Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year at the Magic Kingdom

On New Year's Eve 2001, Kevin and I spent the day at the Magic Kingdom.

We woke up around 4 a.m. and left Tampa around 6 a.m. -- so we arrived at the MK early. And there was already a huge crowd at the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) waiting to board the Monorail to the MK. I should have know just how crazy it would be based on the crowd.

We managed to get on the Monorail in an orderly fashion and upon getting through the gates of the MK, we headed straight to Space Mountain. Then we went to visit Pooh and his friends in Toontown - getting our photo taken with Pooh. Of course, I had to purchase Minnie Mouse ears (which I still wear proudly every time we're at WDW).

And somehow, even though it was literally wall-to-wall people that day, I know that we were able to ride everything we wanted and never really had to wait very long. I do remember at one point in the early afternoon we heard Cast Members telling a guest that the park was closed due to capacity and they were diverting people to Epcot.

It was THAT crowded.

Kevin had been planning on proposing to me while we were there .... but instead he had proposed WAY back in October (on the 25th of October to be exact) because he couldn't wait until December 31st! However, in his defense, he did "re-propose" right outside Cinderella's Castle (the site of his original "idea") -- so I guess you could say that I got engaged (for a second time!) at the Magic Kingdom.

One of the best parts of the day was seeing the park decorated for Christmas and the castle draped in lights. I love the MK at Christmas!

Main Street became crazier as the night wore on -- it was getting very difficult to even MOVE by about 10:30 or 11 that night. I know we actually left the park before midnight -- for several reasons. We had been on our feet since 8 a.m. that morning, we weren't staying on property so we had to drive home to Tampa and we had to be up bright and early the next day so we could go to the Outback Bowl and watch Ohio State play.

So, we had our picture taken on the steps of the train station a little before midnight, and made our way to the Monorail, heading back to the TTC.

And as crazy as the crowds were, spending New Year's Eve at the MK was the most magical new year's I've had. I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Happy New Year! Wishing you all a happy, healthy and magical 2010!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Disney's online reservations for dining

I mentioned that Kevin and I are headed to WDW in January, sans kids.

And so, we have decided to spend that first day at Epcot and we thought wouldn't it be nice to have a nice, relaxing, character-free dinner? There are so many places to choose from - but I've been wanting to try Kouzzina by Cat Cora™, and since I know that you really shouldn't just show up at any WDW table service restaurant without reservations, I figured it was about time to make an ADR. (Which is an 'advance dining reservation' in case you were wondering).

Now, you can always call 1-407-WDW-DINE to make your ADRs. If you are staying 'on property' you should always call 180 in advance (meaning, count out 180 days from the day you arrive at WDW and call on that day. At 7 a.m.). If you aren't sure what your 180 day is, check out this site -- you can type in your arrival date and your 'call date' will be calculated for you.

However, I decided to try out the online dining reservations at the WDW web site.

For the table service restaurants at the parks, resorts or other on property locations there will be an orange square that says "Book a Reservation" -- click on that square and you'll be taken to a page where you will be asked to enter some basic information:

- the date and time when you'd like the reservation
- the number of people in your party (adults and children) - please be sure to count EVERYONE, even if there's a baby in the party [Note: if your party has more than 10 people, there is a number to call to make ADRs - (407) 939-5665]

After entering that information, click "check availability". From here you will be taken to a page that shows what times are available and other "options" at other restaurants.

For our trip, I had requested a 6 p.m. reservation at Kouzzina - and was given the choice of 5:20 p.m. or 6:10 p.m. -- and shown other options such as Artist Pointe at the Wilderness Lodge.

Choose the time you want and then you will be asked to provide some basic information - name, e-mail address and the phone number where you can be reached while on vacation. And then, that's it. Easy peasy. You'll be taken to a confirmation screen where you will find your reservation confirmation number. Write down this number!

After making my time choice and providing my cell phone number, I was done! A mere two minutes later I received my e-mail confirmation - which I will be printing and taking with me. Just in case.

The online ADR system is very user-friendly and so much faster than calling and talking to someone on the phone! I will definitely be using the online reservation system again!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You're going to WDW without the kids?!?

Kevin & Me, April 2009

Yes, in fact I am.

In 60 days I am headed to the most magical place on Earth without my kids.

And, I am feeling a little bit guilty about that.

Last month, K was invited to a trade show by one of his biggest national vendors. And, the trade show just happens to be in Walt Disney World. Oh, and I should mention -- they are paying for everything - his airfare, hotel, tips, transportation, food. Everything. So, we weighed the pros and cons for, oh, about two hours and decided "let's go!"

But we are leaving the kids at home. Well, OK...we're leaving them with their grandparents, but still. The point is, we aren't taking them when we go to WDW - their favorite place!

The biggest would be way too costly to take them for such a short trip. We're arriving in Orlando on a Sunday and leaving on Tuesday morning. To buy plane tickets for the kids it would be an additional $300 plus the cost of food and park tickets -- essentially it would be an additional $700 or more and we just can't swing that right now.

So, we'll be staying at the Disney's Coronado Springs Resort (and I'm very excited about this!) and we've decided to head over to Epcot on the day we arrive. Epcot without the kids = we don't have to rush through the countries and/or stand in line to meet the characters. And, we're planning on having a nice 'adult' dinner (read: minus any characters) ... maybe at Kouzzina.

And then on Monday, I will be heading to the Magic Kingdom, alone. That's right...I'm planning on going all by myself to my favorite park in all of WDW. A friend said "um, isn't there a spa you could go to?"....and I'm sure there is, but WHY would I want to spend a day in the spa when I can spend a day at the Magic Kingdom?!?

I plan on riding what I want to ride, walking at MY own pace, stopping when I want to stop. You know, doing what I want to do! And then after lunch, I'm going to meet K at Downtown Disney!

But the highlight of this trip just might be the private party we get to attend on Monday night. We aren't sure what park we'll be going to, but we know it's a PRIVATE party -- which means it takes place AFTER the park closes and it'll just be us and the other 1,000 trade show attendees! (My guess is Disney's Hollywood Studios, because it closes at 7 pm that day...but we'll see. I might be wrong).

Can you imagine? Having one of the theme parks almost entirely to yourself??? It's like a dream come true!

And so, I'll have a trip report in mid-January ... full of tips for traveling to WDW without your kids.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Disney Driven Life ... and me

A friend of mine, J.L., has this amazing web site/blog called The Disney Driven Life - True Confessions of a Neurotic Disney Mom, and one of the many things she does with this blog is give out the titles of Neurotic Disney Mom/Dad/Aunt/Kid/Grandma, etc. Basically if you LOVE all things Disney and are at all neurotic about that love, you too can be crowned a "NDP" (Neurotic Disney Person).

Long story short ... a few months ago I was lucky enough to be named "Neurotic Disney Mom #118" (NDM #118).

[JL and I both made it to Round 2 in our quest to become members of the Disney Mom's Panel....but didn't make it to Round 3. (Personally, I think 2011 is our year for the panel!)].

Last weekend, JL tweeted about meeting someone from Disney Russia via Twitter and I tweeted back something like "cool! I took Russian in college." ... and then, JL asked me to write a review/short article about the first movie produced and released by Disney Russia - The Book of Masters. Oh, and she made me the 'resident Disney in Russia news correspondent' for The Disney Driven Life! (Thanks again, JL!!!)

And so, without any further ado, you can check out my 'guest post' on The Disney Driven Life here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Quick eats at Walt Disney World

Emma enjoys Cracker Jack from Casey's!

There are so many wonderful and delicious places to eat at Walt Disney World, it's sometimes difficult to decide if you should eat yet another Dole Whip or if you should grab something more substantial for lunch. [Personally, I say there's always room for Dole Whip, but that's another post entirely].

I have a few favorite spots to grab a quick bite at each theme park, and of course, I'm going to share them with you.

And so, in no particular order, my quick/counter service favorites:

Casey's Corner, Magic Kingdom (Main Street USA)
I love LOVE Casey's. The food is so simple, but so good - it's hard to pass up a chance to eat here. And from the lines that are normally found at the counter, a lot of other people love Casey's too! Hot dogs. That's what you'll find to nosh on at Casey's. And french fries. That's about it. Corn dogs are on the menu too. The hot dogs used to be all beef, but I've seen some stories lately that WDW has stopped using all beef hot dogs. Either way, if you're on the Disney Dining Plan and want a good counter service, step up to bat at Casey's and order the hot dog meal - you'll get a dog, fries, a drink and dessert (Cracker Jack is my personal favorite). The bonus: sauerkraut for the dogs and CHEESE for your fries. Kids food choices include the same options - hot dogs , corn dogs, fries, etc. Minimal seating is available inside - a few tables and some bleachers (the theme here IS baseball). More seating available outside - just watch out for the ducks. They beg.

Pecos Bills Tall Tale Inn and Cafe, Magic Kingdom, Frontierland
I love their burgers and BBQ pork sandwich. They have a great 'fixins bar' for your burgers too. The last time we ate at PB in 2007 we had more food than we could eat. A fried chicken breast with mashed potatoes was recently added to the menu - sounds good in the fall/winter months, but I can't imagine eating that on a 100 degree day in July! I should also note that PB is one of the counter service restaurants that is participating in the new seating concept being tested at WDW. The idea is this: on busy park days, a greeter will meet you at the entrance to the restaurant and you will be guided to the food line (your ENTIRE party!) and then AFTER you get your food you will be able to get a table. [This means no 'saving' a table with the kids while you send your husband to get the food!]. Kids food choices include burgers and a salad with chicken.

Flame Tree BBQ, Animal Kingdom
We discovered this gem of the counter service world during our last trip (April 2009). At first glance you think "but there's nowhere to sit!"....ah, but there is. One of the best things about Flame Tree is the seating options - quiet, serene and overlooking Expedition Everest. And the food? Oh my goodness. Ribs, BBQ chicken, pork or beef sandwiches - all are delicious. And key lime pie for dessert. You really can't go wrong at the Flame Tree. Kid's options include baked chicken or hot dogs.

Pizzafari, Animal Kingdom
While we have found Pizzafari to be a bit chaotic on busy days, the pizza is good and it's air conditioned! Again, the amount of food is overwhelming (this is the rule rather than the exception at WDW when you're on the Dining Plan). Pizza is good (crust is on the thick, doughy side), the salads were crisp, and oh did I mention...chocolate cake! Kid's options include mac and cheese or a cheese pizza - both served with two sides (including grapes, carrot sticks and/or unsweetened applesauce).

Tangierine Cafe, Morocco, Epcot
This is one of my favorite counter service restaurants in all of WDW. We have never waited in a line here and the food is delicious! Normally, my husband and I will share a chicken and lamb combo platter (the meats with tabouleh, hummus, couscous and bread) and and a vegetarian platter (falafel, couscous, tabouleh, hummus, lentil salad and marinated olives). And of course, baklava for dessert. So much food! Kid's choices include chicken nuggets or a hamburger. The cafe also service Moroccan wine, coffee, sangria and other fresh baked pastries. We make it a point to eat dinner hear each time we go to Epcot and the kids love it too! On our last trip they had a blast dancing to the Moroccan music.

Cantina de San Angel, Mexico, Epcot
We LOVE the Cantina! You will get great food (and lots of it) and wonderful views of the World Showcase Lagoon (all seating is outside for the Cantina - but many tables have umbrellas or are in the shade). Favorite dishes here include the plato combinacion (basically a combo platter with a taco, burrito and quesadilla), the nachos, and the burrito. But my favorite part of my meal at the Cantina .... the churros! Think fried dough rolled in cinnamon sugar. They are heavenly. Also a good bet while dining in Mexico - the frozen margaritas. Yes, the cost close to $9 but they are so worth it! After dining at the Cantina, head over to the Gran Fiesta Tour ride in the Mexico pavilion.

Boulangerie Patisserie, France, Epcot
I will admit right now that my favorite item to order here is the chocolate mousse. But if you're looking for a light meal (and one that will fill you up for a while), I would recommend the cheese plate. And then order the chocolate mousse. Or any of the other delicious pastry items available. Then, walk outside and find a spot near the fountain and enjoy your food while gazing at the Eiffel Tower. And you can always wash it down with a Grand Marnier Slush.

Main Street Bakery, Main Street USA, Magic Kingdom
Yes, they really do draw you in by piping the smell of fresh baked cookies out into the street. I love the Main Street Bakery for a quick breakfast at the MK. It's a perfect place to stop and grab a coffee and a croissant, muffin or cinnamon roll (or maybe even a doughnut!) and then take a stroll down Main Street and watch the people rush in. And you can always grab a Toll House cookie as a quick snack.

Aloha Isle, Adventureland and Sleepy Hollow, Liberty Square, Magic Kingdom
There are two things I must have when at the Magic Kingdom: Dole Whip and funnel cake. If you have never experience Dole Whip, you are missing out! What is Dole Whip? Soft serve pineapple ice cream. My favorite is the vanilla and Dole Whip twist or the Dole Whip float. But are divine. There is nothing better than a cool Dole Whip float on a hot summer day. But, funnel cake is a close second! I like to grab a funnel cake from Sleepy Hollow and then find a good spot in Liberty Square to watch the afternoon parade. [As an added bonus, we have had Cast Members hand out free chocolate chip cookies to the kids!].

There are so many great spots to 'grab a bite' at WDW...and these are just a few of my personal favorites. To see menus from any WDW restaurant, I would suggest you visit

You might notice that I didn't list any quick service places at Disney's Hollywood Studios -- well....I will admit, nothing really sticks out in my memory as a 'favorite' location. We tend to eat at a character breakfast at the DHS and rarely eat lunch while touring that park. However, Starring Rolls Cafe has good pastries, Toy Story Pizza Planet has good pizza, the Writer's Stop has a good selection of pastries too, and the ABC Commissary has sandwiches and hot dogs.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Wishing a very happy 38th birthday to the Magic Kingdom!
The happiest place on Earth deserves the happiest birthday!

And, for some extra icing on that cake, check out this video
on the Disney Parks Blog (which you should certainly add
to your blog roll right now!)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Our first trip to the Magic Kingdom...with kids*

Olivia (age 2) and Mommy with Chip & Dale - March 2006

Our first trip to WDW with kids was in March 2006 when Olivia was 2 years old. We planned the trip at the last minute - after deciding to spend a week in Tampa in early March (it was a great time to go - the college where I was teaching had an early spring break and the crowds at the MK were wonderfully small!).

So, after deciding that we were taking Olivia to the MK for her very first trip, we had a few choices to make: where to stay, what to pack, where to eat. You know...the important stuff! And I didn't have six months (or more) to plan this trip [and that is my normal suggestion - start planning at least six month before your trip -- personally I start planning my next trip as soon as I get home from my current trip...but I AM a bit obsessive about planning].

We decided that we were going to stay at the All-Star Movies Resort and that we'd do a one-day base ticket, but add on the Disney Dining Plan. I figured that way everything would (essentially) be paid for BEFORE our trip and there'd be less to worry about. I called AAA (because we're members) and they took care of the details. And, we were lucky enough to be able to make an Advance Dining Reservation at The Crystal Palace with only a few weeks left until our trip.

We had our "Magic Kingdom Day" planned for the end of our Florida trip, but in retrospect (yes, three years later I'm still thinking about this), we should have done it FIRST. We should have stayed "on property" for two nights - giving us more time to enjoy our resort and RELAX. But we all learn from travel mistakes...and that was mine.

As it is, we arrived at the resort before 7:30 a.m. and were lucky enough to be able to check in (normal check-in time is 4 p.m.). So, we quickly brought the luggage to our room and then headed to the bus stop to get a bus to the MK. We chose to leave our small umbrella stroller in the car and just rent a Disney stroller (again, going against what I now recommend - bring your own stroller!).

This one-day trip was a great learning experience - our first lesson: When a ride has the word "Scary" in it's title, be probably IS scary.

Exhibit A: "Snow White's Scary Adventure". That was the first ride we took Olivia on...and it was a disaster of epic proportions. She screamed during the entire ride and was afraid of any ride that had even the smallest 'dark part' (including the Pooh ride, the Jungle Boat and the train!). Yikes. Bad, bad parents. However, she did enjoy 'it's a small world'...whew. [And now, her favorite ride is The Haunted Mansion! So at least she wasn't permanently 'scarred' from our bad ride judgment.]

We tried to fit as many experiences into one day as was possible with a two-year-old. We rode all the 'must do' rides, we visted Mickey's Toontown Fair and met Winnie the Pooh and friends (this was before Olivia discovered the princesses), we ate lunch at the Pinocchio Village Haus (sitting at a table that overlooked it's a small world -- the best seats in the house!), we watched the afternoon parade, we met more characters, we shopped, we ate dinner at The Crystal Palace and we stayed to watch Spectromagic.

The only thing we missed was Wishes (and only because we were all exhausted and had to start our drive home to Ohio the next day). Oh, and nap time...who needs it....Olivia took a 20 minute power nap in the stroller outside Cinderella's Castle. [I do NOT recommend this. I always say go back to the resort in the afternoon and REST. But we only had ONE day!].

I think by the end of the day we were all over-stimulated and exhausted and had done more in one day than some families can manage in two or three days. Which brings me back to why we should have done this visit at the START of our Florida vacation. Had we put more thought into it, we could have stayed on property for two nights (instead of just one), and we could have enjoyed our resort and maybe even had half of a day more to spend in the Magic Kingdom. Ah, hindsight is always 20-20, right?

As it was, I started planning our next trip as soon as we packed up the car and headed home to Ohio. We knew we'd be coming back in the fall of 2007 (and would likely have an addition to our family -- as we were planning that too)! And, as planned, our next trip was in September 2007 and our "party" was now a family of four (kids ages 3 1/2 and 8 months). I learned a lot during that trip and during our most recent trip (with a party of 10!!)...and so...sit back, relax and enjoy the next couple of posts -- I'll be sharing my pre-arrival tips and 'while you're at the parks' tips.


* it was really just 1 kid....

Disney celebrates volunteers in 2010

In 2009, Disney celebrated your birthday .... and in 2010, it's time to celebrate the idea of giving back to your community and being rewarded for your hard work and dedication!

Today the Disney Parks announced their new campaign for 2010: Give a Day. Get a Disney Day.

The basics of this promotion are: beginning in 2010, if you sign up and volunteer with a participating organization, complete your day of volunteering, and have that day of volunteering verified, you get a certificate for a free ticket to Walt Disney World or Disneyland.

So, check out the Web site and find a list of participating organizations and get going!

Let's get out there next year and volunteer!

This is a wonderful opportunity to give back to your community - kudos to Disney!

NOTE: Another source for information is the HandsOn Network - an organization that is working with Disney on this endeavor. Check them out here.

For more information, check out this article from the Orlando Sentinel.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Making Memories

The family, with Chip and Dale, at the Magic Kingdom (April 2009)

Earlier today, @DisneyParks on Twitter posed this question: What is your first Disney Parks memory?

I thought about it and came up with several, only one of which I shared.

I don't know how old I was or when I really started remembering our trips, but these are the things that stick out in my mind:

- Driving to Orlando from my grandparent's house in Tampa - the excitement of those 'day trips' to the Magic Kingdom was almost unbearable. I wanted to be there NOW!

- Seeing the first signs for Walt Disney World and then seeing the gateway to the Magic Kingdom (where mom and dad had to pay for parking). We were almost there!

- Getting out of the car, looking around to see where we were parked (Goofy, Minnie, Pluto?) and then hopping on the tram that would take us to the Ticket and Transportation Center.

- Hopping on the Monorail, finally headed to the Magic Kingdom!

- Walking through the passageway underneath the train station and stepping onto Main Street and there it was. The Castle. I was in my happy place. We had made it.

We made many trips to the MK (and later to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios) when I was younger, and the were all magical for different reasons.

A few more memories:

- Riding 'it's a small world' -- this has always been my favorite ride.

- Buying those little plastic fruits filled with juice - I remember oranges, apples and grapes. I am quite certain that I actually collected those for a while.

- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I wish they had kept this ride.

- Pirates of the Caribbean, pre-Capt. Jack Sparrow. My other all-time favorite ride. I actually loved waiting in the queue for this ride -- it's so dark and spooky.

- Riding Space Mountain for the first time with my dad. Scary and fun!

- "If You Had Wings" -- that was a great ride.

- The Skyway (you know, the little buckets on the wire). At the time I loved it . Now, I am terrified of bucket rides.

- The Main Street Electric Parade...I loved this parade, but at the same time it made me sad, because I knew our day at the Magic Kingdom was coming to a close.

- The twinge of sadness I felt as we disembarked the tram and headed to our car, knowing that our magical day was over. But there was also a little glimmer of hope, knowing that another magical day would happen again soon.


I hope that the tips and information I share on this blog will help you and your family create magical memories for many years!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

An update on advance dining reservations at WDW

A few months ago, I wrote about making your advance dining reservations (ADRs) for Walt Disney World and mentioned that for resort guests you could make your ADRs 90 days before your arrival at WDW.

Well, as of October 27, the ADR window goes back to 180 days.

That means, if you are traveling to WDW in the spring of 2010 you need to check when your 180 days arrives and call on that day! (Go here - it's a great site for calculating your 180 days).It is possible that October 27 will be a very, very busy day for the ADR phone lines. [Think of it this way: On 10/26 only those people who were 90 days out from their trip are going to be making their ADRs and then the very next day...anyone who is 180 days out from their trip are going to be making that mad rush at 7 am to get ADRs at Cinderella's Royal Table]. Get your dialing fingers ready!

Don't forget, the number to call in order to make your ADRs is 407-WDW-DINE.

You can also make ADRs online here. I haven't used the online booking for ADRs yet (it wasn't quite ready when we booked our ADRs the last time), but it looks relatively simple - click on the orange box that says "Book a Reservation" and then choose the date, time and number of people in your party. It is probably better to be flexible with dates and times in order to get a reservation.

And while 180 days (that's SIX months!) might seem an impossible stretch of time and you might think "there's no way I know what I want to do six months from now at WDW" me, you can figure it out. You can plan it. I've done it before. And, while tcallhe calendars for spring might not be out yet for the parks, but you should still be able to plan most of your meals without a problem.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Disney's All-Star Movies Resort

My first* experience staying 'on property' at Walt Disney World was when we stayed at Disney's All-Star Movies Resort, one of the 'value' resorts at WDW.

I love this resort. L.O.V.E. it.

There are three All-Star resorts at WDW - Movies, Sports and Music. The resorts are 'neighbors' - that is, they are situated next door to each other - but they are three separate hotels. Each resort has its own pool, lobby and food court. And each has its own theme, represented by over-sized musical instruments (Music), sports items (Sports) and characters/items from popular Disney movies (Movies).

As with any resort anywhere, there are good and not-so-good things about the All-Star resorts in general (even though I've only stayed at the Movies, I think these could apply to all three).

First, let's talk about the good.

The rates
These resorts are very budget-friendly - rates begin at $82 a night.

The resort
The resorts are family-friendly - bright, colorful, and fun. I remember the first time we stayed there, walking into our room in the 101 Dalmatians building and being greeted by movie posters on the wall and 'movie themed' bedding. And let's not forget the extremely tall 'Pongo' and 'Perdita' that stand guard outside the Dalmatians' buildings. [Other movies represented at the resort include Toy Story, The Mighty Ducks, Fantasia, and The Love Bug]. The exterior staircases at the Dalmatian building look like giant fire hydrants (at the Mighty Ducks building - where we stayed in 2007 - they are giant hockey nets).

There are two pools at the resort - one is watched over by Sorcerer Mickey and the other is located outside the Mighty Ducks building and is aptly named, the Duck Pond. It resembles a hockey rink, complete with Goofy playing goalie. As is the case at all Disney resort pools, life vests are available for children at the pools. We discovered that the Duck Pond pool is always less crowded than the Fantasia pool - probably because it's a not in a central location (the Fantasia pool is directly outside the main building (Cinema Hall).

The rooms at the resort are small - 260 square feet - but we managed to survive an entire week in our room with the addition of a stroller, a pack-and-play and a refrigerator. No one was tripping over anyone. And really, you aren't going to spend that much time in your room -- you're at Walt Disney World! [And speaking of refrigerators - if you want a mini 'fridge for your room at the All-Star resorts it will cost you around $10 per day. However, if you have a baby in your group, you may be able to get it at no charge, which is what happened to us. While we were checking, we requested a fridge and our cast member told us he'd give it to us at no charge because we had an infant. That was amazing!]

And I have to mention this: one of my favorite things about the resort is walking past the buildings and see how people have decorated the window to their rooms - they put costumes, plush animals, balloons and other decorations in the windows. It just adds a little bit of magic to your room.

The food
Each All-Star resort has a quick service food court, at the All-Star Movies the food court is the "World Premiere Food Court". You can buy your refillable mugs here - and get them refilled here for the duration of your trip. The food court has five different areas where you can choose from a variety of items including hot foods, sandwiches, bakery items, pizza and salads. The drink station is located in the middle of the food court - with pop/soda machines, coffee, hot water and a mug wash station. You can use your quick service and/or snack options from the Disney Dining Plan at the food court. And, if all else fails and you have a car - there is a McDonald's right down the road.

And now, the not-so-good. [Because this IS Disney, I believe that nothing is ever BAD...but there are some things that might need to be 'fixed'].

The resort
The All-Star Movies is a big resort - it has 10 buildings spread out over a somewhat large area. You might do a lot of walking to get to your room or to Cinema Hall (where you check in/out and where the arcade, gift shop and food court is located). And, as we discovered the day we checked in, you might wait a long time to check in. As in, more than an hour - depending on what day you arrive, what time of year it is, etc. We arrived in late September 2007 and stood in line with two tired, hungry and cranky kids for more than an hour. It was definitely the low point of our trip that year.

That being said, there is a small amphitheater for the kids right next to the check-in area - so the kids can sit and watch the Disney Channel or a movie while mom and/or dad stand in line.

You may also find that the food court is packed on certain days (we found this to be true only once - on the Saturday when we were leaving. It seemed as though the entire resort was leaving with us). Keep that in mind when planning your arrival/departure days. Saturdays are not always the best day to come and/or go.

Bus travel
Know this for the All-Star resorts -- the buses will usually drop off/pick up in this order: Sports, Music and Movies. We traveled at a time of year when the crowds were lower, so this was not really an issue for us, but it's something to keep in mind when choosing an All-Star resort.

The bus stops for the parks are located in the front of the resort - and there is little to no shelter from the elements. You will encounter the longest bus rides to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. Our shortest bus ride was to the Animal Kingdom. [Having stayed at a deluxe resort this year, we did notice that the wait times for pick up at the parks was much lower for the Wilderness Lodge than it was for the All-Star Movies.]

We had several experiences at the MK and Epcot where it seemed as though we waited and waited and waited for our bus when all the other resort guests were not waiting as long. Perhaps they have 'fixed' that issue now.

And really, those were my only 'complaints' about ASM - waiting to check in and waiting for buses.

If you're looking for a fun resort that won't break the bank - I highly recommend the All-Star resorts. I think you'll fall in love with All-Star Movies, just as I did. I cannot wait to go back and stay there again!

*It should be noted that while this is 'technically' true, I did stay at the Hilton at Walt Disney World when I was a teenager. But it was with my parents and sister...and I don't have any valuable tips from that stay.

When you wish upon a star....

This post is a bit 'off topic' (there are no tips for a successful Disney trip hidden anywhere)...but since this is my 'unofficial' Disney blog, I figured this was the place to share my thoughts.

I just submitted my application to the Disney Mom's Panel.

My heart is still racing.

If I was lucky enough to be picked for this panel, out of 20,000 applications -- let's just say I would jump for joy. For several weeks.

It would be a dream come true.

But for now, I will take a deep breath and continue to post my tips for you right here!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Disney's Wilderness Lodge

If you're wondering what Disney resort is 'just right' for families, I have a suggestion.

Check out the September 2009 issue of Travel & Leisure. This issue has a bonus section 'Travel & Leisure Family' that lists the world's best hotels for families.

Seven (yes....7!) Disney resorts made the list of the top 50 resorts in the United States and Canada. Six of those seven are located at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. The seventh is Disney's Grand California Hotel & Spa in Anaheim.

Number 13 on the list....Disney's Wilderness Lodge!

We stayed at the Wilderness Lodge back in April, and I have to IS a great resort for families. If given the option (and an budget without limits*), I'd stay there every time we visit WDW.

When our Magical Express bus pulled up the front of the WL back in April, I was in awe. It's a beautiful resort on the outside...but when you walk through the front doors into the lobby, be prepared to be amazed!

The Lobby
The lobby is open, airy and features an 82-foot tall fireplace and several totem poles. It is, in a word, breathtaking. A small bubbling brook begins in the lobby and continues outside, flowing into a waterfall and eventually into the resort swimming pool. 'Hidden Mickeys' abound in this resort - be sure to ask the front desk for the hidden mickey "hunt list" and then start searching. We found a few Hidden Mickeys...but never had enough time do find them all.

The Rooms
Our rooms were located on the main floor of the hotel - which was nice ... no elevators needed. We had requestedl 'courtyard' view rooms -- overlooking the pool. If you can, I suggest paying the extra money to get a courtyard view. What an amazing view. I believe that every room at the WL has a private balcony, and that was one of my favorite things about the resort. I loved sitting on my balcony in the morning, watching the resort 'wake up' ... and in the afternoon it was fun to sit out there, soaking up the 'pool atmosphere'.

Overall, the rooms were great. We had two queen beds and a pack-and-play and there was still enough room for all of our stuff, including a double stroller! There was a full-size closet where all the suitcases fit, along with 12 princess costumes (whew! good thing I had somewhere to hang those!). The sink area was HUGE - enough room for all my 'beauty products (what you think this happens naturally? ha!)...and the rest of the family's 'stuff'. And, there was also a dorm size refrigerator -- a definite bonus when you stay at the deluxe resorts.

Be sure to look for hidden mickeys on the carpet in the hallways and on your bedspread!

The Food
You can't write about any Disney resort without talking about the food! And you'll get some good eats at the Wilderness Lodge.

On our first day at WDW we were STARVING when we arrived at the resort after a whole morning of travel, so we headed to the Roaring Fork...the quick service restaurant at the WL. The Roaring Fork serves breakfast items (hot and cold), sandwiches, salads, pizzas and snacks (including the very yummy Mickey Ears rice krispie treats -- my absolute favorite!). My husband and I shared the roast beef and blue sandwich and I'll say it here -- it was divine. My favorite breakfast item was the mix your own cereal bar. Basically you can choose from several types of cereal (frosted flakes, rice krispies, etc.) and the cast member behind the counter will mix them in a nice sized container. All you need to do is add milk.

The Roaring Fork is also the place to go when you want to buy and/or refill your refillable mug. For $12.99 you can buy a refillable mug and then fill it with coffee or pop as often as you want for the duration of your trip (note however, that the refillable mugs cannot be filled at any of the theme parks). This is a great deal and I would suggest it to anyone. We usually purchase one mug ... and my husband and I share it.

The Whispering Canyon Cafe and Artist Point are also located at the Wilderness Lodge. We didn't have a chance to eat at the Whispering Canyon but I know people who have eaten there and they said it was the BEST table service meal they had at WDW. It's on my 'to do' list for 2011. My parents enjoyed a night out at Artist Point and reported that the meal was very good.

The Pool
Ah, the of the most important locations at any WDW resort. And, I am happy to report, the pool at the WL does not disappoint.

The pool is large, but not too huge...and includes a waterfall and a water slide. There is a separate 'baby pool' -- and my 2-year-old loved that. Another bonus at the WDW resort pools -- life vests are available for the kids. At the WL you need to walk down toward the beach to the rental shack and you can 'rent' (free of charge) a vest for the entire length of your stay. Yes, you can take the vest back to your room every day -- and at the end of your stay, just return the vest to the rental shack. It's that simple.

For the adults, there is a nice pool bar - the Trout Pass bar -- located at the pool.

The Grounds and more....
Personally, I think the grounds of the WL are one of the most beautiful properties at WDW. You really feel as though you've been transported to a national park - there's even a working geyser on site!

The resort itself is located in the Magic Kingdom area of WDW - but it is not a monorail resort.

You could spend a few hours just walking around the resort, taking in the atmosphere, hanging out on the beach at Bay Lake (no swimming!), sitting in a rocking chair outside the lobby .. you know, just relaxing. I saw many families taking bike rides and walks around the grounds when we visited in April....and it looked fun!

One of the things you MUST do is watch the Electric Water Pageant. We walked down to the beach on our second night at the WL to watch the pageant, and it was a perfect way to spend 10 minutes! The pageant floats past all Bay Lake resorts - and you might even catch a glimpse of it as you exit the Magic Kingdom (we saw it on our last night at WDW as we waited for the boat back to the resort).

Transportation to the parks
As I mentioned above, the WL is not a monorail resort.

You can travel to the Magic Kingdom via boat or bus (or car if you have one!). We took the boat and the bus...and discovered that it was often quicker to take the bus. The bus stop is located in the front of the resort - you can reach it by walking out the doors near the Merchantile and following the sidewalk down to the bus stops. The boat dock is located on Bay Lake - walk past the pool and over a walkway to the docks. We waited more than 20 minutes on one day for the boat....but we did discover that on the way "home" from the MK, it was often faster to hop on the boat!

In order to reach Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios or the Animal Kingdom you must take the bus. For the most part, we had good 'luck' when it came to taking the buses and having short trips. We did end up stopping at Fort Wilderness a few times (en route to DHS) and on one of these trips we spent 45 minutes on the bus! But, for the most part you can figure on spending 15 or 20 minutes on your trip to those three parks.

The rest of the story
Well, there you have it...a rather lengthy report on my favorite deluxe of the best resorts for families. This resort has it all -- location, a great pool, good food, hidden mickeys and enough fun stuff to keep kids of all ages entertained for days!

*Note: the resorts listed in this article are ALL Deluxe resorts. These may not be in your budget, but never fear. A future post will be focused on the Disney Value Resorts, specifically the All-Star Movie Resort - perfect for the family on a budget!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Happy Halloween - Disney style

Happy Halloween!

Yes, I realize it's only September...but if you are headed to Walt Disney World anytime between now and November 1st, you MUST check out Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom.

We were lucky enough to experience the party in September 2007 ... and I wish we could go back every year.

When we booked our 2007 trip, I had no idea what to expect from the MNSSHP. But, the party was scheduled for our last night at WDW and I didn't want to miss out on any fun, so we decided to pay the extra money and was it worth it!

Yes, I said we paid EXTRA money to go to the party.

Let me explain: even if you have a ticket for the Magic Kingdom on the day of the MNSSHP, you still have to buy a ticket to get into the party. It's a special event.

And it really IS special.

The Magic Kingdom is decorated for Halloween with jack-o-lanterns, scarecrows and other Halloween-themed decor. It makes the whole park THAT much more magical.

And, at the party, the characters walk around dressed in Halloween costumes. There is the "Boo to You" Halloween parade, complete with the Headless Horseman (who starts the magic) and a special presentation of "Wishes" called "HalloWishes" -- and the Disney villans are sure to make an appearance.

The best part, in my opinion? Trick-or-treating in the Magic Kingdom! (You don't need to have your own 'trick or treat bag' either -- you'll be handed one as you arrive at the MK!)

Olivia had a blast trick-or-treating with Winnie the Pooh and Alice (make sure to find the walkway between Tomorrowland and Toontown -- it's where the characters from Alice in Wonderland will be located). And, she was able to get her photo taken in front of Cinderella's coach (which was located near it's a small world" in the stroller parking area).

How magical is that?

Halloween is my favorite holiday and to be able to celebrate at my favorite place ... well, it was a perfect end to a perfect trip.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Do they even have a 12-step program for Disney addicts?

Our next Disney vacation isn't until June 2011 - unless of course some miracle occurs and I win the lottery and can finally buy into the Disney Vacation Club, at which time we will be at Walt Disney World ASAP.

Anyway, back here in the 'real world'....

As I said, the next time the party of 10 will be embarking on another Disney adventure is in about 22 months.

So, I'm already planning for that trip. That's not too early, right?

I say it's never too early to plan for your next Disney trip. Heck, I was thinking about what we'd do "next time" while we were still in the parks way back in April!

I already have my spiral bound notebook ready and waiting... and it's quickly filling with notes for that next trip - where we should eat, how many 'table service' meals we should do in one day (uh, that would be ONE per day!), the pros and cons of various deluxe resorts - which brings me to this post. Sort of.

My mom stopped by today and as I sat down at my computer to respond to a tweet, she said "What are you doing?"

"I'm tweeting one of my Disney peeps on Twitter."

"You need a 12-step program," mom said.

"Why? I'm not on Twitter all day." (Nope, not all day.)

"Not for Twitter. You need an intervention because you're addicted to Disney," mom said.

Addicted to Disney? As if that's a bad thing!

I will be the first to admit that I am in all likelihood addicted to all things Disney. [And isn't admitting your 'problem' the first step? haha]. But it's a good thing.

To me, Disney is pure magic. It's a place where you can go and forget all your problems and smile and laugh and wear your Mickey ears proudly and just be happy.

I've been visiting Walt Disney World since I was a toddler (and that was a LONG time ago!). I've spent time at WDW in the middle of the summer with all the crowds, during October when you practically had the park to yourself (this was pre-free dining!), on New Year's Eve (and I vow to never again attempt the Magic Kingdom on New Year's Eve!), and in the late spring (after the Easter week crowds have gone home).

Now that I have my own kids I want to share the Disney magic with them as often as our budget will allow. My husband says "there are other places to visit besides Disney" .... which I'm sure is true and we will make it those places...someday.

For now, I will proudly admit my Disney addiction and will continue to plan our next family trip! [And I will also continue to wish upon a star for that lottery win so that I can buy my DVC membership!]

[If you want a better idea of my love for Disney, I suggest reading this blog post . Mike Scopa, a feature writer for says it best. And while I might not shed Mouse Tears at the same things, I could come up with my own top 10 list!]

*I've always loved Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse and Cinderella. One of my favorite things when I was younger was this Cinderella wristwatch that my parents (or maybe my grandparents) bought me - it had three different bands (white, pink and blue) that you can change to match your outfits, and I loved that watch. I wish I knew what happened to it. I'd love to let Olivia wear it.

**Check out that photo ... don't you just LOVE it when a rainbow appears over the Magic Kingdom!?!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Get to the Point - Part 2

OK, so in the previous post the day-long rainstorm had FINALLY ended (yeah, thanks local weathermen for the original 30% chance of rain predication...guess you missed the mark on that one, eh?) -- and now we were headed back to the park.

Cedar Point isn't the type of park where you need a "gameplan" in order to make your day enjoyable - you either go there to stand in line (a lot) to ride the world famous coasters or you go to wander around and let the little ones ride the kiddie rides. That's about it.

But, I still have a few thoughts about how to make your trip more enjoyable for everyone in your party.

TLC's Top 10 Tips

1. If you have small kids, pack snacks. And sippy cups. There is NO reason to spend a ton of money on amusement park 'snacks' when it's just as easy to pack a tote bag or backpack and fill it with individual bags of Cheez Its, Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, etc. [OK sure, the brochure says 'no outside food' but honestly, NO ONE checks your bag as you enter the park. And I've never seen the 'food police' walking around confiscating Cheez Its].

2. If you are staying at the Hotel Breakers (or any other resort), pack food for breakfast. At the Breakers your breakfast choices are VERY limited - you can either pay an arm and a leg for some Krispy Kreme donuts and Starbucks coffee ... or ... you can pay and arm and a leg for a breakfast buffet. We've done both unfortunately and I would seriously recommend bringing your own donuts or cereal and milk (especially if you get a room with a 'fridge)! I would also recommend bring some pop and/or bottled water to keep in the 'fridge too. Even if you're only staying one night.

3. Eat the 'world famous' french fries! Seriously. You must do this. Head to the back of the park, near the Gemini roller coaster and buy some fries. With cheese. And vinegar. You can thank me later.

4. If you are a coaster prepared to stand in line. There is no FASTPASS option at Cedar Point. You will wait. Sometimes for hours.

5. If you go this summer, be sure to stay until 'twilight' so that you can see the new "Starlight Experience" on the Frontier Trail. The CP Web site describes it this way: "Immerse yourself in a canopy of light! Walk the Frontier Trail for a multi-sensory experience, featuring lighted displays, music, splashes of light and over one million LED lights." We made it a point to stay until dark and it was worth it. A nice addition to my favorite part of CP (the Frontier Trail).

6. Visit Camp Snoopy and Planet Snoopy -- if you have kids. Several years ago, Snoopy and friends showed up at CP. These two areas are great for the little ones -- they are full of rides for kids of all ages (and most of the rides are "parent friendly" too). And, if you're lucky, you just might run into Snoopy, Charlie Brown or Linus while in Camp Snoopy. [Camp Snoopy is located near the Gemini, while Planet Snoopy is located off the Midway].

7. Ride the Cedar Point & Lake Erie Railroad. Round trip. It's a nice 15-20 minute train ride. A good way to rest your tired feet.

8. If you're staying at the Hotel Breakers, take some time to play in the sand. Or at least let the kids play. It might not be the Florida coast...but the Lake Erie shoreline is pretty (and the water is clean) pack those beach toys and chill out in the sand for a while.

9. If your budget can handle it, I would recommend buying a two-day Ride and Slide ticket. We bought ours at the hotel for $63.99 per adult (junior tickets were cheaper). With these tickets you can visit Cedar Point and Soak City (the water park) over the course of two days. For example: we spent Saturday at Cedar Point and upon leaving we had our hands stamped with a waterproof (but NOT sunscreen proof) stamp. We were able to return to the park after the rain stopped and only had to show our hand stamp. The next day we went to Soak City in the morning and then headed back to CP in the afternoon.

10. Look for bargains when it comes to eating. One of the best deals we found was Saturday night when we were wandering around trying to figure out "what's for dinner?!?" Near the Midway we found a Johnsonville Brats stand and for $5 you could get a bratwurst, chips and pop. That is a good deal! Oh, and there are NO lids available when you buy a pop at any food stand. I find this odd and a bit irritating...but maybe that's just me. If you're looking for somewhere to sit and grab a bite to eat with the kids, try the Joe Cool Cafe - located across from Planet Snoopy. You can order Pizza Hut pizza (yum!) and THEY HAVE BEER (parents, I know you will appreciate this!). It's not really a "bargain" but it's better than grabbing more 'amusement park' food! [I should also mention - there is a certain sub sandwich place right outside Soak City and you will pay $7 for a 6-inch sub and $14 for a footlong sub. There is no $5 footlong at Cedar Point.]

OK...that's all. So, keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times and enjoy your day at Cedar Point!

(Cedar Point is open until until November 1 this year. Halloweekends start September 18.)

Get to the Point - Part 1

Growing up in Northwest Ohio, the start of summer was always marked by the seasonal opening of Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

And, as a child, we always spent one hot and humid day at Cedar Point - riding the rides, eating the world famous french fries and ending the night with a purchase of saltwater taffy (which would never really get eaten!).

Last summer, we decided to introduce our kids to Cedar Point and, of course, they loved it! We went again last fall for the "Halloweekends" - where the park is decorated for Halloween and there is "fun scary" and "scary scary" stuff for kids of all ages.

Well, this summer we decided to make a mini "staycation" out of our trip to CP - and so, the "party of 10" [from our Disney adventure] headed east toward Sandusky a few weeks ago.

We had reservations at the Hotel Breakers - which is the 'flagship' resort for Cedar Point. It was built in 1905 and well, let's just say it's showing its age. My husband and I had stayed at the Breakers last summer - but obviously we had a room in the "newer" section in 2008 because our room this year was nothing to brag about. It was old. That's all I can say about it.

(The hallway of the Bon Air section of the hotel - where we stayed this year - reminded me of the hallway from The Shining. All that was missing were ghostly children on tricycles calling out "Redrum! Redrum!")

OK, sorry...I digress. All in all, the Hotel Breakers is NOT that bad. It's old, yes, But that gives it a little bit of charm too. The lobby is nice and it IS right on the it has that going for it. My recommendation if you are going to stay at the Breakers would be to REQUEST a room in the newer sections of the hotel and stay OUT of the older sections.

For the price they charge (a one night stay with park tickets for 4 people in a non-lakeview room with 2 queen beds = $403, according to the CP reservation site) you need to be in a MODERN room. (That price quoted IS in the Breakers tower or the Breakers East section - both of which I believe are newer and include a dorm size refrigerator). [As it was, our rooms were NOT in the newer section and they still cost about $220 a night! That being said, my parents have vowed to NEVER return to the Hotel Breakers.]

A few positives of staying 'on site' at the Breakers -- we were able to get into Cedar Point an hour before the park opened (this is more of a 'good' thing if you're one of the avid coaster riders that swarm to the park every summer). For us, it just meant we could take the kids to 'Planet Snoopy' an hour early. We were also able to buy our two-day "Ride and Slide" tickets at a discounted price as resort guests.

Another 'plus' to staying on site was this -- we could go back to our hotel for a while and rest. This was a saving grace for us on this trip because it RAINED. A lot. I'm talking epic rain here people. My dad spent about $70 on ponchos for the group because it was the ONLY way we could even walk through the park to get to the few attractions that were open during the deluge.

Finally, by 2 p.m. we were tired of being rained on and so we headed back to the hotel to dry off and watch The Weather Channel. Thankfully, by 4 p.m. the rain was gone and the sun was out and we were back in the park!

[As an aside, when it rains at Disney World you can just put on your ponchos and still have enough to do to make the rain seem not so bad. This is NOT the case at Cedar Point.]

Coming up....what to do and what not to do on your trip to Cedar Point.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Animal Kingdom, glass slippers and "Wishes"

Friday, April 30

Our last day at Walt Disney World. I still had a ton of things that I wanted to do and see, but there was no way we'd fit it all in today! I kept saying "just give me a few more days here and I'll be happy!" - the rest of our group thought I was insane. My parents claimed they were "Disney'd out" (really, is that even possible? I think not!).

We decided to get up early, eat breakfast at the resort and head back to the Animal Kingdom. I have no idea why...but it took forever to get a bus to the AK and once we did it was PACKED! I knew this was an indication that the park was going to be packed too.

And it was. I am guessing here...but I think Fridays are not a good day to visit the AK. I will keep this in mind for our next trip.

Once we were in the park, Kevin and Emma headed to the Kilimanjaro Safari ride to grab a FASTPASS (I really wanted to ride it again. Silly'll read why soon!). Olivia and I headed back to Camp Minnie Mickey to see if we could find any characters. It was still early (the park had just opened when we arrived) so no characters were out. But then, as we started to leave the 'meet-and-greet' area, Pocahontas appeared!

This made Olivia's morning, I think. She had been wanting to meet Pocahontas since our trip in 2007 -- and to make the moment THAT much better....we were the only people there to greet her!

The other 'person' Olivia wanted to find was DiVine. She had seen her photo in one of my tour books and finding Divine had become a mission. So, I asked a friendly cast member if he knew where we could find Divine and (looking very confused) he walked over to another cast member who proceeded to tell him (1) who DiVine was and (2) where she would be.

We walked over to the area between Asia and Africa and suddenly ... there she was! DiVine walked out of the bushes right in front of us! If you weren't paying attention you would walk right past her. Olivia was thrilled!!!

We then headed over to the Safari ride to get in the FASTPASS line (love that!!!). A mere 5 minutes later we were in our safari vehicle, headed out. And then it happened...right past the elephants we stopped. I mean completely stopped. At first our driver said there was an animal in the road up ahead and we'd be on our way soon. Ten minutes later he told us another vehicle had broken down and they were sending in a tow truck.

At this point, I should mention that the land for the safari ride is equal in size to the ENTIRE MAGIC KINGDOM! More than 40 acres. Yeah. Not exactly a short trip for the rescue truck. This was going to take a while.

After about 15-20 minutes we were FINALLY on our way. At least we didn't get stuck near the lions.

Mom and dad met us at the AK -- my sister and her family decided to hang out at the pool for the day. We wandered around a little more (and totally missed the tigers in Asia - I have NO idea how this happened). Around lunchtime we decided to try the Flame Tree Barbecue. We had passed up this counter service restaurant earlier in the week because we thought there was no seating. Ha! We were wrong - I had done a little research and discovered the seating area was a bit "off the beaten path."

I ordered the pulled pork sandwich (it came with baked beans and cole slaw) and key lime pie for dessert. Let me put this out there: this is by far one of the BEST counter service meals at all of WDW! And the seating....let me give you a tip: Head down the path to the left of the restaurant until you see a covered area right on the water. Sit there. It's quiet. And lovely. And you have a perfect view of Expedition Everest. (Check out this blog - a great post about the Flame Tree Barbecue!)

After lunch we wandered a bit more (darn this park! I will conquer you....don't underestimate me!) and decided we wanted to get an up close view of the Tree of Life. Here's a tip - to get access to the trail that wraps around the Tree, head toward the line for "It's Tough to be a Bug", and presto! you're suddenly walking around the trunk of the tree.

This tree is amazing! The trunk is covered with hundreds of carved animals. And the tree itself is huge. This is a not-to-be-missed experience.

Later in the evening we were headed to 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Resort for Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner (with Cinderella, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine and the evil stepsisters). For months I had been planning on ordering the Glass Slipper Dessert -- and three hours before dinner I realized I had forgotten to order it!!! See, the 'rule' is you're supposed to order it 24 hours in advance (this dessert can only be ordered at the Grand Floridian or Cinderella's Royal Table at the castle).

So, in a slight panic, I called the bakery and essentially told them we were coming to dinner at 6 p.m. and I had forgotten to pre-order the Glass Slipper Dessert and was there anything they could do -- and to my surprise, the voice on the other end of the phone said "yes" (after talking to the head bakery person, of course). And so, I put in my order for two glass slippers and made a little magic for Olivia, Emma and Madysen.

[The glass slipper is this: a white chocolate slipper filled with mousse and served with fruit and berries. The cost was $15 and it was so worth it....just to see the look on the girls' faces when it was served!] before dinner we headed to the Magic Kingdom for a little while. We rode the train (round trip, of course) and did a little shopping on Main Street.

Then we boarded the Monorail and headed to the Grand Floridian. And let me tell you, that resort is GRAND. Wow. That's all I could say when we walked in. Wow. Wow. Wow.

1900 Park Fare was a perfect, magical way to end our trip. We had a group photo taken outside the main dining room and then, after we were seated we met Prince Charming, Cinderella, Lady Tremaine, Anastasia and Drizella. The step-sisters were a HOOT! Our table was smack-dab in the middle of the dining room -- which ended up being the perfect location.

About halfway through the meal, Cinderella and Prince Charming started to waltz right next to our table and the next thing we knew, the three girls (Olivia, Emma and Madysen) were dancing with them! It was the most magical moment -- to see these three little girls who LOVE Cinderella holding her hands and dancing with her...well it was just incredible. Amazing. True Disney magic at its best!

After our magical dinner, we headed back to the Magic Kingdom to squeeze in a few more rides and watch "Wishes".

We rode it's a small world, the Haunted Mansion, and Cinderella's Carousel before it was time to find our spot for Wishes.

I have to say, Wishes is my absolute favorite fireworks display at WDW. The song makes me cry every single time. But to see the fireworks behind the's just amazing. As with any fireworks/parade at WDW, it would be in your best interest to find your "spot" at least 45 minutes before the show starts.

Earlier in the week we had watched Wishes in front of the castle - this time we sat on the side of the castle (on the walkway/bridge to Fantasyland). A good spot...but I still prefer to sit in the hub area in front of the castle.

And then, Wishes was over. And so was our magical vacation.

We took the boat back to the Wilderness Lodge and did some last minute packing. The next day, after a somewhat crazy busy breakfast at the Roarking Fork Cafe, we checked our bags, boarded our bus to the airport and started planning the next trip.

May 2011. Disney World here we come. Chaos, party of 10.

Overall thoughts:
- for some reason, the Animal Kingdom is very busy on Fridays
- while in the Animal Kingdom, look for DiVine

- if you will be eating at the Grand Floridian or Cinderella's Royal Table, you really should pre-order the Glass Slipper Dessert -- it's so worth it
- don't wait until the last minute as I did -- you might not be able to order it
- ride the WDW train round trip -- it's a nice 20 minute way to relax

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Breakfast with JoJo and Dinner with Remy

Thursday, April 30

We were up and at 'em early again today! We had 8:30 a.m. ADRs for Play 'n Dine at Hollywood & Vine (or as I like to call it...Breakfast with JoJo). The first time we did this breakfast in 2007, the place was PACKED - every table was full. This time, it was empty - which seems odd to me, considering the popularity of character meals at WDW. More than half of the tables were empty -- even when we left at 9:30 it had yet to fill up. The cast of characters includes JoJo & Goliath and Leo & June from Little Einsteins -- and the breakfast itself is a buffet. JoJo is no longer on Playhouse Disney - so perhaps that is one reason why the crowd was so small. I'd be interested in hearing about any other experiences people had at Hollywood & Vine.

After breakfast we grabbed a FastPass for Toy Story Midway Mania -- which I recommend for anyone who wants to ride this particular ride. The stand-by line was more than an hour wait. [I really recommend taking advantage of the FastPasses -- you can avoid waiting in line for too long and can instead enjoy more of the parks and then head back to the ride at your FastPass time]. With our FastPasses in hand, we headed back to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show.

For anyone who loves the story of Ariel and Prince Eric, this show is a must. I like to call it a "Cliff's Notes" version of The Little Mermaid - the whole story takes about 17 minutes to tell - with brief scenes from the movie shown between the live performances. [Note: you get sprayed with a gentle mist and light breeze during the all lends to the magic of the show].

After Ariel, we headed back down Mickey Avenue to the "Journey into Narnia" attraction. Earlier in the week, Olivia and I had tried to meet Prince Caspian but the attraction had closed for the evening and the Prince had headed home to Narnia. So, I had promised Olivia that we would meet him today! [And yes, this was all Olivia...a few months ago she came home from preschool insisting that we watch 'The Chronicles of Narnia' and then 'The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian'. When she found out that the Prince would be at the Studios...meeting him became a mission!]

We arrived at Journey into Narnia right at 10 a.m. -- the scheduled time that Prince Caspain was supposed to be there. But he wasn't. A cast member told us that he'd be there in about 30 or 40 minutes. Around this time, cast member Shawn (from South Carolina) walked over to us and told us that Prince Caspian was having travel issues from Narnia but was doing his best to get there in time. We decided to hang out and wait - Olivia was NOT going to miss Caspian.

So, we took a seat on a bench in the shade and waited. And waited. And waited. Cast Member Shawn checked in with us every now and again, letting us know that Caspian was still trying to get to the Studios from Narnia. At one point he told Olivia that Caspian knew she was waiting to meet him (I loved that!). Then our friendly cast member left ... only to return a few minutes later with a box of popcorn for Olivia (her treat for waiting so patiently, he said -- Disney magic at it's best!).

Finally....Prince Caspian arrived! We were escorted to the front of the 'meet and greet' line and then the real magic happened. Olivia walked into the forest 'meet and greet' area and there stood Prince Caspian! He kneeled down and told "Princess Olivia" that he had been waiting to meet her and how happy he was that she had waited to see him. Needless to say, Olivia was over the moon with this royal treatment! [And it brought tears to her mommy's eyes...I will admit!]. We took some photos and Olivia had Caspian sign her autograph book and that was how Olivia met Prince Caspian!

From a prince we decided to vistit a princess...and headed over to the Beauty and the Beast show. This is a great, great show! I think I might like it better than Voyage of the Little Mermaid. It is another shortened version of a Disney movie...but the performance is great. And then, it was time to ride Toy Story Midway Mania.

Oh my gosh. What a fun ride! Walking into the ride you're surrounded by GIANT versions of childhood games (which is so cool). Riders grab 3-D glasses and board their ride vehicles and are instantly transported into a world of arcade games where you aim at the boards with your own 'shooters'. I think I ended up with a score of close to 115,000 and Olivia scored about 82,000 (not bad for a 5 year old!). This ride was so much fun! Get that FastPass and get on it!

After grabbing lunch and riding The Great Movie Ride one more time...we headed back to the resort to regroup and rest.

Later that evening, we had dinner reservations at Chefs de France. If you are headed to Epcot, you should eat at Chefs de France and look for Remy, the star rat from Ratatouille who appears four times a day to entertain guests. The food was wonderful (onion soup, beef short ribs and creme brulee for dessert)...but seeing Remy under the dome of the silver tray was the BEST part of the meal! He is adorable and really interacts with guests. Just a little more Disney magic at work!

Overall thoughts:
- Disney cast members really do go out of their way to create the magic
- I am left wondering if the low crowds at Play 'n Dine were just a fluke or if it's not a popular character meal anymore

- Make sure you see Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast at the Studios
- Yes, kids CAN eat in France -- Chefs de France is family-friendly

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Adventures at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot

Wednesday, April 29

One very important tip I have for your trip to Walt Disney World trip is this: make sure you take one day during your stay to just RELAX. Or at least try to relax. I should learn to follow my own tip...but I'd rather be at the parks. You, on the other hand, might be one of those 'non obsessed' people who actually get tired of the parks - and if that's the case...then by all means please follow my tip and have a relaxing day at the resort pool!

OK, moving on...

Today, my dad and Kevin were headed to the Palm golf course at WDW. They had a 10 o'clock a.m. tee time and so the girls and I were on our own for a while. My sister and her husband had decided they were going to relax poolside (see, they follow my tips) and my mom was going to join them (they did go to the pool...but then decided to shop and eat in Downtown Disney).

Olivia had decided the night before that she wanted to head back to the Magic Kingdom and that was FINE with me! (I should note here that I could spend every single day of my trip at the Magic Kingdom. It is my laughing place.)

And so, after a quick breakfast at the resort, I packed up the diaper bag and the kids and loaded all of us onto the bus headed to the Magic Kingdom. I wasn't sure how this excursion was going to be....I mean, I was going alone - without my spouse or any other responsible adult, with two kids in tow. Could I handle it?

You betcha! We made it through the bag check line and the ticket line without incident and as soon as we walked into the MK we saw Snow White! We lucked out and the cast member who was 'in charge' of line control let us in -- we were the last people allowed in line! [That has got to be a not-so-fun job -- this poor guy had to keep repeating "The line is closed. Snow White will be back out at 9:45. Thank you."]

Anyway, after meeting Snow White we walked down Main Street toward the castle and happened upon a performance of "Dream Along with Mickey". I love this show! Mickey and friends sing and dance along with other Disney favorites including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Peter Pan and Wendy, Capt. Hook and more. A great way to spend 20 minutes of your visit, if you ask me.

After the performance, Olivia decided she wanted to ride it's a small world again. So we did. And then we headed over to the Haunted Mansion (which was quickly becoming Olivia's new favorite ride!). We wandered through the MK for a little while until the girls decided they wanted to head back to the Wilderness Lodge for lunch and some pool time. As we were walking out of the MK, we had a chance to see the "Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It!" parade as it was going down Main Street. That was rather cool, since I didn't get the chance to see the "Celebrate a Dream Come True" parade this time (I'm still bummed about that!).

Lunch at the hotel. Then we went swimming!!!! The pool at the Wilderness Lodge is really nice. There is a baby/wading pool for the wee ones (but even Olivia had fun in there). And then there's the 'big kids' pool, completed with a water slide! For your small ones who might not be able to swim alone yet, the resort provides life vests. Head down to the beach area at the WL and at the rental shack you can sign out a vest for each child and keep the vests for the duration of your stay. Very, very convenient.

Once Kevin returned from his golf adventure, we decided to head over to Epcot for dinner. My parents were eating dinner at Artist Point at the resort and my sister and her family were going to the Studios to eat at Toy Story Pizza Planet.

If I had to rank the parks, I would definitely put the Magic Kingdom as my absolute favorite. Epcot would be second and the Disney Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom would have to duke it out for 3rd and 4th place. And right now, Epcot is looking gorgeous, thanks to the Flower & Garden Festival!

The girls still had some countries to visit to get the passport stamped and work on their Kidcot masks, so we started in Canada (EH!) and worked our way through the World Showcase. In England we ran into Winnie the Pooh and friends at the toy shoppe/bookstore. And let me just say, I could seriously eat my way through the World Showcase if it wouldn't cause me to gain 20 lbs. The fish and chips in England smelled divine!

Kevin and I decided to eat in Morocco at the Tangierine Cafe. The food here is amazing! We ordered the Chicken and Lamb combo and the Vegetable combo (and you get Baklava for dessert!!!). The food was so delish. I highly recommend this counter service. After pigging out at dinner we kept walking through the Showcase, stopping at various Kidcot fun spots so the girls could have some fun.

At some point near Italy we decided to head out of Epcot and take the Monorail back to the MK for the Wishes fireworks show. My sister and her family and my parents were still at the Studios, thinking about seeing "Fantasmic" -- however, you need to get a seat for that show about 45 minutes prior to showtime, so they gave up that plan and rode some rides instead.

We arrived at the MK just in time to find a good spot for Wishes. We planted ourselves in front of the castle, near the Hub (right by the popcorn cart that is on the Hub). It ended up being a perfect spot to watch Wishes.

I love Wishes. It is a great fireworks show. And yes, you should see it from in front of the castle. The last time we were at WDW in 2007, we watched it from behind the castle and it just wasn't the same. Hint: Watch for Tinker Bell's very magical entrance at the beginning of the fireworks.

Wishes granted, we headed back to the hotel, knowing we had to be up bright and early on Thursday for our breakfast with Jo-Jo!

Overall thoughts:
- Taking the girls to the MK by myself was so easy!
- Someday maybe I'll "eat and drink" my way through the World Showcase!

- Make sure you find the time to see 'Dream Along with Mickey' and the parades at the MK
- At some point in your trip, take the Monorail from the MK to Epcot or vice's so fun to ride!
- Passports and Kidcot fun spots are a great thing for the kids
- Take time to have some fun at the pool

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sleeping in, Spaceship Earth and Flowers

Tuesday, April 28

For the first time during the trip we were able to "sleep in" -- until 7 a.m. We didn't have any character breakfasts or appointments this morning, so we decided to eat breakfast at the Roaring Fork and then head over to Epcot.

I have to say this: definitely take advantage of the quick service restaurant at your resort. They have a good variety of foods -- and it's the one place where you can get your refillable mugs filled!

[What is a refillable mug, you ask? It's just that - a plastic mug that you purchase at your resort for about $12.99 and you can fill it as often as you want with pop and/or coffee. It's a great value. We filled ours each morning with coffee and then every afternoon and evening we filled it with pop. You cannot fill these mugs at any of the theme parks. But for the money, it's a great value!]

My favorite thing at the Roaring Fork -- the 'pick a mix' cereal bar. Every morning they had several types of cereal (Rice Krispies, Frosted Flakes, etc.) and you could get them mixed together. My choice: a mix of corn flakes and frosted flakes - yum! Of course, there are hot food selections and a yogurt/granola/fresh berry mix too. And, you can use your Disney Dining Plan here too - food items are considered either snacks or quick service.

From now until May 31, the International Flower and Garden Festival is happening at Epcot. The whole park is decorated with nearly 30 million flowers. And topiaries! The photo up top is of the "Cinderellabration" topiary. All the princesses were represented in this display. I could go on and on about the flowers, but I'll sum it up this way: if you ever have the chance to see the Flower & Garden Festival... DO IT!

The crowds at Epcot never seem as huge as they do at say the Magic Kingdom, and this day was no different. We waited a total of maybe 5 minutes for Spaceship Earth. I had not been on this ride since I was a teenager and I have to say the updates added in the 2007 renovation (including a narration by Dame Judi Dench) are really cool. The descent of the ride adds some fun for riders -- you get to essentially create your own "Welcome to the Future" video which you can e-mail home after you disembark the ride. Very, very cool! (Olivia LOVED this part!)

We also waited a mere 5 minutes for "The Seas with Nemo and Friends". Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to experience Turtle Talk with Crush -- but it is on 'to do' list for 2011.

At 11 a.m. we headed over to the World Showcase for lunch. I love eating lunch in Mexico at the Cantina de San Angel. The seating is right on the water and it's so relaxing...and the food is really good too! [A must for Mexcio -- get a margarita! They are so worth the nearly $9 price tag!]. My favorite part of most meals is dessert and at the Cantina my personal favorite is the churro! Fried dough rolled in cinnamon sugar. Oh my.

After lunch we rode the Gran Fiesta Tour inside the Mexico pavilion pyramid. It's a fun, relaxing boat ride. And the atmosphere inside the pyramid is just downright cool. Then we headed over to China - the kids were looking for Mulan. [A good tip to remember - Epcot is chock full of characters! Mulan in China, Donald Duck in Mexico, Belle and The Beast in France, Snow White in Germany, Alice and Winnie the Pooh in England, Jasmine and Aladdin in Morocco...and the list goes on!]

When we arrived in China we were told that Mulan would be out soon. So Kevin and I decided to let the girls start their Kidcot masks. Let me explain Kidcot -- there are fun stops in all the World Showcase countries and a few Future World pavilions. In the countries, at each stop your kids can get their masks stamped and have a tag added. We started in China where Olivia and Emma each got their names written in Chinese and then started the coloring of the masks (with markers supplied by Sharpie). This is a great way to get the kids interested in "boring" things like countries.

[Buying a passport for the kids is another way to make the World Showcase more fun. You can find the passports in most of the showcase gift shops. They resemble a "real" passport and in each country your child can take his/her passport to the Kidcot funstop and get a country stamp and a "welcome message" written in that country's native language. I think I had as much fun with this as my girls did!]

OK, back to China. After waiting patiently, the girls finally saw Mulan walking through the pavilion, making her way to her designated spot. Mulan spotted the girls too (they were hard to miss - dressed as Snow White and Tinker Bell)...and she stopped and asked Olivia, Emma and Madysen (my niece) if they would walk with her! Olivia and Mady were able to hold Mulan's hands and WALK WITH HER! What a princess dream come true!!!! Just another example of pure Disney magic. You just never know when you'll get sprinkled with pixie dust!

Later that afternoon....

We had a dinner reservation at Chef Mickey's at Disney's Contemporary Resort. This character meal is a MUST DO meal. Where else are you going to meet the "top 5" -- Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald and Goofy. The food is good - it's a buffet. But as with most character meals, it's all about who you meet. We had a great table -- right near the buffet -- so we were usually the first stop for Mickey, Minnie and pals. We even got two visits by Donald!

[Note: there are not buses that run from resort to resort, so if you are not a Contemporary guest getting there takes a little bit of travel. For us, we took our resort's bus to the Magic Kingdom and then hopped on the Monorail to the Contemporary. We also could have taken the boat right from our hotel to the Contemporary, but we noticed a long wait for that boat on another night. Ask your resort concierge about the quickest route to this resort.]

After dinner we decided to Monorail back to Epcot for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. This might sound silly to some, but if you want a good seat for the show you best pick it out at least 45 minutes before the show begins. We were too busy walking around the World Showcase and as it got closer to showtime we realized 'oh no, all the good spots are taken!" We ended up watching the show in a spot near China, but our view was partially obstructed by trees. But it was still a good show!

My least favorite thing about leaving any of the parks (aside from the actual LEAVING part) is when closing time is at the same time as the end of the fireworks, parade, etc. It just creates mass chaos and one would think that the great minds at Disney would eventually say "gosh, maybe we should always make closing time 1 hour after the end of any fireworks, parade, etc. We managed to get a jump start on the 'exiting' crowd on this night - but only because we left before Illuminations was over. It was still mild chaos. But we did it. And we didn't wait long for a bus.

And all in all, it was a good day.

Tomorrow....a trip to the Magic Kingdom on my own (just me and my girls)...could I do it without losing a kid or getting lost myself? Tune in and find out.

Overall thoughts:
- Chef Mickey's is a must do character meal!
- The flower and garden festival is amazing
- I didn't get to ride Soarin'...and I'm still bummed about that

- If you have kids, you really should do the Kidcot funspots (and try out the new Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure. We wanted to do it but didn't have time...but it looks FUN!)
- Get your kids a passport for the World Showcase
- There are characters at Epcot - take your autograph books!