Monday, February 28, 2011

Downtown Disney Marketplace- Spend the Day!

Continuing to share about our trip to Kissimmee, Florida, we HAVE to tell you about Downtown Disney Marketplace!  And for all of you who are wanting to keep a tighter budget on your vacation, this is a great area to go!!

First of all, Downtown Disney Marketplace is in the Disney Complex in Kissimmee.  If you are staying in one of the Disney resort hotels, there are buses that will take you there!  And if you AREN'T staying in the complex, just follow the signs once in the Disney complex. 

Second, there are NO charges for parking!  I know!  It's virtually unheard of especially when on vacation!  And even driving our big truck (Suburban), we fit nicely into the parking spaces! 

At Downtown Disney, there aren't just shops (which there are, and there are LOTS), there are plenty of places to hang out, enjoy snacks, enjoy a meal, or just enjoy a free show!  Yeah!  There is a stage by the water, that even during the more "down" seasons, there are still lots of activities going on several times a day.  Especially in the evening.

Some of the highlights for our family:

  • LEGO Store.  At their normal store, they have LOTS of great LEGO statues, that people of all ages love!  Also the kids can play with LEGOS while there.  When we went down recently, they were renovating their store, so they had their regular store shut down, and a temporary store set up.  The temporary set-up wasn't as much fun as their regular store, but my boys still loved browsing the shelves, and building their own LEGO men...  There were definitely a lot of happy little boys in there, as well as some happy girls!
  • Pin Traders Store. If you are looking for something simple, and NOT expensive for your child to collect and be able to save, a great idea would be for them to start collecting pins!  When we had went down for the boys first time to Disney, I bought them pins, not really knowing that there was so much more that they would be able to do with them someday!  I also went to Disney Marketplace July of 2009, and bought the boys a pin.  And this year, the boys bought themselves MORE pins and my oldest son even bought a necklace to put all of his pins on.  The neat thing about these pins are that your children (or the adults!) can trade these pins!  They are encouraged to talk to cast members (people who are working for Disney) and see if they can trade any pins they have!  There are also special events during the year when families can go and trade during special events.  I think this is something my boys will enjoy doing for a while yet, and then enjoy having as great memories when they are even older.
  • World of Disney.  This is a HUGE shopping area.  And if NOTHING else, you have to go inside and see the inside of the building and how neat the decor is!  The tall ceilings are decorated top to bottom in true Disney style!  When my son Caden (#3) went to Florida with me in 2009, he thought they were decorated for Christmas!  There were so many lights and it seemed like a big celebration to him!  This is also the building where the Bibbiti Bobbiti Boutique is.  We saw LOTS of little girls who went there and our little nieces also went, and got all dolled up like little princesses!
  • Design-A-Tee.  We went to this store for the first time, and LOVED it!  All of my boys designed their own shirts, and enjoyed doing it SO much!  Choose from many different colored shirts, and many different designs.  THEN, you can personalize the shirts with your name, date or anything else you want to add!  They are completed in an hour and even come in their own t-shirt bag.  Costs are anywhere from $ under $30 depending on your size and whether you get a long sleeve or short.  

Now, NEXT to the Marketplace is Pleasure Island and Downtown Disney's Westside.  There are LOTS MORE things to do there that I haven't hit on. You can check them out on the Walt Disney World Web site...

One more suggestion, if you want less crowds, go during the day, when everyone else is at the parks.  Parking is easier and there are less for crowds.  Eating in the area is also easier and quicker, especially with kids!

As most everything that Disney has created, you have to see it to really appreciate it!  We always have SO much fun at Downtown Disney Marketplace.  Make time for it on your trip, and plan to spend the day!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Transportation: Our Drive From Indiana to Florida!

Getting ready to leave for Florida!

 Alright, so not everyone wants to drive 2500 miles on vacation with 6 people.  BUT we weighed the options, flying with 4 kids (one being 2 yo), cost, vehicle durability, kid's tolerance to driving, etc  And eventually we were pretty sure we made the correct choice in driving.

Still driving in Indiana

There are a few more things to really consider and breakdown if you are actually considering driving a long ways on vacation.
  1. Vehicle Durability-  We have an older Suburban and didn't know if it would be able to withstand driving through the mountains, and driving 2500 miles, period.  But in the summer we had to replace the engine and fuel pump in our truck, so half of the things we would worry about , were totally replaced!  Before taking your long trip with your vehicle, you might want to take your vehicle to a reputable mechanic, and have them look everything over.  Tell him/ her that you are planning to take a long trip in this vehicle.  Have them check your tires also.  Note- it's also a great idea to keep a small tool box in your vehicle "just in case"...  If you don't have a durable vehicle, consider the cost of renting a vehicle!  With unlimited miles, a vehicle rental might be worth the money!
  2. Gas Money- First, is flying (and a rental vehicle) going to be cheaper than gas money and a tune up?  What I did while planning this trip was figured about 3000 miles (which is a rounded number of miles I knew we would be traveling, knowing this from past years) and I figured the MOST expensive gas prices.  This can be a guess or if you are CLOSE to the time of travel, you can do a search for gas prices and the city you will be traveling through or TO.  So in the end, I had a pretty good  idea of how much money I needed for gas.  I always figure high.  Just in case.  You can figure an approximate number of miles for YOUR trip by going on Map Quest or Google Maps and typing in your total trip.  This will give you pretty close to the number of miles you will travel.  I would take that number and round it up, for all the in between running around!
  3. Kids Tolerance in Driving-  This is a big one!  But one of the best choices we have made in doing major driving with the kids is time of day.  For this trip, we picked the kids up from school and left (3:00pm).  We drove straight through, and arrived exactly 17 hours later.  How did the kids do?  GREAT!  Because MOST of the time, they were sleeping.  What this meant was LESS potty breaks, less food and DRINKS...  And less fights!  When the kids woke up, we were almost to Florida!  Of course they woke up a few times in the car, but quickly fell back asleep.  For the awake times we had plenty of things for them to do, and plenty of snacks.  I will share that stuff with you another day!

A few other small things to mention, We didn't want to worry about 4 kids (especially a 2 yo!) in an airport, plus luggage.  Ugh!  And with as much money as my kids have been saving, we didn't know if we could haul back everything that they wanted to buy!!!  :)

I am not in ANY way opposed to flying.  In fact, I know my kids would love it.  But with the cost of our vacation and the costs of flying, for this trip for what we needed to save, it made more sense for us to drive.  If the costs are lower for you to fly OR if you just can't stomach the thought of driving, you should definitely do what you are the most comfortable with!  It IS vacation after all!

Hopefully, I helped you figure out this very important aspect of your vacation.  If you have ANY questions, feel free to ask!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rainforest Cafe Coupons For Kid's Meals!

When we visit Chicago or Orlando, my kids LOVE Rainforest Cafe!  It is a bit more pricey than what we are used to BUT, it helps to have a good deal!  Right now thru the end of the year (12/2011), Rainforest Cafe has coupons for kids meals.  They are actual reward type certificates that you can give your kids.  These certificate make the normally $5.99 + meals, $.99!!!  Check them out HERE.  With one paid adult meal, you can use one kid's coupon.

When we recently went on vacation, we were able to use one for each child because we had several paying adults on our ticket.  So $.99 per child helped a LOT!

Kissimmee Housing: Florida Vacation Rentals

Just arrived at our home for the week...

When we found out that our Florida vacation was going to be with a few more people than we had expected, we decided to get a vacation rental home.  In a vacation we had taken6 years earlier with my parents and siblings, we had rented a vacation home, and it was great.  So, I naturally gravitated toward this option when we knew there were 4 families going on vacation!

Florida Home Vacation Rentals is a great company to work with.  We used them BOTH times for larger family vacations.  The staff is extremely helpful, and with each e-mail to see exactly how much we would be spending for the weeks we were looking at, they would e-mail me in less than a day, if not with in only a few hours.  And no matter HOW many homes I had questions about, they happily answered all of my questions.  And if they didn't know they answers, they found out quickly, and got back with me.

View from the pool to the lake behind the rental house.

There are a HUGE selection of homes with anywhere from 2 bedrooms to 14!  And everything in between.  You can choose a condo home, or an actual home in a housing addition.  Most additions are gated, some are not.  You have the option of a heated pool, heated spa, grill, game room and much more. 

Being that there were 4 families going on our trip, we chose a home with 4 master bedrooms.  We also chose to have the pool/spa heated, and use of the grill.  We had a game room, which was great for the kids (and the adults!).  And you have a countless number of amenities, depending on the home you choose. 

In the end, going with a vacation home, each family ended up spending less than we would have in renting from a hotel in the area.  Which is always a plus with a large family!

Boys swimming in the pool on our last evening in Florida.

So don't let traveling with your extended family scare you away from a vacation!  Check out (Florida Home Vacation Rentals), and look at their huge selection of homes!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Our Recent Trip to Kissimmee, Florida

In the next several days, I am going to be sharing about our recent vacation to Kissimmee, Florida. This was a vacation that included our extended family!  So it was a bit more of a challenge to plan, but definitely worth it!

Here are a few of the things that I will be covering:
  • Our lodging (where can we stay with an extended family?)
  • Our transportation
  • Our trips to Disney World
  • Our trip to Kennedy Space Center
  • Our trip to the beach!
  • Eating!
  • And many more places that we visited while in Kissimmee...
So, stick around, and you can discover how to plan a great vacation for not only your large family, but for an EXTENDED family also!  Come back for the fun!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Welcome to My New Blog!

I grew up in a large family, and knew what it was like to travel with 7 people!  Now that I have a family of my own, I am also dealing with the challenges of traveling with a larger family!

I hope that this blog, and my experience so far in life traveling with a larger family, will help people with larger families get out there and enjoy vacations just like everyone else!

So, let's get going!