Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Official! Grand Floridian DVC!

For months now rumors have been circulating about a new Disney Vacation Club Resort at Disney's Grand Floridian. Cryptic permits have been filed, ground stakes have been seen, weddings rescheduled from the Wedding Pavilion, even rumors of overhearing Disney Imagineers in the next room at Saratoga Springs discussing the layout of new rooms....

But now, an official announcement! Clair Bilby, DVC's new Senior VP announced yesterday at the annual Condominium Association Meeting, that "Disney's Grand Floridian Villas" will be opening in late 2013.  Or will it be "The Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian"? Check out the official artist's rendering.
If you look carefully, you can see the Monorail coming around the corner in the upper right!

With Bay Lake Tower almost sold out, and plenty of new tourists coming to Disney and wanting new DVC resorts to purchase, it makes perfect sense that Disney would be looking for something new and exciting to offer.  I can only speculate that like the Villas at the Grand Californian and Bay Lake Tower, the price per point will be quite high, at least $140/pp, and I would also venture to guess the number of points needed to book the rooms will be high as well.

Here's another image released yesterday, an artist's rendering of the possible interior view of the lobby. It appears to be at least 5 stories tall, and has the beauty of the Grand Floridian we already know and love, but with a more intimate "Welcome Home" DVC feel.  The announcement states that there will be a total of 147 villas available.  This is on the smaller side for DVC. In comparison, Bay Lake Tower has 295 2-bedroom equivalent villas, while Saratoga Springs has over 1,200!  The Villas at Wilderness Lodge is will be the next smallest on property, with just over 180 villas.

If you're trying to get a better idea of where this building will be located, check out this image below.  I personally was able to see this area while riding the Monorail this past September, and indeed there were stakes in the ground and things appeared to be marked off.

This looks to be a great addition to the Disney Vacation Club.  Bay Lake Tower's location on the Monorail line has been very popular, and I would think the Monorail will be a big selling point at the Grand Floridian as well.  Although the building will be separate, there should be lovely walkway to connect the DVC building to the main Grand Floridian.  Ms. Bilby also mentioned a children's water play area, and I would assume a pool.  My children love the water play area at Kidani Village, and I would love to see something like that here.

So, what do you think?  Will you be saving your pennies to buy Grand Floridian points?

Now if we could just convince them to built DVC at the Poly.....

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Top Ten Favorite Uses for Disney Snack Credits

For our annual week long trip to Walt Disney World, we usually purchase the Disney Dining Plan (DDP).  Since we have 3 children under the ages of 9, this is usually a good deal for us.  One of the things I love about the DDP is the convenience and, let's be honest, snacks and desserts.  When not on vacation, we generally do not eat as many sweets and desserts, and so while at Disney I really do enjoy these special treats.

If you are a DDP newbie, its important to know that there are literally thousands of items available to you as a snack credit.  Although the official Disney brochure mentions things such as a soda pop, a bottle of water, a box of popcorn or an ice cream bar, the actual options available are much more varied.  For more great info, you can check out one of my most popular blog entries, "Ins and Outs of the Disney Dining Plan". Over on the DisBoards, they have a yearly list that tells you items that have been confirmed as a snack on the plan, so check that out here. Anything that is available to purchase with the DDP is also available to those paying cash, so don't despair if you must try some of these yummy items and you are not on the dining plan!

But lets get to the important stuff, the food!

10. Rice Cream from Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe in Norway (Epcot)
      Not to be confused with rice pudding, rice cream is exactly as it sounds, a sweet concoction of soft rice mixed with sweet whipped cream.  To add to the light deliciousness of this traditional dessert is a strawberry topping.  I first tried this dessert at Akershus Princess Storybook Dinner where it arrives family style with chocolate mousse and a marscapone mousse puff pastry.  But there is no need to book the $40 buffet to try rice cream as a simple walk across the street to the bakery will find it available to go as a snack credit!  If you choose to use a quick service credit to eat lunch or dinner there, you can choose the rice cream as your dessert option.

9. Anything from Boulangerie Patisserie in France (Epcot)
    I first discovered this hidden little gem when I was a teen.  In order to find it, you need to walk into the back of the France Pavilion, and simply look for the line of people.  While hidden, it is not unknown nor unpopular.  The wonderful thing about the patisserie is the sheer number of delicious choices.  They have everything from fruit tarts, cookies, eclairs, chocolate mousse, and various croissants.  If you've had a huge breakfast at Chef Mickey's, and are hungry for just a light lunch, try a ham and cheese croissant.  Its a great way to stretch your dining plan credits and make a mini-meal out of a snack.   They will package your goodies to-go, and I've been known to walk out of Epcot with a pastry box full of goodies to enjoy later.

8. S'mores Brownie at Sunshine Seasons (Epcot)
    I was turned on to this by my dear Disney friend @RNawaymama on our last trip this past September.  (You can check out her blog at Tiny Bits of Magic.) I'm already a huge fan of the Sunshine Seasons food court, and I think it is one of the best uses of a quick service meal at WDW.  Traditionally, I get the Soarin' Brulee (see #6).  Once she showed me that brownie, though, I had to use a snack credit and take one home for later!  The brownie has a graham cracker crust, then the chewy brownie on top (chewy brownies are my fav), followed by mini-marshmallows, and then drizzled with caramel and chocolate. Uh, YUM! 

7. Cinnamon Bun at Main Street Bakery (Magic Kingdom)
    This was another first of mine on our most recent trip.  While the boys were riding Space Mountain, we decided a mid-morning snack was in order.  While they call this a cinnamon bun, it's more like a cinnamon loaf.  It is positively huge, and a great way to split a snack. You can also get this as a breakfast quick service option with a beverage and fruit.  Probably not the most economical use of a quick service credit, but if you had extras as we did, well worth it!  When I first got it, I figured there would be plenty for all, but once I started eating, it was hard to control myself and leave some for my boys!  Unlike some other cinnamon buns I have had, this one was super soft and light throughout. It was just about as close to perfection as Mary Poppins herself.

6. Soarin' Brulee at Sunshine Seasons (Epcot)
    I have to admit, that I just plain old LOVE creme brulee.  This is not something that I can easily recreate at home, nor is it common to find it at restaurants in our area.  There are several places at Disney that serve creme brulee, and the maple creme brulee at Le Cellier is awesome, but a lot more difficult to get. At Sunshine Seasons I can have it as a light and delicious end to my meal, or get it to-go as a snack credit.  As far as creme brulees go, it's probably not the best ever, but as I said, I just LOVE creme brulee! It has a nice creamy and light center, with that all important caramelized crust that I love.

5. Zebra Domes at The Mara (Animal Kingdom Lodge)
   To be fair, unless you are staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, these are a little bit difficult to come by.  They are part of the dessert buffet at Boma, and if you haven't tried Boma, it is well worth a visit. It is one of my favorite buffets at Walt Disney World.  But if you have a hankering for some yummy zebra domes, their signature dessert, look no further than The Mara.  The Mara is the Lodge's quick service dining option, located near the pool.  And, like many of my other favorites it seems, you can either use a snack credit to get your hands on this yumminess, or you can get it as the dessert part of your quick service meal.  Zebra domes are basically a small sponge cake base, with a dollop of light chocolate liquor tasting mousse, then covered in a white chocolate frosting with dark chocolate stripes which gives it the "zebra" name.  Now, I must admit I love these, and it seems many others do as well, but some are just not impressed.  It's a love it or hate it kinda thing I guess. But again, I can't get them anywhere else, nor can I recreate them easily at home. I'm already planning how I'm going to get my hands on some when we stay at Kidani Village in February!

4. Funnel Cake at Sleepy Hollow (Magic Kingdom)
    Who doesn't love funnel cake? While I don't enjoy ending up covered in powdered sugar which seems inevitable when I eat one of these, there is something about that lovely fried sweetness that's too good to pass up. Usually this is my firework/parade watching snack in the Magic Kingdom.  Similar to an Elephant Ear, or Fried Dough, a funnel cake is basically the same type of batter that's been poured into hot oil and fried, then lightly dusted with powdered sugar.  This is also a great snack to share as it pulls apart easily into smaller pieces for all to enjoy. It's just not "Wishes" fireworks to me at Magic Kingdom, if I'm not munching on some funnel cake.  It's important to know, that although you can use a snack credit to get funnel cake with powdered sugar in the Magic Kingdom, the funnel cake stand in Epcot will not accept a snack credit. Strange, but true.

3. Wheezy's Breezy Freezy near Pixar Place (Hollywood Studios)
    My middle child seems to get hot rather easily, and he just loves frozen beverages at Disney to cool him down.  A few years ago after a fun ride on Toy Story Mania, we discovered this little cart just across the way.  They serve both frozen coke and frozen raspberry lemonade, known there as a "Wheezy's Breezy Freezy".  Wheezy if you don't remember was the squeaky penguin from Toy Story II. Now we always get at a least one of these, and the frozen raspberry is my favorite of any frozen beverage at Disney. I do think the regular frozen lemonades and other frozen beverage carts are a good use of your credits if you like "Icee" type drinks, and they do wonders to keep you cool on a hot Florida day.

2. Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar, available everywhere!
   Up till a few years ago, I couldn't figure out what the big deal is about a chocolate covered ice cream bar.  They sell those at my local Target, right?  Well, a Mickey Premium is so much better! Besides the awesome Mickey shape, the ice cream is very rich and creamy, and the chocolate is both of an excellent quality and surprisingly generous thickness.  Its simply like the ones in Target only 10x better! Be forewarned though, they can melt quickly and I've found that the melted mess can be a bit much for kids, so sometimes its better to share, or find a shady place to sit and eat with lots of napkins.

1. Dole Whip or Dole Whip Float from Adventureland's Aloha Isle (Magic Kingdom)
    I've been enjoying these refreshing treats since I was a kid, and I think my family discovered them by accident while looking for ice cream.  But since then, a trip to Disney is not complete without a Dole Whip.  Dole Whips are a frozen dessert that reminds me of a cross between a sorbet and ice cream, while not really being a sherbet. It comes in a fabulous pineapple flavor which you can have solo, or mixed with vanilla.  You can also have it as a float, as is my preference, with Dole pineapple juice. It is great for a hot day, and is available in only very limited locations in the continental United States. 

It is also available at Captain Cook's quick service located inside the Polynesian resort.  You can also get a great quick service meal there (try the grown up grilled cheese) and get the Dole Whip (not available as a float) as, you guessed it, your dessert!

Do you have a favorite WDW snack?  Any suggestions of what to try on my next trip if I can tear myself away from my old favorites? Let me know in the comments below!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Hints for Traveling with Kids- Part I Safety

Believe it or not some people actually do visit Disney without children, but since most people visiting for the first time will include at least one child, it's a good idea to be prepared!

A trip to Walt Disney World with your kids is not quite as simple as a trip to your county fair.  Some forethought and careful packing can make your trip that much more enjoyable.


Since Disney Cast Members are taught that safety should be the most important thing in their mind at all times when "on stage" at the resort, I think it deserves to be first when it comes to my Disney advice.

Disney is really very safe for children.  Lets face it, if you're going to lose your kid in a crowded public place, Disney is probably the safest place to do so.  Disney Cast Members are trained to look for lost kids, and what to do if one is found. I have even heard stories of undercover Disney security staff that pose as tourists that are there for safety and may lend help in a lost child situation. That said, it's a good idea to have a few safe guards in place, should this happen to you.

Safety Badges:
My kids each wear a "safety badge" on their person in case they get separated from us.  Now, if I ask my 6 year old his name, and my cell phone number, he will gladly tell me.  But if he were to suddenly find himself separated from me at Walt Disney World, was scared, and these same questions were coming from a stranger, I'm not entirely sure he would be able to answer.  I also worry that should there be a major accident or separation from my youngest son, would emergency personnel know he is allergic to certain antibiotics.  So, his safety badge also contains his allergy information, while my other two sons' say "NKA", medical talk for "No Known Allergies". Can you tell their mother is a nurse?

My boys, in their "Disney Uniform" with" Safety Badges"
My sons' badges are actually (shhh don't tell them) pet tags.  I got them at Pet Tags 4 Less.  Each boy chose their favorite, in their choice of color. We have a green smiley face, a blue soccer ball, and a gold star.  I even bought a purple crown tag to put on our cooler bag in case I misplaced it.  You could get more to put on your stroller or camera bag, etc... Single sided engraving is only around $2.50, and shipping is free in the US.  I then bought ball chain necklaces for my sons to wear theirs like "dog tags".  You could also loop them through belt loops or sneaker laces.  Mine just have the child's name, my and my husband's cell numbers, and allergy information.  We use these badges now for each trip, or anywhere we go that might necessitate them, such as flying to grandma's for Thanksgiving, etc...

Check out My Precious Kid that sells "dog tags" on a clip.

You can also get them made at your local PetSmart or PetCo.

Make  your own tags out of paper, decorate with Disney stickers, and laminate them to stay dry.

Order  temporary safety tattoos. How cool is that? Safety Tattoos

Or check out these neat wristbands: Kid ID Bracelets

You can use whatever you like, but just don't rely on a younger child to be able to think coherently and remember your cell number when they are frightened.  Also, don't write the information on the inside of your child's clothing. Disney Cast Members are not allowed to remove or look under your child's clothing for obvious safety reasons for both your child and the Cast Member.

Know What Your Child is Wearing
It will be much easier to describe your child to a Cast Member if you remember what they are wearing.  You can do this in several ways.

The easiest thing to do is to take a picture of your kid with your cell phone each morning.  That way you can show the cast member a photo of the child that day, and get an accurate clothing description.

Thankfully, we didn't lose Grumpy
A bit more work, but a lot more fun, have a daily kid "uniform".  We dress our three sons the same on each day of our trip.  You can order personalized Disney tees online, get matching shirts from the Disney Store, get basic matching shirts on sale from Michael's Craft Stores in bright easy to see colors, or check out Jiffy Shirts online and order a few for your kids. Bright designs are easier to spot in a crowd, and you can point to your other child and say, "Little Johnny is dressed just like that"!  For one of our trips where we were with friends and a total of 8 kids, we bought lime green shirts from Michael's and did an iron on of each dwarf plus Snow White.  When we thought we lost one of the children, (really he was just with his mom and we had all gotten separated in a rain storm), we were able to say to the cast member, "he is wearing a shirt just like those, with 'Grumpy' on the front".

When our then 2 year old walked out the exit of Dinoland's "Boneyard" playground, a passerby swooped him up and brought him back in.  She took one look at me in my matching shirt (and probably panic stricken look on my face) and said "This must belong to you"! While I'm not saying you have to match your kids uniforms, you can if you like, and it does make staying together a bit easier.

Make Sure Your Child Knows What to Do if Lost (And You Too)


Mom and dad, you should remember this too!  If you realize your child is missing, try not to panic.  Find the nearest Cast Member (remember that badge right?) and ask for help.  You have never done this before, they do this every day. A friend who did lose her child at Disney told me how she forgot my advice, went into panic mode, and began running down the street calling her child's name.  Out of nowhere, a Cast Member grabbed her arm and said "Ma'am, its okay, we will find your child". In fact, Disney had found her lost child before she had even realized the little one had gotten out of the stroller and wandered off, lured by the sparkling beauty of a Disney Pin kiosk.  Remember, keep calm. Find help.  

Be Prepared in Case of Medical Issues

Be sure to have your medical insurance card with you on the trip.  Bring extras, or copies of any essential prescriptions your child may need. While its probably not the end of the world if they lose their seasonal allergy medication, an asthmatic child who loses their rescue inhaler on Space Mountain should probably have it replaced. 

Each Park has a first aid station staffed by Registered Nurses, and should you have any medical problems at all, you should ask Disney for help and advice before trying to handle it yourself.  Rather than going back to your room and scanning the phone book for local hospitals, ask Disney would they recommend.  You are not the first person to need medical attention while on vacation at Disney World, and it may take you an hour to figure out where the closest place to go is, and how to get there, while a Disney Cast Member could have helped you answer that same question in less than 2 minutes.  They can also call you a reliable cab quickly if transportation is needed.
You can have prescriptions filled, and get over the counter medical supplies from Turner Drugs. They will even deliver to your Disney resort for a small fee. Turner also has a list of medical providers including walk-in clinics and doctors who will come to your resort as a concierge doctor as seen on USA Network's "Royal Pains".

Know that at Disney World, Safety is #1

Safety is the most important thing to Disney Cast Members, and because of this you should be prepared that they will ask your children not to run, climb on things, or sit or stand on things they shouldn't. On a trip last year, my mother rolled her eyes at me when I would not let my sons sit on the hand rails at the "Oh, Canada!" circle 360 movie.  Other kids were doing it.  As soon as the Cast Member started her talk, she immediately asked those kids to get down.

Those white tape lines they put on the ground for parades are there for a reason, so don't get huffy when they ask you to follow the rules. I once stood next to a family who was upset that Disney was not allowing them to stand  where they wanted, because it was the crosswalk for the parade.  They kept going on about "They're so uptight and stick to the stupid rules, this place is no fun", let me tell you what's not fun, your kid getting run over by a group of people crossing the street through the crosswalk when she is where she shouldn't be.  So don't take it personally, the reason Disney is such a safe place to vacation is because they enforce the rules.  Play safe and have fun!

This is Part I of what will be a static page under "Basic Planning Advice for Beginners", but I will be loading it a small part at at time, and posting it as a blog post in segments.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

You're Pregnant and You're Going to Disney World? Part I

It seems I often get astonished looks and comments for taking a Disney trip under one situation or another that is deemed by others to be some form of vacation liability.  For those who have never been to Disney, or who have only been there on one ill planned trip, going to the "Most Magical Place on Earth" under anything but perfect conditions sounds like an insurmountable task.  Well this year I have three such trips planned with which to gain the admiration of others.  At the end of September, I traveled with my family and friends to Disney during my 8th week of pregnancy.  This upcoming February, we have a long winter weekend escape planned to Disney while I will be turning 27 weeks, and next September, well I'm sure you can guess that one....Disney with a 4 month old!

For a brief moment, I almost thought I wouldn't be taking our September trip. Just three days before we were to leave, an early ultrasound showed some bleeding between the baby and my uterus.  As I was sitting there in the Doctor's office, I was sure she was going to tell me to cancel my trip, but thankfully, I was allowed to go! I had to be more careful to not lift anything heavy like my luggage, and not to ride anything which involved any G forces.  I also had to change my planned 5K run for Mickey's Halloween Family 5K, into a 5K walk.  But all in all, these were pretty minor modifications.  I had no intention on going on anything with a G force anyway just because of being pregnant in general.

Overall, the trip, from a pregnancy point of view was a definite success, and for anyone who may be undertaking such a trip soon, I can offer some experienced advice. I must mention that I have three sons already, and I am a registered nurse in labor and delivery, so this is my area of expertise!

Looks like they've got room for one more prisoner!
    Okay, this was my number one fear and concern regarding this trip. I, like 85% of pregnant women do get "morning sickness".  Honestly, whoever coined this term should be locked in a fiery prison ala Pirates of the Caribbean.  It should be called "morning, noon, and night sickness".  And while it wasn't a nausea free trip, I did at least keep it in check.

   With my other pregnancies I just followed the "suffer and carry on" approach to nausea, but this time I did request some pharmaceutical assistance from my midwife.  I thankfully had a prescription for an anti-nausea medication called Zofran.  This is a common medication given for nausea, and is considered safe in pregnancy.  Each morning, I would set my alarm to go off about 20 minutes before I needed to get up.  I would then take my Zofran, and eat some crackers and peanut butter.  I wondered if mousekeeping at Bay Lake thought I was a total pig for having food next to the bed but, oh well.  This helped tremendously, and I think was the single best thing I did for the trip.  Even on the morning of the race, which necessitated at 5am wake up, I felt reasonably okay.

  Its also a good idea to not let your stomach get too empty or too full during the day.  I recommend carrying a small snack or two with you.  You might not be able to stomach an entire soft pretzel, but a quick couple of crackers, or a granola bar can keep that nausea at bay. Now this may not work for you, but for me, I have always found during pregnancy, that cool, icy things seem to help.  Thankfully Disney is full of frozen beverage stations.  The raspberry lemonade is my all time favorite aka "Wheezy's Breezy Freezy" at Hollywood Studios, but blue raspberry Fanta or regular lemonade also hit the spot.  It seemed to keep the nausea away, and did wonders to help me keep cool and hydrated.

  Get enough rest!  Being over-tired can make the nausea much worse.  So either go to bed at a reasonable hour, or try to take a mid-day nap if you know you will be up late for fireworks or other evening event.

  I can tell you from numerous night shifts as the triage nurse on the labor and delivery floor, that dehydration is a pregnant woman's enemy.  Its a sure-fire way to feel lousy, get a massive headache, or even give you preterm contractions.  You should aim to drink 64-80oz of non-caffeinated fluid daily.  If you are at Disney during a hot time of year, you should be drinking even more than that. Being over-full can make your tummy upset, so its best to sip on your beverage throughout the day rather than drinking large amounts with your meals.

I made good use of both bottled water, and my resort refillable mug.  I would freeze a bottle of water in my freezer overnight, and bring it into the park each morning.  I would also fill my mug on my way out of the resort with either Powerade

Rest and Relaxation
Its important to get enough rest, especially at the beginning of pregnancy when fatigue can hit a level you didn't think possible.  Mix that with the exhaustion that a week at Disney can bring on, and you'll be sleepwalking down Main Street in no time. If you are aiming to be at the park for rope drop, AND stay up late for an evening show, a mid-day break is essential.  Even if it means returning to your resort by yourself without friends and family, try to get out of the parks for a few hours each day and nap. Also try to plan a day mid-trip where you are getting to bed early.  I like to plan our Animal Kingdom day for the middle of the week, and after leaving the park at 4pm or so, we head back for a swim and an early bed time.

Rides and Attractions
"Expectant Mothers Should Not Ride"
Disney is fastidious about safety, and you will see signs on many rides with warnings for pregnant mothers.  You would obviously want to skip anything that may make you nauseated.  While normally a Tea Cup fan, I abstained this trip.  I also had to close my eyes on Nemo in the room where all the bubbles are circling around you! Talk about dizzy!

You should speak with your doctor or midwife before your trip regarding what type of rides you should or should not go on.  My rule of thumb is: "If they'll let me take a newborn on the ride on my lap, I'm okay to ride".  So I did go on Kilimanjaro Safari and Pirates of the Caribbean. The only exception I made to this was Soarin' as I know from being on it before that it is very smooth, and is not dangerous to me in any way.  The reason you could not bring an infant is due to the fact that you are elevated many feet into the air. If you are prone to vertigo or motion sickness though, you may want to avoid this one. I did forgo all other rides with height restrictions. The wonderful thing about Disney is, that there are rides for everyone. So while the dads and kids were going down Splash Mountain, I was able to visit The Tiki Room, and Mickey's Philharmagic.  There are plenty of pregnancy safe things to do at Disney, so don't feel that you need to miss out and spend the week on a park bench.

Medical Issues
   If you are further into your pregnancy, I would bring a copy of your prenatal records with you in case of an emergency.  Your doctor or midwife should be able to make you a copy at your office visit.  I will be doing this for our February trip.  Should something go wrong that necessitated a visit to a hospital or urgent care clinic, your caregivers will be thankful you have them. And of course make sure you have your health insurance and prescription card, as well as your doctor or midwife's name, address and phone number.

Remember that each park has a Baby Care Center and a First Aid Station.  Pregnant Moms are welcome to take an air-conditioned break at the Baby Care Center, and if you should have any medical problems or concerns while in the park, go directly to First Aid.  It is staffed by RN's who have seen it all, and are there to help. (and they have stickers)

Turner Drugs
Many travelers don't realize that there is a full service pharmacy right next to Walt Disney World property that will deliver to your Disney resort.  They will deliver prescription and non-prescription drug store items for a nominal fee.  If you should need a prescription filled while you are there, your doctor may call it in to Turner Drug or, if you have a written prescription, the front desk of your Disney resort can fax a form and a copy of the script, and Turner will deliver to the front desk for you.  Turner is also a good resource if you need over the counter medications such as tums, Tylenol, or cold remedies that are recommended by your doctor.  We have used Turner Drug on two separate trips and have been very happy with the service.  Be aware however, that they do not accept insurance as they are dealing with a tourist population.  They will however give you the necessary paperwork if you would like to file your own claim upon request.

You Can Do It!
Going to Disney while expecting is very doable and not something you should be afraid of.  Just be prepared, drink lots of water, and slow down.  And most of all have fun.  You can dream of all the wonderful things you will get to do with new baby on another trip.  Part II of this report will follow this winter after our February trip.  I'll be getting big and turning 27 weeks while we are there, so that trip may be quite a bit different for me!

Have you visited Disney while expecting?  Leave a comment and let us know how it went. Feel free to share any additional tips you may have!

This post is part of the Disney Blog Carnival . Head over there to see more great Disney-related posts and articles.

Part II of this post is complete, check it out by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why You Need a Stroller at Disney For Your 6 Year Old

The Stroller Brigade.  Boys riding ages 6, 3, and 1
One of my big tips I give to families planning a Disney vacation is to bring a stroller for older children.  While everyone plans on a stroller for the 3 year old, most families don't even consider bringing a stroller for an older child, and this can be a BIG mistake.

While an average 5-8 year old may not need a stroller to take a walk to the park, or a shopping day at the mall, more than one day at Disney will exhaust even the toughest of kids.  On average, a person walking around a Disney Park will walk upwards of 5+ miles a day. A DAY!  If you are really going for a "We're gonna go on every ride and get our money's worth" type of a trip (I really must discourage you from this type of plan), you can make that upwards of 10+ miles. Add to that standing in line, the heat, and overall over-stimulation of Disney and you have a tired (read cranky) kid who will have no qualms about complaining to you that:

1. My feet hurt.
2. I'm tired of walking.
3. I want to ride in (insert younger sibling's name here)'s stroller
4. Will you carry me?
5. Can I ride on your shoulders?

So, at this point, lots of parents are thinking, "I really don't want to drag a stroller to Disney for my 7 year old".  Let me tell you this, dragging a stroller is a lot easier than dragging a 50lb 7 year old around all day.

Strollers do come with benefits after all. 
1. Many kids are able to take a cat nap in a stroller, or at least fall asleep in them on the way out of the parks at night. 
2. Strollers can provide an easy place to store non-valuable items you don't want to haul onto Space Mountain, like rain-ponchos, water bottles, etc...
3.Your child will have a good little seat to sit in to watch the parades and fireworks, and parades.
4.You will have the stroller to help you move faster and safer with the kiddos when crowds are thick, or you are racing through an airport to make your connection.
5.You won't have to listen to the complaints listed above.

A tired princess after a long Disney Day in a Disney Double Rental
I really cannot emphasize enough that most parents over-estimate their child's ability to handle the amount of walking involved in a Disney vacation.  If you have a child ages 8 or under, you will want to seriously reconsider the stroller situation for that child. If there are more kids than adults who can push a stroller, the older two may take turns, or you can consider renting or bringing a double stroller.

If you do heed my advice and decide to have a stroller, there are several ways to go about it.

Bring a stroller from home
  This works well if you have a lightweight, easy to fold, collapsible stroller already, or if you have a friend willing to loan you theirs for the week.  Even if you don't have one already, it may be more cost effective to purchase one prior to your trip.  Even a $20 umbrella stroller from Babies-R-Us or Walmart will do the trick.  If you have one older and one younger child, you can consider a "Sit-N-Stand" type, just be aware that some older models can be fairly heavy, or difficult for a little one to climb into the front.  Florida law states that all strollers must be folded up on the buses, and Disney absolutely enforces this on its buses, so be sure that you can fold it easily and that it is not too heavy. Bringing a stroller from home is often the least expensive option, and it allows you to use that stroller at the airports and getting to your resort.

Buy one when you get there
If you have a car, you can always take an excursion to Walmart, Costco, or Target in Orlando, and pick up a stroller there.  If you are without a vehicle, you can purchase a Kolcraft stroller at many of the Disney gift shops and at the entrances to the parks.  We did end up purchasing one of these on our last trip (long story), and although it was $50, it was a pretty good umbrella stroller.  They are all the same, black and red (Mickey colors!), and come with a reclining seat, umbrella awning, storage bag, and cup holder.  They seem pretty sturdy for the money, and we rather liked ours. They same one on Amazon retails for $48, so Disney didn't totally mark up the price. They are usually for sale right near the entrances to the parks, we bought ours at the "Newsstand" right past the turnstiles at Magic Kingdom.

Rent a stroller from Disney
You can, and many people do, rent strollers from Disney.  These strollers are hard plastic, have an awning, and come in single and double sizes.  The benefit is you don't have to bring one from home, and you can pick one up at each park as you enter. For those that don't want to deal with one in the airports, or who don't want to have to store one in their hotel room, this is a good solution. The down side is that they are really better for toddlers and school age children, and not well suited to babies.  They do not recline and can be a little uncomfortable.  They also look like about a million other Disney strollers, so finding yours in a crowd can be tough.  And people have been known to just take your Disney stroller, when they can't find their own.  If you are renting one from Disney, or you get there and realize you should have brought one and are now at the mercy of renting one from Disney (I swear this is the majority of the rentals), try to tie something bright and different to your stroller to make it easy to find in a crowd.  A bright hair ribbon, or glow necklace at night.  Others are less likely to take your stroller if it has something personal left on it, like a diaper bag or sweater.  This option can be expensive though.  A single is $15 a day, and a double $31.  If you pre-pay for your length of stay, the price drops a little to $13 for a single and $27 for a double.

Rent a stroller from an outside company
There are several companies in the Orlando area that offer stroller rentals.  I would recommend Magic Strollers, from the family that started Owner's Locker.  You can rent both single and double strollers, and they will deliver them to your resort on your arrival day, and pick them up when you leave.  You don't even need to be there, as they will leave and pick up your stroller with Disney's Bell Services at your resort!  A single stroller, which is much nicer than Disney's if you ask me, is $15 for the first day, then $8 for each additional day. A double is $25 for the first day, then $9 for each additional day. By renting, you get the convenience of the stroller at your resort.  If you have a bit of a walk from your bus stop to your room, this can be very nice getting a sleepy child off the bus late at night, in that you can just pop them in the stroller and wheel them right up to their bed!

Whichever method of getting a stroller to Disney is best for your family is up to you. If you still have any doubts about taking a stroller for an older child I simply cannot emphasize enough how much better it will make the vacation. YES, your 6 year old NEEDS a STROLLER. They do. They really, really do. If you came here looking for tips and tricks for a better Disney vacation, this is one of them. I had friends who went recently who decided to bring one umbrella stroller for the 6 and 7 year old to share, who ended up running to Walmart half-way though the trip to buy a second stroller.  On our most recent trip, our newly minted 9 year old rode in the stroller on several occasions.

Bring the stroller.....

Strollers make perfect stadium style parade seating!One of our strollers is missing from this photo, 4 adults = 4 strollers!
Yes, really!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Great Fanny Pack Debate: Functional Accessory, or Fashion Faux Pas?

Our most recent trip to Disney was peppered with the occasional well placed jab about my beloved fanny pack.  Yes, you heard me right, while at Disney, I have succumbed to the fashion crime that is the fanny (or hip) pack. I could try to argue that the name "hip pack" carries with it a claim of coolness, after all, its hip right?  But this argument seems to fail in the presence of fashionistas everywhere.

I am as of yet, unfazed by the criticism of friends, and resolved to continue using the fanny pack for at least the near future.  Do I like the way it looks? Of course not. But while at Disney, I am there to enjoy myself to the fullest amount, and honestly that tacky hip pack makes my life much easier, and more comfortable.

That fashion no-no on the right is me, with the offending fanny pack.
Lets face it, everyone needs to carry a few essentials with them to the parks. My pack always contains a basic wallet with ID, my Tinkerbell Disney Visa, my KTTW card, cash, annual passes, and DVC card.  I then usually also have sunglasses, hand sanitizer, and a cell phone. These are things that need to be carried on your person. I can't leave my cell and wallet with the stroller!  And frankly, carrying them in my pockets is just uncomfortable, and I'm always afraid something like my iPhone will fly out on a trip down Splash Mountain.

Could I carry these things in a fashion forward cross body bag? Of course, and indeed I have, but it's just not as convenient.  With a cross body bag, you must either rest it on your lap, or slide it to your side on a ride with a harness.  When its on my lap, the bar doesn't always come down far enough to offer safety to my little ones riding with me, so I feel I need to move it to the side. This then causes the lap bar to pull on my purse strap, which pulls on my once broken shoulder, and honestly I find it uncomfortable. And it could still fly up and bounce around.  I could take it off, and put it in the little basket area in front of me, but then I could forget it, despite the "Please gather your items and take small children by the hand" warning.  Also, when traveling with small children who often wish to be lifted up, doing so also causes the cross body bag to pull uncomfortably on my shoulder.

Many people carry the very cool backpack.  Well, that means I have to take it off my back every time I want to sit down on a ride or in any type of seat with a back.  Not convenient, and honestly, I'd probably accidentally leave it somewhere. Also, I just don't need something as big and heavy as a backpack.  The little fanny pack is just the right size!

High Fashion Fanny Packs are back! See, I AM fashion forward!
The nerdy fanny pack however, is essentially hands free. I have no need to take it off, it doesn't pull on my shoulders, it is out of the way of all of the ride restraints, it doesn't get in the way when I am holding children, and I can't leave it behind on a ride or at a table.  Do I pay a price for this convenience? Perhaps.  I know our good friends who travel with us feel very cool standing next to me at parades and fireworks, but other than that, I find no downside. I am not trying out for America's Next Top Model, nor am I trying to pick up a handsome Jungle Cruise Skipper.  For me, Disney is about having fun with my kids, hubby and inner kid, not worrying about what complete strangers think of my fashion sense. Okay, well maybe not always.  While attending the Disney Moms Panel Meet and Greet, I basically used the fanny pack as a shoulder bag, and did NOT wear it on my waist.  In this situation I didn't NEED the convenience of the fanny pack, it was just the bag I happened to have so it went with me.

So for now, I will be a proud member of the Disney Fanny Pack Family.  Have no shame fellow fanny packers! Unite for the hands free convenience this "Glamour Don't" provides!

My 35th Birthday at Disneyland,
note, I wore a cross-body messenger
bag, as not to embarrass my friends! you fanny pack?  Why or why not?  If anyone wants to email me a photo of your proud fanny packing self, send it to, and I'll try to post some next week!  Or if you have the perfect solution to the fanny pack vs. fashion dilemma let us know and/or send me a pic of that!

Friday, October 21, 2011

WDW 40th Anniversary Trip Report- The Old Ball and Chain's Version

DisKrazKate is my wife and thought it would be interesting if I wrote a trip report.  To put my opinion into perspective, I would say I am not Disney Krazy like my wife.  Disney World is a great vacation spot but my ideal vacation is Hawaii.  Which as her loyal blog readers know, we went to Hawaii this summer and we toured Aulani before it opened. That being said nothing is better than skipping around Disney World’s Magic Kingdom with my kids.  There is something about the pure joy in a 6 year olds’ smile, being a goof ball with his Dad.  My position is, if you are there you might as well embrace your inner kid.   My first trip to Disney World was with my wife and kids during the Year of a Million Dreams so that kind of sets what my expectations are for Disney service. Our home resort is Kidani Village in Animal Kingdom, which we bought into 3 years ago at the same time our good friends did.  I believe my wife and friends had secretly planned the attack in advance, when they ambushed me into buying Disney Vacation Club.  I will admit this was the best thing I ever caved in on.  Having DVC forces us to vacation.  Even better, we frequently get to do it with our closest friends and family.

Before we even left home, the vacation juju was working against me as many people in my office were getting sick, and decided to pass it on to me earlier in the week.   So on the Friday before we left, I went to my doctor to make sure it was not something more than just a cold.  My doctor thought it was just something viral going around. Since I was going on vacation, she wrote a prescription for a Z-pack just in case things did not clear up by that Sunday.   We left on Saturday and by Sunday afternoon I still was not 100% so I decided to get the script filled.   After using my iPhone, I found that I could complete a form and have it and the script faxed to Turner Pharmacy.  Turner will deliver to the resort as long as the original script at time of delivery is at the front desk.  This was really convenient as we went out to enjoy the park instead of going to the pharmacy or waiting around the resort for the delivery.  When you go to pick up the script from the front desk, make sure they check the safe as they originally did not find my script because it had been placed there.

The author, his wife DizKrazKate and the RNAWAYMAMA extended family at Epcot
After an 8 day trip to Disney World where we stayed at Bay Lake Tower, the overall vacation was a resounding success and everyone had a great time.  We celebrated our friend’s 40th and we celebrated Walt Disney World’s 40th.  I think it will be pretty cool to say we were there for the 40th.   I consider the trip such a success because I helped convince our friend’s 11 year old to start riding Big Thunder, Splash, Space Mountain and Test Track.  In addition to that, my youngest was tall enough to ride all but Space Mountain and my middle child got to ride Space Mountain for the first time.  We now have a group of roller coaster junkies.

Look, Mom! I'm tall enough!
I do have to give kudos to our friend’s wife.  She found a great gift for his 40th birthday that we all got to share in.  While trying to find a unique experience at Disney to do, she discovered that you could rent a boat from Disney to go out on Bay Lake to watch the “Wishes” Firework show.  This turned into quite an adventure.  As we were making our way to the dock at the Polynesian, we came across a pontoon boat.  It had a banner on it that said, “Happy Birthday” and her husband started cracking jokes about it being for him.  That was not the correct boat, but when we got to the end of dock where our boat was supposed to be, it was gone.  After finding a cast member and some anxious waiting by our friend’s wife…the boat she had rented returned to the dock.  It turned out the party that rented the pontoon boat had some how made their way on to our boat.  The boat was beautiful, it had 3 bedrooms, 2 showers, etc.  The boat quickly took the 14 of us to about the center of Bay Lake in front of Cinderella’s Castle.  We just made it for the “Wishes” fireworks.  They piped the sound track to “Wishes” over the sound system on the boat.  It was absolutely spectacular to watch the fireworks from the lake.  After the fireworks were complete, we cruised around the lakes and also watched the Electrical Water Pageant.  Disney did make it right by cutting the price in half.

Arriving at the Contemporary Resort was a disappointment in contrast with arriving at Kidani Village.  At Kidani, they greeted us by name while at the Contemporary they just guided us to the check-in desk.  The Contemporary is no different than any other hotel that you would go to in any other city, which was a let down.  Over the course of the week little things stood out that made Bay Lake Tower look like it was poorly conceived and poorly put together.  Even though it is only a few years old the furniture looks cheap and it is already showing the wear.  The doors to the bathroom look like they were cheaply hung closet doors.  The very least the doors should have been true pocket doors.  The trim work that was added to prevent people from seeing you using the toilet looked very cheap and in one case was not even completely painted.  The wall behind the counters and the stove in the kitchen had some glass like or plastic surface that had obviously been damage at some point because Disney had hung some brushed metal on the one side and used 3M double sided foam tape to hang it rather than replace the damaged section.  Our friend’s room was missing an electric outlet cover.   I will say, I really liked the comforter that was on the master bed better than the one in Kidani.  My other big issue with Bay Lake was there was no way to get to the Contemporary without getting soaked when it rained.  Rain blew through the walkway and as we went to go through the doors from the walkway into the Contemporary water poured down.

Middle child coming down the water slide at Bay Lake Tower
By far the pool and splash pad at Kidani surpassed Bay Lake Tower.  The splash pad at Bay Lake Tower was a Mickey with 3 or 4 spots shooting up water.  Kidani has a slide, water cannons, several spots where water shoots up and other fun things in the splash pad area for toddlers.  The pool itself was fine and comparable to the pool at Kidani.  However, the steps leading up to the water slide at Bay Lake Tower’s again seemed like it was poorly put together.  Screws were only half way in and algae was growing all over the steps.

For our friend’s actual 40th birthday, we went to the top of Bay Lake Tower to watch the fireworks. It definitely gives a different perspective on the fireworks.  It is not quite as magical as watching it from Main Street USA or Bay Lake.  It was interesting from an engineering perspective, to see the different areas of the park where fireworks are launched in order to make the magic.  Our only big issue with the rooftop was there were mosquitos everywhere.  One might think that citronella or some other tactic could be used to keep the mosquitos away. I mean with all the engineering marvels that Disney accomplishes, one would think that they could keep mosquitos away from one of the signature selling points of Bay Lake Tower.

This trip included riding Star Tours for the first time since the ride was remodeled.  The 3-D version is fantastic.  The kids loved it, including our 4 year old, who got to ride it for the first time.  We were told there are 50 different versions of the ride so that is really cool.  Also every kid will be wishing to be made the “Rebel Spy”.  Our oldest got selected and has been talking about it every since.  So not to spoil it, I will leave it at that.

On day 7 of our trip was the 40th anniversary of Disney World.  I was signed up to run Mickey’s Halloween Family Fun Run 5k, but decided not to run it because I was still not feeling 100%.  I did rally and took my 3 sons to the park opening, arriving there at about 6:45 am for a 9am opening.  We were one of the first 1500 people in the park and were allowed to enter the park before the official opening.  We each got a wristband to buy something, we were not told what.  We made our way to the castle for the 10 am presentation.  I honestly thought Disney would make a bigger deal about the 40th given what the Year of a Million Dreams was like.  Instead, for our efforts all we got for free was a button, but pretty much everyone that came into the park got the button.  The presentation was fun but I am not entirely sure it was worth getting up at 6:45 am.

40th Anniversary Parade
From the presentation at about 10:30 am, we started making our way toward Frontierland.  On our way, I saw two lines forming at the Diamond Horseshoe.  One was for our wristbands and the second line was for those who did not have a wristband. By this point, we had heard there would be special shirts, art and pins for purchase.  It was only a half hour before we were to be let in so I decided to get on line.  The line was already 100 yards long.  Thus began the saga of waiting in line. Shortly after getting in line my wife had to head off to a Disney Mom’s Panel event at Epcot.  11 am came and went, noon came and went and rumors were flying that they had run out of shirts.  Even a couple cast members were saying it.  The line barely moved.  Having already waited 2 hours, I could not leave the line…call me stubborn, and I knew my wife would be very disappointed.  She did give me an out at this point but I was determined.  We finally got in the door around 1 pm.  I was able to buy 8 Mickey 40th pins, 2 per wristband.  I bought a handful of ladies t-shirts and men’s t-shirts for our group. There were some nice lithographs for sale and the artist was signing them.  Basically, you could by 2 of each of the special pins and then you could shop for shirts, art and other memorabilia.

My general impression of this saga was that Walt would not be happy.  First there were no kid’s sizes.  I am sorry but this is Disney World, it was made for kids and adults.  Secondly, we were told we would be let in at 11 am and it turned out to be after 1 pm before I was let in.  I know there was another couple 100 yards of people behind me.  My friend stood in the standby line for 5 hours to get the pins.  The slow line was partially due to small size of the space.  Disney had only 8 cash registers open and 6 were dedicated to the pins and 2 were for all other merchandise.  Cast members were being pulled from other parts of the park to help because there were not enough staff members there.  At one point, I saw someone in a wheelchair unable to fit between the cash registers.  As I told a cast member, I did not blame them but this was poorly planned.  I know it was by choice that I stayed in line but I never thought it would be that long.  The issues were clearly on management, that failed to plan.  They needed a larger space, better layout for traffic, and they needed kids sizes.  Also, Disney should have just given the pins out to the first 1500 people.  I am sure they spent more money on prizes during a week of the Year of Million Dreams then they would have spent giving out pins to the first 1500 people.  I also felt like there was some misleading information, because with the exception of the pins and art signing, the shirts and other memorabilia turned out to be the same at other stores including the shop in the Contemporary.  I am glad I got the pins for the kids but I felt terrible because they basically stood in lines from 6:45 until 1:30 pm.  I decided to cave in that night and bought the boys the Mickey pirate ship they had been asking for, because they had been so good in line.  I hope Disney figures out how to do this better in 10 years for the 50th.

The crew on Splash Mountain. No worries, the Grim Reaper is actually DS6!
The final fun story from the trip comes from that night.  The two dads took the 6 older kids to Thunder and Splash.   While getting on Splash Mountain, I decided to video the ride.  There were a total of 8 of us.  Three boys were in the front seat.  I was in the second row with my youngest son.  My friend was in the third row with his 11 year old son and his 6 year old daughter. The fourth row was empty. As we went down the big drop, I realized my hat was still on as it flew off with my 40th Anniversary button attached.  I heard my friend yelp seconds later. It had hit him in the face but for some reason he did not hang on to it =).  As it turned out, his son sitting next to him had left his grandfather’s Brewer’s hat on too, and it flew off as well.  As we entered the station, the cast member let us stay on the ride since there was no one else there.  I told the cast member that tweedle dee and tweedle dumb had left their hats on and lost them at the big drop and asked if there was any way to get them back.  The cast member said sadly no, that the hats were probably gone.  I was disappointed, as I had not only lost my hat but I had also lost the 40th Anniversary button.  My friend’s son was disappointed too, because he had lost his grandfather’s hat.  However, in true Mickey Mouse Magic, my friend’s lovely daughter handed me my hat as we left the loading area for the second time.  It had evidently hit her dad in the face and fell to her feet.  My friend quickly looked back in the fourth row but could not see the Brewer’s hat.  Again Mickey Mouse Magic was on our side.  Having gone down, the big drop a second time and as we exited the log boat, he looked down and there the Brewer’s hat sat in the bottom of the fourth row.

All in all it was a very successful vacation and I am looking forward to staying at our home resort of Kidani Village this February when South Bend is covered in 2 feet of snow.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it. -The Lion King

While my quest to be part of the 2012 Disney Moms Panel is officially over, I'm putting my Mouse Ears back on and looking to next year's applications for the 2013 panel. 

I can't lie and say I took it in stride, I was in fact, rather sad to get the "Thank you for your application" email rather than the "Congratulations..." email. I rather surprised myself with how hard it hit me.  While at the Notre Dame vs. Air Force game in Notre Dame Stadium, I received a text from @RNAWAYMAMA that she had received her email.  Now because there are 80,000 other fans in the stadium, getting access to texts, phone or internet can be very difficult during a game day.  Although I received her text at 5pm, it had actually been sent an hour earlier. And of course, even with moving all the way to the outside edge of the stadium, I could still not get to my email.  I resorted to trying to call my hubby at home. I was able to get through, and he had the unpleasant job of telling his Disney obsessed wife she did not make Round 2.

While I was of course initially bummed, I was able to go back into the stadium and watch the second half of the game.  I was doing quite well I thought, and handling it like a big girl. (Notre Dame getting a big win over Air Force probably helped a little bit too). I didn't actually get that sad until at home and I opened up the DisBoards and Mouseowners and read all the excitement of those who had made it.  I was truly happy for them, but their excitement reminded me of just how excited I had been last year, and just out of the blue, here I was getting a bit tearful. I'm just going to blame it on my changing hormones:)

After my 15 minute pity party however, I am moving forward. I was happy to learn of one Round 2 semi-finalist that made it to Round 2 two years ago, but did not last year, who has now made Round 2 again.  You know when things don't go the way you wished, you start thinking worst case scenario? I was sure that I had said something on this year's application that was so bad I got put on the "never ever" list.  But when I learned other people have been in the same situation and later made further rounds, I am back on the bandwagon and ready to see what next year brings.

I've got a whole year to really work on expanding the blog, and gaining more followers. I'm setting a mini-goal of getting 10,000 views before the Moms Panel applications next year, and I'm hoping to maybe get to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Conference this winter. Next year I'll have two more trips under my belt, including a trip while quite pregnant, and a trip with a newborn, so I"ll be that much more qualified!  For those of you who made Round 2, I offer my sincere "CONGRATULATIONS" and wish you luck as you await the results for Round 3.  For those of you hanging out with the cool people like me who didn't make it this year, don't give up hope, and I'll see you next fall!!

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.- Walt Disney

Friday, October 7, 2011

DIsney Moms Panel Meet and Greet

This past Saturday I was lucky enough to be on property to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney World. There were numerous events going on all weekend, including a Haunted Mansion celebration, a runDisney meet and greet, Lou Mongello's 40 hour broadcast, and a Walt Disney World Moms Panel Fan Meet and Greet!

About 2 weeks ago, while waiting for my son to finish his piano lesson, and checking out Facebook on my iPhone (thank you Steve Jobs), I saw a post from the Disney Parks Blog that there would be a Mom's Panel meet and greet on October 1st. Since we would already be there, I made a quick call to @RNAWAYMAMA to make sure she too was interested, and made a speedy RSVP.  While I received a confirmation that they received my request, the response made it sound as if I may or may not be allowed to attend, and that a final invitation would be sent via email.  Well let me tell you I was on pins and needles to see if we would get that invite!

Move forward almost 2 weeks, and we are already having a blast at Disney.  Again checking that trusty iPhone, I see I have received the official invitation via email! Hooray!  The email contained both the official invitation and a copy of a photo release.  I was able to use the business center at the Contemporary where we were staying to print out our paperwork.

Castle Forecourt during 40th celebration
This was a LONG day for us.  We were up and in a taxi for Animal Kingdom at 5:50am to participate in Mickey's Halloween Family Fun Run 5K. After the run, we made a bee line for the Magic Kingdom to be part of the birthday celebrations.  We were able to see some of the festivities before we had to leave the hubbies and kids and dash back for a quick pre-meet clean up.  Next stop...Epcot!

After arriving at Epcot, we found the media table that was set up for the event near the turnstiles.  We were able to check-in, and we received blue wristbands for admittance to the party.  While we both had annual passes, they did have one day park tickets available for those that did not, and I thought this was a nice touch.  Originally the meet and greet was to be held at the Yacht Club, but was moved to the Odyssey a few days prior to the event.  I was excited to check out the Odyssey since my last trip inside was as a teenager when it was actually a restaurant.

Upon arriving at the Odyssey there was yet another table where we turned in our photography wavers, and could have gotten the blue wristband if needed. I presume this was for folks who might already be in the parks, or entered via the International Gateway.  There was actually a Cast Member stationed at the door to make sure that unsuspecting park guests looking for a restroom didn't wander into the party. We felt very special and exclusive!

For a former fast food burger place turned party spot, the Odyssey was looking good!  As you may have noticed on recent trips, the windows of the building are all covered, giving the interior a nighttime party atmosphere.  To really give the room that magical Disney touch, there were these beautiful pink sparkle trees throughout the room. I don't know how to describe them other than to say they looked as if they had been sprinkled with pixie dust. They reminded me of something you would see in one of the new Tinkerbell animated movies that have come out on DVD.  And really, what adds Disney magic like light up pink sparkling trees?

Daisy and Donald with the moms and dads of the panel
There was a very nice buffet of hors d'oeuvres, soft drinks, wine and beer, favorite...Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bars. Ok, they had those Mickey Ice Cream Sandwiches too, but I'm a Mickey Premium girl at heart. For those that had brought their families, there was a balloon artist there, who was probably the best I have ever come across. My favorite was a giant diamond ring made with lots of very small twists and turns in the balloon. Very cool.

Quite a few Moms Panelists and Panelists Emeritus were there (I don't know if that's their official title, but that's what I'm calling them!), as well as Laura Spencer.  The panelists were wearing the coveted pink polo (or blue as the case may be), and so were easy to spot.  The panelists did a great job mingling with the fans, and within a few minutes we had already met Dianne from CT.  What a sweet and friendly person she was, and I felt so much more at ease having her come and introduce herself, rather than us walking up to the panelists and saying "Hi! I think you are so cool and amazing and I want to be you!". That might be a little creepy.

We met quite a few of the moms and dads including Dianne, Kaylene, Ritzy, Angelo, Erin, Kim, Ca'Sandra, and Kay.  Each and every one of them was gracious and friendly to the fans, and I truly felt welcomed.  I was even able to have my photo in front of the Moms Panel backdrop, and so even if not chosen, I can add that photo to my Moms Panel wannabe collection. Who knows, perhaps it will bring me some good Moms Panel luck.

My good luck wannabe photo
After coming down from the stage for my wannabe photo, I noticed another familiar face in the crowd, and was just thrilled to realize it was Deb Willis from Allears! I always recommend this site to those planning a trip, and I use it myself frequently to keep up with the latest Disney happenings and events.  My weekly Allears Newsletter makes me smile every time it appears in my inbox.  I was able to sneak in and introduce myself to Deb, and I can truly say she was also a genuinely sweet person.  I can imagine it must be hard to have Disney obsessed people the world over know who you are, and constantly coming up and introducing themselves. I realized it's a lot like being a politician. You meet some neat people, but also some not so nice folks, yet you must always smile and maintain the pleasantries.  To top off my quick hello with Deb, she gave me a pack of Allears Trading Cards which I have been really coveting, and meeting Deb was one of the definite highlights of the entire trip.

To round out our afternoon, we were able to sneak an introduction to Laura Spencer, Social Media Manager for Walt Disney World.  She is know to fellow Mom Panel applicants as one of the original members of the Moms Panel, who now works for Disney and is basically in charge of the Moms Panel.  She is living the Disney dream, by starting out as a volunteer of sorts, and ending up a Disney Cast Member.  Meeting her was quite a treat, and I was impressed as she met other attendees that she even recognized some fans by their twitter handle. It was apparent she truly loves the Disney experience, and has great people skills.  At one point in the conversation, she brought up the fact that one of the wonderful things about Disney is that people from different places, different backgrounds and in various family situations can forget all that and just be together in their love for Disney World.  We can all have fun at Disney, even if we may lead very different lives at home.  I think this truly does sum up the Walt Disney World experience, and is a great answer to the continual question, "Why are you going there again?".

It really was an amazing afternoon for a Disney freak like myself.  Getting to meet some of the well known members of the online Disney community in person was just so exciting!  The only down side to this event, was that my desire to be on the moms panel has grown to a new level I didn't even know I had in me!

To poke a little fun at myself, I told my husband it was like the Disney nerd version of a Star Trek convention.  If ever given the chance to attend one of these events, I highly recommend it.  Here's to hoping that next year I'll be there as a panelist!! (I look really good in pink)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ETD: 60 Hours and Counting....

In less than three days, myself, the hubby and our three boys will be settling in for an 8 night stay at our home away from home, Walt Disney World! In my usual obsessed Disney mom fashion I have been packed for days, and everything is ready to go.....

Uh, no.  Here we are with less than 60 hours to wheels up, and I honestly have practically nothing done. This is very unlike me, and I am trying not to go off the edge with stressing about what yet needs to be done.  I guess, realistically I could be laundering and packing RIGHT NOW. But, I'm not.  You'd think after 9 years of working as a night shift nurse, I wouldn't even need sleep anymore, but alas, this is not true.  After working on a night, off a night, for what seems like 2 weeks, I'm a sleep deprived mess.  So I am finishing one last post before the trip, gonna hit the hay early, and will make tomorrow a marathon preparation day!

Beautiful Bay Lake Tower, part of the Contemporary Resort near the Magic Kingdom
But before tomorrow's long day of laundry, packing and the obligatory mani/pedi, I thought I'd give a little preview of our well planned trip. I may not be well packed, but I am always well planned. Getting up at 6am, 180 days in advance well planned.

The cast of this 8 night tour includes myself, DH, and DS's ages 8, 6, and 4.  To make it even more fun we are traveling with our good friends, @rnawaymama, her DH, their 5 children ages 11 to 4 months, and @rnawaymama's parents Nana and Poppy.  This brings us to a grand total of 14!

We are having our own Disney vacation "pre-show" of course, with a trip to see the 3D version of The Lion King on Friday night.  Saturday we have flights out with a planned arrival at Bay Lake Tower around  2pm.  We have a 1br Lake View Villa booked with our DVC points for 8 nights.

Planned highlights of our trip include our first stay at Bay Lake Tower, checking out the newly revamped Star Tours attraction (probably multiple times considering ALL the kids love Star Wars), our first time dining at Mama Melrose's, Ohana's, and 1900 Park Fare, the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, Mickey's Halloween 5K, and hopefully a surprise or two!

The number 40 seems to come up a lot for us on this trip, as one member of our party will be turning 40 during our trip, Walt Disney World itself will turn 40 on October 1st, (we plan to be at the Magic Kingdom to celebrate), and my youngest DS who is 4, will be enjoying his first ever trip to Disney where he will make the 40 inch hight requirement!

Additionally, on the Moms Panel front, @rnwawaymama and myself have RSVP'd to attend a Moms Panel Meet and Greet at the Yacht Club on the 1st. We've yet to receive the final confirmation that we can attend, but we are quite hopeful that we will be able to go and meet current panelists, as well as other hopefuls such as ourselves from the DisBoards!  I think reporting on this event in itself will require an entire post!

Stay tuned for a full trip report when we return, or you can follow me at twitter @dizkrazkate or my fellow Moms Panel hopeful and former guest blogger @rnawaymama for real time updates and pics!