Throw a Magical Disney Birthday Party in 4 Steps

arielGrowing up, I was a huge fan of the themed birthday party. Hawaiian luaus, 50’s sock hops, even a pirate party for my sweet 16. A themed party adds that extra element of fantasy and fun that kids of all ages like to be a part of. Why just be a birthday boy or girl, when you could be a Space Ranger or a carpet-riding princess? Throwing a magical themed party is easier than you think. Besides the much needed faith, trust, and pixie dust, a great theme will lend itself to a great party. To show you what I mean, I’ll use the movie that inspired the name of my blog, The Little Mermaid, and my Disney World vacation planning expertise to plan the perfect Under the Sea birthday party.

Step 1: Plan Ahead

If you have ever been to Disney World or Disneyland, you will know that having a game plan ahead of time will save you from hours in line, potential arguments, unnecessary mileage, and money. Just like a vacation is a big event, so is your child’s birthday, and so taking time to plan out details will help in the long run.

For my Under the Sea themed birthday party, I have planned some activities to do so kids don’t get bored, but also keep with the theme of the party. I planned a Thingamabob scavenger hunt where kids will look for items seen in Ariel’s undersea cave like silverware, wine corks, buttons, bottles, frames, and books. And the total cost of all this scavenger hunting fun for your bundles of joy: $0. You already have the kind of junk that Ariel collects sitting around in your attics and junk drawers.

I also planned a “find your voice sing-a-long” to the songs of the Little Mermaid. Youtube is full of karaoke style videos or sing-a-long videos with the words included.

little mermaid party image boardStep 2: Detail the Disney Way

Part of what makes Disney World more magical than other theme parks is their incredible attention to detail. They take a theme and run with it, from the queue lines, to the ride vehicles, to the gift shops after. Your child’s birthday party will be extra special if you can create an immersive theme from beginning to end.

I love snacks and goodies, so my Under Sea birthday party has a table full of themed foods, complete with nautical decorations like pearls, clam shells, netting, and sand. For the birthday cake, I wanted to go with something that resembled the scales of a mermaids tail, using teals, greens, and some purple to pull off the mermaid vibe.  Curious how to make your dining room or living room feel like an ocean? Buy some light blue or teal plastic table cloths (They’re a dollar each at Walmart)  and cover the room (ceiling too).

Also, to save some money, there’s nothing wrong with sending out an email to your friends, family, and coworkers. Why buy a bag of seashells when one of your relatives just got back from Cape Cod with 300 shells that he’ll willingly lend you for the day? Does collecting all this stuff ahead of time feel like too much hard work? Include your child in the entire process. Now the party is also teaching your kid to plan ahead, and use the resources around her.

Step 3: Flexibility

As much as planning ahead is necessary to have a good time at Disney World, being flexible with those plans will make sure no one’s day is ruined because things didn’t go their way. Long wait times, missing the parade, or deciding to take some extra breaks are all things you might encounter at Disney, so it’s best to go with the flow.

A birthday party is no different. Just because I planned some activities and had a tentative agenda of when gifts would be opened and cake would be served, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be flexible if everyone would rather watch a movie or play with sidewalk chalk outside. Plans can change and that doesn’t means your guests will have any less fun.

MV5BNTAxMzY0MjI1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTU2NTYxMTE@__V1_SX214_AL_Step 4: Enjoying the Moment

I have talked about this in one of my blogs, knowing when is a good time to take a picture and when is a good time to put the iphone down and just look up at the fireworks instead of finding the firework setting on your camera. The thing is everyone thinks they are going to look at these pictures but to be honest, pictures with people matter more than any beautiful landscape or castle you will ever snap.

I believe the same rules apply to your kids birthday party. Take a picture of them dressed up, with their cake, maybe opening a few gifts or with their friends, but then put the camera down and just experience the wonderful day with them, being totally present in the moment. The memories you will have from this day will last forever.

So now you can be the envy of all your child’s friend’s parents. They will ask you how you put on such a fabulous themed party. The first things you can tell them is you purchased beautiful Disney inspired invitations from Paperless Post or any of their other wonderful invitations. Then you simply had to get a little creative with details, decorations, and food. Lastly, you can tell them that seeing your child so happy, surrounded by family and friends will be something you will never forget.

What to do on days you aren’t at the parks at Disney World

For whatever reason, there might be a day or two in your Walt Disney World vacation where you don’t end up going to a park. Sometimes it’s because you get in late or it’s the day you are checking out, sometimes you purposely schedule a down day to regroup and get your energy back. Having an off day or scheduling some off time is always a great idea. Remember, the point of a Walt Disney World vacation is to enjoy yourself, not feel like you’re at work, meticulously going by a schedule to pack everything in. Here are six great options that you could devote a whole or half day to and work on getting your energy levels back to normal.

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Each Disney World pool is unique.

1.Pool Time
Save for a couple exceptionally cold days in the winter, it’s basically swimming season all year round in Florida. Most kids go absolutely nuts around the pool, and Disney has done a great job of catering towards kids’ interests. More and more splash zones are popping up at Disney pools, and there are some very cool pool area themes depending on what hotel you are staying at. The Yacht and Beach Clubs’ Stormalong bay is very popular, with a sandy bottom lazy river, and shipwreck waterslide, it’s almost like a mini water park. Caribbean Beach’s pirate theme allows you to explore like a pirate on the open seas. And even the value resorts will have larger than life statues to immerse you in the theme. Disney pools have several lifeguards on staff, and there are complimentary lifejackets for the little ones. So grab your refillable drink mug and sunglasses, and relax to the sounds of some of your favorite music (and splashing kids) and soak up some rays and relaxation.

downtown-disney-00-full2. Downtown Disney
Downtown Disney (DTD) is currently undergoing a massive renovation to be reopened as Disney Springs. What you can expect from Disney Springs is even more dining and shopping, mixed with some entertainment. Heading to DTD can take a long time depending on what hotel you are staying at, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get there and back. DTD is a great place if you saw something in the park but forgot to buy it then and are now having buyers remorse. The World of Disney Store will have what you need, but the Disney themed stores don’t end there. You can look for toys, art, candy, and even Christmas Disney themed trinkets. And if eating is your thing, there is something for everyone, from food trucks and grabbing a quick bite, to more formal steak and seafood restaurants. This is a great non-park day stop, especially if your definition of relaxation is retail therapy.

Q4-29 Winter-Summerland June 1999    MRA3. Mini Golf
If you’re looking to do something with your kids, why not try some miniature golf? Disney World has two mini-golf courses, Fantasia Gardens, located by the Dolphin hotel, and Winter Summerland at Blizzard Beach. If you are staying on property and purchased a package, you will probably get a coupon for minigolf in your package info packet. Because it’s a Disney mini golf course, you can expect terrific theming and creative shots to keep the whole family interested.

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The Boardwalk has places to eat, shop, drink, and relax.

4. The Boardwalk
Some people don’t know that you can visit the boardwalk area even if you are not staying at an Epcot resort (Boardwalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Swan, and Dolphin.) The Boardwalk has some restaurants, surrey bikes to rent, and street performers throughout the day. Or you could take a stroll all the way around the lagoon to take in the beautiful sites. Almost like a mini Downtown Disney, the boardwalk has everything from hot dog stands to more upscale options. There are even some nightclubs if you’re interested in evening entertainment. If you want to get there and aren’t staying close to Epcot, you can always get on the bus to Hollywood Studios and walk or take the boat over. If you are driving, there is parking across the street.

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Enjoying the food and dancing at the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue

5. Dinner Shows
Going to a dinner show is another great option for an off day since you won’t need a park ticket to get to any of them. The Spirit of Aloha show is located at the Polynesian hotel, and both the Hoop Dee Doo Revue and Mickey’s Backyard BBQ are at Fort Wilderness. If you are on the Disney Dining plan, you can use two table service credits for these shows. They are roughly two hours long and pack some good food and entertainment into that time. While you are at Fort Wilderness, you could also have your kid ride a pony, or even go on a horse drawn carriage ride. Plus, alcohol is included which never hurts.

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Your Disney World hotel has more going on than you might even know.

6. Enjoy the activities at your hotel
When you check into your hotel, they should give you an activities sheet of things that are going on around your hotel that week. This might include activities for kids like making a craft or decorating cookies, it might be learning how to make towel animals, it might be movies under the stars or a campfire. Sometimes there will be singers or musicians depending on the time of year or the hotel. When you take some time to really enjoy your hotel, you might not feel as bad about the extra money you decided to spend to upgrade yourself, because suddenly you can see the value that higher-priced resorts offer.

So whether you feel like shopping, eating, or doing something new for your kids, Disney World is much more than just the parks. This is just a small list of extras to experience on your vacation. If you’re looking for even more, make sure to contact me. There is truly something for every interest, ability, and age. When you stop and take some time to slow down and relax, you will probably find everything more enjoyable (your own family included.)

My Disney World Agent Education Program

A special guest stopped by our last day of the Disney Agent Education Program.

A special guest stopped by our last day of the Disney Agent Education Program.

This year I was fortunate enough to be selected for a Disney agent education program. Every couple months, Disney offers these programs to agents who are new to the business, or need a refresher on things. It was a whirlwind four days of learning more about the business, and visiting many hotels and even the Disney Cruise Line. Here are some of the highlights I got to experience:

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Pretty soon I will write up an entire blog entry on this hotel. It was my first time staying at the Lodge and I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was never one to really gravitate towards an African theme, and I was always turned off by the fact that you couldn’t walk to a park from the hotel. Now that I have stayed there, I can’t wait to go back. The hotel is beautiful, and there is something, or some animal hiding around every corner. My room looked out onto a small part of the savanna.

Disney's Animal Kingdom lodge was overflowing with animals.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom lodge was overflowing with animals.

Throughout the day I could see different types of birds and grazing animals. The highlight of my room was seeing the giraffes every night. While having a savanna view was definitely awesome, I don’t even think it was necessary. Down every hallway, there are windows to see the animals. Every exit door you can open and peak out to the savannas. And right off the lobby, you can walk little trails to get better views of different animals. There was never a shortage of zebras. The hotel is kind of dark and quiet, making me feel like it was all for me. This hotel definitely has a lot of extra activities. You can sign up for safaris, and even use night vision goggles to see the animals in the evening. What you give up in terms of walking distance to parks, the animals and hotel more than make up for with amenities and scenery.

Disney's Art of Animation is just plain fun.

Disney’s Art of Animation is just plain fun.

Art of Animation 
Since I am usually visiting Disney World with just my mom or husband, there has been no need to stay in a family suite. Seeing them was just a treat. The Art of Animation resort has a tremendous amount of detail. Even the landscape and music will suddenly change as you move from the Finding Nemo pool to the Lion King building. You really feel like you stepped into the movies. I found the total immersive feeling more here than any other value resort. The suites are great and really well thought out. You can fit six in these rooms that have one stand alone bedroom with bathroom, and a separate pull out couch and drop down murphy bed / table with bathroom and kitchenette. We also got to eat lunch in the food court, and it was some of the best looking food I have seen at Disney. There was so much more to eat than the traditional burger. Pasta, salads, sandwiches, and different ethnic foods guarantee that there will be something for everyone.

Where else can you find gingerbread houses like these? Only at Disney.

Where else can you find gingerbread houses like these? Only at Disney.

Gingerbread houses

Since I was there around the Christmas holiday, I was able to see all the trees in the hotels, holiday decorations, and some beautiful gingerbread houses. The Contemporary Resort had a huge Frozen themed gingerbread house, complete with characters. The Beach Club holds a rotating gingerbread carousel. Both the Grand Floridian and Boardwalk Inn had Gingerbread houses so big, that they were selling gingerbread cookies from inside them.

Going onboard the Disney Dream
Even though I took my maiden voyage on the Disney Dream last August, getting to board on a day that they get the ship ready blew my mind a little bit.

The Disney Dream is big, beautiful, and has something for everyone.

The Disney Dream is big, beautiful, and has something for everyone.

On the same day people disembark the cast members have only a couple hours to get everything ready for the next batch of people ready to board. This means total turnover of rooms, common areas, restaurants, and lounges. Something I also got to do this time that I didn’t do on my three night cruise was explore literally everything onboard the ship. I was able to see the kids sections, all the way from the nursery, to kids clubs, to teen lounges. I was able to check out all the adult lounges. I was able to see the two exclusive restaurants, Palo and Remy, that require advanced reservations. I also got to see every room category onboard. Even though I was completely exhausted after this action packed tour, I feel very comfortable with the Disney Dream, and am still amazed by how beautiful, clean, and well-maintained it is.

Illuminations Dessert Party

On our very first night, we had an exclusive area of the World Showcase just for the agents to eat some dessert and watch Illuminations. Even though I have seen this firework show a million times, I have never seen it with such an amazing, unobstructed view – while drinking beverages and eating delicious desserts. I know that dessert parties can be pricey, and it’s not something I would do every time, but maybe on a special occasion I would suggest splurging.

See Illuminations like never before.

See Illuminations like never before.

During this party, they gave us exclusive Mickey glasses that are only available for these dessert parties. They somehow polarize the light so every light source you look at looks like a Mickey head. It was both trippy and super cool at the same time. It added a little extra magic to an already great show.

While I was exhausted every night after my full day of conferences, site tours, and having some time at the park, it was an awesome experience. Although I am a Disney dork through and through, there is always something new to learn, and something new going on. My agent education program was a great experience. I hope to one day attend the program in Disneyland as well.

Are Disney World Special Ticketed Events Worth The Money?

halloween 1I have many clients that sometimes get sticker shock when I tell them the price of tickets at Disney World. By the time I’ve gone over the value that ticket get’s you, they usually end the conversation by saying, “oh that’s a pretty good price then.” That’s the trick with Disney vacations, the value is in the eye of the beholder. The practical thinker inside me often compares Disney World tickets to sporting events or Broadway shows. Some people think nothing of shelling out 100-200 dollars to see their favorite team or to get a good seat at the Lion King on Broadway. These events only last 2-3 hours, but a day at Disney World can get you anywhere between 9-18 hours, or on some special occasions 24 hours. When you start to think that in one day, you can ride awesome rides, meet most of your favorite characters, see shows and parades, and end the night with a firework spectacular, you realize the value is there and Disney gives you a great bang for your buck. But you will only feel this way if you see all those things as valuable. Family members that get dragged to Disney against their will really won’t care how much the ticket cost, it’s overpriced and that’s that. So why am I now rambling about ticket values and Disney lovers and haters? Well, when you look at special ticketed events at Disney World, you have to think of them very much like a regular ticket to the park. If you can see the value in the event, the money will be worth it, if not, you won’t understand why people shell out all this extra dough to go to them.

christmas 1What is a special ticketed event?
Special ticketed events have been slowly popping up more and more at Disney World. Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are the big two to know about. These party events are from 7 until until midnight and are available on select days September-December. The park is only open for people that have purchased this special event ticket. Depending on what night you go, the price could be anywhere between 60-75 dollars per ticket. Hollywood Studios offered a Villains Unleashed event and Disney’s Animal Kingdom introduced Harambe Nights this past summer, with tickets going for over a hundred dollars. So what do these parties include that would make me want to shell out an extra couple hundred dollars on top of my normal park ticket?

•Smaller crowds
•More personal time with characters
•Special parades, stage shows and fireworks
•Unlimited “goodies”: candy or cookies
•The feel of a party atmosphere
•Specialty food and merchandise

The park was pretty empty.

The park was pretty empty.

I can’t speak for Harambee Nights or Villains Unleashed because I’ve never been, but I have attended both the Halloween and Christmas parties. My experience was very little crowds. We felt like we had the park to ourselves. The wait time on rides were maybe 5-10 minutes (even for Space Mountain and Big Thunder). There were spots of the park that just had no people in them. To me, this has value in it. I hate crowds and I hate waiting in long lines, so to be able to experience all the rides I wanted to as basically a walk on is very enticing to me. Now of course I read Disney blogs and I have read that this is not always the case with everyone. Some people that attend the events on let’s say Halloween and very close to Christmas might experience more crowds than I have in the past. Even if this is true, it will be far less than the Magic Kingdom’s normal crowds for the day.

If you have children that love to get character autographs, pictures, or just want some one on one time with them, this also adds value. The lines to wait for the characters will be much shorter than during the day, and you might even see some of the less popular characters lurking about. I am not so into characters so this doesn’t really appeal to me, but that could all change when I have kids of my own.

halloween 3When I see a show or parade at Disney World, I am subconsciously thinking in the back of my head, wow, they really give me my money’s worth here. I see a lot of value in entertainment. The time they spend on costumes, choreography, decorations, details, songs, and concepts; I am always amazed. And seeing something new that you don’t get to see during a regular trip to the Magic Kingdom is always exciting too. This holds a lot of value to me, but someone like my husband that does not see the excitement in fireworks (weirdo) would not enjoy it as much.

unlimited cookies and hot chocolate

unlimited cookies and hot chocolate

Unlimited goodies at Disney are always very nice. During the Halloween Party, you get to trick or treat throughout the park. You will leave with an entire bag, full to the top with candy. Kids and chocolate lovers everywhere will really love this. At the Christmas party, they provide unlimited cookies and hot chocolate. If you ate about 8 cookies and hot chocolates, you would probably get your money back in food because we all know buying a cookie and hot chocolate from the Main Street Bakery would add up quickly.

At certain locations in the Magic Kingdom, they will have more dance music playing than their traditional themed background music. You may even decide to jump in and dance if you feel the rhythm. It does help to make the event feel more like you have been invited to a party and not just you get to stick around for extra magic hours. I love music and I love to dance so this is a win.

halloween 2Some people love buying specialty items that you can’t get everyday. These ticketed events will offer a variety of snack options and merchandise for purchase that are exclusive to the event. I definitely love yummy snacks, but I’d be ok with the stuff they are handing out that’s included.

So do all these party perks have you ready to pay that pretty penny yet? I will say that while I enjoyed myself at both of these events, it’s not something I would do every time I’m there for the fall or winter. I was happy to experience them, and maybe when I have kids I will try it again, but I feel that a normal day at the Magic Kingdom fulfils me enough with it’s entertainment and value that I don’t need to go seeking more. So give em a try if it’s in your budget and you’re looking to try something new, but do not fret if it’s not in the cards for your family. There is so much to do for everyone you will not be disappointed.

Scheduling Rules to Avoid Burnout at Walt Disney World

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Schleping around a heavy bag all day doesn’t make it any easier.

Crying children, aching feet, sleeping next to strangers on the bus. These are all symptoms of the typical Disney burnout. There are many different vacation styles that families may exhibit while on a Walt Disney World vacation. To most families that haven’t been there a million times like me, they may be unsure of how to go about their day. Many families don’t know when they will be back so they want to pack it all in, not miss a thing, and make everything a larger than life, unforgettable vacation. While this idea sounds nice and pretty, not only will it become unrealistic, but it might actually do more harm than good to your vacation. Let me assure you now, you might not be able to “do it all” but that’s no reason you shouldn’t have a fantastic vacation. Follow these 5 steps to avoid burnout at the happiest place on Earth.

 

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I get very excited about sleeping in.

1. Sleep in when you want to.
There has been some debate as to whether the new fastpass+ has helped or hindered the spontaneous Disney World spirit in us. Being able to pre-plan your day can be offputting for the family that likes to wing it and go with the flow. I’m here to tell you that fastpass+ can be your best friend to avoid burnout in the parks. Knowing a few scheduling rules will allow your day to be more relaxed, allow some room for spontaneity, and make your trip more magical. Does your family like to sleep in? Did you stay up till one in the morning last night because there were extra magic hours at the Magic Kingdom? Were you up incredibly early for a flight and you want nothing more than to get a full night’s sleep and energize yourself? Allowing yourself to select the times you want your fastpasses makes sleeping in at Disney possible. Pre-fastpass+, you usually had to get to the park at rope drop to solidify an hour or so of rides with virtually no lines. Now, if you want to sleep in and schedule your fastpasses for 10am or 11am, be my guest. You are in control. You don’t have to do it everyday, but getting a good night’s sleep will make everyone involved a lot more pleasant.

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Brad has no trouble finding a relaxing spot.

2. Everyone at Disney is like a big kid, and kids need naps.
I am a very strong proponent of the afternoon nap. Unless you have the stamina of the energizer bunny, you and everyone in your party will want and deserve a break. I like to make my breaks in the mid afternoon. This is typically when the park is the most crowded, and in summer months, the hottest part of the day. This is when I go back to the hotel and nap, swim, shower, and/or just hang out for a bit and get off my feet. Most humans are not used to being on their feet all day, standing in lines, getting in and out of ride vehicles, carrying around backpacks, and dodging crying kids in strollers. It can be a lot mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting then you’re prepared to handle. Just take a break from it however you want.

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Fastpass or bust

3. Decide how long you are willing to wait.
While your fastpass is going to help minimize waiting in lines for a couple of rides, it sadly can’t do it for all of them. Some rides don’t make sense to wait for, I talk about it in a blog entry. Some rides will always have long wait times unless you have a fastpass, i.e. Soarin’, 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, Toy Story Midway Mania, and many more. Before you go, I’d have an honest discussion with your party to see what is the maximum time you are willing to wait in a line and will still be able to enjoy a ride. For me, it’s about 15 minutes. If it is longer than that, I simply move and and maybe try to go back to it later or save it for the next time. Keep in mind if you are willing to wait 45 or more, that is 45 or more standing on your feet. That fatigues people quickly. Also, a long wait in a longer line detracts from the enjoyability of the ride. Most of the smaller attractions are worth a ten minute wait, but if you’ve invested 45 minutes in a line, your expectations of the ride may become unrealistically high. I think setting up a time limit ahead of time will avoid pushing your limits too much and let’s your kids know the expectation.

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Quiet shady spot to rest my tired feet. And do some serious people watching.

4. Find places that make you comfortable.
If you have some time to kill between fastpass reservations or dining reservations, find a seat somewhere and have a snack. If you are there on a super hot day, pop into one of the air conditioned stores until you feel better. If you got stuck in the pouring rain and you are now wet and cold, don’t be afraid to head back to your hotel and change. If a front row seat to the parade is not super important for you, wait on a bench and don’t stand up until it is necessary. Be able to go with the flow and pop into a 3D show if you need to be off your feet just a little longer.

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The vacation is fun because we are together, no matter how much or little we do.

5. Get it out of your head that you’re wasting money if you don’t do everything.
It probably doesn’t come as a shock to anyone that Walt Disney World vacations can add up to a pretty penny. I think it’s a natural feeling to think you have to “get your money’s worth” out of the ticket, and this might mean go go go to a lot of families. Sometimes I find myself falling into this trap but then I realize how much I do there really has little connection to how much fun I have there. It will be more enjoyable for everyone if you don’t attempt to do it all, and instead do what it most important to your family. Burnout and unruly children can put a serious damper on your vacation. While I might not be a parent yet, I will be one day, so I’ll add my two cents. By bringing your children to Disney World, you are already the coolest parents ever. Not every child get’s to experience this magical place, but it’s not a place where parenting and children’s actions should be thrown out the window. When your kids no longer seem appreciative of the awesome gift you are giving them, it’s time to leave, go back to the hotel, and get some rest. The phrase “you should be enjoying this” has never yielded more enjoyment in its audience.

I think if you come back from your Disney World vacation and feel like you need another one just to relax, you overdid it. The optimist in me knows this won’t be your last trip to Disney World, so back burnering something until your next trip is not out of the question either. The flexibility of being able to go with the flow will set you up for a much more enjoyable vacation. Try not to feel tied down to everything. When you need a break, take one, when you need to sleep in, keep pressing snooze, when you don’t feel like waiting in line, don’t. You make your own rules, you decide when it’s go time. This is your vacation, so make it a good one!