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Mickey Mouse Disney Hugs

18 More Sleeps

“18 more sleeps until Disney!”, the kids shouted with glee. That’s how early the countdown began. That’s how soon the magic starts to flow through your veins. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling it too, even though I worked hard at containing my excitement. At 35 years old, 18 days of uncontrolled excitement can cause burnout.

The trip didn’t get off to the magical start we had anticipated but a stranger on a plane helped restore our faith that all would be fine. Upon landing in Disney, because explaining the difference between Disney and Florida to a three year old is almost impossible, the kids loaded up on pixie dust while the grown ups focused on grown up things. Magical bags needed to be collected from the magical conveyor belt and children needed to be reigned in so they wouldn’t fly away in the busy airport.

The planning for this trip had been meticulously drawn out by the missus, down to the very last ride. Rain, however, was not on the agenda. In any other place on earth, rain would be a deal breaker. But not at Disney World. Not on this trip. Our smiles were as bright as ever as we crossed through the gates and into paradise, ponchos and all. The kids gripped their autograph books tight as the first character, Jake the Pirate, approached our breakfast table. Overwhelmed with excitement, my normally reserved young boy leaped from his seat and hugged Jake as tightly as he had ever hugged one of us. That was the magic of Disney.

There were many more hugs and smiles throughout the weekend. Some for us, but the most enthusiastic ones reserved for the characters they have grown up watching, which was more than fine by me. The magic was there for me too, just in a different place. Instead of the exhilaration of meeting the characters, my joy came in the form of watching the excitement on my children’s faces as they discovered a world they had only dreamed about. They were my Disney and I cherished every excited squeal they belted out.

There were more magical moments than I could count, from tears during Fantasmic to our emotional meeting with Mickey Mouse. The one that stands out to me, though, is when my three year old daughter snuggled up to me on our last day and said, “I love you more than Disney”. Impossible, but I’ll take it.

Buzz Woody

Monday

Share and Inspire With #GoodNewsMonday – 4th Edition

It’s that time of the week once again and fresh off a vacation, I have a lot to be thankful for. My family took off to the Hamilton area this past week to spend time with family and to take in African Lion Safari, which the kids loved. We also spent time visiting different playgrounds and relaxing on the beach. All in all, it was a perfect vacation and that’s my Good News for this Monday morning.

How about you? What Good News do you have to share with everyone on this summery Monday morning? Leave your answer in the comments below and have a great week!

Thomas Cook Travel Introduces ‘Kids First’ Travel Program

Thomas Cook Kids First

Remember when you and your spouse went on that all inclusive vacation together right after you got married? Fun, right? I’ll bet it was easy to pick a location, too. Maybe you had a map of the Caribbean and a handful of darts because all that mattered was that you were together on a beach somewhere.

Flash forward nine or so months later and now you have a beautiful bundle of joy in your lives. Suddenly, family vacations are a little more complicated than simply lobbing a sharp pointed object at a map, throwing an overnight bag together and grabbing a couple standby tickets at the airport. Travelling with children takes lots of planning and research. You don’t want to get to a resort that claims to be “kid friendly”, only to get there and realize that what they meant to say was, “We have ice cream”.

Enter the Thomas Cook “Kids First” program. Thomas Cook Travel has created a unique Kid Reviewed, Parent Approved program that promises family vacations perfectly tailored to ensure a fun-filled, hassle free experience for the whole family. The Kids First program allows you to check out video reviews for your destination prior to departing to get tips on maximizing fun, straight from the kids who have experienced the destination themselves.

As part of your Kid Reviewed, Parent Approved vacation, your Thomas Cook Kids First package comes with up to $500 in added value.

• $50 Prepaid VISA Gift Card
• $25 Indigo Gift Card
• $25 Shoppers Drug Mart Gift Card
• FREE Seat Selection
• FREE Airport Lounge Pass
• FREE Kids First activity book
• 1 year subscription to Today’s Parent magazine
• Park ‘n Fly Savings

For a lot of families, a trip to a resort is not a yearly luxury. Take the uncertainty out of your next family vacation by booking your trip with the Thomas Cook Kids First program. While you’re there, don’t forget to shoot your own review video so you can Pay it Forward to the next family looking to book a trip.

For more information on booking a trip with the Thomas Cook Kids First program, you can call one of their travel specialists at 1-888-926-6582 or you can visit the Thomas Cook Kids First website HERE. You can also follow along with all the Thomas Cook Travel news and updates on their Twitter and Facebook pages.

The Time I Brought More Animals To The Toronto Zoo

Ahhh, Family Vacation time! Is there a better time of year?

This year we decided to take a trip to the Toronto Zoo! My kids are getting old enough that animals are of great interest to them, so it seemed like a perfect fit! We’d never done a long trip before, so the thought of the unknown was unsettling and exciting all in one precious little bundle.

First things first, how were we going to drive 4 and a half hours each way to Toronto (Not Canada’s Capital for my American friends) and back, without a riot breaking out in the back seats?

Luckily for us, in these hard economic times, our neighbours were gracious enough to lend us their portable DVD players! You know, the ones that attach to the headrests and turn your little monsters into silent Tinker Fairies.

We weren’t blessed with children who fall asleep the moment you start the car. Our kids will fight the sandman until he waves the white flag and retreats! The DVD players worked wonders on the way to Toronto, to the point where I actually had to check to make sure they were still back there!

Now, normally I wouldn’t interruprt a Zoo story to talk about a random occurence at a Rest Stop but this one is important to the story. Also, if my wife is reading this right now, I apologize….

We stopped in Napanee (*Trivia: Which Canadian singer hails from Napanee?) to get some coffee and snacks for the trip. No stop would be complete without a group trip to the over-sized family restroom. No wacky family trip would be complete without your 4 year old son hitting the handicap button on the door, which opens up to the main seating area, while Mommy is…well, you know. Humiliation ensued.

We recovered in time to grab some TimBits from our favorite little coffee shop, Tim Hortons, where I crowned my daughter “The Queen Of The TimBits”! And yes, occasionally my kids get to eat junk. Especially on holiday! Plus, in Canada, Tim Hortons is a part of our Food Groups…

Back to the trip! We arrived at our destination after a very silent, relaxing drive and immediately got to work! The Zoo visit wasn’t until the following day, so we had lots of time for fun!!! After we unpacked all our clothes, of course… It must be a man thing but I have no desire to be in my hotel room any longer than necessary upon arriving there. I need to do the tour and mark my territory!

We had a great (and very expensive) dinner at Boston Pizza and then it was time for swimming and bed for the kids. Little did I realize, that bed for the kids also meant bed for Mommy and Daddy because the children didn’t understand why the TV was still on at sleep time. Oh well, a little sleep never hurt anyone, right? When you have a son that punches and kicks in his sleep, it does in fact hurt. A Lot!

Before I get to the Zoo portion of the story, which I promise will be short, I want to mention that my children are not the easiest to please. I love them with all my heart but they tend to get cranky and occasionally go to the violent tantrum phase. We are pretty good at dealing with this but with the prospect of 40 degree heat and 5-6 hours of walking, my guard was up and I was ready for anything.

We had some pretty tense moments, such as my son and I fighting over who would navigate the map of the Zoo. He won. Also, there was the 500 pictures I took of my Daughter and I before I got her to smile nicely instead of making her silly “Cheese” face. You know the one.

We were there with some friends of ours and their two kids, so I was hopeful that the kids would all keep each other in check. I have to say that after 6 hours of walking the treacherous terrain, a crazy lunch and a million animals, I have never been more proud of the way my children behaved! It was like they had made a pact ahead of time, to make this the best family vacation we could possibly have and it totally worked!!

No Griswold disasters for us!

There was so much more that happened on the trip. A less than quiet drive home after the DVD players had lost their “new car smell” appeal. Petting Sharks and Sting Rays. Highway Potty Problems. Merry Go Round Insanity. But those are all stories for another time!

The important things to take away from this post are as follows:

1. My kids were well behaved and we had a great trip!
2. The Toronto Zoo is an amazing place. 6 hours and we still could have used an extra day to see it all.
3. DVD players in cars are amazing! For trips of course. You don’t want to create Zombies….I guess.
4. Make sure your kids DO NOT push the handicap button while you are using the bathroom!!!

That’s all I feel like writing for today. I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventure and I’ll close it out with some footage I shot of the kids favorite part of the Zoo.

Cheers!!

* Trivia answer was Avril Lavigne. You win nothing for guessing it correctly ;P

Review: Majestic Colonial Punta Cana Resort

My wife and I went to Punta Cana (sans kids) for a friends wedding last year and our stay at the Majestic Colonial was excellent, and only got hampered by an injury that had nothing to do with the resort. Here is my review, in case you are planning a vacation to Punta Cana.

 

Flight: I hate flying and the descent into Punta Cana was the scariest of my life but we landed fine and it was probably the most normal turbulance/air pocket most people encounter. This has nothing to do with the resort but I thought I’d give the entire picture. I’ve also heard that most descents into the Dominican can be rough ones.
Upon landing, 1000 guys try to take your bags for you and utter incoherent gibberish to try to confuse you as they are looking for tips. For you first timers, a firm “No Thanks” is what you have to do or they will keep trying to grab your stuff.

Arrival at Resort: A pleasant crew unload your bags and ask you to check in but before you get to the front desk, you are met with a nice cold towel and a drink, which is a very nice touch. Once you get to the desk, we were met with a pleasant “Hola” and then immediately offered a room upgrade:)) We passed and found that , throughout the week, the more times you say no to the upgrade, the cheaper the rate gets:)

Our Room: We were at the far end of the resort, which is a long walk from the front desk but it also helped me to maintain my original weight throughout the week. Plus we were the only ones in our group with a balcony that offered a great view of the beach. It ended up working out as our group was either at the beach or the swim up pool bar for most of the week and our room was right next to each.

The room was tidy and the shower was amazing, great water pressure and 2 shower heads. Was tough to remember no to drink the water while brushing my teeth but I managed to get through the week without forgetting. The only complaint I had was that our room was at the end of the cleaning route so our room wouldn’t get turned over until late in the afternoon.

Restaurants: This was my favorite part of the trip as I love my food. We tried all the restaurants except the Seafood Place (because I hate Seafood) and the Mexican place, as it got bad reviews by a bunch of people we were with and others we had met. Here is my experience:

Main Buffet: Clean, Stocked and Delicious. There was so much food to choose from that it was hard not to be happy with your selections. If you don’t like pre-cooked food, there were about 4 stations you could go to in order to get food made right in front of you. The bacon was out of this world and I made sure to take full advantage:)) For breakfast, the French Toast was great but my daily routine was visiting the sandwich press operator and getting an amazing Ham, Bacon, Cheese & Mayo sandwich which they put together for you and grilled to perfection.

The lunch selection was fantastic as well but most of our lunches were had at the beach buffet.

Beach Buffet: Less selection than the main but an outdoor buffet that overlooks the beach is too good to pass up. Daily favorite was the Panini station, which is similar to my breakfast sandwich but different ingredients. The cook always made the same joke everyday about putting sardines on the panini and always faked putting some on it but it never got old and he ended up with some pretty good tips from our group:)

Fast Food Place: Hidden down the marketplace alleyway is a divey fast food place which opened from 11pm to 4am and offered all your favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, fries, onion rings and of course, lots of beer. We ended up there on a few occasions and were never disappointed in our orders.

Steakhouse: In the same place as the Beach Buffet, we ate at the Steakhouse twice and had varying results. The first night there, I got the sirloin and was underwhelmed by the taste and texture. The battered pinneapple/chicken skewer appetizer was amazing though. The second trip was much better as I ordered the Chateaubriand andit lived up to it’s billing. I tiped one of the waiters $5 at the beginning of the meal and he basically sat with us the whole dinner, making sure we had everything we needed. Good Dude.

Japanese Experience: The most fun I had at a dinner, make sure you make a reservation for the demonstration and not just a walk in meal. Our cook, Raphael, was great at entertaining and had a sixth sense about when a photo was about to be taken, as he posed perfectly at a secondsd notice. He also looked exactly like Kobe Bryant, which was cool to this sports fan. The food was great and I even tried shrimp and Sushi for the first time. Don’t worry though, they also serve beef and chicken, which is also delicious.

French Gourmet: Saving the best for last, my experience at the Gourmet was the best food I’ve ever had. I ordered the lobster bisk (again a first) and it was good but the Churasco wrapped around asparagus, on top of the best mashed potatoes in the world, made me want to take 5 minutes for every bite. Follow all that up with Red Wine and Creme Brule and it was a food night to remember.

The Beach: The beach was pristine, the servers were prompt and the fish were everywhere for a great underwater experience. We did the Banana Boat Ride for $12 which was worth every penny as the boat driver did everything in his power to throw us from the narrow raft. I did get offered some “good stuff” one of the days but it was more funny than disturbing. No complaints about the beach, I can’t think of anything that could have been improved with it. The sunrise/sunsets are to die for, don’t be afraid to wake up early a couple of days, you won’t be sorry.

The Pool/Swim Up Bar: My crew set up shop daily right across from the swim up bar in the pool. We staked our claim to a particular spot every day and spent a good 4 hours there, playing football and soaking the days away. The staff were good but at certain times seemed disinterested, which was fine by me as they kept up with the drink demands. We met some cool people and befriended some cool British kids, who we shared our football with and in exchange, they taught us some funny slang words:))

The Entertainment: We didn’t go to the resort for the entertainment so it wasn’t a problem for any of us that it was subpar in general. The “Pump Up Crew” they have are kind of cheesy but still fun in general and you can tell they work long, hard hours, even though it seems like their job is just partying. Daily pool side dance lessons and funny drinking contests are all part of the fun.

As for the night time stuff, the Michael Jackson experience lived up to it’s billing and is a must see. The Karaoke nights were a lot of fun and people seemed to really enjoy watching others get up there but they only lasted 1 hour, which was waaaaay too short for such a crowd pleasing event. And the 70/80/90’s dance night was fun for anyone who loves to dance the night away. I didn’t make it to the discoteque but I heard from a lot of people that the guy to girl ratio was like 40 to 1 so for all you single men out there, not the best odds.

The Casino was small and had only a few slot machines and tables. The slot machines couldn’t handle a large volume and often broke down. I wasn’t there to gamble so no big deal.

The Marketplace: There are a number of stores along the walkway and each have varying prices. I got a vibe that they were not the bartering type of shops but found out that everyone has their price so don’t be afraid to try to lower the price a bit.

Once a week, the flea market shops come and set up booths down the walkway and that’s where the real deals are made. I hate haggling but found it easy with the pushy nature of some of these guys. Always trying to give you free stuff to lure you in, don’t take it unless you are going to buy something else. We ended up getting some very good deals and found that an opening price of $95 can easily end at paying $20. Walking away is a strong tactic here, so is changing the game a bit. If they want $25, you say that you’ll give $20 and $2-3 for the seller and their attitude quickly changes to your side. That $2-3 is more than the commission they’ll get for the $5 on the actual price. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be writing this stuff but I wish I had had this info before hand.

Off Resort Flea Market: We went off the resort about a 5-10 minute walk to the local flea market and had an interesting experience. A lot of people were hesitant about us going off the resort but I checked with our tour rep and the ffront desk and both said it was safe. I never felt uncomfortable at any point and recommend the experience to others.
The first booth I went into, I bartered down a price and even though I paid more than I should have, the seller said to me (after I paid) that he didn’t believe I was Canadian because I was too cheap….and then had the nerve to ask for a $1 commission. Yeah Right! After that, we met a nice Haitian (second shop on the left) who lured us into his shop by telling us he wouldn’t bother us like the other shop owners. He kept his word and his prices were so good, the need to barter was minimal. He also threw in a bunch of extra stuff (shot glasses, bracelets) after I had already paid. Good Salesmanship!!

Overall, good market experience but very tiring to barter for over an hour…

The Medical Center: I wish I hadn’t had to go here but my wife got a very bad sunburn and her ankles & feet got really swollen. I got a feeling like there wasn’t much the Doc was going to be able to do and I was right. He recommended that we go the hospital and we started panicking. Luckily I had travel insurance so the whole ordeal was covered but it was anything but enjoyable. For the record, this was not the resort’s problem and I wouldn’t hold this against my experience with them.

The Doc called an ambulance and we began our 4 hour journey off the resort at midnight in the middle of the DR. Any driving is scary in this place but the ambulance ride with my wife and no seatbelts was the scariest of my life. Flying around cars and crazy turns made my stomach turn. At the hospital, there was very little english and we could only have faith in their medical system as the plugged the IV into my wife’s arm and gave us a bunch of prescription medication for her to bring back to the resort. Scary times for sure but long story short, we got back safely at about 3am, went for fast food and we are now back home and have a new prescription for an allergic reaction. Was a little surprised at the lack of english speaking staff at the hospital though, very scary ordeal, I recommed not getting injured while visiting here:))

Odds & Ends: My friend and I are in a band back home and he brought his guitar. We set up shop in the lower lobby bar one night with about 10 of our friends and played music til about 2 am. No one complained and in fact, people started coming over to sing with us, even the bartender came over, requested La Bamba and then danced on the sofa when we obliged.

Most of the staff were courteous and eager to help out but there were some that seemed disinterested in smiling or putting forth any effort. I always tried to reward the really friendly ones with generous tips but not fully understanding the economic climate there, it was hard to tell if my tips really helped.

I had an issue with the Coffee providers being called “Coffee Boy” and wondered if Coffee Guy or Coffee Man would be a better title but that was just my quirky brain working overtime.

We brought children’s items with us (colouring books, crayons, pens, pencils, etc..) and left them for the cleaning crew and other staff throughout the week. They really seemed to appreciate that and always thanked us daily.

There was a guy on the beach who painted T Shirts and he was really cool and accomodating to any request. I got myself a Montreal Canadiens shirt with a beach scene and “Punta Cana” painted on it. Very Cool.

I can’t think of much else to write about but would like to thank the entire staff at the Majestic Colonial for a wonderful week and an amazing experience. We will definitely be back and are already trying to convince some of our friends to get married so we have an excuse:))

PS – DO NOT lose your towel….$25 is a hefty replacement fee:))