Decadent Desserts and Fantastic Fireworks!

If you have a sweet tooth and crave a little VIP experience, you won't want to miss the Happily Ever After Fireworks  Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace in Magic Kingdom.  On our most recent Walt Disney World Resort vacation, our group decided to try this out and we weren't disappointed.  I have never done one of the paid dessert parties while visiting Walt Disney World for a few reasons - namely it seems crazy to pay for premier fireworks viewing that you can ultimately get for free.  However, the experience was well worth it!

First of all, you'll want to note when booking that there are two options for the Happily Ever After Fireworks Dessert Party.  While both begin with a dessert smorgasbord at Tomorrowland Terrace, there are two different viewing locations when it comes time to watch the show.  The first is to remain on the Tomorrowland Terrace where seating is available, but, from some reviews I've read, viewing can sometimes be a bit "off" as you are looking at the castle from an off-center location.  The other option, which we happened to select, was the Garden Viewing.  This takes you front and center with a prime location to watch the nighttime spectacular.  This is the same as the old FastPass+ viewing location if you ever used that during Wishes.  With the limited number of tickets sold, there is so much room available, you won't be crowded at all!

Stepping back to the beginning, when you arrive at Tomorrowland Terrace, you are greeted by a cast member who checks you in and gives you a wristband depending on your viewing location.  On the night of our party, the fireworks were scheduled to begin at 9 and our dessert party began at 7:45.  No worries if you're not there right on time though as it's simply an open buffet.  The desserts were quite delicious and there were certainly plenty to choose from.  My personal favorites were the chocolate covered strawberries and the chocolate fountain with fresh fruit and marshmallows.  There was also a beverage station that featured a selection of juices, including the ever popular POG juice (pomegranate, orange, and grapefruit).  There was also a selection of hot tea, coffee, and hot chocolate - which was very popular on our December night as temps were in the 30s during the dessert party.  Another added perk during dessert time is the private bathrooms for the party!

Around 8:45, we made our way down to the reserved viewing location.  It felt great to be able to walk up to a prime spot without having to be sitting and saving our seats for 90 minutes!  The show began promptly at 9 and it was AMAZING!  I'll have a separate post devoted to the show itself, but the new Happily Ever After is not one to miss.  As I mentioned earlier, we had so much room around us, Brody actually held his own dance party throughout the fireworks.  When the show ended, cast members showed us to the back of Main Street USA to exit.  While this is not a reserved exit for those in the show, it's a handy tip to remember if you're near Tomorrowland Terrace to view as there were a lot less people heading that way then the normal crowds on Main Street USA.  You still merge back with the crowd at the train station to then exit the park, but it gets you down there much quicker.

View from the Garden Viewing Location
Overall, the Happily Ever After Fireworks Dessert Party was enjoyable for our group.  Is it something I would splurge on every trip?  Definitely not.  At $59 per adult and $35 per child, it's an added expense that certainly is not a necessity.  But it was very convenient, great viewing location, and good food.  If you're looking for a special treat on your next Walt Disney World vacation, check it out!

Running into 2018

Photo from Charm City Run Facebook Page
 I begin each new year by setting some running goals for myself for the year.  Part of sharing my running adventures with you is to hopefully motivate you to challenge yourselves and to also help hold me accountable!  So after a few weeks of research and planning, I give you 2018 - the year in running!

My local races this year will be linked together in the Under Armour B3 Distance Series.  This series includes three races held in Baltimore over the year.  The first kicks off on Sunday, March 11 with the Shamrock 5K.  Just a few weeks later on Saturday, April 14, I'll be hitting the streets of Charm City again in the Sole of the City 10K.  Then I'll return to run even more of Baltimore Labor Day Weekend for the Charles Street 12.  I haven't run any of these races in the past and am excited about what I've heard from others about how awesome they are.  But this race series isn't all I hope to run in 2018.  I'm planning on heading down to my favorite race destination of all - Walt Disney World - in November to run the Wine and Dine Two Course Challenge which features the Wine and Dine 10K on Saturday and the Wine and Dine Half Marathon on Sunday.  I plan to train hard for the Sole of the City 10K in April so that I can get a good Proof of Time for my runDisney events and score a decent corral to give me lots of picture taking opportunities to fully enjoy my race experience.  
2016 runDisney Wine and Dine 10K
For the first time in forever (I know, I know. . .cue Anna!), I don't just want to set "completion" goals, but also time goals.  I thought about a half marathon goal time before I picked my races and thought that I would shoot for a 2:40 half as my previous best was 2:53.  However, I don't want to set a goal time to hit in Disney because I just want to have fun there.  Instead, I'm going to modify my goal and make it for the Charles Street 12 where I'd like to run sub 2:25.  In the past year, I've lost almost 25 pounds and hope to keep that trend going.  I think the combination of having less of me to drag through a race and the fact that the kids are getting older so it's getting easier for me to take more time to train, I'm optimistic that I'll be able to meet my goal.

I can't wait to see what these races bring this year and how I hopefully continue to grow and change as a person through my running.  What goals and dreams are you carrying into 2018?  

5 Must-Do Star Wars Experiences at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Star Wars fever is raging all across the galaxy these days as people across all generations of enjoyed the power of the Force for decades.  While Disney and Star Wars fans anxiously await the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, which will be coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2019, there is still plenty of ways to interact with the Light and the Dark Side during your Walt Disney World Resort visit.  My young padawans are near obsessed with everything Star Wars so Hollywood Studios is always a Force-filled, full day for us.  Below are my top 5 Star Wars Experiences for your family!

Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple - My oldest has now participated in this incredible experience twice and he can't get enough of it!  Aspiring Jedi between the ages of 4 and 12 sign up early in the day to participate in one of the multiple shows throughout the day.  During the show, they receive training in the ways of the Force and using their lightsabers, all as they prepare to do battle with foes like Darth Vader and Kylo Ren.  For more details on this experience, check out my full blog post on it, here.  The key is getting to sign-ups early, meaning you'll want to rope drop this to get an assigned time for the day and then get excited!

Star Wars Launch Bay - Next to Disney Junior! Live on Stage, you'll find the entrance to Star Wars Launch Bay.  This has something for everyone in the family to enjoy!  Throughout the indoor exhibit, you'll find memorabilia from the movies and lots of cool trivia.  There's even a short film you can view.  But the highlight of Launch Bay are the character meet and greets!  Currently, you can meet Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, and BB-8.  We came to Launch Bay around 10AM and saw relatively no crowds - we visited both Chewbacca and Kylo Ren in under 15 minutes total and then waited about 15 minutes to meet BB-8.  These characters don't sign autographs, but the interaction is memorable!

March of the First Order and Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away - Both of these events you can see throughout the day down Hollywood Boulevard and on center stage.  Captain Phasma leads her troops down Hollywood Boulevard several times each day, followed by a stage show where iconic characters bring to light some of the most loved scenes from Star Wars movies over the years.  We don't typically "plan" to catch one of the shows, but each time we pass by and one is occurring we always stop to watch!

Star Tours - The Adventure Continues - The one ride in Disney's Hollywood Studios that is Stars Wars themed is AWESOME!  During the ride, you enter your space craft and are given your mission. Piloted by C3-PO, your group is strapped into movie theater type seats and then launched into space. The seats and screen move to create the sensation that you are flying, dodging debris, and engaged in battle with the Dark Side.  Each flight also identifies a rebel spy from the participants and my oldest was selected this time - he was so excited to see his face on the big screen!  This is a Tier 2 FastPass+ attraction in Hollywood Studios and is a good choice in my opinion as wait times often exceed 30 minutes.

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular - The perfect way to end your Star Wars filled day at Hollywood Studios is with this nighttime spectacular.  Combining fireworks, lasers, music, and movie images, fans and non-fans of Star Wars alike will be awed by this performance.  We were actually disappointed that we missed it during our most recent trip as it was replaced with Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! during the holiday season.  I think John Williams' score was made for a show like this!

I hear a lot people saying that they plan to skip Hollywood Studios because of the recent closures and current construction, but all of the Star Wars magic coupled with other favorite attractions means that we still dedicate at least one whole day (and sometimes even more!) to this action-packed park!

House of Blues Gospel Brunch Review

If you're looking for a fun, inspirational brunch with delicious Southern comfort food, be sure to plan a visit to House of Blues Orlando at Disney Springs for their Gospel Brunch.  While there were families with children at the brunch, I don't think my little ones would have been engaged the whole time.  I opted to visit the Gospel Brunch with a friend on a trip and we enjoyed our adult outing.

First things first, reservations for the Gospel Brunch are handled differently than other Disney dining locations.  The Gospel Brunch is actually a ticketed event - not simply a dining reservation you can book on your My Disney Experience app.  Each Sunday, there are two showtimes to choose from to meet your vacation schedule.  Here's a tip - call the box office directly to book your tickets!  Not only will you save money by not having to pay any of the absurd Ticketmaster fees, but you can also talk to a real person that can give you advice on picking your table.  Since the event is ticketed, you actually reserve your specific table when you book.  The gentleman on the phone was great and told me he would find the best table available for us.  So not only did we save some money, but benefited from great advice.

We had tickets for the 1:00 show and arrived to Disney Springs around 12:00.  We grabbed a table in front of House of Blues and enjoyed a drink before the show began.  People started lining up around 12:30 to get in, which kind of surprised me because you have a reserved table so it didn't seem necessary to really line up before the doors opened.  Once the doors opened, seating was fast.  Each group presented their tickets to one of the wait staff and was led to the assigned table.  Our table location was great!  We were on the second tier with a perfect view of the stage and seated near the buffet, but far enough away from it that we didn't have too much foot traffic.

Speaking of the buffet, let's talk about the food.  OMG - southern goodness at it's finest!  Whether you like Chicken and Waffles, Biscuits and Gravy, Fried Catfish, or Jambalaya there is something for everyone to enjoy.  If your palate is not that adventurous, you can also find traditional brunch items like omelets, carving stations, and salads.  Everything is served buffet style so come hungry!  My friend and I visited following the final race of our Glass Slipper Challenge weekend so we had room for lots of calories to fill up on!

Of course, the other highlight of the visit besides the food is the entertainment.  Each weekend features a different Gospel band but you can count on good, quality entertainment all the time!  The performance was nothing short of inspiring.  The singers and musicians had everyone singing, clapping, and on their feet.  Below is just one of the short videos I grabbed that day!

Overall, we had a great time and I would highly recommend this experience to others looking to enjoy a wonderfully entertaining show paired with quality Southern food!

Providing the Comforts of Home

One of the hardest things about traveling with young ones is making the time away from home feel somewhat "normal."  When you're vacationing with a toddler this is especially true.  And naptime and bedtime rituals are critical to keeping everyone on the trip happy.  My previous post talked about a very un-magical stay where bedtime became a battle that the kids won and the parents lost.  Luckily, our Walt Disney World vacation just 8 months earlier was a totally different story.

Once again, we stayed at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, but this time we were traveling with my parents too and had adjoining rooms.  At the time, Brody was 4 and Caleb was 1.  Having adjoining rooms was a glorious thing as it gave us a chance to put Caleb down for naps and bed in one room and then play and watch movies in the other while still being connected.  The other part of the vacation that made naps and bedtime doable was the fact that we opted to rent a crib from Kingdom Strollers instead of just electing to use a typical pack-n-play.

For a weeklong vacation, we found the portable crib to be a much nicer way to travel.  Caleb was comfortable with lots of room to wiggle and roll.  It also came with freshly cleaned sheets and blankets so we didn't have to worry about anything.  I think this was even more important on our trip as Caleb was sick the first three days were on vacation, so he spent quiet a bit of time resting and that good night sleep was even more essential.  The crib was delivered to Bell Services and then we simply broke it down and returned the crib and bedding to Bell Services to be picked up when we checked out.  The whole experience was easy and enjoyable for everyone.  And at the end of the vacation, we had a completely satisfied toddler - not the easiest customer to always please!

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