Monday, February 27, 2017

I'm officially a runDisney Princess!

It's been quiet for a few weeks on the blog as I've prepared for and traveled to Walt Disney World for my very first Princess Half Marathon Weekend.  I'll be posting more details on each of these experiences in the weeks ahead, but I wanted to take a minute and give you a quick weekend recap from my trip.

Where We Stayed - For this trip, I was back on Disney property and stayed at Coronado Springs Resort.  The moderate level hotel is also a Convention Center and as such boasts several dining options, a spa, and beautiful grounds.  We were only here for two nights, but enjoyed our stay.  It's definitely one I will recommend to friends and family in the future.

Where We Ate - We had two new dining experiences on this trip.  We visited Chef Art Smith's Homecoming in Disney Springs for dinner one evening where we were delighted by some down home southern cooking.  And on Sunday, we enjoyed the Gospel Brunch at House of Blues - also in Disney Springs.  The Gospel Brunch, which features a buffet of New Orleans favorites and a gospel concert, had been on my "must-do" list for a while now and it didn't disappoint!  I also had the pleasure of introducing my friend Christine to California Grill.  If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know that dinner while watching the fireworks from California Grill is one of my favorites and I was excited to do it again.

What We Did - We ran the Glass Slipper Challenge!  When you spend less than 50 hours in Walt Disney World and run both a 10K and Half Marathon, there's not much time to do anything else.  Both races were a lot of fun.  In typical runDisney fashion, characters and entertainment were everywhere you looked.  And the bling. . .oh, the bling!  It was a fabulous weekend of race medals - my new favorites in my ever growing collection.  Princess Half Marathon weekend had a very different vibe then my previous experiences at Wine and Dine.  It felt "crazier," but I guess that's what happens when you have 20,000+ women running in tutus!

As you can see, it was a short trip, but I was able to pack in many new experiences.  I can't wait to share them with you in the weeks ahead and I'm already counting down to our next trip in November - a return for runDisney's Wine and Dine Half Marathon weekend events!!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Disney News Update!

This week featured many big announcements in the world of Disney!  Here are some of the highlights in one place.

Image from Disney Parks Blog
Animal Kingdom Openings - Opening dates were released for the long awaited Rivers of Light Nighttime Show and Pandora: The World of Avatar.  Rivers of Light will open officially on February 17 - just in time for President's Day weekend.  You can book FastPass+ reservations for seating at the show and there are also dining packages with Tiffins and Tusker House that are available for booking at this time.  Pandora: The World of Avatar of Avatar will open on May 27, 2017 - Memorial Day Weekend.  First looks at this new land are amazing with lighted walkways, floating mountains, and so much more.  The movie featured breathtaking scenery and Disney imagineers have worked hard to replicate that in the park.

Star Wars Land Update - Disney also announced that Star Wars Land will be set to open in both Disneyland Resort and at Disney's Hollywood Studios in the Walt Disney World Resort in 2019.  Reports have shared that the out-of-this-galaxy experience will feature character interactions, a new Star Tours, and the chance to be Han Solo and take control of the Millennium Falcon.  My two little padawans are going to love this!

Image from Disney Parks Blog
Goodbye Wishes - For the past 14 years, guests at Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom have ended their magical day with the Wishes fireworks show.  This park classic will bid farewell on May 11th and an all new show, Happily Ever After, will begin on May 12th.  The new show promises to bring even more shows topping magic to the Magic Kingdom with projections, lasers, fireworks, and of course classic Disney music!

Beauty and the Beast meets Disney Cruise Line - Disney will unveil a Beauty and the Beast stage show on board the Disney Dream beginning in November.  No doubt capitalizing on what is sure to be a wonderful live action film this year, the stage show is sure to bring this "tale as old as time" to life in the grandest of fashions.

Ticket Price Increase - As I was prepping this blog post, more information hit today about ticket price increases for Walt Disney World.  It looks like some of the most notable changes will be increases for single day and annual passholders, no more water park and fun option, expiration dates on all tickets, and an increase to premium parking rates.  More information on all of this can be found in numerous posts online today, including this article from the Orlando Sentinel.

What a whirlwind few days! Hope everyone has been able to keep up and I can't wait to see what new fun awaits in the wonderful world of Disney!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Can You Handle The Kitchen Sink??

There are several things that any Disney fanatic will tell you should be on your "must conquer" list at some point during your Walt Disney World vacations.  In November, we tackled one of my bucket list items - the Kitchen Sink Sundae at Beaches and Cream.  Beaches and Cream is located poolside at Disney's Beach Club Resort just outside of Epcot.  It's a great place to visit on your Epcot park day as you can easily exit Epcot through International Gateway, turn to your right, and you're just a short 5 minute walk away.

While Beaches and Cream serves a full menu of lunch and dinner items, they are best known for their ice cream.  The decor is reminiscent of a 1950s soda shop and features diner favorites, such as grilled sandwiches and fries.  We had dinner in Epcot and then made a 7:30 reservation for Beaches and Cream to grab dessert prior to going back for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  Reservations are tough to grab for this restaurant as the inside seating area is extremely small.  There is a "carry-out" side of Beaches and Cream if you can't get a reservation inside.  They feature a smaller version of the kitchen sink sundae then what you'll find inside, but they host a full compliment of ice cream flavors.
Upon being seated, our server quickly greeted us and we shared that we were here with one thing on our mind - the Kitchen Sink.  He was happy to fill us in on all of the delicious details.  We have a picky eater in our family and our server even offered to "deconstruct" the sundae a bit and put some of the ice cream in a separate dish so that Brody could enjoy a plain treat if all of the sundae toppings were too much.  After placing our order, it was just a short wait for the arrival of our dessert.  And it arrived in grand fashion.  The lights in the restaurant dimmed and sirens went off to signal that a brave table was attempting to conquer The Kitchen Sink.

So what's in this sundae you ask?  It features ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge, cake, brownies, sprinkles, candy, and so much more.  The full list of what's included can be found on the Disney Parks Blog.  It was heaven in a bowl. We didn't quite finish the masterpiece - actually we didn't even come close, but it was enjoyable down to the last bite that we could manage.  At $32.00, the Kitchen Sink is a heavy hit to the budget, but when you think that it can easily serve a family of 4+ as opposed to paying for four individual desserts and that it's probably a splurge for a special occasion, it really isn't too terrible of a price for you get.

What do you think?  Can your family conquer the Kitchen Sink?  Don't forget one of my favorite sayings for all of your runners out there. . ."I run Disney so I can eat Disney!"

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Happy Birthday Brody and Caleb!

It's a big week in our house as both Brody and Caleb celebrate birthdays - Brody is turning 5 and Caleb is turning 2.  Each year when I plan their birthday party, I try to work in a little Disney magic.  This time around, I broke out some creative energy to throw a Figment themed birthday party at Port Discovery Children's Museum in Baltimore.  Port Discovery has three floors of interactive fun for kids of all ages.  It really is a place for imaginations to run wild, which is why I thought Figment would be perfectly suited.  It turned out to be an amazing day with a lot of fun, some creativity, and a little touch of Disney magic.

The Invitations - I designed custom invitations for the birthday party using the HP Card and Invitation Kit that I received as a sample as part of the HP Millennial Influencer Panel.  The HP website made it easy to pull up a template and create the invitations.  I used an image of Figment in the background and a Disney font that I downloaded to my computer to inspire the look.  To draw in an extra piece of nostalgia from Epcot's Journey Into Your Imagination ride, I made Dr. Nigel Channing of The Institute, our special guest host.  This also played well with the mad scientist theming that Port Discovery offers for parties.

The Decorations, Food, and Cake - We were fortunate that Port Discovery is an amazing venue and they were providing balloons and table cloths.  I purchased purple, orange, and yellow paper goods to mimic the colors of our imaginative dragon.  The colors that Port Discovery used just happened to correspond perfectly with our inspiration.  I wasn't sure how much table space we would have in their party room, so outside of a framed invitation, I really didn't bring other Figment decorations.  I did however Disneybound with a Figment look for the day!  We decided to keep food simple - ordered some pizzas, served bags of chips, grapes, GoGo Squeeze applesauce pouches, juice boxes, and bottles of water.  The cake was truly out of this world.  Brody came with me to Starry Night Bakery in our hometown to help pick out what he wanted.  I originally was going to do white icing with a picture of Figment, but Brody wanted purple icing with orange writing and borders.  I think his idea turned out better than what mine!  The cake didn't just look good, but it was delicious too.  Brody is a chocolate lover so the cake was chocolate with Oreo mousse filling.  It was a big hit!




The Venue - If you haven't been to Port Discovery and live around the Baltimore area, you should definitely check it out.  They have a coloring room, water room, pretend Royal Farms store, indoor soccer field, and a whole half of a floor devoted to soft play areas for babies and toddlers just to name a few.  The favorite spot though for my oldest is the three story indoor playground - complete with rope ladders to climb, bridges to cross, and big slides!  They also have some areas of the museum that feature visiting activities.  The current visiting attraction is a Thomas the Tank Engine play area - perfect for my little boys.  Kids can dress up as engineers, load the train, play interactive computer games, and even enjoy a expansive toy train layout.  We bought a family membership to Port Discovery last year after our first visit because we knew we would enjoy coming back time and time again.  As members, we received a discount off of our party package and our membership for the upcoming year was renewed.  The party package featured a make your own slime activity that gave everyone their own bag to take home.  Port Discovery also gave BOGO admission tickets out to party guests as favors.

Overall it was a wonderful day!  We again had the chance to show our Disney side with a Figment inspired party while enjoying all the fun that Port Discovery Children's Museum has to offer.  Can't wait until next year when we can plan another memorable birthday party for the boys.  Happy Birthday Brody and Caleb!      

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique - Is the Magic Worth the Money?


Special thanks to my friend Jon Hill for the guest post below!  He and his wife have traveled to Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line both by themselves and with their two beautiful children.  His wife, Christine, is traveling with me in just a few weeks for the Princess Half Marathon weekend and their family is planning another magical trip for this coming summer!


From our earliest trips together to Disney nearly 15 years ago, my wife and I always enjoyed stopping to watch the reactions of the young girls undergoing the magical transformations that take place at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (BBB) with the help of Fairy God-Mothers-in-Training. I’m certain that the very first time we witnessed it, we agreed that if we ever had a girl, she would experience this enchanted, fairy-tale makeover. While planning our Disney trip for the summer of 2016, we decided that our daughter Lily, was old enough that she could appreciate and understand the experience. Additionally, on the first night of our trip we were to have dinner with Cinderella and her friends at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian resort. Since we were not going to a park on our first day, we made reservations to go to the BBB at Disney Springs. While searching the web for information and tips on BBB, we were pleasantly surprised to find that they also have Knight makeover offerings for the boys. These are very inexpensive, so we signed our 4 year-old son Luke up for a Knight makeover to match his sister and be properly prepared for the Royal Ball as well.

Upon arrival, we were surprised to find out that the BBB had recently undergone renovation and that it now had its own dedicated building instead of sharing space with the World of Disney. The bluish building, with large windows blends into the surrounding spaces, with the exception of the large BBB sign over the entrance. Once inside, the bright boutique reflects the royal setting of a fairy-tale salon with dark wood paneling and trim and fairy-tale murals all around. Having its own space lends to the experience, removing the noise, bustle, and distraction that the hundreds of shoppers in World of Disney brought. The waiting area was appointed with displays of available Disney princess dresses and accessories and the staff was cheerful and delightful as we have come to expect with the Disney experience. We checked in at the desk and after a brief wait, our children were whisked through the large wooden doors to meet their fairy godmother-in-training. 

Our first stop was in a large, private changing room. In an effort to save money, we bought our own costumes at home before the trip and brought them with us (which Disney graciously allows). While the ones Disney has available at the boutique are very nice, they come with a steep price tag. We scored a Cinderella dress and accessories for our daughter at JC Penny for just over $30. For our son, we had ordered a Prince Charming outfit from Amazon for under $20. These both doubled as Halloween costumes later in the fall. By bringing our own outfits, we were able to opt for the lowest priced “Crown Package” for our daughter ($59.95). The “Castle Package”, which includes a dress, is a paltry $199.95. The “Knight Package” for our son was only $19.95. Once the cast member gave us some brief instructions to the princess-to-be and prince-to-be, she stepped out of the changing room so we could get them changed. In a wisp of magic, the large mirror on the wall came to life with Cinderella’s own animated fairy god mother who interacted with the kids and gave them some additional instructions. As soon as they were changed, we exited the changing room and proceeded into the styling boutique    

The boutique is set up in the round with a several styling stations similar to those found at a typical salon. The large room is beautifully appointed with gold accents, chandeliers, royal draperies, and murals reminiscent of your favorite Disney princess stories. Each of the styling stations is staffed by a fairy god mother-in-training who is responsible for your child’s royal transformation. In the middle of the room is a large, oval, cushioned bench so that parents may sit and watch the enchanted work of the fairy god mothers-in-training.  After a brief introduction, the two fairy god mothers-in-training (Kayla and Mary) assigned to our children went to work.  Both quickly developed a great rapport with the kids and demonstrated a love for their work. But then again, who wouldn’t love to delight children all day long by magically transforming them into royalty? As part of Lily’s package she received hair, makeup, and nail treatments, as well as a sash. She even received a pink BBB nylon bag with extra styling products to take home with her. Lily’s hair (Fairytale Princess Style) was done so well, that we were able to leave it in overnight and it lasted through the whole next day as we enjoyed rides and had fun at the Magic Kingdom. Having it up and off of her neck was also an added advantage as it helped her stay cool in the late June heat.  Luke received a hair treatment and was presented with a mighty sword and shield in a knighting ceremony complete with official certificate. All throughout the makeovers, Disney Photopass photographers assigned to the BBB were snapping a ton of photographs of the kids. These pictures can be purchased after the experience, but if you already have the Memory Maker package, it is awesome. All together we received another 40-50 photos just from this experience alone. As part of the transformation, the children are not permitted to see themselves in the mirror until the makeover is complete. The photographer captured an awesome picture of Lily’s reaction as her chair spun around and she saw herself in the mirror for the first time as a beautiful princess.        

Following some pictures, we bid farewell to our fairy godmothers-in-training and wished them luck in their quests to become full-fledged fairy godmothers. We then were escorted into a room adjacent to the styling boutique for a photo session. This royal-looking room was outfitted with a kid-sized replica of Cinderella’s magic coach. Photographers took several more posed photos of the kids with the coach. Again, having Photopass is a great option if you are considering BBB. We were permitted to take our own photos with our iPhone, but having the Photopass photographers capturing shots with their digital SLRs produced professional photos to preserve the memories. 

We bid adieux to the BBB and its friendly staff, but not before being directed to go to the nearby Disney Photopass Station to view our photos. Once there, we were again surprised to receive yet another photo session with both of the kids with a Photopass Photographer. As I said before, if you are going on a multi-day Disney trip and considering BBB, purchasing the Photopass package ahead of time will pay for itself. We got another 20 posed photos here. We had only been at Disney for 6 hours, hadn’t even gone to a park, and already had about 60 Photopass photos in our gallery.    


After departing Disney Springs we made our way to the Grand Floridian for an early dinner reservation at Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner. We then walked around the resort and took advantage of the Victorian d├ęcor and beautiful landscapes to grab some more pictures of the kids. Overall, the BBB was a great experience. The staff was friendly and the individual attention and service the kids received was what we have come to expect from the Disney experience. We did not feel rushed or pushed through the process. As far as the cost, yes it is a little pricey- a hair styling, some makeup, glitter, nail polish, and a sash for $60. But compare that to what you might spend at a local salon for the same treatment, and it doesn’t seem so out of line… And can you really put a price on the moment when your little girl first sees herself as a real Disney princess? Or the moment when she, in her finest, meets a real, live Disney Princess? The “Knight Package” would definitely fall into the bargain category as the hard foam sword and shield alone (which are pretty nice and durable) are around $15 in the World of Disney Store.

Was the magic worth the money? Absolutely! Would we do it again? Probably not. While it was a great experience and, in our minds well worth the money, I think it is something you will do once for your kids and (provided they are old enough) they will remember the experience for a lifetime. There are numerous sites out there with tips and FAQ’s about BBB so I’m not going to list too many, but here are the most important:
1.)   Make reservations early- this is a popular experience, so the earlier the better. The reservation number can be found on the BBB website under “Know Before You Go”
2.)   Consider the weather and you activities for that day- If it is the middle of July/August and the humidity will be 90%+, is your child going to enjoy their visit to one of the parks in a full princess dress, with hair and makeup? If it is the summer, opt for an afternoon appointment so you can relax and enjoy the A/C in the BBB during the heat of the day, and make early dinner reservations for character dining at one of the Disney Dining options where you can meet the Princesses. Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner is at the Grand Floridian, so you don’t even have to go to one of the parks if you have a free day.
3.)   Leave ample time- I would say to budget 3-4 hours for the whole experience door-to-door. From catching the bus or driving to Disney Springs, visiting BBB, getting pictures, and then making your way to a park, a restaurant, or your hotel.
4.)   Save some money- If you want to do the princess dress, bring your own. While the ones offered at BBB are nice, I’m not sure they are worth the extra $140 you will pay.

5.)   Check out the BBB website’s “Know Before You Go” information for additional details and more.


                                                   

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