Top 5 Vacation Home Dinner Ideas

February 28th, 2015

One of the many advantages of renting your own Orlando vacation home is that you’ll have access to a full kitchen. All of the basics will be there for you, including pots, pans, silverware, dinnerware, and much more! These creative dinner ideas are quick to make, fun to eat, and will give you a great private way to unwind after a long day at the parks.

sandwiches-orlando-vacation-home1.         Fresh, delicious sandwiches

What better way to relax after a big day at the parks than by throwing together a few gourmet sandwiches? You can buy all the fixins in advance or grab them on your way back from the parks. Either way, this option allows everyone to customize for their own needs, which makes it a great choice for larger groups with varied tastes. It’s also super fast to get the sandwiches together – plus there’s virtually no clean up!

2.         A simple pasta dish

Grab some noodles, a can of gourmet sauce, and some garlic bread. A small side salad and prepared dessert and you’ve got a dinner perfect for a hungry family, or for a romantic dinner with your sweetie! Many Orlando vacation homes have dishwashers, which makes it even more convenient to cook for your loved ones and still feel like you’re on vacation.

bucket-chicken-dinner-orlando-vacation3.         Grab a bucket of chicken to go

Not every dinner has to be fancy, and you don’t even have to cook if you don’t want to! A chicken dinner may seem like a less than optimal choice for family dinner, but when you eat it at your vacation home with real silverware, real napkins, and real plates, you’ll quickly see that it feels just like home. This is a quick, easy, and relatively cheap option for the family who wants to go-go-go.

4.         Take advantage of local fares

If you’re the type who loves to cook then why not stop at a local market to get fresh, delicious, seasonal ingredients? Orlando is well-known as an excellent seafood town and you can get all sorts of fresh prawns, fish fillets, and even shellfish. Or perhaps you’d rather take advantage of the local Cuban population? There are tons of possibilities that give you a chance to show off your skills in the kitchen while taking advantage of local foods.

chicken-casserole-vacation-home-dining5.         Create a potluck with friends and family

Are you traveling with other family members or friends? Meeting up at the parks can be complicated and difficult to orchestrate. Why not invite everyone over for dinner? You can assign dishes to certain people, for example your mom could be in charge of salad and someone else could be assigned an appetizer, or you could simply let everyone bring what they’d like and munch on a mish-mash of foods.

A Special Packing List for Single Parents in Disney World

February 27th, 2015

Are there challenges to taking the kids to Disney World as a single parent? You bet! But there are also huge rewards. This packing list is designed to give you a break and assure you don’t forget the unique items you’ll need as a sole-parent traveler.

Pack the clothes you need – then take half out!

One of the biggest mistakes single parents make is to over pack. You do want to make sure that you have the right clothes for the season, which in many cases means preparing for any weather! But you don’t need a dozen pairs of pants. Remember that resort hotels and vacation homes will have laundry facilities. Trust us – it’s better to pack light and take an hour out of your day to do laundry than to lug numerous heavy suitcases to and from the airport.

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Consider your pool options

No matter the time of year you plan to visit Orlando, bathing suits are a must! It’s true that it can be cool in the winter months, but the vast majority of pools are heated. However, your swimming packing list shouldn’t begin and end with swimsuits. If you’re driving, consider loading up your minivan with pool noodles, floats, and others. If you’re not, figure out which supercenter is closed to your resort or vacation home and plan to get some awesome pool toys. These will help create a perfect afternoon off as you lounge by the pool while the kids play.

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Bring snacks, treats, and souvenirs

orlando-vacation-souvenierBringing your own snacks, treats, and souvenirs solves two problems. First, it helps to keep your costs down. Second, it helps prevent meltdowns. Even the most well behaved kids can become overwhelmed and overstimulated by the excitement at Disney World. They may see snack after snack or cool new toy after cool new toy and think they need it all! Your options at that point are limited to either giving in or dealing with a temper tantrum. Unless of course you bring snacks, treats, and toys from home and can easily distract them with their own special things.

Ask your kids what they need

Is this obvious advice? You may think so – but you’d be wrong! Too often parents take the reins on the entire trip planning and packing process. This may seem like a great idea that lets you keep an eye on everything and ensure your kids can just sit back and relax. However, your child may assume you’ll remember their favorite stuffed animal and it may not even cross your mind. Sit down with your kids and ask them to write down the top 5 things they want to bring with them. You may have to narrow the list down but it’ll give you a great starting point to ensure you don’t forget anything they consider essential.

The Best Spots to Take a Break with the Kids in Disney World

February 26th, 2015

Even with strollers, kids sometimes need to just park and rest. While the parks can seem bustling and busy everywhere you go, each of the four Disney World theme parks actually has quiet, restful places out of the way of the crowds. Let’s take a look at the best option in each of the parks.

The best quiet spot in the Magic Kingdom

Parents often assume that the Magic Kingdom is the least relaxing park of them all, mostly because it has by far the highest attendance of any park. However, there’s actually a great, quiet spot relatively close to the entrance. The rose garden between Cinderella Castle and Tomorrowland has winding paths, a quiet, serene view of the water, and is almost always very quiet. Note that this isn’t the best place to rest during the parade or fireworks, as people will be lined up waiting all around it, but during the rest of the day it’s generally the quietest option.

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Take a break in Animal Kingdom

rafikis-planet-watchThere are actually two great options in Animal Kingdom. Either take a break and ride the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, where a slower pace is the norm. There you can visit a petting zoo, visit with veterinarians, and explore a variety of animal exhibits. Alternatively, take a break on one of the numerous animal trails throughout Animal Kingdom. There are benches throughout and it’s easy to find an out-of-the-way spot to take a long or short break.

Find a spot to rest in Epcot

Epcot is full of great places to rest – just head to the World Showcase! Find your favorite country, wander around, and you’re sure to find benches and out of the way spots to take a rest. For example, in China you’ll have Zen gardens to sit by, in Canada you can walk to the back and sit by the waterfall, while in the UK you’ll have a private flower garden at the end of a brick-lined street.

Rest your feet in Hollywood Studios

If you need a rest while the littles run around, then the Honey I Shrunk the Kids! play area is a great choice. There your kids can run to their hearts content, playing on soft, safe surfaces while you watch them in the enclosed area. If you all need a rest, then take a break and head to the lake in the middle of the Studios. If you’re not sure where it is, just look for Gertie, the huge green dinosaur! There are benches and even covered tables all around the lake. For hotter days, stop by the Writer’s Shop, a coffee and snack café that rarely has a crowd.

How Many Days Do You Need in Orlando?

February 25th, 2015

So it’s your first trip to Orlando. Congrats – you have a lot to look forward to! One of the most frequently asked questions by first time visitors is how many days they should plan to spend here. The answer isn’t quite as simple as you may think – it all depends on how you like to tour, what you’d like to do, and what your priorities are.

How Many Theme Parks do You Want to Visit?

The first question you’ll need to answer is how many theme parks you want to visit. The main two theme parks are Disney World and Universal Orlando. Keep in mind that within Disney World there are four parks and within Universal there are two.

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Many first time visitors will pick one or the other. Five days is a good number of days to spend in the four Disney Parks while only two are generally need for Universal Orlando. However, these numbers can be significantly different depending on whether or not you want to spend all day every day in the parks, if you’ll be taking lots of breaks, and whether or not you’ll have older or younger folks in your party that may need more time getting from attraction to attraction.

How Important is Food to You?

If you’re not a foodie this will seem like a silly question. If you are, then you’ll want to plan for eating at some of the most delicious restaurants in the state. Some of the most popular options can easily be 2 or 3 hour meals. This is precious time taken away from riding attractions and seeing shows, so you’ll need to decide if you’ll make up the time by staying an extra day or two or by skipping some of the attractions.

What Else do You Want to Do in Orlando?

You may decide that the theme parks are what you’re here to say – and that’s fine! However, there are lots of other activities you can partake in. For example, visiting nearby GatorLand, taking a day off at one of the many water parks in the area, taking an hour drive to visit the beach, or heading to Downtown Disney for some shopping. Any of these activities can add another day to your trip.

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Your Bottom Line

There are many other factors to consider, like whether or not you plan to spend time relaxing in your resort, how busy the parks will be when you visit, and your personal preferences. The above tips are here to give you a place to start as you attempt to decide exactly how many days are best for you when you visit the wonderful world of Orlando.

Unique Daddy-Daughter Disney World Experiences

February 24th, 2015

There’s something magical for everyone at Disney World, but as the father of a princess you have some truly special opportunities available to you. Take a look at these ideas to spend some extra-special time with your little one.

Cinderella’s Royal Table

One of the most magical experiences in all of Disney World is a meal at Cinderella’s Royal Table. This unique dining experience is located right in Cinderella Caste and gives your little one a chance to meet the princesses while eating in a regal setting. At $30 – $59.99 per adult, it’s not a cheap experience but you’re paying for more than just a meal. This is something your daughter will remember for the rest of her life – and who better to share it with than her dad?

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Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

To make your princess feel like a real princess for a day, consider Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. There she can get a makeover from a fairy godmother, complete with dress, hairstyle, wand, and lots and lots of glitter! There are locations in Downtown Disney and within Cinderella Castle. Once again, this isn’t an inexpensive experience, but the $54.95 – $194.95 (depending on which package you choose) includes photos, lifetime memories, and a smiling daughter! This is an experience you’ll need to plan for as reservations are required and they did fill up fast!

Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage

Not every little girl has dreams of being a princess. For those who like a little rough and tumble time, consider the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage. This experience lets you take to the high seas for a rousing sea-shanty singing voyage under the nightly Disney World fireworks. The price of $34 or children and $59 for adults includes snacks, beverages, and a night you won’t soon forget.

Spend the day at Downtown Disney

You’d be surprised by how many people don’t consider doing something outside the parks. Downtown Disney is a special place full of unique dining options, fun stores, and even activities like Cirque du Soleil. You can take a balloon ride, head to DisneyQuest for an afternoon of interactive video games, or visit the Lego store to bring back some unique souvenirs. Downtown Disney can easily be an all-day adventure, or you can go for a few hours to grab some food, have a little father-daughter shopping time and take in the sites.

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No matter what you choose to do with your little one, be sure to keep her involved! Dads know that the taste of their kids is ever- changing. Don’t pull your hair out trying to get a reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table only to find out she’d rather head to GatorLand.

You Really Can Do Disney on a Budget: 4 Money-Slaying Tips

February 23rd, 2015

Don’t buy into the hype that a trip to Disney World has to cost thousands of dollars. There are actually a few little tips that can have a big impact on your cost. Take a look at our top 4 tips and get started planning your affordable, magical trip.

1.         Save hundreds on accommodations

Next to plane tickets, your accommodations are likely to be your biggest expense. Too often visitors to Orlando assume that staying on Disney property is the way to go. You’ll find blog posts out there that detail the ways you can actually save money by paying more at Disney resorts. The truth is that you’re going to save hundreds, possibly thousands if you stay at an off-site resort or Orlando vacation home.

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Not only is the bottom line cost less, but when you rent a vacation home you can also prepare many of your own meals – which can save you even more! The key to making sure that saving money on your accommodations is worth it is to make sure you’re staying within 15 minutes of the parks. This assures you get the proximity you need – without the crazy cost!

orlandovacation_character-meet2.         Slash your food budget

There’s no question that the restaurants in Disney World are expensive but you don’t have to spend hundreds a day just to feed your family. Consider bringing in your own sandwiches and lunches or making a meal out of affordable snacks. If you’re only visiting restaurants to meet with characters, just changing your touring plan to include meet and greets with must-meet characters.

3.         Bring your own gifts from home

Your kids are going to want souvenirs – there’s no way around it. Instead of paying two or three times retail in the parks, bring gifts from home. Give your kids one gift per night, or one at the end of the trip. They don’t even need to know you didn’t get them in the parks!

4.         Get discount park tickets

Did you know that you don’t have to pay full price for your theme park tickets? There are discount tickets available and if you choose wisely you could save a pretty penny. For example, the difference in cost between a 4 day and a 5 day ticket is just $10 per ticket. As a result, the most cost effective way to visit Disney World is to come for at least 5 days. You should also seriously rethink the park hoppers. They can add hundreds to the cost of your tickets and most people who get them don’t end up taking advantage of them. Remember that you can always add on this option once you’re at the park.

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Planning the Perfect Vacation: Bring Extra Magic to Your Vacation Home

February 21st, 2015

Renting a vacation home in the Orlando area allows you tons of privacy, affordable accommodations, and lots of amenities. There are a few ways you can make your experience even more special, whether you’re going on a family vacation or a romantic getaway with your sweetheart.

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Surprise your sweetheart with flowers, chocolates, and more!

If you’re planning a special trip with your sweetie, consider having flowers, chocolates, or other romantic items sent directly to the home. Remember that there is no front desk here to have them delivered to, so you’ll need to pick a time that you’ll be relaxing in your Orlando vacation home. Why not take an afternoon off to lounge in your private Jacuzzi and pool, and have the items delivered during your downtime?

bibbidi-bobbidi-boutique-disney-worldMake reservations for a special activity with the kids

Isn’t Disney World special enough? Sure it is! But there are dozens of special experiences that can make it even more special. For example, take your little princesses for a makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, or sign your little princes up for Pirates and Pals. These activities do require extra payment but your little ones will be so excited that it’ll be well worth the extra money.

Make your private pool a magical oasis

Many vacation homes have their own private pools and / or Jacuzzis. Don’t forget to bring plenty of pool toys to enjoy your amenities to the fullest! For example, grab a few pool noodles or perhaps a raft. If you’re flying and don’t want to check these items, just stop by WalMart once you’re in town. You can generally get a great deal and the extra fun they add will be something to remember for years to come.

Cook a special dinner

One of the biggest advantages to renting a vacation home versus staying in a resort is your access to a full kitchen. They’re fully stocked with everything you need to make an incredible meal. Stop by the local grocery store, stock up on local, fresh, delicious food, and create a meal you’ll be glad to sit down to and enjoy.

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Take a day off to enjoy your home to the fullest

A simple way to bring the magic to your home is to enjoy it! Many families go, go, go and don’t take a moment to simply relax in their furnished home, complete with couches, TVs, and more. This single day of relaxation can make you feel brand new and ensure you enjoy the rest of your busy vacation to the fullest.

Staying Safe in Disney World: Products for your Autistic Child

February 20th, 2015

There are steps every parent needs to take to keep their children safe in the wonderful world of Disney World, but for the parent of an autistic child these challenges can be even greater. Check out these unique and innovative products that can help give you the peace of mind that you’re protecting your child on your next vacation.

orlandovacation_safety-tattoosSafety tattoos

One of the most innovative products that’s been released in recent years are personalized temporary safety tattoos. Just like the temporary tattoos you can get out of gumball machines, these go on with a simple swish of water. The difference is that they include essential information you have added to the tattoos themselves.

You may choose to simply add your phone number so that if your child is separated from you they can easily get ahold of you, or you may choose to add their diagnosis. It’s up to you, but keep in mind that if you are separated from your child and a Cast Member finds them, it would be advantageous to the Cast Member to know your child’s diagnosis as they search for you.

Informational lanyards

Another option is to have informational lanyards created. Your child will then wear them during their visit to the park. These can be made at virtually any copy store. Once again, you can choose the information you want on the lanyard, such as your phone number and / or your child’s diagnosis. The key thing to note about this option is that if your child will feel uncomfortable wearing what is essentially a necklace for the duration of the trip, it may not be the best option.

orlandovacation_overpacked-luggageSkip the heavy bags and shop for items locally

Some of the items you need for your kid are quite heavy. From video games to weighted blankets, these can not only take up quite a bit of space in your bags, but they can also put your bags over the weight limit at the airport – which can lead to hefty fees of $100+ per bag. In many cases it’s actually more affordable to buy what you need when you get to Orlando. You can then turn around and donate these items to local groups that work with autistic kids.

You’ll find numerous Wal-Marts, Targets, and electronic stores in the area. The most convenient for you will depend on which Orlando resort or vacation home you’re staying in, but remember that Orlando is one of the most visited cities in the country and you’re never far from the things a traveler needs.

A Single Parent’s Guide to Disney: Where to Stay?

February 19th, 2015

Traveling as a single parent has its advantages and disadvantages. When you take the time to carefully consider every aspect of your trip, you can take maximize the good stuff and minimize the frustrations. One of the primary things to consider is where you’re going to stay. The good news is that you have tons of options in the Orlando area.

Staying at Disney resort

Many parents assume that staying at one of the Disney resorts is the right choice. While it may be for some, remember that these rooms can be twice or three times as expensive as other lodging options. While some appreciate the convenience of the Disney transportation system, the reality is that having your own car gives you a lot more flexibility, and there are tons of options 15 minutes or less from the theme parks.

Staying at an Orlando resort hotel

orlandovacation_resort-hotel-orlandoAnother, much more affordable, option is to stay at an Orlando hotel resort. You’ll find everything from simple, bargain basement priced options that can be one-tenth of the cost of staying on property, to incredible resorts with immaculate theming and amenities – that still cost a fraction of staying on property.

Many single parents worry about non-Disney hotels because they won’t be right on property. The reality is that these hotels are less than 15 minutes from the parks and many of them have shuttle service to the parks. If you have your own vehicle, you’ll have the convenience of being able to get to the parks when you want, and leave when you want, instead of waiting on the schedule of Disney’s transportation.

Rent a vacation home

orlandovacation_home-rental-gameroomIf you’re one of the many parents who assumes that vacation home rentals are A) expensive and B) only suited for large groups, you’re in for a treat! These homes actually start at just $99 per night – which, once again, is much less expensive than most Disney resort properties.

These homes have tons of other advantages that make them perfect for the single parent. They offer you a huge amount of privacy, especially after the kids go to bed. In a regular hotel room you’re forced to keep the volume down and the lights off once your kids go to sleep. On the other hand, in your vacation home you can tuck the kids into bed and have the run of the rest of the house.

You also get tons of flexibility with these homes. Do you want a private pool? Go for it! Do you want to cook many of your own meals to both save money and assure your picky eaters have something to munch on? The full stocked chef’s kitchens allow you to do just that.

Group Travel Discounts: How to Find the Best Deals

February 18th, 2015

When you’re traveling with a large group every penny counts! The good news is that plenty of companies will offer discounts – but you typically have to ask for them! Check out these quick tips to save money on your next group travel adventure.

orlandovacation_group-travel-tipsUnderstand what “group” really means

Taking 5 of your family members to Disney World may seem like a group trip to you, but for airlines, hotels, and other companies that may offer discounts, the minimum number for a group may be as many as 20. Before you set off searching for all the best group rates, check the companies you’re working with to see how many people they require before group discounts are available.

Group rates aren’t always the best rates

When you contact an Orlando resort hotel for group rates, don’t assume that the hotel with the best group rates is necessarily the best deal for you. For example, you may find that paying full price and renting vacation homes is a better overall bargain than getting even a significant discount on group rates.

These vacation homes can have tons of other advantages too, like allowing you and your group to cook some meals in the homes, giving you tons of privacy, and even offering private pools that can be used at your convenience – day or night!

You don’t know until you ask

Airlines and hotel chains likely have clearly published rules about their group travel discounts. Many group travel coordinators stop there and assume that if other companies don’t list these discounts that they don’t exist. The reality is that you never know until you ask!

Some restaurants will cater to large groups and though they may not offer a straight discount, they do sometimes offer a prix fixe meal for a large group. Depending on what’s on the menu, and how much it costs, this can be a discount. Be sure you ask literally every single company you deal with if there are group discounts or other packages that may save you money.

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Try to be flexible with dates

The biggest thing you can do to save money on your group travel is to be flexible with dates. This means traveling during the off-season if possible, and it also means traveling during days of the week that are less busy. For example, you’ll likely pay considerably more for airfare if you travel on a Friday – Monday versus traveling on a Monday – Thursday.