Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Disney Day!

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A couple weeks ago we took a little 4 day vacation to Daytona Beach Shores, Florida. Since it is only a little over an hour away from Orlando and we have children, we had to abide by the Florida law that anyone within a certain distance visit Mickey while there. Dems da rules!

We picked Thursday, August 18 to visit and hoped that many children would be back in school already to lessen the summer crowds a bit. We also watched the weather pretty closely and debated switching our visit to Friday instead when we saw there was a 60% chance of storms that day (which seemed a little higher than the normal everyday chance of storms in Florida), but ended up sticking with our original plan so we wouldn't lose our Fastpasses and all that. It ended up being a perfect day to go! We had the best day! I mean, Disney makes it hard to have a bad day, but crowds and weather can definitely make a huge difference and we lucked out in both departments that day.

I had reserved our three Fastpasses 30 days prior to our visit. (Since we weren't staying on property and were only doing a day visit, that was as early as we could reserve them.) I wasn't expecting much since people staying on property are allowed to make Fastpass reservations 3 months in advance, but I was actually pleasantly surprised at what was left. I used a site similar to this to pick which are most advantageous to reserve, and went from there. I also wanted to pick three that we'd be able to use as soon as we got there so that we'd be able to reserve more Fastpasses for the rest of the day. (You can't reserve any more until your first 3 are used.) I REALLY wanted to ride The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but the first one wasn't available until 8:00 that night, so essentially we'd give up an entire day of Fastpassing to snag that one. So, I passed on that Fastpass (ba dum ching!) and hoped for the best.

I ended up choosing:
The Jungle Cruise
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
Peter Pan

Our first Fastpass was valid from 11:45-12:45 so naturally we entered the Magic Kingdom gates at 1:00 p.m. Doh. Missed that one. So maybe our day didn't start as expected but we didn't let it get us down.

From there, we Fastpassed, we lunched at Cosmic Ray's, and we Fastpassed some more. In the middle of the afternoon the sky got dark and we heard thunder in the distance so several rides closed for a while, but it didn't slow us down. We chose new Fastpasses for rides that WERE still open and just moved on. It never rained at all, and then the thunder moved on and everything opened back up. We got to do SO MUCH this day! And mostly ALL with Fastpasses! Our ride order looked like this:

Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
Lunch at Cosmic Ray's
Peter Pan
Under The Sea (during the "storm")
Teacups (during the "storm")
Carousel (during the "storm")
Dumbo (storms over!)
The Barnstormer, twice, with rider swap
Mickey's Philharmagic
Magic Carpets
Tiki Room
Dinner at Pecos Bill
Pirates of the Caribbean
It's A Small World
Haunted Mansion
Jungle Cruise
Light Parade
Splash Mountain, where we caught the beginning of the fireworks right as we came out of the cave and went down the big hill - so magical!
Winnie The Pooh

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Guess I should mention that my BFF Amy was also with us, and was riding with Charley in front of us. :P

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So, we missed a few in Tomorrowland, Big Thunder Mountain was closed for refurbishment, and we sadly never got to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. But I think we did awesome! We never waited longer than 20 minutes for any ride and both Charley and Laney were so good! And sure, it was August in Florida which means H-O-T, but I truly didn't think it was bad at all. Disney must have a way of making the heat not as intolerable, apparently. Oh Disney, how do you do it?! We left around 11, after a visit in the gift shop and the sweets shop while Laney slept in the stroller.

We definitely deserved a redo after our last visit when Charley was sick and this day more than made up for it. We are doing a week long trip in 2017 so I'm hoping for the same crowd volume and luck.

I opted not to take my good camera either based on John's suggestion, and that ended up being good advice. It is big and clunky and a lot to keep up with, and I can't tell you how many times I've almost knocked out my children from it swinging down while I lean over to pick them up. So, my pictures of the day aren't as good, but I enjoyed my time more by not focusing on keeping up with the camera and trying to get good shots. I did buy this one picture for $15 at the end of the night to make up for it, though.

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Worth it!
At the end of the night we had one sleeping baby in the stroller and one sleepy baby that we were carrying on the ferry boat back to our car. She may be 43 pounds, but when your almost 5 year old falls asleep on your shoulder and you think to yourself that this may be one of the last times she does that EVER, you get super strength and hold her and soak it all in. It was a perfect ending to a perfect Disney day.

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We'll be back, Mickey!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Geocaching

(For you, Heather!)

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Before there was Pokemon Go, there was geocaching. Geocaching is an activity that uses the GPS on your phone to find hidden treasures in parks, along trails, or even in shopping centers. We are VERY new at this, so if you are a more seasoned geocacher, feel free to leave extra tips and tricks in the comments or feel free to correct me. I tend to get on board with things way late, so since Google tells me geocaching has been around since 2000 and I'm just now joining in in 2016, I suppose I'll get on board and begin Pokemon hunting in 2032. I'll eventually catch 'em all!

So, geocaching. In my limited experience, these things are everywhere. Lots in parks, lots in touristy areas, lots in shopping centers. It can be completely free to do, or you can go straight to Geocaching Nerd level right off the bat and subscribe for a year like we did. Subscribing gives you more geocaches to find, and who knows what else, but for $6 a month or $30 for the year I figured we'd just go ahead and do the year.

Ok, let me back up to the basics.

Alright. So, to do this activity you need the following:
  • A GPS enabled phone (or you can use a compass I think, but I have no experience using that method so I'm not going to talk about that here)
  • A pen
  • The Geocaching App
  • Some little trinkets to leave behind if you plan on taking something for yourself

You download the app and sign up for an account. (This is free). Once you've done that, you are taken to a map within the app which should show your exact location. From there, you just scroll around to see if any geocaches are located near you. The circles that are dark green are geocaches that are available for you to find. If there are any light green dots, you are using the free version and those light colored ones are only available to super nerd Geocaching Subscribers, like myself.

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Find one that looks appealing to you and click on it. You can see the difficulty, terrain and actual size of the container you are looking for here. If it all sounds like something you'd like to attempt, push the start button and the app gives you the mileage or the number of feet you are away from that geocache.

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A compass is also shown on the screen, with a red indicator at which direction you need to maneuver to get closer to the cache. Sometimes you can tell that the geocache is going to be off of this trail that you are walking on, but since the trail may weave back and forth you may actually walk against the direction it tells you to go in at some points. Does that make sense? Ultimately, you are trying to get close enough to the geocache that your phone buzzes and tells you:

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Once you get to within 30 feet of the geocache they give you a warning that the GPS may not be accurate to the exact location. Like, once you find it it may say you are still 15 feet away, for example, just because GPS isn't that accurate. In my experience though, I'd say it has been pretty accurate from 5-10 feet out. 

So from there? You just look! We have a whopping 8 finds under our belt, but there are at least 2 others (maybe 3? I can't remember.) that we never found. When Charley and I went geocaching last weekend though, I did feel like we were getting much better at this than we were when we started. You sort of start to learn what to look for. 

A few times it has been hidden under some sticks that are placed just so at the base of a tree.

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Sometimes they take advantage of little hidey holes in trees to hide the cache.

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That one above was really cool - the hole was in the middle of the tree where two trunks split apart, and instead of having you stick your hand down there to get it - because ew snakes and bugs and such! - they had a rope tied to it wrapped around the tree so it rested right in the hole. You just pulled it out by the rope and dropped it back in when you were done.

And some are even in just plain sight. This one was called "Bienvenidos" and was a fake rock next to a welcome stone at a nature museum. Turned the rock upside down and voila! 

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So what do you get when you find it? Mostly just the pleasure of finding hidden treasure! But, some geocaches are large enough for little trinkets too. So the idea is to bring something to leave, and to take one thing with you as well if you wish. This one here was the best we've seen so far for actual stuff to trade. Stickers and little toys and magnets and all kinds of things. 


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If you are stuck wandering around and just not finding the darn thing, there are sometimes hints you can use on the actual app, and if those don't help, you can go through the comments of those that have found it before you and try to pick up hints from those. Sometimes there are even pictures attached to the comment which can at least point you to the right tree or right area. We definitely used the heck out of those for our first few finds. 

Another 'hint' is to pay attention to the name of the geocache. Some have boring names that don't mean a thing, but often times they DO mean something. Like the "Bienvenidos"one I mentioned before was right next to a welcome stone, and this one below was called "Sea Turtle" which didn't really help until we actually found it and saw a turtle (not even a sea turtle!) on top of the box but worth mentioning as well. Sometimes the titles help, sometimes not so much.

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The last thing to do is to sign the log. Many geocaches are too small to include a pen in them also so it is usually a good idea to bring your own if you want to sign them. Sign, date, put everything back in the container and hide it just as you found it. Done!

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On the app, you then log your find (or log that you didn't find it) and it places a smiley face over the green dot so you can remember which ones you've found and which you haven't. It is important to log those you don't find also...one of our first ones that we didn't find we searched and searched and searched. Finally we gave up and logged our DNF (did not find) and moved on. I went back to check on it a week or two later and saw that many people after us had the same results so they took the listing off the site completely until the owner could go back and either reset it or hide one again in the same spot. Made me feel much better that others didn't find it either! 

That's really it, I think! I know there's tons more that you can do with these but this is all we are doing so far and it is perfect for Charley's age. We enjoy it, it's free to try, and it gets us out and walking. Of course we completely forgot to look for any last week on vacation, but that's usually when we look for them - makes it easy to explore a new place. Let me know if you try/have tried it! Give me all the tips!