real, y’all, and so is coming back from the beach to immediately be submerged into the endless to-do’s of my everyday. It’s hard to adjust and succumb to the fact that life must go on and bills must be paid. I always come back from vacation with this newfound desire to say “screw it” and just hop off the crazy hamster wheel, move to a small beach town, live in a little house and find easy jobs that provide just enough income to sustain a comfortable life. Anyone else ever feel this way? Surely I’m not the only one. Alas, I always come back down to earth, count my blessings, and pick right back up where I left off.

 Anyways, we had a great time and were able to unwind, relax and enjoy not having any agenda. We always have to laugh at how boring the days can be without Asher Wade around, lol. I mean, seriously, what in the world did we do with our time before he came into the picture?! I know we weren’t, but I feel like we had to have been so bored. I found myself just walking aimlessly around Seaside throughout the day, or taking long bike rides, just for something to do. Not complaining – it was certainly nice for a change to have all that downtime. I honestly missed the chaos though. Matt and I did enjoy the alone time and being able to do what we wanted, when we wanted. Our dear friends were vacationing nearby, so we got to spend some time with them as well, which was such a treat. I missed my little buddy though, especially as I watched all the families running around and playing. This was actually the longest we have ever been away from Asher Wade, and I felt it. AW on the other hand was totally fine. He was living it up back in Chattanooga with GiGi and Pop-Pop (and yes, AW renamed them to this…so no more Granberry and Coach like my parents had picked out before he was born).

In other news, it’s June 1st! This year is flying by! I’m so happy summer is here. We have several fun things planned and I’m looking forward to getting outside and exploring more of our new city and state. Matt’s parents are coming to visit this coming weekend. There’s a week-long music festival starting next weekend and we have all access passes to that. Then we are taking AW camping over Father’s Day weekend for the first time. We are spending the July 4th weekend in Birmingham at Ross Bridge. So…lots to look forward to! Trying to figure out how to fit in another beach trip as well;)

 I will leave you with a few pictures from this past weekend…