Saturday, August 23, 2014

5 Things You May Not Know About Disney Vacation Club

Have you visited Walt Disney  World and had such a magical time, you were tempted to stop by a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) kiosk? Maybe you were afraid the salesperson would pounce on you in your Mickey Ear Hat and Dole Whip induced haze and you’d never get away, or maybe you thought there was just no way you could afford to buy in?  Disney Vacation Club prides itself on being unlike other vacation ownership programs, and it just might be a good fit for you. Here are five facts you should know about the Disney Vacation Club:

1. There is no “Hard Sell.”  
Disney Vacation Club does not promote the “hard sell” that timeshares salespeople tend to have a reputation for.  If you have ever been trapped in a 6 hour sales presentation just to earn a $100 gift card, you may have sworn off timeshare presentations forever. Disney simply presents the information to you in a comfortable, no-pressure manner, and there are no hard feelings if you are not ready to purchase. You can attend a DVC Open House while you are on vacation, and Disney will provide transportation to and  from the parks or your resort, and some ice cream at the end, but you won’t be trapped or pressured into making a large financial purchase on the spot.
A lot of folks, like our family, purchase from home!  We contacted Disney Vacation Club for the information and were able to look it over on our own time. After we came to the conclusion that it was a good purchase for our family, a few phone calls and a trip to a notary was all that was needed and we were members! We even had our first vacation reservation made right for us when we purchased.
Photo of Kate Melody taken at The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.

2. You aren’t locked into the same size room during the same week every year.
With a traditional timeshare, you are buying a week long reservation in a particular size room every year at the same time. Disney Vacation Club is much more flexible, and you can stay at any time of year you want, and book any size room.  DVC works on a points system, and each night stay is worth a different number of vacation points. Larger rooms and more popular times of year are worth more points, with quieter seasons and smaller studios requiring fewer points.
You can check in any day of the week and stay as long as you need, as long as you have the points and the room is available. You can also stay at other Disney Vacation Club Resorts at Disney World, Disneyland, Hilton Head, Vero Beach, Oahu, sail on Disney Cruise Line and more!

3. Being a Disney Vacation Club Member gets you some great discounts.
Mary Poppins themed fountain at The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Photo courtesy of Kate Melody.
Villas at the Grand Floridian
Members do receive discounts throughout the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts.  There are small discounts on merchandise, and select dining establishments, as well as discounts on special ticketed events such as the Halloween and Christmas Parties, golfing and other recreation, and special events. Members perks include a discount on the Tables in Wonderland dining card which then gives the card holder 20% off at most restaurants at Walt Disney World.
Our family makes the best use on the DVC savings we receive on our Annual Passes. For our most recent purchase, we received $100 per person off the price of an Annual Pass. By then scheduling two, week long vacations within that 52 week time frame, we see a significant savings over purchasing two separate sets of 6 day passes.

4. Over time it can save you a lot of money on your accommodations.
Yes, the initial buy in is a large purchase, but over time you can save quite a bit on your accommodations at Disney. If you go to Disney at least every other year, and especially if you have a larger family or stay in deluxe accommodations you will probably do better with DVC Membership than by paying rack rate. We purchased in 2009, and in just five years we reached the break even mark.
This past February, we stayed in a one bedroom villa, for eight nights. Had I paid rack rate for that room, with taxes it would have been approximately 1/3 of the initial amount we paid to buy in to Disney Vacation Club!  It can also save you a few grey hairs, as our family of 6  enjoys having the added space, separate sleeping arrangements and bathrooms, the washer and dryer and the full kitchen that come with a DVC Villa. We cook some meals in our room, and the washer and dryer allows us to bring less luggage, both of which save us even more money.  And let me add, being able to close the door between the kids and us has a LOT of value!
Lion King theme on bedding at Disney’s Kidani Village.
"The Lion King" themed bedding at Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas

5. You can start small, then add more points later.

For some families the initial buy in price for a 2 bedroom villa during spring break can be overwhelming. But while this may be the dream, you do not have to join Disney Vacation Club at that level. A Disney Vacation Club Guide (Disney speak for salesperson) will work with you to help you determine a number of points that will be comfortable for you, while helping you reach your vacation goals.  While that Spring Break room clocks in at 398 points, a 4 day weekend in a studio in the fall or early winter can run close to or even less than 50 points.  You can buy a contract for 50 points now, then as your family expands, or your financial picture changes you can add on more points with an additional contract.

For frequent Disney travelers, owning a bit of the Disney magic might be a good purchase, so don’t be afraid to go to an Open House on your next vacation, or even call and speak to a Disney Vacation Club Guide over the phone. You just might find that you too could soon hear the famous DVC greeting “Welcome Home.”
The Melody Family on their first family vacation with Disney Vacation Club to their home resort Kidani Village in fall 2009, with DVC's signature “Welcome Home” greeting.
Our first trip "Home" to Kidani Village, part of Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas

This article was originally published as a guest piece for Mom Factually. Check it out for more Disney and everyday fun!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Ten Ways to Make a Trip to Walt Disney World a Learning Experience for Kids

 This piece was originally published in July 2014 as a guest blogging piece for Friend's Friday on The Main Street Moms. Check them out for more Disney fun!

A vacation to Walt Disney World is of course filled with pirates, princesses, roller coaster mountains and flying carpets, but Walt Disney also wanted his parks to be a place of continued learning for guests. Whether you are looking for ways to sneak something educational into your trip because you’re pulling the kids out of school, or just like to add a little learning into all aspects of your children's lives, here are ten great ways to learn while having fun at Walt Disney World!

Working on his journal at Wilderness Lodge

1. Keep a Vacation Journal
Have kids keep a written travel journal. During the course of each day talk about things they see or hear they want to add to their journal. Take photos of things they plan on writing about such as people they meet, Epcot pavilions they visit or animals they learned about.  For preschoolers or kindergarteners, they can create an alphabet book. Take photos of things you encounter, something for each letter of the alphabet (don’t worry, you can supplement with printed google images when you get home). For example “M” is for monorail, “C” is for castle, “V” is for villain. The child can practice writing the letter, then paste the picture in the journal to go with it. This can also turn into a wonderful souvenir from your trip.  Make a photo book using your child’s written work to narrate your vacation photos

2. Epcot World Passports and Kidcot Fun Stops in World Showcase
Sold at gift shops around Epcot, you can purchase your kids an Epcot World Passport for around $10. It resembles a real passport, and has a page for each country in the World Showcase. At each of the World Showcase Pavilions, kids can visit the Kidcot Fun Stops and have the passport stamped with the country’s stamp, and the cast member will write something for the child in their native language. This makes the journey around the World Showcase more engaging, and encourages kids to socialize with international cast members. You can also do the Kidcot Fun Stop craft, adding a different decoration at each location as you make your way around World Showcase. Cast members will stamp the craft with the country stamp for a fun and free activity!
Epcot World Passport

3. Innoventions at Epcot
These two technology pavilions in Epcot promote new products and services from corporate sponsors. Kids can learn about saving their pennies at “The Great Piggy Bank Adventure”, compete in the Liberty Mutual fire safety game, ride a Segway or learn roller coaster physics by designing and then taking a simulated ride on their roller coaster at the Sum of All Thrills by Raytheon.  It might be just the ticket to inspire your future Imagineer!

4. Wilderness Explorers at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
With more than 30 activities spread throughout Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, kids can satiate their never-ending need to collect things by visiting the Wilderness Explorers’ stops.  At each location they will be led in a short activity by a Cast Member and a sticker will be added to their field-guide. No need to finish them all in one day, you can spread the fun out over several visits, just keep bringing your field-guide back with you. Activities include animal identification, fossil exploration, african music, and even learning about native yeti folklore.  If you complete all the activities the child will receive a special sticker to commemorate their accomplishment!

5. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
My kids learning about biodiversity with a Cast Member from Botswana
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge offers animal and African themed activities. Of course there is animal viewing (viewing with night vision googles in the evenings offers a new perspective), but kids can be introduced to the many Cast Members from Africa who serve as cultural guides. Cast Members do an excellent job speaking with kids and answering questions about both their home countries and the animals. Cultural activities are offered throughout the day.  My children have participated in a traditional drum circle, learned about biodiversity and ecology while playing a modified game of Jenga, and competed with other kids to identify animals native to the African Continent. And while you might not consider your resort hotel a museum, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge has one of the largest collections of African art in the United States.

6. Animation Academy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Have you ever thought about convincing your kid to become a Disney animator? Check out the Animation Academy inside The Magic of Disney Animation attraction. Meet an animator and learn how to draw a Disney character. Animators guide you from start to finish and your drawing becomes a free souvenir. While schools are cutting art programs around the country, you can give your kids a short art of animation education on your trip! Shows are every 30 minutes, and often fill up, so plan to arrive early to be sure to get in. If you enjoy the experience, a different character is taught at each show, so it is worth repeating the attraction later in the day.

7. Living with the Land at Epcot
Home to the world’s hottest pepper, a nine pound lemon, and pumpkins shaped like Mickey, the Living with the Land attraction in Epcot is a leisurely boat ride through The Land Pavilion’s greenhouses. Learn about the future of agriculture, fishery and hydroponics as you cruise, and see where Epcot grows some of the food served in its restaurants. If you are particularly interested in what the attraction has to offer, you can add to your experience by taking the Behind the Seeds Tour offered several times daily. There is an additional fee, but it does provide a one hour walking tour of the greenhouses and fish farm. Discounts are available for DVC members, AAA, and Disney Visa Cardholders.

8. Map Reading
While GPS may be everywhere, learning to read and use a map is still an important skill that kids should learn. Nowhere are the maps more fun, or lead to more exciting places than at The Most Magical Place on Earth, Walt Disney World! So give your kids a copy each day, and let them help find the way to your next FastPass attraction. 

9. Budgeting Souvenir Money
Set a souvenir budget for your kids before the trip, and make sure they know what they have to spend. Have them keep track of their purchases in their journal over the course of the week to be sure they don’t go over their budget or yours.

10. Disney’s Youth Education Series
If you really want your vacation to be an educational experience, consider participating in Disney’s Youth Education Series. Classes are available seasonally for elementary through high school youth and cover topics such as leadership, marine science, animation history, animal conservation, physics and American history. Extra fees are associated with the classes, but  discounts on park ticket may be available. While kids may resist initially at the idea of taking a “class” on vacation, they are sure to have an experience unlike any they are used to in a traditional classroom.

Whichever of these you decide to try on your next Walt Disney World trip, your kids are sure to have both a magical and education vacation!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Disney's My Magic+, Magic Bands and FastPass+: What in the World are These Things, and Do I Need Them for My Disney Trip?

Mickey Power! To Infinity and Beyond!
  *Disclaimer* This is a LONG post, designed to be in depth to help folks with planning their Disney Vacation! If you are looking for a light read this isn't it!

  In the fall of 2013, Walt Disney World rolled out their much anticipated next-generation technology program called "My Magic +".  It is now the system in place for all guests both on property and off, for park tickets and FastPasses. While it can seem a little overwhelming at first, understanding the basics and using the system is to your advantage.

 There are quite a few new buzzwords for the program, and even if you are an experienced Disney traveler, the large number of new terms and offerings can make things seem more confusing than they need to be.  Here is a rundown of the new lingo:

  • My Magic + is the overall name of the multimillion dollar system Disney has installed throughout the Walt Disney World Resort that is designed to streamline your vacation experience, and it includes all of the following pieces.
  • Magic Bands are nifty wristbands that guests can wear or carry that are encrypted with an RFID (radio frequency identification). These Magic Bands are like an electronic wallet, and the Magic Band is your resort room key, your park ticket, your FastPass ticket, your meal "ticket" if you are using the Disney Dining Plan, your Magical Express ticket, your PhotoPass card, and your method of charging items to your room. Resort guests receive them as part of their room package, but they can be purchased separately by off property day guests.
  • FastPass+ is the new FastPass system where FastPasses (a ticket to wait on a shorter attraction line) can be reserved ahead of time. This has completely replaced the old system of paper FastPasses, and you use either the Magic Band (resort guests and those that purchase a band) or an RFID enabled card (day guests who do not purchase a band) to access the FastPass queue.
  • Memory Maker is the photography program available at the Walt Disney World Resort, where you can purchase all of the photos taken of you on attractions, by PhotoPass photographers, and at select dining experiences.  This is also linked to your Magic Band, and with a simple touch of the Magic Band, the photographer will be able to link your photos to your account. The Memory Maker program has replaced the PhotoPass and PhotoPass+ purchase programs.
  • My Disney Experience is Disney's online computer program you can access via your computer or mobile device that connects all your reservations and activities. If you have a Magic Band, it will be the location to connect everything such as park tickets and FastPasses to the Magic Band. 

While Disney maintains that the program is in testing phase, the test is really a live roll out of the program, with the kinks worked out along the way. This means that although the system for the most part is working well at this point, do pack a little patience, and understand that the program rules and benefits can and do change.

I know it sounds like a lot at first, but if you take it one step at a time, using Disney's new My Magic+ can make your vacation a lot easier, and more fun! And since a lot of the guests are indeed using it, opting out will put you at a distinct disadvantage.

Getting Started

Sign in page for My Disney Experience

The first thing you need to do, is visit the My Disney Experience website and create an account, or sign in if you already have a Disney account. If you have already created an account with either ABC or any Disney website such as Disney Movie Rewards, requested a vacation planning video, or made your vacation reservations with the online system, you should already have an account and you can use that to sign in.

Once you have created an account and signed in, you can then use the program to make vacation magic!  If you made your reservations online, or you gave the Cast Member the same email when you made your reservations, they may appear automatically. If not, or if you made your reservation another way, you will need to link your reservations and ticket media manually.

Use the "My Disney Experience" tab in the upper right corner!
No matter where you are in the program, once you are signed in, you can always go to the "My Disney Experience" tab in the upper right corner. This will open your options to edit your profile, add family and friends, link, view or modify reservations and tickets.

Start by opening the My Disney Experience tab as mentioned above. Then choose My Reservations and Tickets. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for the page to load. If your reservations are already linked, you will see them there. If not, it will state that it does not currently have any reservations for you, and it will give you the link to add them.  This is also the place to link dining reservations and tickets if they are not showing up.

Use this page to link all your resort, dining, photo and FastPass+ reservations!

Magic Bands

Once that is done, you will be able to customize your Magic Bands. There is no additional charge for Disney Resort Hotel guests for Magic Bands. Again in the "My Disney Experience" tab, under the "My Account" heading, choose: Magic Bands and Cards.  Each person listed on the room reservation with a park ticket should have a Magic Band. Be sure to customize your Magic Bands sooner rather than later so you don't forget. It will give you a date that you must customize them by. You get to choose a color and the name or nickname you would like on the back of the band. I believe it only goes up to 9 characters though, sadly "dizkrazkate" would not fit on mine:(

If you do not make personalized selections by the date, you will receive basic gray bands when you check-in to your resort. It is much more fun to receive your Magic Band box in the mail with all the colorful bands, and it helps to keep organized while on vacation if everyone knows their color! At some point either during personalization, or at check-in you will be asked to choose a 4 digit pin number to associate with the band.  This will be used when things are charged to your room via the band.

My family is so big, we need two boxes!
When you travel to Disney, you'll want to keep your Magic Bands in your carry on so you will have them even if luggage is lost and for Magical Express. They will not cause any difficulties at the TSA screening, though if you are wearing them, you may need to remove them so they can go through the x-ray. Once you arrive, if you are utilizing Disney's Magical Express, you'll want to put your bands on! Although Disney still sends out paper ticket books with your luggage tags, your Magical Express data will be linked to your band. When you approach the Cast Members at Magical Express, they will scan one person in your party and it will contain the necessary information!

When you arrive at your Disney Resort, the Cast Member at check-in will need to see one band from your group to activate them and link them to your room.  Once this is done, your Magic Band will be your door key. The only problem we had with this was that we had to institute rules for whose turn it was to open the door, because all the kids wanted to do it!

If you are using the Disney Dining Plan, the credits for the entire party are pooled and will be available to anyone in the party wearing a band, just as they were previously linked to the Key to the World Card. Any person can charge meals or snacks via their band, so you do not have to scan each person's band at the table, only one is needed.

In the parks, you will use your bands as your ticket to enter, and for your FastPasses. If you would like to purchase items and charge them to your room, adult bands will work for that as well, but the pin will be required for purchases greater than $50.

If you are using Magic Maker, or even just want a few PhotoPass photos, the photographer will also link your photos to your Magic Band.  No more lost cards!

My son enjoying his Magic Band in his favorite color!
If you are staying off property, known in Disney lingo as a "Day Guest", you can purchase Magic Bands at the parks. Currently (June 2014) the price is $12.95. If you choose not to purchase bands, your RFID encoded card that is your park ticket will work the same way as the bands, it just isn't as exciting. If you have an older ticket from a prior trip, you will need to have it upgraded (no charge) at Disney to an RFID enabled ticket.

And now...drum roll please....FastPass+

Probably the most talked about, discussed, hashed over, loved and maligned aspects of My Magic+ is the new FastPass+ system.  I was not thrilled when I heard how the new system was going to work. Lets face it, as a Disney expert, I knew how to work the old system to my advantage. We used FastPass as much as we could, and it saved us a lot of time. When I was a teen, visiting Disney meant long lines for things such as Big Thunder and Space Mountain, but since FastPass came on the scene, we almost never waited longer than 20-30 minutes for anything. The new system originally limited the number of FastPasses you can get (and you can still only pre-book three), and it limits you to one park per day. Both of these things were disappointing to me.

By the time our February trip rolled around, the legacy FastPass was just that, a legacy. The machines were removed, and our only option was FastPass+. I like to follow the mantra "Choose Happy", and so I decided that since we had no choice but to use FastPass+ we were going to go into it with an upbeat expectation and make the most of it.  (Okay, so this is what I tried to tell myself, but inwardly... I was skeptical.)  By day two, I was a FastPass+ convert! No, its not perfect, but what is? Overall, we felt that FastPass+ was a good thing.

If you are staying at a Disney Resort, you can make FastPass+ reservations 60 days prior to your check-in date, and you can make up to 7 days worth of FastPass+ reservations. If you are an off-property guest, you can make FastPass+ reservations 30 days in advance of the day you want the FastPasses. You cannot posses more than 7 days worth of FastPasses in a 30 day period. The booking window opens at midnight eastern time, and if you are wanting FastPasses for Anna and Elsa or the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, you'll want to remember that.

When you go to make your FastPass reservations, you'll have to choose which park you are planning to go to that day.  For uberplanners like myself, this is no big deal, since I have always planned this in advance. But for those that like a little spontaneity, or who would play the "we'll go to whichever park a bus pulls up for first" game, this can be a disadvantage.  I use Extra Magic Hours Mornings and Touring Plans to determine the best park for our family each day.
FastPasses in My Disney Experience App

Once you choose which park you will be visiting, you'll be able to select three attractions you want to experience that day. At Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, you can choose any three FastPass+ attractions. At Epcot and Hollywood Studios, you are limited to one FastPass from the top tier of attractions, and two FastPasses from the second tier of attractions.  While this is a small disadvantage to the new system, you can still plan your day to experience all of the major attractions.

Even if you only want two FastPasses, the computer system is set up for three. If you don't pick something, it will pick one for you. You don't have to use it, but you're going to end up with three available no matter what. You may only get one pre-planned FastPass per attraction, so you can't load up on three FastPasses for Space Mountain.

Once you pick your three attractions, the computer will set up several different schedule combinations of those three attractions. Usually, you'll get a set of morning times, a set of afternoon/evening times, and a combination of morning and evening.  Do not worry, if these times do not line up exactly with what you want. Pick the one that best suits you, and you can make changes afterward.  Once you have confirmed your set of FastPasses for the day, you can go back in and change them one by one. You can change either the attraction, or the time.  If you are pre-booking the FastPasses and you have the three attractions you want, but you don't like the times the computer picked for you, now is the time to go back in and change it.

When I booked our FastPasses for Animal Kingdom, I wanted Kilimanjaro Safaris, Everest and Kali River Rapids. No matter what I tried to do, I could NOT get the computer combos to make Kali the last attraction of the day. We always ride Kali last, so that if we are wet, we are then leaving for the day and don't have to spend our entire park day walking around soaked.  I realized the computer was always putting Kali in the middle of the plan because it is geographically in the middle of the other two attractions, and it was trying to save me walking time. Only by going in manually and changing the time was I able to schedule it for our last attraction.

While in the parks, you can use the app on your mobile phone to view your FastPasses and dining reservations for the day. If you change your mind on what attraction or time you want to do, you can even change the FastPass then, as long as other FastPasses are still available. During our trip, we didn't have any difficulty changing our FastPasses on the day of, and there was still good availability through the morning and even into early afternoon.

New Additional Rolling FastPass
Disney does pay attention and respond to guest feedback. Because of this feedback they are already changing FastPass+. You are now able to get additional FastPasses once you have used your first three, or the final time has expired. If you have three FastPasses at the Magic Kingdom, with your third being Buzz Lightyear from 12:05 to 1:05, you'll be able to get another FastPass once you have used the Buzz Lightyear one, or after 1:05, whichever comes first.  To get an additional FastPass you must visit a Cast Member at a FastPass+ Kiosk, but I am hopeful that soon you will be able to do it on the mobile app.

If you do not pre-book the FastPasses, or do not want to use the mobile app in the park, you can visit a FastPass+ kiosk located through the parks.  I do think Disney does leave some FastPass+ availability open for day of reservations, but it really is so much easier to book them ahead of time. And really, who wants to wait on a line, to make a reservation so you won't have to wait on a line?

So what is the best plan for making FastPass+ reservations?  I'm not sure I have the best answer to that, but here are several different schools of thought and tips.

  • Make your FastPass+ times for late morning and early afternoon. This is because most attraction wait times in the mornings are short, and FastPasses aren't needed. Save your FastPasses for when lines will be longer (I think this is the best method).
  • Make your FastPasses all in a row, early in the day. This is so that you can continue to add the rolling FastPass as the day progresses, allowing you the maximum number of FastPasses.
  • Sleep in, or have a day at the pool, and make FastPass reservations for late in the day. This was previously not always doable because with the old system FastPasses would run out by the time you got to a park. This is a good plan with teenagers.
  • At Epcot, make your Tier 1 FastPass for either Soarin' or Test Track, then ride the other one first thing on arrival. I think the lines for Test Track tend to be shorter, so I usually book a Soarin' FastPass.
  • At Hollywood Studios, pick your Tier 1 FastPass for Toy Story Mania. Then, arrive early to make good use of short lines on the other popular Tier 1 attractions.
  • If you want FastPasses for the Anna and Elsa Meet and Greet, get online at midnight eastern time exactly 60 days prior to check-in and pick the latest possible day you will be at Magic Kingdom and cross your fingers!
  • If the attraction you have a FastPass for is down, the system will automatically update your My Disney Experience app and your Magic Band. Look for an email or check the app. Depending on the time of day it will either give you a FastPass for another attraction in the park that day, a FastPass to ride the closed attraction any time after it reopens, or if it is a late day FastPass, it will give you an additional FastPass to use the next day.
  • If when making your FastPass selections on a desktop, you get the "error" page with an angry Donald Duck having a temper tantrum, go ahead and hit the back button on your browser. Even though Donald had a fit, usually the FastPass reservation was made. When you go back, it will sometimes magically be there.

Once we actually started using the system, we really did like it.  It eliminated the running back and forth across the parks to get the paper FastPasses, and it was nice to know we could be guaranteed FastPasses for our favorite rides.  I liked it so much, that on my trip to Disneyland in April, I found myself wishing for FastPass+. While we did have less FastPasses overall that with the old system, in some ways it forced us to slow down. Knowing we had some evening FastPasses also allowed us to enjoy our afternoon breaks at the resort, and took away the feeling we needed to rush back in order to get the last of the available FastPasses.

Magic Bands, a fashionable accessory for all ages!

The system is still new, and Disney is likely to make even more changes. I'm sure park hopping will be coming soon, as well as the ability to make the additional rolling FastPasses on your mobile device. If you have any experience to share with other readers, or any additional tips or tricks, please comment below!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Disney Vacation Club Series - What is it and How Does it Work?

Have you seen the kiosks, or the in-room commercials Disney shows in its resort rooms, and wondered if "Disney's Best Kept Secret" might be something for your family? If you travel to Disney at least every other year, and like a more home-like feel to your accommodations, Disney Vacation Club (DVC) might be something that would work for you. Especially if you have a larger family that won't comfortably fit into a standard hotel room, the long term cost of owning DVC may be a better deal than paying rack rate for deluxe or multiple room accommodations year after year.

Our First Trip "Home" in fall 2009 as a Family of Five to Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village
Our family decided to join Disney Vacation Club in 2009, and we have been very happy with our purchase. For us, this decision was fueled by a desire to vacation with our children more often, and to be able to stay in accommodations that would be comfortable for our (then) family of 5. Really, it seems the entire world revolves around the family of 4 concept. If you have more than 2 adults and 2 kids, suddenly you cannot fit in a standard hotel room. I had discovered that staying in a hotel room with my little ones was a bit tricky, especially at bedtime. My hubby and I once found ourselves sitting on the hotel bathroom floor sharing a 7-Up while waiting for the tucked in little guys to actually fall asleep. Looking ahead to the future, I knew that having 3 sons meant that someday I would be stepping over said sons to go change in the bathroom, and then I would have to hang out on the balcony while the boys took their turn getting changed.

Disney Vacation Club gave us the opportunity to lock in future resort stays in deluxe accommodations for a more affordable price, and allow us to stay in a much larger room, with a separate sleeping area for the kids, and some amazing amenities such as a kitchen, and a washer and dryer. Also in every room is a high chair and port-a-crib. For a mom of four, not having to worry about those things makes my vacation even more enjoyable. I love the fact that we can book a studio, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom or even a grand villa for our stays.  For our family, it was a great choice. Will it work for you? Maybe!

Studio Portion of a Villa at Animal Kingdom's Kidani Village

Basically DVC is a timeshare, but it is very different than timeshares you may have heard of, and Disney prefers to call it a "Vacation Ownership Program". Like other vacation ownership programs, you make a one time large purchase, then lower yearly maintenance fees on that purchase to cover upkeep and property taxes. Unlike many other programs however, the Disney system is very flexible in terms of when and where you can vacation, how long you can stay, when you check-in, etc...

Many people are familiar with traditional timeshares, whereby you buy a one week stay in a specific size room to use for a specific week every year. Check-in is usually restricted to certain days, usually Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, and usually you use the entire week during one stay.

Unlike those types of programs, Disney uses a flexible points system. Instead of buying a week, you buy points. Just like a kid with tickets at Chuck-E-Cheese trades them in for prizes, you use your points to reserve your room. A more deluxe or popular prize will require more tickets/points. In DVC terms, smaller studio rooms will use less points than a 2 bedroom suite. Weekends generally cost more than weeknights, and a room during the quieter seasons will require fewer points than the same room during the holidays or spring break.

This is where the flexibility comes in. Lets say your kids have a long weekend from school, and you'd like to check in on Thursday, and check out on Monday. No problem! Each night has its own points cost, and you can check in and out whenever you wish as long as there is availability and you have the points. You can reserve a 1 bedroom this year for 8 nights in September, and a 2 bedroom next year for 5 nights in April. You are not locked into using the same accommodations every year.

Sleeper Sofa at Kidani Village
When you choose to purchase Disney Vacation Club, you purchase points at one of the DVC resorts. Currently at Walt Disney World there are 8 DVC resorts: Old Key West, Beach Club, Boardwalk, Wilderness Lodge, Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Bay Lake Tower, and the Grand Floridian. New DVC villas are currently under construction at The Polynesian. Additionally, Disney has Vacation Club Resorts at Disneyland in California at The Grand Californian, on Vero Beach in Florida, Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, and on Oahu, Hawaii is the beautiful Aulani resort. Additionally, points can be used to trade to other non-Disney timeshares around the world with RCI, and depending on how you purchase, possibly for Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney vacations...but more about that later.

Enjoying the spaciousness of a Grand Villa at Old Key West with our friends
Each year you have an allotment of points to use to book your accommodations. Depending on when you vacation and what size room you will require will help you determine how many points you should purchase. We opted to purchase 270 points. Each year we have those 270 points to use to book our vacation. This allows us to book a 2 bedroom villa for a week in a slower season, or a 1 bedroom in a busier season. We could even book a studio for a few weeks!

Points are able to be banked and borrowed for up to one year. If you took a shorter vacation this year and didn't use all your points, you can bank them into the following year. Or if you want to take extended family on your trip with you this year and need more points, you can borrow from next year. For a better idea of how many points are needed, a look at Disney's points charts will help.

Here is an example to give you an idea of how many points are needed, the 2013 Points Chart for Animal Kingdom Villas. The points for 2014 are the same. There is no need to worry that after you purchase Disney will suddenly make your room that was 100 points cost 200.  While they can make small changes here and there on the charts, the total number of points on the chart cannot change. So, if they decide to require 2 more points per night during the month of April, then they need to decrease the point requirement by 2 points somewhere else on the chart.

Using our 270 points, lets look at the above chart and see how we could use those points to vacation at Disney. If my hubby and I wanted to take a quick weekend to celebrate my birthday in early June and check out Star Wars Weekends, we could book a studio with a savanna view for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights for a total of 53 points.  Then we could take the entire family to see the Christmas decorations and attend Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party in early December for a week in a 2 bedroom villa with a standard view at a cost of 220 points.  This uses a total of 273 points! If I wanted to save a few points for next year, we could book 6 nights rather than the full 7 and still have a lengthy vacation, but only use 190 points for the week.This year I happen to have 3 extra points in my account, leftover from last year, but I could also borrow 3 points for next year.  Another option is to purchase "One Time Use Points" from DVC when I make my reservation. These points can be purchased at a cost of $15 each, and a maximum of 25 points can be purchased this way. It adds a little bit of additional flexibility in your planning if you are a few points short.

Eleven months before your check-in date, you can book whichever resort you own. This is called "Home Booking Priority".  Seven months before check-in, you can book any of the other DVC resorts that still have availability for your dates. We have had good success booking non-home resorts at the seventh month mark for slower times of year. 

We own at Animal Kingdom, and so far it truly is our favorite resort. If we were unable to book a different resort at seven months, we would not be disappointed staying at our home resort.

Since our original purchase in 2009, our family has grown from 5 members to 6, and our DVC membership is flexible enough that it has been able to change with us. At some point we are planning on expanding our membership by adding points, but for now, we still feel like we are getting a great value for our purchase!

Our now larger family at our home resort Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village Feb. 2014

In upcoming installments I'll go into more details about Disney Vacation Club including information about picking the best DVC resort for your family, different methods of purchasing a DVC contract, is it a good option for your family, the benefits and drawbacks of owning DVC, how to try it out before making a large purchase, and how to make the most of your membership!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 13, 2014

Put a Little Pixie Dust in Your Run with Sparkle Skirts!

 One of the best parts of any runDisney event, are all the fun costumes and outfits participants create and wear.  This is especially true during the Princess Half Marathon where running skirts are the norm, with even a few gentlemen getting into the act!  But where to find a cute, comfortable, and practical running skirt that fits well on all types of ladies? Check out Sparkle Skirts!

Always cute in basic black at PHM Silver mile 5K

 Sparkle Skirts was born by Leah Powell when she "whipped up some sparkly skirts" for the Princess Half Marathon in 2008. Since then her fashionable and functional skirts have become a huge hit with runDisney enthusiasts. Sparkle Skirts is now a regular participant at runDisney Expos, and their popularity has expanded to non Disney events as well.

I am now the proud owner of 5 of these awesome little skirts and so far the only problem I have encountered is my inability to control my need to buy more!  First, let me say that I do not have a perfect figure, and I find that in a lot of clothes I am difficult to fit. I am also concerned with wanting some modesty, while not being too matronly.

My Sparkle Skirt with Poison Apple Embellishment

The beauty of Sparkle Skirts are that they are the perfect length, give great coverage and have storage!  They have these awesome built in running shorts, that DO NOT RIDE UP. Yup, they stay put! Even during my half marathon, my shorts stayed where I put them, no riding up, no chafing, just princess cuteness!

To make those nifty little shorts even better are the giant pockets on each side of the leg that hold a TON of stuff.  I have been able to fit a phone, keys, jelly beans, ID's even sunglasses in those side pockets, and I didn't even know the stuff was there while I was running!  There is also a zippered pocket on the front of the skirt, though Sparkle Skirts says you can wear it in the back if you prefer. It's another handy place to comfortably keep items during your run.

Sparkle Skirts has a very large selection of skirts in different styles and fabrics.  The most popular is the Sparkle Tech Swing Style, which is what I wear. But they also offer a "Slim-Cut", and a "Hiker-Chic" which is a longer length version with pockets on the skirt itself.  They also offer "Sparkle Light" without the built in shorts if you have shorts or pants you prefer to wear but still want a skirt over top.

If you are looking for some inspiration for your next runDisney costume, Sparkle Skirts is a great place to start, with Minnie, Princess and even Dalmatian and Villain inspired styles!  Not running a Disney race? Also available are fabric designs to fit a variety of events, even basic skirts so you can feel like a princess during your everyday training runs.  I have worn my Tiara Blue skirt to several small local races, and I always get a few comments and remarks on how cute the skirt is.

My Tiara Blue Skirt at South Bend's Sunburst 5K 2014

One thing that is very important to me, besides just a great product, is customer service. It's one of the reasons I love Disney as much as I do. It's important to understand that businesses are run by people, and people make mistakes. Mistakes are not something to get angry with someone about, but how they handle the mistake determines if I will continue to give my money to that business. I had a small snafu with my skirt order just before the Princess Half. It could have become a minor disaster, but not to fear, Sparkle Skirts came through with amazing customer service! My skirt was perfect and ready for me in time for my race! I was so pleased I even bought another skirt while at the Expo.  (always looking for a good excuse to buy another skirt, right?)

When you buy a Sparkle Skirt you are purchasing a product Made in the USA by a small business.  This is a great way to support our economy and an American business owner!  I have noticed once or twice a year, most recently on Mother's Day, that items bought that day received Free Shipping.  If you follow Sparkle Skirts on Facebook or Twitter you can get advance notice of these special deals. I also can recommend buying a skirt during the holidays. This past year Sparkle Skirts ran a "12 Days of Giving" where a portion of the proceeds from each of 12 days went to a different charity. I purchased a skirt on a day designated to support the Wounded Warrior Project.

So if your next race is coming and you are looking for a fun and comfortable way to dress up, check out the fine ladies (and one gentleman) at Sparkle Skirts!

 Disclaimer*  This review is entirely my own and unbiased. I was not asked to do this review by Sparkle Skirts, nor did I receive any compensation from them to do this piece. I just love their skirts and hope you will too!

Friday, February 28, 2014

2014 Princess Half Marathon I FINISHED and You Can Too!

7/14/14 This Post is Part of the "Tuesday's On the Run" Linkup via Patty Holiday's "My No-Guilt Life" Blog. Check it out: HERE

Me, Mom and son (10) doing a local race, Fall 13'

I've noticed I keep catching myself saying "I'm not really a runner..." a lot lately.  But when I take a moment to look back, I JUST FINISHED A HALF MARATHON! So, I'm not sure I can really continue to say I'm not a runner. In fact, I think I actually ran (or swiftly shuffled as I like to say) at least 12 of the 13.1 miles, and I finished in just under 3 hours. For a non-runner, I feel pretty darn good about that! (uh oh, there I go again, calling myself a non-runner) And for you walkers, my mom, age 65, walked the race (her second race ever) and finished with time to spare!

Baby Girl ready for a morning run
This past weekend was 8 months in the making.  Last June, for my 37th birthday, I bought a used Bob jogging stroller. I spent the summer religiously checking daily temp and humidity level and planning my running days and times accordingly.  Three to four mornings a week, I'd strap Little Miss into the jogging stroller with an Eggo Waffle and a chocolate milk, and take off around our neighborhood. I looked at different apps and plans, but decided I really liked the "Ease into 5K" app.  I was able to train slowly and carefully, and by mid-summer, I could run the 5K! Let me tell you though, those first few weeks, running 3 minutes seemed insurmountable!

I then began the "Bridge into 10K" program, and hit a little snafu. I injured my IT Band over Labor Day weekend.  Oh my.  For those of you who didn't even know you had such a thing, it's a band of connective tissue that runs from your hip down past your knee. When injured, it causes excruciating pain, especially if you're trying to go down stairs! Apparently, its a common running injury, especially in ladies who are increasing their running mileage like I was.  Ten weeks of no running and physical therapy later, I was ready to run again around Thanksgiving. With the chaos of trying to make Christmas happen for my family, not much running was accomplished at that point.  After the holidays my training had to go into high gear, and the treadmill and I put a lot of quality time in together this winter.  I'm not fast, not overly athletic, and not skinny, but I just kept plugging along, and I am so glad I did!

In 8 months I dropped 20lbs, learned more than I wanted to about my IT Band, and finally earned some awesome bling!  It really was an amazing weekend, and if you are looking for a great destination race or a goal to get you up and moving, Disney's Princess Half Marathon Weekend is a perfect fit.

The Race Expo

The official Fit For a Princess Expo began at 10am on Thursday morning. Having read stories of long lines and sell outs of special items, I really wanted to plan on getting there early.  I'm glad we did, and in fact, they opened early, closer to 9am! This year the Expo was at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex, and I felt it was a great venue for such a large event.  Packet pickup was quick and easy and we didn't have to wait on any lines.  One thing to note is, that you will need to wait on separate lines for each paid event you registered for.  So if you are doing the half marathon and the race retreat, you'll need to wait on one line to pick up your bib and another line to get your race retreat wristband.  (Note for newbies: Do not forget to pick up that wristband, or anything else for that matter, or you may be forced to turn around a half mile down the road after you thought you were done and race back to the Expo and be forced to park miles and miles father away than you did when they opened 2 hours prior and miss your FastPass+ for Kilimanjaro Safari. Just a gentle reminder.)

Mom meeting a "Balloon Lady" (not from runDisney events) and Perfect Princess
The Expo with vendors and commemorative items is located in a different building from packet-pickup, and while decidedly more crowded, we did not feel it was overly crowded or unmanageable.  This is where you pick up your race tee, peruse a multitude of running gear vendors, can meet Jeff Galloway, and visit the official runDisney merchandise shop! I had a few items I knew I wanted, and I was able to score a car magnet, latte mug, commemorative race Sweaty Band, an "I Did It!" tee and a tech jacket. The tech jackets were apparently very popular, and a friend who was not lucky enough to get one was told they sold out by noon on Friday of the Expo. The line to pay was a little intimidating, but it moved very quickly. Mom and I chatted with the lady behind us on the line, a Perfect Princess (meaning she has participated in every Princess Half) getting ready to run her 6th. She is apparently also a "Balloon Lady" at other marathons, and so mom wanted to have her picture taken with her!

Mom and I were able to get in and out in just about 2.5 hours.   We picked up our runDisney New Balance Shoes (thanks to @RNawaymama and her speedy computer skills on Thursday morning), our packets, souvenirs, body glide, signed up our hubbys for racer notification and picked up our Dooney and Bourke handbags! I also made a visit to one of my favorite companies Sparkle Skirts!  I ran my race in one and picked up another at the Expo for everyday training once spring comes. Whew! We got a lot done!
A little note on the Dooney and Bourke bags. When we went to pick up our pre-ordered bag, I realized the tote was just too big for me. They allowed me to exchange it for the smaller shopper, AND I was able to use my discount to get 10% off. They seemed very used to doing this, and it wasn't a big deal at all. Those with AP's or Disney Visa's were able to return their bags and repurchase with the discount.  You did not however get back the processing fee that was charged online. No big deal, I walked out with my shopper tote a happy princess!

My Snow White Running Costume!

Race Day

The night before the race we opted not to participate in the Pasta in the Park party, but had our own pasta party in our lovely DVC villa at Kidani Village.  I'm glad our night was low key after a week of touring the parks. We were able to have a nice homemade meal, and I was in bed (sleeping thanks to an Ambien) by 7:30pm.  Good advice novice runners, lay your stuff out the night before, down to your hair ties, and race bib and safety pins.  It made that early wake up so much easier.  Don't forget to charge your phone, Garmin or any other electronics you plan on bringing with you. By 3:20am  I was up, dressed and on the motor coach headed toward Epcot!

As soon as I got off the bus, I realized it was incredibly humid and foggy. The temp was cool and comfortable, but you could see the haze in the air.  I headed through the bag check (safety is always #1 right?) and straight to the Race Retreat.  The Race Retreat is an additional package you can purchase, and I am very glad we did.  It is a climate controlled tent with separate port-o-lets and bag check, stretch areas, character photos, and a self treat first aid station.  When Mom and I talked about it, all I needed to say was "semi-private port-o-lets" and she said "YES! Let's do it!" Prior to the race there were plain bagels, bananas, sport drinks and coffee available. I really appreciated having a  comfortable place to sit and eat something as opposed to standing outside.  The lines for the port-o-lets was only about 5 ladies long, compared to the outside lines that looked 30 deep! I think I would definitely do it again.
Pre-race fuel at the Race Retreat

Mom was staying at the Villas at the Grand Floridian along with my BFF @RNawaymama and her sister @BeerRunBabe (they run as the Cheese Head Princesses if you have ever seen them, their costumes are awesome!), and I couldn't figure out what was taking them so long to get there.  Well, apparently, Mom forgot her race bib! They had to take the monorail all the way back to the Grand Floridian where my Dad was waiting at the station with the race bib.  (Note for newbies: Do not forget your race bib. Do not forget to remind your 60-something mother not to forget her race bib.)

After meeting up with Mom and having our photo with some Wonderland characters, we started to make our way to the corrals.  Corral placement is based on your anticipated speed in the half marathon.  You must submit an official race time from a race 10K or longer if you wish to be placed in a higher corral.  If you do not submit a time, which we did not, you will be placed with the many thousands of princesses at the back of the pack.  We were placed in corral M, and the corrals this year went up to P.  We were very pleased to be in corral M. This meant there were several thousand runners and several more minutes between us and the dreaded Balloon Ladies.  The Balloon Ladies start the race after the last person crosses the start line. They walk at a 16 min/mile pace, and if you fall behind them, you are in danger of being "swept".  This means you will be forced to stop the race, board a bus full of crying princesses, and be driven to the end of the race.

Mom and I in the starter corral
A few helpful hints about scoring a higher corral if you are not submitting a time. You only need to submit a time if your anticipated finish time is 3:15 or less.  When it asks you what your anticipated finish time is, pick 3:20. It's a goal, and it'll put you in front of everyone that puts down 3:25 or 3:30.  Also, register early, like right when they open. Mom and I, as DVC members were able to score a $10 discount on the race entrance fee, but were also able to register 3 days before it opened to the general public. If three thousand folks pick 3:20, I would think those that registered first would be ahead of those that registered later, right?  It's worth a shot.  During the race, from what I could tell in terms of hearing the starting fireworks go off, there were 4 minutes between each of the last few corrals. This meant Mom and I had a 12 minute head start on the Balloon Ladies!

The walk to the starter corrals is a pretty long walk, so know that before you go. With everyone going an at easy pace, you'll need 10-15 minutes to get there, so don't leave the starting area too late. There were more port-o-lets near the corrals, with very long lines, but at least you had one more chance to go before the run.

RunDisney does a really great job of keeping you entertained and engaged as you wait for your corral to start. There were huge TV screens along the starter corrals so you could watch those in front of you begin their race. There are fireworks for EACH AND EVERY corral! So yes, even those of us in the way back, starting 40 minutes after the elite runners, gets a starter countdown and fireworks! It really added to the excitement and gave you a good adrenaline rush to start your race.
Almost there! Mile 3!

Finally, it was our turn, and at 6:20am we were off! I kissed Mom good-bye, wished her luck and began my run.  I had thought quite a lot while on some of my training runs about what my race day plan would be. Do I run the first 5K at my faster speed, then walk a mile, then run a bit more? Should I just go at my slower, long run pace and try to just keep going? Should I do run/walk/run intervals to conserve energy?  I never did come to a final decision. They all made some sense. So when I started running, I had absolutely no idea what my strategy was going to be.  I had designed a playlist for my iPhone that would continue for about 13 miles if I ran about a 13-14 min/mile, and I had set my Garmin to a pace of 13:30.  At first, I just let the excitement and adrenaline carry me past a lot of the walkers until I realized I was surrounded by more jogger/runners than walkers.  I thought about a quick walk break at mile marker 2, but decided I had to at least make it to the 5K without walking.  Other than a super quick (15 seconds) stop to take my photo near the entrance to the Magic Kingdom parking lot, I did just that, and kept running past the 5K marker.  In theory,  my hubby and Dad should have gotten a text update with my time at the 5K mark, but apparently Disney used a new company this year, and my hubby didn't receive any texts until over an hour later. He got three in a row at that point. So better late then never, but not especially helpful.

I noticed a young lady dressed as Minnie who was running about my same pace. One of us might speed up a little past the other here or there as we weaved through other runners and water stops, but we were basically running the same pace. She noticed this too, and somewhere near mile 4 we made eye contact, smiled and exchanged some words of encouragement.  She continued to be my pace partner for quite a while, and it was a good encouragement not to let her get too far ahead of me.

There were a few areas were a short walk became necessary, for no other reason than there were tight bottlenecks where there was no where to go but slow down behind those in front of you. I did also walk up the second half of the hill leading up to the Contemporary Resort.  I really powered it up that hill though, and past a few folks trying to jog it!

About to run through the castle!!!

The Magic Kingdom was of course, the highlight of the run.  Sadly the haze and humidity was still present, and Cinderella Castle was somewhat obscured by the mist. It was still an amazing feeling to run down Main Street USA, spectators cheering, signs held high, and race toward the castle! Even better was running through it after all those long months of training, and dreaming about it!  The official race photographers got a few good pics of me, and before I knew it, we were in Frontierland.

There were lots of photo opportunities throughout the Magic Kingdom, but I was afraid if I stopped, I'd never get going again, or worse yet, lose too much time and get swept once we got back out of the park. Some of the photo lines looked pretty long.

Although nature wasn't calling too loudly, I had already decided to make a stop in the Magic Kingdom and utilize the large available bathrooms rather than waiting until it was more urgent and would necessitate a port-o-let on the side of the road.  This is a good plan, and if you are planning on running this course and making a pit stop, I would recommend stopping in the Magic Kingdom.  I was absolutely soaked with sweat at this point, and the icy cold water from the sink splashed on my face was SO refreshing!  The lady washing her hands next to me even said "It kinda makes you want to climb in the sink, doesn't it?"

Back on the course, and as we ran past Pecos Bill's, I saw the 6 mile marker sign.  I suddenly realized I had run pretty much the entire race to this point! I decided to take some advice from Dory and "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming", and run as long as I thought I could.  After the Magic Kingdom,  I knew we would be reaching the halfway point in the race, and that I would get to learn what the "Halfway Song" would be.  Two weeks prior on Facebook, runDisney asked for nominations for the Halfway Song, then one week prior we got to vote for our favorite from the 4 most popular nominations. I knew it would be either Idina Menzel's version of "Let it Go", or Katy Perry's "Roar". Both of them were on my running playlist, and I voted for the winner, "Let it Go".  Since it was a Disney race, and the song is such a huge hit, it seemed the most appropriate, and it gave me a big boost at that halfway mark.

Next up was the Grand Floridian, and I knew Dad would be outside looking for me. I sent him a quick text to let him know I was getting close, and it was great to see him! I yelled out "Hey everyone! That's my DAD!" and we got lots of whoops and cheers. I think Dad appreciated that:)

At this point I knew I was reaching the most difficult part of the race, miles 8-12 back to Epcot.  This is probably where I did the most walking. I slowed down and walked through each water stop, and really made sure to drink most of each cup.  The nurse in me knew I was putting a lot more sweat out than I was taking in, and that it was important to stay hydrated.  I started telling myself I could take short walk breaks, but every time I would start to walk, I wouldn't get very far before I felt the need to keep pushing through and run. Every once in a while I would glance at my Garmin. If it said "Behind Pace" it would give me that push I needed to start running again.

After the hairpin turn, almost there! Finish ahead!
After mile marker 10 you come up on the most difficult part of the race, the cloverleaf.  It involves three uphill stretches up overpasses.  I decided partway up the first one, that running them wasn't going to happen, and power walked them as fast as I could. I still kept a pretty decent pace, and when we started going downhill again,  I jogged to make up some time.  This seemed to be what most other folks around me were doing as well.  Just as you reach the top of the third hill, off in the distance... is Spaceship Earth! WOOHOO! Almost there!  Just knowing we were on the final mile or so got everyone going again and most of us were jogging again at this point.   The course leads you into Epcot, and down to World Showcase Lagoon, where you make a hairpin turn back to the exit.

There were folks arriving at this point at Epcot, being held in various areas as we ran through, and we got quite a few cheers.  Just before you exit Epcot were the famous Gospel Singers from House of Blues Gospel Brunch, and man was I glad to see them! I knew they were the last of the entertainment before the finish line! Just after them was a Cast Member standing at the exit gate with her arm outstretched telling us all, "The finish line is just ahead! You made it!"

And I did. I made it.  Somehow I finished a half marathon, and in under 3 hours. My final time was 2:58:02, and for a "non-runner" I think I did pretty darn good.  I had pushed myself so hard, that even after I crossed the finish line, I realized I was still jogging, because I hadn't even considered stopping! I was honored to be dusted in Pixie Dust, and handed my medal!

Disney was really well organized, and we were then offered a first aid area with ice, a cool towel, Gatorade, water, received a neat Princess Half drawstring backpack, a banana and a snack box, and more photo opportunities. I was due to meet my friends the Cheese Head Princesses back at the Race Retreat, and made a bee line back there. Seeing so many tired princesses sitting on the concrete in the heat, I was again very thankful I had put out the extra money for the Race Retreat. It was cool and comfortable. Upon arrival I received a commemorative towel, and a pair of flip flops!  Breakfast included scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, fresh fruit, muffins, soda, water, Gatorade and coffee.  You could also purchase beer or champagne.  There was a screen up where you could watch folks come across the finish line, and I was able to watch my mom cross about 40 minutes after I did.  I was so proud that she kept on going and made it! 

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Maybe next year I'll even consider going for the Coast-to-Coast, which means running a half or longer at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland during the same calender year.  If you do the Princess and the Tinkerbell Half, your medal is even pink! If you are considering doing a runDisney event, you absolutely can do it!  Do train, even if walking, go prepared, but enjoy and have fun!

Since I didn't stop for photos during the race, I had a FP+ at Princess Fairytale Hall later that day!

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Purse Fit for a Princess: New Dooney and Bourke Design for the 2014 Disney Princess Half Marathon!

Virtual Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Blog Hop Directory
Welcome to the Virtual runDisney Blog Hop!

Princesses are known for poise and manners, ballgowns and tiaras. At the Disney Princess Half Marathon, they tend to add a few more accessories, running shoes and Dooney and Bourke handbags!

In 2009 Disney partnered with Dooney and Bourke and introduced the "Disney Dooney".  The bags have been very popular and the two companies have continued to collaborate, bringing new designs to the parks each year!  In 2012 a new princess design was released in time for the Princess Half Marathon in a wristlet, a tote, and a crossbody bag. They also featured an exclusive race medallion on the two larger bags for those that were purchased at the Expo.  As expected, they were a huge hit and sold out within a few hours.  Sadly, many of these bags were seen later that day on eBay at grossly inflated prices, making for some very disappointed princesses.

For the 2014 Princes Half, Dooney and Bourke is introducing a BRAND NEW PATTERN! (I'm just a little excited, can you tell?)  Featuring a pale pink background and various Disney images such as Cinderella Castle and Minnie Mouse, they are available in a tote, a shopper style, and a letter carrier bag. Each of the bags has an embossed leather Princess Half Marathon tag with the year 2014 to commemorate your accomplishment! With a new pattern offered this year, they are likely to sell out quickly at the Expo!

2014 Prices with tax are:

Tote $240.75
Shopper  $187.25
Letter Carrier $197.95

After the year where bags ended up on eBay rather than in the hands of racers, Disney did make adjustments to the purchasing process, and bags are available for pre-order!  If you really want that bag, registered race participants can purchase their bag ahead of time to avoid a possible sell out at the Expo. You are allowed to pre-purchase one of each style to add to your collection.

I was able to pre-order my bag, though I thought it was a bit complicated to find. In theory, you should be able to click on the link that came in the January runDisney email for race participants. For some reason though, that link doesn't always work.

If it is not working for you, try linking directly HERE to the Princess Half Marathon registration page. Or you can go to the Princess Half area of the official runDisney website.  Under the menu option of "Registration",  go to "commemorative keepsakes", and click on any of the choices. You can also scroll down until you see the photos of the handbags and double click on the photo.  Any one of these links should take you to the sign-in registration page for the weekend. Sign into your account that you registered for the race with, and you will see the available options. Near the bottom are.... Dooney and Bourke bags.  Follow the prompts to order your bag!

Do be aware that is charging a processing fee, which added $15 to the price of the tote, and will add around $12 to the other bags. Also know that during the pre-order, there are no discounts available such as AP, DVC or Disney Visa.  Despite paying a bit more, I know I will get my bag, and I can spend my valuable Expo time waiting in line for a New Balance shoe appointment!

Photo courtesy of Marge G., @RNawaymama at Tiny Bits of Magic

If you are planning on purchasing your bag at the Expo, I would recommend getting there sooner rather than later.  While putting those winter miles in on the treadmill, I am dreaming of sporting my very special Princess Half bag around town (preferably in warmer weather)! Who else is planning on purchasing one of these awesome purses?