Finding Florida

12 Tips for an Amazing Time at MNSSHP!

mickeys not so scary photo collage

One of my favorite nights of the year is right around the corner! Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World! The night is pure magic! If you ever get the chance to attend I highly recommend it. It is fun for all ages! This will be our 5th year attending MNSSHP and we have learned some really valuable tips and tricks that have helped us along the way so I wanted to share them with YOU!

  1. GET THERE EARLY– The party technically goes from 7pm- midnight…but they will begin admitting MNSSHP ticket holders at 4pm. Getting there early not only allows you to have some extra time in the park before the party begins but it helps avoid the large rush of people entering just before 7pm. In years past they have had a special entrance line for MNSSHP ticket holders to enter and get their wristbands. Like most things at Disney it runs like a well oiled machine!
  2. DRESS UP– Get the whole family involved in the party fun! This is one of the only times at Disney where adults can wear costumes!! I promise you wont be the only adult dressed up! We have noticed a pretty even split between those in costumes and those without. Have some fun with it! We do a family theme every year and it has been a blast! Even my mother-in-law gets in on the action!! It just adds an extra layer of magic to your evening! Just be sure to follow the rules that Disney lays out for costumes…for complete dressing guidelines click here
  3. FLORIDA IS HOT– This goes along with the costuming. I can’t stress to you how hot and humid it is in Florida in early fall. I have seen so many people dressed in full costumes and just melting into a puddle. It does get a little better once the sun goes down…but usually the humidity doesnt die down very much. HOT!
  4. TAKE A NAP– Trust me on this one…especially if you have kids! Have a low key day…hang by the pool, relax, and take a nap!! This is a MNSSHP tradition for us. My kids are well past the age of napping, but we still always take one before the party. We usually get to the party right at 4 and go till about 11:30 or so…so to avoid meltdowns and sleepy kiddos just take it easy!
  5. BOOK FASTPASSES FOR 4pm– While you can’t book fastpasses during the party, you can still schedule some for the hours prior to the party. If you plan to get there for 4pm you can definitely schedule in a couple of rides before the party even starts! Hit a few rides before the party festivities start and then you will have more time for the party extras!
  6. PHOTO OPS– During the party there will be LOTS of places to stop and get special MNSSHP photos taken. Totally worth it!! These are photos that you can only get during the Halloween party so I totally recommend doing it. One of our favorites is just outside of the gates to Magic Kingdom…the Headless Horseman makes an appearance!
  7. PLAN BEFORE YOU GO– Make sure you check out a schedule of party events and map of the event before you go…for reals! There is SO much to see and do and EAT that you dont want to miss anything! We like to take a few minutes and plan out what is most important for us to see and do…for example…which parade do you want to see, where will you eat dinner, what rides are most important, do you want to see any of the extra shows or characters! Go with a plan and the night will be so much smoother!
  8. DON’T MISS THE PARADE– MNSSHP Parade is among the BEST parades that Disney puts on…and Disney does a good parade! Stake out your spot early and make sure you get your little ones up front so they can see. If you have little ones I recommend the earlier parade…it is usually busier but you dont run the risk of your kiddo zonking out in the stroller and missing the whole she-bang! I will warn you…the song to the parade will be stuck in your head until the following year…but thats OK because it is awesome 😉
  9. TRICK-OR-TREATING– It isn’t just for the kids at Disney. Grown ups are totally allowed and encouraged to go trick-or-treat. Disney isn’t shy when it comes to giving out fistfulls of candy either…be prepared for some serious sugar. If you or your kids have food allergies…don’t worry…Disney has you covered. You can exchange your trick-or-treating loot for some treats that you can enjoy!
  10. TAKE A RIGHT– When you entered Magic Kingdom…bang a right! You can enter through a special passageway and here you can get a candy bag and a special goodie bag! There are also a couple of photo spots here!!
  11. SPECIAL CHARACTER MEET AND GREETS– All the villains come out to play at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party! This is an awesome chance to catch up with some characters that aren’t usually out and about in the parks. Certain characters like Jack and Sally are hugely popular though, so if they are on your must-meet list…be prepared for a loooong wait! The 7 Dwarfs are also a hot commodity…the line will typically last a couple of hours. There are a lot of meet and greets with shorter lines however…Mickey and friends are available to meet in their full Halloween attire! Pooh and Friends are also dressed in super adorable Halloween costumes and their lines are not bad at all! Halloween is also a good chance to meet the Princes along with their Princesses!
  12. PLAN YOUR EXIT– Now, if you have been to Magic Kingdom you will know that getting IN and OUT of Magic Kingdom isnt always easy. You basically have a monorail, a boat, or a bus if you are staying on property. Exiting the party at midnight with EVERYONE ELSE is no fun…none at all. I have two pieces of advice…if you are like us, bust out a little early…before the second parade gets out. You avoid the rush and and can pretty easily grab a boat or monorail. If you don’t have exhausted children and don’t mind waiting, I say hang back and take your time exiting. Hang toward the back of the park and wait for the mad rush of people to get out before you do! You might even be able to snag some half empty Main St pics!

 

Be prepared for a great time. Be prepared for a TON of candy. Be prepared to want to go back again!!

For more information or to purchase tickets click here

 

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Finding Florida

Exploring Florida- Sweetwater Wetlands Park

sweetwater wetlands boardwalk

Last Sunday we set out on another family adventure. This time we headed north to Gainesville, Florida! Before we moved to Florida all I really associated Florida with was Disney, beaches, and TONS of people. I never anticipated how much gorgeous nature there would be to explore. Florida is home to more State Parks, Nature Preserves, and Wilderness Parks than I can even count. I want to see them ALL!

In an attempt to see as much of Florida as we can we are trying to dedicate one day every weekend to adventures! We pick a destination and just go! This past weekend our goal was to hit Sweetwater Wetlands Park and I am so glad that we made the journey! Sweetwater Wetlands is a man-made wetland habitat that is home to some absolutely amazing nature. There is a 3.5 mile trail that you can hike through the wetlands…it is a combination of crushed gravel and elevated boardwalk. One of the biggest draws of this particular park are the wild horses. Sadly we didn’t see any when we visited but we did see prints in the gravel and other…ahem…”signs” that horses had been there… (it was poop). 🙂

When you arrive at the park there is a drop box to pay the $5 parking fee…totally worth it in my book. Upon entering the trail there is a place where you can grab a map of the park as well as some pamphlets that tell you the types of birds you can see…was really awesome because we saw a LOT of birds! There is also a board where people will write which wildlife has been seen that day…my eyes only bugged out a little when I read the words 7 FT ALLIGATOR and COTTONMOUTH SNAKE! Anyway…we headed out and I was immediately struck by how gorgeous this place is…sweetwater wetlands park

Everything was so green…and FLAT! We could hear so many birds and bugs singing…it was just awesome! We also heard something grunting…pretty sure it was an alligator!

 

There are two different loops you can take one you get on the trail. We opted for the shorter loop because it was seriously so HOT. The elevated boardwalk was awesome and so well maintained. We stopped at the viewing pavilion at the beginning to take it all in. observation tower

This park is a homeschoolers dream. There are signs everywhere explaining things and providing mini science lessons. A+, Sweetwater Wetlands Park! As we walked along the boardwalk we saw birds, snakes, and alligators. It was awesome! The boardwalk and gravel path are really well maintained…we saw people pushing baby strollers without any trouble so it is definitely a wonderful place for the whole family!

After completing the smaller loop we really wanted to do the bigger trail but the heat had gotten to be too much for Max. I should have put everyone in hats and filled a backpack with waters…I think that would have helped. So we decided that we would come back again when the weather isn’t 100 billion degrees. I would really love to visit early in the morning or around sunset…I think it would be stunning here.

If you find yourself in the Gainesville area I can’t recommend Sweetwater Wetlands Park enough. It was an absolutely amazing place to get out and explore Florida.

For more information on Sweetwater Wetlands Park head on over to their website at:  http://www.sweetwaterwetlands.org

They offer ranger lead hikes as well that I think would be fantastic! I would love to take the kiddos on one of those!

The park is open 7am to sunset Monday-Sunday including holidays. There is a bathroom available at the start of the trail. We were also impressed to find a sunblock station at one of the first observation pavilions! Really awesome touch! 🙂

 

 

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Finding Florida

Florida Off the Beaten Path- Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

I know when the topic of Orlando comes up the first thought is THEME PARKS! I know that is where my mind first heads! I have been visiting Orlando for years and never ventured past the central hub of theme park central! Now that we are permanent Floridians we have made it a goal of ours to explore our new home state. I don’t know if you know this or not…but Florida? IT IS HUGE! Like, really huge! There are so many fun and exciting places to visit!

If you ever find yourself visiting Orlando and you want to find something off the beaten path to do…look no further than the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive! Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is just about 30-40 minutes away from Walt Disney World…but it will feel like a completely different universe! I’m talking dirt roads, birds, snakes, turtles, OH…and gators…LOTS of gators!!!

lake apopka wildlife drive

The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is an 11 mile drive along a one way road. Now you may be thinking…11 miles? Do I really want to drive 40 minutes for an 11 mile drive? The answer is YES…yes you do! The 11 mile drive took us approximately 2.5 hours…for real! They recommend allowing 1-3 hours for the drive and there are a couple of reasons for this. The first reason…it is a 10mph road…it isnt intended for you to blast through it like you are driving on I-4…anyone who has had the pleasure of driving I-4 surely knows what I mean! Second…you are going to want to make several stops. Throughout the drive there are spots where you can pullover to see all kinds of wildlife and beautiful scenery…remember those gators I mentioned?! Now, we were traveling with 3 kiddos…so you can imagine that we made several “bonus” stops to find missing goldfish crackers, use the port-o-potty, and let the kids walk off some energy…but I would plan on at least 90 minutes to complete the trip!

Not only is this an absolutely gorgeous drive, but it is absolutely FREE! Free is really good when visiting the Orlando area, am I right? The drive even has a self-guided audio tour that you can listen to as you drive. Pretty neat, hunh? I also highly recommend checking out their website before heading to visit…they have some really helpful information! I was able to print out a map, a butterfly checklist, and a birding checklist before we went…which for a homeschool Mom was like solid gold! You better believe I turned this drive into a homeschool lesson!

HELPFUL TIPS:

  • Make sure you have gas in your tank…would totally stink to get stuck out there
  • Pack lots of water and snacks
  • Camera! So many beautiful things to take pics of
  • Binoculars! These were so helpful to see birds far out in the trees
  • Animal Identification books/pamphlets- here are our favorites for Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians, and Butterflies
  • Wet Wipes- not necessarily for the drive…but if you go anywhere with kids…just have wet wipes…plus…port-potties…

The Apopka Wildlife Drive is open from Sunrise to Sunset on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Federal Holidays. This is an awesome opportunity to really get to experience Florida wildlife. We saw many different species of birds including herons, egrets, cormorants, osprey, and several more. We saw snakes…and a snake getting eaten by a bird! Cirlce of Life stuff folks! We saw tortoises, fish, a soft shell turtle, and no less than 26 alligators. It was truly an awesome experience!

Do you have any favorite places to visit in Florida? We are always looking to add more places to our Florida Bucket List!

 

 

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Finding Florida

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida- A Must See for Nature Lovers!

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida collage

During our week-long visit to Naples, FL, the kids and I were looking for some fun and educational places to visit. Boy did we find that place when we found The Conservancy of Southwest Florida. I stumbled across an ad for The Conservancy when I was flipping through an area guide that I grabbed in my hotel lobby! It sounded like exactly what we were looking for…it was close by, the price was great, it was educational, and it was FUN!

We packed up our notebooks (as all good homeschoolers do, right?!?!), grabbed some waters and snacks, and hit the road. When we arrived at The Conservancy I was pleasantly surprised by how BIG it is…and there was plenty of parking…which is awesome! It was a super quiet day being that it was off season…the only “crowds” we saw were a couple of small summer camp groups!

We followed the signs to the entrance and were immediately greeted by a couple of very warm smiling faces. I wish I had written down names because everyone was SO friendly…and HELPFUL! Every person we ran into was so full of information and knowledge…it was a homeschoolers dream!

The first thing we did was reserve our spot on the Electric Boat Tour. The tour is 45 minutes long and included in your admission price!! Because it was such a quiet day we had the entire tour to ourselves! Captain Rick was our guide and he was wonderful. It was a gorgeous day for a boat ride. We saw lots of birds, native plants, invasive plants, and even mangrove crabs! Captain Rick explained to us all about the different types of mangrove trees and their importance. It was a wonderful experience…I highly recommend taking advantage of the boat tour! When you are at the dock getting ready to board your boat, be sure to look UP at the gigantic Oar Fish sculpture! Yikes!

After our boat tour we spent some time wandering around the Learning Labs and Discovery Center. So much fabulous information on conservation and wildlife! We absolutely LOVED the touch-tank! We learned all about Sea Turtles as well!! This was such a fun places for the kiddos! You can even be turned into a human ninja turtle…which apparently my kids are too cool to try…whatever lol 😉

One of the highlights of our trip was meeting volunteer Bob outside of the animal hospital. Bob was so friendly and so full of information! The Von Arx Wildlife Hospital is dedicated to caring for injured wildlife in such a way that limits their exposure to humans such that they can be successfully reintroduced into the wild. Bob brought us into the viewing area which was amazing. You can see in through the window but the staff and animals cannot see you. We were able to see many animals, mostly birds that day, being fed and weighed. The doctors, nurses, staff, and volunteers are so dedicated to helping these animals…it was wonderful to see! Definitely be sure to stop by and see the viewing area…it was amazing.

We explored around a little more and then ending up meeting up with Bob again for a private lesson on how The Conservancy got started and some lessons on how we can help! It was so informative and we really appreciated the time he took to talk to us.

If you ever find yourself in Naples, I highly recommend spending some time at The Conservancy of Southwest Florida. They are such a wonderful organization that is dedicated to protecting the environment and wildlife.

For more information head on over to their website at https://www.conservancy.org/

The Conservancy is located at:

1495 Smith Preserve Way in Naples, FL

They are open from Monday-Saturday 9:30AM-4:30PM

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Finding Florida, Uncategorized

A Picture Perfect Day at Naples Botanical Garden

Naples Botanical Garden photo collage

Last week we had the opportunity to do some exploring around Naples, Florida! If you ever get the chance to visit I highly recommend it! It is an absolutely gorgeous area with a TON of stuff to do! One of the top items on our list was a visit to the amazing Naples Botanical Garden! If you find yourself in the Naples area, The Naples Botanical Garden is a must see! It is fantastic!

The Naples Botanical Garden is one of the most gorgeous gardens I have ever had the pleasure of visiting! It is stunning! Situated on 170 acres, the Naples Botanical Garden is known as “Gardens with Latitude”. This refers to the fact that the gardens feature an amazing array of plants that grow between the 26th latitude North (where Naples is located) and the 26th latitude South. Some of the gardens featured are from Asia, Brazil,  the Caribbean, and of course Florida!

We strategically planned our visit on a Tuesday so that we could be there during one of their Dogs in the Garden days. We don’t have a dog…but my kids LOVE dogs! The gardens offer several times during the week when dogs are permitted. Check out the website for an up to date schedule of events!

Upon entering the garden you will immediately feel like you have stepped into a tropical oasis…it is beautiful. Armed with our map we headed straight for the Asian Gardens. For some reason I always tend to head left and move clockwise…I have no idea why! In hindsight I wish I had started at the Children’s Gardens…they were virually empty at that point and we could have done lots of exploring! Anyway…off to Asia!

The Asian Garden is beautiful…full of water features, ponds, temples, and ruins! It was a beautiful way to start our journey!Asian Garden Sign

 

Our next stop had to be one of my favorite spots in the entire garden. It was a very quiet day so we got to spend quite a bit of time just enjoying all of scenery. The Overlook has an amazing waterfall and looks out over the lake…it is breathtaking! There are loads of shady spots to sit and escape the Florida heat…which was such a relief on a scorching June day!

Oasis Waterfall
Beautiful Waterfall in the Overlook area
Scenic Overlook
Enjoying the beautiful view!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We meandered back through the Asian Garden again and made our way toward the Water Garden. Again…crazy beautiful!!! Things were in bloom everywhere we looked. The greens and purples were so vibrant!

Water Garden Collage

 

One of the main focal points of the gardens lies within the Brazilian Gardens. A stunning waterfall. Words don’t do it justice so I will just leave a photo below for your enjoyment! Gorgeous isn’t it?

Naples Botanical Garden Waterfall

On to the Children’s Garden. I am sad to say that I didn’t get any pictures in there…not because it wasnt gorgeous as well…but we happened to arrive there at the same time as a summer camp and it was super busy. We meandered around a bit but ended up only staying a few minutes. They have tree houses, a water area where kiddos can cool off in the fountains, a rolling hill, and so much more! Also next to the Children’s Garden was the butterfly house which was absolutely gorgeous. We saw many species of butterfly.

We could have spent so much more time here! We already have a list put together for when we return in the future! There are a couple of trails around the lake we would like to check out…and a birding tower to climb! We would also like to check out the labyrinth and spend more time in the Children’s Garden! We also didnt get a chance to check out Fogg Cafe which looks like a great place to grab a bite and get a drink!

I highly recommend that anyone in the area take a few hours and visit the Naples Botanical Garden. The staff was so amazingly friendly, the grounds were beautifully maintained, and it was an awesome (and educational) way to spend the day!

Another awesome thing we noticed was that they had water fountains to drink from all over the place…not only for the two legged patrons, but for the four legged visitors as well. So awesome!

Water Fountain

Admission was $14.95 for adults and kid ages 4-14 were $9.95. We were able to find a coupon online as well so be sure to check that out!

The Naples Botanical Garden is located at: 4820 Bayshore Dr in Naples, FL

For more information head on over to: https://www.naplesgarden.org/

Animals of the 7 Continents

 

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Finding Florida, Homeschooling

State Park Family Pass for the Win!

florida, homeschool, annual pass, passport

My fellow Floridians…are you aware of the sheer number of State Parks in this state?? My mind is seriously blown! They  are everywhere!! Not only are they everywhere…but they are amazing! Whether you are looking for a place to go biking, birding, snorkeling, camping, shelling, hiking, tubing, or just relaxing…Florida State Parks have you covered! The amount of educational opportunities at each park is mind-blowing…Florida is so full of nature and history it is a homeschoolers wonderland!

My family moved to the Sunshine State in January. We relocated from New Hampshire…cold and snowy New Hampshire. When we arrived, it was sunny and beautiful. One of our very first stops was to Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin. It is one of the most beautiful spots I have ever visited in my entire life. If I didn’t know I was in Florida I would have thought that I was on a tropical island. White sandy beaches, turquoise blue water, and dolphins…there were actual dolphins swimming off the shore. Postcard quality gorgeousness! We decided that day that we would be needing an annual pass to the state parks…even if just to go to Honeymoon Island. While at Honeymoon Island you can also enjoy a nature center, walking trails, and an osprey trail!

honeymoon island, state park, annual pass, passport

We purchased a family pass for $120…for the whole year! The family pass allows us to enter the parks with up to 8 people, with the exception of Homosassa Springs and Weeki Wachee Springs which allows 2 people.  This is an amazing value…even if we only went to Honeymoon Island 15 times the pass would pay for itself.

It wasn’t until I began exploring the State Park website that I realized just how many places there are to visit. My homeschooling mind got extremely excited. There are so many historic sites to visit, nature preserves, archaeological sites, beaches to study sea life…and so much more! SO, we set up a little challenge for ourselves. We want to visit ALL of the Florida state parks…yes, all! I love a challenge, and this is most definitely a doozy. To make things even more exciting…the Florida State parks offer a passport program where you purchase a book and travel to each of the parks collecting stamps. If you collect all of the stamps you earn a free family membership for a year in addition to a $120 Florida State Park gift card good toward camping or cabin stays! What?!?! This is music to my ears! For more info on the passport book click here.

Challenge accepted!!! Our Passport just arrived in the mail and it is FABULOUS!

I hope you will join us on our adventures and learn a little more about the Sunshine State! If you aren’t from Florida, consider checking out the State Park website for your state!! I am sure they will be full of great resources. I guarantee the parks will be full of awesome adventures and learning opportunities for you and your kiddos!

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