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Debate Club: Is Disney World the Best or Worst of All Family Vacations?

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A Disney vacation is the best possible vacation

by Kathryn Trudeau

The clock struck three as the airport van pulled into my parents’ driveway. I’ve always thought that pre-vacation excitement made the 3 a.m. departure totally doable. After all, who wants to sit around all day waiting for a late-in-the-day departure?

But this was my first early vacation with children. As my husband carried two suitcases, a camera bag, a diaper bag, and a toys-for-the-airplane bag into the van, I buckled in the kids – one three, the other three months old.

As I stared at my sweet sleeping infant, I worried about his GERD-induced screaming and how the impending airplane ride would unfold. Were we making a huge mistake? Were we about to be the most stressed out parents in the history of family vacations?

As fate would have it, my littlest boy slept the whole flight, thanks to a nursing session. Bags in tow and fueled by Starbucks, we made it to the inspiring Wilderness Lodge. Walking through the lobby and feeling the rush of cool air as we walked through the door, I felt the same giddy excitement in the pit of my stomach that I felt as a young girl. And now I got to share that excitement with my two boys.

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All obsessions aside, Disney still ranks as one of the best family vacation destinations.

There’s something for everyone

As a self-proclaimed obsessed Disney fan, it was only natural that I voted for a Disney honeymoon. My then-fiancé, now-husband quickly said, “Uh no. Isn’t that for little kids?” I then delivered a monologue about how Disney World is anything but “just for little kids.”

We booked the honeymoon. I’m proud to say I converted my husband into a Disney superfan.

Taking our kids was a very different experience, but no less awesome. Disney World offers something for everyone. If you take your kids and still want some couple time, there are kid centers at each hotel that will watch your littles while you escape to a world-class spa or a romantic candlelit dinner with your honey.

Disney World can entertain a wide range of children. If traveling with young children and teens, you will find activities for everyone. Between the live shows, gardens, thrill rides, pools, and water parks, outdoor recreational activities, and interactive events, your kids are sure to find something to thrill them.

The meal plan

One of my favorite parts of traveling to Disney with my family is the meal plan. Eating out three times a day can get costly, but the meal plan allows you to budget ahead of time what your food will cost, which saves money in the long run.

Cleanliness is next to godliness

I may be a super Disney fan, but I’m no stranger to other amusement parks or vacation destinations. When I was 14, my family traveled to an amusement park in Southern California. From the grimy food service counters to the trash littering the paths, the lack of cleanliness drove us from the park before the day was half done.

That being said, cleanliness is something to consider when planning a family vacation. Who wants to make their family memories among the smells floating from hot steaming garbage cans? Not me.

Disney cast members work diligently to make sure the entire park is not only clean, but invisibly so. As a guest, you never have to witness their garbage removal process (thanks to underground tunnels for the purpose.)

Affordable family vacation

A common obstacle for any family vacation is the price tag. Between airfare and quality accommodations, a one-week trip can be costly. But if you compare oranges to oranges (Get it? Florida…oranges…), a Disney vacation lands in the “pretty affordable” column when compared to other similar destinations.

Follow these few tips, and you can snag a super deal, too:

Book a trip in the off season. Not only will you have better rates, but the parks will be less crowded.

Subscribe to the vacation planning email lists. Periodically, they send out mailers with special rates and promotions. If you’re not opposed to planning a trip within a few months of notification of a promotion, this is a good way to get a deal.

Customize your package. You can opt for park-hopper status (ability to go to multiple parks in one day) or not. If you’re looking to save a little money, you can opt out of the park-hopper.  Alternatively, choose the hotel pools over the water parks.

A final thought on price: Is it expensive? Yes. Good, activity-packed vacations usually are. Is it over-priced? No. The value of the whole experience is worth every penny.

Educational

My son stared out of the car of Spaceship Earth. He was mesmerized by the giant image of our planet. As we exited the ride, we entered a pavilion that showcases new and upcoming technology. My son was silent as we moved from demo to demo. He’s always been a techie-in-the-making, and here, he was able to live out his need to tinker with real-life gadgets.

Disney is all about moving forward, upward, and bettering ourselves in the process – what a great mentality to show our kids.

The magic

The last reason why I love Disney: the magic. One of my most favorite memories from the trip was when my three-year-old met Mickey. My son, forever toting small toy cars in his pockets, whipped one out and wanted to play cars with Mickey. Ever the good sport, Mickey got on his knees and played cars with my boy. Nothing makes a mama heart sing as much as seeing pure joy on her baby’s face, and Disney did not disappoint in this department.

Still not convinced? That’s okay. Disney has a team of veteran moms who help answer vacation questions, from what to pack to where to stay. They can answer anything you throw at them. Maybe they’ll convince you it’s worth a try.

No matter what expectations you bring to a Disney vacation, you’ll walk away with happy family memories. And that’s a win in my book.

Don’t go to Disney World

By Cheryl Maguire

We made it. After a three-hour flight and two bus transfers, we were standing in front of the iconic Disney World Cinderella Castle. During my year of researching and planning, I wondered if this moment would ever happen.

We waded through the crowd and snapped a quick picture. Since I was uncertain of when we would actually arrive here, the only unplanned hours lay ahead of us.

“What should we do first? Magic Mountain? Meet a princess? It’s a Small world?” I asked.

“Swim in the pool,” my eight-year-old twins and five-year-old daughter responded.

“I didn’t spend an obscene amount of money on a Disney World vacation to swim in a pool. Which attraction will it be?”

We chose to split up. The twins and I went to meet Ariel, while my husband and daughter headed in a different direction. The problem was I couldn’t remember which direction, and I realized he took my cell phone with the back pack. Hours and hours of planning, yet I never created a plan if someone were to get lost.

“Who remembers what shirt Dad was wearing?” I asked.

A stranger passing by overheard my question and, with a laugh, said, “Oh, that can’t be good.”

Even though my husband is an adult (at least most of the time), I felt as if I’d lost a child. I panicked. How was I going to find him in this sea of neverending people? We started walking. I examined the faces of each person we passed by, hoping to find him.

One of my children remembered they were headed to the Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster, and somehow we managed to locate them. He, of course, had no idea he was missing (or that he took my cell phone). He’d been waiting in line the whole time.

“How was the Big Thunder Mountain ride? Was it worth waiting an hour?”

“Definitely not. It was really bumpy. I felt like I was going to vomit,” my husband responded.

“I agree with Dad.”

“I’m glad we spent thousands of dollars to wait in line and feel nauseous.”

They all wanted to go on the next ride, so I found a bench, absorbing the interesting surroundings. I couldn’t help but notice a man and woman, their arms flailing as they shouted obscenities at each other loud enough for everyone to hear, including children. So much for this being the “happiest place in the world.” I also witnessed many children in full blown meltdowns.

When my kids got off the ride, they asked, “Can we go to the pool now?”

Sweat dripped from every pore in my body and, from the looks of it, my family was experiencing the same. I relented and off to the pool we went.

For the rest of the vacation, we didn’t experience any major problems. But the heat, long lines, and crowds continued to wear on us. At the end of the vacation, I asked my kids, “What was your favorite part of the trip? Meeting Elsa? Toy Story Mania? The Aerosmith rollercoaster?”

In unison they responded, “The pool.”

If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I ignored several red flags. My kids seemed more excited about flying on a plane than going to Disney World. My kids had never been enthusiastic about their experiences at the local amusement parks we visited. I think I overlooked these things because I felt pressure from society to give my children a magical Disney World experience.

The average cost for a family of four to vacation at Disney World for four nights costs between three- and four-thousand dollars. Before you make this huge investment, you might consider the following questions to determine if you really want to go there:

  • Why do you want to go to Disney World?
  • Do your kids want to go to Disney World?
  • What do you want to accomplish during the vacation?
  • Have you tried to visit a local amusement park? If so, did your kids like it?
  • Can your kids (and can you) handle large crowds and long lines?
  • When you think of a vacation, do you prefer relaxing or being busy?
  • Do your children like Disney movies and characters?
  • Is going to Disney World worth spending between $3k and $4k (or probably more)?
  • Have you considered traveling to other places in the U.S. or the rest of the world?
  • If you went to Disney World as a child, did you like it?

The bottom line: You don’t have to go to Disney World. Figure out what type of vacation best suits your family. There are millions of cities to visit, and lots of those places have pools.

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

After a pregnancy that is best described as uncomfortable, Jessica Simpson is finally done "Jess-tating" and is now a mama of three.

Baby Birdie Mae Johnson joined siblings Ace and Maxwell on Tuesday, March 19, Simpson announced via Instagram.

Simpson's third child weighed in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Birdie's name is no surprise to Jessica's Instagram followers, who saw numerous references to the name in her baby shower photos and IG stories in the last few weeks.

The name Birdie isn't in the top 1000 baby names according to the Social Security Administration, but It has been seeing a resurgence in recent years, according to experts.

"Birdie feels like a sassy but sweet, down-to-earth yet unusual name," Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry told Town and Country back in 2017. "It's also just old enough to be right on time."

At this moment in time, Simpson and her husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson, are probably busy counting little fingers and toes , which is great news because it means Simpson's toes can finally deflate. She's had a terrible time with swollen feet during this pregnancy, and was also hospitalized multiple times due to bronchitis in her final trimester.

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We're so glad to see Simpson's little Birdie has finally arrived!

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Spring is officially here and if you're looking for a way to celebrate the change in the season, why not treat the kids to some ice cream, mama?

DQ locations across the country (but not the ones in malls) are giving away free small vanilla cones today, March 20! So pack up the kids and get to a DQ near you.

And if you can't make it today, from March 21 through March 31, DQ's got a deal where small cones will be just 50 cents (but you have to download the DQ mobile app to claim that one).

Another chain, Pennsylvania-based Rita's Italian Ice is also dishing up freebies today, so if DQ's not your thing you can grab a free cup of Italian ice instead.

We're so excited that ice cream season is here and snowsuit season is behind us. Just a few short weeks and the kids will be jumping through the sprinklers.

Welcome back, spring. We've missed you!

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The woman who basically single-handedly taught the world to embrace vulnerability and imperfection is coming to Netflix and we cannot wait to binge whatever Brené Brown's special will serve up because we'll probably be better people after watching it.

It drops on April 19 and is called Brené Brown: The Call to Courage. If it has even a fraction of the impact of her books or the viral Ted talk that made her a household name, it's going to be life and culture changing.

Announcing the special on Instagram Brown says she "cannot believe" she's about to be "breaking some boundaries over at Netflix" with the 77-minute special.

Netflix describes the special as a discussion of "what it takes to choose courage over comfort in a culture defined by scarcity, fear and uncertainty" and it sounds exactly like what we need right now.

April 19 is still pretty far away though, so if you need some of Brown's wisdom now, check out her books on Amazon or watch (or rewatch) the 2010 Ted Talk that put her—and our culture's relationship with vulnerability and shame—in the national spotlight.

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown

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If Marie Kondo's Netflix show got people tidying up, Brown's Netflix special is sure to be the catalyst for some courageous choices this spring.

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My husband and I recently had a date night that included being away from our son overnight for the first time since he was born three years ago (but don't let your heads run away with a fantasy—we literally slept because we were exhausted #thisiswhatwecallfunnow). It was a combination of a late night work event, a feeling that we had to do something just for the two of us, and simple convenience. It would have taken hours to get home from the end of a very long day when we could just check into a hotel overnight and get home early the next day.

But before that night, I fretted about what to do. How would childcare work? No one besides me or my husband has put our son to bed, and we have never not been there when he wakes up in the morning.

Enter: Grandma.

I knew if there was any chance of this being successful, the only person that could pull it off is one of my son's favorite people—his grandmother. Grammy cakes. Gramma. We rely so much on these extended support systems to give us comfort and confidence as parents and put our kids at ease. Technically, we could parent without their support, but I'm so glad we don't have to.

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So as we walked out the door, leaving Grandma with my son for one night, I realized how lucky we are that she gets it...

She gets it because she always comes bearing delicious snacks. And usually a small toy or crayons in her bag for just the right moment when it's needed.

She gets it because she comes with all of the warmth and love of his parents but none of the baggage. None of the first time parent jitters and all of the understanding that most kids just have simple needs: to eat, play and sleep.

She gets it because she understands what I need too. The reassurance that my baby will be safe. And cared for.

She gets it because she's been in my shoes before. Decades ago, she was a nervous new mama too and felt the same worries. She's been exactly where we are.

She gets it because she shoos us away as we nervously say goodbye, calling out cheerfully, "Have fun, I've got this." And I know that she does.

She gets it because she will get down on the floor with him to play Legos—even though sometimes it's a little difficult to get back up.

She gets it because she will fumble around with our AppleTV—so different from her remote at home—to find him just the right video on Youtube that he's looking for.

She gets it because she diligently takes notes when we go through the multi-step bedtime routine that we've elaborately concocted, passing no judgment, and promising that she'll follow along as best as she can.

She gets it because she'll break the routine and lay next to him in bed when my son gets upset, singing softly in his ear until she sees his eyelids droop heavy and finally fall asleep.

She gets it because she'll text us to let us know when he's fallen asleep because she knows we'll be wondering.

She gets it because just like our son trusts us as his mom and dad, Grandma is his safe space. My son feels at ease with her—and that relaxes me, too.

She gets it because when we come home from our "big night out" the house will be clean. Our toddler's play table that always has some sort of sticky jelly residue on it will be spotless. The dishwasher empty. (Side note: She is my hero.)

She gets it because she shows up whenever we ask. Even when it means having to rearrange her schedule. Even when it means she has to sleep in our home instead of her own.

She gets it because even though she has her own life, she makes sure to be as involved in ours as she can. But that doesn't mean she gives unsolicited advice. It means that she's there. She comes to us or lets us come to her. Whenever we need her.

She gets it because she takes care of us, too. She's there to chat with at the end of a long day. To commiserate on how hard motherhood and working and life can be, but to also gently remind me, "These are the best days."

After every time Grandma comes over, she always leaves a family that feels so content. Fulfilled by her presence. The caretaking and nourishment (mental and food-wise) and warmth that accompanies her.

We know this is a privilege. We know we're beyond lucky that she is present and wants to be involved and gets it. We know that sometimes life doesn't work out like this and sometimes Grandma lives far away or is no longer here, or just doesn't get it. So we hold on. And appreciate every moment.

As Grandma leaves, I hug her tight and tell her, "I can't thank you enough. We couldn't have done this without you." Because we can't. And we wouldn't want to.

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