Monday, August 19, 2013

Planning a Disney Vacation

We took a family vacation (6 adults, no children) to Disney World back in December 2012. I know it's been a few months, but I thought sharing my experience might help others plan a great trip!

My number one planning tip is to use a Disney Vacation Specialist. They are FREE and made our planning much less stressful. I highly recommend - Rochelle @

A vacation specialist will get you a vacation quote, book your vacation, make your dining reservations, add any discounts that may become available, offer advice on anything Disney (restaurants etc) and can make changes easily to any of these things!

When to Go

The biggest decision to make is what time of year to visit Disney. Obviously you want a time that's not crowded, and not HOT. There are many websites that offer Crowd Levels per park by day. Undercover Tourist has a great online calendar. It also includes park hours and special events.

The next thing I considered is when is Free Dining offered. Each year (usually for less crowded days) Disney will offer their Dining plans for FREE. This is a great time to go! All you need to do is research what were the days that Free Dining was offered in the previous years and use that as a basis for your trip. Now the days might not be exactly the same when free dining is announced, but if you needed to tweak your check-in day in order to be within the Free Dining window, your Disney Vacation Specialist can easily do that for you. (A good site for Free Dining news is Chip & Co. He has great tips as well. )

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Pop Century Resort. This is a value priced resort. We didn't plan on spending much time in the rooms nor would we use the pools since it was December. These rooms have 2 double beds and plenty of space for 4 adults. I had talked with friends who had stayed here in the past and they recommended Pop over the other value resorts because it had it own bus, rather than sharing a bus like the All Star Resorts do.

When free dining is offered, value resorts only get the Quick Service Dining Plan for free. You can easily upgrade to the Standard Dining Plan for just a little extra a day. (Right now it's $18 per night per person.)

Disney Dining Plan

The standard dining plan includes One Snack, One Counter Service Meal and One Table Service Meal per night of your stay. You also receive a refillable mug that you can use at your resort's food court.

We are foodies, so we definitively found the Dining plan worth our money. We knew we wanted to eat at nice sit-down restaurants and enjoy ourselves. So at only $12 (the price has since increased to $18) a day we knew we would eat our monies worth. The only thing extra you will have to pay with the Dining Plan is gratuity for the table service meals.

You must make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) for all your table service meals. These can be made 6 months in advance of your check-in date. I had our Disney Vacation Planner book all these for us.

How I Plan

I started planning our vacation about 7 months in advance. My family does well when everything is scheduled for a vacation. So I made a spread sheet of what parks we would be visiting on which day (based on crowd levels and extra magic hours) and then I based our ADRs on this. I knew I didn't want to waste too much time "hopping" around for our meals, so I tried to keep our ADR for the park we spent the majority of the day in, or at a resort that was close to the park we would be in. (Example: We ate dinner at Ohana (at the Polynesian Resort) the day we spent in the Magic Kingdom because it is just a boat or Monorail ride away.)

Here is my actual Disney Spreadsheet. 

Planning out each day this way can help you decide if you need Park Hopping passes. It is possible to do one park per day, but we didn't want to be too rushed so we opted for 6 days with Park Hopping. This way we could always go back if we missed a parade or something that we really wanted to see.

It is also important to see what times the parades and firework shows are since these are not offered everyday. You definitively don't want to miss the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes Fireworks show.

I plan on blogging more about our Disney World vacation and sharing more tips and reviews to help others with their planning!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

I decided to read this book after learning the movie version was coming out this summer and one of my favorite actresses was starring - Shailene Woodley. I have enjoyed her on Secret Life of the American Teenager (which sadly has ended), and I am so excited she has a few movies coming out soon.
Life is spectacular. Forget the dark things. Take a drink and let time wash them away to where ever time washes away to.
Sutter Keely. He's the life of the party. He always has his 7-Up and booze in hand. His life is just cruising along, until he meets Aimee.
Aimee's not popular. She's smart. She has dreams. But she doesn't have fun. Sutter decides he can change her and show her how to have a good time.

Of course she falls in love with him. And even though he keeps denying it, he loves her too.
She's drenched and bedraggled, but I've never loved anyone as much as I love her right now. That's how I know I'll have to give her up.
Tharp puts you in the mind of Sutter. He is a complicated character and a charming narrator. He just draws you in.

I read this book a few weeks ago and I still don't know what I thought of the ending. I guess I'm a sucker for a happy ending. I've come to expect it. So when this book didn't give Sutter and Aimee the 'happily ever after' I wanted, initially I was upset. But let's face it. The ending was real. People don't change. We don't always get a happy ending. Maybe that's the point of the book. A healthy dose of reality.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars. Read this book, it will definitively make you think.

I'm excited to see the movie and see if they change anything (especially the ending.) Looks like I will have to wait til it comes out on DVD in Oct/Nov since no movie theaters near by are showing it.

Buy Spectacular Now on Amazon

Monday, August 12, 2013

Picture Frame Shelves

I've been wanting to change my living room wall art for a while. I finally decided to make a picture frame shelf wall.

Ikea makes great, affordable picture ledge shelves that are perfect for this. Sadly, they don't ship and we don't have an Ikea nearby. So we made our own! We used cedar and stained it to match my living room furniture.

Each self is only 3 pieces of wood. The bottom which is 3 1/2 inches x the length you want your shelf (mine are about 4 feet and about 2 feet.)

The back piece (which is where you screw the shelves to the wall) is about 2 inches, and the front picture ledge is about 1 inch. You just glue all the pieces together and voila - a picture ledge shelf.

All you need to hang the shelves are screws and possibly anchors if you aren't hanging on studs. We used 3 screws/anchors for the large shelf, and 2 for the smaller ones.

Then I added framed pictures and some nic-nacs. I loved how it turned out!

I also added a collage frame in my living room. This is my All About Lola collage! 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Let There Be Light

After 3 years my master bedroom is getting closer to what I envisioned! We finally moved the bed to it's proper place and we were ready to install some wall lamps on both sides of the bed.

I ended up ordering wall lamps from Home Depot because I could not find any that I liked in stores. I decided on this Oil Rubbed Bronze Swing Arm Lamp (Wow the price has gone up $12 since I ordered it.) It is a simple, traditional looking wall lamp which is just want I wanted.

The first thing to do when installing anything electrical is to hire an electrician (or get a family member who is an electrician to help :)) You must make sure there is power that you can run to where you want your wall lamps.

Always turn the electricity off (at the breaker) when dealing with wires etc.

Once the wires have been run, then you can decide on the placement of the lamps. I did some research online and most bedside wall lamps are centered with the top of your decorative pillows. Then the next measurement would be distance from your headboard (which we don't have yet) so I used my window as a guide and placed the lamps about 8 inches away from the curtains.

So we traced the blue electrical work box and then cut a hole for both lamps. Then we pulled the wires through and screwed the work box in place. 

These lamps come with a plug-in option as well. Since we had wires run, we needed to remove the cord and expose the wires. 

Then we needed to attach the back plate to the wall and use wire nuts to connect the wires. Next we fed the wires through the hole in the back plate into the work box so we could attach the lamp to the plate.

The lamp attached to the plate with 3 decorative screws.  

Then we turned the power back on and the lamps worked!

I love how it turned out. It only took us a few hours to install these lamps. Now each side of the bed has a lamp, perfect for late night reading! I also love that there is more room on the night stands since we no longer need table lamps.