The Spontaneous Disney World Family Adventure

first time disney buttonWhile other families plan months in advance, we’ve always been a little more on the side of “winging it.” So when at 5PM on a Thursday night my husband tells me, “You know what, I think I DO want to go with you guys and I’d like to do Disney tomorrow,” I leapt at the chance for a new family adventure.

This is an idea I had pitched on Monday. I was planning a trip to visit my mom in Sarasota and thought it would be fun to break up the long drive with a stop at Disney’s Magic Kindgom. Sean said he was going to stay home so I made alternate plans to stop at Dinosaur World instead. Much less planning involved for that adventure. So when he decided at the last minute to change plans, I leapt into action researching the best ticket options and reading a few “Disney with toddlers” type articles to get an idea of what to expect. I was super excited to be bringing Keelan to Disney for the very first time! Of course, he would spend the whole trip trying to thwart my plans to document the trip with happy family photos.

As Florida residents, we were eligible for the Discover Disney ticket, which was a great value at 4 days for $179. (Just one day was $109!) We could go back and use it anytime, for any park until June 24, 2018. I purchased the tickets online and they were ready for pick-up at the window the next morning. Keelan isn’t three yet, so he was free, which was one of the things pushing us to do Disney now, before his birthday in April.

We woke up early Friday morning, tossed clothes into a suitcase and got on the road. By the time we’d dropped the dogs off, gotten food and stopped to pee, it was noon before we arrived at Disney. We figured if we stayed for fireworks, that would be a full nine hours of family fun at the “happiest place on Earth.”

welcome to disneyWe parked on the villains side, took a short ride on the tram and then hopped on the monorail that brought us to the ticket area. Keelan got a “First Time at Disney” button on check-in and the ticket counter person asked me if I had scheduled our fast passes yet. A blank stare from me made it obvious we had not. She let me know about the app and how fast passes work. You can schedule three rides at the start and then one ride after another after that. This is something people can do a month or more in advance! You can also use it for character photos and restaurant reservations. It had been 20 years since my last Disney trip, so this was all new to me.

At first I was overwhelmed. I’d never seen so many strollers in one place. I was hit in the foot by a stroller five times (twice by my own husband) before I got the hang of navigating the packed walkways. And every area has designated stroller parking. If you don’t park in the right spot, your stroller will be relocated by Disney employees (a.k.a. cast members) to the closest open spot. I thought it was pretty funny to be circling the area trying to find a good “parking spot.” We weren’t in the park ten minutes before Keelan spotted toys and ended up with a five pack of cars. This actually worked out well because that kept him entertained throughout the day.

Stop taking my picture mom!
Stop taking my picture mom!

We were greeted by a parade of dancing characters and floats as soon as we got through the gates. Little did I know that was the only time we’d be seeing many of those mascot type characters. When I was little, the Disney characters roamed the park, taking pics with people. Now they stand in designated areas with people waiting in line for photos. The lines are quite long, but you can use a fast pass on photos as well. I wasn’t about to give up a valuable pass on getting a photo, since Keelan would barely let me take any pictures of him. He tried to humor me at one point by pulling the plastic cover of his stroller over his face and yelling “Cheeeeeese!”

toddler in strollerWe caught onto the fast pass thing pretty quickly, and learned they are the best thing ever! You basically skip the whole line and go right to the front, as long as you arrive in your designated hour window. We didn’t wait more than 10 minutes for any ride. This was crucial to the trip’s success, because any longer than that is impossible with an impatient toddler. As soon as we completed check-in on a ride, I’d scroll through the app and set up our next ride.

We hit everything we could that was toddler size. Our first ride was Dumbo and immediately after getting off, Keelan tried to run back on wanting to ride again. His absolute favorite thing was the Haunted Mansion, or as he calls it, “the very scary castle.” It seems he has inherited my love of all things Halloween. I’m looking forward to when he grows a few inches and we can start riding the roller coasters!

We rode, we ate, we bought a lot of kid stuff and finally made it to time for fireworks. They have a new display called Happily Ever After where they project a light show onto the castle and match the fireworks to that, and then at one point Tinkerbell flies out from the top of the castle over the audience. It was a pretty amazing show! Keelan was cheering and clapping and loving every minute of it, and so were we.

After the fireworks, it was time to go home. We put Keelan back in the stroller and he was asleep in about 30 seconds and slept all the way to the car. We had quite a magical Disney day! Can’t wait to go back and try out the other three parks soon.



Almost Famous, The Mom’s Night Out Edition with Whole Damn Mess

candlebox ticketsSo long guys! The Mom Blog gig has been great, but I’m outta here.  Gonna become a rock journalist.

OK, maybe not, but I did get to experience a minor Cameron Crowe moment when I was invited to a meet and greet with Whole Damn Mess before the Candlebox show at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. I’m going to be honest and let you know I had to Google Candlebox. There’s just a blur of the early ’90s for me that involves raves, pigtails, giant pants and the thumping beat of “boots n hats and boots n hats.” And speaking of “the whole damn mess,” that’s a pretty accurate description of what I had to let happen just to get ready for the night. I let the toddler get into the stack of board games he’s been forbidden to touch, and it kept him pretty entertained while I put on make-up and did my hair.

cranium game toddler mess
Now THAT’s a whole damn mess

Whole Damn Mess only recently released their albumThe Queen and the Outcast, so the media person who contacted me helpfully sent some links to their music. I took a moment to actually listen to several songs before accepting the invite, because I value my journalistic integrity and knew I couldn’t just pretend to like it if I thought it was terrible.

And, I liked it! Like, right away. The sound was familiar, but the songs were new. It was kind of like when you meet someone new and already feel like old friends. After getting to meet and chat with front man Don Miggs and band members/co-writers C. Todd Nielsen and Lawrence Katz, it became pretty clear that they had managed to create exactly the sound they were going for. According to Miggs, their goal was to “make music that’s easy to listen to, but not easy listening.” All the band members cited several favorite bands as inspiration, plucking from different decades, and explained how they wanted to create a sound that brings it all together, the classic and the new. That theme also carried over to their album cover art, featuring a juxtaposition between classical and modern art.

Whole Damn Mess

My friend Jenna and I arrived nice and early so I got to chat with the band for a good 45 minutes before the show, as different band members wandered in and out of the dressing room, bringing pizza and beer and using an impressive amount of hairspray as they prepped. Nielsen and Katz looked straight outta Riverside (Jacksonville peeps will get it) while Miggs’ look was a little more on the L.A. side.

Candy Keane
No really, I know who this band is…

I was wearing my favorite KISS t-shirt, which is always something of a conversation starter. I’ve been a KISS fan since I was little and my mom went to their concert. To four-year-old me, with their white make-up and costumes, I thought they looked like fun singing clowns. (and I mean that in the best possible way) Unfortunately I lost all KISS cred when a member of the other opening band, State to State, asked me my favorite KISS album and I totally blanked. The answer is of course, Destroyer, but all I could do was picture the album cover and answering “the one where they look like they’re all dancing together” seemed like a bad choice. So I all I managed to do was mumble and turn red. Dammit! I wasn’t prepared to be the interviewee.

There was a good amount of back and forth during the interview though, as I found Miggs to be a totally likable, relatable guy. During my pre-show research, I noticed a trend of WDM album reviews popping up on a lot of “mom blogs” and asked about the correlation and their target audience. Yep, that’s us! Once you dig into the lyrics you’ll find many songs inspired by Miggs’ wife and children, even one called “Be Good to Yourself” that came from his wife’s struggle with post-partum depression. With two young sons, Miggs is no stranger to the world of parental struggles and even co-wrote a book calledDads Know Best, filled with quotes on fatherhood from both famous and everyday dads.

As it moved closer to show time, the guys swigged a little tequila out of a flask, as they got ready to perform their very first show together. While everyone had an accomplished musical background, this would be the first time in a long time any of them were going to be part of the “opening, opening band” or the first in a set of three. The fact that they were going on so early, with a recently released album, set the tone for the performance and you could really feel that they were just going out there to have fun. This wasn’t just checking off the box and going to work. It was the culmination of their hard work and they were going to get to share it and introduce it to a whole new group of people.

Jenna and I got a spot near the stage, in a good vantage point to see both the show and crowd watch. The room was about half full when they started, and completely packed by the time they finished. I noticed there were some ladies up front singing every word and when I asked about them later, Miggs mentioned he had some fans from his previous band, aptly named MIGGS, that came out to see the new band perform. And those weren’t the only people I noticed getting into it. There was a lot of foot tapping and head bobbing throughout the crowd as they worked their way through a short 30 minute set from their new album.

It seemed to take only a couple minutes for the band to warm up and find their groove and just have fun up there. Miggs made it look easy, deftly handling some initial technical difficulties while not missing a beat. I was doing a bit of bouncing myself and even sang along a bit to the extremely catchy “We Don’t Need a Reason.” I can say that I truly enjoyed the show. We actually headed home only a few songs into Candlebox’s set because it was getting close to 10:30 and we are after all, stereotypically tired moms that have to get up early even if we go out and live out our rock journalist dreams for the evening. Also, wow, there’s a lot of screaming in those Candlebox songs. My ears could only take so much. How’s that for sounding old?

And that’s where Whole Damn Mess comes in. I could have listened to them a lot longer, and that’s what they want. They don’t need to scream their message at you. They just want to make music you can enjoy listening to and maybe even put on when the kids let you listen to something other than Elmo’s Greatest Hits. Even my toddler decided to sing along when I was sampling songs, instead of yelling at me to turn it off like usual. I think that’s a good sign right there. The hard to earn, rarely given on things not made of chocolate, toddler stamp of approval.

Tinkering around at Tinkergarten

img_8833Our adventure today was a Tinkergarten class, held at Cradle Creek Preserve in Jacksonville Beach, FL. Tinkergarten is an outdoor learning experience held at local parks, where kids 18 months – 8 years learn through play and exploring the outdoors. They have it set up in 43 states so far, so check out the website to find a class near you. They offer a free trial class, so we signed up to give it a try and ventured out on a cloudy drizzly Wednesday morning to go get our nature on.

We arrived nice and early and then discovered there were no bathrooms. As soon as I learn there are no bathrooms somewhere, I always suddenly, urgently have to pee. I wasn’t up for squatting in the woods (at least not this time) so we took a quick detour to the gas station and headed back. Our class leader Sara said she was looking into moving it to a different park with better amenities and parking. There were only maybe 4 spots in the lot, but you can park on the side of the street.

We got started with a little song and then read a story that just happened to be my favorite book from kindergarten, Stone Soup. After the story, the kids got to participate in making their own version of stone soup using dirt, sticks, leaves and whatever else they could scavenge. My favorite part was when they added the “seasonings” from a bag of lavender that smelled heavenly.

The age range for our class was about 2 – 5, so it was hectic but fun. There were wanderers and the occasional tantrum breakdown, but overall all the kids seemed to enjoy it. Keelan wasn’t sure at first, but after a few minutes he got really into making his “soup” with water and dirt and even went back for extra seasonings.

I’m waiting to hear if the class is going to be moved to a park with bathrooms before we sign up. I really did like getting to visit the nature preserve location because there weren’t any other distractions around, but I can’t be peeing in the bushes. I mean, I just met these people and it’s not exactly a kegger in the woods. 😆

Check out their website to see if there is a class near you, and if not, you can also sign up to be a class leader in your area. I’m actually looking into that myself since I’d like to get paid to play outside with the kiddo!

Bay and Bee Play Space

Back in April Bay and Bee offered a “buy two months get one free special,” so I thought it would be a great chance to check it out and really let us get to know it before committing to a regular monthly membership. It’s a Montessori inspired, eco-friendly indoor play space for children under 5, located in Jacksonville, FL.

img_4376They have a great play space with tons of toys, a wooden train set that you can use to build different tracks, a play kitchen area, lots of blocks and creative toys, and a little jungle gym in the middle.

I was really looking forward to trying all the classes they offer from Sway and Play Yoga to sign language. Unfortunately Keelan lasted about 30 seconds in yoga and ran out of the room, and I couldn’t get him to sit still and pay attention to any of the demonstrations. He participated a tiny bit in the art class. But as usual it was not the amazing mom and son activity time I had imagined. He mostly just wanted to run off and play with the dump truck.

It is a great place to go on a rainy day or when it’s too hot or too cold to play outside. Other than that I want to wait until Keelan is more interested in classes before getting a membership again. I feel like you need to do those to really make the most out of the cost of the membership which starts at $48/mo.

If you are interested in checking it out, your first visit is free!

Bay & Bee
13475 Atlantic Blvd
Jacksonville, FL 32266



Cosplay and Cons with the Kids

One of my favorite big conventions is almost here – San Diego Comic Con! I went the year I got pregnant and haven’t made it back since I had my son, but we have done a lot of daenerys targaryen and baby cosplayother conventions together. In fact, he attended his first con at just 6 weeks old! I look forward to taking him to SDCC one day, but until then, we’ll be hitting up cons a little closer to home.

Attending a con with a kid was a whole new experience for me. My usual plan was just show up, take a lot of pictures and basically party all day and night. Now I have to plan around nap times, changing diapers and having no choice about being up at 7AM every morning.

So here’s my Top 10 Tips List for Attending Conventions with Kids:

  1. Try something local first. Short trips are best. You can search sites that list cons by state like, but if you just put “cosplay conventions” or “comic conventions” along with your location into Google, you’re going to find something!
  2. If you aren’t going to be local, be close enough so you can easily walk back to the hotel for naptime. Believe me, this will make things SO much easier.
  3. Check out the event ahead of time and plan your day. Make a list of events and things you want to attend with time and location.
  4. Forget about actually making it to any of those things. Just kidding. A little.
  5. cosplay with babyIf you have a baby, make sure you have something to cover your costume with. Nothing like ruining all your hard work with a bunch of spit-up.
  6. Plan your costume around being able to pick-up and hold kid, feed kid and change diapers. If you are not able to do this, make sure you have a “baby handler” with you for assistance.
  7. Go easy on the kid costume. They are probably just going to fBaby in Superman shirtall asleep, drop food on it or rip it off after two minutes anyway. A good easy costume is a t-shirt that matches your general theme. When I do Wonder Woman, I often dress my son in a Superman t-shirt. He’s had an impressive collective since he was born. He never went a month without one in his size. I actually just printed out a bunch of ink jet iron-ons and would make whatever size I needed at the time.
  8. If you start taking them when they are young, then they will love it as they get a little older and you won’t need to worry about them being afraid of the characters and costumes. My son loves getting up close and touching the costumes.
  9. Pack more than you think you need- extra food, diapers, clothes, drinks…extras of everything! We went to ConJure and after a 2 hour car ride my son started projectile vomiting. We went through a LOT of clothes. You never know what you are going to run into. Be prepared.
  10. Do a kid-friendly cosplay group. I had a great time as Princess Parfaya in a Sesame Street Star Smores group at Star Wars Celebration and the kids and parents totally got it.

Sesame Street Star Smores Cosplay Group at Star Wars CelebrationAnd most of all, just have fun, soak up the experience and share every moment with your little one. This is your chance to share your fandom and geekiness as a family affair.