Disney World: 5 tips to help you stay sane in the happiest place on earth

12th June 2018

Cinderella Castle

BY GUEST BLOGGER, SHARON LUI

For my recent birthday, my dad gifted me a pair of vintage Mickey Mouse ears that he bought in the 1980’s on our first family trip to Disney World in Florida. Seeing those magical ears instantly brought back memories of me at 7 years old, standing in front of Cinderella’s castle, wondering when I was going to marry my prince one day.

Of course, these happy flashbacks convinced me to book my own family vacation to Disney. However, I quickly learned that planning a one week family vacation for 7 people (myself, my husband, our 3 kids and my senior parents) was not for the faint of heart! Is it possible to book a Disney trip and do everything our family wants to see, ride and eat in only 7 days? Could we enjoy the high-energy atmosphere of the parks but also allow time for rest and relaxation? The answer, is a resounding ‘YES’.

Disney World

With some strategic planning and having best Disney resources at my disposal, here are five tips that saved my sanity and allowed my family to have the ultimate magical vacation…

1) SUBSCRIBE TO A DISNEY PLANNING FORUM

Knowledge is power, and what better way to acquire this information then from the Disney experts themselves, who practically live at the parks and offer their tips at a small cost. Touring Plans are an extremely invaluable resource for Disney planning fanatics, as they offer customizable touring plan templates (complete with rest breaks!) and provide a unique crowd calendar that predicts the best time of year to vacation. For only $20 USD, a two year touring plan subscription also includes a restaurant reservation finder service, an in-park chatline, real time ride wait times and a personalized faxed room request. The website forum also provided lots of advice for age appropriate rides, fastpass tips and the best restaurants and shows worth your hard earned money. Subscribing to this site saved me time, money and most importantly of all, stress! It is my first recommendation to anyone who is planning a Disney World trip.

Grand Floridian

 2) STAY ON DISNEY PROPERTY

If you want to take part in the full ‘Disney experience’, my advice is to stay onsite at one of Disney World’s 25 resorts.  You will get access to a slew of on-site perks, including round trip transportation to and from the airport, a 60 day fastpass booking window (in contrast to the 30 days available to off-site guests) and the option to purchase the Disney Dining Plan.  You will also have much closer proximity to the parks then your off-site counterparts (allowing the family time to head back to the hotel for a mid-day for a nap of course)! You will have unlimited access to Disney’s internal bus, boat and monorail transportation system.

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Update: Back In Toronto For A Wee Bit

15th April 2018

City Refinery Wendy

We are back from Costa Rica and will be in Toronto for April.

I didn’t realize until I stepped away for 3 months how much city life grinds on you. It really made me into an anxious production ruled by competitiveness and FOMO. Slow traveling has definitely helped me reset, become more tolerant and less rushed. So I am hoping to walk into the next chapter with a healthier purpose and higher consciousness!

Toronto Raptors Playoffs

Plans have shifted slightly since my last update… our Pod has been packed and shipped off so I can finally relax! Hubby is going ahead and driving Route 66 with his dad while CJ is sleeping over at my parent’s. Which means I get one whole week of me time! <insert happy dance>

Kiin Toronto

I’m looking forward to the Raptors playoffs, a spa day at Body Blitz, checking out the new SpinCo, indulging in all my favourite restaurants like Kiin (try their vegan Khao Yum made with 16 ingredients), Saku Sushi, Tabule and SLEEPING IN!!!

CJ + I will then fly to Arizona in May to meet hubby and from there, we will continue the Route 66 drive to our new home in California!

 

BarNotes: Orange Cardamom Cold Brewed Coffee

22nd March 2018

Orange Cardamom Coffee

I had this coffee in Costa Rica and was addicted after the first sip! I was only able to find it at Tacobar Jaco so I started making my own. Rich in flavour (the cardamon is a warm spice), it’s got both the zest and the buzz! I think you will enjoy it too.

Ingredients:

  • Your favourite coffee blend
  • 1 orange
  • Ground cardamom or 3-5 crushed pods
  • Almond or soy milk
  • Ice cubes
  • Simple syrup or sugar or agave

Preparation:

If you want to get fancy, here’s the recipe for homemade cold brew. Otherwise, you can just use your favourite coffee.

 

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Worldschooling: Life Project Education

20th March 2018

Life Project Education

I am so excited to share this post because I can’t speak highly enough about Life Project Education! I discovered it on a worldschooling website and was so intrigued that I emailed the owner and teacher, Alys immediately and enrolled CJ even before booking our flights! I actually never planned to go to Costa Rica haha but ended up making a whole ‘workcation’ out of it.

When it comes to education, I’m a really proactive mom who sits on the PTA and does extensive online research on all the different schools so I really respect Alys for operating such a top notch teaching environment and recommend checking out this school yourself. Plus it’s in Costa Rica… beats your kid reading about sloths and macaws in textbooks when they can actually see them IRL!

Worldschool

Life Project is located in the beach town of Manuel Antonio and considers itself a world school.  So they accept international students ages 4-12 for a day, a week, a month or annually! Their teaching concept is holistic – inspired by neuroscience, child development and human ethics.

The class sizes are small and mixed age, however, CJ received dedicated attention and a custom academic program designed for his level. He came home on day 3 to show me his pencil grip, then I overheard something about quantum physics in the 2nd week and during his 3rd week, his teacher commented that he spent 45 mins looking at a human anatomy book. ‘My child?!?!’ I asked proudly haha!

 

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10 Places To Stay In Costa Rica

17th March 2018

Villa Michelina Manuel Antonio

During our two months in Costa Rica, we stayed in luxury villas, Airbnb condos, hotels and even, a co-working hostel! We wanted our experience to be a healthy balance of mingling with locals to Instagram-worthy, ‘I’m on vacation’ mode!

So here are the 10 family-friendly places we checked into ranging from $100 to $500 CAD a night. Keep in mind, we were here February & March which is high season.

(This is not a sponsored post. We funded this trip entirely on our own and specifically curated these places based on our needs.)

Costa Rica Villa 1

Villa Michelina / Manuel Antonio — This is one of the first places we checked into and it pretty much ruined me! Nothing screams 3000 sqft of ‘luxury’ than soaring 20 ft ceilings, over-the-top headboards and a pool on the edge of a cliff! This 3 bedroom Bali-inspired home is so baller, I basically holed myself up in here for a week — even refusing to go out for dinner and opted to make my own meals in the gourmet kitchen! We also had many critters visit us during our stay… monkeys, iguanas, exotic birds and bull frogs mated on our patio! Downside is the house is secluded on top of a steep hill and you have to drive into town so that’s when a 4×4 SUV comes in handy. ($500/night) *****

Selina Hotel Coworking

Selina Hotel / Manuel Antonio — This is the perfect hub for digital nomads with both an open air and air-conditioned co-working space ($10 USD per day), a restaurant, 3 pools, a yoga lounge and accommodations. It’s mostly hostel style but we stayed in a deluxe cottage room with a private bathroom and balcony. Social and networking events happen weekly (free and some costs $10-15 USD). It’s centrally located and across the street from El Avion, my favourite restaurant in Costa Rica. There are multiple locations around the world. $200/night. (Bunk beds in a shared room starts at $26/night.) ***

Titi Condo Costa Rica

Titi Condos / Quepos — After we decided to extend our trip, we found this place on short notice. It’s a basic 500 sqft two bedroom condo in a gated complex and the price point is ideal for longer term stays. Neighbours are friendly locals and retired expats whom you share a small pool and laundry with. Comes with a housekeeper who checks in every other day. Kinda reminds me of the Melrose Place concept minus the love triangles and drama! ($125/night) ***

Volcano Villa La Fortuna

Volcano Villa / La Fortuna — It’s all about minimalistic and modern features at this 2 bedroom home. The show stopper is the gorgeous volcano view and a rooster that will wake you up in the morning! The hosts are a friendly young couple who lives next door and runs this Airbnb like pros. She’s Canadian and he’s Costa Rican and that’s how the love story goes. You will need a car to transport you to the local attractions (Arenal Volcanos, Hanging Bridges and Hot Springs) as this place is set back on a rural dirt road. ($350/night) ****

 

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My Son Is An Only Child… For These 7 Reasons

15th March 2018

CJ

Now that my son is four I’m constantly being asked if I plan on having more kids. So I’ve come up with a humorous (and very honest) answer… no more, because CJ is like having THREE boys already!

Truth is I wish I could have more. This photo was taken on my birthday a few years ago. Hubby planned a surprise spa day for me at Hockley Valley and CJ was a year and half. Every time I see this my heart strings get tugged because I know it’ll just be him (and his pet rock) forever.

See I’ve always had this ‘two kids or nothing’ rule. But now that I’ve had my first, there are seven very valid reasons why I decided to stop at one…

Private school

1) Private school is $24,000 a year. That will jump to $30,000 when we move to California and he enters kindergarten (age 5 in the US). YIKES! We decided to be open to public school options after hearing so many success stories of great schools in the Bay Area. HOWEVER, this (spared) tuition money isn’t going to be automatically plopped into our savings (or raising another child) because it’ll go straight into the over-inflated rent/mortgage we will have to dole out to snag a Peninsula or East Bay address. FML you can never win right?! Simply put, we can do it and have an ‘average’ life as a family of 4 but heck, we work hard so why settle for mediocre?! We love traveling and already have a wonderful and comfortable lifestyle but it’s only meant for 3 people. Now if we won the lottery…

Tired dad

2) We are exhausted AF! CJ has always been a very active boy. In utero he would have dance parties in my tummy! As a baby his feet would always be up in the air kicking away. Every time we had a play date in the park, I was THAT mom wildly chasing after her toddler while the other moms and babes were able to chill and enjoy a picnic. He just cannot stay still (alright he’s a boy) but truth be told… I’m bloody tired and some nights I crash at 9pm in the middle of reading him a bedtime story. Sure we can throw the dice and maybe the next child will be ‘less spirited’ but who knows and at this point, we likely will never find out. (This also ties into #5.)

 

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Kids Saving The Rainforest & Animal Sanctuary Tour

14th March 2018

Sloths

I finally got to see a sloth up close and personal and this lady of leisure even has the same name as me! 🙂

Did you know sloths sleep 14-16 hrs a day and their fur actually feels rough like velcro?

That’s what I learned on the Kids Saving The Rainforest tour. This non-profit was founded 20-some years ago by two 9 year old girls — one Canadian and one American. An encounter with a wounded sloth impacted these friends so much that they decided to step up and do something to help preserve/protect wildlife and the rainforest they lived in.

Kids Saving The Rainforest

KSTR was then born with the mission of educating people about the ecological importance of the rainforest. The girls (Janine and Aislin) sold painted rocks to raise money.  Later, the restoration program, rescue center and animal sanctuary was created. It’s truly impressive, all the work and care that has been put into this organization and space!

This was also a fantastic teaching opportunity to demonstrate to our preschool son how one small idea can blossom into a life changing venture!

Macaw

This past weekend we went on a tour and had a chance to visit with some of the animals and hear their stories of survival. Sadly, many were selfishly used for profitable entertainment purposes. Kerri, our lovely guide explained that as cool as it may be to take a selfie cuddling a sloth, they are actually not meant to be held by humans.

 

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El Avion Restaurant & Bar in Costa Rica

10th March 2018

El Avion Restaurant

This scene may look like a plane landed in the middle of a rain forest but it’s actually El Avion. A restaurant that’s built into a US cargo aircraft with a cliff-side patio that spans two levels. It’s located on the main road in the beach town of Manuel Antonio.

El Avion Restaurant

The story is that this is the sister plane of the C-123 which was shot down during the scandalous Iran-Contra Affair in the 1980’s during the Regan Administration. (You can read the full back story here.)

El Avion sunset

I’ll have to say this is my favourite restaurant in Costa Rica! We ate here 6 times during our one month stay. The dining experience is truly unique — when can you grab a cold beer and just chill in the cockpit right?! But what I enjoyed the most was coming for an early dinner (around 5:30pm) and catching the sun set over the ocean.

Shrimp and rice

The food is tasty with a large menu featuring classic American fares like steaks and pastas as well as, traditional Costa Rican dishes. As a seafood lover, I recommend this grilled shrimp and rice plate or the yellowfin tuna salad. Vegetarians/vegans would appreciate the delicious black bean burger or veggie sandwich.

 

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Update: From Toronto to Las Vegas to San Francisco to Costa Rica!

1st March 2018

Volcano Villa La Fortuna

Hola from Costa Rica!

It’s been two months since we left Toronto. Sorry I’ve left this blog neglected! I haven’t been able to find the right words to describe what I was going through without bringing on the tears. So I decided that what I really needed to do was unplug, soak up life and take it day by day rather than battle it out with writer’s block.

Moving Boxes

The last quarter of 2017 was intense and anxiety ruled me.

My departure was an overload of emotions. I was excited to escape the deep freeze that blanketed the city over the holidays, yet all the farewells and moving out of our King West condo — the home where we started our little family, completely broke me.

I could still hear the screeching sounds of tape running across box after box after box. The never-ending packing did eventually end and now it was just waiting for our ‘grand plan’ to unfold.

Everything was about to come together or maybe not! Over the next three months, we would be checking into 10 hotels and Airbnb’s… so I was anxious about double booking or worse, skipping a day and not having a roof over our heads!

Zumanity Las Vegas

Deep breaths… because adventure awaits!

What I told myself as I watched the New Year’s Times Square ball drop on TV… is that I probably won’t ever truly be ‘ready’. But it’s still ok to say yes even if I don’t have all the answers yet.

Nervous AF or not, it was 2018 and our first stop was Las Vegas. (You can read all about how I kept CJ entertained in Sin City while hubby attended his annual marketing conference here.)

After we flew to San Francisco where I had three weeks to pull together a plan and figure out where to live, where to setup our office, which school CJ would attend and all the other fun grownup stuff. Yep this is #momlife!

San Francisco Caltrain

By the end of our SF lag, poor hubby commented that he felt like an Uber driver. Sitting in I-280 traffic and patiently driving me from one neighbourhood to the next as we went through our extensive check-list.

Twenty one (yes, 21!!) neighbourhoods later, we shortlisted the top four: Burlingame + Los Altos on the Peninsula side and Lafayette + Walnut Creek in East Bay.

 

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What Should A 4 Year Old Know?

25th February 2018

Westside Montessori Toronto

A friend posted this great article on Facebook “What Should A 4 Year Old Know?” and I’m sharing it here because as parents we always wonder if we are doing ‘enough’.

I was touring a school in the San Francisco Bay Area recently and walked into a very academic looking classroom. At first I thought I mistakenly went to the grade school wing but a teacher confirmed that this indeed was the KINDERGARTEN class!

She then showed me some sample books the kids were reading (they looked like grade 1 level) and over on the bulletin, I saw pages of work — impressive that these 4-5 year olds were writing in full sentences already!

I left feeling a bit discouraged and questioned my own parenting abilities because I long ditched the flash cards and CJ is ‘drawing coconuts’ (a circle with a stick on top haha)… a proud momma moment when he showed me and I thought it was a BIG DEAL! Yet now I felt like he was soooo behind… despite attending a wonderful Montessori School in Toronto (that’s a photo of him in his Casa classroom up on top), I wondered if this was a Silicon Valley ‘norm’ and were we in for a rude awakening? 

 

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