Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Tale of Two Purses

A purse is sort of a necessary evil when you're a mom.  When you're a single girl, you can shove your ID and debit card in a pocket or slide them into your phone case.  You can bring a small wallet on a strap and call that a purse.  But when you're a mom, you have to be ready for your own needs and your kids' needs at any given moment.  Which means you have to be a walking doctor's office, drug store, snack cart, school supply, hardware store.   In other words, your purse better be up to the task.

But like most areas in my life, I come to a crossroads where two conflicting parts of my personality stare each other in the face:  do I go with practical?  Or do I go with cute?  Deep down I'm a very pragmatic person.  Seriously, it's probably one of my defining characteristics.  For better or worse, I'd much rather be practical than creative, I'd much rather be sane than impressive.  But a purse is also a statement piece for a woman, so do I choose form or function?

Well last fall, my fashion side won out.  I had seen a fantastic black and white polka dotted purse while browsing at a department store.  It was easily twice as much as I normally budget for a purse, so I let it go.  But a few months later, I spied it again, and then again, and it seemed to be calling me.  So on a vacation whim (you know, because being on vacation justifies shopping for things that are normally seriously out of your budget), I bought it.  The reason I held back for so long was because, despite this purse being ADORABLE, it only had ONE compartment.  Well, one compartment, a small zippered pocket inside, and a couple of very shallow slots for credit cards inside (like who is going to just keep credit cards in there without a wallet?).  But if there's anything I like more than cute, LOVE more than cute, ADORE above just about anything else, it's purses with compartments and pockets.  It's actually one of my major joys in life.  So to give in to a purse with really only one main compartment and no way to divvy up my things into neat, controlled spaces, it really had to be a cute purse. And it was.  Is.  Is cute.  Is very very polka dotty and cute!  But still very very impractical.

After about 8 months with this bag (and it looks as good as the day I bought it -- must be the $$$-- and I have somehow survived not having all the pockets), I went to lunch with a girlfriend whose purse was replete with amazing compartments and pockets.  And I realized this had gone on long enough.  I needed a better purse!  But I didn't want to abandon this cute polka dot one altogether.  So I decided to assign it my "winter purse."  And I set out looking for one with a lot more organizational talents.

Eureka!  This weekend, I found a smashing deal for a genuine leather (not pleather!) purse at TJ MAXX with OH, SO MANY POCKETS!  It may not be quite as stylish as the polka dot.  I may not have people stop me on the street to say how cute my handbag is.  But it's not hideous.  It's rather fun.  And the pockets will more than make up for it not being a beauty queen in an evening gown.  

Here is the lady in question:


A phone pocket

A receipt pocket

A key pocket

A pocket for sunglasses 

A main compartment WITH zipper!  Wallet, Check book, pen.  Check!

A snap-close side pouch for my lipgloss, nail file, gum ....?  Whatever I want!

And in the other side pouch....all my kids' crap.  Emergency band aids, emergency pads, emergency fruit snacks.   Why is everything with them an emergency??

And that doesn't even include the inner zippered pocket and two pouches for pill containers, business cards, coupons, mints, hair ties, sandwiches....

I'm just about in ecstasy now.  Excuse me while I go swap purse stuff and sigh with happiness a lot.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Best Diet I Ever Did (Part 2)

If you read my last post on my all my best diets, you're probably here to find out more about my favorite one.  It's called the 5:2 Fast Diet.  Just so you know, I'm not being paid by them or anything like that.  I just love it!  And I know that at some point almost everyone I know will want to lose weight.  And there are a lot of diet ideas and fad diets around, so it's good to know when there is one out there that might work for you!  And this one really works for me.

First let me say, I'm not an expert.  And unlike my last two diets, I didn't even read the book for this one.  So forgive me if I get the details wrong.  But what I know is that the 5:2 Fast Diet is based on the idea of intermittent fasting.  Intermittent fasting means you vastly reduce your calories (though in this case you still eat) a couple of days a week and eat normally the other days.  Specifically, this diet calls for you to eat 500 calories a day (600 if you're a man) 2 non-consecutive days a week and to eat normally for 5 days a week.  Hence the name:  the 5:2 Fast Diet..  If you're Muslim or Mormon, your idea of fasting is more like nothing to eat, no food or drink, during the set period of time.  This is not a complete fast like that.  The fast days are highly restricted calorie days.  But The 5:2 Extremely Restricted Calorie Diet just doesn't have the same ring to it. 

The background is that as early humans, we were hunter/gatherers.  There were times of plenty and times of scarcity. Early humans would hunt and catch an animal and feast for a day or so.  And then food would run out.  They would eat berries and roots for a day or two until they caught meat again, and then they would feast.  Over time, our bodies began to expect there to be times of feast and times of famine.  And as long as the times of famine weren't long, our bodies wouldn't freak out.  In fact, in preparation for the extra calories needed to hunt, our bodies would ramp up our metabolism, burning stored fat!  Modern-day dieting tends to use long periods of calorie restriction.  This either causes starvation mode (where our body begins to store fat thinking that we will soon starve if it doesn't) or our bodies burn up muscle for calories.  The 5:2 fasting diet uses our biologically embedded reaction to short bursts of food deprivation by burning fat on the lean days and not hoarding it when food is plentiful.

So, what are the nuts and bolts of it?  You eat 500 calories two days a week, not in a row. And on the off days, which are 5 days a week, you eat normally.  This doesn't mean pigging out.  But it does mean you don't restrict.  You try to stick to a "normal" diet of about 2000 calories (women.  men = 2400).   It leaves this up to you, but I also recommend NOT exercising on the diet days. There's no need to, and it'll just make you hungrier.  There are 5 other days of the week you can get your exercise in.

I first heard about this diet from Big Daddy, who had heard about it on NPR.  I told my mom about it, and then promptly forgot about it.  Well, I guess my mom decided to try it because a month later my mother, who has a super hard time losing weight (and has to diet for weeks to lose a single pound) told me she had lost 9 lbs in a month!  Naturally I was intrigued.  So I put it to the test.  I was a little hesitant to eat 500 calories.  The thought of it brought me flashbacks to the horrors of the HCG diet.  But I was desperate enough to give it a try.  

And what do you know?  Not only did it work, it wasn't hard at all!  I lost weight and didn't gain it back eating normally 5 days a week.  (That was the biggest shock to me.  I fully expected to lose weight the first fasting day and then gain it all back by the next fasting day. But I didn't!)

I think the key to doing the 500 calorie days and not suffering is three-fold:  

1) Prepare ahead of time by buying low calorie foods that you will eat.  If you don't have the low cal foods on hand, you will eat what IS on hand and you will fail.  (This also means hide/throw away anything that's going to sabotage you).

2) spread the calories out throughout the day.   So instead of 3 square meals like I did on HCG (with no fat and only certain veggies and fruits), I'll eat smaller calorie items every hour or so, and what I eat isn't nearly as strict as HCG.  Here's a sample of a diet day:

1 hard boiled egg - 75 cal.
herbal Chai with 1 TBS lowfat milk and Truvia.  13 cal.

1 clementine - 35 cal.
1 Coconut light yogurt - 90
water - 0

1 serving Beefy Mushroom Soup - 60 cal
1/4 cup mixed vegetables - 30 cal
Crystal Light - 0 cal.

1/2 apple - 35 cal
1 Baby Bell cheese - 60
1 diet Mt. Dew - 0

1/2 bagel thin - 50 cal.
3 slices mesquite roasted turkey breast - 25 cal.
1/2 cucumber - 12 cal.
water -0

1/3 cup raspberries - 20

= 505 calories

Yes, it's light eating.  But it's not starving.  And the biggest thing is KNOWING IT'S JUST ONE DAY!   And that tomorrow I get to have a cinnamon roll for breakfast if I want.  Or a bowl of popcorn.  Or a couple slices of pizza.  I cannot tell you how liberating that thought is! And besides, you can do anything for one day, right???

3) The other thing I think really helps is to eat at least 1 thing you really like on your fast day.  For example, I like cheese.  Cheese is pretty high calorie, but a little cheese isn't too bad.  I can have a Baby Bell for 60 calories or a Laughing Cow wedge spread on a cucumber.  I also like green olives, turkey breast with some Laughing Cow cheese smeared on it, raspberries with a drizzle of dark chocolate, and coconut light yogurt.  So I make sure that I leave one of those for the time of the day (usually about 3-4 pm) when I'm really craving something yummy.  I also drink a LOT of water.  If I drink 8 oz of water with every meal, it helps me feel fuller.

So how have I done on this diet?  I lost 5 lbs the first month.  I know that doesn't seem like a lot.  But I had reached the point in my dieting career (i.e.getting old!) where nothing seemed to work, and where no matter how much I exercised (3-4 times a week), and no matter what diet I tried, I just wasn't losing any weight. Well, I finally lost weight!  And it was pretty easy. I I won't lie-- don't love the fasting days.  But I LOVE the 5 other days of normal eating. For me, the constant food restriction over the last 10 years has left me with a very guilt-ridden relationship with food.  Before this diet, I couldn't remember a time when I could eat something somewhat decadent without feeling horrible afterward.  Emotionally horrible. Like food was my enemy and I was going to have to fight against this enemy I couldn't get away from for the rest of my life.  It's an awful feeling I'm sure a lot of you know too well.  So this diet, which has allowed me to eat normally on the off days (without gaining the weight back in between!), was so incredibly liberating I can't even describe it.

I have lost 2 more lbs since then, and I'm now back down to 5-6 lbs lower than when I got married, only 1 lb above my Super Awesome Dream Weight!

I still give myself the safe zone (a 3 lb range to stay in).  As long as I am within that range, I don't do 2 days of fasting.  I'll do 1 day, or I'll do 2 days of restricted eating, but more like 700-800 calories (which seems so easy now). And that's enough to keep me in the safe zone.  And the other days--fried chicken, fries, pie, ice cream, chips and guacamole, even pasta, something I haven;t eaten guilt-free for over 10 years!  Of course I don't eat all these things on the same day.  But an occasional extravagance doesn't cause me to gain weight like it used to, and I actually get to ENJOY it and not feel guilt-ridden about it.  THAT alone is worth so much to me.

I know dieting is a very individual thing.  For some people, serious calorie restriction just isn't an option.  It's too terrifying, too hard, brings up bad memories, makes them shaky, weak or moody.  But for me, the relief and joy of UNrestricted eating 5 days  a week is well worth the 2 days of restriction.  And I feel like it's healthy too.  Like my body was made to eat this way.  Like my body instinctively understands what I'm doing and everything just clicks.

So, that's my story of the 5:2 Fast Diet.  You can buy the book on Amazon. Or read more about it here.  But feel free to ask me any questions if you're curious about anything I haven't mentioned. 

 Thanks!  And good luck with whatever diet you try!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Best Diet I Ever Did (Part 1)

I've been meaning to write a post about this diet for a long time.  If you follow my blog, you'll know this isn't the first time I've written about a diet. I've written about two others as well. And they both suited their purpose at the time. But a new time calls for a new diet, and this is my favorite one so far.  I'm really excited to share it and see if it suits anyone else.  It's called the 5:2 Fasting Diet.

First a little background:  I grew up thin.  I never had to think about dieting or eating right growing up.  I was vaguely aware of my mother being on diets off and on through my teens, but I never gave it much thought.  I assumed I'd be skinny forever.  I just ate whatever I wanted and was fairly active (there was very little TV and no other kinds of digital distractions back in the 80's and early 90's,) and I stayed thin.  Then my mid-20's hit and suddenly I noticed some fat around my waist.  Not a biggie, but some clothes that used to look good no longer did.  When I got married at almost 28, I would still have called myself slender, but I was a couple of sizes up from my college weight.  And by 2 years into my marriage....well, I looked at some pictures of myself and was shocked.  I had gone up 4 sizes and gained 20+ lbs from my college weight.  It was time to start a diet.

But having never done one, I had absolutely no idea what to do.  I had no concept of food restriction, no will-power built up to resist food, and although I grew up eating vegetables and whole grains, I didn't have a strong grasp on what eating healthy was like (mostly what NOT to eat).  So my first diet was Weight Watchers.  And it was a complete paradigm shift for me.  For the first time I understood what an appropriate portion size was -- and it was a LOT smaller than what I had been eating.  I became aware of how obscene the portion sizes in restaurants were (yet how we'll eat them because they are in front of us). I started to see which foods were pretty much ALWAYS on the naughty list and began to learn how to eat some of my favorite foods on occasion by cutting calories elsewhere.  I trimmed calories by avoiding fatty sauces and toppings, no second helpings, setting my portion sizes out before eating, and by changing the types of desserts I ate.  Truly, Weight Watchers gave me my first really practical look at eating appropriately.  It was a really good education in eating and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't ever dieted or hasn't dieted successfully. There's no starvation, no all-out food restriction.  In fact you get to eat a lot of foods you really like...as long as you realize it will mean not eating something else you like later.  I exercised too during this time, but I think it was the food changes that worked the most. The weight loss was slow, but steady.  I lost 4 sizes in 6 months.  I got down to my weight at my wedding. And because they have a really good maintenance program on Weight Watchers, I kept it off for over a year.

But then came kids 1 and 2.  Although I didn't gain a ton of weight with those pregnancies, and most of it fell off pretty easily afterward, I was left with an extra 5 lbs after Baby 1 and another 5 after Baby 2.   And because they were back to back (I literally got pregnant with Baby 2 two weeks after I stopped nursing Baby 1), I had been either pregnant or nursing for 3 straight years.  I.E. I was eating whatever I wanted that whole time.  It was so ingrained in me to eat that way that I had forgotten how to restrict.  This time around Weight Watchers was really hard for me.  I found myself losing 1 lb here and 1 lb there, but then I'd gain it back the next week.  I seemed to be able to maintain, but not to really lose weight.  I just couldn't stick with it long enough to see a lasting result.  And I felt like I was ALWAYS dieting.  It was so frustrating!  So it was time for something more extreme.  Something fast and effective. Enter HCG.  This was the diet craze right about the time I was desperate to lose some weight.  And after seeing a couple of friends lose huge amounts of weight very quickly (between 15-45 lbs in a month), I decided to go for it.  You can read about that journey here.  But suffice it to say, even though it was super super hard, I lost 18 lbs in 2 weeks and was very happy.  I was 7 lbs lower than my weight at my wedding, my lowest weight since my early 20's!  I quickly went back to my Weight Watchers maintenance routine and kept the weight off.  (I know a lot of people who did HCG and gained the weight right back.  I didn't, and I completely attributed this to learning how to maintain on Weight Watchers) .

Then came Baby 3, and this one did a number on my body.  I was 6 years older than I had been with my first pregnancy, and I think those years made a huge difference.  I gained 3x more weight with this baby than the first two, and it did not fall off easily like it had the first two times.  I was up 47 lbs!  So after I finished nursing, I looked around for a diet.  I tried Weight Watchers again, but the quick-fix HCG diet had made me impatient.  The thought of constantly restricting for 6 months was depressing.  I wanted something that would work faster, even if it was more difficult.  Not HCG difficult--the thought of going on that diet again was terrifying!  But something that worked faster than 1 lb a week.  That's when a friend suggested the South Beach diet.  I bought the book (written by a cardiologist, with a lot of solid science behind it), and read it cover to cover.  I was enthusiastic about the claim that you could lose 8-14 lbs the first two weeks and then 1 -1 1/2 every week after that and that it was healthy for your body.  Although it's a bit more extreme than Weight Watchers (no carbs or sugars the first two weeks), it was not nearly as hard as HCG.  And it was successful: I lost 8 lbs the first week.  I then went to phase 2 (adding in fruits and 1 serving of whole grains per day), and continued to lose 1 lb per week.  Eventually I got down to a comfortable weight, slightly lower than I'd been at my wedding, and was pretty happy.  I'd keep a close watch on carb intake, emphasize lots of vegetables and only whole grains, and go back to Phase 1 of the South Beach diet every so often when my weight went up.  But I gave myself a 3 lb  range I called my "safe zone" to stay in   As long as I didn't go higher than the safe zone, I let loose a little (Phase 2 or 3).  But if I went above the safe zone, back to Phase 1 (no carbs).  I managed to keep around my comfortable weight for 3 years doing the South Beach diet.  Going back to phase 1 was not fun.  But it worked.

Eventually, though, I was so sick of always dieting, always feeling like I had to restrict myself, constantly craving pasta and sweets, and always feeling guilty guilty guilty about everything I put in my mouth that internally I kind of gave up. I began to cheat more and let loose too often.  Of course, my weight began to hover more around the top of my safe zone than the bottom.  And if I splurged too many days in a row, I was above it instead of inside it.  Soon I slipped 1 then 2 then 3 lbs above the TOP of my safe zone.  I hated to go back to Phase 1, but I knew I had to.  But when when I did, I got a much poorer result.  First 6 lbs in two weeks.  And it lasted a shorter time.  The next time I went to Phase 1, I only lost 4 lbs.  Then eventually I lost only 1 lb after 10 days of strict carb restriction! That surely wasn't worth it at all!  So as I saw the 4th lb above my safe zone show up, I knew I needed a new diet.  Simply "trying to eat well" wasn't cutting it anymore, and Phase 1 wasn't working anymore either.  I was too prone to cheating and oh so sick of "eating right."  

That's when I found out about my new favorite diet:  The 5:2 Fasting Diet!

To be Continued......

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Couple of Updates

I actually have a follower or two, it seems.  Woot!  And he/she/they have requested updated pictures of my white-washed floor redo.  So I figured I do a post on all the latest updates on Little Pink House III.  Here goes...

1) Back when we refinished our hideous oak floors, we opted to do one room in a white finish. We were too chicken to do the whole house, so we just did the office.   We ended up loving it!  I'm not wishing we did the whole house or anything, cause it's a totally different look, but I love that one room.  Here's how it looks:

It looks like natural, unfinished wood in these pictures but they look way more white washed and beachy in real life. 

2)  The Loft.  It took a loooong time.  But we finally turned our super tall, elevator shaft of a bedroom into a bedroom with a sweet loft.  First it was just a 16' ceiling.  Then it was a slab.  Then it got carpeted. And it stayed a carpeted, floating slab, 8' up in the air for nearly a year.  Finally we got someone to build us a railing (thanks Dan!) and a stairway up to the loft (Thanks, Orsen!).  And voila, the loft!


Midway Through:


 Up Top:  (TV left out of view)

The Stairs:

One of the very first things we tackled was changing the stair configuration.  Although the big sweeping Gone with the Wind look didn't bother me, it bothered Big Daddy.  He said it was too Falcon Crest.  And I had to agree that, practicality-wise, they were a nightmare. They started 2 inches inside the front door so you'd come in and immediately trip on the bottom step.  And then as they curved around, the treads ran right across the big picture window on the porch.  Such an odd view as you walk up to the front door!  And then, as the curve passed the corner, they left a triangle of space that could not be reached.  Naturally it was all dusty and full of trash and, at one point, growing vines out of it?  So it was Gone With Falcon Crest and in with Craftsman Delight!  Here is the before and after:

The Gone With Falcon Crest stairs

The view of the treads from the front porch.

The strange vine growing from the unreachable corner


4)  And finally, the deck!    When we bought the house, there was a hint that there had been something off the master bedroom.  There was a door...to nothing.  Just a sunken set of cement steps and a pile of rubble beyond.  But it looked as though there might have been a patio or something.  The house we rented 2 moves ago had a hot tub off the master bath, and we loved it.  So we decided we would use this space off the master at this house to put in a deck and hot tub. Timing was perfect because right when we were ready to start the project this winter, my neighbor was getting ready to sell her hot tub.  We bought it, moved it over, and had a deck built around it.  Not only is it awesome to have the hot tub, but the view out our bedroom is no longer an eyesore. Win-Win! 



I have a few more updates to do....the master bedroom, the kids' rooms, the main floor bath, the laundry room, and a few more.  So tune in later this week.  Hopefully I'll get to some of it.  :)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

2015 Oscars Wrap Up!

This week was the 2015 Academy Awards!  And guess what?  I'm not going to talk about the movies.  I never do!  (But this year saw hardly any of them for some reason.)  I AM going to talk about the gowns, the real reason I watch the Academy Awards.  And the 2015 red carpet show didn't disappoint.  In fact, I'm kind of disappointed that it didn't disappoint.  I had a harder time than usual picking the Worst Dressed nominees. Everyone was so well dressed for once.  Well, except for Jared Leto.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The first category up for discussion is...

Oprah -  It was good. Not great.  Kind of a boring color.  Good cut, it fit her well.  But just nothing that wowed me.  And considering she could afford to wear anything in the entire world, it was a titch disappointing. 

At first glance, I thought Jennifer Anniston’s blush gown was boring and blah.  But on closer examination, it turned out to have amazing beading, cut in different directions to create a lot of texture.  And it fit her PERFECTLY.   It actually ended up reminding me of Marilyn’s quintessential “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress.  And I loved it.

 Kerry Washington.  HATED IT!  I thought the cut was very unflattering on her.  She has very narrow shoulders and the strapless top just accentuated that.  The fabric made her look flat-chested too. The skirt and top were made of wildly different fabrics, like someone just threw them together.  And the embroidery on the peplum…I was having flashbacks to my mother’s bedspread from the 80’s!  No, not a fan.

J-Lo.  Ok, it’s an absolutely gorgeous dress.  It is!  Long, sparkly, full, princessy.  BUT…once you’ve done the incredibly low, blew-the-socks-off-the-world neckline, you kind of can’t keep doing it.  It gets so predictable after the 8th or  9th time, you know?  So sorry to say that, Jenny!  Other than that, I loved her dress. It's what an Oscar's dress should be.

Tighty Whities

Lupita Nyongo has been one of my favorite dressers for the last 2 years in a row, and this year was no different.  The pearls were a surprise.  Even though the pearl ropes were kind of heavy around the shoulders, it was such a unique look that I had to applaud it. Beautiful!  I wouldn’t go as far as to say best dressed, but definitely in my top 10.

Lady Gaga.  Ok, don’t freak out, but I loved it!  Not the Aquaman gloves.  You know she HAD to get her weird in somehow.  But the dress?  I really really loved it!  I give her props for really dressing up appropriately and doing something fun-normal for the Oscars, yet wearing a dress that was still a stand out, fashion-wise. (And who knew she could sing like that?!?)

Reese Witherspoon.  I liked it.  Well-fitted, classic.  But just….nice.  Ya, “nice” is the best I can say. (Also a little reminiscent of Julia Roberts black and white Oscar winner.)

Julianne Moore.  She’s a rather straight-shaped woman.  And this dress didn't really help with that.  But the dress itself was so beautiful!  I loved the drop-waist sash look.  And the dark blue (black?) detail was such an unexpected surprise.  Oscar dresses tend to be so monochromatic.  For originality alone, I give her a Best Dressed nomination.

Adrian Brody.  I really can’t believe I’m saying this about a tux, but I love what Adrian did with this!  The stark black on white color blocking was such a nice change from the usual black, black, and more black tuxes.

Anna Ferris.  Princess, movie-star, sparkle.  What more is there?  It was amazing!  Best Dressed Nominee.

Green With Envy

Emma Stone.  At first I saw this dress and thought…really?  I mean, straight, long sleeves, high neck.  I found the shape a bit underwhelming.  BUT…then she turned around and there was this beautiful low back, backless really, and I loved it!  And the simple shape really grew on me the more I looked at it.  And the texture was so interesting. Plus the color was amazing.  E's Fashion Police called it “Mountain Dew” and that surely has something to do with it.  Haha!  Along with her red hair and lips….gorgeous!!  Best Dressed Nominee.

Scarlett Johanson.  Normally  I am not a fan of the emerald green dress. But this dress fit her like a glove.  Like a perfectly tailored, vivid, sexy, classic, amazing glove.  No, I didn’t love the necklace, which turned out to be part of the dress.  I agree with Kathy Griffin that it looked like seaweed.  But I forgive it because everything else about the dress, the shoes, the jewels and the hair was amazing.  Definite Best Dressed Nominee.

Color Me Lovely!

Octavia Spencer.  This is my favorite dress she’s worn. The pale blue color is just perfect and the dress itself is well-designed, not at all a tent made just for a curvy lady.  Anyone could wear this style, and I appreciate that. 

David Oyelowo.  I have to say, I really loved his tux!   Not only was the rich dark red a welcome surprise, but the cut was perfect.   Am I really saying this about a suit??...Best Dressed Nominee!

Rosamund Pike wore a red, lacy dress that blew everyone away.  But for me, not so much.  Something about the bodice or waist made her body look grotesque.  I can’t explain it.  And the front slit looked odd to me.  I just didn’t love it.

Nicole Kidman.  I kept going back and forth about whether I liked this dress or not.  I liked that it was different.  I liked the red sash.  But there was something about it I couldn’t quite put my finger on that was throwing it off.  And then I realized it:  Crystal Barbie.  She had a dress from the exact same fabric!  I think Nicole stole Barbie’s look. 

Pretty in Pattern

Naomi Watts.  I love an unexpected dress.  And this one with the silver and black onion cell pattern did it for me.  (You know what I’m talking about, right? 9th grade biology?  Come on!)  I can’t say I love the weird sports-bra back on it, but the fabric, color, and pattern are refreshing and it fit her beautifully.  Her hair and make up were also the best they've ever looked.  Best Dressed Nominee!

Marion Cottiard.  Polk dots? Are you kidding me??  Heck yes!  Again, so unexpected and so interesting.  The back was a little bit odd.  You can look up a picture and see what I mean.  But I forgive it because it’s just such a fun fabric and such a unique style to wear to the Oscars!

Worst Dressed Nominees

Meryl Streep.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Just because you are a lady of a certain age does not mean you have to wear a boring pseudo-suit.  Just ask Helen Miren!  No really, ask her, Meryl. 

Jared Leto.  I don’t usually spend much time on the guys.  A tux is a tux.  But this year I have a few on my list.  And unfortunately this one makes it into the worst dressed category.  I loved the color. But I hated EVERYTHING else.  It looks like it was made for my 9 year old nephew and Jared stole it.  Way too short in the wrist and ankle, way too small in the thigh.  The hair….UGH, the hair!  And the white shoes…I want to cry for him, Argentina. 

Kiera Knightly.  I thought her Golden Globes dress was bad. (And it was).  But why, WHY would she do ugly again??  I can’t even begin to describe the hideousness.  Wait, I can.  It starts with the frumpy cut, has some cursive scribbles in the middle, and ends with the flowery fabric.  YUCK.

Jessica Chastain.  I can’t say why I hate this dress but I do.  From the first moment I saw it I hated it.  Maybe it’s the sparkly tank top layer?  Or the dowager draping?  Something about the fit?  Or the navy with her coloring?  I certainly don’t think the trumpet look is suited to her figure.   Anyway, I can’t quite say exactly what it is.  I just hate it. 

So those are my highlights of the 2015 Academy Awards gowns etc.  And here are my final picks for Best and Worst Dressed...


ScarJo!  (With a very close call honorable mention to Emma Stone)

While WORST DRESSED has to go to... 

Jesus Leto and his sized XXS Napoleon Dynamite tux.  

And there you have it, folks.  What did YOU think of the 2015 Oscar's red carpet?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Disney Cruise - A Low-Key Mom's Take

Disney Cruise Wrap-Up 2014

Well, we just got home from our 2014 cruise aboard the Disney Wonder.  We cruised Dec 7-12 around the Western Caribbean, which consisted of two stops—Cozumel and Castaway Cay—and two at sea days, plus an evening and morning on embarkation and debarkation days.  Because taking a vacation with kids is so challenging, being aboard a massive floating hotel miles and miles from the comforts of home makes this type of vacation that much more of a challenge.  You can’t just run to the Walgreens and grab those 10 things you realize you forgot.  So I thought I’d write a post for any parents out there planning a Disney Cruise.  I know there are already a few informational posts about Disney cruises out there, but I wanted to take a slightly different angle on mine.  Although I really like to be organized and prepared, and we certainly wanted to get the most out of our cruise, we are definitely more hands-off, low-key parents.  Some of the posts I read prior to sailing left me feeling like I had to pack a jillion things or my cruise would be a giant disaster.  Or else I felt confused and scared about all the activities we needed to plan and participate in, lest our kids end up feeling deprived and traumatized.  In the end, though, I realized that a lot of the packing suggestions people made were for things I ended up not needing or was glad I passed on. And, if I’m really honest, there were several activities we skipped….and we didn't even miss them.  So here below is my low-key version of how to prepare for a Disney cruise without making yourself crazy! 


The Ship – Not all ships are alike.  We chose the Disney Wonder by default. It happened to be the ship going around the time we wanted to travel (early December) in the general vicinity we wanted to travel (Caribbean/Bahamas) from the port we found most easy to travel from (Miami).  It is not, however, the biggest, fanciest, or most up-to-date ship.  Some of the other ships like the Fantasy and Magic have a few more features, play areas, updated technologies, etc. that the Wonder doesn't have.  I don’t think it’s a huge deal, but I might have made a different selection had I realized not every ship is the same.

Port – I like Miami best because it’s very easy to get in and out of.  It’s only 20 minutes on the shuttle/taxi from the airport to the port.  Port Canaveral is a lot more complicated to get in and out of, requiring at least 45 minutes.  Just a note, I’d HIGHLY recommend flying into Miami from the western US the night BEFORE just to be safe. Arriving after 12pm puts you at risk of missing the cruise if you have flight delays.  And the boat will NOT wait for you.  (Ask me how I know.  It's a sad, sad story.)

Date – Early December (when we traveled) can be a great time.  Prices for airlines and cruises are low and airports are uncrowded.  But the weather in the Caribbean can be spotty.  On 2 separate cruises in early December, we’ve had 1-2 days of colder weather (60s) and the rest was nice -- in the mid 70’s.  Summer and early fall are also hurricane season.  So just keep weather patterns in mind.  

Deck – I haven’t stayed on lower decks before (4 and under), but I can tell you that most of what you want to do is up higher.  I’d recommend decks 6-8 as being the easiest to get to restaurants, pools, and theaters without too many stairs/elevators.  Central on the ship is also best, though we’ve had no problems with either the bow or aft ends of the ship, other than having to walk further to the things at the other end of the ship.  The bow end is much quieter when docking and departing.  You WILL be woken up by the engines on the aft end no matter what floor you’re on when the ship docks and departs, so if quiet is important to you, choose the bow end.  NOTE:   Be careful of what is above and below you when you book.   A room under the arcade or above the engines can make for a bad night’s sleep. 

Cabins- ADJOINING! After researching online, reading reviews and help pages, and finally speaking with our travel agency, Small World Vacations, we determined that for our family of 5 (with two parents who really value a good night’s sleep!) the best and least expensive option was to book two adjoining rooms rather than a fancy suite.  The suites cost about 3x as much as two adjoining rooms.  So our travel agent found us a cruise that had rooms on a good deck (6) that had doors which opened up to each other.  This was a brilliant situation!  Our kids stayed in one room (6516) and we parents stayed in the other (6518).  The rooms themselves are built to be divided into two sections—the queen bed on one side, and then a curtain pulls across and the couch on the other side flips over all James Bond-like to a fully made twin size bed!  And above it, a fully-made bunk pulls down from the ceiling.  Both these beds can be put away during the day so it’s just a couch.  The room steward will set them up at night for you while you’re at dinner so when you come back, the kids’ beds are ready to go.  Then after putting the kids to bed, you can close the door to your own room (NOT theirs—or you’ll be locked out from that entry, having to go through the hallway) and have peace, quiet, and privacy. Perfect!  So if you have more than four in your family, or even if you have four and just want some privacy, I highly recommend getting adjoining rooms.  They’re difficult to spot on a booking website, so don’t be afraid to call their toll free number or a travel specialist who can find the adjoining rooms.

Embarkation – Between 11:30 and 12:30 is the slowest time.  We had NO lines.  We just walked into the check-in room, got ushered to the next available attendant with zero wait, and 5 minutes later we were checked in.  The line to register kids for the clubs, however, was longer so we did it on board.

Luggage – VERY IMPORTANT TIP for first-time cruisers:  Once you give up your bags at the curb outside the ship, you will not see them again for 4-5 hours!  They generally show up between 3-5pm outside your room door.  If you arrive very early, your room might not be ready too. So it is a good idea to pack a backpack with swim suits, sunscreen, shorts, flip flops etc. that you keep with you.  If you’re still wearing travel clothes (like sweaters and jeans) you’ll want to peel them off ASAP and hit the pool while you wait for your room to get ready and your bags to arrive.  You’ll regret it if you miss your first day of laying by the pool because your swimsuit was MIA, and you'll feel silly in winter clothes in the fine Florida weather while you wait and wait and wait to see your bags again.

Dinner – My husband and I have always cruised freestyle (Norwegian and Celebrity) and so we were not familiar with the whole “dinner seating” thing.  We didn't know how flexible the dinner seating times were.  Do we show up EXACTLY at 5:30?  Sometime between 5:30 and 8?  Or can we mosey in at 5:45 or 6 and expect the same dinner service?  We found out after arriving late the first night that you ARE expected to arrive at, or very close to, your assigned dinner time.  The dinner seating time is not a suggestion or a time range.  And if you share a table with another family, as we did, you might find yourself WAY behind their meal if you’re late. 

Also keep in mind that the venue for dinner changes each night.  The Animator’s Palate is the most fun, with paintings on the walls that change throughout the night.  Be sure not to schedule your adult dinner nights or a buffet night when you are assigned to this room.  (Your wait staff stays with you even when you change rooms, so they will get to know you well.)

Dinner Seating - We chose the early time.  Even though with the time change it was only 3:30pm , mountain time (our body time), the kids adjusted to the new time pretty much immediately and 5:30 was perfect.  It left us time to go to the shows after dinner and still get them to bed at a decent hour. I've heard that this is also a more busy dinner/show schedule, though, because of all the little kids.  So if you don't have little ones, you might want the later dinner seating.

We also chose to be seated with another family.  I wasn't sure if we’d like this or hate it.  It turned out to be really fun.  The other family had a daughter the same age as our oldest.  I think they try to arrange it that way because several other families around us were seated with people who had kids close to their age.  This gave our kids someone new to talk to at each meal.  And after the initial awkwardness of the first night, we looked forward to seeing the other family at dinner and around the ship.  We shared tips and experiences and it was fun to see a familiar face on board.   And of the 5 nights, we only dined together 3 of them because either they or we had adult dinners, massages, or other things planned at dinner time.

Food – Disney knows kids.  The menu options for kids were very typical: chicken nuggets, pizza, mac and cheese, etc.  And they did mix it up each night.  They also provided a vegetable or fruit at each meal (broccoli, carrots, apples), and you can ask for substitutions/extras of these if your kids prefer.  They also had vegetarian options that my kids often chose such as penne with marinara.  But if your kids are more discerning, do not be afraid to order them something from the adult menu.  My kids love steak, chicken, and fish, so they ate from the adult menu sometimes.  There are also Mickey Mouse ice cream bars available for dessert EVERY night, which my kids loved.  If your child has a food allergy, please know that the ship is FASTIDIOUS about tracking this.  My son has a very mild nut allergy (he gets cold sores) and yet every food item was checked and double checked until I had to tell them not to worry so much!  Your waiters stay with you each night even though your dining room changes, so they will be all over your food preferences and needs if you let them know.

Breakfast – We realized on the last morning of the trip that you can eat in the dinner dining rooms as well as the buffet.  But the dining rooms serve essentially the same things as the buffet.  You just get service at the table as opposed to doing most of it yourself at the buffet.  You also get freshly made toast in the dining rooms (where it has been pre-toasted (i.e. cold) at the buffet).  I think we would have eaten in the dining rooms every morning if I’d known that!

Kids Clubs -  This was the area of most apprehension to me before we left because I couldn’t find much information about it.  I didn’t know if you had to sign your kids up ahead of time (you don’t).  I didn’t know if you had to choose your time slots ahead of time (you don’t).  And I didn’t know if it would be horribly crowded and our kids would be turned away (it wasn’t!).  So let me explain to you how the kids clubs work:  From ages 3+, the kids can choose to go either to the Oceaneer’s Club, which is just a general play area with a big play structure and a stage and costumes and toys.  Or they can go to the Oceaneer’s lab.  It’s similar, only there are a lot more interactive activities there.  The kids do things like make flubber and bake cookies in the Lab.  The two clubs are on the same floor, only a few feet away from each other.  You can take your kids in ANY TIME, from 7am to midnight and leave them as long as your conscience allows ;). The workers scan the kids' bracelets and your ID card and make sure they match.  Then off you go with your wave phone (so they can call you in case of a problem).   It's that easy!  (If your kids are in the club during a meal time, know that they won't go hungry.  Meals ARE offered within the club--but kids are not forced to eat.   You may want to prep the kids before you leave on whether or not they should eat while there.)

There are a few times that are called “open play” where the kids aren’t officially checked in or out.  I would only recommend leaving older kids there during this time.  But other than that, you can check in your kids, keep your wave phone with you, and go enjoy adult activities or quiet time in the stateroom.  The club/lab was never over-crowded.  They’re VERY fastidious about hygiene, making the kids immediately put soap on their hands and go wash when entering the play areas.  The bracelets they get when they register for the kids clubs allows the employees to know exactly where they are within the Club/Lab so you can easily find them when picking them up.  Either parent, if registered to the child, can drop off or pick up, but only one parent is allowed into the Club/Lab at a time to find the kids. 

I wanted to make a note about registering.  We did not pre-register our kids for the kids clubs online.  We also opted not to register them at the dock check-in because there was a huge line.  In fact, we didn’t get around to registering them until the next morning.  And this was not a problem.  They had a table set up outside the Club where they registered all three kids and gave them their tracking bracelet.  The older kids got yellow (meaning they were of age to check themselves in and out of the club, if the parents allowed it) and the 3 year old got blue (meaning she had to be checked in/out by a parent).  They put a lock on the bracelets to keep them from falling off (and they cost $12 for a new one if they’re lost) but we removed our daughter’s because she has a sensory issue and it bothered her at night. It stayed on fine without it.  They will let you keep the bracelets as a souvenir at the end of the cruise, but for $12 a piece.  Otherwise, you have to return them. 

Wave Phones- these are full sized cordless phones that come 2 to a room.  You can use them to call each other on the ship or to get calls from the kids clubs.  We hardly ever used them 1) because we were rarely separated from each other and 2) they were big and bulky 3) they were NOT user friendly.  But they are there if you have a larger party or you plan on doing separate activities. And we only ever got one call from the kids club on it.  

Character Meetings – These tended to be very crowded with long lines, and almost always when we were already on our way to get somewhere.  So we told our kids they could each pick one character they could meet and the rest we’d do on a case by case basis.  We ended up with good ones of Mickey, Minnie, and Stitch.  The princess lines were always insane, but we did get one with Belle in her Christmas clothes because I think no one knew who she was!   You could spend a LOT of your time on the ship waiting in line to meet characters, so you might want to set a limit.  (Also, there are no recent princesses on the ship.  Belle was the most recent.  No Frozen or Tangled, L)

Shows- I was really worried about not getting seats at the shows.  On other cruises, you had to go 20-30 minutes early to get a good seat.  But the staggered dining means staggered show attendance, and we always got seats up front (albeit on the side) by showing up 5 minutes ahead.  The shows varied.  Some were good, at others we were bored stiff (the word-for-word reenactment of Toy Story our kids loved but we hated, for example).  But you need to go to at least one or two so you’ll know if they’re your thing. 

Adult Areas -  Palo was AWESOME.  We had brunch there one day and dinner on the last night of the trip.  Both were delicious.  Brunch was really more of a lunch with a few breakfast items thrown in.  The chicken parmesan was to die for, and it’s not something I would normally order.  But our server recommended it and I could see why—melt in your mouth!   Definitely splurge on at least 1 meal in Palo. Or, alternatively, if your family is dining at a table of your own, check your kids into the Club around dinner one night and just eat at your assigned table without the kids…free! Granted it’s not as quiet or as fancy as Palo, and the food isn’t quite as good, but it’s a pretty close runner up if money is tight.  And the kids will get fed at the clubs.

The Adult pool area was nice.  It’s about the same configuration as most cruise ships—a rectangle pool with two hot tubs at one end.  But the d├ęcor is nicer and it’s very quiet.  They have live music there at various times too. Note, kids can walk past/through the pool area as it is on the same deck as the other 2 pool areas.  It’s not cordoned off or anything.  But we never had any issues with kids coming in there. 

Phones/Computers/Wifi -  If you haven’t cruised, just know that your phones/tablets will be pretty much useless on a cruise.  You will not get a cell signal except at port (and overseas you’ll pay $$$ for roaming charges if you try to use it).  There is wifi aboard the ship, but it’s also very expensive.  We bought the biggest package  so my husband could communicate with work (it’s by the mbps not the minute) which was 1 GIG  for $79.  But within 5 hours it was all used up!  Turns out your phone/ipad/etc. is constantly downloading updates and other stuff behind the scenes that eats up your bandwidth FAST.  So if you do elect to purchase wifi, first go into your settings and turn off ALL automatic updates.  The customer relations desk can tell you how.  Otherwise you’ll waste your money.  But anyway, just don’t plan on using phone/internet very often.  (Another reason to bring a watch!)

What To Bring:

There were a few things I found very helpful from reading other posts before I left and I want to point them out here:

1)   Lots of  sunscreen!  If you have good weather, and you’re out at the pool/beach every day, you can go through a bottle of aerosol spray sunscreen per day for a family of 5.  Sunscreen is easily $20-25 in the Caribbean, so this is something you will want to pack plenty of.  Buy it in the off-season for about half the price of summer and save until your cruise.  Or use the old-fashioned lotion for a fraction of the price and way less luggage space as the spray-on kind.

2) Warm clothes.  This may seem crazy...you're probably saying, "but we're cruising the Caribbean.  In July!"  But I haven't been on a single cruise that I didn't freeze at least part of the time.  Not only can every month of the year hit a spot of bad weather, but at sea the nightly breezes can make anyone chilly.  Also, most common areas such as restaurants are air conditioned like meat lockers.  Our kids ALWAYS wore their hoodies to dinner and most of the time in the rooms we changed into yoga pants and sweats.  Don't forget a dressy cardigan or shawl for the ladies for dinner (Palo is FREEZING) and hoodies/long pants for everyone just in case.

 3)  Magnets.  Many people dress up their metal stateroom doors.  You don’t HAVE to dress up your door.  But about 1/3 of the doors do have decorations, so if you’re in the mood, bring some magnets from home or some pictures your kids colored of Mickey Mouse, or a big family photo on copy paper, or some other way to identify your door.  It’s a fun way for your kids to be able to identify their room among the identical doors in the hallway.  Our magnets were weak and wouldn’t stick, so bring strong magnets and tape just in case!

4)  A lanyard.  This is a necklace with a flat plastic rectangle hanging from the bottom which can hold an ID or a room card.  VERY helpful!  You don’t always have pockets (swim suits, sun dresses) and you don’t always want to carry around a backpack, wallet or purse.  Just having a small passport wallet with a neck strap or a lanyard allows you to bring the one thing you DO always want to have with you (your “Key To the World”) and your ID for going ashore.  They sell these at Office Max and such stores.  I HIGHLY recommend having one for each person over 12.

5) Nightlights.  We have small children and they always sleep with a light on.  Traveling, it’s easy to forget that.  You can leave a bathroom light on all night, or just bring a couple of cheap plug in ones.  We put one in the bathroom and one behind the TV (where there is an outlet hidden)

6) The Disney Navigator App.   This is a free app.  Download it before you arrive.  Once you are on the ship, your phone will use the ship’s wifi  to run this app during the whole trip (though your phone is pretty much useless for everything else once you depart the port).  It will tell you what’s going on at all times, show you a map of the ship, etc.  You’ll never lack for something to do or get lost with your app close at hand.

7)   Fancy clothes.  Some cruises have a true formal night, some have a dressy night.  But either way, there will be a couple of occasions (Palo included) where you will either be required to have, or wish you had, a nice dress, shirt and jacket, and long pants/dressy shoes.  Palo does require long pants and a dress shirt for the man.

8)   A watch.  I almost never wear a watch, I mostly just use my cell phone.  But having a watch on the ship is a really good idea.  Since you can’t use your phone to make calls, and wifi is super expensive, you will find yourself leaving your phone turned off in the room pretty quick.  And without that, you will always be wondering the time!

9)   A waterproof “wallet” box.  They sell these in outdoors/camping section at nearly every store.  It’s a small 4x2” square clear plastic box for storing IDs, money, even a smaller cell phone, so you can take it to the pool/beach without worrying about water damage.  Ours had a clip, so we clipped it to the inside of our beach bag.  It was nice to know those things were safe and dry poolside/at the beach and that they weren't going to fall out of a pocket. They're even pad-lockable.  

10) A small pharmacy.  This is probably one of the more crucial things to bring.  I filled a pill bottle with a couple each of adult and child versions of : cold medicine, Advil, Tylenol, allergy pills, Tums, and melatonin.  (Also Dramamine if you’re sea-sick prone).  Nothing is worse than being on a trip and not having the meds you need.  You can get a few basics on the ship, but if you have a sick child in the night, you don’t want to be getting dressed and wandering all over the ship to pay an arm and a leg for some aspirin.  Also bring a few band-aids for scratches and blisters caused by sandals, flippers, and coral. 

11)  Ear plugs.  Although there were only 1-2 occasions when we could hear any neighbors making noise for extended periods of time, there was one night where the heavy swaying of the ship caused everything in our room to squeak for hours on end.  Ear plugs saved my sanity.

12)  Games.  We had a lot of downtime on at-sea days, and there isn’t much to do as a family on cooler days or when you’re all swum out.  We brought Uno, Scattergories, cards, dice, and Taboo (all of which pack small) and were glad we did!  They do have 1 or 2 spots on board with games, but they were all taken on those days.

13) Sunglasses for EVERYONE.  This might seem obvious because we adults usually bring them.  But we might forget our kids.  And though my kids never need them at home, all of my kids asked for them at the beach where it was quite bright.  So we ended up buying pricey ones.  If you have them already, bring them.

14) Split-style suitcases – The beds have room underneath to store slim suitcases, but if you bring a large one that the top zips off of, it won’t fit and you’ll have to take up valuable closet space.  BUT, if you bring the kind of suitcases that zip in the middle with half on either side, they can be opened in half and slipped right under the bed.  Not only is this great for getting them out of the way, but then you can pull them out like a drawer to store dirty laundry in as well.  2 of our 3 suitcases were this type and next time ALL of them will be.  That one regular suitcase was such a nuisance in the closet!

15) Zip Lock baggies or a waterproof swim bag.  I bought one at The Container Store and brought a couple of spare (large) zipper bags.  These are VERY helpful for carrying around wet suits when you transition from hotel to ship or ship to airplane.  Our suits were not dry for the trip home, so I’m glad I brought them.  They were also good for exploding toiletries (inevitable it seems!)

Things You DON’T Need.
      Extra Storage -I read lots of people say they felt they needed to bring contraptions for extra storage—shoe organizers and such.  Personally, I felt there was plenty of room for clothes and shoes.  Each room (at least in Ocean View category) has shelves in the closet, a dresser with 3-4 drawers, a large vertical trunk with 4-5 shelves, a desk with two sets of 5-6 drawers, and two bedside tables with a drawer or two.  We didn’t even end up using all the drawer space.  There were also two sides in each closet for hanging clothes, and plenty of room on the closet floor for shoes.  I wouldn’t waste suitcase space on extra storage unless you’re a huge clothes horse!
      Clothes line/pins.  I saw several people suggest bringing these.  But the shower has a clothes line that can be pulled across and we were able to hang the whole family’s swim suits up to dry in one bathroom.
      Pirate clothes.  Don’t hate me, but I put this in the not-necessary category! Ok, about ½ the ship brought extra pirate clothes for the Pirate party.  But I just want to say, you don’t have to attend the pirate party.  And you don’t have to dress up.  You won’t feel like idiots if you aaaahhhrrrren’t dressed to the 9's.  So I’d leave this up to you.  If you’re the type who just loves to dress up, go ahead.  Bring some extra pirate clothes.  All they give you is a bandana.  But for me, it was one thing I just didn’t have energy for in the days before the cruise, and in the end, I didn’t regret it.  It was fun seeing the other families who did dress up, but we weren’t by any means the only ones who didn’t.  And my kids didn’t complain.  I might have picked up cheap eye patches from the dollar store, but going to the trouble of making ripped up shirts and pants and sashes?  It wasn’t for me.  So don’t feel pressured if that’s not your thing. (And honestly, aside from the fireworks, I didn’t think the pirate parte was all that fun anyway.  Am I a Disney Scrooge??)

          Sand toys.  We hauled quite a few buckets and shovels with us for our day at Castaway Cay only to discover that they sell them on the island for about the same price we bought them for at home.  Wish I’d saved the room in the suitcase for other stuff.  Like more flip flops!  If you want to bring a shovel or two, go ahead.  But there will be places to buy the bulkier items like pails and castle molds.

      Pillowcase/t-shirt souvenir.  Ok, don’t hate. But I saw several suggestions to bring a pillow case, picture frame, tshirt, or other such object to drop off at guest services and have the cast sign it (which they do for free and deliver back to you on the last night).  This was another thing I felt pressured to do but just couldn’t get to it.  And you know what?  No regrets.  Really, what am I going to do with a t-shirt signed by pretend princesses and guys in mouse costumes?  Am I a horrible cynic? Maybe.  Perhaps if I’d done it, my kids would be begging to sleep in that t-shirt every night, or kissing that framed pillowcase.  But I just couldn’t see the point and my kids aren’t complaining about what they didn’t know they could have! 

           Princess dresses/costumes.  We actually DID bring these along because we already had them, but there wasn’t an official occasion to wear them and our daughter never did wear hers.  We did see little girls dressed up as princesses and occasionally a little boy in costume either at dinner or in the clubs, but don’t feel like you have to have them.  

      Beach towels.  It is tempting to bring your own towels so you’ll be easy to identify at the beach/pool, but don’t waste the luggage space.  Disney has very large beach towels (covering the whole lounge chair!) free for your use both on the ship AND on shore excursions. They’ll have a pile you can take one from before you exit the ship.  You do not want to lug damp towels around from day to day or on your trip home, so just use the Disney ones.

Other Things to Know:

Drinks- Unlike every other cruise line I've been on, Disney does NOT make you pay for soda pop!  You don’t have to buy a drink package unless you’re drinking alcohol. 

Last check out on the last day is 9:30am.  Most people rush to get off the boat around 7-8, but if you have a flight later than 11, take your time.  You don’t have to go to your assigned breakfast (can you say 6:15am??) Have breakfast later at the buffet and then leave the ship when the lines to go through customs are smaller.  Keep in mind, though, that all breakfast is put away at 8:30.  If you sleep too late, you’ll miss it.  

You also don’t HAVE to put your bags out the night before disembarking.  Although you have that option (to put your bags in the hallway by 11pm and get them off the baggage carousel the next morning at port) you don’t have to do this.  Packing up the whole family the night before can be stressful.  So we opted to pack 2 of the 3 suitcases with everything we knew we wouldn’t need and leave one in our room.  That way we could pack up pajamas, toiletries, etc. in the morning.

DO keep your “keys to the world” for disembarking.  I thought we wouldn’t need them and chucked them in the room’s trash.  But they do like to check you out as you leave the ship, so keep them on you where you can easily get to them.  I had to run back to my room and fish them out of the trash!

Getting off the ship isn’t hard, but the line to get off is busier in the early morning.  You just scan your key card and you’re done.  THEN, you have to go through customs.  So once you exit the ship, you find yourself in a giant warehouse style room with several baggage carousels.  It’s pretty much chaos.  Before you even look for luggage, have one member of your party get in the customs line.  THEN find your assigned carousel, get your luggage, and meet them in the line.  You’ll save time and stress that way.  On busier cruises we waited 45 minutes to get through customs!

Ok, that’s about all I can think of!  I have to say, as far as family vacations go, this one was probably the best.  Disney really knows how families work.   The service on every part of the ship was fantastic.  Our room steward not only made cute towel animals, but he dressed up our kids’ stuffed animals and did funny poses with them so that my kids were excited to see the room each night after dinner.  The food was good (buffet) to fantastic (Palo).  We got excellent massages, spent plenty of time doing fun activities with the kids and had adequate time with just each other in peace and quiet.  If I could change anything it would be to go at a warmer time of year.  But other than that, I have hardly anything negative to say about this trip.  My only advice as a parent is don’t feel like you have to do and see EVERYTHING.  There is plenty to do.  Enough to run yourself ragged.  But you and your kids will both survive if you skip a night at the restaurant, opt out of a princess meeting, or chill in your room instead of going to a show.  So just remember…being with your family is the important part.  Relax and have fun!