A Very Disney Halloween!

I've always enjoyed Halloween.  The mix of pumpkins, apples, corn mazes, hayrides, leaves changing, and cooler weather is simply wonderful!  Halloween also means that we get a chance to celebrate the spooky while becoming our favorite characters.  I've fallen even more in love with fall this year.  This is the first Halloween that Brody has really caught the spirit and it's been fun to experience with him!  Of course, Disney is at the center of this celebration for our family too!!

Brody and Dan visited a pumpkin patch and picked out several to bring home.  Since Brody is too little to help carve a pumpkin yet, I bought him a Mickey pumpkin decorating kit with paint and foam pieces that he could put together.  He had such a great time designing his Mickey pumpkin!

And when it came to picking a Halloween costume, Brody had his choice for the first time.  I showed him pictures of lots choices and he picked to be Lightning McQueen's driver.  Brody loves all things cars - the faster the better - and was so excited to see his costume arrive.  We trick-or-treated at Codorus State Park during their Halloween in the Park event this weekend before the big night this coming week.  I think he made a great race car driver!

Seeing Brody's excitement about Halloween has me really looking forward to next year too.  We are planning a trip next Fall to WDW with my parents and should be there for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.  I've never been before but have a wonderful feeling that our family is going to love it!

I heart exciting Mickey mail!

Today I had two pieces of exciting Mickey mail waiting for me!  The first I knew was on the way, but the second came as a complete surprise to me :)

As you know, our trip in November is the first one I'll be taking with FP+ and MagicBands.  Today in the mail, our MagicBands arrived!!  These are so fun.  You get to customize your band online before your trip by picking the color and name associated with it.  Then they arrive by mail a few weeks before your trip.  I love that Disney even lets little ones who don't really need them to have one so they aren't left out of the fun.  I've started wearing mine around the house. . .further adding to Dan's concerns about my Disney sanity.

The second piece of exciting mail was actually an e-mail from the Disney Parks Mom Panel.  I had applied back in the beginning of September for a coveted spot on this elite panel of Disney enthusiasts who answer questions online to help people planning their trips.  Each year they receive thousands of applicants.  Last year, I didn't make it to Round 2 but this year I did!  I was so excited to find out that I made the next cut along the way.  For Round 2, applicants have to answer 8 questions and then film a 71 second video.  I applied for the Disney Cruise Line part of the panel so all of my questions relate to DCL.  Wish me luck!

Eastern Caribbean Port Adventure Reviews

Our first DCL vacation was a 7 day Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Disney Fantasy in June / July 2013.  Choosing Port Adventures was an exciting and semi-stressful time for me.  I had never cruised before so was new to who world of shore excursions and we were also traveling with a 17 month old. Trying to find Port Adventures that would entertain Dan, Brody, and me equally was going to be a challenge.  We ended up booking a shore excursion on each of our ports of call (except Castaway Cay).  Here is what we did and our grade for the experience.

St. Maarten - French Riviera Beach Rendezvous
We decided to spend our time in St. Maarten playing on the beach at Orient Bay.  This was roughly a 30 minute ride from the port to the beach.  The beach was crowded with tour groups and chairs as well as pushy locals selling handmade items.  The beach itself was clean and the water featured big waves that are perfect for older children and adults.  Included in the package was lunch.  Lunch was actually better than I expected with several different choices.  Overall, I would give this excursion a B.  There was nothing to complain about or wrong with the excursion, just nothing exciting either.

St. Thomas / St. John - Coral World and Butterfly Garden
Since we planned a beach day in St. Maarten and on Castaway Cay, we wanted to do something a little different in the USVI.  There weren't many excursions to choose from that we thought would please a 17 month old, but an aquarium and butterfly garden seemed like good choices to us.  The trip to Coral World was first.  If you've ever been to a high quality aquarium (like we are fortunate to have in the National Aquarium in Baltimore), you will be sorely disappointed here.  Coral World was small, didn't feature the array of marine life we were used to, and not very interactive.  We had about 2 hours to explore there and wish we could have left after about 30 minutes.  After we finished at Coral World, a bus took us back to the port where the Butterfly Garden is located.  This was better than Coral World in my opinion, but still not great.  Brody fell asleep on the bus ride back to port so we didn't get to see his reaction.  This is really just a big enclosed garden with butterflies flying all around.  They were beautiful and we got some really great pictures, but it was another excursion that we were done exploring in less than 30 minutes.  Overall, I would give this excision a C-.  There are some positive reviews I've read out there about these, but I just didn't see anything special or worth the money in this excursion.

California Grill

Tonight I'm going to tell you about one of my favorite dinners of all time - on or off Disney property. I'll start by saying that this review is from our trip in April 2011 so it is several years old at this point. Since we visited in 2011, California Grill has also gone through a refurbishment.  As you will quickly see in my review, I loved every minute of our night there and feel confident that you would have just as great of an experience today.

Location - California Grill is located on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort.  The Contemporary is located on the monorail just outside of Magic Kingdom.  One of the biggest perks of this location is the viewing of the Magic Kingdom fireworks.  Each night as Wishes begins, the lights are dimmed, music is piped in to match the show as it would be seen in the park, and the magic begins.  There are windows all around the restaurant providing a spectacular view of the fireworks.

The view of Cinderella's Castle from our table.

Food - This is top-notch, gourmet dining at it's best in Disney World.  We happened to be traveling to Disney with our good friends Craig and Ali who we have shared many delicious meals with over the years.  The four of us went into the evening knowing that we wanted to experience everything the chef had to offer at California Grill.  For this reason, we enjoyed several rounds of cocktails, an appetizer course, a sushi course, a soup and salad course, an entree course, and a dessert - yeah, you're right for thinking it. . .it's A LOT of food.  Everything was wonderfully amazing and we felt like we should be rolled out of the restaurant.  Two of my favorites from the night were the goat cheese ravioli and the California Roll (the first time I ever tried sushi!).  I was excited to see both of these are still on the menu years later.

Overall Experience - A+++
This was the best dinner I ever had at WDW.  We spent over 4 hours in the restaurant and over $500 between the 4 of us - certainly not fast or cheap.  I'm someone who is willing to pay for great food and a great experience and you'll find both here at California Grill.  While kids are welcome in the restaurant, I wouldn't see myself taking little ones until they were about 10 or so and could easily sit through the meal and enjoy the experience too.  If you haven't yet checked out California Grill, make sure to visit on your next trip to Disney!

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