Our Disney Vacation: How We Do Disney

I should have posted about our amazing trip to Fort Wilderness Campground at Disney World a while back, but I wanted to have all the videos done first. Check our our magical vacation videos HERE.

Disney World is not for everyone, but it’s our favorite place to go on vacation. If you follow my YouTube channel, you know we’ve travelled many places with our children, but we always return to Disney World every few years. It’s where my parents took me on vacation growing up, so it’s as sentimental to me as it is fun. It’s also one of the places that brings enjoyment to my teenager AND my two small children. 

Our Disney Methods

Everyone does their Disney vacations a bit differently and, in my experience, most people are passionate about the specific methods they follow when experiencing the Disney resorts. Obviously, you should vacation in a way that is best suited for your family’s needs and interests. I’m just going to share how WE like to plan our Disney vacations. If you get any ideas or helpful hints, then that’s great!

How we pay for it

I’m certain I don’t need to go into detail about how expensive a Disney vacation can be. Depending on your transportation, accommodations, length of stay, and a host of other factors, a Disney vacation can either be a moderate or an extreme expense, but it’s almost never cheap. 

Because we go about every 3 years, we have a good idea of what it is going to cost us. About 2 years out, I start saving a monthly amount through an online bank that offers automatic withdrawals. I use the online banking because it is separate from our regular bank accounts and I’m less likely to pull money from it for other reasons. I treat it like a monthly bill and, because I start them a few years prior to the trip, the withdrawals are quite small and manageable. 

We also keep it affordable through our choices of accommodations and meal planning (see below).

Where we stay

Obviously, we like to stay in our camper when we travel. Our Disney Vacations are no different. Disney has its own campground: the Fort Wilderness Campground and Resort. There are three tiers of campsites for RVers: premium, preferred, and basic full hook-ups. We always book a preferred site for two reasons:

 1) They are a little less expensive than the premium (just under $100/night) while still offering full hook-ups 

2) Because they are in the original loops from the first days of the campground, they are located close to the transportation boat launch as well as the campground store and restaurants.   

As far as campsites go, $100/night is really high, but compared to the cost of staying on site in a Disney hotel, $100/night is a steal.

Before we were RVers, we always stayed off-site. There are tons of reasonably-priced options for renting full-size homes within 10 minutes of the resorts through VRBO or AirBnB. Staying at one of the Disney resort hotels can significantly increase your costs for accommodations, so it just wasn’t reasonable for us to pay for on-site accomodations in a small hotel room when we could have a whole house all to ourselves for a fraction of the price.


Campground guests are never eligible for the free meal plans that are often offered to other on-site guests in the fall. Thankfully, we can easily pack a full vacation’s worth of breakfast food in the camper before we leave, as well as snacks and ingredients for sandwiches. We eat the rest of our meals in the parks. We also save money by getting counter-service meals instead of table service, which is super easy now that mobile ordering is available. The portions are large, so we can even share some meals between kids to cut down on cost and waste.

Another helpful option is to pack your own meals and snacks. Unlike almost every other amusement park in the country, Disney let you bring your own food into the park. Just be sure to check the guidelines for storage as large coolers are no longer allowed.  

I itemize our food costs upon returning from each visit and we always spend less on food than we would spend to have each of us use a meal plan. So, until my kids are teenagers and start eating like it, I don’t see us purchasing a meal plan in the future.


Obviously, if we are taking the camper, we have to pull it from Pennsylvania. It takes us 20-25 hours, depending on whether or not we stop to boondock in the night.

We actually started driving down before we got a camper. Jim doesn’t mind the drive and it costs way less in gas (even with our gas-chugging F250 pulling the trailer) than it would cost for the 5 of us to fly down. 

If you decide to drive, keep in mind that campground guests are the only on-site visitors who do not have to pay a daily parking fee to keep their cars there.

Day-to-day planning

Many people like to plan their Disney vacations down to the minute, day by day, so they don’t miss anything. They have fastpasses, dinner reservations, and shows scheduled for every day. 

There was a time when we did that too, but because we go every few years, I now feel less pressure to “see it all.”  So, before our window for reserving meals and rides opens, we sit down and discuss what we really want to do. Is there a new ride we’ve never ridden? Is there a restaurant we’d really like to try? Then, I set aside specific days where we get reservations to do those things. The rest of the time, we just wing it. By being more flexible, we have been able to have some amazing experiences we hadn’t planned ahead of time. 

That being said, we almost always go during low-crowd times of the year (February or September) so I cannot promise it would work during busy seasons. In addition, we are seasoned Disney visitors, but if I were going for the first time I would find it extremely overwhelming. For someone who has never been on a Disney World vacation before, I would highly recommend either reaching out to a friend who goes often, visiting your local Disney-specialized travel agent, or taking advantage of the services offered online from freelancers willing to do all your planning and scheduling for you.

Crowd Control

Like I said, we tend to visit Disney World during the slowest times of the year, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be crowds. With Disney’s new pricing system pushing people away from the busiest seasons, there are still likely to be days when the parks are packed. 

Our most-useful strategy for avoiding crowds? Getting our butts out of bed really early.

We are early-risers as part of our daily routine, so getting the kids out of the house by 6:30 is a regular practice for us. If you are staying at a Disney Resort, you should definitely take advantage of the Early Magic Hours provided at most parks. Unlike past years, Disney now offers EMH almost every morning for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. Each time we took advantage of the extra hour, we walked on three or four empty rides before the queues started to fill with people. But, even if you are not staying on site, getting to the parks early is still a good strategy, as things don’t really pick up until almost lunch time.

If you’re thinking, “why would I want to get up early on vacation?” then Disney World might not be a good vacation destination for you. Sure, it’s fun, exciting, charming, and magical, but it’s not particularly relaxing. Maybe you should try a Disney Cruise instead.

Because we have so many more destinations around the country where we would like to take our RV, I cannot say when we will be heading back to Disney World. But, if this past vacation was our last Disney vacation as a family, I am happy to say it was definitely the best. Check it out in the link below!



Campground Review: Splash Magic Campground

It’s getting harder to find campsites on holiday weekends, but we just can’t seem to get ourselves organized enough to make reservations during the early months of the year. Fortunately, we have friends who have their act together, so they booked us sites at Splash Magic Campground for Labor Day weekend this year.

Click HERE to watch a video of our weekend!


Splash Magic is located on the Susquehanna River in Northumberland, PA. Despite being close to home, we’ve never stayed there, but we know many people who have. They have all highly recommended it. After staying there, I would recommend it as well – with a few qualifications.

Whether or not you will like Splash Magic really depends on what kind of camping you are planning to do and what kind of rig you have (or do not have.) If you are looking for a quiet weekend in nature, this is not the place. If you’re looking for a fun-filled weekend of activities for your kids, then Splash Magic is probably the campground for you.

Pros and Cons – 


Activities. There are four pools, water slides, and a hot tub. Fans of fishing have both the river and a pond full of catfish for casting their lines. There is free nightly entertainment, a bike park, and a huge playground. Your dog can get exercise in the large dog park. For a fee, there are bike rentals, paddle and bumper boats, an arcade, and ceramics.  Families can take a free wagon ride through the campground. We hardly saw our older kids, as they were constantly trying new activities.

Sites. We were very happy with our sites. We stayed in full hook-up sites near the office. It was flat and dry, and had a concrete pad. The size was decent, compared with other private campgrounds we’ve visited. The location of our site (near the office) was very quiet, despite its proximity to the pool and playground. There was a bank down to the next row of campers, which created a nice separation between rows. 

Cabins. There are many cabins at Splash Magic, and they look to be in nice shape. We obviously stayed in our RV, but relatives of ours visit every year and they love the cabins. Most of them are equipped with a full kitchen and bathroom, as well as air conditioning. 


Lack of supervision. Splash Magic has much to offer and it is reflected in the price. For what campers pay for a holiday weekend, I would expect there to be more staff on hand to oversee the safety of campers. For example, the pool has no lifeguards. “Swim at your own risk” is posted all over, but kids will be kids. Often, there was a human train going down the waterslides, kids running on the deck, and other horseplay that would never be allowed in a public pool with lifeguards. 

Likewise, throughout the campground, we witnessed people partying heavily, using inappropriate language around families with young kids, and one member of our party almost got run over by a golf cart going far above the posted 5mph. Some people are often bothered by overactive security at campgrounds, but I did not feel confident that a serious situation could be handled by the campground staff. Fortunately, there wasn’t one.

Cleanliness. For the first time ever, Jim would not shower in the public showers. Because he barely fits in our RV shower, a campground shower has to be really gross for him to even consider not using it. These were the worst bathrooms we’ve ever seen at a campground.

The pool was cleaned daily and the water was always clear, but the pool deck was often dirty. It would benefit everyone to have the deck hosed down at closing each night, or perhaps prohibit street shoes within the pool fence. 

Overall, we had a very nice weekend at Splash Magic and have chosen to return again next year. 


Back to School!

Summer comes to an end tomorrow, and it’s ok.

As a teacher, I’m blessed to be able to live the best of both worlds: time at home with my kids in the summer and a rewarding full-time job the rest of the year. God bless full-year stay-at-home moms, and also full-year working moms. I know how lucky I am.

Because both of these worlds are great for our family, I am not sad that school is starting again. It helps that we have two amazing camping trips coming up in the next few weeks – one at Fort Wilderness at Disneyworld! It also helps that I love my job, even with all its frustrations. In the first years, due to being insecure and overwhelmed, I often dreaded going in. Now, as a seasoned teacher, I feel as at home in my school as I do at my house. It seems strange to type that, but it’s true.

The kids are all excited to go back as well. 4yo started last week at her preschool and she’s loving it. 7yo was disappointed this morning when I told him it was only Sunday and he will have to wait another day to start school. 13yo is not ecstatic like the others, but I think she’ll be happy to be back with her friends every day.

So, for everyone starting back to school this month – students AND teachers – I hope you have a fabulous school year!

Recipe Review: Pie Iron Breakfast Patties

This summer has been so busy that we haven’t been camping nearly as often as we would like, but we did manage to get away last weekend to Francis Slocum State Park. It may have been the most perfect camping weekend ever – perfect weather, perfect site, perfect company!

For breakfast, we tried a Food Network recipe Jim found online. The original video is embedded below, and you can also see how our version turned out by watching the video of our weekend HERE (breakfast is at minute 6:30).

Our verdict: We liked the basic idea of this recipe, but it was a little bland. Next time, we will add some sautéed onions and more spices. It was quick and easy enough to put together, but we already had cooked bacon set aside from the previous day’s breakfast. If you also had to cook the bacon, let it cool, then add it, it would triple the cooking time. As an easy solution, you could just leave out the bacon all together.

Next time, I may prep everything ahead of time to store it in a container so we can just pour them right into the pie irons. This would also be a smart option if you are tent camping and do not have refrigerator space to store all the ingredients.

If you try this recipe, let me know in the comments how it turned out!

Big Spender

I had the weirdest exchange with a stranger at a hardware store earlier this summer.

I was in our local hardware store shopping for Father’s Day gifts last week and I noticed a display of beer can tumblers from that company whose coolers cost more than my mortgage. The tumblers, normally $25 each, were marked down 30%. At $18 each, they were still pretty expensive for beer tumblers but, knowing Jim would never drop that kind of money on one for himself, I decided to get it for him. I also grabbed one for my father-in-law.

As I was placing them in my basket, an older man (I would guess he was in his 60s) came up behind me.

Man: “Ah, some of their stuff is just so expensive.”

Me: “Yes, but at least these are on sale.”

Man: “Well, I would never buy them, but clearly money is no object for you.”

Then he walked away.


Yes. Clearly I care nothing about money, which is why I’m Father’s Day shopping through the sales at the hardware store. I’m so fancy.


Happy 15th Anniversary!

15 years ago, Jim and I threw a giant party that resulted in us being tethered to each other for life. 

Like all couples, we have definitely had our ups and downs, but we have also been extremely blessed. Our greatest blessings have been our three beautiful children, but we also get sick of being around them all the time. So, this year we decided to leave them with people we trust and head away for the weekend to celebrate.

Unfortunately, we waited until the last minute to plan and did a crappy job of saving money, so we were forced to go somewhere reasonably priced within driving distance where there were lots of free things to do. It turns out there is such a place: Ithaca, NY.

We settled on Ithaca as a destination when, after hours of online searching, I stumbled upon an adorable rental on the Cayuga Lake called the Ithaca Boathouse. With a private dock, full kitchen, living and dining spaces, and off-street parking, it was perfect for our weekend away. Even better, there were tons of free touristy things to do nearby. 

To see all the fun we packed into our weekend get-away, check out our video HERE! Links to all the amazing places we visited are in the description.

♫ Take Me Out on a Wednesday ♫

I’ll totally honest: Jim and I are NOT spontaneous.

Throughout the (almost) fifteen years we’ve been married, we have had many adventures, but they are always well-planned. We travel frequently, but always after doing our research. We are creatures of habit. We like to eat at a certain time, we go to bed at a reasonable hour, and we never leave town on a whim. So, when my aunt called on Tuesday to let me know she had two tickets she couldn’t use for the Phillies/Diamondbacks game the next evening, I wasn’t hopeful that I could convince Jim to travel the 2.5 hours to Philadelphia on a work night.

To my surprise, his response was: “You know, I think we could do that.”

So, as soon as he got home from work yesterday, we kissed the kids, hopped in the car, and headed to Citizens Bank Park. The weather was beautiful, but the traffic was terrible, and we pulled into the parking lot as National Anthem was being sung. After wandering the stadium looking for dinner and the perfect beer, we made our way to our seats.

Despite being in the top tier, they were really excellent seats. We could clearly see the ball go over the plate. The Jumbotron was right in front of us and the Philadelphia skyline hovered over left field. The weather was gorgeous and not to hot or cold. All the fans sitting around us were lovely.

Unfortunately, the Phillies lost 2-0, and we only got to watch Bryce Harper bat once as a pinch hitter because he was on rest in preparation for their important upcoming series with Atlanta. It figures: he has started all 68 games of this season and the one we go to is the one he doesn’t play. Still, the crowd reaction when he stepped out of the dugout to bat for pitcher Zach Elfin in the bottom of the 8th inning was electrifying.

The drive home was late and my eyes were exhausted from staring at a dark, empty turnpike for hours, but the trip was well worth it. Jim, who napped lightly as I drove home, still managed to get up and get to work on time this morning.

As we pulled into the driveway in the middle of the night, Jim said, “That was a fun trip. I would almost do it again.” Perhaps more spontaneity is in our near future after all.

The “Lie-Down”: A Nap-time Solution

The other day, I was talking with a friend who has a toddler and I shared with him this parenting trick that has worked for all my children when it comes to nap-time.

Whenever my kids have reached a certain age, they have all insisted they no longer need naps – even when it’s obvious they still do. I’m sure they are not unique in this, but it makes for a very frustrating parenting stage. For my oldest, just saying the word “nap” would elicit whining and crying that would make you think she was headed to the doctor for shots. She slept more than the other two ever did, but she always insisted she was not tired.

Photo by Tracey Hocking

One day, on the way home from a morning activity, I was mentally preparing her for the idea that she was going to take a nap after lunch and she was predictably insisting she did not need one. That’s when I came up with the “Lie-down.”  I probably should have come up with a better name, but as long as it wasn’t a “nap” she was on board.

The most torturous thing about naps for my daughter was the perceived infinity of naptime. The waiting to fall asleep seemed like a lifetime – a toddler purgatory. She would have to stay in bed until she fell asleep, then she could get up after she napped, but that all seemed so vague to her. Because she likes order, routine, and certainty, I made her a deal:

“You do not have to nap today, but you have to lie down in your bed. I’m going to turn on your sleepy music. If you are still awake when the music ends, you may get up.”

She wasn’t entirely convinced, but the idea of it not being a nap was attractive. Knowing there was a definite ending also appealed to her. After lunch, she crawled into bed with little fuss and I started her CD. Before it ended, she was asleep and stayed that way for a few hours. It worked!

I know my kids well enough to know that, if they don’t fall asleep within 45 minutes, they aren’t falling asleep. A 45 minute CD was just enough time to let her rest and relax. After that, if she didn’t fall asleep, I could at least be assured she had rested and relaxed for 45 minutes, which is better than nothing.

Since, that day, I have used this method with all my kids. The younger two did not listen to music when they went to bed, so instead we just used the digital clocks in their rooms. At two, they didn’t really understand time, but they knew their numbers. I would put them down shortly after 1:00pm and tell them they couldn’t get up again until the first number was a 2. Sometimes, if my 7yo is particularly cranky on a weekend, I will still use this method and he falls asleep almost every time.

We are almost out of the nap-time stage for good in our house. The “Lie-Down” has served us well. I hope you find it useful. Maybe you can also come up with a better name!


Summer Break: Not Just a Vacation

I saw a meme the other day and, despite a 15-minute Google search, I cannot find it now.

What it said was this:
“Teachers are not on summer break. They are in recovery.”

Truer words were never spoken.

I recognize other stressful professions don’t get nine weeks every year to recover. I am grateful for people who do those jobs. That doesn’t change the fact that teaching is an emotional roller-coaster. Through the year, I invest so much of myself in my students, my curriculum, and my fellow teachers that the experience leaves me feeling paper thin. As I age, my skills in the classroom continue to evolve and develop, but my stamina decreases with every year. I enter each summer break more tired and worn than the previous.

I had a fabulous year this year. At the beginning of the school year, I moved into my brand-new classroom. I had a wonderful group of students who reached and then surpassed every expectation I set. My department worked together as a team, trying new things and collaborating to do what is best for students. The parents were so helpful and supportive. So many amazing things happened this year, and yet I am emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. I watched new hires go through what every new teacher experiences and reminded myself that this job is really difficult. Those of us who have been here for a while forget just how challenging teaching can be because we have learned to navigate the waters so well. Still, it takes a toll.

I (and I imagine most of my fellow teachers) will have a summer filled with planning new curriculum, selecting new concert repertoire, and teaching summer workshops and camps. Despite that, being able to step away from my normal routine will help me regain a fresh focus for another school year. I can only speak for myself, but I doubt I could keep doing this job if there wasn’t an opportunity to step away and regroup.

I am certainly open to exploring other forms of school years, like trimesters or quarterly sessions, but those sorts of mountains are hard to move. Until changes happen, I will relish the opportunity to rest, re-establish my intentions, and start the next school year with a clear head.


The Blessing of May Chaos

It’s May again! For us, that means concert season, field trips, soccer, baseball, dance recitals, gymnastics, Mother’s Day, spring weddings, and end-of-the-school-year celebrations.

Every May is crazy for us, and that’s ok. Throughout the year, our family rhythms vary from quiet to frenzied. We know each season is coming and we also know it will pass – whether we accomplish everything or not. I know some families who are constantly busy with no lulls. Props to them, but I don’t think I could survive this pace year-round. I need to know that the chaos is temporary in order to keep a level head while we wade through it.

7yo playing his favorite sport!

After two decades of adulting, there are a few truths I have learned to accept when it comes to busy seasons:

Our house will be messy. We are not neat freaks, but (for two working parents with three busy kids) we keep a pretty clean house. In May, however, that’s just not possible. I used to carry great shame and guilt about the state of my house during busy seasons, but we simply cannot keep up. With time, I have learned to live with the clutter, dirty floors, and dust because I know I will have time to clean once our schedule clears a bit.

We cannot go to everything. So much happens in May – especially on the weekends. Weddings, birthday parties, sporting events, and end-of-year school celebrations fill our calendar. We could never attend all of it, which means some feelings may be hurt. Until we figure out how to clone ourselves so we can be everywhere, my family is just going to have to make thoughtful choices about how we spend our time.

Sometimes, it’s OK to take short cuts. In quiet seasons, we have time to meal plan, cook at home, read lots of books before bed, and mop the floors weekly. In busy seasons, that is a pipe dream. We try our best, but I refuse to beat myself up over grabbing my kid dinner from the baseball concession stand instead of packing fruit and vegetable-filled meals for between games. If my child has to read for homework, it may happen in the car while we run from one event to another. My floors may get a speedy sweeping, but mopping is only going to happen if I spill something. We do what we can.

We will spend more money. Often, these May happenings come with a price tag. Obviously, weddings and birthday parties require gifts. Kids can’t play sports for free, and shortcuts like fast food cost way more than eating at home. We do our best to be mindful about our spending, but it’s hard to be frugal when you have 30 minutes to eat, change uniforms, and get your child to their next event.

June will come soon. I used to have meltdowns sometime around the third week of May. Ok, sometimes I still do. But through the years I’ve gained perspective on how much of a blip in life this season truly is.

12yo in her dance recital.

In the midst of it all, I try to remind myself how truly lucky we are. Having the means and ability to be this busy is a privilege and a blessing. Complaining about it is nonsensical because we’ve done it to ourselves. We make our schedules. We sign up for the activities. Traveling through this season is a challenge, but we are fortunate enough to have the means and ability to make it happen. A younger me never fully appreciated the comfort we live in that affords us the opportunity to fill our schedule, but the older and (slightly) wiser version of me certainly does.

So, bring it on, May! Here we go!

4yo running her first race!



P.S. – I only had time to write this because my dog doesn’t know what a weekend is and insists on sticking to our regular early-morning schedule – even on a Saturday.