Sunday, April 21, 2013

We love FREE Customized Disney Maps

I know I've been posting a lot about Disney lately.  It is no secret that we love the land of the Mouse.  Our oldest child loves being the "tour guide" when we go places.  He loves navigating and maps.  

We ordered our first set of Disney maps a couple years ago and still have them! When you have them mailed, allow 2-4 weeks for delivery.  You can print them but they are not a good quality and don't compare to the exquisite ones Disney prints and mails to you.  

You can request additional new maps, but you have to wait at least 6 months from your previous order.  This is just one additional FREE thing Disney has to offer.  Studying the maps and attractions helps you better prepare for your park visit and spend less time scurrying around trying to figure out the layout of the park after you arrive.  Get your maps here.

(Friends and readers: I am now a Travel Agent complete with graduating from the Disney College of Knowledge and I'd love to help you plan a magical vacation.  Email me at and Find the agency on Facebook - Our services are FREE from quotes to park plans and dining with qualifying vacation packages)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Disney on a Dime

For families on a tight budget, vacationing is often the thing that takes a back seat.  Yet, vacationing seems to be what keeps us sane! We've been fortunate enough to do Disney from all sorts of perspectives.  We've stayed off-site, stayed at Disney Value Resorts, Moderate Disney Resorts, and also stayed at a Deluxe Disney Resort. Disney can really accommodate almost any budget. I think our favorite trips have included stays of 4 days and 3 nights. If you are brave and adventurous you can add a four day park pass to a four day stay for power packed vacation.  But, even when you can do less for cheaper, you don't want to overwhelm yourself and stress over trying to cram too much into a short time frame.  If you aren't a seasoned Disney traveler, book way in advance and allow yourself the freedom to pay it off before you go.

Friends often ask how they can conservatively do Disney and I thought I would share a few tips with you here.  Often, the most bang for your buck will include a package that includes tickets and dining.  With many promotions, a 3 night stay with park tickets and dining may not cost as much as you think.  Then most of your meals and some snacks are already paid for when you arrive.  Family vacations can cost less than $100 per person per day.  After you've decided on dates and booked a vacation, the last thing you want to do is get to Walt Disney World and feel like you are spending too much money.

First, souvenirs and trinkets from the parks are one quick way to blow extra money you just don't count on spending.  It is easy to cave into the little one's (or big one's) requests for many items they don't necessarily need.  Sometimes we give in, and of course you have to take some sort of mementos home.  However, ways we get around this are numerous.
  • Trade Disney Pins - When you are on Disney property, you can trade these pins with cast members.  It is too fun to track down sets of pins or just pins that you like! Buying them in larger sets or will save tons as individual pins in the parks range from $5-15 and some specialty pins costing more than that. 

    • Staff members with Green Lanyards or Pouches only trade with children under 12.
    • Pin boards can be found at front desks at your resort, at bell service desks, with Disney Vacation Club reps, behind the desks at shops in the park or at your resort gift shop. The Downtown Disney Marketplace Finds store even has pins on a Flip Flop!
    • Downtown Disney has a Pin Trading pavilion that also has a hidden board that opens to a secret Disney science when a computer generates the time for the staff to open it.  If you are lucky enough to get a peek or get to trade here, you will likely find whatever you are searching for.
    • Disney security staff harbor pin boards in their little stations near the buses at Magic Kingdom, etc.  They are always happy to trade when asked because few people know about their boards. We were lucky enough to find the rare Figment sweater pin there last year.
    • Animal Kindgom Lodge's Jambo House provides an opportunity to trade with "King Pin" at certain times in their gift shop.  Contact the resort for current schedule. He knows his pins and  you stand on a red carpet to trade! 
  • Collect trading cards - Few people know that all the water ferries and monorails, etc. have their own trading cards.  These include a picture and facts.  
    • You can ask any staff person (boat driver, monorail driver or attendant) to see if they have cards.  
    • The Walt Disney Railroad at the Magic Kingdom also gives out conductor passes.  
    • Lastly, your kid can get a "Driver's License" when they ride/drive at the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland Speedway.
  • Take flashlights or glow sticks - This will help avoid unnecessary light up purchases during the evenings and parades.  Although, you can purchase $5 light up items off the carts in the evening and you can even score a Mickey light saber for under $8.
  • Take some of your child's toys - Taking your own toys, especially Disney related toys, can cut down on the urge to spend on impulse souvenirs.  For our boys, we also take along toy swords or pirate attire.  For girls, you can take your own princess costumes, dolls, etc.  
Another way to save at Disney includes going places that can entertain your kids with little or no cost involved (provided you don't make lots of impluse purchases while you are there!) Consider a whole day just to check out your resort or Downtown Disney.  Always check entertainment schedules for Downtown Disney or the park you are visiting.
  • Check out Downtown Disney - This entertainment district doesn't charge a parking fee or admission.
    • T-REX cafe has a dig area just to the side of their gift shop where little ones can uncover dino bones.
    • Ghiradelli gives out a free piece of chocolate to all who enter
    • Ferry boats provide an escape from walking from the East Side to the West Side and to nearby resorts.  
    • You can let your little ones build Mr. or Mrs. Potato Heads at Once Upon a Toy store.
    • The Lego store has interactive stations where visitors can build and race cars, use the computer to design Lego creations, or use the Legos at other tables to create their own designs.  
    • Train rides and carousel rides are $2 each. 
    • Check out the Phineas & Ferb interactive experience. 

Hang out at your Disney resort and enjoy the play area,pool, hot tub, or other activities.  
    • Disney resorts typically offer a movie poolside or in a garden area each night.  Check your activity scheulde when you arrive.  
    • Cookie decorating, kitchen tours, campfires, and other activities may also be included at your resort so check with someone at the front desk if you can't locate it on your activity schedule.  
Food! Even if you have the Disney Dining Plan, food is an area where it is easy to overspend.  Lori, my Disney Travel Agent friend, confesses that on their last trip they "tested it and would have saved roughly 20% had we had [the Dining Plan] on our trip!" 

We hardly ever waste a meal credit on a breakfast, unless it is a table service character breakfast.  One quick service breakfast platters are big enough to serve me and the two kids usually.  My favorite way to go it to get the Mickey waffle platter with no biscuit and an extra waffle!  That leaves two waffles for the boys plus the eggs, meat, and hash browns to divide.  If you have to pay out of pocket for a lunch item, a kid meal at Disney (usually not on the menu) is a good value too because it is cheaper than buying a drink and entree separately, plus you get a desert.  Also, remember to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to snacks. 

Please don't waste a snack credit on a banana! Try to maximize your snack credits by going for the items that are around $4.00 each or more.  Pay out of pocket for smaller snacks.  The Main Street Bakery offers a large cookie (or most any other desert item as a snack credit) but you can also get a cookie ice cream sandwich for a snack credit.  That is two cookies with a mound of ice cream layered between.  You decide which is the better option...but I will add that the sandwich is plenty big enough for sharing! To the right is a Oreo Cookie sandwich dipped in chocolate with Butterfinger pieces and a chocolate drizzle.  This is a great use of a Disney Snack credit.

Pizza!  You can order a pizza from your resort without using your dining credits.  We've added a large bowl of grapes and used our souvenir mugs (free refills) to have a Disney meal for 4 for around $20-25.

Remember that you can take your own food!  We typically pack granola bars, Pop Tarts, dried fruit or fruit snacks, and bread and peanut butter (also these items can be found in Disney resort gift shops).  You can take your own bottled drinks and snacks into the parks.  Animal Kingdom has restrictions on things like straws and such due to the animals, so make sure to check their website before traveling. 

Other items to remember include stopping by the Confectionery on Main Street at Magic Kingdom where they usually have someone passing out free cotton candy.  Then you can step across the street and walk back to the Harmony Barber Shop (located beside City Hall) and ask for a complimentary sprinkling of confetti in you or your child's hair.  Even a simple bang cut is only $5.  I can't get that good of a deal at a local salon!  Other locations around Magic Kingdom, like the Castle Couture shop, will sprinkle Pixie Dust in hair too (this is fine glitter rather than chunky confetti like the barber shop).

Lastly, don't forget to take advantage of any vouchers and coupons that come along with your Disney vacation.  For example, if you get a pass for Mini golf be sure to use it.  We like Fantasia Fairways and Fantasia Gardens courses.  The Fairways course is like a shrunken mini golf course with hills and water features.

These are all suggestions that I offer to my closest friends when they travel and I hope they've helped you too! You can plan a magical vacation without breaking the bank.  If the travel planning overwhelms you, Now I work as a Travel Agent from home and I can help you book a Magical Vacation if you'd like. Often you can book a Disney vacation with only a $200 deposit so you can pay it all off before you travel.  Our services are free with a qualifying booking and we will even book your dining reservations and give you daily itineraries.   Email me at   aflener1 @ for more information or quotes.  If you've booked yourself in the last 30 days, you can transfer the booking to us and still get our concierge professional service. 

For us, Disney is not only magical, but it is therapeutic.  It heals, it revives, and it provides a pleasant escape from the day to day monotony.  Hope you can visit'll be glad you did.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

How to spend our Travel Referral gift card?

It won't be long before we head to the land of the Mouse again.  Yes, we go a lot.  Disney is one of the few place in John's real zone of comfort.  With severe PTSD, you can't just spontaneously decide to go on a vacation anywhere at anytime.  However, three years ago thanks to the Wounded Warrior Family Support organization, we took our first real family vacation.  They gave us a week at Universal, a day at Sea World, and we spent one day at the Magic Kingdom doing the Very Merry Christmas Party.  

During that that vacation, I saw John and the boys smile more than they had smiled in a long time.  I think the fact that we survived a week of vacationing made him realize that we could go on vacation and we could have fun.  

Since that time, we have been to Disney countless times.  Technically, I suppose the number would be about 9 times to Disney, Universal, or the Downtown Disney area in the last 3 years.  We go during off peak seasons like late September, October, early November, or February to avoid the most crowded park days.

We really like using an authorized agent to make the hassle of booking and planning a vacation a little simpler.  Of course, we still like to do our fair share of research, planning, and booking too.  But, one perk to the agent we used is that when you refer friends and family who book a qualifing vacation, you will get a Disney gift card!  You can use it online at the Disney Store or at Disney locations.   
I found this one today in my purse.  We have had it since December, after some friends who booked a trip traveled to Walt Disney World.    
So the question of the day is how do we spend our gift card? We have $50 in Disney Dollars to spend.  Would you use it for dining, souvenirs, a boat or bike rental, towards booking another vacation

(Friends and readers: I am now a Travel Agent complete with graduating from the Disney College of Knowledge and I'd love to help you plan a magical vacation.  Email me at and Find the agency on Facebook)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

VA's Health Buddy for PTSD veterans suffering from PTSD, the VA offers a Health Buddy.  This electronic device acts as a modem that is connected to the veteran's computer.  The Health Buddy has a screen that loads questions about the veteran's emotions, behaviors, and symptoms.  Each day, a new set of questions and lessons load for the vet and a green flashing light indicates when there are questions to answer. Health Buddy provides educational opportunities for the vet to learn about PTSD and gives random trivia questions and facts to break up the monotony of constantly having to use the Health Buddy for PTSD type responses. 

Some commonly found behaviors with PTSD (like substance abuse and compulsive behaviors) will also be listed as education opportunities, even if the vet does not respond stating that he has a problem with these behaviors.  For example, today John's Health Buddy listed 7 different "Substance dependence" requirements and stated that one would be considered to have a problem in this area if he or she answered yes to 3 or more of the 7 items. a veteran gives a distressing answer, the Buddy lists ways for the veteran to cope or manage symptoms and will prompt him or her to call their telehealth coordinator.  Each business day, veteran responses are monitored by a staff member in the Telehealth Department at the veteran's VA healthcare facility.  When abnormal responses are entered, the coordinator calls the vet or family member. 

We have found this telehealth nurse to be a valuable asset to continuity of care at the VA facility.  In our case, I believe that she often has the best picture of what daily life is like for my husband.  If there is a crisis, she seems to be able to get the best answers the quickest.  She acts as a liaison between the mental health professionals to make sure that PTSD symptoms are controlled as best as possible.
Veterans who do not have access to home internet service that will allow for a modem connection can utilize PTSD services through the telehelth department by calling in each day from their phone to answer questions.  We did this for a while before switching to the Health Buddy and found that many of John's responses were tagged as false positives.  After getting daily calls to make sure he was safe and not in distress, we decided to quit using the telephone system. 

The telehealth division has monitoring systems for disorders and diseases other than PTSD.  Some vets are able to get their blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar monitored through similar health buddy systems.  Other systems focus on smoking cessation. 

If you believe the Health Buddy system would help you or a loved one who suffers from PTSD, talk to the primary care physician, case worker, or mental health provider at your local VA Medical Center to get a referral and appointment set up.