First Haircut at Walt Disney World

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Could there be a more magical place to get a first haircut than Disney World’s Magic Kingdom? I certainly don’t think so, and it’s remarkably easy and affordable to do!

Harmony Barber Shop at the end of Main Street (away from the castle) offers adult and kids’ haircuts, as well as a first haircut package. The kids’ cuts are around $18, and the first cut package is only $25 and includes the cut, a certificate, and Mickey ears that say “My First Haircut.”

We had my youngest son’s first haircut at Harmony Barber Shop and had a great experience! The stylists were kind and great with kids, and they had toys for the kids to play with if they were having trouble sitting still. We got some adorable photos, and my son still loves playing with his special ears!

Reservations can be made online at Walt Disney World’s website 180 days in advance of your visit. Note that the shop is quite small, they do not shampoo hair, and gratuity is not included in prices listed on the website.

Tips for Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

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We’ve all seen the pictures of little girls at Walt Disney World with buns and crowns smiling their biggest smile, right? As Disney experiences go, a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeover has to be near the top for most little want-to-be-princesses.

On our first trip to Disney World when my daughter was just two, I knew that this was something we HAD to do the next time we visited. Since that trip, she’s gone to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique several times (more than I should probably admit), and each time it’s one of the highlights of our trip for her.

So how do you get your daughter in? What about your son? I’m sharing everything you need to know below:

  • Reservations for Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (“BBB”) open 180 days (6 months) in advance and fill quickly, so get online on the 180 day mark to grab one. If your plans change, you can cancel your reservation up to 24 hours beforehand with no penalty.
  • In Florida, there are two BBB locations. One is in Cinderella’s castle in Magic Kingdom, and it’s pretty magical. The other is located in Disney Springs and could be a great option for a non-park day (no ticket required for Disney Springs)! Reservations for either location can be made online, and some of the packages are slightly cheaper at the Disney Springs location.
  • Yes, there is a $200 package, but you DO NOT have to spend this much to have a great experience! My daughter always does the lowest package, which includes hair with small crown, makeup, nails, sash and bag, and then we bring our own princess dress from home. This package costs less than half of the biggest package and still feels amazingly special! Remember, though, to explain to your child beforehand that you will not be purchasing a new dress so that she can set her expectations accordingly.
  • What about the boys? BBB offers a knight package for relatively little money (I think it’s $20), which includes hair gel and glitter, a sword and a shield. You can pay more and get a full costume, but the small package has always been great for my boys when they were young.
  • While you will have a reservation time, be prepared to wait. We have always had to wait at least 20 minutes past our time, so think about bringing a snack or activity.
  • Want to get a great castle shot of your child after their makeover without tons of people in the background? Try getting one from the carousel side or one of the sidewalks on the side!
  • BBB is available to kids aged 3-12, and an adult must stay with them throughout the experience.
  • Can’t get a reservation at BBB? Ivy Trellis Salon in the Grand Floridian also offers three princess packages, which can be a great alternative. But make your reservations well in advance!

We love Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and I’m honestly sad that my daughter is close to aging out of this fun experience. If you take a little prince or princess to Walt Disney World, I highly recommend grabbing a reservation here!

Lessons from Youth Sports

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Can we all agree that youth sports might be a tiny bit out of control at times? Y’all, I hate to burst your bubble, but for about 95% of our kids, their ability to sink a jump shot is going to matter a lot less than their character in twenty years.

This weekend the second grade cheer squad I coached cheered at their final basketball game. Second grade girls cheering for second grade boys. Kids who are impressionable and learning life lessons much bigger than a free throw.

My girls cheered diligently for the first 20-minute half, showing off chants they’ve worked hard to master. Then it was their turn to shine. At half time, they took to center court to perform a 2-minute dance. A dance that they put their hearts into and practiced for weeks. But less than halfway into their dance, the female coach of one of the boys’ teams had her kids go onto the court and begin dribbling and shooting. It was distracting. It was rude. It was incredibly disrespectful. And it was not only allowed by an adult, but led by one.

With this single decision, this coach taught those boys that they mattered more than cheerleaders. That boys can ignore and disrespect a girl in a skirt. That their wants matter more than anyone else’s. Instead of showing them how to respect and applaud gifts that differ from their own, she showed them how to belittle the contributions of others.

So fellow parents, as we continue to spend our Saturdays in gyms and on fields, let’s remind ourselves of the skills that matter long-term. Of course we’ll cheer when they get a great hit, score a goal, play amazing defense. But let’s also notice their character achievements. Let’s tell them that we noticed how they helped a player off the ground. That we appreciated the way they supported their teammates. That we were proud of how they greeted the opposing team after the game. Let’s commend their kindness and sportsmanship as much as we do their athletic prowess. After all, I’m pretty sure that most of them are going to be making a living (and a life) based on their character, not their lay-up.

Pirates League at Walt Disney World

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Our family was so sad to learn that Pirates League at Walt Disney World is closing! They will permanently shut down on July 27th, so you’ve still got a few months to sneak in a pirate adventure, and we highly recommend you do.

Pirates League is located in Adventureland in Magic Kingdom and offers pirate and mermaid makeovers to kids aged three and up. It’s definitely a family favorite for our kids and we’ll miss it when it’s gone!

Why do we love Pirates League? Here’s the scoop:

  • While much of Magic Kingdom features princesses, Pirates League is perfect for little boys! A pirate hideaway, face paint, and a sword are pretty much a boy’s dream! But don’t worry–girls can also be transformed into pirates, or they can opt for a mermaid makeover.
  • The experience is so immersive! From the moment you walk in until the moment you leave, you feel like you’re really with pirates. All the cast members stay in character so well and make the kids feel truly special.
  • For an affordable price, you get an experience and souvenirs. The kids leave with a bandana, eye patch, earring, necklace and sword. (Mermaids get a hairclip, necklace and sash).
  • During the makeover, your kids get a bit of much-needed rest. Disney World involves lots of walking, so sitting in a nice cool space can give kids the little boost they need to get through the rest of the day. We like to reserve an afternoon makeover as a bit of a break.

If you’re heading to Walt Disney World before July 27, 2020, make reservations for Pirates League now. You can make them online, and they can be cancelled if your plans change. If you have multiple kids and are having trouble grabbing a reservation, try making one reservation at a time.

Let me know if you catch this fun experience before it ends!

Budget Friendly Ways to Date Your Spouse

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Every marriage article I read seems to give similar advice: go on dates, get away together, prioritize time without your kids. While that’s all well and good, let’s be realistic–not every family can afford a weekly date night or a couples’ getaway!

With five kids, our baby-sitter bill for a simple night out adds up quickly. When you combine the sitter fees with the cost of whatever activity we’re doing that night, the expense can be more than our budget can bear. So over the last few years, we’ve learned to be more creative and sneak in mom and dad time without breaking the bank.

Here are some budget friendly ideas for ways to connect with your spouse or partner without spending a ton of money:

  • If you have flexible work schedules, go on a lunch date! Moving date time from the evening to lunch saves us from getting a babysitter. Plus, we’re honestly more awake during the day!
  • Enjoy a late dinner without kids. While I’m a huge proponent of family dinner, sometimes it’s nice to let the kids eat early then pop on a movie while you enjoy a date-night dinner at home.
  • Play a game after the kids are in bed. One of our favorite date nights is scrabble and wine after we get the kids tucked in. Watching a movie or catching up on DVR is great, but playing together can be a great way to reconnect.
  • Let your kids watch a movie during a road trip so that you can chat in the front seat. I remember cherishing road trip talks before we had kids, and sneaking one in now feels like a real luxury.
  • Plan a date night when family is visiting. We don’t have family in town, but when someone is visiting for more than one night, that’s a great time to go for a short date. Even one drink, an appetizer, or just a cup of coffee can create a great time to converse without interruptions from the kids.
  • Work in the yard or on a project together. Whether the kids are inside or playing nearby, they’ll probably leave you alone if they think you are “working,” and accomplishing something together can be a blast!

If you can afford a weekly sitter for date night, that’s awesome! If you can’t, don’t be discouraged…get creative and make your own ways to reconnect.

10 Reasons to Get to Disney World for Rope Drop!

10 Reasons Not to Miss Rope Drop at Disney World

When you’re on vacation you might dream of sleeping in, but if you’re at Walt Disney World don’t do it! Getting to the park by rope drop (i.e. the time the park opens) is crucial in having your best possible Disney day!

When we go for several days we might not make rope drop everyday, but we try especially hard to arrive early on Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios days.

Here are the 10 reasons our family tries our best to arrive for rope drop:

  1. You’re at Disney World, so there’s no reason to drag around in your room! Get up and get going!
  2. Kids are in their best moods in the morning! No one is hungry or tired yet, and good attitudes equal good memories.
  3. The lines are so much shorter first thing in the morning! You can hit up a sought after attraction or several less crowded ones before most people even get in the gate.
  4. By the time the crowds start to arrive, we’re ready for our first snack break of the day–perfect timing!
  5. Arriving early allows us to leave for an afternoon break without feeling like we’re missing too much.
  6. The morning temperatures can’t be beat! Florida can be HOT in the afternoon, but mornings on Main Street are almost always pleasant.
  7. Arriving early gives you an excuse to try some of the delicious breakfast options Walt Disney World parks have to offer…hello Gaston’s cinnamon roll!
  8. Seeing the parks with fewer people around is magical! The morning is your best chance to get a castle pic with fewer people in the background.
  9. Arriving for rope drop at Magic Kingdom means you get to see the stage show that only happens when the park opens!
  10. Your kids are not going to be asleep anyway! Sure they’re tired from the day before, but if you think they’ll sleep in when Big Thunder Mountain is waiting you’re crazy. Use that morning energy to your advantage!

While rest is important, arriving at rope drop can truly get your day started in the best way. Try balancing early days with later wake-up times to find the formula that works best for your family to ensure your most magical vacation yet!

My Masterpiece

Growing up, I had plans. Plans to succeed, to create. Plans to use the brain God gave me for something big.

I was sure these plans would lead to happiness. I would make something of myself. I would write my own success story. I would do well by worldly standards–big house, nice car, great shoes–and all would be well.

Yet here I sit, a very well educated stay-at-home mom to five very young kids. If I wrote my resume today, my special skills would include watching plays that don’t make sense, preparing meals no one eats, and negotiating household peace.

I would be lying if I said that this is exactly where I imagined myself at 36. Even in college, I remember recoiling at the idea of being “just” a mom. And I’m sure I’m not alone. I think many moms end up on a path that takes them a bit by surprise.

But I don’t believe I took the wrong road. I don’t regret a single choice. I’m not unfulfilled. In fact, my soul is more full than my childhood visions could have possibly imagined.

You see, I’m certain that at this particular moment I’m creating exactly what I should. I’m creating a stable home for our family. I’m creating a place of joy and peace for my kids. I’m making fun and rest and adventure. I’m cultivating five little spirits, five people that can grow up and add good to our world.

Hopefully I have many years ahead of me. My success may lie outside our family in the future, and perhaps I’ll be creating something more closely aligned to my old dreams at some point.

But no work I’ll ever create will compare to the work of raising these kids. These five kids, these five incredible people, are my masterpiece.

Opryland Soundwaves Party Room

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We finally had the chance to check out Soundwaves (the indoor/outdoor water park) at Gaylord Opryland Nashville, and we had an absolute blast! Because it was winter we only experienced the indoor portion,  but there was more than enough to keep us entertained for the day. We loved the five slides (42 inches got you on 3 of them with an adult), the two lazy rivers, the lily pads, the wave rider, and just playing together in the pool! There was a large little kid area with a padded splash pad and a play structure, which felt safe for our 20-month-old but also was fun for our older kids to hang in for a bit. As a parent, I loved that the park felt super clean and offered towels and comfy life jackets.

There are two ways to get access to Soundwaves: 1) spend the night at the hotel and purchase a Soundwaves package or 2) rent a party room. I think staying the night and going to the park two days in a row would be awesome, but with seven people in our family we needed to book two rooms, which felt a bit expensive. Instead, we opted to rent a party room for our family, which was perfect for locals!

Here are some tidbits that we loved about the party room, as well as some tips we learned:

  • We booked the room from 10-1, but on the day we visited the park didn’t open until 11. We opted to play for an hour then come back and eat the pizza that came with our room rental, but if we did it again, we would eat before going to play. It’s not super easy to go back and forth from the room to the park (do-able, just not ideal) as you have to exit the park with your bands and go downstairs to your room.
  • The party room came with pizza and sodas, and it was honestly really good! The fact that the room included one of our meals for the day made the room an even better value for us.
  • The party room can be booked for as few as 6 people, so just one or two families can easily use this option. Since we weren’t spending the night, we didn’t have to worry about things like a dog-sitter.
  • The party room was very clean and had a TV with cable, so if you wanted to watch a ballgame you totally could!
  • We loved that our wrist bands gave us access to the park all day, not just during the party room hours.
  • The party room came with free parking, which also added to the overall value!
  • If you do book a party room, don’t forget to bring some cash to tip your room host.

We loved our day at Soundwaves Nashville and can’t wait to go back when the outdoor area is open! I would highly recommend it for both out-of-town visitors and local families looking for a stay-cation.

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Family Thanksgiving Activity

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November 1st is just two days away, so today I’m prepping our family’s thankfulness activity. Every night of November, we will each write one thing we’re grateful for on a cut-out leaf and pin it to our bulletin board. There are lots of ways to practice thankfulness as a family, but we choose this way for a few reasons:⁣

🍁 We like to use a daily practice rather than a weekly one, as it seems to sink in more with the kids. Using November to truly dwell on gratefulness is a sweet annual practice and also a wonderful way to start the holiday season.⁣

🍁 There are lots of us, and lots of nights in November, which leads to LOTS of leaves. The bulletin board allows us to add as many leaves as we want!⁣

🍁 This format allows us to read the leaves easily, which I do many times throughout the month. We label each with the first initial of the person who said it, and I get so much joy from reliving some of the responses! We also keep the leaves in an envelope with the year on it at the end of the month.⁣

🍁 This gratitude practice is budget friendly! I had to replace the board this year (this one was $22 at Target), but the leaves are just construction paper and the pushpins can be used year after year. Once you have your board and pins, you’re set for years to come!⁣

I know I have shared this activity in the past, but it is so dear to our family (and so easy) that I can’t help but encourage others to adopt a similar practice. The moments around the dinner table sharing our gratitude are seriously some of the highlights of my year. From the funny (one year my 2-year-old said the same thing every night) to the surprisingly poignant, I love hearing what springs to my kids’ minds when they think of gratefulness.

Does your family have an annual gratefulness activity? If not, try one this year and see how it positively affects your family’s overall mood!

Guide to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party for Very Young Kids

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We recently attended Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party for the second year in a row, and while we loved it the first time around, this year was truly incredible! What was the difference? Planning! Like so many things at Disney World, a little planning can go a long way towards making the most of your time at the parks.

Having been to both the Christmas party and Halloween party at Walt Disney World, our family has decided that the Halloween party is our favorite. From the smoky feel in Frontierland to the characters in their own Halloween costumes, we love all that this party has to offer!

We took all five of our kids, ages 8, 8, 6, 4 and 1. Having been the year before, we tried a few new things that worked really well. Below I’m sharing what worked for us as a big family with little kids. I hope some of these tips help you have a a wonderful visit to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP)!

  • Consider skipping the park and having a resort/hotel day the day you are attending the party. While older kids can power through, young kids can really only enjoy so many hours of go, go, going. Last year we went to Epcot, took a break, then went to the Halloween party, which was fine, but I much preferred going only to the party. Our kids were fresh, rested, and ready to rock! Your party ticket allows you to enter Magic Kingdom at 4:00, so you will still have a good bit of the day to enjoy rides and characters. Plus, saving one day of park admission will go a little ways toward covering the cost of your party tickets!
  • Take advantage of the 4:00-7:00 window! The party doesn’t officially begin until 7:00, but they start asking non-party guests to leave Magic Kingdom at 6:00. For two years now, we’ve found the lines for rides start to really shorten around 5:00. Even major attractions like Big Thunder Mountain and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train tend to have far less than average wait times right as the park is transitioning to MNSSHP.
  • Make a plan! Review the party brochure before you visit and decide what your family priorities are. Is there a character that your kids REALLY want to meet? Is there a ride overlay that you just have to do? Your time at the party won’t allow you to do everything, so think through what’s most important before you go. For us, we knew we really wanted to meet Stitch, so we jumped into his line around 6:30. I grabbed hot dogs and we ate dinner while we waited (which worked out really well). Stitch started greeting people around 6:50, and by 7:05 we had accomplished one of our big goals for the night!
  • Also make a plan for which stage shows you want to see. Last year we skipped the villains stage show, but this year it was a must-do. Before we even entered the park, we knew the times of the show, parade, and fireworks, so we worked the rest of our evening around those set times.
  • Get your castle picture early! While you may love the idea of a night castle picture, remember that the Main Street area gets very crowded before parades. I recommend getting a family picture in costume around 5 or 6. The lighting is great, and no one has started stripping off pieces of their costume yet! You can always stop for a picture as you exit as well, but nothing beats a shot when the kids are awake and excited! Also, don’t be afraid to ask the photo pass person to take an individual shot of each of your kids. We have shots of each of them in their costumes in front of the castle, and they are true treasures!
  • Dress up! I know that dressing up is not some people’s thing, but I promise that almost all other families will be in costume, so NO ONE will be looking at you. In fact, you might feel more out of place without a costume! Even if you’re not a dress-up fan, your child will love the memory of wearing a family costume to Disney World.
  • Don’t worry about hitting all the trick-or-treat stations! There is SO MUCH CANDY at this party, and you can really collect plenty by hitting up 3 stations. Remind your child that you’ll trick-or-treat again at home, but that you can’t do rides and characters later.
  • Consider watching the parade somewhere other than Main Street. While Main Street is amazing, the Halloween parade has a different feel, and we really enjoyed watching it in Frontierland. My husband walked over to the route about 30 minutes before it started (while we viewed the stage show) and was able to score us front row seats! I don’t feel like we missed out at all by watching it there, and we were actually able to duck through the tunnel that connects Frontierland to Adventureland as soon as the parade ended and be the second family in line to meet Jafar!
  • Don’t push your kids too far. One of my number one Disney tips for families with very young kids is to know your own limits. You know all those kids you see throwing tantrums in the park? They’ve been pushed way beyond their limits! They’re tired and over it. While I understand the desire to get your money’s worth, know when it’s time to call it a night. For us, last year that meant leaving as soon as the first parade was over. This year we watched the fireworks from the top of Main Street, then we headed straight for the exits. Leaving before anyone lost it was definitely worth missing some of the attractions that we would have enjoyed.
  • Finally, on a very specific note, since we weren’t going into the park this year before the party, we booked a 2:00 late lunch at Chef Mickey’s. This was the best decision ever! It gave us character time (it’s our all-time favorite character meal), and it also allowed us to park and walk to the party. When it was time to go, we walked the short 10 minutes back to the Contemporary rather than dealing with the transportation center. This strategy would work for any party (as long as you could get a reservation), and was well worth the money for us.

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