Monday, November 15, 2010

Dining Out With a Family of 4 - On a Budget

I love to cook... but I LOOOOOOOVE to go out! Many people ask how we are able to eat at so many restaurants so often with 2 children. Here are a few tips that we use that may also help you.

1. Drink water! Not only is this a healthier option than most of what you would normally choose, but it will save you $6-$8 (or MORE) for a family of 4.

2. Nix the kid's meal. Kid's meals rarely impress me in a restaurant and 9 times out of 10, my 6 year old wont eat it anyway. Most options are either fried or a boxed form of mac & cheese. YUCK! Why pay $4 for something you can buy for 50 cents? Consider splitting an adult meal for the kids. It is probably more appetizing anyway! Children have palates, too. Honest! Sometimes, splitting between the 2 kids is impossible. My 8 year old usually eats a small, adult entree alone now. But getting a soup in addition to my meal is usually enough for my 6 year old.

3. Do not over-eat. Not only is it bad for you, but it is costly! Portion sizes in most restaurants are over-abundant as it is. Is there really a need for an appetizer, regular size entree AND dessert? Perhaps there is! Maybe it is a special occasion. But you should really consider that before making your choice.

4. NEVER be afraid to use coupons. I sign up for every free rewards program there is. If I happen to go to that restaurant, great. If not, no harm, no foul, right? Signing up for a rewards program usually gets you on a list for extra coupons, too. So, if you like to dine out, do your research!

Hopefully this has helped you a bit.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Living in Florida has it's advantages! My mother flew in from California 2 weeks ago. Her cousin, Billy, from Pennsylvania joined us. My mother had been planning a trip with all of to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure for MONTHS! It was pretty cool if I do say so myself, which I have no problem doing as most of you already know! However, for those of you eager to go into the most wizard-laden spot in Orlando, I have a few tips for you. Keep in mind I did NOT go on a weekend or holiday. I went on a Friday and it was shoulder to shoulder madness!

1. THE RIDES: The official website says the best time to ride the Forbidden Journey is first thing in the morning when the park opens. Unless you are THERE when the park first opens, I suggest going around sunset. Also note, the pass that allows you to go around everyone does NOT apply for this ride. Keep an eye on the marquees around the park that shows you the current wait times for the most popular rides. If you get carsick easily, this is NOT a good ride for you. I felt sick for 30 minutes afterwards. The Flight of the Hippogriff is a GREAT ride for all ages. Hold on to hats or anything else that is loose. We did not ride the Dragon Challenge.

2. THE WAND: One of the best-selling souvenirs is a replica wand. And who wouldn't want one?!?! For $25 (yeah, a little steep but it is a theme park) you get your choice of wand from Neville's, to Harry's, to the want of the Dark Lord himself!! Now, you have a few options of HOW to do this and that is really where the time-saving tip comes in. You can stand in line for the "wand presentation" (reviews say it is lame) which chooses only ONE person from each group for the presentation. The wand chooses you, yadda-yadda. The day I went, the line was 2 hours just to get in the shop and every report I have seen said that is minimal for that particular attraction. If you want a wand you can go around the BACK of the line and enter Dervish and Banges from the back side. You can also get one at a kiosk between the exit from Forbidden Journey and the exit from the Flight of the Hippogriff.

3: BUTTERBEER, PUMPKIN JUICE AND FOOD: Many people see the Butterbeer cart in the center of town and think "OOOH That line is long! I should get in line now!" Well, they would be wrong. The best place to get one of these treats is in the Three Broomsticks Tavern. Also, it is far better frozen and it is AMAZING! As for the Pumpkin Juice, you can buy these all over but I believe the only way to get the bubbly version is in Three Broomsticks. I have heard the bubbly is much better. To me, it tastes like an over-sweetened and spiced version of apple cider. The food at the Three Broomsticks was REALLY good. We got the feast and it fed 4 adults and 2 children with left overs! It was a great deal.

4. HONEYDUKE'S/ZONKO'S - THE CANDY/JOKE SHOP: There was a line to get in here when I was there. I am sure there is a fire code restriction for the amount of people. But Zonko's (the joke shop owned by the Weasley twins) is right next door and the 2 stores are connected inside. Walk past the candy shop (walking away from the Three Broomsticks) and enter Zonko's to get in Honeyduke's if there is a line. The Honeyduke's chocolate bars were terrible but the fudge flies rocked! Either take a soft cooler bag with freezer packs for your chocolate, or get your candy from Honeyduke's as your last stop in the park before going home. Honeyduke's WILL NOT transfer food to the front of the park for you (like other stores in the park will) and I guarantee the candy will melt. I took quart sized ziplocs, filled one with hotel ice and double bagged it. It worked GREAT as a freezer pack!! Zonko's was unimpressive to me.

5. THE TRAIN: Stop and take a picture of the family by the Hogwart's Express. This only takes a second! You will regret it if you don't!

I am a dork and somehow missed Filch's Emporium and the Owl Post. I wont make that mistake next time ;)