Thursday, November 30, 2006

Walt Disney World Plans

Only a week to go until we leave for our family vacation to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The cast: Myself, my husband, Seth, our 9 year old daughter Amina, 7 year old son Rhys, Seth's parents Ron and Deb, my sister, Dee, her husband Jason, their 5 year old identical twin girls Rebecca and Kylie, and my mom, Bernice. 11 of us total - we've never been on a vacation before with so many people!

The planning for this trip started over a year ago. I started talking about this with my sister and we thought about how much we liked Disney, how our kids would be the "perfect age", and when we would go. I have fond memories of WDW in early December because Seth and I honeymooned at WDW staying at the Polynesian resort in 1992. The weather was pleasant and the lines were short. We returned for our 10 year anniversary in 2002 and stayed at the Grand Floridian resort. This time, it was cooler than I had remembered but the lines were still short.

In 2004, we returned again but in June - this time with the kids who were turning 5 and 7. Never again. We had planned this to celebrate the kids' birthdays and there were many many wonderful, magical memories but it was crowded and very hot. How quickly the children move is inversely proportional to what the ambient temperature is. The hotter it got, the slower they were. There's something about the heat that just zaps the energy right out of you.

December it was. We had taken the kids on a Disney cruise last year and had bought into the Disney Vacation Club - our home resort: Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa (SSRS). We had enough points to book the
3 bdrm Grand Villa at SSRS for all 11 of us (it sleeps 12). My brother-in-law travels a lot for business and would cover all of our plane tickets with his frequent flyer miles. What a deal! After I made the reservation last December, we changed our minds after looking at the floor plans for the Grand Villa - stairs. Instead, I changed our ressies (that's Disney slang for reservations) to 2 bedroom villas instead - 2 of them. They actually cost fewer points in the long run too but would accomodate our party better. Dee and her family as well as my mom would stay in one of the 2 bedroom villas and we would stay in the other with Seth's parents. We'll have use of a full kitchen as well as a washer and dryer which means less clothes to pack. Yay!

Our target dates: 7 December - 14 December (Thursday to Thursday). We scheduled it this way to work around our days off.....Thursday. Dee arranged for our flights on American and, after a few glitches (grrr.....airline frequent flyer miles - they make it so difficult), we got the ressies we needed.

Next on the list of things to do....make our advanced dining reservations (ADRs). I agonized for weeks on what days we should go to which parks and when to schedule the restaurants that we wanted to eat at the most. We have our definite faves that we had to do: Cinderella's Royal Table for breakfast, Fulton's Crab House in Downtown Disney, Victoria and Albert's at the Grand Floridian resort to celebrate our 14th anniversary on the 12th, Le Cellier (never been but heard a lot about it), the Hoop Dee Doo Revue (also never been but had to try it), Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP - ditto) and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (same). I finally settled on a plan and, at the moment, can't even remember how I came to decide which day, which park. We will not be going to any of the Extra Magic Hours but, according to RideMax (more about Ridemax in a little bit), this is probably better in terms of crowds. I also took advantage of the Disney Vacation Club discount on tickets to MVMCP which meant we had tickets to go on Monday, the 11th. I took into consideration when the parks opened as this was a big complaint from our 2002 trip - too many early ADRs and trying to be at the parks at opening. Seth didn't want to have to get up and rush like that anymore. Some of the parks closed earlier (Animal Kingdom closes at 5 pm and MGM closes at 7 pm) so those were the days I planned Hoop Dee Doo Revue and our anniversary dinner. It's traditional for us to go to the Magic Kingdom on our first full day. I decided on 2 full days at the Magic Kingdom and 2 full days at EPCOT - our favorite parks.

So, at 5:50 am on the 10th of June, I was at the dining room table with 2 cell phones in hand dialing the Disney dining reservation line over and over again. I got through within a minute or two of the reservation line opening (at 7 am Eastern) and quickly made our ADRs. Getting ADRs for a group of 11 is tricky but the cast member (CM) on the phone was pleasant and patient. I had also added on the
Disney Dining Plan for all of us through DVC. Here's how our schedule currently looks:

Thurs, Dec 7 - Arrive Orlando at about 12:30 pm
Pick up by
Quicksilver Transportation (limo - the kids got a BIG kick out of it last time and begged to do it again) with 30 minute stop at a grocery store then on to Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa
Depending on the time, we'll probably head to MGM to catch the Osborne Lights since we've never seen them before. Plan to arrive by 5:30 pm to catch the lights going on at around 6 pm and then we'll need to leave as soon as the park closes (7 pm) to take a bus to Downtown Disney.
Dinner at 1940 (changed from 1900)- Fulton's Crab House. Plan to use our 10% DVC discount.

Fri, Dec 8 Magic Kingdom hours: 0900-1900 (Dream Come True parade 1500, Wishes fireworks 1800)
Breakfast 0825 - Cinderella's Royal Table
Lunch at Tomorrowland Terrace Noodle Station
Dinner 1700 at Crystal Palace. This was changed from 1845 - I just got a call from Disney Dining yesterday telling me that they had made a mistake and needed to change our 1845 ressie to an earlier time. I wasn't very happy - 1845 would have been perfect as the fireworks were at 6 and then we would have just stepped over to the restaurant for dinner but I was wondering how they worked it with MVMCP starting at 1900. Ah well.

Sat, Dec 9 - Animal Kingdom hours: 0900-1700
Breakfast will be in the villa this morning as it will be for most mornings. We plan on picking up a lot of breakfast items on our 30 minute grocery store stop: oatmeal, cereal, bread, fruit, juice, etc. This way, we can save our Disney Dining Plan credits for other meals.
Lunch will probably be at Tusker House which we've eaten at before and were pleasantly surprised at the quality for a counter service restaurant.
Dinner is at 1915 - the Hoop De Doo Revue dinner show

Sun, Dec 10 EPCOT hours: Future World 0900-1900 and World Showcase 1100-2130 (Illuminations show at 2130)
Breakfast at SSRS
Lunch - a variety of counter service restaurants to try but I'm leaning toward the Sunshine Seasons at the Land
Dinner is at 1830 - Le Cellier Steakhouse in the Canada pavilion

Mon, Dec 11 - 2nd day at the Magic Kingdom; hours: 0900-1900
Breakfast at SSRS
We have 0930 appointment for the girls to go to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
Lunch probably at the Columbia Harbor House
Dinner at 1745 - Tony's Town Square
We attend Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party tonight from 1900-2400

Tues, Dec 12 MGM hours: 0900-1900
Breakfast at SSRS
Lunch - probably at ABC Commissary
Dinner at 1830 - Victoria and Alberts celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary

Wed, Dec 13 2nd day at EPCOT
Since this is our last breakfast and I anticipate that we'll have leftover counter service credits, we might do breakfast at the Artist's Palette at SSRS
Lunch - a variety of places at the World Showcase to try (counter service)
For dinner, we have the Candlelight Processional Dinner Package with a ressie at 1700 - 9 Dragons restaurant with the show at 20:15

Ridemax..... I first stumbled on Ridemax when I was studying for our Disneyland/Disney cruise vacation last year. This downloadable computer program helps come up with a schedule to minimize your wait in line and maximize your efficiency while in the park. I used it to print out ride schedules for our DL/DCL trip and it was amazingly accurate. We had minimal waits and, for the most part, we followed the schedule right on time. The only thing that Ridemax didn't take into account was the long line for Space Mountain fastpasses because the ride had been closed for overhaul and had just re-opened. I helped a friend back in July plan her 4 day trip to WDW with her family and she bought the WDW version of Ridemax to put on my computer. I've printed out proposed schedules for the parks each day which seem to work well with what we want to see and do. The program allows you to input the day, date, park, time of arrival, time of departure, and scheduled breaks. It also allows for slower moving groups (which ours will be) and whether or not you are willing to use a "Fast Pass runner" (which will be me, of course). I'll have to come back and post on how our schedule worked out.

More Disney World thoughts to come....


Friday, November 24, 2006

Black Friday 2006 - The Results

After watching the Davinci Code last night at BIL's house, it was midnight and I decided to take a quick run out to Best Buy to see what the lines looked like. I had read earlier online that some serious BF'ers were advising people to queue up beginning at 10 pm or earlier. Being my first time making a Best Buy run on Black Friday, I was curious to see how serious the people of Dallas are. I guess I shouldn't have been suprised that at 12:30 am on Black Friday, each Best Buy that I visited had at least 100 people camped out in the entrance with lines snaking from the front door, down the sidewalk, and spilling into the parking lot. WOW. I went home to catch some sleep thinking that I wouldn't have a chance at getting anything on my Best Buy list and re-planned my shopping route for the morning.

My alarm went off at 4:15 am and I rolled out of bed and got ready to leave. My first destination was JC Penney and I had planned on taking DH's truck as I wanted to get my hands on their 7 1/2 foot pre-lit (multi-colored as well as clear lights) tree with remote control for only $118.88. I arrived at JC Penney at about 4:40 am and found myself about 15th in line. Not too shabby. The doors opened at 4:55 am and after receiving my free 2006 Disney miniature snow globe to add to my collection, I followed the couple in front of me who were also hunting for the Sale Tree. Finding the item I was looking for, I dragged the box to the cashier and was the 2nd person in line to pay for my item. The sales woman was quite pleasant and even called to have someone take the tree out to my car. A gentleman soon arrived and, after hoisting the tree on his shoulder, loaded it into the back of DH's Titan. Here's where the big boo-boo of the day happened.....

I backed DH's truck out of the parking spot and noted someone behind me waiting for the spot - it was quite close to the main entrance. As I pulled forward, it became quickly obvious that I was boxed in. Someone had parked their car facing the aisle and had over-parked the space sticking out quite far into the aisle. Cars were parked across the way as well and there was no place for me to go. I rolled down the windows and kindly asked 2 ladies who had just parked to help me navigate my way around this other car. Thankfully I was moving VERY slowly but the my drivers' side bumper just caught the front bumper of the car that was sticking out too far. I remember thinking that DH was going to kill me. I pulled through and parked the car fumbling around in my purse for a pen and pad to leave a note on the other car. As I walked toward the car, the driver angrily asked me what had happened. I pointed out that he left very little room to maneuver around his car because he had over-parked the spot. He replied that it was "too dark" when he had arrived. Of course, his car was the only car in the lot sticking so far into the driving aisle. Long story short.....he insisted on calling 911 which I did only to find out that this had occurred on private property and the police would not respond. We finally just exchanged insurance information and I moved on to my next desination: Wal-Mart.

I really only had one small item to get at Wal-Mart, the Case Logic portable DVD player case. I wanted to replace the kids' cases because the zippers were broken. Unfortunately, I was too late to snag one. If only I hadn't been tied up by that fender bender.....

I moved on to Radio Shack instead and joined the line taking about the 20th position at about 5:30. My mind wandered back to the scene in the JC Penney parking lot. Finally, the doors opened at 6 pm and about 40 people crammed into the small store. Most people seemed to be intent on grabbing the bluetooth headsets. After asking an associate where the noise cancelling headphones were, and not finding them, I got in line to order one online when I found the headphones hanging on the display by the cash registers. I left Radio Shack with 2 pairs of headphones and headed out to Ace Hardware which was not far away.

Arriving at Ace hardware at around 6:20 am, I was the first person in line. The sun was just starting to come up and I was able to more closely examine the drivers' side of DH's car. The scratch was minimal. I didn't see a dent. A handful of people arrived before 7 am (about 5 of us total) and I walked into the store first, easily located the Magnetic Drive Set and Rotary tool and checked out. Most of the other customers were looking for the Curtis portable DVD players for $69.99 but this particular store had not received their shipment of DVD players. Being a seasoned Ace Hardware BF shopper, I knew to ask for the rebate form and an extra copy of the receipt. Had I been a first-time BF shopper, I would have walked out of the store without the correct form because the woman at the cash register had forgotten until I reminded her. I was in the home stretch of my morning and had a few more stops to make...and it was only 7:05 am.

Walgreens was my next stop - I needed to pick up 2 "free" items before making the drive out to Best Buy and picking through the remains of their inventory. With help from the clerk who pointed in a general direction and was not very helpful, I did finally locate the Schick Quattro Razor set for women (with the bonus ipod earplug headset). I then found the Revlon mascara and headed for the check-out line. The woman checking out ahead of me asked about the rebate for her item and the check-out clerk looked at her as though he had no idea what she was talking about. He handed her the Walgreens rebate ad but I quietly advised her to CHECK the ads before leaving to make sure her item was listed. She asked the clerk again where the rebate list was and he pointed out the center of the flyer and she took her purchase and left. Following check-out, I perused the rebate flyer as well but was not surprised to find that my items were not listed. The clerk could not find them either. Finally, the store manager handed me 2 small receipt sized print outs for the special 8 hour rebate sale. These needed to be completed and mailed in. That woman in front of me in line didn't get her rebate print out before she had left. What a shame. Although the clerk was unable to find the rebate information, he did point out an additional coupon in the rebate flyer for $3 off the Schick Quattro razors. The store manager very politely credited me $3.25. Here's how the math went:

Schick Quattro shaving set for women (w/free headphones)............$8.99
Coupon in Walgreens rebate flyer........................................................-$3.00
Rebate print out to be submitted by mail...........................................-$10.00 looks like Walgreens PAID me about $4 to take the razor set. LOL!

At this point I thought I would give Best Buy a try just in case there were a few items left on my list. It was about 7:30 when I arrived at Best Buy - a full 2 1/2 hours after the store had opened. I walked into the store and quickly asked some store clerks where I could my items. I located the Kodak Easy Share C503 digital camera ($79.99) the 7" Westinghouse digital frame ($79.99), and the 15" LCD tv quickly. Seeing the digital frame on display, I decide to buy 2 instead. I was very surprised that I was able to so easily find these items so "late" in the morning. Unfortunately, the eMachines desktop computer ($189.97) and the MAG 17" LCD monitor ($79.99) were already gone. My last item was the Insignia 4 GB mp3/video player. What a cool device. I decided to get the 2 yr protection plan for this item for $19.99.

At this point, I'm pretty pleased with my purchases considering the bumpy start this morning. I notice the Office Depot across the street and decide to stop in hoping it won't be too crowded. Surprsingly, the store is nearly empty and I find the "free" label makers - and snag the last three intending to send the rebates in from home, my office and DH's office. I even purchase all 3 of them using different credit cards. It's now past 8 am and I'm pretty much done with my's the score:

My "Wanted" list from yesterday: 16 items
Items on my list that I did get: 11 items

Not bad considering I never did make it to Staples (didn't know where it was; 2 items on my list) and I did get some "bonus" items (Office Depot).

It's time to go home and see whose up but the shopping is NOT done yet! I pick up my mom and we check out Vista Ridge mall where we make some purchases at The Children's Place (pants and gloves for Rhys) and the Disney Store which was offering an additional 20% off purchases made before 10 am (we walked into the store at 9:45 am). I bought the kids some fleece sweatshirts at only $8 each for our upcoming WDW trip, and a new nightgown for Amina. We did go by Costco but didn't really find anything else we really had to have. As a bonus, we were given a Costco cookbook as we exited. We finally head back home at 11:30 am to Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch.

Overall, another great Black Friday!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Black Friday 2006

I'm one of those CRAZED Black Friday shoppers sitting outside of a store in the freezing cold with hot chocolate in hand waiting for the store to open. ("OPEN! OPEN! OPEN!"). This year Black Friday will be in Dallas and I'm not anticipating being able to make the rounds at all my favorite stores like I would at home. It's just too spread out and too much traffic to contend with. Thanks to BFADS.NET, I have looked at all of the Black Friday ads and have put together a shopping list for my adventure early Friday morning. The fun starts at 4 am!

We'll see how things turn out since I'm in an unfamiliar city. The Best Buy is about 5 miles south of my sister's house and the other stores that I want to go to(Ace, Radio Shack,Walmart, Staples, Walgreens) are all just to the north of her house. Here's what's on my list so far:

ACE (opens at 7 am) : DeWalt Magnetic Drive Guide Set, 16 pc.............FREE
Phillips Noise Cancelling Headphones (for the kids)......$29.99 (if I can't get the ones from Radio Shack)
PowerGlide Variable Speed Rotary Tool.........................FREE

Best Buy (opens at 5 am): Advent 15" LCD TV (for my MIL).................$129.99
eMachines Desktop Celeron-D w/15" LCD.....................$189.97
Insignia 4 GB Video/MP3 player.....................................$119.99
Kodak Easy Share 5 MP digital camera...........................$79.99
MAG 17" LCD monitor...................................................$79.99
Westinghouse 7"digital picture frame................................$79.99

JCPenney (opens at 5 am) : Disney snowglobe............................................FREE
7.5 ft pre-lit Christmas tree w/remote.............................$118.88

Radio Shack (opens at 6 am) : Presidan Noise Cancelling Headphones (for the kids)...$14.99
Staples : 6-outlet strip surge protector..............................FREE
Personal desktop laminator...............................................FREE

Wal-Mart (opens at 5 am): Case Logic Portable DVD Player Case (for the kids).........$9.97

Walgreens (opens at 7 am): Revlon Fabulash Mascara...............................FREE
Schick Quattro Razors........................................................FREE

I'll have to post back later and see how I fared after all is said and done. I plan on heading out to Best Buy at 3:30 am to be there before the tickets are passed out at 4 am and then waiting until the store opens at 5 am. Crazy....I know, but fun! LOL.

I've combed the other ads (they get WAY more ads here in Dallas then we do at home!) and hope to pick up a DymoLetra Tag Label maker at Office Depot which is also FREE. I've already ordered a few things online from the Thanksgiving Day sales from Office Max:

Olympus 1 GB XD Card for my camera..............$19.99
Sandisk 2 GB SD Cards (good for our Treo 650's).......$24.89 each. Wow! And FREE SHIPPING with NO MINIMUM! They do, however, charge tax.

So there's the plan..........I should really consider going to bed right now to be up at 3 am (it's about 7 pm and I'm totally stuffed from dinner at 4:30). Off to watch Davinci Code tonight, though, in BIL's really cool media room. Happy Thanksgiving and good luck to my fellow Black Friday shoppers!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Siggys and Avatars

I thought I would "store" my new siggy and avatar here. For those of us who post avidly to iVillage's" message boards, siggys and avatars are a wonderful way to share something about ourselves with each post that we make to the board(s). Thanks to iVillage's" Signature Showcase message board, you can post a request to have a siggy or avatar made and even provide .jpg pictures to show off. The wonderful volunteer "siggy makers" at this board will take pictures and requests and transform them into beautiful and creative siggys and avatars. Here's my official CL (community leader) siggy:

and my new avatar:

Thanks to the generous ladies of the Signature Showcase board!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

More Blog Practice

OK, the mail blogging didn't work from last night - still need to figure that one out. I did figure out how to add the "Links" column to the left today and have started adding my favorite links on the 'net starting with the boards that I lead at iVillage. More links to come....

Time for more pictures ~ Amina and Rhys' school photos from this Fall:

Last, but not least, I'm going to start a different blog to chart my journey on Nutrisystem.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Trying out the Mail-to-Blogger feature

Just seeing if this works. What a nice feature if it does. I can post from an email instead of having to log-in. This is a test.

Feeling my way around Blogger

Getting used to blogging; playing with some of the new features. This picture of my beautiful family was taken just 2 weeks ago and will be the picture on our Christmas cards this year.

In my spare time, I am a Community Leader at iVillage's
Vaccine Support and Child Health . I think later I'll include some thoughts on my journey with Nutrisystem since July of this year as well as posts about vaccine and child health issues. I've also just recently joined Smugmug and have a collection of photos in my galleries.

My First Blog Post

8 years and 3 months later, I've finally decided to give starting a blog a try. I remember figuring out HTML 8 years ago and spending countless hours on a telephone internet connection on a computer with a 166 mhz processor writing my pages for the "Switzer Family Homepage" in code! Wow, how things have changed since then. I remember having to write down a "map" on paper of how my website would look and to help me remember where I put things! I ate through my Geocities memory in no time flat. I dreaded having to update my webpages because it took so long. It's like learning to type in high school on a manual typewriter or using punch cards to work the computer! LOL. Now in less than 5 minutes, literally, I have a new blog!