Friday, September 30, 2011

Is the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan Worth the Cost?

We visited Disney during the free dining plan promotion they run during the off season, but we also decided to go ahead and pay the difference to upgrade to the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan. Here is our reservation list, a short blurb on what we thought of each experience, the cost and whether we thought it was worth it.

The details:
Basic Plan: Free
Upgrade for 4 adults and 3 children: $1130
Dining Plan includes 3 table service meals and 2 snacks per person per day.

We ate most of our meals together so I will work this out as one plan but will note how many people ate at each meal to give you a better idea of how much it costs per person. I will also do a cumulative OOP (out of pocket) and a cumulative DDP (Disney Dining Plan) total

Day 1:
Yactsman Steak House at the Beach Club Resort
Nice atmosphere. Classy Casual. Food was B+.
2 adult meals and 2 children's meals
Total: $175 (covered by plan)
Tip:$35 (out of pocket)

Day 2:
Akershus with the Princesses at Epcot
Buffet Style Breakfast. Food was  typical of a breakfast buffet
4 adults 3 children

Dinner at Maya Grill
Food was mediocre and it took forever to get out of there!
3 children 4 adults

Day 3:

Supercalifragilistic Breakfast
Typical American Buffet
3 children 4 adults
Total: $124
Tip: $22

Lunch at Hollywood and Vine
Typical Buffet
3 children 4 adults
Total: $164

Day 4:
Breakfast at Ohana
Family Style Buffet (FAVORITE)
3 children 4 adults
Total: $110
Tip: $22

Lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern
Homestyle Americana
2 children 4 adults (sleeping 3 year old)
Total: $138
Tip: $28

Dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table
So I hesitate saying this but of all of our meals this was my least favorite. Our reservation was for $8:10 and the parade crowd was scary. All entrances to the front of the castle were closed so they made you go around through Tomorrow Land. This would have been fine except that the crowd was so packed that we had to fight to get through. I had people yelling at me while they were the ones blocking the paths! We got around to the side to be told we had to go back to the other side. I nearly broke into tears and the guy felt sorry enough that he escorted us to the castle so that we didn't have to fight the crowd again. We got there on time (barely as it took us an hour to fight the crowd) only to wait another hour for our names to be called. The food was only so-so, though we did have a nice view of Wishes. The girls enjoyed the princesses but they did at Akershus as well and it was much less stressful. I would never pay out of pocket for the food at CRT and if you make reservations, DO NOT make them during wishes or the parade times!
3 children 4 adults
Total: $296
Tip $46

Day 5
Breakfast at Tusker House
3 children 4 adults
Tip:$ 27

Lunch at Tusker House
3 children 4 adults

Dinner at Yactsman
Atmosphere was wonderful and the food was ok but not spectacular. They have a great kids desert!
3 children 4 adults
Total: $275 (missing one receipt so did an average)
Tip:$ 55

Day 6:
Breakfast at Crystal Palace
Buffet by far the worst out of all of them we tried. Loved the building though.

Lunch was quick service
Dinner at California Grill
Spectacular food and the view we had was It was noisy though so that was a bit disappointing considering how upscale it is supposed to be
2 adults (my birthday with my DH!)
Tip $22

Kids, MIL and SIL had Pizza

Day 7:
Breakfast at Chef Mickeys
Ok so by this point I was SO sick of food I barely ate. It was a typical buffet.
3 children 4 adults
Total: $140
Tip: $29

Lunch was snacks

Dinner Tony's Town Square
Italian. It was good but apparently they were ready to go home because we were rushed. Our appetizer plates disappeared as we were still pulling food off of them.
3 children 4 adults
Total for DDP was $2383
Snack and QS Total: $450
Total OOP was: $491
Total spent including cost to upgrade and tips:$1621
Saved: $1212

So we did save money based on what we ate on the plan, but was it worth it? Well, I don't think so. Had we not been on the plan we would not have eaten an appetizer, entree and desert per person. Sticking to just an entree and an occasional desert would have cut down the cost significantly. We also had 23 snack credits left at the end of our trip so we easily could have survived on just the basic free meal plan. Something else to consider was that we were slaves to our reservations. Some require a credit card to secure so missing them would have been expensive. I am glad that we got to experience some of the places we ate, but I think in future we will stick with the basic plan and just choose a few nice places to visit and pay out of pocket.

Disney World Day 1

It was my intention to blog this as we went, but the days all blurred into one and I just didn't have time or energy! So I am going to chronicle them in a few different posts. I want to talk a bit about the deluxe dining plan and if it is worth it as well as give a few dinner reviews.

We had an early flight on Thursday, September 22nd so I dressed the kids in their travel clothes, we took down our last Mickey and they headed to bed!

Sort of. Luke ended up awake until after 10 and then slept on our floor and around 11pm the girls wandered into our room, unable to sleep. Finally, around midnight we were all asleep! I was rather restless, but everyone else was getting a good rest. We had to wake around 5am and by 6:30am we were headed to the airport! Of course everyone was so excited! We did cut it kind of close but got to the airport just in time to grab a quick bite to eat and head onto the plane. The kids did well. Luke slept for about half of it and since the flight is only 2 hours the girls colored and such. After you land you still have to go through the process of getting to the bus and then taking the bus to the resort so it was about 2pm before we were at the hotel.

 Thankfully, we had checked in online and other than sorting out Brianna's room card (she was booked with my MIL who hadn't arrived yet), it was pretty easy.The hotel was pretty fun! We really enjoyed walking around and checking out all of the decor. We even got an amazingly appropriate location in the 90's building right above a giant laptop (my DH is a computer tech and junkie).

 We stopped by the room to drop off our carry on luggage and then headed to Magic Kingdom to get a few rides in before heading to our 5pm reservation at Yactsman.

We headed straight for Space Mountain. This year both Brianna and Keira were tall enough to get on most of the rides, but it truly surprised me when Brianna wanted to go on this one! She loved it, though it did make me a bit nervous with her being in her own seat.

By the time we finished Space Mountain we had to head to the restaurant. It had been raining, but we didn't have time to go back and freshen up so off we went. We arrived at the Beach Club looking like travel weary drowned rats. The restaurant turned out to be a upper class steak house and we looked completely out of place. The waitress was either feeling very sorry for me or unsure of my parental abilities as she kept coming by the table offering to do things that I should be doing (not that I wasn't doing them, she just sort of interjected herself. It was very strange.). Karl and I both ordered steak and the kids had chicken and mac and cheese. The atmosphere was amazing. It was quiet and relaxing and if it hadn't been for how tired and gross we were feeling, we would have really enjoyed it. The food was OK. I don't know that I would have paid out of pocket for it, but it was good and the kids got a really neat desert that they "decorated" themselves.

After we ate my MIL and SIL arrived so we headed back to the hotel to see them and to get some rest for the next day at Epcot!

Click here to see our Disney Deluxe Dining Plan Details and to read if we thought it was worth the cost to upgrade!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Featured Sponsor: Usborne

Durable, fun and an established name, with over 1,400 titles,Usborne Books, has something for everyone and is a name that is trusted.

From the Usborne website,
"In 1973, Peter Usborne decided that educational, non-fiction books would need to change in order to compete with TV and comics. He borrowed some ideas from those two media and hired educational consultants to oversee the writing to make sure that the books would satisfy the child's interest, but also arouse it. Explanatory books which merely explain are doing only half the job; if a book fails to make its subject attractive and interesting to the reader, chances are the explanation will fail. Usborne Books are designed graphically to draw the students in, to make them want to learn the material and to help them retain that knowledge.
The magic of Usborne Books is that they make both reading and learning fun and not a boring or intimidating experience. Peter Usborne set out to break down a child's resistance to reading and learning at home. These books are so well organized that children absorb and recall much of the vast amount of information presented."

One of the many fabulous giveaways that is going on, "Usborne Books" is giving a lucky winner, the chance to win 21 different books from them; A great way for a new homeschooler to start a library or for current homeschoolers, build up their current library. So drop by "Usborne Books", discover all they have to offer! Don't forget to participate in Molding Minds Homeschool-Mega Homeschool Giveaway and tell your friends about it too!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TOS Review:Before Five in a Row

Now, I am going to be upfront and let you know that I am not a big fan of any sort of formal pre-school curriculum. I had my doubts about this one too.

Before Five in a Row is a curriculum designed for ages 2-4 and uses books and engaging activities to teach little ones math, science, art, Bible as well as activities that promote coordination, gross and fine motor skills and more. It is priced at $24.95 as a bound book and would cover everything you would want a pre-school curriculum to cover. Also available are Five in A Row, Beyond Five in a Row and Above and Beyond Five in a Row.

Each lesson in Before Five in a Row is based on a book from this book list and offers easily adaptable and engaging activities. These books can be purchased of course, but I went to our local library, which is fairly large, and searched for 10 of the books randomly. All but two of them were carried by the library. I loved this book list for a second reason, these were not just your typical Eric Carle-esque books. While I love me some Eric Carle, I really loved that I had not actually heard of most of the books on this list. I loved that the curriculum introduced us to new authors, new art work and new stories! There are, of course, a few recognizable books, but for the most part these were brand new to us.

For each lesson you will have a variety of activities for the different subjects. For example, in Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?, Bible talks about being cheerful, Language Arts about rhyme, math about patterns and so on. My son is only 3 and being a son also makes him a boy, and being a boy also makes his attention span short and his body wiggly. I kept the lessons to about 10 minutes each and that was just about right for him. It also meant that each book lasted us about a week(the lessons are set up for each book to be read five days in a row. Hence, Five in a Row).

To see this entire sample page visit here. You can also visit here for more lesson samples.

Another thing that I loved was that I was able to adapt it to my older girls as well. Easily adaptable curriculum is very important in a house with multiple aged children. As an example, in Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?, there is an activity where the younger child searches for items on the pages of the books. We printed out picture searches and they did those.

So was my mind changed? Yes, and no. I did love this curriculum. I thought it was well laid out, the book selections were great and the activities were engaging enough to keep my three year old interested. The Price is excellent for a curriculum that could last you all year. I am very thankful to have gotten to try it. However, I am still a big fan of that age range being "kid time" and would not go out of my way to purchase any pre-k curriculum. But that is OUR family, and if you are looking for a pre-k curriculum or even a kindergarten curriculum, I can most definitely recommend Before Five in a Row!

You can contact Before Five in a Row Here:

Five in a Row

P.O. Box 707 • Grandview, MO 64030-0707

Phone: (816) 246-9252 • Fax: (816) 246-9253

E-mail: • URL:

or visit here to purchase Before Five in a Row.

Please be sure to check out my fellow TOS Review Crew team reviews on Before Five in a Row.

I was given a copy of Before Five in a Row in exchange for an honest review. Any opinion expressed here is 100% accurate to the best of my ability. Please take a moment to visit my full disclosure policy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

TOS Review: AIMS Primarily Magnets

We love science in this house! It was my major in college and I have two girls that go crazy any time we are on the science aisle at the store. I wasn't exactly sure what we would be getting when we were chosen to review AIMS so I was over the moon when the book arrived and it turned out to be AIMS Primarily Magnets.

AIMS Primarily Magnets is geared toward children from K-2nd grade and is available in both a bound version and a PDF version for $18.95. The book offers 19 activities, a cd with printables and 85 pages of learning fun! If you do not already own some, you will need to purchase some. AIMS does offer a set of the magnets, but that was a little more than we needed so we just went to our local hobby store and purchased some. I consider this an investment though, because as you will learn in this review, magnets were a big hit in this family!

We had so much fun with this book. The lessons were well written and easy to understand. They also provided just enough "learning" and fun that they kids never lost interest. In fact it was the opposite! I had to stop them from jumping ahead of me! The lessons even caught my 3 year old's attention, and he sat through and participated in every one of them!

We didn't have time to get through every lesson, but we did enjoy learning about what type of  items are magnetic and which are not. The set up also led into many side conversations and experiments such as will a magnet work under water. We are looking forward to completing the other activities. We are especially looking forward to painting with magnets!

I really can not express how much we enjoyed this book. I love that it completely engaged my children with hands on activities. I also loved that it was not time intensive for me. There was very little prep work needed (print worksheets and gather materials) and I didn't need to be a genius to teach the lessons. To top that off, it was easy to adapt all the way from my 7 year old down to my 3 year old. The only concerning thing about it is, if you are looking for a year long curriculum you will need to purchase more than just this book. That is something that I love about it though, as we are not good with long term relationships with science curriculum. I love that we will have just enough lessons to stay interested and then move on. We will definitely be checking out some of the other products by AIMS.

AIMS can be contacted here with any questions.

Be sure to check out my fellow TOS Review Crew reviews on this and other products offered by AIMS!

I was given a free copy of AIMS Primarily Magnets in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are 100% mine and accurate to the best of my ability. Please see my full disclosure policy here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

TOS Review:Big IQ Kids

I another attempt to incorporate the computer into our homeschool, we accepted the opportunity to try out and review BigIQKids. Here is what we thought!

Product: Big IQ Kids

Method: Online Computer Studies

Age Range: K-5 and Up. I would expect any child under 2nd grade to have some trouble with all of the typing and mouse control skills required though.

Price: Prices vary depending on which program you are using. There are some basic options available for free and the prices then go from $7.99 for one month of Spelling Junior up to $149.99 for a year of Math Premium. Click here to check out the pricing.

Big IQ Kids signs in like most typical online programs. You create an account and a password and are then taken to the page to choose which lessons you want to do. You will then see the classroom options based on whether you are using the free programs only or if you also have a premium account . We were given a temporary premium account for math and the US States programs and we had access to all of the free areas as well.

The premium math offered practice questions seems more intended to drill math facts than to be a complete lesson. The lessons that we looked at were addition problems at the 1st grade level. I am not sure I really liked the way it was set up here. The biggest issue I had was it only allowed one type of problem at a time and while we could change the type of problems we were working on, we would have preferred to have a mix of problems. If your child works better with a spiral approach, this set up may get frustrating pretty quickly.

The US states premium was pretty cool, but was a little difficult for my younger children. We listened to the state information on the interactive map (which was very interesting!) and could do the intro question but the rest of it was a bit much for the girls. For children a bit older however, I think it could be a really great tool to learn the states and a bit about them.

While we did check out the US States and the Math programs, what actually drew my attention to Big IQ Kids was the spelling program. I have seriously been dropping the ball on introducing any spelling practice (though my children seem to be picking it up naturally, if just a bit slower than "normal"), so I was excited to incorporate some into our school routine. BigIQKids offers several neat options through their spelling program. The best thing about it was that we could actually use the lists in our spellers and BigIQKids created practice "games" based on those lists. It also did the definitions, but since my children are so young, we didn't use that portion. My oldest daughter did quite well with the program. My first grader however, found it to be a bit more difficult to think about typing and remembering how to spell the word. That would probably vary from child to child though.

This page offers a report card on how your child is doing.

There are some really great things about this program if used as a supplement. The spelling worked fairly well for one of my children and I really liked the price on it (FREE!) and the US states was very interesting to listen to. The kids also enjoyed earning coins that could be exchanged for games as well as creating their character. However, the voices used drove me crazy as they sound very computerized and mechanical and while I appreciate the fact that this is a great learning site, I am just not sure it competes with other sites you can find on the internet that do not charge and it is not something that fits well enough with our family for me to justify paying for premium accounts. The ads were also something I did not care for. I monitor things like that carefully with my children and felt like I had to be right there when they logged on to make sure the ads were not inappropriate. With that said, we will probably continue using the free spelling as practice.
BigIQkids offers a risk free 14 day money back guarantee and can be contacted here with questions.

I was given a trial of the premium accounts in exchange for an honest review. This post may contain affiliate links. Read here for my full disclosure policy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Featured Sponsor:Christian Liberty Press

Christian Liberty Press is a homeschool curricula publisher that offers full curriculum for grades K-12 as well as supplemental materials. They also currently have a 10% discount on online purchases!

From the website:

Whether you are a new or seasoned educator, or somewhere in between, we can help you sort through the maze of curriculum choices. It is our aim to minister to you in the great task of educating students in the fear and admonition of Christ. Our site not only outlines curriculum for each grade level but also provides a guide to evaluating the various subjects from a biblical worldview. It is our goal to provide you with the highest possible quality of Christ-centered educational materials at an affordable price. Please take time to discover how our resources can help you.

Christian Liberty Press has offered up a complete set of Studying God's Word books A-H to be part of the Mega Homeschool Giveaway. These books will give your child a firm foundation in Biblical knowledge including history and catechism drills. Please take a moment to visit Christian Liberty Press online and then go enter the giveaway for a chance to win this great prize as well as many others!

Swag Bucks to Pay for Christmas!

Did you know that you actually can earn gift cards and other prizes just from doing searches? Swagbucks is a search engine site that pays you in "swagbucks" that can then later be redeemed for great prizes such as Amazon gift cards and much more. It really is that easy. You do a search, you earn, you save and you spend. This is how I do most of my Christmas shopping and all it takes me is the time I would have been searching anyways!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Featured Sponsor: Math U See

Our first featured sponsor of the Mega Homeschool Giveaway is Math U see!

Math·U·See provides a firm foundation in mathematics for students of all aptitudes. The mastery-based approach allows students to move at their own pace whether they are naturally gifted in mathematics, struggle with mathematical concepts, or have special needs. Teachers are provided with the tools, skills, and training needed to present an explicit, structured, systematic, and cumulative program using multi-sensory teaching techniques.

Math·U·See was written by Steve Demme, a homeschool dad, for the homeschool community. Math·U·See’s unique approach targets each individual student and focuses on their specific needs. Rather than a curriculum designed for a classroom, Math·U·See is designed with the homeschool “tutor” environment in mind.

Math U See offers curriculum from pre-k up through calculus and also offers a course in stewardship.

Enter the Homeschool Mega Giveaway for a chance to win up to $150 worth of course material from Math U See!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mega Homeschool Giveaway!! Curriculum, Cash and More!!

It is time! The giveaway is now live!

I am so excited! I have had a steady inbox and mailbox full of great prizes to give away. This is my first group giveaway and I am so thrilled to share some really great homeschool products and blogs with you! I am using a program called rafflecopter for the first time that I hope will make it easy for you to enter. Just click on each method of entry, follow the directions and it will automatically enter you no matter which blog you enter from! Be sure to check back on those blogs every few days to read about the great companies who have sponsored this giveaway. With a prize lot of over $1000 in value, there is something for everyone!

I have looked around and while I can't say for sure, I am almost sure that I am about to introduce you to the largest homeschool giveaway ever! Ok, maybe not ever, but it is going to be big! So with out further hesitation here is what you have all been waiting for!! Browse through, check out the great products, visit blogs and vendor sites, and enter to win!!

On a serious note, when the winner is drawn, I will be confirming that the entry requirements are met. In otherwords, if your blog comment entry wins, and you didn't really leave a comment, then I will re-draw. You must actually do the things required!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

TOS Review:Time4Learning

I have been debating for a while if I wanted to add in some computer based learning for my girls. I thought it possibly give me more time to work with one of the girls while the other did lessons on the computer. The real problem I had though was is it enough? We had the opportunity to review Time4Learning so hang on as we share our experience with it in my first TOS Review Crew review!

Basic Information:Product: Time4learning

Type of Curriculum: Web Based

Price: $19.95 for the first child and $14.95 per child afterward

Money Back Guarantee: 14 day money back policy

Contact Information: Contact Time4learning

Time4Learning is an online learning program directed at children grades Pre-K and up to 8th grade. There are two different levels, lower (pre-k-3rd) and upper (4th-8th). We specifically reviewed the lower level since my girls are 1st and 2nd grades respectively.

The lower level offers curriculum for language arts, social studies, science, and math. You can either use all of them as your core or you can use individual sections to supplement your existing curriculum. We peeked at most of the sections but focused mostly on the social studies (lessons such as map skills) and science (lessons such as the food chain) as these were two areas that we were actually lacking in. You can see lesson demos on the site here. Upon registering your parent log in, you will be able to go into the parent section and set up lessons, time requirements and limits and check grades.

This is where parents can check grades, time spent on lessons and other details of their child's account.

 After you register your children and set up a password for each of them, they can then log in and do a lesson. The lessons for science and social studies are presented as a story with reviews during the lesson and a quiz after the section. The stories did great at keeping the girls attention. My oldest particularly enjoys it. I have been very pleased with how willingly she will attempt the reading portions. After finishing the lessons your child is allotted time on the "playground" which includes all kinds of age appropriate games. It provides a great incentive to doing the lesson.

 What I loved:
The interactive stories kept the girls interested.

There was no extra purchase needed.

The courses for science and history were comprehensive enough that I did not feel like I needed to supplement at the lower levels. The math wasn't enough for me, but could be for your family. I think that is a matter of preference.

For the most part it could be done independently.

If you are using at least two of the courses it is worth the cost.

Some things to think about:

If you are only needing one course, it probably isn't worth the money.

Some parts of the lesson require reading, so if your child isn't a fluent reader, you will need to be there to help.

We really have enjoyed Time4learning, but the cost of having two children and really not needing it for multiple subjects will keep us from renewing.

Please be sure to check out the other TOS Crew Reviews on Time4learning and many other great products!

I was given a free trial of this product in exchange for an honest review for TOS. All opinions are 100% mine and are truthful to the best of my ability. There may be affiliate links in this post. Please visit my full disclosure policy here.