Sunday, November 23, 2014

Missouri Camper Award

As winter starts to settle into our Midwest home we received great news this week that reminds us of all of our summer fun.  Hopefully you read about our goal of earning a Missouri Camper Award as I shared our Tour of Missouri travels this past summer.   In order to obtain the award, campers have to visit five different state parks in a year. 

I learned about the award doing one of the things that I do best. Reading. My friend Angie and I were sitting together at a picnic table on one of our early camping trips to a state park. I was reading the brochure the camp host handed us at check-in and found a tiny paragraph about earning the camper award. It looked simple, camp in five different state parks in one year and earn a patch. Our geek-ness took over and Angie and I decided we wanted the award! 

The Missouri Camper Award was actually started in 1971 with only 13 recipients. Each year the program has grown to reach nearly 600 recipients in 2011. 

This was our first year to try and obtain the award. Upon checking into our first state park this year, we asked the host for the form and we were on our way. We had a great time exploring new state parks as well as visiting some old favorites. In 2014 we completed nine camping trips; but only five were qualifying trips for the Camper Award. 

In April we visited: Watkins Mill State Park 
In May we visited: Wallace State Park
In June we visited: Table Rock State Park
In August we visited: Bennett Springs State Park
Over Labor Day we visited: Long Branch State Park

Besides visiting the different campgrounds you also have to have a staff from that park certify you were there. I almost lost the certificate a few times but I manged to keep track of it all summer long.  After our Labor Day trip, I mailed our completed certificate off to The Department of Natural Resources and waited about ten weeks before a package arrived at our house. The package held our certificates as well as our commemorative Camper Award patches and year bars!


Also included in our Camper Award package was new information for me. If we participate for multiple years we are eligible for the Distinguished Camper Award. The Distinguished Camper Award i awarded for every five year of participating in the program so you can become a "Distinguished Missouri Camper!"  I just found a news article about a family who has earned the Camper Award every year for 30 consecutive years!

We maybe settling in to hibernate this winter cold right now but we are planning what Missouri State Parks we will be visiting in 2015. Weston Bend, Lewis and Clark, Crowder, Big Lake, Bennett Springs, Watkins, Wallace, Pershing are all fairly close considerations. As well as Elephant Rock, Johnson Shut-Ins, or Meramec are being considered for our big family vacation this year. Do you have any advice?

My geek-ness is screaming once again!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mickey!

Among Disney fanatics there is a well known fact. 

All the magic of Disney started with a mouse. 

Mickey Mouse.

And today is his birthday.

Happy 82nd Birthday, Mickey!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Disney World: Staying On Property Or Not?

Anyone planning a trip a Disney vacation has to decide the age old question: to stay on property or not.

I have made seven trips to Disney property; four of those were day trips while visiting relatives in Southern California and three have been multiple day visits that included lodging. I have only stayed on property once.

If you are planning a trip to a Disney Park please read the lessons I learned about staying on property.

1. Effortless Transportation

From the moment your plane lands in Orlando, Disney provides transportation to Disney World via the Magical Express. We checked our bags in when we left Kansas City and they magically appeared in our hotel room. The effortless transportation continues through your entire stay at Disney World. Multiple sources of transportation are available each day to take you and your family from your hotel to one of Disney's theme parks, or to Downtown Disney, or any other Disney property. Bus, boat,  or monorail either way you chose it is quick and effortless that got us .

Another quick tip: Disney places transportation host outside each hotel during peak times to track the buses that typically run every 15-20 minutes. We were able to check with the host to see when the last bus was there and estimate how long our wait would be.

 2. Extended Park Hours

Disney has extended park hours at a different park each day that is available to guest staying on a Disney property. The extended hours give you an extra hour either before the park normally opens or extra time after the park closes. This is prime time to explore rides and attractions that usually have longer waits.

It also allows you to get to the park early and enjoy the Welcoming Parade. This visit was the first time we experienced the parade and I just have to say it was a fun way to start our Disney experience off!

3. Disney Customer Service

Despite the amount of pressure that we parents self impose to make our child's first, second, fifth, or tenth trip to Disney perfect, sometimes things go wrong. Disney's Customer Service will try their best to make your experience a happy one despite the imperfection you experienced.  During our last trip some of our photos from the Photo Pass got lost and Disney apologized and gave me the rest of my photos for free. This visit, there was some mix up with our Magic Band and The My Disney Experience site preventing us and delaying our entry into the park.  Disney Cast Members sorted it all out for us, fixed the problem and then compensated us with extra Fast Passes.

From the janitorial staff to transportation drivers, to the wait staff at the restaurants to the security staff searching your bag. From the photographer taking your photo in front of the castle to the dancer in the parade. Every single Cast Member has the same goal; they want you to have a the most amazing visit to Disney World.

4. Disney Dining Plan

Guest staying on Disney property are eligible to purchase the Disney Dining Plan. Our dining plan  provided us with one quick service meal, one sit down meal, and one snack per day as well as a refillable Disney mug. We had more than enough food.  We had great meals. Since we stayed off property the last trip I can tell you it is expensive to eat at Disney! But with the Dining Plan we did not worry about the expense of the meal. If The Boy wanted a $40 steak, he had one. If I wanted Lobster for breakfast, I ordered it!

5. Daytime Rest Breaks

If no one has ever told you I will share a little secret known to those of us who love it there: Disney involves a large amount of walking. So much walking that my Fitbit committed suicide while were there the last time. Of course that was after it logged 3 plus days of my walking 10 plus miles each day. Being able to leave the park during the day and taking a short trip back to the hotel to rest for a few hours was invaluable. There is no way The Short Chic could have stayed up past midnight to enjoy Mickey's Not So Spooky Halloween party without a nap.

In summary, we have stayed both on property and off. If you are planning an Orlando visit, then I would recommend staying off property. If you are spending multiple days at Disney World I would recommend staying on property. I know the next time we go we will be staying on property again.

My question of the day: What is your favorite thing about staying on property?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Disney World's Thrill Rides

Thrill Rides. They are the excitement of any amusement park. Disney World has some of the most exciting thrill rides. From the Tower of Terror to Expedition to Everest to the old classic of Space Mountain. These are the rides that my family can't wait to ride over and over again on our visit. 

Now, you can preserve memories of these thrill rides. One of the major differences between Disney's Photo Pass and the new Memory Maker is the addition of ride photos.  I am sure your family is like mine, we always love to go look at our silly photo after the ride but we never purchased those photos. 

Well, now they are included in your Memory Maker.  Through the magic of Disney and the Magic Band you are automatically matched to your photo and it is included on your Memory Maker. Here are some of our ride photos from our Disney 2014 trip!

Epcot Center's Test Track:

The line to Test Track was so long during our Disney World 2013 trip that we skipped it. The R Family showed us that without a Fast Pass we can go Stand By and minimize the wait for this ride.  

Magic Kingdom's Space Mountain:

This ride has been around for a long time but we still love it! Completely in the dark, you can't see what direction you are heading or when the next curve is coming. This was the first year that The Short Chic was tall enough to ride and I think the jury is still out on whether she liked it or not!

Magic Kingdom's Splash Mountain:

This was another ride we could not ride in 2013 because it was under construction. No matter where I sat, each time I rode this ride, I got drenched!  This is a big deal if you all know me.  Can you tell this was one of our favorites? The Boy and The R Family rode this ride four times in a row until the lines got crazy long! They were soaked through and through.

Magic Kingdom's Seven Dwarf's Mine Train:

This ride is brand new this year. We had it Fast Past for our sixth day of vacation but we kept checking the line every chance we got! During the Not So Scary Halloween Party the wait line dropped to under 20 minutes. Reality it only took us 8 minutes to ride this ride!  We hardly had time to play and enjoy all the extra's Disney has put together to make the normal wait time enjoyable. The rest of the trip the line remained at nearly an hour and half wait. We heard it caught on fire this weekend from embers from the fireworks.  We were all shocked and relieved to hear it was nothing serious.

Disney almost always adds something extra to your Memory Maker.  Sometimes it is character photos, or edited photos but occasionally you find something else.  We were given a personalized video of us riding The Mine Train.  Here is our video:

Animal Kingdom's Expedition to Everest :

I am not sure who hated this ride more: The Short Chic or Mr. T himself.  This ride officially did Mr. T in for the rest of the trip. He swears it was the backward section that nailed his coffin shut!

Hollywood Studio's Rock N' Roller Coaster:

I love this ride! Loud rock n' roll music blares from speakers by your head. The neon signs that zoom past you while you are riding. And of course, this is the only thrill ride that goes upside down at Disney World. Nope The Short Chic did not like this one at all! 

Hollywood Studio's Tower of Terror!

We did not ride this ride the last time we were at Disney in 2013. The line was long and I just was not sure about this ride. I will say this, it was scary but I can't wait to go back and do it again. The Short Chic, she is on the back row next to her Daddy, will probably never ride it again!

Do you just love the teenager in the front hiding her face. Her Dad tells us that is how she has looked every single year in every single photo of this ride!

Want another laugh. Here is our video Disney included  from our ride on The Tower of Terror. I laugh every single time I watch it. 

Magic Kingdom's Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin:  This maybe one of my favorite rides in all of Disney World.   Yep, The Boy and I were determined to win. And we did!!

So many people ask me if my 17 year old really likes going to Disney and I assure them over and over again that yes, he does. This is why. The rides are amazing!  When I tell him that people question me all the time about it he said, "Mom, I can only say two things: Splash Mountain!"

Thanks for laughing with me. You were laughing with me and not at me, right?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Disney World Character Greetings

I remember my first visit to Disney in 1986. I was a teenager and I wanted nothing more than to meet Mickey and Minnie Mouse. I searched the entire day hoping for a chance to see them. The closest I got was seeing them in a parade. 


Times have changed since then.  Meeting characters during your visit to Disney is super easy. Disney prints a weekly schedule that gives the times and places of where you can meet your favorite characters.  As you enter the park, pick a schedule up and make a plan for your day. 

Characters can be found all over in each of the four parks. Some characters (Mulan, Belle, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Alice, and even  Mary Poppins) like to hang out at Epcot's World Showcase in their respective countries. 

Some characters like Anna, Elsa, Cinderella, and Rapunzel often have more formal settings inside the Princess Fairytale Hall in The Magic Kingdom. 

Character dining experiences are also an extremely popular ways to meet characters. We enjoyed three character meals during our last time to Disney World. The characters travel around the dining room visiting each table stopping for photos and autographs with one child, all children or even the whole family! 

Character meals can be expensive.  However, we purchased the Disney Dining Plan and they counted as our sit down meal of the day. I highly recommend the Dining Plan if you are staying on property. We had some pretty amazing meals and the convenience of using the dining plan was a win/win for our large group.

As  stated above, in addition to photographs most characters will also sign autographs. You can purchase autograph books in the Disney gift shops or you can bring one from home. The girls received many compliments about their autograph books, many of those came from the characters themselves!

  Of course, the downside to this is that meeting characters takes a bit of time. Disney offers Fast Pass + for many character experiences but not all of them. Expect to stand in a line for at least a half an hour in order to get your special time with each character. 

The Memory Maker is another great opportunity that Disney offers to preserve your character experience.  The Memory Maker allows all of your family members to be in the photo and allows Disney Photographers to take the photo. Yes, the Memory Maker cost a significant amount, but I have purchased it the last two visits and found that I got my money's worth of photos.  I also feel like I should note that there is no Disney Photographer at Character Meals. 

I would also like to say that the face characters (the ones you can actually see their face) are amazing to interact with! The Short Chic almost always has a question or two or three lined up for each of her favorite character. For example, this year when we met Princess Tiana, The Short Chic asked her what she was serving in the restaurant that night.  Princess Tiana's response was straight out of the storybook! She described Seafood Gumbo right down to the ingredients and seasonings!

Try as we might, we searched all over for Olaf and he was no where to be found during our visit. The Short Chic asked Queen Elsa and Princess Anna where Olaf was and they both told her how Olaf was finally getting his summer vacation to the beach and judging by the postcards he was having a great time! That is Disney Magic working right there and just another example of their attention to detail!

I wish it had been so easy to meet characters back in 1986. I am sure I would have left the park with the perfect Disney experience. Young and old; male or female; everyone enjoys meeting their favorite characters! It is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Camp N' Treat

This past weekend we said farewell to a summer tradition: camping.

We went on our ninth camping trip this year. Our usual camping buddies joined us (they have made seven camping trips this summer).  We stayed close to home, returning for the third time this year to Watkins Woolen Mill State Park.

Watkins Mill had their First Annual Camp N' Treat Weekend. It was the first time we have ever participated in a camp n' treat. The concept is simple, each camp site that elects to participate in decorates their camp and the kids trick or treat from one camp site to the next. I should also note that Watkin's Mill is not the only state park that has a Camp N' Treat, I know Wallace also had one too.

All of us just returned from Walt Disney World where we attended Mickey's Not So Spooky Halloween Party where we dressed up as Crayons. We wanted to make use of our costumes so we stuck with our theme and decorated with crayons.

The State Park granted awards for best costumes and the scariest camp site. Crayons are not scary. So we added some skeletons and told everyone that the zombies attacked our crayon factory. We were still not scary. But we were original.

Sadly, all of my photos from this weekend are blury! Hopefully you can look past the blur and see the work. We made a crayon box out of a presentation board. We got an empty fabric roll tube and covered them with craft foam to make small crayons that were used to create a pathway to our crayon arch.

The crayon arch was pretty genius idea of The Husband's. I told him we needed an arch and he came up with using tent poles because they have a lot of bend to them. We added inflatable crayons and some black creepy fabric and skeletons.

I changed out the lightbulb to my PVC Light Post to one that flickered. It did not put out any light but it did give off an eerie feel. A few pumpkins and a 23 inch TV completed our decor (did you really think we were not going to watch Game 5 of the World Series?).

Since we were not scary, we did not place in the contest. But, the camp organizers told us they loved us and will be adding new categories for next year's contest.   We had a great time at Watkin's Mill Camp and Treat and will plan to attend next year.  Besides the Halloween festivities we started planning our camping trips for next year. Do you have a favorite state park? Where do you think we should go?

The men folk are thankful to have this over. We have technically been celebrating Halloween for an entire month and they never want to see the crayon costumes again.

This maybe true but before we close Halloween 2014, I will leave you with this last image (yes, it is slightly blurry!).

Happy Halloween from all of us!