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Coronado Springs Resort at Walt Disney World: Better for Family Travel or Business Conferences?

Coronado Springs Resort at Walt Disney World: Better for Family Travel or Business Conferences?

With its Central American theming, convenient location next to Hollywood Studios, and sprawling campus, Coronado Springs Resort seems like an excellent option for your next visit to Walt Disney World. Yet, it doesn't seem to get the love that other moderate resorts get (I'm looking at you, Port Orleans).

Why? Perhaps it's because it's often populated by droves of business travelers staying on property and attending one of the many conferences hosted here.

Earlier this year, we found a great deal on a room at Coronado Springs, so we decided to try it out, and determine once and for all if this moderate resort was great for families visiting Walt Disney World or if it needed to be left to the business travelers.

11 Things You Need to Know for an Easier Disney Trip with Very Young Kids

11 Things You Need to Know for an Easier Disney Trip with Very Young Kids | CosmosMariners.com

For Gibson's first trip, I decided to head down to Walt Disney World for a long weekend. I'd pinpointed WDW for a few reasons:

1) We've been there more times that I can count, so I was comfortable taking both a 3 month old and my 3.5 year old potentially by myself,

2) It's about as kid-friendly as it comes, so no one would give me death glares if both the infant and the preschooler had simultaneous meltdowns, and

3) It's just far enough away from home to feel like a vacation, but no so far that I'd have to take both of them on a plane (I'm building to that milestone).

Breakfast with Pooh + Friends: The Crystal Palace at Walt Disney World Dining Review

Breakfast with Pooh + Friends: The Crystal Palace at Walt Disney World Dining Review | CosmosMariners.com

Now that I have a preschooler, we're really big into Pooh Bear and his friends (they're right up there with Elsa and Anna in my daughter's eyes), so I wanted to make sure that we did a meet and greet with them while she was still in her full-on Pooh Bear phase.

If you've ever been to Disneyland or Walt Disney World, you know that character meet and greets are serious business. Many characters only do meets at certain places in certain parks at particular times, so, if you're hoping to get some pictures with your favorite characters, it's worth it to do some research beforehand. If you, like my daughter, love Pooh Bear, you have two options to meet him: wait in (a very long) line with dozens and dozens of other squirmy preschoolers over in the Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom, or you can book a meal at the Crystal Palace.

A Magical Birthday Surprise at Walt Disney World

A Magical Birthday Surprise at Walt Disney World | CosmosMariners.com
Have birthday button, will travel

Last Sunday, as we were getting ready for bed, my husband said, "I have a surprise for your birthday." I'd already gotten my birthday present--season tickets to the Dock Street Theatre--and I wasn't expecting anything else, so the fact that I had a surprise was a surprise in itself. We're really big into giving experiences rather than things, so I was curious what he'd gotten me.

After about two minutes of pestering him for more details, Landon gave in and told me (we're both awful secret keepers): he'd decided to use his last two vacation days on the 12th and 13th, so he could spend my birthday with me. Add in the fact that, as a banker, he already had the 11th (Veteran's Day) off, and I was really excited about spending several days with him and Britton.

Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World {Guest Post by Talk of the Trains}

Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World {Guest Post by Talk of the Trains} | CosmosMariners.com


Hi, again, Mariners! Today, you're in the capable hands of Lauren from Talk of the Trains.

Lauren's been blogging since 2008 and shares everything from her amazing DIY projects to her family's travels. Below, she's sharing her best tips on how to save money on a Walt Disney World vacation. While I love Disney as much as the next person, I'm all for saving money while I'm there--after all, the more I save, the more I can travel!
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If you have ever been to Disney, you know it can be pricey. My family of five just got home from our first trip to see the Mouse and had a blast. Between the trip itself, preparations needed for the trip and then your week actually on property, it can all add up. While most Disney travelers think and plan for the extras, there are ways to save a little along the way and I wanted to share those with you today!

Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World {Guest Post by Talk of the Trains} | CosmosMariners.com
Lauren and her family on their recent trip to Disney World
For us, shopping smart before our trip and a bit of planning paid off while we were there. Here are five ways that you can save as you plan, travel and play at Disney World.

ONE: Coordinating Clothes and Packing
Lets be honest. Everyone matches at Disney. Whether its for a family reunion, a newlywed couple or just the kids, its kind of like Disney law that you at least coordinate for a day. We saw people who had shirts made for everyday - including the drive to and the day they were leaving - and people who had attire all day and then PJ's at night! 

Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World {Guest Post by Talk of the Trains} | CosmosMariners.comPersonalizing clothes (and purchasing them for night and day) can be cute but pricey. While I wanted my kids to match a day or two, I knew I couldn't afford to have monogrammed, embroidered, fancy outfits for every day of the week. 

The Target online clearance had a HUGE section of Disney clothes and then Walmart always has a decent selection for less. We got matching shirts for our family and I snagged the kids a few extra outfits that were on clearance...we're talking $3.50 for an Elsa shirt - which in five-year-old girl world is like winning the lottery. I put the boys in Frozen shirts too (one was $4.50 and the other $3) so for $11 they matched. They were thrilled with their new stuff and it fit the budget.



TWO: Dollar Store and Traveling
The Dollar Store always has Mickey and Minnie trinkets and we stocked the kids car to-do bags with goodies from here. 

They consisted of Mickey stickers, little Disney pencil boxes filled with crayons and pencils, coloring books and more. Totally got us in the Disney mood and my kids were happy to have new things to play with as we drove....Mommy and Daddy were happy that they had things to do and weren't asking over and over,  "if we were there yet!?" 

Also, some friends said that they have purchased toys from the Dollar Store, traveled down with them and when the kids ask to buy stuff in the park, they give them a selection of these to choose from instead. You do have to carry, hide and keep up with that, but it is a thrifty option! 
Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World {Guest Post by Talk of the Trains} | CosmosMariners.com


THREE: Shopping In the Park? Instead Press Pennies and Trade Pins
All over Disney World are little booths that you can press pennies. They have a variety of designs in each one and my kids loved searching all over the parks for the penny pressers. We took a sleeve of quarters since each machine is around $0.50 and all the way up to $1.25 and my kids loved looking for them, choosing which one they would make and then cranking them. This saved us from going in and out of stores and having the gimmies as we made the penny pressing a game and they were so into that they didn't think anything of shopping. I think we came home with over 20 pressed pennies! 

At Disney World, all of the cast members wear a ribbon around their neck full of Disney pins. You can trade pins with them and this is lots of fun too. Since my kids were into the penny pressing, we saved this for a future trip down. They sell starter kits at Disney for around $20, but one of my Disney loving friends recommended picking up some at the Outlets and said it was cheaper there. I have not tried it, but am filing that one in the back of my brain!  


FOUR: Event Plan with Glow Sticks!
Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World {Guest Post by Talk of the Trains} | CosmosMariners.comLots of Disney's evening events have lights, fireworks, flashing lights and more. They sell all of the glow stick paraphernalia you could ever want, but its pricey. We snagged a few from the dollar rack at Target and took them with us. The second that my kids asked for one, I pulled our cheap ones out. 

I threw a glowing necklace and bracelet on them and they had wands in each hand and were happy campers. 

FIVE: Dining - Take Food and Drink In
We were on a meal plan so we had two meals covered, but my littles always seem to be hungry or thirsty. You can carry into Disney World soft sided coolers and food and drink and so we did that to save a few bucks on all of the overpriced in park snacks. I didn't want to carry a ton, so we skipped the cooler and just threw snacks in our backpack. 

Great snack ideas include fruit pouches, individual chips, individual cereal packs, Capri Suns, granola bars, oranges, bananas, apples and gummies. I have heard that people take suckers for their kids while they are in line, so if you have antsy waiters, you may want to have a few of those on hand too! 

We also took in bottled water and then just refilled the bottles throughout the day. If you are on the dining plan and have snacks, you can use your free snack at STARBUCKS. WHAAAATTTT!?? Guess who had Starbucks for free while we were there, yup, this girl!! Thanks to the free Starbucks, taking in snacks and the bottled water trick, we spent very little on extra food and drink!

Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World {Guest Post by Talk of the Trains} | CosmosMariners.com

I hope that helps as you plan your trip and think about ways to save and where to splurge! I am happy to answer any questions you have and I would love for you to come visit me and follow along over at Talk of the Trains! 

xoxo, 
Lauren

What's your favorite way to save money at Walt Disney World?
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Make sure to head over to Talk of the Train and show Lauren some love!

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Calypso Cay Resort, Kissimmee, Florida

Calypso Cay Resort, Kissimmee, Florida: A Review | CosmosMariners.com

Before our Florida Superior Small Lodging road trip officially began at the beginning of the summer, Landon and I took an extra day off of work so that we could squeeze in a trip to one of the Disney water parks for our toddler.

Since it was such a short sidetrip, we decided not to stay on property (as we usually do) in favor of an inexpensive place that I'd found on Groupon: Calypso Cay Resort. The resort contains The Inn at Calpyso--a former Country Inn and Suites--as well as two large buildings of 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom villas.

When we rolled up at 11 PM the night of our check-in, the lines for the front desk was three guests deep: not a welcome site when I was tired and ready to go to bed. In most places, the late evening hours are like a ghost town at the front desk, so I was worried that this mass grouping in the lobby was an indicator that the hotel was packed full of guests--which usually means lots of noise.

So, how did our stay turn out? Was our initial greeting a terrible sign of things to come?

Location
For an Orlando hotel, you can't beat where the Calypso Cay Resort is located. Only 3.9 miles from the Disney parks and 11 miles from Universal Studios, guests can quickly hop onto FL 535 or I-4 and make it to front gates in very little time.

There's also a gigantic Wal-mart just behind it that sold all sorts of Disney-themed stuff from ponchos to sweatshirts to photo books. For the cost conscious Disney visitor, a stop here for souvenirs is a good idea. Just down the road are several gas stations and plenty of quick service restaurants.

One thing that drove us crazy about the surrounding location was the fact that the Osceola Parkway runs right behind the resort. The Parkway is a toll road--but it's not well-marked at all. We got onto it once not realizing that 1) it was a toll road, and 2) the unmanned booth only took quarters (of which we had none). This ultimately led us to illegally backing down the shoulder of the toll entrance ramp so we could get back onto FL 535.

Room
We were placed in a one bedroom suites in the building that straddles the two pools (Building 5000). Building 5000 and 5002 contain the villa suites, while the traditional hotel rooms reside in the Inn at Calypso in front of the pools. The suites are all timeshares/ vacation rentals that are sublet by the Inn at Calypso management team; if you get one of these, they will vary a little in terms of decoration.

Calypso Cay Resort, Kissimmee, Florida: A Review | CosmosMariners.com

The kitchette was well equipped with glasses, plates, cups, and cleaning cloths. We liked having a full-sized refrigerator to put milk, soft drinks, and juice each morning.

Calypso Cay Resort, Kissimmee, Florida: A Review | CosmosMariners.com


The bathroom came with a jacuzzi bath/ shower combo. Britton loved the bubbles in the jacuzzi! While the bathroom was clean, the wallpaper was peeling off in several small spots, which gave it a bit of a shabby air.

The one bedroom had a queen sized bed: while it was roomy, it didn't house the most comfortable of mattresses, as one side sagged down. There was also a fold-out couch in the living room, but we didn't use it.

Calypso Cay Resort, Kissimmee, Florida: A Review | CosmosMariners.com
The huge screened in porch that was attached to our suite.
Service
We didn't have a lot of interaction with the staff since we had such a short stay, but the few times I did deal with the staff, they were organized, approachable, and friendly.

When we checked in to a full lobby, the desk clerks managed to move guests through quickly. They spoke both Spanish and English fluently which helped with the large number of guests from abroad who were also checking in at the same time as I was.

Amenities
Although the resort isn't the largest, there are several amenities that will appeal to families on a budget. Little kids will love the playground and on-site mini golf course, while older kids will enjoy the slides at the main pool.

Landon used the workout room on our second morning there and was pleased with the variety of equipment they had.

Our room came with a complimentary breakfast buffet both mornings we were there. While I always appreciate a free breakfast, this one left a lot to be desired: the eggs were straight out of a mix (yuck), the cereal selection consisted only of two options (Cheerios and something really sugary), and the breakfast potatoes were kind of cold both mornings. Usually, I can find something to eat since I'm not picky at all, but both mornings, I ended up eating a cold, tiny cinnamon roll that was straight out of a Little Debbie box. I've had far better complimentary breakfasts at places like Hampton Inn, so I know that it can be done.

I thought that the need for a breakfast attendant (who checked our names against the hotel roster) and food wristbands was redundant and clogged up the line. While I'm complaining about the breakfast, I might as well mention the fact that the breakfast room had extremely limited seating, which meant that people were always lingering around looking at us while we ate.

The resort has free parking for its guests, but (like the breakfast seating) it was limited near the building. If you arrived late, you had to park in the nearby Springhill Suites parking lot or the resort's front lot (both of which are quite a distance when you're hauling luggage).

Final Thoughts
While it was far from luxurious, the Calypso Cay Resort was clean and well-maintained. The resort is a fairly new one, as it seems it was just purchased from a large hotel chain and converted into its existing appearance, and it's trying to be a one-stop-shop for guests looking to relax away from the theme parks.

With a few changes (especially to the breakfast selection and routine), this inexpensive property has the potential to become a fun (and cheaper) option to some themed hotels like Disney's Art of Animation. Until those changes are enacted, the hotel provides the basics, but doesn't leave a lasting impression.

This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing a hotel room through these will help me add to my travel fund at no additional cost to you!
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Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World?

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com


So, you're thinking about going to Disney World! One of the biggest decisions that you'll have to make while planning your trip will be whether you'll stay on-property at one of the Disney-owned hotels or off-property at one of the many, many, many hotels elsewhere in the Orlando/ Lake Buena Vista area.

Which one is better? How do you know which is worth the money? As someone who's visited Walt Disney World more times than I can count--and someone who's stayed all over Orlando--I have a few tips to help you decide the best location to call home while you're staying in the most magical place on Earth!

On-Property
Pros


Disney hotels are extremely convenient to everything else on the Disney property. Topographically speaking, Walt Disney World isn't that big, so by staying on property, you're just a few minutes from all four parks, Downtown Disney, and the other Disney hotels. Because of their proximity to the fun stuff, you'll spend more time on vacation and less time stuck in traffic along I-4.

Transportation to and from the parks is free. I don't know about you, but when I'm at Disney World, I prefer to park my car and immerse myself in the magic. By staying on Disney property, you've got complimentary access to the fleet of Disney buses. The buses are timely and arrive every 20 minutes at each hotel. Through the bus system, you can make your way to the parks, the other hotels, the water parks, and Downtown Disney. 

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com

Transportation to and from the Orlando (MCO) airport is free. If you're flying into Orlando for the sole reason of going to Disney World, there's no need to rent a car. Just hop on the Magical Express, and you'll be shuttled to your hotel's front door along with your luggage. 

Your hotel stay comes with free parking and no resort fee. I hate when hotels have added fees tacked onto the nightly cost. When you stay on property, Disney makes things easy: the price you see when you're browsing the site is the price you pay. 

Each hotel is sprinkled with the trademark Disney magic. Whether you're staying at the Victorian-themed Grand Floridian, the larger-than-life themed Pop Century, or the Louisiana-themed Port Orleans, you're sure to be happy with the fun, inventive decor. 

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com
Mickey towels, characters on the bedding, and collages on the walls: Pop Century's fun rooms


All on-property guests get to take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours. Of all the benefits to staying on property, this is my favorite. Each day, one of the four parks offers additional time in the park to on-property guests only. That means that for a few hours in the morning or late evening, the crowds are greatly reduced, and on-property guests have the run of the place. In the past, I've been able to accomplish amazing things--like getting a jump start on the 4 Parks/1 Day Challenge--during Extra Magic Hours, which leaves the rest of the day free to meet characters, see the parades and shows, and have dining reservations. 

Cons

Disney hotels aren't always the most cost-effective options. Though there are multiple tiers of Disney hotels (Value, Moderate, and Deluxe), even the lowest tier can top $150 a night for a basic room with two double beds, a small bath, and mini-fridge. If you're just looking for a simple room without any Disney frills, you're better off looking elsewhere for a room.

Only a handful of the rooms offered include a kitchenette and suites. Yes, they do exist (in the new Art of Animation hotel, the Treehouse Villas, some of the Disney Vacation Club properties, and the new Polynesian villas, among others), but you can find much more affordable suite and apartment-style properties offsite. Especially if you're traveling with multiple families or friends, it's far more economical to rent one of the suites or vacation homes off-site.

Off-Property
Pros
You can find a much wider range of prices. If you watch Travelzoo and Groupon Getaways like a super nerd (ahem, like myself), you'll find that there are always great deals on hotels and resorts throughout the Orlando area. These deals pretty much always beat out the standard price on Disney hotels when you compare the amenities and room sizes.

There are more centrally located options if you're not just going to Disney World.  Not everyone goes to Orlando to just go to Disney World. Universal Studios and Sea World are just the beginning of what the Orlando area has: there are museums, historical attractions, the new Orlando Eye, and more. If you're planning to pack more into your central Florida vacation than just Disney, it might be a good idea to consider staying somewhere off-property.

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com


There are some non-Disney hotels that are still super, super close to Disney World. If you're looking for a deal, but aren't sold on any of the Disney properties, there's a happy medium: the Downtown Disney area hotels. These are just a few minutes walk to the restaurants and shops of Downtown Disney, but usually offer great deals since they're not Disney owned. Some, like the Buena Vista Palace and the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, even have character breakfasts onsite. Just note that the buses that cater to these properties are very slow (and not always punctual), and the bus pick-up area has no shade (not great when you visit in the heat of the summer).

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com
Lake Buena Vista hotel
Cons
Off-property guests have to pay for parking at the Disney parks. While paid parking isn't a huge expense, it can add up over the course of your vacation. Each day, you can expect to pay upwards of $15 per car to park. Add that to the daily parking fee at your hotel (which can easily top $20 in some places), and you're looking at $30+ in parking alone.

Staying off-property means you're at the mercy of the Orlando traffic. Sometimes it's okay, but most of the time, it's awful. The stretch of I-4 between International Boulevard and the Disney exits is home to a ton of restaurants and hotels, parks, a convention center, and apartment buildings. Traffic is guaranteed, and who wants to spend more time battling other park goers on the interstate?

You lose the Disney magic illusion. Personally, if I'm going on a Disney vacation, I want to stay in the magic for as long as I can. I've stayed elsewhere in Orlando for mixed park trips (Disney, Orlando, and Sea World), and I'm fine with an off-property hotel in those cases since I'm indulging in a mixture of park experiences. However, if I'm only going to Disney World on a trip, staying off property means there's a clear division between the magic and where I'm sleeping, which is a killjoy for a Disney nerd like me.

Which do you prefer: on- or off-property hotels? What's the most important thing that you look forward to in a hotel when booking?
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Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com

Since we were headed to Florida for the Superior Small Lodging Blogger Road Trip (#sslbloggerroadtrip), Landon and I decided to get a head start on our visit to the Sunshine State and leave two dates earlier than we needed.

The reasoning?

We wanted to cram in a trip to one of the Disney water parks before we arrived at our first FSSLA stop in Pass-a-Grille on Sunday. 

So, last Friday, I picked up Landon from work and we made the 7+ hour drive down to Orlando. I'd found us a cheap place to stay for two nights, and we rolled into the hotel around midnight on Saturday. All of us headed immediately to bed so we could be fresh and ready for a fun day at Blizzard Beach later that day. 

From the moment that she woke up, Britton, my almost-two-year-old, kept chirping, "Water park? Water park!" 

That should have been our first indication that she was about to have the most epic time EVER.

Blizzard Beach didn't open until 10 AM, so we had several leisurely hours in which to get ready (because when you travel with a toddler, you get up early enough to catch the first round of breakfast with the retirement crowd). 

As soon as we arrived onsite, Britton immediately found a castle to admire at the nearby Winter Summerland putt-putt golf course. After she went to Disney World with my parents the week before last (while I was on St. Simons Island), she's been on the lookout for castles.

It's Disney World, after all. You have to take a picture with a castle. It's a rule.

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com


We took a picture, bought our tickets, and starting lathering up with sunscreens. It's worth mentioning that we each got $5 off the regular admission ticket price since the end of April is considered off-season. Ten bucks total might not seem like much, but I'll take what I can get at Disney World. (Britton was free since she was under 3.)

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com

Landon and I weren't sure what she was going to think about the water park since the most water she's ever experienced were a few tidal pools at the beach last year and our garden tub at home. We headed to Tike's Peak to test out her reaction, and we were very prepared to sit in the shallow splash pool all day if she hated the slides. 

We shouldn't have worried since it was love at first splash for Britton. Landon went with her on the open slide, and this was the face we got:

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com
That's pure glee there, folks. Landon, on the other hand, looks a bit concerned with life.
Clearly, she wasn't having ANY fun!

Things only got more fun from there on out as she tested out the other slides in Tike's Peak.

Her first time on the tube slide:


And then that time when she decided that going down another slide the regular way was boring:


By the end of the day, she even jumped on Teamboat Springs (one of the regular rides), took a turn on the lazy river--in her own tube, no less--and tried to swim in the big wave pool (I use the term "swim" loosely as it was mostly me trying not to let her drown as she told me, "No hands, Mama! NO HANDS! BABY SWIM!").

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com
Happiness is a toddler in a swim tube.
The park stayed open until 5 PM, but the three of us only made it until 3. I'm not sure who was more exhausted at the end of it, Britton or us grown-ups!



Tips for visiting a Disney water park with a toddler: 
Don't worry about getting there early. The park doesn't open until the stroke of 10, and, unlike the other non-water Disney parks, there's no fun show to start the day. You'll just wait out in the hot sun without any tree cover if you get there early. Plan to arrive around 10:10 or 10:15. You'll still be able to breeze into the park and grab a few chairs.

Grab a life vest if your child can't swim. Blizzard Beach provides free life vests in a variety of sizes for kids who aren't confident in the water. Look for the racks around the park--people are constantly bringing them back throughout the day, so if you don't get one in the morning, just keep an eye out.

Prepare to get to know Tike's Peak very, very well. Britton liked the park, but she LOVED Tike's Peak, the children's area. There are three longer slides, four short slides, and a large splash pool with a waterfall. As an added bonus, Tike's Peak is very close to the Lotta Watta Lodge (the main food area), lockers, and the lazy rivers. 

Slowly introduce the slides. Not every kid loves the water like Britton, and your child may need to build up a little confidence before hopping on one of the bigger slides within Tike's Peak. Try splashing in the main kiddie pool or watching the other kids come down the slides as a way to ease him or her into the fun. Plus, there are very, very short slides (two to three feet long) at the top of Tike's Peak if your little one wants to sample the fun before committing to the longer kiddie slides.

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com

Try out a few of the other rides in the park if you have an adventurous little one. You could happily spend the entire day in Tike's Peak with your toddler. However, if your child is comfortable in the water, see if he or she would like going into Melt-Away Bay, the park's big wave pool. You can also ride the Chairlift (for kids over 32" tall) for a fun perspective on the entire park.  Cross Country Creek, the park's lazy river, allows the smaller kiddie tubes, so you can go 'round the river together. For very adventurous ones, take the entire family on Teamboat Springs, but be prepared to help your toddler hold onto the straps.

Have you ever tried a Disney water park with your toddler? Do your kids love or hate water parks?
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How to Win at the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge at Walt Disney World

How to Win at the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge at Walt Disney World | CosmosMariners.com

Back in June 2013, my sister and I attempted something that we'd never done before: we headed to all four parks at Walt Disney World in one day. (You can see our efforts here: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.)

Yes, I know. It seems completely crazy. And I'm here to tell you that it is--but it's also a lot of fun!

When we decided to embark on our 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge, I did a little research, but didn't find too much on the best way to approach it. So, here I am now, on the other side of the challenge, to share my tips with you in the hopes that you'll try out this awesome way to experience one of the world's most famous theme parks.

Preparing

In our room at Pop Century before we head out on the challenge

Leave nothing to chance. Before you set foot in the parks, you'll want to outline where you want to go, what rides you want to experience, and where you'll eat. This may seem like overkill, but it helped us immensely when it came to budgeting time in the parks. We had a printed out schedule with arrival and departure times, transportation information, and notes on what we wanted to accomplish in each park.

If you're not familiar with the parks, outline everything on a map. (The concierge at the Disney hotels should have copies to give you.) You don't want to use your precious time searching for the next ride.

Use the Magic Hours to your advantage. Research which parks are opening early and closing late so you'll have the maximum amount of time to complete your challenge. These are only available to Disney property guests, so this is one time that staying onside might be worth it.

Lay out your clothes the night before. Since this is an intense way to tour the parks, you'll want to get as much sleep as you can. Don't waste another five or so minutes in the morning picking out your clothes when you can rest instead!

If you're super cool like I am, your comfy outfit can include a monogrammed Minnie Mouse decal. And you can match your sister. 
Wear the most comfortable clothes possible. Even though I'm a huge proponent of dressing semi-decently while you're in the parks (see that post here), this is one day that I give you a pass to put on those exercise shorts and extra soft t-shirt and just go for it. By the end of the day, you will be sweaty, exhausted, and probably crabby, and you don't want your wardrobe to cause you to feel even worse.

Getting through the Day

Start early. Very early. No sleeping in today! If you're going to conquer all four parks in one day, you're going to need every minute. Plus, crowds are much lighter in the mornings, so you'll be able to blast through a few more rides before you have to move onto the next park.

Pack a small backpack with a water bottle. It's easy to get dehydrated when you're outside all day in the Florida sun, so quick pit stops at the water fountains to refill your water bottle will keep you going. I don't care for the taste of the plain water at Disney World, so I always pack something to flavor it. These are both lightweight items and won't get in your way while you're running from park to park.

See that green backpack my sister is carrying? It was a lifesaver! (Not literally. That would be no fancy backpack.)
Go easy on the meals. I'm all for eating that yummy Disney food, but this is one day that your gastronomic exploration will have to take a backseat. My sister and I did include plenty of snack stops along the way, but we made sure to eat smaller portions than we usually would and stay away from big, carby meals. We didn't want to risk getting super sleepy post-meal time!

Be prepared to skip rides on your itinerary, if necessary. Occasionally, rides will be shut down for awhile for repairs or because of the weather. Don't try to wait around until it's back up, or you'll lose momentum. Find a replacement ride, and then check often to see if your preferred ride is back up and running. If it is, quickly go on it. If not, keep moving on. You've got a lot of park to see!
Don't lose valuable time waiting around for rides to re-open. Test Track, I'm looking at you.
Know that you will hit a wall. It will not be fun when it happens, so take a minute to sit down, drink something, and then get back up and go some more. I nearly called the entire challenge at about 4:30 PM on the day we attempted it because, all of a sudden, I was exhausted, hot, and a little dehydrated. My sister convinced me to stay, and she ushered me into a nearby restaurant. By the time I ate and cooled down, I was ready to go for a few more hours.

I look happy going into the Animal Kingdom, but my meltdown was just an hour or two away.


Pace yourself. You'll be in the parks continually for 12+ hours (our challenge took 15!), so don't run yourself ragged in the first few moments. Identify two or three rides per park, and do those first. If you've got time before you need to move on, go on another one or two.

Where we went wrong: 

  • We attempted the challenge in June. This is not recommended! Not only was it blazing by 10 AM, but there were so many people there. Fighting the heat and the crowds at the same time was a major factor to why I got so burnt out mid-afternoon. 
  • We waited around when Test Track was closed down for a summer thunderstorm. Instead of just leaving and trying something else, we waited around for over 30 minutes. Not only did we get sleepy in the cool building, but we also wasted a good chunk of time that could've been spent somewhere else. Thankfully, we learned our lesson by the time we got to our third park of the day (Animal Kingdom) and skipped waiting around when we found that Dinosaur was closed.
  • We weren't well rested. Instead of getting a full night's sleep before attempting the challenge, we'd only slept a few hours. We'd driven to Florida from South Carolina the night before, leaving Charleston at 5 when my sister got off from work. We arrived in Orlando around midnight, and then got back up for the challenge at 5:45 AM or so. We both would've felt better by the end of the challenge if we'd had a restful night's sleep!
Even though it was intense, the 4 parks/ 1 Day Challenge was a lot of fun for both my sister and I. We're huge fans of Walt Disney World, and we've been dozens of times, so it was exciting to see the property from a new perspective. 

Would you attempt the 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge? How would you go about organizing your day?

What to Do at Walt Disney World When You Aren't at the Parks

What to Do at Walt Disney World When You Aren't at the Parks | CosmosMariners.com

On our December 2014 trip to Walt Disney World, we did something that we hadn't done in at least twenty years: we allotted free time away from the parks. And to my surprise: we weren't bored. There was plenty to do on our down-time days!

Usually, we're those crazy whirlwind people who show up at 10:00 p.m. on our travel days, go to four parks in four days, then head back out at the crack of dawn on the return travel day.

It's hectic and doesn't give you a moment to catch your breath, but we believe in packing in as much as we can.

Since this trip also marked the first trip for our toddler, we wanted some time to rest in between the park days. I knew that seeing the lights and characters and rides would be plenty overwhelming for Britton, so I planned a few low key days in there, too.

We ended up having so much fun on those days that I'm seriously considering adding more to our next trip (which probably won't be for several years, but I love planning far, far in advance).

What can you do at Disney when you're not in the parks? Here's a sampling.

Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit

Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit

After nearly four weeks, I'm finally getting ready to blog about our Walt Disney World trip. I blame all of those December holidays that happened right after we got back. (Ha!)

In a way, I'm glad I've had a chance to step back and think about our trip. I had a lot of fun, but it was just so much different than every other Disney trip I've had.

Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit

Not better. Not worse. Just different.

Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit

The trip was the first one for our then 18-month-old daughter. I am a huge Disney parks fan, so I'd been planning Britton's first visit since the moment that I found out that I was pregnant. (Yes, I'm a total overachiever.) My husband also had some firsts on the trip, as he'd only ever been to Magic Kingdom.

Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit
That face is worth all of the stress that goes into planning a big family trip!

If you're thinking about taking your toddler to Disney World, I'd recommend pondering the topics below before you commit.

PROS

  • There is something incredible about a small child's face when they have that first magical moment. Britton was stunned by the fact that Mickey was ACTUALLY there when we visited him in the Magic Kingdom's Town Hall. Then, the joy that she got from waving to the characters during the Magic Kingdom parade is something that I'll never forget. 
  • They're free. Kids under 3 don't need a separate ticket. With a one day single park pass for kids hover around $90, that's a significant savings if you choose to take your 2 year old instead of waiting until he's 3 or 4. 
  • They can use the Baby Centers. When Britton needed a nap during the day, we would take her to the baby center in whichever park we were visiting. Run by a Disney parks attendant, the baby centers have big, clean changing tables, nursing rooms, high chairs, and toys. The centers also have formula, clothes, toys, pacifiers, and more for sale. 
  • Cast members go out of their way to interact with the little ones. While cast members are nice to (mostly) everyone, it seemed like they would pay special attention to Britton and the other toddlers--giving them high fives, calling them "prince" or "princess," and asking them about their day. 
  • There are A LOT of rides toddlers can enjoy! The only things that you can't take your toddler on are Expedition Everest, Tower of Terror, Rock 'n' Rollercoaster, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Kali River Rapids, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Indy Speedway. Other than that, you're good to go! Word of warning, though: just because you can take your toddler doesn't mean that you should. We had a freak out during It's Tough to Be a Bug when Britton got scared. You'll have to make judgment calls based on your own child's personality and fear levels. 
Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit
And then, there are the meltdowns.

CONS

  • Forget about the nighttime entertainment. The parades and evening shows are some of my favorite things to do at Disney World. But when you've got a toddler who get very, very cranky when she stays up past 7:30 p.m., those later programs have to go on without you. Of all of the things we missed, this seemed to have the most impact. Missing Holiday Wishes, Fantasmic, and Illuminations left a big hole in this trip for me. 
  • You'll have to skip the big rides. I, for one, am a theme park thrill ride junkie, and going to Expedition Everest, Rock 'n' Rollercoaster, and Tower of Terror are non-negotiable to me. Thankfully, my mom (who hates thrill rides) was along for the trip, so she watched Britton while we went on the big kid rides. There's always Rider Swap if you're there with your significant other, but I don't care for waiting in line and riding by myself. 
  • You will come to hate your stroller. You open it up when you leave your room. You close it up when you get on the bus. You open it up when you get off of the bus. You have to find stroller parking. You have to go back and find your stroller in stroller parking. I know little ones can't walk all of the time, and I know that strollers are a necessity, but I was so glad to pack that thing up at the end of the trip!
  • Your child won't remember it. When I was talking about our trip, this was the one thing that kept coming up. "But she won't remember going!" people told us. If you're only going to Disney World once, and you want your child to have memories of the experience, I'd hold off until he or she's 7 or 8. My toddler had a blast, and we took lots of pictures, but I know she won't remember this specific trip as she gets older. 
Of course, it all comes down to your personal preference and your family's expectations of the trip. If you want to spend 15 hours a day in the park, catch all of the shows and the fireworks, and eat at Victoria and Albert's every night, I'd recommend waiting until the kids are older. But if you're willing to go at a much slower pace, visit lots and lots of characters, and ride Dumbo for 15 times in a row, then I'd say go full steam ahead with your trip! If you do decide to take your baby or toddler, check out my Disney for toddlers tips!

When do you think is the best age to take kids to Disney? How old were you on your first trip? Did you wait until a certain age for your kids?

P.S. If you want to read more about our visits to Walt Disney World, reviews of on-property hotels, and more, head over here!

Should You Visit Walt Disney World with a Toddler? | The Pros and Cons of an Early Visit

The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at Walt Disney World Resort: A Review

The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at Walt Disney World Resort: A Review | CosmosMariners.com

Walt Disney World 2014: We came, we saw, we had a blast.

One of the goals of this trip was to try new experiences at a place that I've been to dozens of times (check out my bucket list to see what we wanted to do). And one of those experience was to carve out a date night with Landon.

A Grown Up's Guide to Walt Disney World

A Grown Up's Guide to Walt Disney World | CosmosMariners.com

So many people think that Walt Disney World equals a kids' only zone.

But let me assure you: it is not.

You can be a perfectly respectable adult and still enjoy the House of Mouse sans kids (don't they need to go visit Grandma and Pops anyway?). As an adult, I've been to Disney no fewer than eight times without any kids--I just hopped on the parent train 18 months ago--and I've had a fantastic time on all of those trips.

How to Visit Disney World Like a Local {Guest Post from Orange Blossoms & Sunshine}

Ashley and Jenny, the two lovely ladies behind Orange Blossoms and Sunshine, know a thing or two about Disney World. So, while I'm riding Expedition Everest for what will hopefully be the twentieth time in a row, they're going to share some of their tips for making the most of your Disney World vacation. 

Walt Disney World Bucket List


While I'm no stranger to the wonderful world of Walt Disney, my daughter is. At 18 months, she's about to embark on her first ever trip to the most magical place on Earth, and I'm just a little excited.

(That's pretty much the understatement of the century. I've been planning this trip since before she was born.)

How to Dress at Walt Disney World: Look Like a Princess While Staying Comfortable

How to Dress at Walt Disney World: Look Like a Princess While Staying Comfortable | CosmosMariners.com

You're probably thinking, "It's a theme park. I shouldn't have to dress a certain way."

And I would agree with you wholeheartedly. As long as you're more or less covered, I say rock your vacation wear as you see fit.

However, in my many years of visiting Walt Disney World, I've come to find that certain wardrobe choices will grant you wildly different experiences. Here are my tried-and-true tips for making sure that your clothing doesn't keep you from loving every minute of the magic.

How to Have a Low Cost Disney World Trip

Cheap Disney World vacation

Growing up, Walt Disney World was one of my family's favorite vacation spots (though, who am I kidding? At nearly 30, it is still one of our favorite places to go!). 

By the time I started college, I had visited the House of Mouse more times than I could count since my family went at least once during the summer with several smaller weekend getaways scattered throughout the year.

Visiting Port Orleans Resort at Walt Disney World: French Quarter + Riverside

Visiting Port Orleans Resort at Walt Disney World: French Quarter + Riverside | CosmosMariners.com

Way back when I was a wee traveler, my parents would load up my sister and I in our grandparents' motorhome for a week at Walt Disney World. Our love of WDW started with pony rides at Fort Wilderness and splashing in the Mardi Gras pool at Port Orleans.

Those two places were the staples of our early Disney trips. But then, in the 90s, two things happened to change all of that: 

1) Port Orleans was refurbished and upgraded to a moderate resort, and

2) The motorhome finally found a new home (after 25 years in service to my grandparents and our extended family, it was probably time).

Cookes of Dublin

No, that's not a typo. It's CookEs of Dublin.

Not Cooks.

But CookES.
Cookes of Dublin

Because it's not authentically British/ Irish/ English unless you add that extra, completely unnecessary 'e.' 

Buena Vista Palace at Downtown Disney

In the cruelest of all situations, Amber (my sister and fellow Disney addict) had to get up early and move hotels the day after we'd finished our 4 Parks/ 1 Day Challenge. We were not happy campers. 

After propping our eyes open with tooth picks and ingesting multiple pastries at the food court, we checked out of Pop Century and headed to our second home away from home on this trip: the Buena Vista Palace (heretofore known as BVP because I have better things to do with my time then figure out the vowel arrangement in "Buena" forty more times). 

Buena Vista Palace