Tips For Bringing a Toddler to Disney

 

This year, I was able to convince my husband (after considerable persuading) on a trip to Disney World with our *almost* 3 year old. Although it was hardly my first trip to Disney, when you add a toddler to the mix, the plans change. Here are my best tips for other parents (and non-parents, too!) based on our experience.

  1. Remember, a toddler-centric trip is NOT a see all/do all trip.

We started small. Due to time, we weren’t able to visit all the parks. We considered getting a park hopper pass, but we’ve used that option in the past and didn’t really feel it was worth the extra price. It takes A LOT of time to get between parks (seriously Disney, get on that). So, although you may think you can squeeze two parks into one day, it’s not really that practical. Well, I shouldn’t say that. It’s doable, just not easy… and with a toddler, it’s really unrealistic. So, with that said, we settled on the Magic Kingdom (obviously) and Animal Kingdom because we felt those parks offered the most for little ones. Even if you do have longer and are able to really “do Disney”, you still might not get to everything, especially those “big kid” rides, and that’s okay. Disney will still be there years from now and you’ll have an excuse to go back.

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  1. Get to the parks early.

Kids seem to be early risers, my kid is at least (which is so annoying on most mornings). Take advantage of that and get to the park first thing in the morning. By the way, apparently “first thing in the morning” at Disney ISN’T when the park opens, but rather 30 – 45ish minutes before it opens. At the parks, you’ll have to park, unload, take a tram to the gates (add a monorail/boat for Magic Kingdom), and go through security…phew, so that definitely takes a hot minute. Plus, Disney has a “rope drop” ceremony which I *hear* is a must-see… **full disclosure: we’ve never actually gotten there in time for the rope drop because somebody (maybe me…) can’t get her ish together. I know getting up that early doesn’t seem appealing, especially when you’re on vacation (!!!), but it’s worth it, promise. Most of the crowds don’t get there until around 10am, so getting there at opening will give you a couple of hours to practically walk on most rides.

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The park is practically yours before 10 am!

  1.  Take a mid-day break.

In an earlier Disney post, I shared a pre-parent Disney memory about watching a toddler have a full on meltdown in a princess gown. Yeah, I’m learning that’s how a three-year old deals with exhaustion. I mean, I get it. I’ve been known to have a too-tired-to-deal meltdown myself, I just wasn’t lucky enough to have a Belle dress and tiara.  Even if you think your kid can hang, don’t chance it! Spend the cooler, less crowded morning hours getting in as much as you can, and then when the heat rises and the crowds push in, skip out for a few hours. Take a nap back at your hotel, go for a swim, or at the very least, find a shady spot in the park and let your little one have a little R&R. That break will give them the fuel to make it through the fireworks. In my opinion, Disney World is the most magical at night and I would hate for us all to miss out on that because my kid was d-o-n-e.

That look you get when you haven’t had a nap.

  1. Take advantage of the fast pass system.

Disney allows you to make three initial fast pass choices per day prior to your trip. Definitely reserve these for popular rides, character visits, and your personal must-dos. There are TONS of people out there that know WAAAAAAAY more than me and have suggestions for the best use of your fast passes, so definitely check those out as you’re planning. Most people would suggest, and I would agree, that you shouldn’t waste your fast passes on anything during the first two hours. Remember, that’s when crowds are still relatively low, so save your fast pass choices until later in the afternoon when the wait times are longer. We scheduled our 1st choice at 11:00 a.m. and then tried to schedule our next 2 choices shortly after that because once those are used up, you can get on the app and add another, and then another, and on and on. With that in mind, if your 3rd choice isn’t until later in the evening, you won’t have as much time to add more. As soon as we scanned our 3rd fast pass, I was on the app choosing our next one while I was walking in line to board the current ride. By doing that and wasting no time getting our next fast pass, we were able to line up one after another up until we left the park.

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  1. Don’t go crazy with what you bring in the park.

Disney may charge outrageous prices for pretty much everything inside the park (and technically outside of the park, because, hello….parking.); however, they are pretty awesome in that they will let you take a lot into the parks. Food, drinks, toys,  etc. Knowing these things are allowed and Disney prices are hella high, you’ll be tempted to load down that stroller. My advice… don’t. Bring some snacks, sure. Some refillable water bottles, yeah. *Disney gives free ice water* Throw a few little toys or odds & ends under there, fine. But don’t go overboard because you’ll have to take everything out to fold up that stroller on the parking lot trams and possibly monorail and put everything back in when you get off. That got old fast. And p.s.- don’t be that jerk that doesn’t fold up their stroller and keeps other people from getting on board. They suck.

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  1. Bring glow sticks!

Nighttime at Disney is my absolute FAVORITE! I love the ambiance, the way the lights set a glow upon the parks and music is playing overhead. As I was in Dollar Tree picking up small toys & trinkets to bring, I decided to grab some glow sticks as a special nighttime surprise. Best $3 I spent! Not only did my little one enjoy wearing the bracelets (and swinging them around dangerously close to strangers…), we also wrapped them around the handle of our stroller to help identify it. You see, at the parks you’ll leave your stroller in a specified area while you’re on the ride. At night, these areas are often in dimly lit spots over to the side, and your stroller may also get moved to make room for others. By having the glow sticks on our stroller, it helped us spot it much easier in the dark than simply tying a ribbon of some sort.

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     7. If possible, bring reinforcement!

I know that this might not be an option for everyone, but having extra hands on deck was a saving grace for us. For our trip to Disney, we were joined by my mom and dad. To our little one’s credit, he did great throughout the trip; however, he’s still a toddler and has the attention span of a baby squirrel. When he got antsy during the shows, it was so nice to pass him down the line. When we were all tired towards the end of the evening and he was refusing to sit in his stroller, having four adults to bear the load of carrying around a 30 pound tired little boy was a blessing. Of course, selfishly, it was an added bonus to have my parents- who don’t ride “thrill” rides- along to entertain while my husband and I were able to sneak in the big kid rides.

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     8. Don’t discount Disney because you think you’re child is too young.

Our time at Disney is one of the best memories I have and it was just as much of a joy to my parents, husband, and myself. I went back and forth for months wondering if this trip would be worth it. Many people had their opinions on when the best time to take a Disney trip would be. Some thought it was crazy taking an almost 3 year old… and I used to be that person. But, it was so worth it. The excitement in his voice as he squealed with delight pulling into the parking lot, the pure joy on his face riding the stinkin’ carousel (his favorite ride, go figure), watching my dad holding my sleepy son like he did for me almost 30 years ago. Yeah, it was worth it.

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Looking for more family friendly ideas? Check out the post I wrote on the Stone Mountain Christmas in Atlanta, Georgia!

My Three Favorite Beaches on St. Martin

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What’s your idea of the perfect beach? The answer, of course, is relative. That’s because the answer depends on your likes and interests, the amount of activity you choose to do, and your comfort levels.

When I started looking at ideas for an upcoming trip that I would take with my husband, I knew that we wanted 3 things. The first, and most important, crystal clear water. The second, a lush and mountainous backdrop. Lastly, seclusion. We didn’t want to be sunning in the middle of a long line of beach chairs and parasols; rather, we wanted to be able to look down the beach and be the only ones around.

We settled upon St. Martin, a small dual nation island in the Caribbean. The island held many beaches that lived up to our criteria. However, if you’re looking for something a bit different, St. Martin may still hold your favorite beach, as well. With over 30 beaches, there’s something for everyone’s taste. During our week there, we were able to visit 9 of the beaches. Below, you will find my reviews of our 3 favorite ones, keeping in mind what we deem the perfect beach.

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Baie Rouge, on the western side of the island not far from the French capital of Marigot.

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This was our favorite beach on the island, and despite wanting to see as many spots as we were able, we chose to come back to Baie Rouge on our last day.  This long stretch of “red” sand ticked all the boxes.

The water was a beautiful aqua color, and because it faced the Caribbean side rather than Atlantic, was generally pretty calm. One aspect to note, the water dropped off pretty quickly, so something to watch if you’re not a swimmer. I, myself, though I can swim, am not the strongest, yet didn’t find any trouble wading in the surf. While I was perfectly content along the shore, my husband was itching to snorkel. That was going to have to be all him. I have a severe fear of deep water (which, apparently, is called bathophobia according to Google. Who knew). If you’re facing the ocean, to the very far right end of the beach is a point that juts out and is surrounded with rocks. This is where you’ll find all the fish… and, therefore, where you won’t find me (I also have a fear of fish touching me… ichthyophobia, lol). Swim around that point and there’s another small cove on the other side, along with a pretty amazing arch that you can swim through. Pretty cool, eh?

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The beauty of the water was equally matched by the beauty of its surroundings. The beach is hugged by cliffs and hills, overlooked by the big ticket villas. It’s said that Baie Rouge gets it’s name from the “red” sand of it’s beach. Red? Maybe not… but it was super, super thick and fluffy. I’m talking, like, quick sand. You’ll definitely work those glutes walking up the hill out of the water. Looking out across the water, you’ll get a nice view of Anguilla. All in all, it’s absolutely beautiful everywhere you turn.

And lastly, ahh….. seclusion. While the beach isn’t necessarily secret, it’s by no means crowded. Upon entering the small parking lot of the beach access, you’ll walk down the steps that run beside the two small, and only, beach side bars (which is surprisingly really good). You can choose to setup for the day around these bars, which offer chair and umbrella rentals, if needed. However, if you walk down the beach to the left, you’ll have it all to yourself. Oh, and, um… the general expectation is that if a beach is on the quiet side, the clothing is more on the optional side (but never the people you actually want to see nude! haha) 😉

Happy Bay, on the French side along the west coast via Friar’s Bay.

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This was the first spot that we checked out, and set the bar high. You’ll find this secluded beach by first going to Friar’s Bay, which should be noted as an absolutely beautiful beach in its own right, though we didn’t stay long. Upon entering the parking lot, walk past the beach side restaurants of Friar’s Bay to the far side and you’ll see a path at the foot of a hill. Follow the path up and over the hill, through fairly lush vegetation filled with birds, iguanas, and who knows what else! It’s a really easy hike over (I did it in flip flops!) and takes around 10-15 minutes.

For beauty, this beach gets a 10 out of 10 in my eyes. Beautiful, clear water… which rings true for most beaches on the island. Like Baie Rouge, this western-side beach faces the Caribbean Sea making the waters fairly calm. It was the perfect place to wade and lay along the shore, but also provides some good snorkeling as there are rocks along the far sides.

 

The area around Happy Bay was probably my favorite of the spots we visited. Walking over the hill and through the trees you get a glimpse of that beautiful bay, and when you hop down the embankment you see what is just a pristine beach. Palm trees and other plants hug the edges of the sand providing a much appreciated bit of shade. Moreover, the seclusion of the beach gives it a complete tropical feel as there is little in your view outside of pure nature.

While Happy Bay is becoming less and less “secret” (thanks to bloggers like myself… sorry!), it was still the most private of the spots we visited. When we first arrived a little after 9, there were only maybe 4 other people on the entire beach. As it got later in the afternoon, more people were making their way over; however, even at the busiest, there were no more than a handful of people spread throughout. Again, fewer people often equal fewer inhibitions, so you’ll likely see some “naturalists”, but no big deal, really. If you do decide to visit Happy Bay, and you really should, be sure to bring everything that you may need to enjoy the day. There are no restaurants, chair rentals, or bathrooms… other than the big blue one! 😉 Being the easy hike it is, you can easily bring those things over with you.

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Pinel Island, just off the east coast on the French side. A quick & easy ferry boat ride over from the French Cul de Sac. 

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When pulling into the “ferry station” at the French Cul de Sac, you’ll be absolutely sure you’re in the wrong place. In fact, thinking back… we thought we were in the wrong place at every beach we visited. Rest assure, you’ve found it, though it certainly doesn’t look like anything more than an abandoned parking lot and someone’s personal dock. I don’t know what I was expecting when I pictured the ferry over to the island, but the reality wasn’t that. It’s small & super laid back… and most importantly, quick & efficient. You’ll pay for the round trip, $12 per person (cash only), as you’re getting on the boat and the trip itself only takes about 5 minutes. Another option getting over to Pinel is to kayak, which is absolutely doable as you can literally see the beach from the shore.

After being dropped off at the dock, you’ll have two choices of “beaches” each run by a different beach side restaurant, Yellow Beach & Le Karibuni. Each provide chair and umbrella rentals, waiter service, and a full menu for lunch. We chose Karibuni only because it was further away from the dock and felt it had a bit more elbow room, though I believe the prices between both restaurants are probably the same. Of course, if privacy and space is more to your liking, you can always walk around the island & away from the main beaches, though we didn’t do that.

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I admit that I was a bit unsure of our choice in deciding to spend the day at Pinel. Our boat, and the next several other boats over, were packed! Combine that with the fact that the beach was setup with rows of chairs like that of Orient Beach or the French Riviera, I worried that it would be too crowded (remember, we were previously spoiled by almost empty beaches!). I was pleasantly surprised to find that although it was one of the most crowded beaches we visited, it certainly never felt that way.

Again, the water over at Pinel Island was absolutely beautiful. I believe you’ll be hard pressed to find a beach on St. Martin/St. Marteen that isn’t! Despite being on the eastern side of St. Martin (and therefore, facing the Atlantic), the water is completely calm because you have the island itself protecting you. In fact, the water was almost completely still around the beach, making it the perfect spot to swim and bring young children. The water also never got especially deep and had decent snorkeling as you could see lots of fish swimming in the area.

What I also liked about Pinel was the amazing view it had of St. Martin. Looking at the lush mountains and over to Orient Bay was breathtaking. The island itself is pretty flat and not very big, so a hike around the island would seem to be pretty easy…. though, again, we didn’t do that because we were too busy being lazy.

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Finally, the service and food at Le Karibuni on Pinel was top notch! This was the only beach in which we rented chairs and took advantage of the service. Our waiter was literally the only server and we never had to wait more than a few minutes for anything. The dude was literally sprinting back and forth! We ordered several drinks, which were delicious, and served in ice buckets to keep cold. And the food! For an island with little to no resources, they can really set you up with something fantastic.

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There you have it, friends! My three favorite beaches on St. Martin. Although we didn’t have the opportunity to visit every spot around the island, we certainly have plans to return. What were your favorite beaches on St. Martin?

 

If beaches aren’t your thing, check out my blog post from my favorite city in the world, New York City!

 

 

 

Travel Has Given Me An Incurable Condition

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Currently, I’m planning four major trips in head. In fact, I’m almost always planning no less than 2 or 3 major trips at a time. If I have my way, we’ll be going to St. Martin in June, South Florida in July, Iceland next January, and Australia next summer. I’m sure I’ll try to throw in a few weekend trips, and I’ll definitely insist on going to New York for my birthday.

Y’all, after much thought and consideration, I’ve realized that over the years I’ve developed an incurable condition. The condition, you ask? Delusions of grandeur. I plan trips like my husband and I are Beyoncé and Jay Z, when in reality we are NO WHERE near millionaires. I mean, I’m a teacher, so you know I’m only a thousandaire on a good week!

While my wanderlust is definitely the chief cause, I partly put the blame on Bravo. You know, the channel that features casts of predominantly wealthy men and women. I watch Below Deck, and think to myself that maybe I, too, can charter a yacht in the Caribbean. Spoiler alert: I checked. I can’t. Not even if I brought along all my friends and split the cost. Andy Cohen, look at what you’re doing to me!

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The only “private plane” we’ll ever ride in

The problem is, somehow my crazy plans usually work out in some way… albeit a lot smaller and down to Earth. I’m a ceaseless planner and researcher. My husband has hobbies like running and fishing; whereas, my favorite hobby is spending hours on the internet searching for flight and hotel deals.

Through Priceline, we’ve been able to snag some really great hotel rooms that we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford. I personally love Priceline when booking hotels. If you’re okay with not knowing exactly what hotel you’re getting before booking, this can save you some money. Travelzoo is also another place I like to look. Every Wednesday they come out with their “Top 20”, which is the top 20 best deals they found searching across the internet. They do a lot of the legwork for you, and find deals that you wouldn’t find otherwise. Wednesday is always my favorite day of the week for this exact reason, and when the wheels in my brain usually start spinning.

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Perfect view of the Eiffel Tower from our hotel balcony in Paris

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Lower Manhattan from our room at the W Downtown

Taking advantage of Restaurant Week, we’ve been able to not only dine at some of the nicest local restaurants, but visit some in New York, as well. A few years ago, we joined a group of friends and went to a real fancy steakhouse *in my best southern voice* in the City during restaurant week and (shockingly) somehow ended up sitting at the chef’s table! The best part was that even though we were ordering off the restaurant week menu, and they knew our bill wouldn’t be as expensive as what they were used to, they treated us like we were Warren Buffet. If your trip doesn’t line up with restaurant week, check out sites like Groupon or Restaurant.com. Regardless of how you do it, it’s the experience that counts!

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Sometimes, though, the best experiences are the ones you stumble upon. One summer in the Amalfi Coast of Italy, we took a ferry over to the island of Capri. Along the docks were advertisements, so we took chance and set off. It was the tiniest little center console that barely had enough power to get on plane. We passed some truly impressive yachts in that little boat. That didn’t matter, we were on a boat in the Mediterranean!

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Our “yacht” for the day

So, that’s my prognosis, my friends. I have come to accept my fate as living with delusions of grandeur. And while my friends laugh as I tell them my latest plans for a safari in South Africa or a treehouse in Bali, I will continue to scour the internet for a way to actually make it happen. Fake it ’til ya make it.

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Don’t Take a Toddler to Disney World!!

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A few years ago my husband and I sat eating an ice cream in the Magic Kingdom’s Tommorowland while a little girl, I’m guessing around three, pitched an epic fit clad in full princess attire. Being pre-parents, we laughed at the irony of this little princess having a meltdown at the “Happiest Place on Earth.” As the crowds filled in, we zigged and zagged our way through the park like a giant maze made of slow moving strollers and families dragging small children who were distracted at every turn. We told ourselves that day that we would never be those parents and would save Disney until our future kids were around 7 or 8. Why would you bring a toddler to Disney anyway? They wouldn’t be able to ride anything. It would be a waste of money. There’s no way they would remember it!

Fast forward a few years and this Disney-loving mom was itching to go back and actually excited to share the experience with my two (almost 3) year old son. After a lot of convincing to get my not-so-Disney-loving husband on board, we had the trip set and planned… and even had one set of grandparents joining us for reinforcement.

When telling others about our upcoming trip, they echoed the same sentiments that we proclaimed on that trip several years back.

Toddlers are too small or too scared to ride anything. 

This is Disney. Have you ever seen any of their rides featured on those Travel Channel shows that spotlight the most extreme coasters? No. Disney does a great job of being inclusive, with plenty of rides even for your smallest traveler. They’ve also added “interactive” waiting areas to some rides which allow your child to freely run and play instead of standing in line. This. Is. Awesome! For this particular trip, we focused on the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom because we felt it offered the most for toddlers. There’s SO MUCH for small children to enjoy at these parks, so listed below are the rides/attractions that our little one was NOT ABLE to ride and a few that we chose to skip because of the scare factor.

Animal Kingdom: Dinosaur, Expedition Everest, It’s Tough to Be a Bug *No height requirement for this one, but we decided to skip it because of the scare factor (glad we did because it turns out the kid hates 3D stuff!), Kali River Rapids, and Primeval Whirl.

Magic Kingdom: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Stitch’s Great Escape.

So, out of over 80 rides and attractions between the two parks, he wasn’t able to ride 10. Not bad. Every other ride he absolutely loved, and mom and dad were able to sneak in some of the “big kid” rides while the grandparents watched the little one! 😉

It would be a waste of money to bring a toddler to Disney.

Yes, Disney is very expensive! Between the several hundred dollars you’ll spend on park tickets, food, hotel, gas, and all the odds and ends, you’re looking at a trip that adds up fast. However, your toddler won’t be adding to any of that! Children under 3 get in Disney for free and can also share from adult plates at restaurants. Take advantage of that because it’s one of the few free things that Disney offers. Our timing for this trip wasn’t by accident. We planned around that perfect little window for him to be as old as possible while still free. 

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Real Talk: the waiting and down time can be hard, so some times you just have to let your little one run and jump in your lap… like, 500 times.

There’s no way he’ll remember it!

Ten years from now, that might be true. My first Disney trip was at age 4, and I honestly don’t remember anything. But right now, there’s not a week that goes by that Harrison doesn’t say something about our trip! He talks about seeing his “friends”, remembers watching the fireworks, asks to ride the horses. I know that won’t last, but I enjoy every conversation that we’re having in the present. Regardless, my husband and I, along with my parents, have memories that we’ll never forget. I’ve never had a better experience, never felt the magic of Disney more than seeing it through the eyes of my child.

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NYC: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. I’ve Got You Covered.

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Breakfast/Brunch: The Smith (multiple locations but the East Village is my favorite)

Brunch in New York City can sometimes be (pardon the language) a real shit show. Two hour waits, over-hyped food, not to mention spending half your meal trying to drum up a game plan for how you will get out of your seat without sitting on your neighbor’s avocado toast. Be it as it may, I really, really love brunch. So I persevere.

Which brings me to, The Smith. First off, they take reservations. Huge bonus, right?! Second, the restaurant doesn’t feel like it has three more tables squeezed in than it really should. There’s actually room to put your coat and bag beside you. Finally, the menu is huge and the food is really good. I had what I believe to be the very best pancakes I’ve ever had in my entire life on our last visit. I have no doubt you’ll find something, or maybe a few things, you’d like.

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Pancakes with whipped ricotta, toasted pecans and salted caramel sauce. Like dessert, but for breakfast. 

It should be noted that while I recommend The Smith for brunch, I’d also add their East Village spot to my list of places to grab a late afternoon drink and snack at the bar.

Lunch: Joe’s Pizza (Greenwich Village)

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Proclaiming your favorite pizza spot in New York City is almost on the lines of professing your political beliefs. It’s a hot button and people will happily debate your slice of choice. Nonetheless, I happily recommend Joe’s Pizza… or Joe’s “Famous” Pizza because apparently it was in Spiderman and a lot of famous people have eaten there. Take all the hype away and it’s just simply, really good pizza. Piping hot. Loads of cheese. Just the right amount of sauce. You’ll most likely find a line out the door and you can pretty much forget finding a seat inside the tiny place. However, lucky for you, it’s a stone’s throw away from Washington Square Park and that just happens to be one of the most picturesque spots in the city. So, grab a slice, sit by the fountain, and enjoy your quintessential “New York Moment”.

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Husband approved. He’s an expert. 

Dinner: Amelie Wine Bar (Greenwich Village)

Amelie is my favorite restaurant in the city and usually our first stop. The atmosphere is what I love most. It’s tiny. I believe in New York, they call it “cozy”. Either way, you won’t have any problems hearing your neighbors’ conversation. On one of our most recent trips I spent a good portion of the meal eavesdropping on a first date. It was going really well for them. Speaking of dates, it’s a great option for one. Dim lightning, good music, relaxed vibe. It’s sexy without being cheesy. Romantic without being over the top. The staff made up entirely of French men doesn’t hurt either.

The fare is French, but not intimidatingly, ya know French. There’s a well rounded list of entrées and in my opinion, something for everyone (this coming from someone who’s fairly picky). The real star here is the warm pistachio crusted goat cheese ball. Guys. I literally find myself thinking of this appetizer at random times. It’s that good. It comes served over deliciously caramelized onions and accompanied by fresh baked bread. You’ll be eyeing your date to make sure they’re not taking too much. Promise.

On top of having amazing food, their wine selection is stellar. I don’t pretend to be very knowledgeable about wine. My reality is more like “recent college grad trying to be sophisticated”. With that being said, the staff is so kind. They’ll steer you to something they think you’ll like, all without judgment (at least to your face… that’s all that matters, right?) As an added bonus, they have a really good happy hour from 5-7 with $12 wine flights. Pick one of the staff-made options or make your own from practically anything on the menu. Amazing.

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Amelie Wine Bar 

Drinks: 10 Degrees (East Village)

Drinks in New York City can be expensive and really add to your tab, but the city honestly gets a bad reputation. If you know where to go, you can find plenty of reasonable options. One of the best I’ve found (well, my husband actually gets credit for this one) is 10 Degrees. Why? They have a 2 for 1 happy hour 7 days a week from noon to 8 pm. Let me be clear. 2 for 1 on ANY DRINK for 8 HOURS *I do not recommend anyone drinking for 8 hours 😉 * So, take a $12 cocktail and it essentially becomes $6, an $8 craft beer becomes $4, which is a pretty good price for any city.

Maybe you’re thinking… okay, the drink prices sound great, but this place is probably a dump or overrun with NYU students. Surprisingly, no. The crowd was a mixed bunch and low key, just what I like. There wasn’t a sea of bodies to push through, but rather everyone sitting at tables enjoying time with friends. I expected the bar to be 5 deep and drinks next to impossible to get, but the staff was attentive, friendly and service was quick. I also expected the drinks to be watered down, but they were great. Overall, a great experience.

As an added bonus, 10 Degrees is right off St. Marks, so if you’re looking for an action-packed, up all night kind of time, this is the place for you.

Stone Mountain Christmas

Where do you spend a quick weekend getaway before Christmas when you… 1) Are traveling with a 2 1/2 year old who isn’t fond of travel, 2) Don’t want to spend a fortune, and 3) The House of Mouse is too hoppin’ this time of year?? Stone Mountain Georgia. Yes, that’s where you go.

Let me back up a bit. For the first time ever, my husband had 2 vacation days to burn before the year ran out (cheers to an extra week of vacation this year!), and being the “go, go, go” minded person that I am, there was no way on God’s green Earth that I was about to sit around the house and waste those days! So, on to planning I went. Iceland is top on my bucket list right now. Northern lights! Glaciers! The. Blue. Lagoon. YES! Iceland it is! No…wait, calm down. New Orleans, maybe? I do some research. It seems The Big Easy knows how to do festive right. SO MANY PRETTY LIGHTS! But, ugh… the drive. 10 hours or so. My mind flashes back to the 4+ hours of never-ending screaming coming from the back seat on our way home from Harbor Island this summer. I still have PTSD from the trip. In reality, I knew that wherever we ended up needed to be within an easy distance. Say, 4 hours. That eliminated all the Florida beaches. So, after much “pinteresting” and googling, the thought of Atlanta came up.

Being from the Upstate of South Carolina, just a few hours from Atlanta, I have to admit that I don’t think highly of the city. Nothing against Atlanta, I just don’t think of Atlanta as a vacation destination. I’ve been there a million times. Daytrips to Six Flags, The World of Coca Cola. Concerts. Shopping. In and out to the airport (ugh, the W-O-R-S-T). But, I’ve never thought to stay there. However, Atlanta looked promising. It’s a big city so there’s obviously plenty to do, many toddler friendly options, and it seemed like there were some fun holiday events. So, we settled upon Atlanta- more specifically, Stone Mountain- and I was really, really excited about it.

First things first, Stone Mountain is a state park with lots to do even outside of the special festivities they offer throughout the year. There’s obviously camping options onsite:  you have your typical RV/camper hookups and primitive tent sites. There’s a few RVs that you can rent that come with their own deck, picnic table, and fire ring for S’mores…yum! They even have yurts! Yurts, guys! That’s awesome. I’m just not a “trek to the bath house in the middle of the night to pee” kinda girl. But it’s still awesome. For those, like me, that prefer the more traditional comforts of a hotel, there’s 2 within the park: The Atlanta Evergreen Marriott and The Stone Mountain Inn. For recreation options, there seems to be a little something for everyone. I’d list all the things that you can do, but seeing as how we didn’t explore this part of the park, I wouldn’t do it justice, I’m sure. So, check out the park’s website. We’ll be back once the weather gets warmer, for sure.

There’s two main events during the holiday/winter season: Stone Mountain Park Christmas, typically running  mid-November through just after the New Year, and Snow Mountain, running through most of the winter season. This makes for a perfect day trip, but my advice would be to stay the night because it runs pretty late into the evening.

We pre-purchased the Snow Mountain & Christmas Combo Meal Deal for $49.95 per adult/child (children under 3 are free). This includes a 2 hour tubing session, all day access to the Snow Play area, all the Christmas events, a meal, unlimited fountain drinks all day, and hot chocolate. You can get separate tickets if you’re just interested in Snow Mountain or only want to take park in the Christmas events, but you’ll definitely save money with the combo. You’re basically getting both events for the same price you’d pay for just Snow Mountain. *Although, the combo only includes 2 hours of tubing verses all day tubing that comes with the Snow Mountain All-Access pass. For us, two hours of tubing was perfect for our little guy.

Snow Mountain includes 2 “big” hills: Avalanche Alley, which is a multi-person ride perfect for riding with your entire family, and Tube Runners, a hill for single and double tubes. Our little guy was just tall enough, at 36 inches, to be included in Avalanche Alley, but will have to save Tube Runners for another year. There’s also The Snowzone, the snow play area where you can build a snowman, crawl your way through an “igloo”, throw snowballs at targets, or try your hand at making snow angels (that fake snow is a bit icy, it is the South, you know!). The Snowzone is perfect for little ones, like Harrison, because there’s a smaller tubing hill and sledding hill. The park limits the number of tickets sold per hour as a way of preventing the area of getting overcrowded. We were there on a Monday, when some of the area students weren’t out yet for winter break, so we never had any problems with long waits.

We arrived around 1:00 for our 2 hour tubing session and headed straight for Avalanche Alley. I was a little nervous as I was watching other riders go down the hill because I didn’t know how Harrison would react. There’s definitely a good initial drop and it really flies down the hill, but the kid loved it! He immediately wanted to go again, which we happily did. We went over to the Snowzone next, which was hopping, but because it’s a really large area, didn’t seem overly crowded. Harrison loved playing in the snow with the toys that were provided by the park and scattered throughout the area. He made several runs down the little tubing hill and the sledding hill, which he would have happily done all day if we’d let him. Again, no waiting for any of it, which was so nice! After a while in the play area, we headed back over to the bigger hills. More runs down Avalanche Alley, of course, and my husband and I were even able to take turns going down the Tube Runners. All in all, a lot of fun for all three of us! Because all-day access to the Snowzone was included with the pass, we could have gone back to the play area as much as we’d like, even after our 2 hour tubing session was over, but we were starving! On to a late lunch.

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There were a few different places that were included with the meal plan, but we chose Marketplace because it was right next to the the Snow Mountain area. I got a cheeseburger and fries, Alex had pepperoni pizza and fries, and Harrison nibbled off both of our plates. Definitely not the most nutritious options. They were available, just not necessarily included with the meal plan. But, one day isn’t the end of the world, am I right?! The food wasn’t the best I’ve had, but nowhere near the worst. It hit the spot and Marketplace provided a nice spot for a quick break. Side Note: Marketplace is also were you can get your hot chocolate that’s included in the meal plan. We went to several places looking for it, so hopefully that will save you a little searching if you visit.

After a short and unsuccessful try at a late afternoon nap, we headed back over to the park around 6:00 to catch the nightly Christmas parade. Unfortunately, we missed about half the parade and the part that we did catch was partially blocked by the crowd watching by the front gates. Definitely not the best place to view it, but it was our only option since we were rolling in there at the last minute. In retrospect it wasn’t the end of the world if we missed the parade. In my head, I was envisioning Disney Electric Parade. Disney it was not, but still sweet & cute nonetheless.

The lights at the park, were just beyond beautiful. String lights wrapped almost every tree from top to bottom, stores and restaurants were covered Griswold style, but in the best possible way. Fire pits for roasting marshmallows were scattered around. Christmas music was playing throughout. The theming was so much more than anything you would expect from a state park. It was magical and beautiful. We loved it.

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Part of the Christmas experience at Stone Mountain are the various shows & character meets included, most of which cater to children. We took a ride on the Singalong Train, which makes a loop around the entire park and plays familiar Christmas tunes along the journey with monitors so you can join in. There’s a few light displays here and there and the train makes a stop to hear the story of the first Christmas. It was a fun experience, but admittedly a bit cold as the train car was open air. Some of the other shows we were able to catch were “Twas the Night Before…A Holiday Cabaret” and “A Wish For Snow.” They were pretty cute. We also had a chance to meet Rudolph, which was probably one of Harrison’s favorite moments, go figure. Finally, we caught the last meeting with Mrs. Claus who told a really sweet story about Santa.

At this point, it had been such a long day, but we made it this long and decided to press on and wait for the finale at 9:45 (why so late, Stone Mountain??) If your little one can hang (and ours BARELY did), definitely stick around for it. The “Snow Angel” flies across the park in front of Marketplace, gives a short little presentation, and then makes it snow. That’s followed by a short, but really nice fireworks display in front of the carving on Stone Mountain. It was a nice way to end a really great day together!

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Overall, Stone Mountain was a great getaway for our little family. We had originally made plans to visit the Georgia Aquarium the next day, but our little one got sick. Oh well! Another time, another visit. We’ll be back.