Saturday, May 25, 2013

Doing Disney Pirate Style

We seem to average about three Walt Disney World trips each year for the last three years. We try to do something unique each time we go. With two boys, we have not experienced the Bippidy Boppity Boutique or princess character meals. (Even though I still would love to dine at Cinderella's Castle!) Since the princess craze doesn't work for us, we search out other fun things to do with boys.  The Pirate Adventure Cruises are for kids only and are one of these great choices.  These cruises sail from one of several Disney resorts and are available for potty trained children ages 4-12.  Each of the four locations that offer the Pirate Adventure Cruises have a slightly different theme.  These adventures set sail from 8:30-11:30 each day from one of the locations and include a hunt for treasure and a story told by the crew.  They even give the kids a snack while away.  You can find the details on Disney's website here.
When we stayed at Port Orleans in 2011, our youngest was too small to join brother on the Bayou Pirate Adventure that sailed from the Fishin' Hole on Ol' Man Island down the Sassagoula River.  But the oldest wasn't keen on leaving mom and dad's side either so we waited until October 2012 and booked the Pirate Adventure Cruise.  This cruise leaves from the Grand Floridian. On this adventure, our kids sailed around Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon and were treated to a reading of "The Legend of Gasparilla"—a real Florida pirate. These excursions can fill up in advance so call Disney or your travel agent to book in advance. 

This really turned out to be a great adventure for all of us. While the kids were off for a couple hours, John and I went to the Grand Floridian Cafe (where we had advance dining reservations).  We enjoyed some grown up food: Citrus Pancakes with roasted pecans and dried cranberries served with orange butter and Smoked Salmon with tomatoes, onions, capers (I had these left off), cream cheese, and toasted bagel.

After our delightful breakfast we headed back off to the marina with about 45 minutes to spare.  We spontaneously decided to rent a Sea Raycer for the last 30 minutes before the kids came back into the dock.  I have to say it was pretty cool to cruise around Bay Lake for a bit. 

The kids came back in as we were pulling into the dock and showed us all their pirate treasure (a small chest and bag filled with pirate loot like rings, bracelets, eye patches, pencil toppers, etc.) and we headed back to our Pirate Room at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort.  Our little one fell asleep on the way back and rested well in his pirate ship bed. Our boys really loved the pirate themed room but know that we found the beds a bit more uncomfortable than most Disney Resort bedding.  The room was smaller too but Disney still paid close attention to every detail as always with keg-like bedside tables, plank flooring, and pirate curtains.
When we were planning our Spring 2013 trip we decided to try for the Pirates and Pals Fireworks Cruise that sails from the Contemporary.  We lucked out and got reservations about 3 weeks in advance.  We arrived quite a bit early and there were crayons, color sheets, and puzzles for the kids to work on in the hallway until it was time for refreshments.  The snack buffet included white cheddar popcorn, cake, chocolate pirate coins, fruit, a freezer of Mickey and Disney's Ice Cream Novelties), small bagged portions of Disney's cotton candy, and a beverage selection of coffee, teas, cocoa, and more. 

While we filled up on snacks, Captain Hook and Smee posed for photos and signed the boys 9" Vinylmations.  We were led to the boat by Hook and our cast member on board entertained us with trivia games (for the kids) and prizes while we got our own view of the water pageant before moving along to get into position to watch Wishes.  Of course we had to sing "Yo Ho" and discovered we didn't really know the words! I think The Pirates and Pals Cruise is now our favorite way to experience the fireworks.  It was spectacular with the music piped in over the boats speakers.

The next day the boys had the opportunity to meet Jack Sparrow! After a ride on the Pirates of the Caribbean we made it just in time for him to invite the boys on stage.  They loved the fact that they were sworn in as honorary pirates! Each of them were delighted to have a special certificate to show for this experience.

The only thing that my boys weren't keen on experiencing was the Pirates League at the Magic Kingdom, where children and adults can be transformed into a pirate complete with makeup and accessories.  Maybe we'll try that on another trip.

If pirates and adventure sound fun, try doing Disney pirate style on your next trip. There's no danger of having to walk the plank and you may just have an amazing time.

-Let me know if I can plan your next magical vacation or a pirate adventure for you.  I now work with a full service travel agency that provides FREE quotes, and lots of help to make magic for you! You can email me at for your quote

Sunday, May 19, 2013

We are the VA Backlog

I started using Twitter this past week and much to my suprise it is a great way to connect and find information based on subject matter and interests.  I admit that I sterotypically thought of it as friends and celebs tweeting their every move and trip to the toilet.  Alas, I am pleasantly surprised. 

One of the things I have been concerned with for quite some time is the VA Backlog or as I now know it #VABacklog.  It is appaling and horiffic to think that there is such a mound of claims that the VA can't process them fast enough.  I've seen the frustration from my own combat wounded spouse becuase of his inability to work, our financial strain, his deteriorating health, inability to be left alone independently, and the VA's unrelenting process of hurring up to wait a bit longer.

I first wrote about my thoughts on the VA backlog in relation to the rise in veteran suicides in January.  You can find my post here.  Today, I feel like we are one of that 600,000+ in the backlog.  Sure, everyone has their stories and it is horrible that vets get the back burner when it comes to much
deserved compensation. 

While we've waited the better parts of the last 6 years waiting on claims, I do not understand why we've had to wait 7 months on a few papers (sent in by our congressman on our behalf) to be mailed somewhere to an office to be scanned into the Veteran's Benefits Managment System (VBMS) so that the VA can say they have now have a "web-based, electronic claims processing solution complemented by improved business processes.  Once the claim is scanned we will proceed with the claim processing."  By the time they mailed the five or six pages, took seven months to get them scanned, send correspondence appologizing back to us and the congressman, I have a hard time understanding why they can't just look at the papers and see that we need action.  Seven months to put a hardship request and caregiver documentation into his file to be reviewed later. Pitiful.

For almost two years I have been paid from the VA as a full time, Tier 3, caregiver for my husband.  Back in early Fall of 2011 his neurologist filled out paperwork for Aid and Attendence noting that John needed "Constant Supervision."  In December of 2013, we finally got notice that they denied this claim becuase they felt John needed no assistance.  In my opinion, this claim was one of many we've had denied when I believe the VA just wants to move some numbers and reduce that backlog.  Documents upon documents show that John needs and deserves Aid and Attendence, yet the VA denied it without really looking at the evidence so they could reduce that backlog of claims.  John's claim was processed. "Denied." For me, it is unacceptable.  For John, he doesn't have the patience, memory, or stamina to fight this battle. 

I feel so bad for the vets who don't have someone to fight this battle for them.  I guess this week I will once again step up my efforts to reach out to other organizations that John is a member of and those groups that have told me they would try to help us.  It is tiring.  Even when the Congressman's office has petitioned the VA to expedite our claim due to hardship and "clear and unmistakable error for the rating of individual unemployability, aid and attendence, and traumatic brian injury."

Veterans are ending their lives daily with suicide and others are dying from their illneses and injuries.  Today, John's life didn't end but he suffered with living.  He cried becuase he couldn't move his legs or walk to the bathroom.  He couldn't put on his own socks or move his own covers.  Today was a day worse than some others.  He couldn't get to the bathroom without his wheelchair and assistance.  His chair doesn't even fit through our doorways but the VA denied that housing adaptation grant too becuase John has a brain injury and seizures.  Since he hasn't lost a limb or eyesight, they say we are out of luck and have to struggle.

The VA is not responding effectively and timely enough.  We, the backlog, are at war with a mound of paper and a system that is not effective enough. It has almost squashed us to death.  We've got to win this war.  My husband and the rest of the backloged vets deserve better.  Fight for them.

On the Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran's Facebook Page they posted this informaional photo to give you an suggestion of how to petition your congressman:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Low Carb Dill Pickle Dip

For those of you who are keeping your carb count minimal, you know that it seems variety in your diet can seem nonexistent.  Meats, cheeses, salads and veggies...Right?

Yesterday, I was perusing Pinterest and saw a lot of people pinning a Dill Pickle Dip but I didn't like the ingredient combinations of most of them.  No thanks to the jalapenos for this family.

So I decided to try to kick it up a notch with some parmesan with parsley and garlic salt (Og carbohydrates) that I got at Publix on BOGO a couple weeks ago.

This is great to dip veggies in.  Maybe you could even stuff the sweet mini peppers.  You could also use this as a spread for sandwiches or burgers.  Of course, you could always go for the typical crackers to accompany the dip. 

I mixed all of the following in my Kitchenaid Mixer until blended:
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese with parsley and garlic (you could always use plain parm plus some garlic salt with parsley) 
  • 1/4 cup dill cubes/relish
That's it! Simple enough and now we've got some variety to the low carb diet this week.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Doing Disney With Disabilities - Part 2

What do you do when your disability is not so obvious?  If you or your disabled loved one are anything like my husband, often he just wants to blend in.  He would rather endure a little (or extreme) pain and suffer rather than have to face the scrutiny (or just plain paranoia) that others are looking, staring, or judging.  Worrisome thoughts like, "Look at him, he doesn't need that ECV" or "They are just doing this to skip lines" or maybe you even overhear another person say, "Pfffft, guess I should have paid for a scooter!"

What if you are that vacationer that has severe PTSD, a panic disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or seizures?  What if you are afraid of people being too close to you and maybe you even get weak and feel like you are going to pass out when crowds are too large and people are all around?  Maybe you even collapse under stresses like these.  Unfortunately, all these are things that my husband has to endure plus a few more.  Yet, until our most recent April 2013 visit, I never thought about how Disney could accommodate these invisible disabilities.  Because John was usually in a wheelchair or used his walker, those injuries/disabilities were more apparent.   When he used a mobility device, we used the Wheelchair/Handicapped entrances to rides, thus typically bypassing those overcrowded and often long lines. 

Just before our April trip, I read somewhere about the Guest Assistance Card.  I knew John wanted to try to tackle this trip without his walker or wheelchair.  Matter of fact, we left the wheelchair at home and only packed the walker.  We decided we would just rent an ECV on the day(s) that he needed it while we were in the parks.  My breathing difficulties are so severe that I knew I couldn't be able to push him much during this trip even if he were to need the wheelchair.  I knew we would need this Guest Assistance Card more than ever. 

As usual on our first day, Magic Kingdom was our first stop. We headed straight to City Hall/Guest Services and I explained our situation to the cast member there.  I told him how John was a combat wounded vet who had severe PTSD, seizures, and anxiety and also told them that we didn't bring his wheelchair along like usual but he still had mobility issues with standing or walking for long periods of time.  

The cast member was gracious and put our information into the computer.  He stamped our pass with "May use an alternate entrance when possible" and also explained that he couldn't guarantee that it would work everywhere but encouraged us to "just ask" and to have a great vacation.  He also told us that sometimes the wait times may be longer using the card than the traditional ride entrance, etc. 

I have heard how this Guest Assistance Card can be a life saver for families traveling with children with disabilities also.  Children with Aspergers, Autism, sensory disorders, etc. can possibly benefit from the Card.  If you have thought about taking a disabled aging family member along on a vacation, this may be a good thing to keep in mind so your vacation is less of a hassle. You can always ask your travel agent or Guest Services on suggestions to make your trip more accommodating and magical.

Ok, here is my disclaimer!  I can't guarantee that Disney will accommodate any or all of your issues/disabilities.  I can say that during the last 3 years on at least 9 trips, we've only had one bad encounter with a cast member regarding disability accommodation.  Yes, it made me furious and practically ruined my entire day at the Animal Kingdom.  However, while we were at the Animal Kingdom Guest Services location, I overheard a cast member and a guest discussing her request for a Guest Assistance Card.  The guest apparently had diabetes and had gotten the Card in the past and the cast member did not want to giver her one for her current trip.  The cast member even asked her if she had her prior card or a letter from her doctor!  If you are considering asking for a Guest Assistance Card on your next trip, you may want to take along some type of documentation just in case you need it.  I would hate for your first Disney experience to be unnecessarily anxiety provoking.  While John has a VA ID card that states he is Combat Wounded and Service Connected, I thought about taking a copy of his Compensation Award letter on our next trip.  This way we would have documentation showing what his disabilities he is diagnosed with and you better believe that we're saving this current Card!

Invisible helper dog at Once Upon A Toy
During our April trip, I also noticed several service dog relief areas.  These areas grabbed my attention as we have been on a service dog waiting list for almost a year.  Hopefully, on our next trip we will have a service dog with us.  During our Halloween Party trip in October 2012, John jokingly grabbed this invisible dog/leash at Once Upon A Toy at Downtown Disney and said, "Look at me and my invisible helper dog!"

Whatever need or disability you have, chances are that Disney has a way to make your vacation a little more comfortable.  Even though we started off with 4 years of no family vacations, we now do Walt Disney because it caters to disabilities (both the visible and invisible), it is in John's comfort zone, and it helps turn an ordinary day into a magical escape. Read more about why we do Disney in this post.

If you have a question about Disney accommodating disabilities you can Click Here to go to their Q&A Page.

See our Doing Disney With Disabilities - Part 1 post

(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)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Doing Disney With Disabilities - Part 1

Hakuna Matata!        If you are planning a trip to any Disney location and stressing because of a disability, you can put your worries away.  
Disney caters so well to people with disabilities and this blog will outline a few ways we've witnessed Walt Disney World accommodating...often with a little pixie dust along the way.
When we were planning our 2011 family trip to Walt Disney World, I was almost in tears when I called to explain that we needed to change reservations so that we could accommodate my husband's wheelchair.  The cast member on the line was so understanding and compassionate.  I will always remember what she said, "There are a quite a few things that Disney does really well and helping those with disabilities is something they do very well!"  She modified our reservation so that we had a roll in shower.  When we checked in we had a little extra pixie sprinkled.  We found out that they gave us an extra room to adjoin so the kids could still have a bath tub! I think I shed a tear or two.  Now, I'm not saying Disney will give you an extra room and it is something we've never requested but it happened twice in 2011 for us. Whatever your needs are, explain them and Disney will let you know how they can help.  For example, if you need a room for the hearing impaired, ask.  If you need a shower chair or handheld shower in your resort room, simply ask and see if Disney can accommodate. 

If you have ever been to Disney, you recall seeing a host of motorized scooters or ECVs.  Disney buses, monorails, boats, and other vehicles accommodate wheelchairs and ECVs.  These people needing special accommodation typically board the bus first and can take up to 5 additional people with them.  Larger parties need to split up and wait in the regular line.  We have found the bus drivers to be very kind and helpful.  At times, John has transferred from his chair into a regular bus seat and other times they go to great care to buckle him securely with his wheelchair secured.  During our 2011 trip, he had multiple seizures when he was very crowded on the bus and it was over packed.  We have learned since then that if a bus is crowded or there is a long line, we may choose to wait for the next bus.   

With rides and attractions, there is often a handicapped entrance also.  This entrance usually accommodates wheelchairs and scooters when the normal line may be too narrow or have stairs.  While this has often seemed to cut down on our wait time, Disney's policy is that axillary entrances "are not intended to bypass waiting lines."  It may be possible to wait longer in an alternate entrance line (i.e. waiting on a boat to accommodate a wheelchair or scooter at It's a Small World or the Jungle Cruise).  Sometimes a guest must transfer from an ECV or wheelchair and some attractions or shows allow the guest to remain in their chair.  

Check the park map for details.  Additionally, know that each Disney Park has a special guide/map for guests with disabilities.  Check with guest services or the park's wheelchair rental location for these special guides.  

These special Guides for Guests with Disabilities outline things like:
  • Where to find companion restrooms (I love these as a mom with boys)
  • Where to find service dog relief areas (Since we are on the waiting list to get a service dog, this caught my eye.)
  • Service dog restrictions
  • Special parade viewing areas
  • Accommodations for guests with visual disabilities (Braille guides, audio descriptions)
  • Accommodations for guests with hearing disabilities (handheld or video captioning, assistive listening devices
  • Courtesy Wheelchair locations/use
  • AED locations 
There are a few other Disability Accessibility things to mention.  At most restrooms on Disney properties you can find sharps containers.  So if you are a diabetic and have to take injections, you won't have to worry about where to put your used needles.   You can also stop by Guest Services  to get a Guest Assistance Card if you have disabilities.  This can help if you have a mobility disability but don't use a chair or if you have an invisible injury (see Part 2 of this post).  At the Magic Kingdom's Columbia Harbor House restaurant, we were greeted by a cast member before we got in line and she escorted us to a special section for accessibility.  We didn't have to suffer through tight lines.  They were even willing to take our order and bring it to us.  If you rent an ECV from a Disney park, you have to return it before you exit, however you can show your ticket if you park hop or return later and be issued another ECV.  One last tip is don't forget that you can get a free ice water at counter service locations or snack carts/locations that have tap water available. 
2012 Birthday Trip with Extended Family
So until my next Part 2 Post (when you have an invisible injury like Panic Disorder, Seizures, PTSD, etc) know that Disney is a great option for catering to your needs, whatever they may be.  If you need something, let Guest Services or a cast member know.  You may be suprised at what they can do.  For us, Disney is therapeutic, magical, and provides that escape from the day to day realities of life.  Disney bends over backwards to make sure every vacation is a magical one.

(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)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Are You Prepared?

After the Boston tragedy a few weeks ago, I made a quick mention on my Facebook page asking if people were prepared.  What if you had to be locked down in your home for a day or two?  What if you couldn't leave for a week?  What if a natural disaster struck and you were isolated needing food and supplies for a week or more?  Would you be ready and able to provide for yourself and your family? 

As the wife of a combat wounded Army Veteran, I've heard about how we should be more prepared and there is always a lot more we can do to be ready.  While I am not ready to start digging a bunker just yet, here are a few things you can do to be a bit more prepared. 

  • Coupon and/or stockpile staples.  I love to buy rice and canned foods when I can get great deals!
  • Buy emergency staples like freeze dried or dehydrated food
  • Stock up on water
  • Make sure you have cooking supplies that aren't dependent on electricity
  • Have a stash of first aid supplies and essential gear
When we first started getting a small food supply together, we had just sold back a lot of old text books on Amazon and used the Amazon credit to buy things like these:

Another great source that we found is Emergency Essentials.  You can request a catalog or browse their website.  They have an awesome compilation of things for preparedness from water to camping to MREs and garden seeds to Group Specials.  You can even get Yoders Canned Bacon!

Emergency Essentials/BePrepared
Be sure to check out their Closeout & Overstock Page too. 
Happy Prepping!